Category Archives: Unschooling

A Video About Our Unschooling Day


Who are your heroes – the everyday folk or world-famous icons – that you admire most?

How we can learn from our heroes

What is it about these people that you especially respect? Do they have anything in common? You don’t have to admire every single thing about your heroes – it might be just one or two qualities.

The qualities we admire in others can give us useful clues about strengths we’d like to cultivate in ourselves.

I first did this exercise a few years ago after reading the book Do More Great Work. My heroes included Steve Jobs and Sue Elvis (the unschooling mum behind the blog Stories of An Unschooling Family).

Making a difference means taking risks

What all my heroes had in common was that they were each, in their own ways, out there making a difference in the world. They didn’t wait until they had a perfect product before they put themselves out there. They knew that, if they waited, their ideas might never see the light of day.

In Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull advises:

‘Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others. Show early and show often. It’ll be pretty when we get there but it won’t be pretty along the way, and that’s as it should be.’

Sue Elvis – now a friend, I’m happy to say – continues to inspire me in the way she’s never afraid to publicly try new things. When I woke up yesterday morning to a new video Sue had made I thought, ‘Why not make a video of my own?’ So here it is – my first Navigating By Joy video!

My non-pretty video about our unschooling day

I recorded my video at the end of a lovely day with Cordie and Jasper. I didn’t do anything special to prepare. The little bit of make-up I’d put on in the morning had disappeared with the tears of laughter I’d cried during the day. But . . . ‘Don’t wait for things to be perfect…’!

In the video I talk about our day and the different ways my children learn.

Cordie showed me how to trim the ends of the film, but other than that it’s unedited.

Would you be kind enough to watch and let me know what you think? (Kind feedback appreciated!)


Perhaps I could make a short video every now and then, sharing what we’re doing. I could record the audio separately as a podcast for people who prefer to listen as they get on with other things. What do you think?

Show Notes

Here are links to the resources I mention in the video. Let me know if I’ve missed anything. 🙂

Periodic Table of the Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe by Theodore Gray


Let’s Play Math: How Families Can Learn Math Together and Enjoy It by Denise Gaskins

Let’s Play Math (blog)

Ken Ken logic maths puzzles app (find out more about KenKen on wikipedia)

Study Ladder UK educational website for children up to year 7 (grade 6). Access a limited number of activities for free, or payfor unlimited access.

The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child, Volume 4: From Victoria’s Empire to the End of the USSR by Susan Wise Bauer


Tony Robinson’s history books, engagingly read by the author as audiobooks. Jasper learned about the Charge of the Light Brigade in Tony Robinson’s Weird World of Wonders British

Florence Nightingale Museum in London. If you can’t visit in person, you can still learn how this extraordinary woman’s ideas transformed modern healthcare by visiting the museum’s website.



Disclosure: I’m an Amazon affiliate, which means I may receive a small Amazon credit if you buy anything from Amazon after clicking through from this page. {Yay! More books!}

What’s it like Homeschooling an 11 and 12 Year Old?


What's it like Homeschooling an 11 and 12 Year Old?

Have you ever wondered why there are so few blogs about homeschooling older children? I used to. Then my kids became tweens.

We’re still unschoolers, but the hands-on activities that used to make up our day are gradually being replaced by independent projects, reading and outside classes. And photos of tweens reading, watching YouTube or even quietly crafting aren’t quite the same as cute pics of little ones doing colourful science experiments and messy art projects.

Our homeschooling is just as much fun, but these days the enjoyment lies more in the conversations we have, the puzzles we ponder and the jokes we share.

Looking back over the first six years of homeschooling

Back in the anxious, early days when we started homeschooling I used to wonder how I’d cope with the pressure when my kids reached senior-school age (11, here in the UK). But now with one child near the end of her first senior-school year and the other just turned 11, I feel calmer and more confident than ever.

