Home Education

A Glimmer of Magic

Unschoolers are not immune from bad days. Today started off as a bit of a non-event. I got out the wrong side of the bed (or more specifically, sofa……..hard bed=bad back). It doesn’t help that I’m not getting my full quota of sleep, since being downstairs means the dog wants to play with me at 2am and the light streams in the bay window at 5am and there’s a really big spider on the loose somewhere.

The day began with everyone reading and then I encouraged a get-together about 11am to discuss any plans for the day, but nobody seemed to want to do anything. I went into ‘suggestion overload’ and babbled on about our home ed science show, the upcoming voting, maybe a dog walk in the rain? ‘Remember those days’, I enthused, ‘when we’d dance in the puddles!’ All this over-enthusiasm with a constant background whirr of fidget spinners.

I wanted adventures in the rain, and they wanted to spin bits of plastic around on their fingertips.

I went to the kitchen to make lunch and sulked. They went back to reading their books, checking their emails and googling playstation joy sticks.

We ate lunch around the table together. I still hadn’t got the hint to just be quiet.

‘So the dog walk….I was thinking the woods, it might be fun?’ I said hopefully.

‘Well that sounds great Mum, but it’s going to be muddy.’

‘I know but we can put our wellies on’.

‘Hmmmm, well actually I can’t really because I’ve just put my trainers on and tied the laces up 3 times really, really tight and it would take ages to take them off now’.

I got the hint. Looks like it was going to be a simple dog walk round the block, in the rain, on my own.

After lunch they resumed reading their books and I made the decision to just get on with my own thing, so I made banana cake and washed the dog and cleaned the floor.

At about 4pm the sun came out and they decided to go out and play with their friends around the corner, but by 4:10pm they had returned soaking wet and shrieking. There were huge thunder claps and lightening, the sky was dark and dramatic as the rain pelted down. They were upset they couldn’t play out, so I tentively suggested getting the paints out.

‘We haven’t done painting for ages, yes I really want to paint together Mum!’ We got the paints and paper ready and sat and stared at the empty page. I had no idea what to paint, but T knew immediately he wanted to paint the storm.

We started to paint, but T wasn’t sure how to paint lightning, so we looked through our science encyclopedia’s and found some great photos of lightning. We took turns reading out passages about thunder and lightening. T was very thoughtful, he knew a lot about storms already. He knew it was unsafe to shelter under a tree but didn’t know that it was because lightning will find the fastest route to the ground. He was excited to tell me all about the man he’d read about who’d been struck by lightning 8 times and survived.

His painting was beautiful, the way he uses paint so thoughtfully and in an abstract way but with such precision. He needed an exact shade of purple and remembered a few months back that he had spent half a day with L mixing paints and creating their own colours. The pot of purple had been waiting all these months for this moment. It was the exact shade he needed for his painting. Two magical unschooled moments coliding, when a lost afternoon of paint mixing gave precision to the electrical pulse of lightning being painted months later. How perfect. I couldn’t have planned it better.


And so, they will remember the storm today. T will remember the lightning and the way you can find safety inside a car not under a tree. He will likely remember the electrical impulses which create lightning and the thunderous sounds they make from the sudden expansion of air, a sonic shockwave.

And I will try hard to remember that sometimes the best moments come from keeping quiet and letting life evolve, and that even on grumpy days, good things happen.

Plastic Free Living

Plastic Free Living

I was recently sat watching ‘top 10 funny’ you tube clips, and one of them was a skunk wondering around with a coke can stuck on it’s head.

It really got to me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and it really wasn’t funny! I’ve been talking the talk for so long about rubbish, but meanwhile loading my own bin every single week.

Image result for animal with coke can on head

This September we subscribed to the Global Guardian Project which is a wonderful interactive e-magazine encouraging worldwide sustainable living. Both my children have enjoyed the monthly capsules, and we created a ‘real-life’ group to work together on some of the activities and challenges.  We’ve talked about plastic, fair trade and so on. We’ve sympathised with sea turtles who eat plastic bags thinking it’s food. We’ve created artwork, written poetry and we’ve even been on a beach clean for the Marine Conservation Society, where we collected bags of rubbish from the beach, much of it plastic.

Image result for ocean plastic

We do basic everyday plastic free things, like trying hard to remember our bags for life when shopping and buying local box schemes, but we still manage to fill our waste bin with plastic items that cannot be re-used or re-cycled.

