Thursday, 28 January 2021

Our Lockdown Homeschool Schedule ( or unschedule)

This year has seen us return somewhat to a looser, more unschooling approach to our days. At first, as usual, I found it hard to let the structures we had so carefully developed, honed and tweaked unravel! Unschooling does have a slightly unsettling chaos about it. It can also mean more mess and more parental facilitation ( at all hours of the day!) And yet there is also so much peace and joy in it too.  

When the children were younger we often enjoyed seasons of unschooling but as they reached highschool age we began to structure our days around a curriculum.

Curriculums definitely have their benefits and we still incorporate curriculum material into our days ( see end of post for details) to keep the basics ticking over, but our kids seem to really thrive when given the opportunity to really focus on  what they really live and have an interest in. Unschooling tends to lead to in-depth spurts of learning in specific areas of interest. This can leave ‘holes’ in some subjects which can be problematic but it’s amazing how many subjects one project will cover.Also, even in schools there are holes in the curriculum. Not all history can be covered and a lot of practical subjects aren’t covered. Taxation and mortgages aren’t covered in maths lessons and politics is often only briefly mentioned. 

Even something as simple as an art project can develop and involve many other skills. For example, Seraphina has been working on creating colouring pages, downloadable prints and cards to sell online. This project began with art and ended with her learning  IT skills, in order to enable pictures to print at different sizes without losing picture quality. It also involved her learning business skills and laws, accounting costs for time and materials and photography and social media skills so that she can present her artwork in the way she wants to. Here is a link to her shop. 

This year has had a lot of loss for our family. The loss of my Dad effected the girls very deeply. It didn’t seem right to simply get back into our normal routine straight away. We needed time to grieve. My dear Mum has also needed a lot of extra care too which the girls have wanted to be involved with. 

They have also had to navigate their own emotions surrounding the circumstances of this year. The fear that stems from loss and the deepening of faith that grows from greater clinging to God.

These are life lessons, real education, learning about values, learning about what matters most, learning what to put down in order to hold onto the most important things of all; faith in God, relationships, giving of self, supporting one another, work/life balance and meaningful work.

In the Spring, Seraphina really wanted to plant a garden in honour of her Grandad as he was a horticulturalist. She asked him lots of questions about what to grow and how to grow it which he loved to answer.  She built a raised bed and put together a mini greenhouse. Some of her vegetables did very well while others succumbed to pests, blight, too much sun or not enough water. She learned how much physical effort goes into preparing and maintains potato beds. She also learned about how hard  it is to grow your own food yet how rewarding it is despite the effort. I think these lessons were equally as valuable as anything she could have learned from a book. 

This year, Boo has made the decision that music is going to be her main focus. She spends much of her day writing, recording and producing and has developed so much through that. Not just in terms of learning how to get a song out there, but also how the creative arts require as much discipline and effort as any other job if you want to create something of real and lasting value. She has also had to navigate the world of social media and has definitely become aware of its addictive effect. She has also experienced  the rush and disappointment of gaining and losing likes and follows. Yet this has helped her understand the careful balance between allowing other’s ideas and encouragement to inspire without letting them effect the integrity of what she creates. She has had think about  ‘relevance’ and ‘brand’ and how much she wants that to effect what she puts out there. Her song Good as Love was featured on BBC introducing last October. It was very emotional as she wrote that song for her Grandad who always supported and encouraged her in her music. 

Tilly has also been doing lots of creative bits and bobs. During lockdown she has  been learning guitar and piano, writing songs, crocheting clothes and making homemade balms and salves. She has also started writing a blog, got into calligraphy and has been designing journal pages.

Inspired by her big sisters Nola has written a song and with the help of her big sisters produced it and even made a little video for it. She has also discovered a keen interest in animals of all kinds and has made little projects and power-points on her favourite animal of the moment. This interest in animals was really inspired by a little wild  baby bunny that we rescued and cared for earlier in the year.  She has also been learning the recorder and realised that she actually enjoys writing stories contrary to previous experiences and is working on a children’s book.

Children will learn because it’s what they’re designed to do. They don’t have to be forced or coerced to learn. Unless, of course, it comes to subjects they really dislike. Everyone is made with unique gifts and individual quirks though. It’s unlikely someone will want a career in something they have never enjoyed doing and have no natural affinity for.