One of the reasons I feel so relaxed is that having spent the last six years alongside my children, I know them pretty well. I know how they learn, what interests them, what their quirks are and what inspires them. Of course Cordie and Jasper are still changing – now more than ever, perhaps – but thanks to our time together I have a much better understanding of who they are and how I can support them.

Time’s also given me perspective.  Over each year that I’ve watched these two young people blossom, my faith in unschooling and in their ability to learn what they need grows stronger.

As homeschoolers we’ve always forged our own path. Whenever I’ve had a wobble and tried to steer us in a more schooly direction, my kids have made it clear they were having none of it. Like when they refused to follow any maths curriculum – which led us down the living maths route, something I’m truly appreciative of (at least in hindsight!).

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Homeschooling in the early days

Looking ahead to the teen years

Now we’re looking ahead to the teen years and exams, I’m so thankful for how we’ve done things.

All those ‘random’ science experiments really did both spark an interest in science and give my kids a solid grounding in chemistry and physics.

Living maths prepared them better than I could even have imagined for taking on trigonometry, algebra and geometry.

The poetry teatimes, read-alouds and audiobooks nurtured a deep love of literature.

And I recently realised that the reason it’s taken us five years to read three volumes of The Story of the World is because these days I can barely read a sentence without stimulating an intense debate about how such-and-such leader is repeating the mistakes of so-and-so who came before him, or how the Napoleonic Empire relates to the UK’s forthcoming referendum on whether to stay in Europe!


Finding community

Last year was a huge turning point for me. I discovered that my son is twice-exceptional and that both my kids and I have the innate personality traits known as overexcitabilities, which explains why we’ve always found ourselves at the fringes of homeschooling communities. After years of feeling isolated I found my tribe and launched a new blog to help others find theirs, too.

Now, equipped with even better information about who my children are and how I can support their learning, I’m looking forward to the next stage of our us-schooling adventure.

What’s next on Navigating By Joy

Launching Laugh, Love, Learn has taken most of my blogging energy so far this year, but now it’s up and running I’d like to check back in here more regularly.

I’m so appreciative of the bloggers who continue to write about their teens’ learning. I may not be as creative and organised as my friends Sue and Claire but if I can even inspire one person to trust their instincts and keep on home-educating their kids in the way that feels right to them, it will be worth it!

Here are a few ideas for what I could write about:

  • How living maths has worked out for us
  • How Jasper (11) has taught himself to read, write and spell
  • Cordie’s (12) passion for linguistics
  • How Jasper’s learning chemistry
  • How we’ve been learning foreign languages
  • Our unschooling routine
  • What each of my children is learning about
  • My kids’ goals and dreams
What would you be interesting in reading about? I’d love to hear from you. 🙂
I’m appreciatively linking up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers’ Weekly Wrap-Up and The Squishable Baby’s Homeschool LinkUp.

Not feeling nervous about not starting senior school

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A few weeks ago I was chatting with a young friend who was about to start senior school. “I’m excited, and a bit nervous too,” admitted Lily.

“And how are you feeling about not starting senior school, Cordie?” Lily’s mother asked C(11).

C(11) considered for a moment, then replied with a smile, “I’m feeling very not nervous.”

People have often asked how long we plan to continue home-educating. Many assumed we’d stop at the end of junior school (age 11), or before GCSE’s (age 14).  While I’m hoping to support my children learning at home until they’re at least 16, I would never stop them from going to school if they wanted to.

Daniel, one of C(11)’s old school friends has chosen to go away to boarding school. His mother was telling me how excited he was about the prospect of spending so much time with his friends doing fun activities. “I bet Cordie would love it, too,” she added.

My husband’s parents generously contribute to all their grandchildren’s education, so boarding school wouldn’t be out of the question if either of our children ever wanted to go. I mentioned Daniel’s excitement to my extroverted, energetic daughter.

“Do you think you would like to go to a school like that?”

“It sounds amazing,” replied C(11). Then she sighed contentedly and added, “But I could never give up all this.”

