# Unschooling Plans for English and Maths

Unschooling plans? Is that an oxymoron? I was going to say “unschooling ideas” but that sounded too vague. Call them what you will – over the last few weeks I’ve been chatting with the children about what they want to learn this term and jotting down ideas in Evernote, and that’s what this post and the next are about.

Today, I’ll share our plans for maths and English. Next time I’ll talk about history, science, projects and extras.

## Maths

### Fourth grade maths

Without a maths curriculum, how do I know what to cover with C(10)?

One place I look for ideas is past SATs papers taken by 11 year-old English schoolchildren. (These are actually quite fun, would you believe.)

When I come across a topic I think C(10) will enjoy learning about (or revisiting) I look it up in our collection of maths books. We especially like the Murderous Maths series at the moment. I usually read aloud, pausing while C(10) – beside me on the sofa –  works through problems on a mini-whiteboard.

I also scan our favourite maths websites for games and hands-on activities relating to the topic. Two new (to me) resources I’m looking forward to exploring this term are Mathtrain.TV (loads of short maths videos, mostly made by children) and MathForum (hundreds of links to maths websites and activities).

### Third grade maths

For the moment J(8) wants to continue working through Life of Fred. As we progress with the elementary series I’m inclined to agree with Hwee that this series has a few flaws. This has particularly struck me in our current book, Life of Fred: Ice Cream, which focuses heavily on learning the times tables by rote and introduces concepts like perimeter and graphing in a dry and confusing way.

However J(8) loves the Fred story and as it doesn’t form our entire un-curriculum, I’m happy to stick with it for now.  He prefers his maths a bit less seat-of-your-pants than C(10), so it works for me to try out new things with her, knowing I can do them with J(8) later when I’ve ironed out the wrinkles. In the meantime we include J(8) in any games, stories and fun hands-on activities we do.

## English

English (language arts and literature) is the subject I feel most relaxed about leaving to the children. Over the years I’ve become convinced that the single thing that makes the most difference to their proficiency in the English language is books. Not spelling and grammar workbooks, or learning how to construct a paragraph, but books with stories they love.

Books improve my children’s vocabulary, spelling, grammar and writing voice and style, not to mention their debating skills, critical thinking and general knowledge. There’s plenty of time for them to learn to write essays; for now I want to give them time to develop their own voices, inspired by the books they read and listen to. As a former lawyer I’m also a stickler for accurate punctuation; however I believe this, too, will come easily and naturally when the time is right.

### What we’re reading/listening to

As usual we have many audiobooks on the go. Together we’ve just started the fourth book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series,  So Long and Thanks for All the Fish (warning: contains some scenes between a man and woman you may not want your kids hearing. J(8) drifts off during the “sappy bits” which in any case are general enough to go over his head, and C(10) is mature enough to handle them, so this doesn’t bother me personally).  J(8) has asked to learn about the world wars this term, so I’ve got The Silver Sword lined up for us to listen to together next.

C(10) and I are listening to I, Coriander (historical fiction/fantasy set in the days of Oliver Cromwell).  J(8) and I are listening to The Once and Future King (a charming classic re-telling of the King Arthur legend). I love finding myself in the car with just one child and being able to flick on our special audiobook (on the Audible app on my phone). (We do talk sometimes too, honest.)

Meanwhile, on their own, J(8) is re-listening to the Kane Chronicles and C(10) has just started reading The Underland Chronicles series (by Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins) while she waits for the fourth Heroes of Olympus book to arrive at the library.

Over the Christmas break we finished an excellent trilogy which prompted some very stimulating discussions about human nature, war and politics. I’m not going to mention the title (it’s not The Hunger Games) because I don’t want you to think I’m recommending it for eight-year-olds, but once I’ve formulated my thoughts I might be brave and write a post about it. Both my kids loved the books, and the listening experience really brought home to me how valuable fiction can be for deepening children’s (and adults’) understanding of complex real-world issues.

### Brave Writer Lifestyle

I’m intending to use Brave Writer’s Daily Writing Tips: Volume 1 for inspiration, especially as a springboard to write alongside J(8) who has suddenly taught himself to spell (two years after we gave up spelling lessons and six months after we stopped his phonics programme. There’s a lesson for me there).

It’s a joy witnessing J(8)’s emerging written self-expression, not just for its own sake but because his writing is just so funny. Last week I was sitting alongside C(10) as she wrote Christmas thank-you emails. Her messages were polite, well-spelt and punctuated, and followed all the usual thank-you note conventions. Then J(8) joined us. I started out typing for him but he soon seized the computer to stop me editing what he wanted to say. We were soon all snorting with laughter at J(8)’s idea of appropriate greetings and thank-you sentiments. I’m not sure what J(8)’s kind relations and godparents will make of his thank-you notes, but I can be sure they won’t be receiving many others like his!

It won’t take long for J(8) to learn how to formulate his written thoughts into exam-ready paragraphs when he needs to do so. J(8)’s written voice is just beginning to emerge as the perfect expression of his exuberant, off-the-wall personality. To attempt to squash it into a rubric-constrained framework, before it’s had time to fully develop, would be a tragedy.