Still, we do keep up with maths, science, history and geography to ensure they know the basics in most subjects. But these lessons are done in a easy to digest way rather than through text books.

Below I’ve written down some of the more structured things we are still doing but bear in mind, although it looks like a fair bit on paper, we work through them at our own pace and only in the mornings so afternoons are completely freed up.

For Maths we use Life of Fred and Maths-watch. 

Science is mainly kitchen experiments. 

For geography we do map drawing, and learn about different countries and cultures through You Tube travel diaries. 

For History we use Story of the World, Horrible Histories and the ‘You wouldn’t want to be’ book series. We also watch a lot of the Ruth Goodman documentaries. But even reading and watching period dramas, books and movies  is a great way to learn history.

We also do a lot of Reading Aloud. 

Matilda and Seraphina are enrolled on Catherine Mooney’s English Course. Matilda is learning French with Dreaming Spires and has virtual Violin lessons. Seraphina is working through her Lamda grades. Boo is doing singing grades and Nola is taking Piano lessons with her big Sis. 

Nola also uses the free and excellent Good and Beautiful language Arts curriculum. 

For Catechism, we are working through Our Lady of the Rosary Family Catechism and do Bible study as part of our morning basket.

 (We don’t necessarily do a morning basket in the morning) ... ( in fact sometimes we do it in the afternoon or the evening or on weekends or not at all for a while) Sometimes, instead of Bible study we’ll learn about a Saint especially if it’s their feast day or perhaps play ( and try to sing along to) some lovely chants or hymns.

With things as they are in the world at the moment and with less ability to get out and about we’re putting our mental, emotional and spiritual needs first. We are being gentle on ourselves.

 I hope you are all well too and being gentle with yourselves as well.

Saturday, 9 January 2021

There is a garden - Indeed, it is Spring there

It’s been a quiet season. These past few months have been wrapped in a soft blanket of grief. Autumn and grief seem to be so close to one another. 

My Daddy died in September one day before his 88th birthday. 

Nola said he got to celebrate his birthday in heaven.

We played Linden Lea at his funeral. It was the hottest September day I’ve ever remembered. All the Roses were blooming in the Cemetery Rose Garden. His flowers were entwined into a beautiful cross with a garland around the coffin. There were bluebells woven through the centre of the cross. The bluebell woods along the stray lanes and almost lost to modern life ‘Twitterns’ of Sussex were a beloved place for Him. The sort of place that goes beyond the stuff of earth. 

I miss him. His fierce, artistic, guileless spirit, his passion to know and experience life fully and deeply, his stark remarks, his perennial sayings, his stories. And yet, as the months have passed I’ve sensed that spirit still. It is the same but different; enlarged, unfettered, alive, soaring, close. Tangible as his old Irish Shillelagh leaning up against the bookcase. Untroubled by illness, loss, trauma, doubt, it shines, purified and pure by a place where we will one day see one another and love one another properly.

A place beyond the dim frosted ice glass sky of winter.

In May ( my Father’s favourite month ) I heard a voice. I’ve heard a similar voice only 3 times in my life I think. It wasn’t audible but it was clear as a bell. It came from behind my right shoulder. 

The voice said ‘There is a garden. Indeed, it is Spring there.’ My father was a gardener. He used to say ‘I paint with a spade.’ 

At that point he was far from his beloved garden, and laid in a hospital bed. I knew that this word was for both him and me. When I told him about it he said yes. He could understand. He knew. 

The girls have had dreams of their Grandad and in every one he was in a beautiful garden. 

I have felt his companionship on dog walks, as I read through his old diaries and school letters and while praying the rosary.

The diaries and letters are some of my most valued possessions. Garden diaries, travel diaries, liturgical diaries but mostly, plain, brief, simple records of everyday life.

How much beauty in the ordinary of those words recounting nothing more lofty than the planting of spring bulbs, a birthday tea, the anniversary of a wedding.

A glimmer of the ordinary everyday. How we take such days for granted!

It has made me realise that however, unimportant and flawed these simple, broken fragments of everyday life are a way of remembering, re- membering, re-connecting with something, though gone, remains in another form in the present moment.