Yes, C(11) would love to spend more time with her friends and do even more sport than she already does, but she also appreciates all the quiet time she has at home to draw, read, watch videos or just relax and listen to music.  (I once wrote a post about how C(11) left school because she wanted to do so much, and school seemed the most sensible activity to drop.)

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I used to think that as a home-educating parent I’d feel the pressure rise when my children reached senior school age. Towards the end of the last summer holidays I kept expecting to suddenly wake up one morning thinking “Holy cow! Cordie’s going to be in big school! We’d better get serious!”

But that didn’t happen.  Instead, I found myself thinking about how much C(11) had learned by herself all summer long. I reflected on the thought-provoking conversations I have with her and J(10), during which I find myself wondering where they got their huge vocabularies and ability to express themselves. I marvel at their enormous zest for life, their self-confidence, the self-set goals they eagerly work towards.  And I feel so thankful we’ve found our unschooling groove.


I’m appreciatively linking up with Weird Unsocialized Homeschooler’s Weekly Wrap-Up.

How being a productivity ninja is making me a more relaxed homeschooler

Productivity ninjaa

Last week when I was pondering the problem of having too many fun things to do, I came across the best titled book ever, How To Be A Productivity Ninja: Worry Less, Achieve More And Love What You Do.

I knew the author and I were going to get along when I read this description of his natural style of work:

“Flaky, ideas-based, more comfortable at the strategic level than the ‘doing’ level, allergic to detail, instinctive, crazy-making and ridiculously unrealistic about what’s achievable in a given time period.”

(Naturally organised people don’t need productivity systems.)

What a productivity ninja looks like

Here’s the fantasy future-me I was imagining about after I’d zipped through the opening chapters:

–  I glide through my days with Zen-like calm and clarity

–  I am mindful of my energy and attention levels and use them wisely

– I can focus with serene efficiency because I find it easy to stay either in boss mode or worker mode at any given time

– because I always know the most important things I want to do,  I enjoy a sense of completion each day when I’ve achieved them

– I reach Inbox Zero at least once a day.  (I’ve missed several payment deadlines recently because of an email inbox that ran to many screens, so this one was very appealing.)

How to become a productivity ninja

The backbone of the productivity ninja system is your list of projects and your master task list.

A project is any ‘to do’ item that requires more than one physical action (task) to achieve.  If you’re not able to commit to doing at least one task on a project in the near future, you need to either scrap the project or move it to your good ideas list.

Once a week, wearing your boss hat, you review your list of projects. This means that when you’re in worker (doing) mode, you need only refer to your master task list, which will show you with ninja-clarity what you need to do –  you don’t get distracted by having to do any high-level thinking about what the next step is.

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All images by productivity ninja Graham Allcott

Example:  I’m in the process of making various photo products – a wall calendar, desk calendar and various Christmas albums as gifts for family members. I tend to procrastinate about working on my photos, mainly because I can never remember where I left each project. Have I put my selected pictures into an iPhoto album yet? Do I need to edit any photos?  Have I uploaded them to PhotoBox?  But by spending a few minutes once a week noting exactly what needs doing on each photo product, when I have a spare moment I can go straight to my computer and get editing, sorting or uploading.

How can being a productivity ninja make you a more relaxed homeschooler?

You’re probably wondering how all this ninja talk relates to relaxed homeschooling.

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Thanks to the  ninja-productivity process,  my master task list contains every homeschool-related activity I want to do, as well as all my other upcoming responsibilities and hobby-related goals.

I have sub-lists of the activities I need to do with my children – buddy maths, writing games and science experiments, for example – and what I can do without them, like research, planning, or setting up an experiment.  I can also see what non-homeschooling activities or jobs I want to get done that day.

I use Toodledo to sort these lists because I find automated lists thrilling (it’s a geek thing), but you could just as easily use a pen and paper.

