Friday, 18 August 2017

Training Your Child Part 2 - The Coffeeshop

While I'm waiting for Vicki to complete the questionnaire from the viewpoint of a careers' advisor, I decided to take my 9th grader to coffee and talk about his future as Part 2 of my exploration of careers for my teens.

You may recall in Part 1, my eldest who's in 11th grade was inspired by a book to decide her career with no further discussion.

The last time I had a chat with "Killer", my number 2, he said he was thinking of going into animation for NASA. That was in 2015 as we hiked for 10 miles for my Moon Walk training.

London Moon Walk: with Kim and Jenny

I thought it was time - now that he's 14 - to re-visit the topic, and it's interesting how differently the discussion went this time around.

Killer has done a lot of growing up in the past two years. He has been accepted onto the youth group's leadership training course and completed its first year of it; he volunteers weekly for the library, trains in our swim club's highest squad, and recently was promoted to First Officer in his Trail Life troop.

The highest "boy" office in a TL group

We had some time to kill after his dermatology appointment today, so I took him to the local cafe for a chat.

I did not order a large latte - it was a mistake by the waiter!

We first brainstormed about things that interested him: guitar, animation, computer programming, building computers, careers associated with his lovely voice and English accent such as radio DJ, event announcer, director of films, lighting specialist. Some of these, he thought, were hobbies and not careers. Some of these might be his job. Which ones for a career? He wasn't yet sure.

Then I wanted to establish some ground rules. Given his academic strengths, I wanted him to consider a degree in something "solid" like English, math, science, history, etc. It's best, I said, to be sure to make good grades and to finish, not necessarily to worry about which subject you do it in as long as, at least at this stage when you're not really sure what to do, it's a broad and traditional one.

Next we talked about the God-oriented view: God has made us with certain strengths. He knit us in our mother's wombs to do something. There are seven mountains of influence, one of which we are probably gifted to work in.

And then we had a revelation together: Killer feels called to the mountain of arts and entertainment. This is a complete shock to me: a child who just loves electronics, who can hug a computer to make it work, who knows which buttons of a thousand to press to get the right responses from a machine, an introvert of introverts, and he wants to produce things that make people happy and bring them joy.

For an introvert, he can be quite the comedian!

So with this in mind, I have suggested to him that he has a great opportunity as a 9th grader to spend the next four years in exploration, but not just random exploration: intentional exploration; otherwise, there's a likelihood of frittering away these opportunities by time-consuming use of electronics.

He's a checklist kind of guy, so we'll be looking into creating a checklist of careers to look into this year, and in the meantime, keeping our spiritual ears attuned to what circumstantial opportunities that God might put in our path.

When was the last time you had a "date" with your high schooler to talk about their future? Why not put one on your calendar right now?

In the meantime, put your best guess in the comment box about what you THINK your child wants to do, then update with what he or she ended up surprising you with! We will all enjoy the broad opportunities available to our children.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Planning for 2017 - Step One

I'm cutting it really, really fine. We're less than a month before we're going to start school, and I haven't really made my plans for the year.

Looking for inspiration in the stars

I thought it might be fun - perhaps instructional - for other homeschoolers to watch me fumble through my plan for 2017-2018.

As you may have gathered if you've followed me for any time, I have four children aged between 10 and 17, and I teach them all together using the Charlotte Mason method.

aka Killer, Rocky, Phoenix, and Timmy

There are shades of interpretation for the CM method, and while there are a lot of purists out there, I'm not one of them. To my mind, Charlotte Mason - genius as she was - was still a classroom teacher and planned, implemented, and managed her philosophy via the lens of being a classroom teacher.

I know ... sacrilege, right?

Well, I'm a former classroom teacher, too, and know for a fact that what one does in a classroom is not what one necessarily needs to do in their living room with their own children.

So, I have taken to heart CM's short lessons, living books, narration/copywork/dictation, while devising my own plan of subjects and scope/sequence.

We always study the Bible, memorize Bible verses, use a math curriculum for each child such as Life of Fred or Shillermath, and then have a stack of books for English literature, philosophy, science, biography, spiritual lives, history, economics, and geography. We work through our stack a little each day, reading in 15-20 minute intervals, and by this step-wise approach, we will usually complete many of the books we start out with in September. (If we don't, we just let them carry over till the next year).

Here's a book that took us over 2 years: celebration!