"The details make life holy. If you want a little happiness in life don’t forget to look at the little things. It is a poet’s work to see the incidental, pluck it, place an appropriate silence around both sides and see the profound in what passes for a passing moment. It is an artist’s job to as much discover art as create it. Prayer is a way of making the common profound by pausing, tying knots around a moment, turning our life into a string of pearls."- Noah Ben Shea 

I have found myself going inward during the last few months. This inwardness has been further compounded by the lockdowns.

 I am beginning to feel a stirring of life within again now. Like the little bulbs I planted back in September that are slowly being awakened by faint yet growing light. 

Now as I find myself writing here once more I have a strange conflict. A perennial conflict. I want to write and share and yet I find platforms like this uncomfortable. They kind of wordlessly make it seem as if the one writing might have found the answers to life, the universe and everything.

I definitely haven’t.

Anything I write here is a fractional, edited version of my own limited, growing understanding based on my own experiences. 

Thank God for Grace. I need it. Every day.

Yet I’ve come to realise and accept that it seems that like the bulbs, much if my life is to be spent in quiet, unseen places which is probably where I feel most at home. Yet, seasonally, at the waxing of the light I stir. And each time of emergence finds me the same but a little different. 

Closer perhaps ( I hope) from the perennial plunging of tentative roots and reaching upward of tender shoots to that great light which awakens.

Sunday, 29 November 2020

Friday, 30 October 2020

The Idolatry of Work

Work is important. But a certain kind of overwork that has become so prevalent and celebrated in our culture is destructive rather than creative.

Homeschooling high school age kids I often feel the pull to put aside true creative endeavour and things that matter most of all such as quiet times that cultivate our connection to each other and God in order to press on towards ticking off an ever increasing and impossible check list.

Perhaps what I’m saying is there are many kinds of work. 

The kind of work that has a marketable value may not necessarily be the most valuable work.


And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, “This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!” And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, “No. This is what’s important.

Iain Thomas


. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” - Matthew 11:28-30 .

Friday, 16 October 2020

Why I don’t subscribe to the waldorf philosophy anymore


Hi guys,

I just wanted to share something that has changed for us over this past year. 

As you know, we have often loosely followed waldorf curriculum over the years.

Around a year ago I became slowly more and more aware that the actual philosophy and spirituality of waldorf is actually in conflict to my christian/ catholic faith.

Our homeschool still includes a focus on nature, art, handwork, catholic feast days, home and natural, eco friendly toys but a deeper look at the waldorf philosophy reveals things that I can’t reconcile and do I won’t be using or promoting any waldorf anymore and will also not be selling or promoting waldorf in my shop. 

I’ve seen and heard a lot of Christian Mama’s coming to a similar conclusion recently. I don’t want to share anything that could lead others to something that has occult undertones. I personally know how damaging that can be. I prayerfully encourage you to watch  Sister Emmanuelle Maillard's testimony on YouTube for some insight. This is why I’m writing this post.

I thought about simply shutting down the blog but wanted to explain things honestly first. 

Here are some thoughts. 

There are so many things that can look inviting and beautiful, so many different ideas vying for our attention. 

One thing that always appealed to me with waldorf was the beautiful scenes of playrooms and seasonal tables. The ‘simplicity’ of the curriculum also appealed. But the curriculum in terms of planning and implementation was often far from ‘simple’ or inexpensive. 

Something  that looks beautiful on the outside isn’t always good and something that is good doesn’t always look beautiful in the way the world defines beauty. Sometimes true beauty is hidden and secret, not something that can be displayed or look impressive.

I realise how little I really know and how much I need God’s wisdom and Grace for guidance and discernment. I really do get lost on my own. It’s humbling to realise how much I need my faith to keep my steps from wandering. 

False ideas, however ‘beautiful’ they look on the outside will only cause harm in the end.

That is why I want to keep things simple. I pray that our homeschool is founded on simple faith. 

Something that requires no bells and whistles, no outward show and may make no perfect pictures.

 I pray that I with all my failings and errors are not at the centre of the picture but that Jesus is.

I pray that our homeschool will be fashioned by Truth and the Love that flows forth from all that is true. 

Sending love to any and all who read this. I hope and pray any who might have been influenced by any false philosophy from my blog accept my sincere apologies. 

Sunday, 16 August 2020

The Point of Education

The question is not, -- how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education -- but how much does he care? - Charlotte Mason

Education should be so much more than memorising facts, spellings, grammar and formulas. 