The reason the productivity ninja system is such a powerful tool for child-led homeschooling is that I’m not dependent on getting anything specific done with my kids in order to feel a sense of completion.

Thanks to my master task list, I find it much easier to respect how my children choose to spend their time and resist pressuring them into fulfilling my agenda.  My daily list might include ‘do copywork with J, do buddy maths with C, read aloud from Waves’ – but my kids get to choose which, if any, of those activities get done.

So if C(11) wakes up inspired to take photos for her Arts Award project or record herself singing, or J(9) wants to spend the morning making a stop-motion animation film, I can save my ideas for another time. Meanwhile I can easily see from my daily checklist how I can make best use my time without that child or alone.

Thanks to my master task list, even on rare days when both my kids want to spend the whole day doing their own thing, I still end the day with a sense of achievement because I know I’ve spent my time doing tasks which take me closer to my goals.

And if the children invite me to join them on one of their projects or in a game, I can shuffle my list with ninja-like flexibility and go and play.

You can get a free kindle sampler of How To Be A Productivity Ninja here.


I think I'd buy this book just for the cute graphics
I’d buy this book just for the cute graphics


*This post contains affiliate links but I bought my own copy of the book and wrote this because when I love something I want to share it with all my friends and my husband says he’s heard enough Productivity Ninja talk for now thank you very much. 🙂 


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Weekly Wrap-Up – Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Collage Friday – Homegrown Learners

The Hip Homeschool Hop

Finishing Strong

Quantum physics, GIMP and slime

C(10) learning to use GIMP
C(10) learning to use GIMP

I was going to write about our family’s approach to screen time last week. I must have been writing further outside my comfort zone than I realised, because I kept procrastinating and – well – here I am ten days later with a post about some other fun stuff we’ve been doing recently. Quantum physics, computer art and an old favourite, slime.


C(10) had a friend to sleep over on Thursday.  I find weekday playdates a great excuse to try fun projects we’ve been meaning to get around to. This week we made slime with borax, using Sci-Toys’ fun with boron recipe.  Everyone found it very cool to see their slime instantly coagulate when they added borax solution to their glue.

Pretty slime. I love food colouring.

The older kids looked at the structure of the borax molecule and we talked about polymer cross-linking. Our slime didn’t turn out like the shop-bought kind. It wasn’t as stretchy and snapped more easily. We’ll have to experiment some more. 😉

Do you know a good slime recipe? What makes for stretchier slime? I’m hoping one of these polymer recipes will work.

While making their slime, my kids reminisced about the many times they’ve mixed cornflour and water. C(10)’s friend had never made cornflour gak, so while I cleared away the borax mess, they made a bowlful each which they happily played with for ages.

Unschooling science - making slime
The best activities are always the messiest

Quantum physics

J(8) asked to learn about quantum physics this term, which led us to the Uncle Albert trilogy. In the first of these entertaining chapter books Uncle Albert and his niece Gedanken discover the theory of relativity. The second book is about black holes and the shape of the Uncle Albert and the Quantum QuestUniverse. And in the third book, Uncle Albert and the Quantum Quest, Gedanken finds herself in (Lewis Carroll’s) Wonderland, where she becomes small enough to examine close up the behaviour of electrons, photons and other tiny atomic components.

All three of us enjoyed the Uncle Albert books immensely. We now know a great deal more than we did about the science of the very big and the very small. We had fun testing our knowledge in the quizzes weaved into the end of each story.

On busy days when we have to leave the house at, say, 10AM, it’s easy to round everyone up for a few chapters of a good book (compared with, say, an open-ended maths session). Which makes for efficient use of time (and better maths later in the day, with a relaxed mum who isn’t watching the clock).  (How do people manage to get everyone out of the house for school by 8AM?)

What will we read next? It might be Albert Einstein and Relativity for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities and Thought Experiments. Or perhaps The Mystery of the Periodic Table.

