This week’s books

The Weavers Gift. Lovely book with black and white photographs showing the process of weaving a blanket from shearing through to the finished product.

King of the Golden River.

Haffertee. Not exactly CM, but it was on the shelf…..

This week’s poem was The Swing  – RLS.

Matt is reading Dangerous Journey (children’s version of Pilgrim’s Progress) and The Dawn Treader. (again?!)

current books – I’m reading My Season with Penguins, an Antarctic Journal by Sophie Webb. Matt is reading The Kidnapped Prince – the Life of Olaudah Equiano by Equiano, adapted by Ann Cameron. He’s also reading lots of Asterix with them, and has just finished The Horse and his Boy by CS Lewis.

We’ve memorised 2 Wordsworth poems (It is the first mild day of march, and the 1st verse of daffodils)

JJ continues with his enthusiasm for numbers. He came to me one afternoon and told me there were 2 ways of getting pi on the calculator. You could press the pi button, or you could put in 3.141592654. I checked and he really had learned pi to 9 decimal places. Later it occurred to me that he doesn’t know what pi actually is, so we spent some time measuring circumferences and areas. Matt has now printed out pi to about 570 decimal places and stuck it all around his bed….

We’re loving the space and freedom here. Although the garden itself is “only” about 0.15 of an acre, with all the space in front of the house the children have several acres to play in.

Roo took his first steps last week. He’s still mostly crawling, but does a few steps every now and then.

We’ve been watching a Planet Earth episode each week recently, and some Ray Mears. Also a Monty don green woodworking episode, and a programme on building a house out of wood.

Every window sill has seedlings growing on it, and there are willow weaving projects beginning on the front lawn. We saw roe deer out of the window one morning, and have listed about 15 species of bird seen here so far. We have a very adventurous hen who escapes several times a day or flies up to the kitchen roof (despite clipped wing).


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photos. 1. 5 children flopping in front of Ivor the Engine

2.Bee, Mip and Bear out digging with some new garden tools a friend brought for Bear yesterday.

3. Bear insisting she was suitably dressed to go for a walk in sleep suit and sandals!

4. Roo’s 1st birthday

Now we have Six!

The two chickens we have are doing well and laying regularly. They have been named Elizabeth and Victoria. Bee is being wonderful about looking after them.

Spent Saturday at Duxford (Imperial War Museum). Read a David Weitzmann book on the way about the Curtiss JN4-D airplane, which was a lovely story.

Today M & boys went to poultry show and came home with more chickens (1 cockerel Ixworth (Richard), 1 hen Ixworth (Lady Jane Grey), 2 hens Light Sussex (Anne and Mary)). On arriving home the two Light Sussex escaped from the box whilst chickens were being moved to the coop, so a chase ensued. Quite fun trying to work out how to ’round up’ a chicken and not scare it. We may have to explain about cockerels and hens fairly soon.

We’ve started a chicken account book for some practical maths with the boys.

We ran out of oil earlier in the week, so the only heating in the house is the open fire in the playroom. Plenty of wood around a most of our trees were chopped down earlier in the week.

Mip & Bee enjoying Asterix. M is reading it to them and then Mip is reading it to Bee as well.

M has just finished Danny Champion of the world with them.

Matt continues with Just So stories and is also reading Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins. I have been reading A Pioneer Sampler with them, which is taking a long time as it has so much in it. But we haven’t been able to find it this week, so instead we’ve read from House Calls – the true story of a pioneer doctor. We’ll finish that tomorrow, and if Pioneer Sampler doesn’t turn up we’ll start on Monica Dickens’ The Great Fire (of London). We’re also reading a chapter each day from a very schooly and uninspiring book on the Victorians, but Benjie wanted it read. And Airborne – a photobiography of Wilbur and Orville Wright – arrived in the post today, though I suspect Matt will jump in with that before I get a chance to.

Mip is making lots of progress with his own reading, and Bee is cautiously dipping his toes in….

Sudoku and Kenken puzzles are providing lots of maths familiarity.