It’s not enough, not nearly enough.

The time to make a change is right now. The actions of one person or one family does matter. It’s time to stop shrugging our shoulders in defeat, to stop just talking about it and really take action.

Tackling our household rubbish is a big task, so I’ve chosen to start with plastic.

I want to take on the challenge to go completely plastic-free as a starting point. I am really excited about this and will be using the blog as a way of holding myself accountable.

This is a blog about education, but any kind of education starts with yourself. We teach our children everyday, by our action and our inaction. I want to inspire my own children to care for the earth, but I need to lead by example, because if unschooling is about anything at all, then it’s about leading an intentional life.

Will you join me?

Home Education

Unschooling Our Way

I’ve always shied away from using any terminology to label the kind of home educators we are. Home educators, especially on the net, are very vocal and protective of the varying labels.

We have always simply called ourselves ‘home educators’ because it left most room for the kind of learning we did with no-body but ourselves to judge it. On the other hand, it makes it sound like we are actually ‘at home’, which for large chunks of the week, we’re not!


We have experimented with elements of a Steiner curriculum and group learning projects, but in our hearts we identified more closely with unschooling, we were about 95% there in our understanding.

Recently though, something big clicked in my brain. Maybe the mind-shift happened because my daughter tried school and everyday she downloaded her experience to me. It certainly pushed me to 100%, but I had also begun seriously thinking about the idea of consent in education.

I began to reflect on my experiences as a teacher, the aspects of the schooling system I didn’t feel comfortable with and the many children I avocated for in my role as SEN co-ordinator.

Whilst googling the idea of educational consent and children’s rights, I came across Sophie Christophy’s blog and her posts about Consent based Education.  Finally I felt a deep connection to a label! Consent based education is actually the key principle of unschooling; it’s respectfully educating and on a wider note, respectfully living and parenting.

Respectfully educating, yes, that is what I strive towards.

I don’t think it means it must always be child-led either. It is not about sitting around, waiting for your child to come up with questions or great ideas about what they want to learn and do, it takes way more involvement than that. On the other hand, I recognise that I have been guilty at times of making too many suggestions and overwhelming everyone. I guess I get excited about the possibilities of life! The ideal I strive for is far more like an intricate dance between parent and child, where you cannot tell who is leading and who is being led because neither is, or perhaps both are!

Quite simply, for us, unschooling is a deep connection with each other, a partnership born out of spending quality time together living our lives. From this, interests arise and can be explored and questions are asked and investigated. When at home, we kind of just hang out together and stuff just evolves.  


This week I really tried to break it down, this daily ‘what we do’ and it includes all of this:

  • Books: We usually start and end everyday with reading, either together or on our own. We swap our library books most weeks. L and T choose their own books but I often add a few to the pile that I think they will enjoy based on a current interest or conversation. The books are a collection of both fiction and non-fiction. We keep our library books in a basket downstairs for easy access and so they do not get mixed up with our own books and incur huge fines!
  • Chatting: we spend a lot of time chatting as a family, so much natural learning opportunities come from our chats. Take this week as an example; one of us mentioned that a watermelon was a vegetable, not a fruit, according to one of the weird fact books from the library. This led on to T wanting to know what the differences between fruits and vegetables were. Somehow this led on to nuts (which are fruits), and lastly the problem of peanuts which are legumes, which we assume is a vegetable, right? It was a bloody confusing conversation and I’m not sure the original watermelon question was completely solved……but I’m sure they learnt something, even if it was just that Mum is clueless about fruit and vegetables, she isn’t even sure what a legume is, she had to google it, DUH!
  • Random resources and suggestions: Someone will have an awesome idea of something to do or somewhere to go, which might be L or T or me. I don’t always wait for the kids to come up with the ideas, sometimes I make suggestions, but mine aren’t that random really, I know my children pretty well by now. We then try out the awesome idea because it’s fun and we want to! Yesterday the awesome idea came from L and was a card game which no-one knows the name of but which we named ‘Target’. It involved picking up groups of cards, figuring out the values using multiplication, then adding it to your total score. Closest to 100 wins. This led on to games of ‘Go Fish’, ‘Top Trumps’ and ‘Mancala’.
  • Pinterest boards/real-life ‘project’ boards/ideas box: Both L and T have a folder on my pinterest board which they add ideas of things they’d like to make, do, learn about etc. They also have a project board on the wall, where they stick their real-life pins of inspiring pictures, ideas, works in progress and so forth. L has recently made an ‘idea’s box’ and asked us to post suggestions to be emptied every Monday morning and then decide together which ones to do during the week ahead.
  • Structured Learning: Most unschooled kids go to some structured classes in something they love to do. Currently L has dance, horse-riding and multi-sports and T has tennis and multi-sports. Unschooling is not about never doing structured classes, it’s about choice and freedom. Sometimes my kids also love me to help them with ideas and ways to structure their academic learning too. At times that has meant setting up a group to work on a specific skill or subject area. Occasionally that will require me finding a suitable adult to share a skill, but sometimes that adult is me! For example, L has asked me to help her with her writing, for now we are doing that in 2 ways: working with her and her friend on creative writing and also supporting her to plan, write and edit her own stories. Just today T told me he wants to ‘do more science because he loves it’. We discussed ways he would like that to happen. He wants to do ‘fun’ experiments and so we sat and looked through our resources together to select ideas he would like to try and then we planned to do one straight away because wherever possible I try to make the learning  they have asked for happen before life takes over again and we all forget our goals. I have learnt that capturing the moment in this way helps my children to feel supported.
  • Home Ed Groups: We have a few regular groups we attend so that L and T see their friends often. Home ed groups have been trial and error for us, and we are picky about the ones we invest our time in these days. The group has to fit with our ethos and values.
  • Experiences: I love this part:) The trips, the hands-on activities, the chunks of real-life action. T picks up leaflets from everywhere we go with ideas of places or museums he wants to visit. He pins them on his ‘project board’ as a reminder or carries them around for days. Sometimes L wants to come too and we do it together or occasionally she would rather not and so we organise it at a weekend when she can stay at home.
  • Play: Play has always been a huge part of our week. It takes many forms: playing with the pets, with toys (a favoured pastime currently is playing with their shared doll collection, they do this sometimes for hours at a time), shooting hoops at the park, loads of board games and playing with friends both home ed and local. They don’t currently play a lot of computer games, but L has requested minecraft on our PC as she plays it on her grandmothers ipad at the moment! Playing with friends leads to many learning opportunities, a recent example is L asking to learn Portuguese as she would like to communicate better with one of her local friends mother who speaks very little English. To me, this is an excellent example of how simply being immersed in life presents learning opportunities quite naturally. This is purposeful learning at it’s best.
  • Modelling a life:  I try to be conscious of how I spend my time, and make room for things which are important to me. I want my children to see me do more than washing dishes and taxi’ing them around. I want to find my passions and I want to keep learning too! I try not to have a huge agenda for my children’s learning and lives, but if I want to encourage any particular habit (such as keeping their space tidy), I start with myself. Children are big imitators, they will learn from us whether we are aware of it or not. With this in mind, I have a ‘project’ board too. It keeps my own personal goals in mind and I share with my children my plans to achieve them. They see me make mistakes, learn new things, take risks and work hard to achieve what I set out to do. Most of the time they join in!
  • Nature:  Time outside has always been important to us as a family. We try to make room for this everyday, whether it’s a simple dog walk or a big adventure.


Here’s a list of things we did on a day at home this week to show how the above kind of melts together into a day of learning and life: discussed the news; discussed how media can influence you; drew our yearly self-portraits (which also involved a lot of measuring of faces and eyes, which led on to measuring bottom widths, I have the biggest bum in the family apparently); played with dolls; read from the new science encyclopedia; read fiction; cooked lunch together (L learnt how to make a cheese sauce); went swimming; played with friends and learnt to roller-blade.

Some of those things were planned (using L’s idea box), such as the swimming and the self-portraits, everything else was spontaneous.

Is our life perfect? No.

Does it challenge my parenting skills? Yes, often.

Have I got this unschooling malarkey down to a fine art? Nope.

Do my kids like being unschooled? Definitely.

Do I love it? Yes!

I can honestly, hand on heart say I never wish my kids went to school. Sometimes it’s exhausting, sometimes I’d love a little more time to myself, sometimes I’d quite like to earn a bit of money and sometimes I dream of having less responsibilities and running away with the circus (true)

…………………………. but only if my kids can come too!