Learning to draw with GIMP

C(10) has spent many hours over the last few weeks creating art on the computer.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen my all-rounder daughter so passionate about one thing. She’s inspired by Canadian (homeschooled) artist Fin, whose FinsGraphics YouTube channel she’s been following for a long time.

Like Fin, C(10) likes to create Minecraft-style “blockhead” art. Fin uses Photoshop, but C(10) has found she can do most of what he does using the free GIMP software instead.

Watching C(10) learn how to use GIMP has been interesting. The complex interface frustrated her at first.  So I grabbed a computer and sat down alongside her, and we figured it out as we went along.

When C(10) saw me researching my queries I think she realised that (1) you need a bit more than intuition to use this kind of software, but (2) all the information you need is out there if you know how to look for it. Good learning.

Unschooling - computer art with GIMP
Blockhead art by C(10)
Unschooling - Computer art with GIMP
C(10)’s drawing of YouTuber Mumbo Jumbo

Here’s the picture I made on that first day we messed around together. I’m not at all artistic so I’m rather pleased with it as a first attempt, but you can see how unpolished it is compared with C(10)’s – that’s all the manual work-arounds I had to resort to because I don’t know my way around GIMP.

Unschooling - Learning computer art with GIMP
My GIMP picture (inspired by an avatar I found online but can’t find now, oops)

As well as leaving me behind on GIMP, C(10) has been using social media to share her creations with her global artist network in a way that has left me feeling rather technologically backward. Oh well, at least I know where to go for help.

March woods collage
We’ve  been enjoying the  recent spring weather too, playing outdoors with friends. (Although following our strange, wet winter it looks more like autumn, with all the leaves  still on the ground.)

I’ll keep at it with the screen time post. 😉


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

The Hip Homeschool Hop

Entertaining and Educational at Highhill Homeschool

Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners

Weekly wrap-up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Science Sunday at Adventures in Mommydom

Unschooling Plans – Science and History

Unschooling science and history

Here’s what we have planned for science and history this term. My children intend to keep me very busy!

See this post for our unschooling plans for maths and English.



C(10) wants to “explore the laws of physics. Like, what makes vacuum cleaners work? How do aeroplanes and helicopters fly? What charges up batteries?”

I’ll be learning this alongside the kids here. I enjoyed physics it at school but didn’t study it for long. When I was 13 I missed a term of school because of a road accident and had to drop a subject (physics). The time has come to catch up on what I missed!

J(8) threw in, “And I want to learn about quantum physics.”

“Sure!” I replied brightly, wondering where on Earth I’d find resources to teach quantum physics to an 8-year-old (or a 43-year-old).

I needn’t have worried – the scientists have it covered. Just look at this Minecraft Mod, designed to teach kids about quantum physics. And YouTube has dozens of videos on the subject. (The kids may be teaching me some science this term.)


J(8), meanwhile, wants to “make more potions,” so we’ll do more activities like Midsummer Potions, Alien Soup and Fizzy Fountains.

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“Potions class”

Science investigations that all students should do before high school

In our spare moments I’ll use Phyllis’s wonderful collections of science investigations that all students should do before high school and concoctions for play. We’ve done many of these already but I’m eagerly following Phyllis’s blog so we don’t miss any fun.

unschooling science and history
Diet coke geyser fun

History (with a bit of English and science overlap)

C(10) and I will continue with our chronological study of world history (we’re two-thirds through The Story of the World volume 2). We’re especially looking forward to learning about the Elizabethan period and Shakespeare.


Shakespeare’s Globe in London is showing Much Ado About Nothing in April so we’re going to study the play and then see it performed. This week we laughed out loud at the Andrew Matthews and Tony Ross retelling.  Next we’re going to read the No Fear Shakespeare (Sparknotes) version, and watch the Kenneth Brannagh movie. And finally – the live performance!

Unschooling science and history

Explorers and navigation

We’ll visit the Royal Museums Greenwich to complement our SOTW study of the early explorers. The children are looking forward to standing astride the Prime Meridian, with one foot in the Earth’s Western Hemisphere and one in the Eastern Hemisphere.

