Tag Archives: homeschooling

Model learners

The unschooling diaries: week twenty six

One of the things I’m incredibly conscious of as we embark on this unschooling journey is how important it is that Arthur has good role-models for learning.


The way I see it, there are pros and cons for the social aspects of traditional schooling.

I am ambivalent about the most basic level of socialisation – the interaction with other people in a general sense. Arthur is shaping up to be a very social being, and in the course of our days and our weeks he hangs out with people of all ages. If he were attending preschool regularly he would definitely spend more time with kids his own age, but then he might not be exposed to quite such a variety of social situations.

One thing I’m really not convinced about is the competitive nature of same-age groupings. I watched it unfold as a teacher (and if I’m honest still remember it as a kid myself): the popularity contests, the bullying, the shifting your sense of self to fit in. I get that these are all things we need to navigate as we get older, but I don’t think I want to expose Arthur’s emerging personality to these stresses quite yet.

There is definitely something to be said, though, for learning in a communal environment: for bouncing ideas off others, and for being exposed to the infectious excitement that comes from beginning to master something new.

Without a conventional classroom to immerse Arthur within, the responsibility for modelling learning falls to me and Leigh.

I thought at first that this might mean a degree of feigning the joy of new discovery as I introduced Arthur to knowledge and concepts, but it is actually surprisingly unchallenging to find enough wonder in the world to not have to fake it at all if you allow a three year old to set the agenda.

Beyond that, too, it seems that we are pretty good at embodying the lifelong learner thing which I truly believe is the real crux of a life worth living. I have used the general upheaval of becoming a mum to launch my life off in several new directions, and even more significantly than this Leigh has spent the last five years realising a childhood dream to make his way through medical school.


It has been tough – all kinds of tough – but in a strange way I love that Arthur has been witness to the long hours and closed study door. He won’t quite be able to compute what it all means, but he knows that Daddy has had a goal, and that he’s been working hard to achieve it. And he knows that Daddy has now become a doctor.

We’ve been celebrating intermittently since the end of Leigh’s course a few weeks ago, and Arthur has known that there’s been something pretty momentous going on. Then this week, it was graduation day: we took Arthur, with both sets of Grandparents, and when Dr Daddy walked onto the stage in his gown and hat Arthur stood up and applauded.

There have been many lessons learnt in all of this: the value of perseverance, the importance of following your dreams whenever life presents you with the opportunity, the joy of celebrating success in learning with the people that you love.

Whatever path Arthur’s life follows, and whatever his dreams might end up to be, I hope that he takes these lessons with him and knows that learning is not something to be put into a box constrained by time or space but something that is an honour and a privilege – and one of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves.


Very hungry caterpillars

The unschooling diaries: week twenty-five

After the success of our tadpole project, I’ve been on the lookout for another opportunity to explore metamorphosis in action. A couple of weeks ago one appeared, in the shape of several very hungry caterpillars eating their way through our lettuces.


We picked out two, and created a little habitat for them in the fishtank, complete with the remains of one of the lettuces they had been munching so that they could continue to prepare for their transformation.


They were already pretty big when we found them, and it wasn’t long at all before they each settled into a crevice in their new home and began to spin a web of silk around themselves.


This was fascinating to watch, as was the way their bright green bodies slowly went brown and hard as they pupated.

Whilst we waited for them to hatch, we read up about the process – Usbourne Beginners ‘Caterpillars and Butterflies’ had lots of interesting facts, and of course we re-read Eric Carle’s classic. I also did a bit of googling to try to find out what sort of butterflies we might expect, and discovered that actually the silk cocoons suggested that we were more likely going to be welcoming moths.

And indeed about ten days later first one then the other broke out and spread their wings.


We watched them for a couple more days, and when we were sure that their wings were strong enough Arthur reluctantly agreed to let them go.


Once they had flown away, he was keen to have a closer look at the empty cocoons. He felt the sticky silk, and prodded at the shell of the pupa within.


And after that, whilst I attempted to tidy up our overgrown veg patch, he even washed out the tank, ready for his next pets.


As it happened, he didn’t have to wait very long. I had a feeling that the latticed spinach and calendula might be hiding some more little creatures and, in fact, it was teeming with them.


It made for some very interesting conversation, around how these bugs are interesting to watch and study but are also pests, especially when they’re competing for our vegetables! We transferred some of the caterpillars we found to another part of the garden, but because they looked different to the first ones we’d found we decided to keep a few back so we could observe the metamorphosis process again and see if we noticed any changes.


After this lot I think we’ll be done though, at least till next year…

Anyone have any ideas how we can make the remains of our crops slightly less attractive to the very hungry caterpillars? After all, it would be quite nice to be able to enjoy some of our vegetables too!