When were you most happy?

I mean really happy?

Can you think of a period of your life that you felt most contented?

Can you pin-point things that happen in a normal day that make you also feel that way?

That’s what I’m busy thinking about and researching at the moment. The science of happiness!


What has prompted this, is that my daughter, L, recently spent 5 months in school and now she is back home, we are re-evaluating what we do and why.

I thought it would be useful to discover what our individual optimum environment is for enjoyment. When am I most happy? When are they most happy? What kind of environment produces the ideal backdrop for the learning process for each child?

Sounds a bit ambitious I know, but unschoolers are always doing this! It’s one of the coolest things about home educating. With so much personal autonomy we have this amazing opportunity for each family member to fulfill their potential and to generally love their life.

So back to the question that started me thinking, and the best place to start of course is with yourself.

When was I most happy?

I felt the happiest when L was about 2 months old. I remember walking down our street to the library with her in a buggy and this amazing feeling of contentment swept over me. It was a state of pure bliss, nirvana. I was a new mother, I was on maternity leave and I had nothing to worry about except for this little person. I was so in love with her and the focus was on simple day to day jobs of taking care of a baby. It’s all I had to do, I could focus my entire being on it and I loved it.

So why did I stop feeling happy and contented?

When L was 6 months old, actually just before, I went back to work part-time. Everything about this frustrated me. I had previously loved my job, but I now had a child and I felt torn in two. I couldn’t do either job justice. I had a constant stream of phone-calls from the nursery because L wasn’t eating, wasn’t sleeping or was ill. I knew L was unhappy, but I felt trapped. My baby needed me, but we couldn’t pay the mortgage without my wage at that point in time.

By this point I was already pregnant with T. Life was just about to go crazy, a kind of crazy-wonderful, but I wouldn’t have time to even think about whether I was happy or not!

L and T are almost 10 and 11 now, and those years have been amazing. Often really hard, at times stressful and unenjoyable but overall they have been happy years. I know that life cannot be fun all the time, but I also know that these years when your children are young, are so precious. That this opportunity of unschooling is such a gift, and I want to maximise it as much as possible.

My theory is that if I can tap into our family ‘joy’ as much as possible we will not just be happier but will create the ideal learning environment for our children to grow through their teenage years because it’s looking likely that school won’t be playing any further part in our lives.

The next step is to discover when those moments of joy are occurring, or what might be interfering with them.


I guess when I analyse my own happiness over the years, the times when I’ve experienced joy have often been when I’ve been able to fully focus on the task in hand with no distractions.

That’s why holidays are so joyful. It’s not just the sun on your back or the refreshing post swim lazy drinks. It’s because all the distractions of life disappear for a while and you can truly be present in the moment.

Much of my life has great potential for joy, but I am constantly frustrated by competition for my attention. I don’t mean the kids either, I mean everything else: the mess, the telephone going, not being able to locate something we want, the emails I need to write, the to do list nagging my thoughts, the dog needing walking, the guinea pigs squeaking, worries and concerns piling up in my brain and sucking my energy.

Mental and physical clutter. That’s where I’m going to begin.

Wish me luck!





School’s out for summer!

Ok, it’s not summer yet but I’m back to two on the home front. The school experiment is over (possibly forever, but who really knows!) and lots has been learnt. I’m not talking school subjects, I mean life learning. We’ve all learnt a lot from L’s short few months in school. I can’t really add much here, we are all still processing everything, but one day I will write a proper post about it. There are one or two posts I wrote at the time, which are currently password protected. If your unschooled child is considering school and you feel reading my posts would help you then please contact me and I will give you access.

So that leaves another change. I’m going to veer away from L and T’s personal journey a little, though there will be the odd reference or post which the kids have agreed to. L and T aren’t too keen on having their life immortalised on a blog. I don’t blame them at all, and anyway I always found it odd to write about ‘us’ and our journey. All a bit embarrassing quite frankly. I nearly deleted every post I wrote.

It has meant a bit of an edit of previous posts and articles, to take out any photos or words L and T were not happy with, which is why it went off-line for 6 months. So if you find something has changed or disappeared, it’s just because I value and respect my children’s thoughts and wishes.