Education is about growing as a whole person. It’s about learning empathy, compassion, creativity, problem solving, interpersonal skills, time management, self discipline, health, nutrition, how to run a household, self regulation and many, many more things.

If you’re homeschooling for the first time, please don’t worry your child is getting behind. The deepest and most enduring lessons don’t  come from text books but from experiences and relationships.

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

A little catch-up

Well it’s been a while since I’ve written here.
When lockdown first started it really put life into perspective. I always thought I’d have more time as the children got older but living in a village (which I love) means that I do a lot of taxi driving kids to and from activities. There is only one bus in and out of here a day. Life had become a blur of driving, teaching, appointments and housework. 
Lockdown has certainly been a journey. Many things happened ( some actually miraculous) but I’ll only talk about a few things right now. 
Facing death is a holy place. It is a bit like waiting to give birth. It whittles things down to their essentials. What really matters. It draws only the most important things to itself. The present moment becomes vivid and strangely, full of life under its unwavering gaze.
As catholics we are taught to observe momento mori, the remembrance of  death. It’s a meditation I have been drawn to since I was a child. I had a lot of encounters with death as a child and it brought things into sharp relief for me. It made me aware of the preciousness of simple things. It made me think deeply about what things I should choose to spend my attention on and give my life to.
My Dad’s favourite saying has always been ‘we are tenants of time, we don’t own the freehold.’
With these things in mind, the  first weeks of lockdown felt womb like. I spent a lot of time praying and resting. I spent more time on the home and garden. Not in a frantic let’s get the jobs done in time way but more let’s make this place a peaceful place to dwell in especially if we are going to be dwelling in it for months to come.
Our focus came back and life became very much like it was when the children were very small. Home based, prayer based, nature based. The important things. The essentials.

We stopped watching the daily government updates almost immediately and didn’t regret it. 
What we focus on expands remember. The eye is the lamp of the body. 
Whatever is true or not true about this virus I can only do the best I can with what I have. I do a better job without worrying about things I can’t do anything meaningful about. Things that drain my emotional energy and divert it from those that need my love and attention right here.

A few weeks into lockdown, both my parents ended up in hospital. My Mum with pneumonia and my Dad with sepsis. My Mum recovered and went into respite. But my Dad is now receiving end of life care.
Because of the prognosis I was able to visit him nearly every day in hospital. I will always hold the memories of that time as some of the most precious of my life.

I visited our priest during a very painful week. He said leave everything in Mary’s hands, she’s our mother, she doesn’t abandon her children. She will go to God for us when we struggle to even lift our eyes. She will find the words to pray  when we can’t.
It was like a burden was lifted off my shoulders, a burden that had been crushing me.
It’s hard to face our own weaknesses, to realise how little we are able to do in our own strength and how afraid we are of walking in God’s. I so often feel half hearted and lukewarm. At least it keeps me humble so for that I should be grateful.

My Mum moved back to her sheltered accommodation last week. Her garden is blooming with freshly planted flowers and the bird feeder and bath are filled to the brim so she can watch them eat and bathe from her window. 

We are homeschooling a bit through the holidays as so much time was taken off with everything that happened. 
I hope to share some of what we’re doing this year in the weeks to come. As usual it’s mainly arts and crafts based. 

The photos on this post are mainly from an impromptu day trip to Dovedale in the Peak District.
It was the most beautiful place full of waterfalls and trees.
We hiked the 6 mile trail from Dovedale to Milldale and back. We stopped for for ice-cream at Milldale and sat on the bank of the river by the bridge and watched the ducks as the dog cooled off in the water. It was my favourite trip so far this year. 

Hope you are all keeping well friends. Sending much love.

I heard this hymn for the first time over lockdown.
I love the words. ‘My life flows on in endless song because it’s hidden in Him.’ How can I keep from Singing?

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth's lamentation,
I hear the sweet, though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation
Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing
It finds an echo in my soul
How can I keep from singing?
What though my joys and comforts die?
I know my Savior liveth
What though the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?
I lift my eyes, the cloud grows thin
I see the blue above it
And day by day this pathway smooths,
Since first I learned to love it, 
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart
A fountain ever springing
For all things are mine since I am his
How can I keep from singing?
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?