World Wars

J(8) received an illustrated book on the World Wars for Christmas, which prompted him to ask to learn about the World Wars.

He’s more interested in machines and methods of warfare than people and motives so he loves these First World War Fact Cards I recently strewed.

unschooling science and history

There’s plenty of good quality historical fiction about World War I and II. Right now we’re enjoying The Silver Sword in the car, and Puddles in the Lane is our family read-aloud.

I’d like to use videos, too – does anyone know of any good videos about the world wars that are suitable for children?

Our local kids’ history club is running a workshop on the First World War this afternoon, which will get us off to a great start.

Do you have any suggestions for resources we might like? I’d love to hear from you!

Next time, in the last post in this unschooling plans series, I’ll share my children’s project plans for this term.


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

The Hip Homeschool Hop

Entertaining and Educational

Weekly Wrap-Up

Collage Friday

15 Best Homeschooling Posts of 2013 from Navigating By Joy

fun homeschool projects

This year we let go of the last remnants of curriculum and enjoyed finding our own homeschooling groove.

In case you missed them, here’s a round-up of the most popular Navigating By Joy posts of 2013.  Click on the photos to see each post.


Instead of following a science curriculum, we did at least one hands-on science activity each week, an approach that proved very popular with the kids!

1. Elephant toothpaste – Fun with catalysts

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Elephant toothpaste

2. Gummy bear science – Osmosis in action

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3. How to make sure science gets done when you’re not using a curriculum

I talk about our curriculum-free approach to science here.

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A few of this year’s science projects

History and geography

Some of our favourite projects this year have sprung from our reading of The Story of the World (vols 1 and 2).

4. Aboriginal dot painting for kids

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Aboriginal dot painting

5. Miniature Japanese zen garden for kids

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Miniature Japanese Zen garden 

6. Hands-on Russian history

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We drew St Basil’s Cathedral and learned about the Cyrillic alphabet when we studied early Russian history


In spring 2013 we began an experiment, doing our own thing in maths.  It’s gone better than I could have imagined, and I’m buzzing with ideas for 2014.

7. Pythagoras and the knotted rope

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8. How to help your children fall in love with maths

Pythagoras Lego Proof
Using Lego to prove the Pythagoras Theorem

9. Five Days of Maths Playtime

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An example of a curriculum-free week of maths


10. Nine homeschool apps we wouldn’t be without

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11. Five Steps to an organised homeschool space

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12. The pros and cons of joining a homeschool co-op

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Is a homeschool co-op right for your family?

Language arts

13. Five writing games your kids will love

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14. How we do poetry teatime

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15. Our top 6 read-aloud chapter books

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Thank you to everyone who contributes to the homeschool blogging community – as a blogger, commenter or reader. I couldn’t homeschool without you!

I wish you all a very happy, healthy and successful 2014.



I’m appreciatively linking up with:

Top 13 and Mosts Posts 2013

The Hip Homeschool Hop

Entertaining and Educational

Collage Friday

Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Unschooling Snippets – September

unschooling september

Back in August I announced there would be “no more school time” round here – at least for a while – as we take another step towards unschooling.

I thought I’d post a monthly round-up of how unschooling is going. (Yes I know it’s mid-October already, but we went away for a week at the start of this month so I’m a bit behind. It’s a hard life ;-))

What’s been going well

C(9) and J(8) have been busy with their own projects – individually and together – and I don’t think I’ve suggested anything they haven’t wanted to do. (Hurray!)

We’ve followed our usual routine of copywork and maths, and we’ve done some fun history projects (more on these soon).

We’ve been reading aloud Understood Betsy, a delightful tale I first came across on a homeschool blog a couple of years ago. (Thank you, if it was yours!)

September school
Russian and Turkish history, film-making, copywork and J(8)’s experimental double-digit addition method

We made machines using air pressure and water pressure.