Lots of photos to put on, if Matt ever gets time…

Life feels as if it is settling back into a recognisable shape, though it has taken a good 6 months. Mornings we spend at home and read, and afternoons we are out and about. This afternoon we went to visit friends who have just moved out to a very lovely village, so we pottered around admiring cottage gardens in the autumn sunshine. We’ve spent quite a few afternoons at Ferry Meadows, and even ventured down to Cambridge one day to visit with friends from many years back.

We’re continuing with Paddle-to-the-sea and Mary Jones and her bible, and then a selection of read-in-one-sitting books each day. Last weeks post included David Weitzman’s Thrashin’ Time, which Matt is reading with them (and is as stunningly illustrated as his books always are), Lucy’s Summer (another Donald Hall/Michael McCurdy), and a story CD with Follow the Drinking Gourd read by Morgan Freeman. The boys have several similar “underground railroad” stories which they like, and listen to this new one over and over.


Matt has just finished reading ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ to the boys (and has started it over again at their request).

I have just started Paddle-to-the-Sea with them (this will be a chapter a day book) and ‘Mary Jones and her Bible’.

Mip read ‘Mr. Gumpy’ to us all. One page he asked me to read, but the rest he did by himself. He got stuck only on ‘squabble’ and’join’.


Mip’s Roman Numerals.


snippets from this week….

monday we tried the robin hood book, but the language was much too complicated for the children, so we have postponed that. but bee is suddenly wanting to read fairy stories. previously he hasn’t liked them because the giants, bad fairies etc were too scary but he is coping with the gentler ones now.

tuesday we socialised. lunch at p’s with f and t, and then we passed d,j and t on the way home so they came to play.

wednesday matt took the day off and we went to the boughton estate open day. plastering and brick laying, sheep, tractors, cutting down a 100 year old beech, hunting dogs, falconry…..then on to colourstrings and home.

today lots of books arrived in the post. matt read the galileo (peter sis ) and started the anno’s math games with them. also “there goes the neighbourhood”, a book about controversial architecture eg eiffel tower. and we read some aeroplane bits. lots of playing, dot-to-dots.



Mip with an eagle landing on him.


The very recently patchy blog isn’t for lack of activity, just lack of time on the computer. So a few lines of catch-up, before starting the discipline of blogging again. Recent books – Mr Popper’s Penguins, biographies of Alexander Graham Bell, William Wilberforce, and Ernest Shackleton . The Borrowers Afield and Dr Dolittle are both under way.

Bee continues to draw ships and maps. JJ continues to count, preferably in 10s, 100s, 2s or 5s. Yesterday morning at breakfast it occured to me that he would enjoy the pattern of the 11 times table. I went up to 110 for him, and he paused and then said “but Mummy, I’ve already counted in 11s” which he then did, but going up to 132 for me. He is starting to speak in numbers too, counting to 6 for “no” and 20 for “yes”. And not surprisingly he’s spending lots of time in his dot-to-dot book. Bear has a passion for giraffes, pronounced “darfey”. Mip also draws lots, and does everything that Bee does. He has started to work out reading, and is interested in Robin Hood, so that will be next on the reading list.
They have all learned to play battleships recently, and have been playing with some new electronics kits Matt bought.

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Well, having started our term with plans of working our way into the Ambleside curriculum, we have ended up back to unschooling. It all started to peter out when Matt went to China for 10 days and I used the opportunity to have a major tidy up/clear out. Then he came back and went down with a grotty cold, so we didn’t really pick things up, and then I went down with the cold last week. And it’s also been difficult because Littlest has dropped her afternoon sleep, so we’ve lost our reading time. But the children have been busy. Matt picked up an old Meccano set on e-bay (no.5) so they have been making lots of models. Mip has been creating things from Magnetix, JJ has been making windmill models (one solar powered), there has been lots of playdough and painting and drawing and colouring and cutting. They have all been making paper planes from a book we had (lots of pre-printed different designs), the electronics set has been out….I’m not sure I’ve ever seen them quite so busy at projects from morning to bedtime. The only things we have really kept going have been the Da Vinci pictures (“Dada” said Littlest pointing to his self-portrait) and Bee’s weekly letter writing. Going out in the morning has dropped too, mostly because it has just been so wet and cold these last 3 weeks. Paddington (read by Stephen Fry) is being listened to fairly constantly in the background. I miss the reading times we were having in the afternoons, but it feels like a very productive interruption.