Added to this, we have a weekly co-op in my house. Last year, we studied Texas History and Biology. Tomorrow, I'm going to discuss with my colleague about this year's plan, but it looks like it will be US Government and Chemistry.

My high schoolers have also been attending outsourced online courses for five years now: both have completed four years of English, and now are working their way through Ancient History and Spanish. All these are undertaken with Dreaming Spires Home Learning, my own international tutorial company where I'm in charge of the English.

Online doesn't have to mean isolated

But what will be our book list for our morning time together? And how am I going to implement my new planning approach with simple spiral notebooks?

These are the questions I'm seeking to answer over the next two weeks, and you're invited to join me on my journey.

Even homeschoolers with more than a decade of experience will have their confusions, uncertainties, and conundrums. What we probably also have is an overall vision for our kids, and an underlying routine.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Training Your Child for their Career

As my eldest is getting near the end of her homeschooling journey, I’m turning attention more and more toward supporting her to become who she is meant to be.

As teens, they are starting to spread their wings

Back in March of 2016, I wrote a blog post that sort of touched on this (see 

What I didn’t make clear is that these thoughts had started out from a place of fear - fear that cookie-cutter education was going to try to shape her into something she wasn’t created for. I’d seen glimpses of it already at nursery, where her personality was clashing with “the way things are done”, and the pressure to conform one’s behaviour to make the least possible waves was being frequently impressed upon her and the other children in her class.

So, like I said in the earlier blog post, sometimes we may begin down a path because we’re running away from something, only to discover that it’s actually the better journey.

In this case, I suppose I’m talking about purpose. Or vision. Or even career.

The first time I realised that homeschooling entailed the unearthing of a pre-designed, perfect path for each of my children was upon reading one of the greatest homeschooling books of all time: the Clarksons’ Educating the Wholehearted Child.

Some of Sally's best homeschooling books

I’m so glad this was one of the first books about homeschooling I ever stumbled upon in the book store. Chapter 1 is called “The Christian Home”, and my original edition from 2001 is simply coloured yellow because I highlighted every single sentence and verse in the margins. (I’ve since bought the 2011 edition when Sally herself was having lunch in my home, and told me the 3rd edition had new chapters in it about high school. My chapter 1 is now highlighted in blue!).

It was here that I was struck by Proverbs 22 about training your children the way they should go. The more I looked into the verse, the more I came to understand that it didn’t mean you should make sure they go to church when they’re young so they stay a Christian all their lives, but that you should nurture their natural tendencies - their God-given personalities and talents - and then see them succeed at what God has designed for them all along.

Of course, that’s more easily said than done. You know how it is when they’re 8 and want to be a police doctor who rides a motorcycle; or a daddy of 11 children who lives at home with you and calls the children AJ, BJ, CJ, DJ, etc; or they just want to be a frog.

But here’s the thing … there comes a time when your children will be 15 or 16 or 17, and something is blossoming inside them that you can see is a yearning, a burning, a passion.

Something just starts to bloom in a teen

For my eldest, this happened in September of 2015 while we were reading the opening of Chris Hadfield’s An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. I picked it as our “inspirational book” for the year because she was talking about going to university to study astronomy.

I did not know it would be the most life-changing book for her that we’ve ever read.

Hadfield was the first Canadian in space. The book is a thought-provoking look at the lessons he learned while being an astronaut that can be helpfully applied in our mundane lives here on earth: issues like sweating the small stuff (because being inattentive can cause havoc); or why aiming to be a zero can be a good thing; or how to carry on after “mountain top” experiences.

The fact that Hadfield ever got on the “mountain top” of space exploration is a miracle: when he first decided he wanted to be an astronaut in 1969, there was no Canadian space program, and NASA took no foreign astronauts.

Basically, the dream was nothing more than a fantasy.

Except for one thing: Hadfield wasn’t going to give up. He started to live his life as though he would one day be an astronaut: he made choices at school, university, in his job, all focused on getting him ready to be an astronaut, even with everything stacked against him.

This point about an early life focus is made in the book about page 4: “From that night [of the Apollo 11 landing], my dream provided direction to my life. I recognized even as a 9-year-old that I had a lot of choices and my decisions mattered.”

It was upon reading that sentence that my eldest burst into tears. I’ll spare you the histrionics that followed, but eventually, I got out of her that she didn’t want to be an astronaut or a scientist or a linguist or any of the choices ahead of her, but a writer. 