September science
Our hovercraft and hydraulic “theme park ride”

And I’ve been delighted to see C(9) spontaneously creating art again, which she hadn’t done for a while. As well as painting and art journaling, she excitedly seized some packaging the minute I unwrapped an Amazon delivery, to make into a room set. I love it when that happens!

Artistic September
Glow-in-the-dark Happy Birthday pictures for Daddy, and a junk-model room set

We had plenty of time to enjoy being outdoors.

September outdoors collage
Watersports, dog-walking, swing-sharing and dune-jumping!

And I had time to try out some new recipes I found at my new favourite food website, MOMables.

unschooling snippets - September
Pesto pizza rolls, Japanese food (at Wagamamas), pear sauce brownies, strawberry waffle-wiches and broccoli mini-muffins (don’t ask me how the muffins tasted. Sad story involving a cat and two dogs… At least I have a picture to show for my trouble!)

What I’m working on

This month I intend to be a bit more organised about planning maths and science projects. I have so many ideas in my head and on Evernote, but I need to plan specific days to actually suggest them to the children.

I’m also excited about beginning SQUILT, which looks beautifully simple to use, even for a musical ignoramus like me.

Changes I’m planning

I’ve suggested to the kids that on weekdays we try and hang out together a few hours a day in our family room, even if we’re each doing our own thing.

Without “school time” bringing us together, I’ve found there are days when I lose the kids to their rooms. While that can be quite appealing to the introvert in me, I think we might get more learning done if we spend at least some time together!


Please bear with me if posts are a bit sparse for the next few weeks – poor Fun Dad has just broken his ankle wakeboarding, so won’t be available for his usual cooking and chauffeuring back-up. Please send healing vibes for a fast recovery, for all our sakes!

I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Homegrown Learners – Collage Friday

Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers – Weekly Wrap-Up

Homeschool Mother’s Journal

Tales From an Unschooling Conference

unschooling conference

When I heard that the LTTL unschooling conference was going to be held twenty minutes away from where I live, I jumped at the chance to find out more about unschooling from the experts (like Sandra Dodd) and meet some real-life unschoolers.

Over the next few weeks I’ll share some of the highlights of the unschooling conference.

I’ll start today with the speaker who inspired me most –  Cathy Koetsier.  Cathy has unschooled her five children since 2002. Two of her adult children came along to the conference and shared their perspective on unschooling.

Cathy inspired me to trust my children to choose their own learning paths. She shared many examples of how well this has worked within her family. Here are just a few of my favourites.


Prior to 2002, Cathy homeschooled her children in a more traditional way. At that time, her 8-year-old daughter was struggling with maths so much that she was becoming withdrawn and depressed.

When Cathy discovered unschooling, after much soul-searching, she took the courageous decision to allow her daughter to quit maths. She was delighted to see the little girl quickly return to her former happy self.

Fast forward nine years –  this same young lady announced to her surprised mother that she wanted to sit maths GCSE (the public exams English schoolchildren take at around age 16). With the help of a tutor and a short but intense period of self-motivated hard work, Cathy’s daughter passed the exam with a B.

I wonder how differently that story might have turned out – for the young woman, and her whole family – if Cathy had persisted in requiring her daughter to study maths in a way that wasn’t working for her, back when she was eight?


Two of Cathy’s children struggled with reading because of dyslexia. Her son who came to the conference was one of them. He spoke appreciatively of the many hours his parents had spent reading aloud to him during his childhood.

Then, when he was about thirteen, his desire for book learning began to exceed his parents’ read-aloud-availability, and he taught himself to read fluently and accurately. He didn’t find the task easy, but thanks to his parents, he had grown to have a deep love of books, and by thirteen he had the self-motivation to take the necessary steps to overcome his learning difficulty.

unschooling conference
Photo by Tim Pierce

My own son J(8) was diagnosed by an educational psychologist as having mild dyslexia and last year we used the Toe By Toe multi-sensory reading programme recommended by the psychologist. I’ve heard many good reports about Toe By Toe, and I’ve seen improvements in J(8)’s reading since using it. Mostly our sessions are fine, but there have been occasions when they have induced in J(8) tears of frustration.