A cut above

The unschooling diaries: week twenty-two

Excuse the incredibly specific focus of this post, but there were a couple of moments this week that reminded me why I love the unschooling approach to learning new skills.

Months ago now, I first started trying to teach Arthur how to use scissors ‘properly’. It felt like one of those seminal fine motor skills, one of the things that pre-school teachers tick off to show progress, one of the milestones that parents proudly share on social media.

And he just wasn’t having it. He was fascinated by scissors, but every time he picked them up he seemed sure to injure himself. Any attempt to encourage him to use them more safely was met with a blank stare, and generally prompted him to give up and go and do something else instead.

So I stopped bothering. We had plenty of other things to focus on, and this particular one just seemed a bit dangerous to pursue any further. But still it would niggle in my mind: just one of the many skills through which I was failing my child by not pushing him to master it as early as possible.

And then this week, whilst we were making a congratulations card for his dad, he came across some foam letters and asked if he could have his scissors. I queried what he wanted to do, and he said he wanted to cut them up to ‘make other letters’ – an idea we’ve been playing around with at breakfast time with his alphabites cereal. I handed the scissors over, resisting the temptation to tell him how to use them, and watched amazed as he carefully placed his finger and thumb inside the handles and demonstrated complete control over the task he had set himself.


He did it again yesterday, finding some tissue paper and asking if he could do some cutting. And again he was careful and precise and achieved his self-set goal. Admittedly he was using his other hand this time – he’s taking a while to let go of his ambidexterity – but I figure he’ll work that one out too in his own time.


I’ve started to notice the same tendencies when it comes to Arthur’s approach to drawing. Again I have been trying for ages to push him towards a ‘proper’ pencil grip, and again he’s resisted my efforts, preferring instead a resolutely clenched fist.

But a few times recently I’ve looked over when he’s been scrawling out circles on his easel and I’ve realised that he’s chosen to adjust his grip all by himself.

These are very precise skills I’m talking about here, but they are precisely the ones that I worry about with an unschooling approach. Sure, it’s great for the broad brush strokes of independence and creativity, but what about those things kids have to just know?

The more I learn about how Arthur learns, though, the more I feel a creeping confidence that unschooling might just be a cut above for developing those skills, too.

A space to learn

The unschooling diaries: week fourteen

It may be taking up rather a lot of time and headspace, but one major benefit of the #THISislearning campaign for me has been the renewed focus I have found on the way Arthur learns, and how I can best facilitate it. I’ve been reading lots of articles about what does – and doesn’t – inspire effective learning and I in turn am feeling very much inspired.

One of the key concerns parents and teachers have about the SATs is the space they take up – both in terms of time and the room they occupy in peoples’ heads – meaning that other learning, proper learning, is squeezed out as a result. With Arthur learning at home (and out and about) with me, I don’t need to worry about his learning time (and quality) being reduced by assessment or administration. I do, however, want to make sure that his learning does not get lost in the focus on the everyday.

This is a bit of an oxymoron when it comes to unschooling. After all, everyday life IS learning – everything we do, enhanced by talk and questions, is teaching Arthur about a different aspect of the way the world works. But all of that is fairly ordinary, and I want to make sure he is inspired by the extraordinary too – that he has the chance to explore familiar (and less familiar) objects and materials in his own way, and in doing so learn things that might challenge his perceptions and everyday experiences.

Part of that means making sure he has the time in the day to play, and to immerse himself in that extra-ordinary learning. And part of it means dedicating physical space for him to do it – space that inspires curiosity and exploration, space that is his.

He actually has various little places around the house for this – his room, obviously, and a corner of my study. The area we’ve been working on this week, though, is in the kitchen. It started off just over a year ago as Arthur’s art corner, but as the months have passed it has evolved: he has acquired an increasing amount of resources for building and creating and experimenting, and the more things we’ve had to try to cram in to his corner the harder it’s been to actually access them.

I dream of Montessori-style open shelves, with carefully curated learning materials rotated on a regular basis. But then I have to get realistic, and remember just how quickly the space around me can descend into chaos if I’m not careful. So we’ve gone for clear drawers instead – I trawled the internet to find ones which would fit on our Ikea unit and finally found the perfect ones. I’m still waiting for another column of shelving to arrive which should (hopefully) fit perfectly into the corner by the window, and then there will be space for books and boxes of miscellaneous bits and pieces.


The idea with the drawers is that each of them has one type of resource. The way I’ve grouped them has varied, but there is a logic to it all. I’m hoping each one contains something that will inspire Arthur towards creative play: very few of the resources have a ‘right’ application, so it’s going to be interesting to see how he interprets their potential.

My favourite at the moment is definitely the seaside drawer, with shells and stones and sand collected from local beaches and our travels all over the world. I have so many ideas of what we might be able to do with them, but I’m trying to hold back at the moment to see what Arthur comes up with first.