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Not quite sure where this week went to…..

We’ve been enjoying some of Bee’s birthday books. Paul Revere’s Ride (with lovely illustrations by Ted Rand) has caught their imagination, and we started Swallowdale tonight. Plus a few chapters from Tree in the Trail, and another Leonardo Da Vinci book. We haven’t done any more from Our Island Story – it has felt quite heavy going somehow. Perhaps because we were going too fast. I think a chapter a week is recommended and we were doing 1 a day. They have been listening lots to Little House on Plum Creek, and Little House in the Big Woods on CD, and we tried to go Red Kite spotting at Wakerley Woods, but by the time we met up with friends we were too distracted to look out for the kites….

The last month or so has been a time of planning how to progress with HE this year. Bee is coming up 7, so it feels like time to start gently easing into year 1 of Ambleside Online (but still using it very loosely). I don’t want to put too much structure in, but a bit of a pattern to our weeks looked like being ” a good idea”.

To start with, I have had to get up earlier in the morning (!) so that we could have our outdoor times in the morning. This leaves us at home in the afternoon so that we can have our main reading time while Littlest sleeps. A good 2 hrs outside seems to make the rest of the day much more productive, and , except for a couple of days, we have done this for the last month.

I’m introducing narration during our reading times, but very slowly. So about once per week atm, usually on something from 50 Famous Stories Retold. It’s not something Bee seems to find very easy, and he needs prompting with questions.

I’m gathering materials for composer and artist study. We have bought the art prints via AO, just because it seemed an easy way to start. We’re starting with Da Vinci, as we have a couple of good children’s books about him, and Chopin. I have found a not-great-but-it-will-do book about Chopin, and still need to see if I can get some CDs from the library. These will be a Monday and Tuesday focus.

Thursday afternoons are for writing a letter to someone, and Friday for a craft project. We’ve almost finished Bee’s paper galleon, and next might try candle making.

Longer books are mostly read by Matt. We have just finished We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea, and before that we read The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader. A definite ship theme here!

French still needs to be thought about….

And to help establish some of this I have resorted to making a standard weekly menu plan that we just follow every week. Which feels terribly uninspired, but saves a lot of time.

Mast Trees


We’ve got a book called ‘Giants in the Land’, which is about the trees of New England that were used for masts for English ships up until independence in the US. We went for a walk in one of our local woods and were thinking of the mast trees as we looked up at the pines growing there. They aren’t quite as big as the pines in New England used to be, but it was great to look up at them and good fun to throw pine cones into the pool there.


The blog has been very patchy recently, so I thought it was time for another “day in the life of…”

Last night Matt read the 1st chapter from Voyage of the Dawn Treader to Bee and Mip. Before I came down this morning Bee had drawn a picture of the ship, and was obviously full of enthusiasm for the story, so we listened to the chapter again on story tape over breakfast. He then carried on with a lion picture (with help), while I read to Mip and JJ. (Owl Moon, Jumblies, St George and the Dragon). We have a wooden doll’s high chair, and our reading was interrupted when she climbed in backwards and became stuck. In the end I had to find a screwdriver to take it apart to get her out. So that was then put out of reach.

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She then fell asleep, so we took advantage of this and the boys played Magnetix while I made bread and tidied. She continued to sleep, so we started to make snowflakes. Lunch followed, with the usual mental arithmetic.