She always dreamed of being a writer, she was writing at the moment, she was going to keep writing and become a writer. In fact, she vowed that very day that she was going to live her life from then on as though she IS a writer, not a wannabe, not a dreamer, but despite the odds, a bona fide author.

Helping her achieve her dream is a great privilege

The way this decision has influenced her path ever since is clear. She is doing what every successful author has done - she writes and writes and writes. She studies the craft, she reads, she networks, she gets mentored and she mentors others, and slowly, the efforts are starting to pay off, even now.

I’m still waiting for the a-ha moment for my other three children (to be honest, I think I’m waiting for it for myself, too!), but just knowing and believing that these people, these human beings, are created for unique callings, I’m on the look out for clues. 

This one may be a long-time in the process!

If we have one job that we should do well as homeschooling parents, it’s exploring and trying to discern what their paths are.

In the next blog post, I’m going to share with you some ideas from Vicki Tillman of Seven Sisters Homeschool. She is a career- and life-transition coach, who will have tips and ideas for how we parents can support our children in this essential endeavour.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

New Interview of Kat on National Podcast

In 2016, my family was featured in a national UK newspaper about our homeschooling journey (see this link here:
Today, I appear on a national podcast in the US, focusing on the differences and changes when homeschooling in the UK and now US.

Please share the link to it - Vicki Tillman and the gang at offer a wonderful support group for homeschoolers at all stages, being veterans with many years of experience under their belts.

You can even subscribe to their podcasts, and their recent series about reading and writing for high schoolers was very interesting.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Boy and Computers - Our 21st-Century Dilemma

This is a post that I’ve been meaning to write for a long time - probably for four years or more — and it’s about computer use, particular when homeschooling boys.

We all recognize there’s a problem. It may not be your child, but you know that Facebook is full of moms (and it’s almost always moms) who write SOS messages about their child’s obsessive focus on some kind of screen, be it tv, computer, laptop, tablet, or gaming device.

I know all about this. I’ve been there … in spades!

When my eldest son, who is now 14, was about ten years old, we went through a period where he was exhausted all the time. We soon learned that it was because he was setting his alarm for 2 am so he could sneak down and play Minecraft all night.

Little Boys and their Games

Ever since then, I have been a loud voice on the internet for vigilance and caution when it comes to screens. I have read just about every book there is on the subject. Some titles that come to mind are Boys Adrift, Wired Child, several titles by Michael Gurian, and numerous scientific studies where changes in white and gray matter in brain scans make for some very uncomfortable reading.

Further, we had an au pair for a season when my children were younger, a Spanish student who was improving her English in order to start graduate studies in optometry (where all the reference books are written in English). She stressed to me almost daily that children need to limit their screen time for the sake of their far vision. Numerous studies backed up her assertions: myopia is on the rise because kids don’t get outside enough and flex those far-vision muscles.

Even with all my research and my vigiliance, I’m still struggling to keep my boy off screens. One reason is that he clearly is a “technopath” (a term borrowed from the delightful super-hero film called “Sky High”). Honestly, if your computer is acting up, he’ll come over and hug it, and it will work again!

He even took an MIT course about computer coding when he was 12, and received an A.

It’s tough. What to do? He’s good at this! 

Got a problem? Let me fix it!

I posed this question to Richard Freed, the psychologist who wrote Wired Child. He said to me in a private email that children need to have screens limited in their young lives for a whole host of reasons. He suggested to me that I have my son pursue a broad-ranged academic path of study rather than focus too much on technology itself, and to ensure that any computer use is productive rather than simply gaming, with an emphasis, perhaps, on coding. He added:

  • “Future tech use will continue to pose risks of addiction as your son has already been there, and because it makes it harder for kids to use tech productively as they get older.” (private correspondence)

All these years of concern and suspicion came to a head this week. He was supposedly doing his homework for an online class, but he was acting especially secretive when his siblings were walking into the room, so I decided to secretly film him. The 35-minute video was very telling.

As I thought: it was 25 minutes of swapping between windows - Reddit social media threads, pop-up windows of games, notifications from his buddies on Steam, chat boards with classmates - and, mixed among these numerous and frequent distractions, he probably managed ten minutes of reading an online summary of his book and re-wording it for his assignment.