The thing is, my mind races with ideas and thoughts about learning and education. I mean, I think about it pretty much all the time and so to stop me going completely bonkers and boring Sean every evening, I’m just going to jot it all down here, on this blog, and hope someone finds it useful! There will be lots of ideas of places to go and things to do. All tried and tested of course. I will blog on current ideas in education and also any books or other resources we personally find supports our unschooled life.





What Is Project-Based Learning?

Do you you unschool, but find your older children need more structure or perhaps your unschooling doesn’t feel like it’s meeting their needs anymore? Does your unschooled child not feel like they’re learning enough?

 This is where a more deliberate project-based style can be a perfect fit.

Unschooling is a lifestyle; it is an intricate dance of providing just the right amount of social interaction, stimulation, experiences, materials, resources and relaxation. Whilst trying to achieve all of this the parent also has a home to run, meals to prepare, pets to walk and care for, family and friends to see, perhaps a business to attend to and so on.

It is easy to see how the unschooling train can derail.

When I started out home educating my own children, I knew I wanted them to have play-based early years. I think we did that part expertly, and it flowed well into them discovering their passions, learning to read, beginning to write and so forth. It was all very natural and organic. Then something changed; my daughter wanted more structure at about age 9 and I struggled to understand exactly what I needed to do to help facilitate that need.

I had a child who wanted more formal, structured learning, preferably with other children, but who did not really want to be taught. We already had many of the elements of project-based learning happening, but it was far from a fine art. We began experimenting with a Waldorf Curriculum, but somehow life just kept getting in the way!

Our unschooling didn’t feel like it was working anymore. A curriculum was not the way forward for us either. We still wanted learning to be interest led, to move at the child’s own developmental pace, to be mentored and facilitated. Project-based learning was our way forward.

Project based learning is about using strategies to help your children direct and manage their own learning. But how?

Here are 3 key elements to show you how to take a project-based approach to your child’s learning journey:

  1. The important idea with this style of learning is to remember that at all times, the child should own their work. You can start with directly asking your children what they want to learn about, but children cannot always articulate their thoughts that precisely. The best way is to observe your children over time; look for clues in their play and in the things they say to each other and to you. Be a detective! Keep a journal to record what you discover from your observations.


I tend to write freely about our day and then create a short bullet pointed list at the end for ideas to action, these might include: questions they have asked; groups they want to try out; materials they have asked for; or my own thoughts on suggestions I could make based on observing their interests over time.

2. Make the environment your child’s teacher. Ensure materials are within their reach and they have a good range of resources to experiment and work with (they do not need to be expensive). Try to make the project area clear of junk and organised (note to self!) If possible give your children a dedicated workspace. Use bulletin boards to display their works in progress, sketches, notes, questions and so forth. Display their finished projects on shelving, walls, in portfolio’s or more formally in project books if that’s what they want. Children, especially as they get older, like to know they are learning.

3. Dedicate your time and support. It sounds silly to suggest giving your children your time when you home educate and are with them all day! The reality though, is that life can take over sometimes. Being a totally disorganised kind of person myself, I find the idea of timetabling project sessions really helpful. It’s not that projects and learning don’t happen at other times (seriously I know that learning and life are intertwined), it’s simply a guarantee to my children that I will have the materials they need and the time to help without any other distractions during those ‘blocks of time’.

Sometimes ‘projects’ might be one-off experiences, but I think the beauty of this style of working means you have all the tools to challenge your child to work deeply at times and extend their ideas.

Your children’s projects can be done on their own at home, with siblings or wider family, with a bunch of friends or within the community. Projects can also be 2D, 3D,indoor, outdoor, verbal, written, performed or even whilst riding on the back of a horse!

Stop thinking of ‘projects’ as something which must be recorded in a book.


Here is a great website to help you get loads more information about how project-based  learning can work: http://project-based-homeschooling.com/about

Project-based learning can be for anyone. An unschooler might use this style of working full-time, whereas a more traditional home educating family might carve out a chunk of time each week for projects. Even a school going child can benefit by encouraging them to remember their own learning goals.

Project-based learning is about your children being valued, respected and celebrated as learners.

My final thought on this is actually the most important aspect. Project-based learning is not just for children, it’s for you too! Get involved! What do you want to do with your time? Now is absolutely the time to follow your passions. So dust off that guitar, pull out that canvas, write that book. When your child does project work, you can too.