C(10) will continue her writing sessions with her tutor, the homeschooling mum friend who first introduced me to Brave Writer. C(10)  thoroughly enjoys these sessions and I’ve seen wonderful developments in her writing style since she began them.  I’ve also noticed that she’s been writing more often spontaneously recently – stories, notes and a very detailed dream journal.

We’ll also continue daily(ish) copywork, poetry teatimes, word and writing games and our read-aloud chapter book. We might read Puddles in the Lane next. I remember loving this story of evacuated children when I was ten, and it will fit well with J(8)’s request to learn about the World Wars.

More on that, and our project plans, next time!

***

I’m appreciatively linking up here:

The Hip Homeschool Hop

Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Entertaining and Educational

Collage Friday

# Audiobooks for All Our Family

In my last post I listed some of the audiobooks C(9), J(8) and I listen to together. Today I’ll share some of the books we’ve been listening to individually, plus some non-fiction audiobooks we’ve enjoyed together.

I also go off on a little tangent about reading and empathy. And I consider the impact of audiobooks on reading.

I’ve titled this post “Audiobooks for All Our Family.”  This is not because I think all the books I mention are suitable for all ages (some are most definitely not). It’s just a selection of the audiobooks my children and I have enjoyed.

### Books C(9) has recently listened to on her own

Little Women

Black Beauty

{Notice I lead with the uncontroversial classics 😉 }

My Family and Other Animals (repeat of a family-listen)

The Hunger Games  – We first listened to this sci-fi trilogy together.

Since then, C(9) has listened almost every night. She’s repeated the cycle what must be about thirty times by now. I am reminded of a card from my Unschooling Toolbox:

Your child is getting something important from the 57th viewing of that video. It isn’t important to understand what that is. It is important to understand that it’s important to your child.

Joyce Fetterol

Of course that doesn’t stop me speculating what C(9) could be getting from her thirtieth listen to The Hunger Games. One of the skills C(9) knows she has to work on consciously is empathy. So I was intrigued by this post about how reading builds the capacity for empathy:

Reading fiction – especially when the setting is another culture, another time – has to be the best means of building empathic sensibilities. How do you understand prejudice if you are not of a group subject to discrimination? … How does it feel to be hungry, orphaned, or terrified when you’ve always lived a middle-class life? Harnessing the detail, drama, emotion, and immediacy of “the story,” fiction informs the heart as well as the mind.

Doug Johnson

Whatever she’s getting out of Katniss’s struggles through The Hunger Games’ dystopia, it’s evidently important to C(9)!

### Books J(8) listens to on his own

J(8) is working his way through The 39 Clues series.

I love how as he listens he shares interesting snippets about historical figures. These have included Ben Franklin, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (“the greatest warrior of all time”) and Marie-Antoinette of France.

Check out The 39 Clues Educator Network for an idea of what kids can learn from these books.

J(8) also listens to The Hobbit and he’s dipped into The Lord of the Rings.

His repeat bedtime listen is The Inheritance Cycle. (We listened to Eragon together.)

### Books C(9) and I listen to together

When it’s just C(9) and I in the car we listen to the Anne of Green Gables series. It’s so special sharing these delightful books with my daughter. We’re up to Anne’s House of Dreams.

I’ve bought the kindle versions of most of the books; I like to linger over the rich language. I sometimes write out  quotes from the Anne books when I join my children for copywork.

### Non-fiction books I listen to and my children overhear

I usually have a non-fiction audiobook on the go which the kids sometimes overhear. I make sure they don’t hear anything inappropriate by discreet use of the pause button.

They enjoyed large parts of Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography. I listened to parts detailing Jobs’ personal life on my own.

C(9) learned heaps about astrophysics from Parallel Worlds: The Science of Alternative Universes and Our Future in the Cosmos.

And at the moment we’re all enjoying From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg: What You Really Need to Know About the Internet. This audiobook a fascinating listen. It’s  filling in gaps in my knowledge while baffling my children with the inconceivable notion of life without the internet. Empathy can evidently only stretch so far.

### My recent favourite fiction books I listen to on my own

I read so much non-fiction, I used not to have time for fiction. Then two things happened: I joined a book group, and we got a dog.

This got me into a habit I now enjoy immensely of listening to fiction audiobooks on my own, at times when I couldn’t read a book. I listen while preparing food, cleaning my teeth, doing housework…I’m sure all you book lovers can relate.

A couple of books I have loved recently are:

The Rosie Project – If you like Doc Martin or The Big Bang Theory you will love this book. The extremely likeable narrator has (undiagnosed) Asperger’s Syndrome. The story is about his quest to find a wife. On his journey he learns – and teaches us – a thing or two about the value of seeing the world differently from the average person.

As a quirky mother of two quirky kids, this was a life-affirming, uplifting read. I laughed out loud all the way through. My husband James – who never usually listens to audiobooks – got hooked in and loved it too.