Thirty-five minutes of screen time where five, at most, was productive. (Although I would argue that even that five minutes was also unproductive because he read a summary instead of the book - since I teach this class, I can tell you that the teacher is MOST UNIMPRESSED!)

So you know what happened, don’t you? Time for confrontation.

"I'm comin' after you, Boy!"

But here’s where things go a different path than you probably expect. A fourteen-year-old is a much different animal to a ten-year-old, and he actually stated his case. 

Sure, he says — summary and not book? Bad. Sorry. Swapping back and forth between work and play? Could do better. 

However, he notes that he swims up to 2 1/2 hours every day for swim team; he contributes to jobs around the house like mowing the lawn. That day, he had cooked lunch for everyone; walked the dogs with me; wanted to go on a bike ride to the shops but I said he couldn’t (not exactly what I said, but the bottom line is the same - I talked him out of it); he had showered and played guitar and helped my younger son fix something on the computer game he was being allowed to play, and that night, he was going to his friend’s house for a night of socializing. He had even done some of his homework even though it was Spring Break.

In the course of a normal week, he went on, he had youth group one night, a leadership class every other week, a 3-hour slot for volunteering in the library, an academic co-op, Trail Life (a group like Boy Scouts), and church. He had spent the weekend camping. In the pouring rain.

"I'm really a sensible guy."

Where in there, he asked me, was his life not well-rounded?

Suddenly, I felt a bit foolish.

So I have re-evaluated what it is that I’m so concerned about, because I still have an uneasiness about the length of time he’s on the computer, especially if it’s going to be lop-sided against his academic things. 

I’ve boiled it down to this: I would like more reading from a hard copy of a book and more writing by hand. I think these are media and skills he still needs to cultivate, and I realize that to be reasonable, I’ll have to give him a check-list of exactly what and for how long. We can both measure the progress then, and I won’t have a leg to stand on after that. 

Further, I still feel he needs to limit the time he’s looking at a brightly lit screen. if we could negotiate no more than 2 hours on the screen a day, plus some time for him to do social media on his wifi-only smart phone, and no screens at all between 9 pm at night and 9 am in the morning, then I think I would be fully satisfied that his life was balanced.

Judging from our reasoned conversation this week, I have every confidence that we’ll come to this mutually acceptable arrangement, and we will have both moved forward in our relationship, especially in terms of honoring each other.

Most of all, I've learned something really important: this teen-parenting stuff isn't all bad.

My lovable teen!

Monday, 6 March 2017

#100WaystoHomeEd: What to do About Teens

Thank you all for joining me and home educated families like us in the #100WaystoHomeEd challenge started by Jax Blunt at the Making It Up blog.

Previous to this blog post here was Kelly Allen's about lifestyle education: pop on over to later to see what she has to say here:

I've been allowed to blog about my favorite topic -

homeschooling teens 

(forgive my American spelling and terminology: I moved from the UK to Texas last year and am trying to "go native").

A lot of people seem to hit those secondary years with their children and just lose the plot. It's all "exams, exams, exams," or, in the US, collect those dual-credit hours (for getting the jump on university), and SATs (to nab some scholarship money), but the atmosphere is the same -- time to knuckle down and work, work, work.

All work and no play can give
teens a very dull life!

I think it's sad when I look back at all the fun we used to have: co-ops and playdates, salt-dough maps, nature walks, and Lego.

Remember when you spent
the whole day outside?

It's been one of my desires to keep some of that fun in our studies despite ramping things up for secondary school, because there's more way to learn than simply hitting the books.

We've kept this "living learning" running throughout our entire homeschooling career, making use of co-ops year-on-year. This is when you get together with others to study a subject. History seems to make a good focus, and we've been part of history co-ops since 2005. It was one of the first things we organized when we moved to Texas, and a great way to make local friends.

Co-op 2013

Co-op 2014

Co-op 2017

I also like to incorporate a variety of tools for thinking through the information, and for displaying it in a lasting way. Lapbooking has been one of my favorites in this aspect (see the menu to the right for other lapbooking blog posts). We've also taken the opportunity to act things out, assign independent projects, and even build Lego models!

Lapbooking and Lego!
Who says teens learn only through readin' and writin'?

We still take the odd field trip, too. It's important to contextualize your history if possible. When we lived in England, there were amazing opportunities within a relatively short drive (compared to Texas, anyway), but we continue to grab our chances when we can. Coming back from a recent dog show, we took a detour to visit one of Texas's most important battle sites.