(Interestingly, I have been reading an HE book by Gareth Lewis this week, and he says that younger children do much better with mental arithmetic and that problems often start when they are made to write out maths too young. I have been doing it simply because they enjoy it and it is easy on my part, but I thought again of the Maria Montessori quote “One test of the correctness of educational procedure is the happiness of the child”. It seems to be a popular view that children must be made to do things that they don’t want to do, and find difficult, otherwise they will never learn. But I’m feeling that if they are resisting something it can be that they are just not ready yet. We don’t “make” our children crawl, walk, talk etc. They do it, with great enthusiasm, when they are ready. So I feel I need to have confidence that the things the children are doing with enthusiasm are the things that are developmentally appropriate (eg drawing, mental arithmetic) and those things done with less enthusiasm, and only when initiated by me (eg learning to read) are things to save for later. But the pressure is always there to push them on, despite having read so much about the advantages of leaving formal work until later, and never having read anything to the contrary. John Holt, Steiner, Charlotte Mason, the Moores, continental schools (in countries with literacy levels way higher than ours) – all are in agreement on this. And I am so frustrated with my inability to stand firm on this one, and every time I feel that someone else thinks my children ought to be doing this or that, I waver and try and slip it in. The pressure to conform to someone else’s timetable often takes the pleasure away from the home educating, because instead of enjoying the huge amount of creativity I see coming from them I have the background nagging of “but what would so-and so say about how much science they are doing”. Or whatever. Anyway, back to our day….


Bee continued snowflake production, JJ brought through and started a space shuttle puzzle, I read Snowflake Bentley to them, and we listened to Mendelssohn. Matt came home early, and the afternoon is a bit hazy now -I read some Richard Scarry to them at some point, and Bee and Mip watched a David Attenborough on lizards while I cleared the mess in the kitchen and cooked in preparation for house group. This was the usual shared meal, the group including our HE friends with 5 children, so several hours of happy playing followed. And finally chapter 2 of Dawn Treader from Matt, and to bed (they are “camping out” in the playroom tonight – as this follows on from the game they were playing with their friends during house group) with The Owl who was Afraid of the Dark on the CD player.

The pictures below show the boys with their friends all in the tent, plus Bee and Mip asleep in their ‘camp’.

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Bee and Mip often play at being J and N, pretending that they are these two older boys. Today it was entertaining to see them playing with J and N, and all of the boys were playing at being an older age.

Numero Romano

Some models Bee made from his Richard Scarry activity book.


Mip drew this in my diary the other day – Mary, Joseph, Jesus and the donkey in a stable with a manger, but the funny thing was that he had randomly chosen Christmas day to draw it in.


We had a parcel arrive today. It had a dot-to-dot book for Mip (up to now he has just been doing a few in Bee’s book when Bee feels generous) which he was very pleased with ‘my OWN dot-to-dot book’. Also, a book on Roman Numerals came in the parcel. Matt has been reading it to the boys and they have been starting to get the idea. It explains with nicely detailed farmyard scenes (each with the right number of pigs!) how roman numerals work.

Other than that it was a quiet day. Lots of playing with the Playmobil ship. Also, Magnetix, Hama beads, the sand tray and a quick trip to the park. I read another half chapter of Swallows and Amazons, but I think it is getting a bit complicated for them really.

Today has felt a little more productive – we seem to have spent less time trying to keep Littlest out and off tables, cupboards, etc.. We began this morning with a short story on Leonardo da Vinci (Anholt), which arrived in the post and Bee and Mip both did a bit of reading from their reading scheme books. This is being very controversial. We have both read/heard of enough examples of children learning to read on their own, especially after age 7 or so and believe this to be the best way. But, it is also very hard knowing that having your children reading young is how people measure good education and it is easy to feel very pressurised. I have borrowed the beginning of the Peter and Jane series from a friend and have been using it very cautiously with Bee for a few weeks. Today I started Mip, because he seemed just as interested, if not more so, than Bee and in fact seemed much more confident reading today than Bee does. (Likewise with maths Mip is on a level with Bee, if not ahead.)

We also read chapter 4 of Swallows and Amazons today and the boys played lots of games pretending to be swallows, camping etc.. Which is very funny as my best friend from primary school years and I spent much of our time playing at being Amazons.

We did our usual mental arithmetic at lunchtime – mostly addition and subtraction up to twenty and we are working on the two times table. And Colourstrings in the afternoon. We still get our own private family lesson. Another boy joined, but gave up after two weeks, so it is just us again. Bee was dragged there reluctantly – he said he wasn’t feeling well as he had another wobbly tooth, but he seemed to forget all about it when we got there and enjoyed it nevertheless.