As for Arthur, he seems especially intrigued by the ‘small worlds’ drawer, and I can’t blame him. We have yet to collect all of the weird and wonderful creatures he has secreted around the house and introduce them to their new home, but the ones that are there are already inspiring some interesting play – I particularly liked this morning’s conversation between the bear and the octopus.


On the subject of creatures, this learning space is also home to Arthur’s first pets – four tadpoles collected from the pond at my parents’ place. We are both fascinated by their habits and their creeping metamorphosis – in the last forty eight hours they have just begun to grow legs. They have inspired so many fascinating conversations already – I can’t wait to see Arthur’s wonder when their transformation is complete!


There is generally something incredibly powerful about focusing Arthur’s creative and conceptual energies around this space. He tends to oscillate round it as we go through our day, picking up new things to explore or pausing to investigate something further. It has certainly become the place he gravitates towards first thing in the morning. With things being accessible and clearly laid out he has proved more likely to just leap straight in – like yesterday, when I came downstairs to find him drawing on his easel (welly boots on of course ready to escape into the garden the second I opened the door).


The more I learn about learning the more I realise I have yet to learn – which is exactly as it should be. I am just very grateful to be spending my days with such a good little teacher, and will continue to do all I can to make the adventures we have together as inspiring and enlightening as possible.


A lesson in slow crafting

The unschooling diaries: week ten

Arthur has yet to show much of an interest in arts and crafts. When he was tiny he just couldn’t abide the mess – he’s still not super keen on getting paint on his hands. Now that he’s older he’ll dabble, but it’s still really not his ‘thing’.

I’m ok with that – mostly – even though my inner crafter is crying out for an excuse to spend afternoons surrounded by tissue paper and glitter and it really doesn’t help my fear that he’s missing out on something by not being at nursery when I see all the pictures of toddler creations fellow mums share proudly on Facebook. But when over breakfast one day last week he started getting enthusiastic about the idea of making some Easter cards I couldn’t help but get a bit excited. Not least because it meant we might finally got round to saying an extremely belated thank you for his birthday and Christmas presents…

The teacher in me leapt to the blackboard to note down his ideas (sidetracked a little by Winnie the Pooh as his most vivid understanding of Easter comes from ‘Springtime with Roo’ – I have no idea where the armour came from).

He happily settled on the idea of painted eggs though – he frequently dances around singing ‘we’re hunting eggs today!’ at the moment, and I’m very much looking forward to his very own egg hunt on Sunday. He then decided he wanted chicks in his eggs (well he said ducks, but I think that’s what he meant…) which led us very nicely to an easy to accomplish collaborative card idea. It might not be very original, but he liked it.

Having bought in some supplies (very important to have the right shades of glitter), and prepped some eggs for him to decorate, we set aside a couple of hours last weekend to make a start. And he of course lost interest within approximately three and a half minutes.

I battled with him for another two before reminding myself that that really was not the point, and calmly telling him that it was fine – we’d come back to it when he felt like it. I didn’t tidy everything away, just organised his workstation enough for it not to descend into total chaos. And sure enough the next day he gravitated towards his eggs again, did a few more minutes of gluing and glitter scattering, and moved on.

And that’s sort of been the background to this week, really. Every so often this little activity has piqued his interest again, and he’s added a little to his eggs. We’ve tried out a few different techniques along the way – stamping, mixing colours to get the shade of pink he wanted, watering paint down so he could ‘dye’ his eggs, mixing it in with glue and glitter. And every time, just as I thought he might be getting into it, he’s walked away again, his attention taken by his diggers or the urgent need for a banana.

We’re still not quite done, but we’re getting there. He’s declared that the eggs are finished at least, so there’s just a bit of cutting and sticking left. I might need to take the lead on that bit, what with it being Good Friday tomorrow and everything, but I reckon that’s ok. I can’t expect him to do all the work!

Deconstructing daffodils

The unschooling diaries: week eight

Between Valentine’s, an anniversary and Mother’s Day we have had a lot of flowers in the house recently. Which of course has been lovely, but for Arthur has also proved an irresistible draw. Several times I have come into the kitchen and found him looking sheepish with pollen on his fingers and petals scattered on the floor at his feet. It’s hard to get cross, because I know he’s just curious. So this week I thought I’d play him at his own game…


Our garden is generally looking a little sorry for itself at the moment, but in the midst of all the work that needs doing there is a determined patch of daffodils that Arthur and I have watched grow and flower into a sea of yellow and green. One particularly dreary morning I ventured out whilst Arthur watched me through the rain in his pyjamas, sticking a tentative toe over the threshold before deciding that inside was a much better place to be.

I picked out a daffodil and handed it over, explaining that I thought it might be interesting to break it apart together and see what was inside. He was a bit reticent at first, taking time to hold and admire the whole flower as the rain broke and sun began streaming in through the windows. I’d never actually seen him handle a flower so carefully. Still, it didn’t take him long before he took me up on my offer.