San Jacinto Monument
The battle lasted only 18 minutes
and secured Texas' independence from Mexico.

Thank you for visiting us here at Boyschooling, and seeing how we continue to keep some of the magic from our early years in our secondary-level of homeschooling. This mixes amongst our Charlotte Mason-style learning, outsourcing some subjects via online courses (the English ones of which I am the tutor), dual-enrollment courses at the local community college, and preparing for the national, standardized test called the SAT.

Please browse through the blog posts I've been writing about our journey since 2011, many of the early ones of which were about how boys learn.

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Thursday, 23 February 2017

When You Meet Your Heroes - Part 2

Back in November 2014, I wrote a blog post about hosting my hero, Sally Clarkson, in my home in Oxford, England, for a lunch date. This is a follow-up post after I attended her Renew My Heart conference in Dallas, Texas, last weekend.

Meeting Sally for the third time in my life

First of all, if you don't know who Sally Clarkson is, I would suggest it's time to get acquainted. She and her husband wrote my all-time-favorite homeschooling book, Educating the Whole-Hearted Child. She also wrote my second-favorite homeschooling book, Seasons of a Mother's Heart.

These were some of her earlier titles, first published around the millennium but now updated and re-issued.

Basically, her books were (and are) a lovely blend of experience, wisdom, and well-told stories, all based on a Godly foundation. She has since moved into a more supportive role for Christian mothers everywhere, releasing titles like Mission of Motherhood, Ministry of Motherhood, and her latest, Different, which is about nurturing that difficult child through the "dark years" and emerging with a beautiful butterfly of a mature young adult.

I've come across Sally in person on two separate occasions: the first was in 2005 when she was visiting a homeschooling friend of mine near Oxford, England, and the second was the lunch date in 2014. Throughout all these years, I have been privileged to share Sally and her work with my sister-in-law Holly, long distance because she has lived in Dallas and, until June last year, I lived in England.

Holly has also drunk deep of Sally's wisdom through publications, but also, she has attended two conferences in the past. Yet, it has always been our dream to go to one together, so this past weekend, we were able to share our love for Sally and her guidance at the Renew My Heart conference.

Holly and I avoid the book stalls

Sally's conferences are amazing. Yes, there are hundreds of people there, but Sally is walking around the book stall, signing people's dog-eared and highlighted copies, swapping stories, and in my case, renewing our old acquaintance. No prima-donna, but accessible and making time for everyone.

"What are you doing here?!" was the first question she asked me. When I said I'd finally made the move I'd been seeking for so many years, she was quick to praise God for His goodness!

The conference itself seems to be one of the last ones she's planning to do, hotel rental being expensive when compared to the new social media outlets available. I found it a wonderful chance to meet new people since it was based around table groups, but there was also plenty of guidance and space to go off by ourselves and listen to God's heart.

My own quiet time could not have been more refreshing. I took off down the footpath around the man-made lake, thinking how great it would be if I could find some trees and, if possible, a fountain of some sort. I didn't really believe that would happen, but next thing I know, I'm at the head of the reservoir where the spillway is chucking down a sheet of flowing water. The sound was powerful enough to drown out the sound of the highway nearby - a reminder that God's Spirit can drown out the noise of life if we put ourselves in the right place.

Refreshing Water and Quiet Thoughts

Two more revelations came out during this time alone. One was that I needed to remember my calling - to home educate my children. If I was putting other things in the way, then I needed to re-calibrate. This led to my re-think of the schedule I've got for teaching English online to other homeschoolers. The fruit of that re-think has been announced for September 2017: no more classes during US morning time (except the day when one of my children already has an online morning class for Ancient History - I had to make at least one concession to my students in Dubai!).

With five minutes left of the quiet time, I lay back and look up into the trees. "God, tell me something. Give me a word. A picture ..." Yeah, yeah. In five minutes. Now .... go!

God rarely works that way, I know, but He was very good to me that day. He did give me a word. When Sally visited back in 2014, I always said I felt like Zacchaeus, hearing that Jesus was going to come to dine at his house that day. This time, God said to me, "Look at the tree ... it's empty. Zacchaeus is no longer having to work at seeing Jesus, but is now one of His intimate friends." The flood of acceptance for myself as a friend of Jesus was immediately clear. I returned to my table group so full of God-inspired refreshing - RENEWAL, just as the conference was aiming to achieve.