Cathy’s talk has given me the confidence to trust J(8) to know what is best for him. He loves books and he loves learning. Next year I intend to respect his wishes if there are days – or longer periods – when he doesn’t want to do Toe By Toe. He’ll get there in the end. Our relationship is more important than the rate at which he learns to decipher phonics.

Oh – and, to Cathy’s astonishment, her other dyslexic child was inspired by a love of mythology to take Classics GSCE at age 16 – she  passed!

Unschooling and family relationships

Cathy’s two grown children contributed richly to the conference discussion.

Cathy’s eldest daughter was unschooled for the shortest time. She commented that when the family homeschooling in a more conventional way, she envied her schooled friends their relationships with their mothers. When her friends had a problem with their teachers, they could talk it through with their mums. But while her mother was her homeschool teacher, Cathy’s eldest couldn’t do that – there just wasn’t the room for a normal mother-daughter relationship. When the family began unschooling, she said, “I got my mum back”.

To find out more about Cathy Koetsier’s unschooling experiences, visit her website, Christian Unschooling.

In my next post in this series I’ll share about Joyce Fetteroll‘s Unschooling Toolbox.

unschooling conference
Logo by Holly Dodd

Finding Our Way Back to Unschooling

unschooling in the woods

I’ve always been an unschooler at heart.

It’s how we started, three years ago when I realised I didn’t want my son cooped up in a gloomy classroom all day, learning what a bunch of politicians had decided every English five-year-old should know.

I wanted my children to have the freedom to explore this wondrous world for themselves. I wanted them to know the thrill of finding answers to questions that had had time to take seed and grow in their minds. I wanted them to have the space to dabble in their interests, and the time discover their passions. I wanted them to fall  in love with learning.

So my children came home, and for six months I let them be.

Once we were home-educators, I began a whole new learning adventure of my own.  I discovered The Well-Trained Mind, Charlotte Mason, Project-Based Homeschooling, Brave Writer and, of course, homeschool blogs.  

All these resources have contributed hugely to the richness of our homeschool. Without these forays into other styles we would not know the joys of The Story of the World, what makes a great living book, or the power of copywork to teach grammar, spelling and writing style.

I don’t regret a single step along the winding path that’s brought us to this point.

But now … it’s time to take the best of what we’ve learned, and find our unschooling groove.

In her beautiful post, Aiming for Love, Not Perfection, my unschooling friend Sue Elvis shares the John Holt quote that has always been at the heart of my homeschooling philosophy.

John Holt quote2

I don’t know yet exactly what unschooling’s going to look like for us.  I’m still calling it almost-unschooling, lest the unschooling police knock on my door and swipe the whiteboard out of my hand in the middle of a living maths problem.

I know there’ll still be science, and writing, and art, and history, and geography – I won’t be able to resist sharing my enthusiasm for these subjects with J(8) and C(9). Perhaps we’re still just eclectic homeschoolers. But, whatever our label, next year I’m counting on our homeschool bringing a few surprises.

I hope you’ll follow me on our almost-unschooling adventure!



To find out what’s new in the other Homeschool Help ladies’ homeschools, head over to:

Highhill Homeschool – Homeschool Teaching Style at Highhill Education

Hammock Tracks – Teaching style + clear goals = success

Every Bed of Roses – My Teaching Style Goals for 2013/14

Barefoot Hippie Girl – New Year, New Styles

One Magnificent Obsession – I call myself… Christian Classically Eclectic

I’m linking up here:

Weekly Wrap-Up – Weird Unsocialised Homeschoolers

Homeschool Mother’s Journal – So You Call Yourself A Homeschooler?

Hip Homeschool Hop – 08/27/13


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