Where D’You Go, Bernadette? – Another hilarious, laugh-out-loud book about being different.

### Do audiobooks hinder reading?

From time to time James and I ponder the effect of audiobooks on our children. We discuss  in particular whether more listening means less reading.

C(9) learned to read early and reads quickly. She read the entire Harry Potter series in a couple of weeks when she was seven. C(9) may read slightly less fiction than she would if we didn’t have audiobooks, but the quality of the books she is exposed to is probably higher overall.

Sometimes, only the first few books in a series are available as audiobooks. In this case C(9) won’t think twice about reading the rest of the series.

C(9) also reads a ton of non-fiction I strew or she finds on our shelves. She tends to choose modern tween fiction (like The Cupcake Diaries series) when we visit the library.

J(8), meanwhile, has mild dyslexia. His reading comprehension was assessed last year as five years ahead (thanks to computer games). But he doesn’t enjoy reading long texts. Audiobooks have made a huge difference to him. As he listens he is exposed to  language and literature he almost certainly couldn’t yet read for himself.

I make sure J(8) has plenty of real books available. He loves reading joke books, graphic novels like Stinky, and comics like the Beano.  He also whipped through – and rereads – the Wimpy Kid, Big Nate and Captain Underpants series.

J(8) enjoys books,  appreciates quality literature, and knows how to read. That’ll do for my dyslexic eight-year-old for now!

So do audiobooks have a detrimental effect on “real” reading? Not at all. In our house, the two formats happily compliment each other, in much the same way as reading aloud supports children becoming avid readers.

Do you use audiobooks in your homeschool?

****

I’m happily linking up here:

Hip Homeschool Hop – 9/10/13

Collage Friday

Homeschool Mother’s Journal

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# What We’re Reading {Listening To}

Our homeschooling has always involved a lot of driving – a side effect of having a daughter with a zillion outside interests and a son who goes to SPD therapy twice a week.

Our car time has been transformed by Audible. The huge range of audiobooks now available means it’s easy to find something that appeals to everyone.

I buy 24 credits at a time, so each audiobook costs about £4.50 (\$7). As we don’t spend money on curriculum I see this as a great investment. Many of our purchases are listened to over and over.

We usually have several audiobooks on the go. What we listen to on any particular journey depends who’s in the car. Here are some we’ve enjoyed when all three of us are together:

### Current listen

Right now we’re listening to Birds, Beasts & Relatives, a second delightful collection of stories about conservationist Gerald Durrell’s childhood on the Greek Island of Corfu.

We did a mini-geography unit on  Corfu when we listened to the first in the series, My Family and Other Animals.

These books have a special place in my heart because the first overseas holiday my family took was to Corfu when I was eleven, just after I’d read My Family and Other Animals.

I can still remember my excitement at spotting the various villas the Durrells had lived in as we drove around the island. (My own family and no idea what I was doing – they were just looking for beaches!)

C(9) and J(8) enjoy looking at Google images of the people and places from the books. One day I’ll take them to Corfu to see for themselves.

### Recent favourites

* The Adventures of Tom Sawyer & The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Swallowdale – second in the sailing and camping adventure series featuring the five Walker children, set in England’s Lake District in the 1930’s.

I read aloud the first adventure, Swallows & Amazons, a couple of years ago. I was mighty relieved when these long books appeared on Audible! We studied diagrams of boats and learned some nautical terminology when we first read this.

* The Inheritance Cycle  – My kids love fantasy – much more than I do. We listened to Eragon together and then they listened to the rest on their own. We often do this, so I can keep an ear on what they’re listening to. I like that Christopher Paolini wrote Eragon while he was a homeschooled teenager.

* The Percy Jackson series – Again, I listened with the children to the first in Rick Riordan’s series based on Greek mythology, and they finished the series on their own. J(8) is now working his way through the Kane Chronicles (based on the Egyptian gods) and The 39 Clues.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy –  I love sharing with my children the books I enjoyed as a child, and C(9) and J(8) love this cult sci-fi comedy as much as their geeky parents did. The third book in Douglas Adams’ “trilogy in four parts,” Life, the Universe and Everything, is next on our playlist.

* The Little House on the Prairie series  {Not on Audible. I bought the CDs from Amazon US}

These are some of the books we’ve enjoyed listening to all together. In part 2 I’ll share those we listen to and read in smaller groups and individually.  I’ll also share my thoughts on the impact of audiobooks on reading.

To see what the other Homeschool Help families are reading, visit:

Highhill Homeschool – Making Connections with Reading – Our Disorganized List of Current Reads

One Magnificent Obsession – Balancing Interest and Challenge

Barefoot Hippie Girl – What’s on our Reading List… Home School Edition

Hammock Tracks – What Are You Reading?

Every Bed of Roses – Our Current Read Aloud and To Read List

I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Entertaining and Educational – Highhill Homeschool

Collage Friday – Homegrown Learners

Weekly Wrap-Up – Weird Unsocialised Homeschoolers

Hip Homeschool Hop – 13/09/03

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

TGIF Linky Party #93

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