If you want to go to one of Sally's conferences, there are still two more planned for the year: South Carolina in March, and Oregon in May. She's also in London on March 18th. At our conference, people had traveled from California, Canada, New York, so if you have the time, you should get to one of these before she doesn't offer them anymore, even if it means a weekend of travel.

You won't regret it. She is a living hero of Christian homeschooling parents everywhere.

Friday, 3 February 2017

BLAST from the PAST -- Remembering back to those Toddler Days!

I was cleaning out the hard drive on my computer today and came across this article I wrote but never published about getting jobs done around the house while homeschooling young kids.

The memory of those days with four kids under 7 is a hazy one, but reading my advice from then feels surprisingly relevant still today, and I can see a lot of the fruit from some of those routines and diversions.

Hope you'll be blessed by this if you feel unable to release those grasping hands from your "skirts" when all you want to do is clean a toilet or fill the dishwasher.

Trust me: this season will pass!


*This should now read: without resorting to electronics

As a home-schooling mum with young children, I’m often asked how I can get any jobs done with kids always around. I won’t lie and say it’s easy (I’m definitely no super-mum), but with my five sure-fire tips, you, too, can keep your house reasonably tidy, get dinner on the table, and even find time to read, sew, iron, or bake some homemade bread!

1. If they can’t beat you, let them join you.

Pre-schoolers are incurable mimics. They are also desperate to be “big”, so when they see you hoovering, they want to help. Instead of evicting them, try involving them. You will probably have to accept that a chore will take twice a long with your little helpers, but there are other benefits, including:

  • enjoying each other’s company; 
  • making them feel useful; 
  • teaching them a skill that one day they can do on their own. 
Cooking continues to be a favorite pastime 

2. Share the load.

On the subject of responsibility, don’t be afraid to assign a simple task to them. Children are a lot more skilful than we often give them credit for. Sorting socks, folding towels, emptying dishwashers, and tidying away toys are all within the abilities of quite young children. Just don’t expect perfection. My boy was a little over a year old when he started helping with the laundry by throwing dirty clothes down the stairs, but lately he has taken to throwing the clean laundry down as well!

No longer "share the load" but DO the load! 

3. Discover audio books.

Audio books are tapes or CDs where actors read stories aloud, usually with sound effects and music as well. Children as young as eighteen months find them entrancing. Ladybird Books offer a whole range of fairy tales with accompanying tapes, such as “Pinocchio”, “Three Billy Goats Gruff”, and “The Gingerbread Man”. Local libraries also stock longer stories like “The Velveteen Rabbit”, and Amazon sell read-along soundtracks to favourite Disney classics like “Monsters Inc.” or “Snow White”. Two words of caution about audio books: first, you may want to preview material, as it may be unsuitable for toddlers; and second, you may prefer CDs to cassette tapes so you don’t have to keep coming back to turn the tape over.

We've moved from audio books to voracious reading 

4. Turn on the sink.

Sometimes, you need five or ten minutes for a concentrated effort, but there’s a danger of wallpaper desecration if you dare turn your back. That’s where the sink can become your ally. Using a sturdy stepping stool, park your child in front of the basin with a toothbrush in one hand and a small beaker in the other, turn on the cold tap to its lowest trickle, and then dash to your desperate duty. It may be the case that you spend thirty seconds wiping up the puddles when you return, but on balance, you will have come out ahead.

There's still something special about water on the skin 

5. Send them to the garden.

I’ve saved my favourite tip for last. I’m a firm believer in giving children as much fresh air and active play as possible, and when they can do that while I get some work done, all the better. Of course, you won’t want to leave your young children unattended, but should your kitchen sink look out over the garden (as mine does), then you will find that you can do quite a lot of chores while keeping one eye on the kids. If it’s your lounge or bedroom window, think about doing the ironing or folding clothes.

My teen has never outgrown a snooze outdoors 

Finally, let me offer a bonus tip for those times when you need utmost concentration, such as balancing your chequebook or paying bills. Find a reliable teenager – as young as 13 would be fine – and pay them a few pounds to play with your children for an hour or so. These are sometimes called “mother’s help” -- because they aren’t actually having to shoulder responsibilities like a babysitter -- but I think they a better name for them would be “mother’s godsend”.