He explored the daffodil’s trumpet before taking it apart in strips, then gently peeling away the petals. I encouraged him to smooth the pollen with his fingertip, and we paused at that point to talk about what it was all for.

We talked about the bright yellow colour attracting the bees, who buzzed around between the flowers and took the pollen from stigma to stamen so the flowers could make babies. He was curious, so I found a video on YouTube showing a bee doing exactly that, and he watched, intrigued. He’s generally quite interested in bees at the moment because of his current obsession with Winne the Pooh (when I asked him what he thought the pollen might taste of he answered quite confidently ‘honey’), but that’s another story…

After our little introduction to botany he wandered off to do something else for a while, and when he came back I’d set out paper and glue so he could stick the parts of the daffodil on. He was keen to cut up the stem at this point – a good time to practise using scissors, and discover that the metal ones were much more effective for the job than plastic. We talked too about how the stem was like a straw, sucking up water to keep the flower alive.


I had thought of labelling the parts of the flower once he’d stuck them down, but he’d lost interest by that point and it probably would have been a step too far anyway! As it was he began to understand, I think, a little about the fascinating construction of a flower, laying down foundations for future conversations when we’re out and about.

And now I come to think of it he has held back from randomly destroying any flowers since, so maybe it has served to satisfy the curiousity that was driving him – for now at least.


*A little note of caution: daffodils, whilst fascinating, are not edible and are actually toxic if consumed. I made sure Arthur was aware of this and washed his hands carefully after our exploration. Please make sure you supervise your little ones closely and seek medical attention if they do accidentally ingest any part of a daffodil.*

The unschooling diaries: week one

The past week or so has been somewhat dominated by potty training. I say ‘training’… My approach to this has been as much led by Arthur as anything else – hence why perhaps it has taken so long! I think it was about a year ago that we last broached the idea – let him sit on the potty from time to time, hung around naked if he felt like it (which wasn’t very often). We had sort of decided that last summer was going to be when we cracked it, but he had other ideas. And if there’s one bit of advice that seems to crop up again and again when it comes to potty training it’s don’t rush it. So we waited.

And suddenly he seems to be up for it. Which is great. But a little all consuming too… We haven’t quite worked out the logistics of wearing trousers, or leaving the house. And I need to make sure I’m paying attention as things are all pretty time dependent at the moment. But, you know, we’re getting there.


As well as learning to use the potty, Arthur is really enjoying creating worlds with his cars at the moment. And trucks, and nee naws, and planes. He’ll start them on his road mat but their adventures often take them all over the house. We’ve been experimenting with road signs, too. He always wants to know what different signs mean when we’re out and about, and having these little toy signs is adding another dimension to his play.


It’s not just signs he’s interested in – he wants to know what letters and numbers mean too. He likes the challenge of his alphabet puzzle, and loves the song that we’ve decided goes with it. It’s going to be a while before he really understands what it’s all about, but we’re having lots of fun with it in the mean time.


He’s been interested in another puzzle too, one we’ve had for ages but hasn’t kept his focus until now. I like it because it isn’t exactly clear how you’re ‘meant’ to organise it – so there’s plenty of opportunity for interesting chat whilst we’re thinking about how its pieces might group together.


Exploring options for grouping things has been fun with the sorting pie too. Up until now we’ve mainly done it by colour, but now that Arthur’s mastered that he’s been trying it by different types of fruit instead. It was clear at first that he really didn’t like putting the green bananas with the yellow ones but he’s been getting the hang of it…


We’ve had the playdoh out this week too – just for playing, really, rather than making anything in particular. Though Arthur did fashion a rather fetching moustache!



And for more mushy creative fun there was SUSHI! One of this household’s hands down favourite foods, and one we will definitely be making more of in the future.


We haven’t managed to get out and about that much (potty training and WEATHER), but when we have it has mainly involved Arthur’s new scooter. He’s definitely getting the hang of it, but I’ve been very grateful for his helmet!



We’ve been out to Arthur’s various groups too, drama and singing at Project Performers, and his gymnastics class where he has really impressed me by holding his own in a new group without me by his side. Last weekend he went to his first Rugby Cub’s session too – I’m not entirely convinced about rugby as he gets older, but whilst it’s just ball play I reckon we might as well make the most of it!

And today we went for a family swim – our first in ages. Arthur loved it so much I think we’re going to need to make that a regular thing too. I’m still toying with the idea of lessons, but he’s getting on so well in his float suit we might just keep having fun with it for now.

Finally there are of course the drums. There’s a strong sense of rhythm there, that’s for sure. And I’ve invested in some practice pads, so hopefully it’s not proving too unbearable for the neighbours…