1. Indoor trampoline. It may prove so popular, you’ll need two!

2. Lego. Choose a size that’s appropriate for the age of your children.

3. Toy kitchen.Mine doubles as a shop, with a much-beloved cash till.

4. Trains.Or any set of things they can unpack, arrange, and re-pack – hopefully, over and over again!

5. Puzzles. More for nursery-aged children. For toddlers, substitute shape boxes.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Planning for History in a CM way -- Texas History for High School

Let me take you on a journey - the way that I apply the Charlotte Mason method to a subject like history. In this case, it’s Texas History, a requirement for public-school children in this state at both 4th grade and 7th grade, and again, at university.

Of course, as homeschoolers, we didn't have to do this study -- ever. However, we decided that we would because my kids have grown up in England and only just moved to my home state in June 2016. It also would be a great way to invite along some other homeschoolers in a co-op, and widen our social circle.

In Texas - time to study Texas history!

The challenge was to map a well-documented study that's normally for ages 9/10 and 12/13, onto a more rigorous expectation for high schoolers. Further, to move away from the textbooks used at these years and even at college, and find some living books that would cover the sweeping timeline of the territory.

Just a reminder of what I mean by a living book — 

  • A book that engages the reader and draws him or her into learning more about a subject; it is typically narrative in style and written by an authority on the material. Living books are written by someone with a passion for the material or by someone who has experienced the story first hand. - Sassafras Science

Textbooks are not living books, in general. There are some exceptions, such as the Exploring Creation books by Jeannie Fulbright from Apologia Science.

Another criteria for choosing books was avoiding twaddle. Twaddle means probably what you think it means — books that are silly, babyish, basic, usually bitty, full of pictures without extended text. Texas History has a lot of this rubbish on offer, probably because it’s a school subject and publishers can get away with quantity over quality.

Once I established the kind of book I was looking for, it was time to scour Amazon. I love Amazon because you can input a book title - for example, even the textbooks — and check out the related titles that come up in the search bar.

In some ways, though, I got to cheat on this step. I knew a living book that we used years ago, when I touched on the history of the Alamo with my children almost ten years ago. The book was called Journey to the Alamo by Melodie A Cuate. It’s one of those stories where modern-day children get whisked back in time by a magical trunk, and find themselves in the midst of the battle. Not especially strong for the high schoolers I was teaching, but a favorite for the middle-grade kids, and helpful for the search threads on offer when looking on Amazon.

I also googled Texas History and homeschooling, to get the way that other parents have navigated this subject before. No reason to reinvent the wheel, right?

Finally, I went to my library to expose myself to the bigger picture of Texas history than I remember from my own 7th grade education. I’m lucky that my local library has a very creditable collection, its shelves fairly full of Texas-related living books in the adult section. It was here that I hit on the best find: my spine book of the year.

“Good-bye to a River” is a memoir by John Graves. He wrote it in the 1950s after taking a canoeing trip down the Brazos, stopping by many of the homesteads of people whose family traced roots back to the 19th century. He picked up lore and legend, myth and hearsay, and as he floated down the river, camped on the shores, fished and hunted and tried to keep his puppy warm and dry, he took the experience and turned it into a repository of some of the last memories of people who had been there in Texas’s early days of settlement.

That is, settlement in the northwestern part of the state, a place that remained wild and dangerous until almost 1880, and rarely included much in the narratives of the southeastern portion and its famous six flags.

The only problem with the book is that it has its moments of gruesome raids and scalpings, so it’s in need of some editing and generous warnings about certain chapters that one should probably skip entirely.

My second book of choice was Sam Houston’s Republic. It came highly recommended on homeschooling sites, and the first pages seemed promising. Definitely a living book, but ever since buying it and trying to push through it, I’m backtracking. It’s not very well written, extremely digressive, and the kids literally groan whenever I open it.

Not a good sign.

These two books are working as our spine - the books that I use to take information from and discuss in our meetings. We also lapbook/scrapbook our sessions, building up a picture of regime change as we journey from Indian ranges, to Spanish and, to a lesser extent, French territory, Mexican colony, independent Republic, and the difficult years of unity and war. The overall idea is to vist the six flags of Texas while acknowledging the ever-present danger of the Comanche peoples to the north.

Six flags of Texas - with a Seventh!

We also have a bank of books that we’re reading and enjoying as bedtime reading or independent reading.

These include the remaining titles of Cuate’s Mr Barrington’s Trunk series, of which Journey to the Alamo was first. She followed this by San Jacinto, Goliad, Gonzales, Galveston, Plum Creek and La Salle’s Settlement. If you have middle schoolers, you could do your whole year of Texas history by reading this series. The only problem is that it’s expensive to buy, so make your library do it for you!

Another series that we’re using is written by Janice Shefelman. Titles include Comanche Song, Spirit of Iron, and Willow Creek Home. She also writes a book about German immigrants who arrived in Galveston (A Paradise Called Texas), one of the most important eras of Texas history when it comes to my own family! 

The Cuate and Shefelman books are great for 5th-7th grade, but not really great for high schoolers. We read them anyway as a family for fun, but sometimes the way to push the older students is to turn them loose and make them discover their own info. We’ve completed one sub-section of our study when, over Christmas, they had a bird-watching project to complete.

Big Boys do Scrapbooks

Next, because we’re entering the era of the Republic, we’ll be exploring origins of our Republic luminaries like Travis, Crockett, Bowie, Houston, and Fannin, each high schooler responsible for researching one of them. We’ll also be combining the middle schoolers and high schoolers for a salt dough recreation of the Alamo.

A trip to San Antonio is de rigueur as the weather improves, too!

I hope this blog post has accomplished two things: first, given you insight and perhaps encouragement that you can choose your own era of history and make it part of a Charlotte Mason education, particularly with its emphasis on living books. I should say here that I’m not saying that this alone is “the Charlotte Mason method”, but part of a whole philosophy that includes all the other subjects and various hallmarks like copywork, dictation, nature study, etc.

However, people often ask on social media about how to design their own CM-style history curriculum, so this post will probably give you an idea of the process.

Second, if you need ideas for Texas History, this should give you, at worst, a head start!

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Bicycling with Teens -- Why is Homeschooling Them so Hard?

When it comes to homeschooling teens, I’ve come to think it’s the same as riding a bicycle. However, I don’t mean that in terms of never forgetting how to do it. 

Instead, it’s like those pivotal moments in a child’s life at 6 or 7 or 8 when the training wheels come off but the rider is still unsteady.  Do you hold on? Do you let go?

Sometimes, I just don’t know.

What should I do???

I’ve been homeschooling four children for nearly thirteen years, but it’s just now that I realize that homeschooling teenagers is hard.

I don’t mean hard because the level of work is hard. After all, I’m an experienced secondary teacher, so I’ve educated teenagers before. I’ve run more than four different youth groups in the past twenty years, so I’ve mentored teens before.

I mean, for goodness’ sake, I even WAS a teenager, once upon a time! I know they can be hormonal and fickle, over-tired and grumpy.

So why am I finding it so hard as my own daughter creeps toward 16 1/2 years old? Because it has just hit me: 



Blooming before my eyes!

Yes, yes, yes … I know that we never stop learning, we never stop growing, and that even when she leaves home for college or work or whatever, we’ll still be connected. My own mom and I are closer than we’ve ever been, so I’m not afraid of losing her once she packs that bag and heads out the door.

But it is hard. The time frame, for example.  In just a few years, she will be DONE with homeschool. My chance to guide her and share her studies and explore what she explores is nearly over.

It is hard. The choices — OH, the choices!!! Whether SATs, or AP classes, CLEP or honors courses, online MOOCs or dual-enrollment, or bog-standard curriculum and our beloved Charlotte Mason approach to our studies. I’m sure I haven’t even touched on all the options, so I’m trying to stay true to our family mission: love to learn and learn to love.

Our Motto: Love to Learn and Learn to Love

But you know what makes it hardest? She is starting down the path of being dogged and determined about the vision she has for her own life. She is wanting to put her stamp on things - create her own narrative - and it’s causing friction between us that’s never been there before.

It’s not altogether a bad place to be. Standing back and watching her, I know that it’s the start of a really good phase. Like riding a bike, she has told me to take off the training wheels and give her a push. But if I let go and she falls, then I’ll be blamed for letting go, even if she asked me to do so.

So homeschooling teens is like riding a bike. I provided her with the best one I can afford in terms of time and money, and now I have to let her ride away on it under her own power, on her own path, steering her own course.

A Path of Her Choosing

And I’ll watch her from the side lines, with tears of pride in my eyes.