Teaching Writing

ReadingI recently was asked to provide some advise on how we go about teaching writing at home.. below is an excerpt from my response that I’m sharing in case there are more that have the same question

We use Worksheetworks.com to make handwriting worksheets, coupled with the Letter School App (now available in Cursive) to teach letter formation & actual physical writing skills. I don’t use NSW Foundation Font because it’s hard to write and ugly.

We use First Language Lessons and Writing with Ease from Peace Hill Press to learn the mechanics and usage of English and provide the content for handwriting worksheets/copywork. There’s heaps of narration (telling back what you’ve heard) and memorisation (technical definitions and poems), and the whole programme is scripted. Each lesson takes 10min or so (tantrums not withstanding). Next year we’ll get Robin onto Writing and Rhetoric by Classical Academic Press, but we need him to be writing sentences correctly and independently before we can start that (he’ll be in year 3, 8yrs old). I wouldn’t be surprised if Wren was able to start W&R earlier than age 8 as she currently seems to be a more natural writer – she struggles more with applying herself where Robin is resistant to actually forming a sentence or copying one.

We teach physical writing, usage & technical terms and summarisation/narration as 3 separate activities. At this stage we don’t teach any “creative writing”, but the kids naturally create adventurous narratives in their play. So far, it’s all about the practical skills required for independent learning.

The driving idea is to get good at the doing and thinking separately, then put it together slowly. For example: I’ll read a passage, the kids will each tell me their summary sentence, and I’ll dictate it back to them to write. They have started to write independently, but I don’t require it as part of school. Wren writes little notes, cards, stories and Robin copies out instructions for minecraft or makes basic lists of information from his library books. This is all aside from handwriting; for that, Wren is still just tracing the pre-cursive sentence I print for her and Robin traces and copies the same, but in cursive – I don’t ask him to use cursive for his other work, but I’m encouraging him to running write his name in his maths book daily.

We don’t teach spelling at all, but take notice of the patterns and language roots of words as we teach reading and phonetics – English spelling is more closely related to word origin than phonetics, and there are exceptions to every phonetic pattern; we teach Latin because of this (something like 70% of English has Latin origins). Basically, good spellers are good at decoding language so poor spellers won’t improve by repetition/memorisation/testing, but by improving their reading and exposure to broader vocabulary. We rely heavily on our Shorter Oxford for word origins and contexts.

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Adapting as an educator

Setting out to document Robin and Wren’s journey online as part of documenting and sharing how we home educate with anyone that wanted to know what we do and how we do it, was the purpose of this site.

Over the last few months, ramping Wren’s home education up and finding a new balance has made it difficult to keep this site up to date. The plan is to keep adding information here, tracking what we’ve done and how we’ve gone about doing it. It might be a longer between posts as we continue to find the new balance.

As a general update: We’ve been working through the curriculum to get a good blend to support Robin’s Year 2 work and Wren’s Year 1 work, this has involved pulling back in some area (parking Writing and Rhetoric and going back to First Language lessons) and pushing in others (getting Robin to read at a level that is challenging to him).IMG_2601

The learning outcomes for Year 2 will be up soon, and I’ll also add some of the motivational tricks we’ve used with Robin to get him through the work, especially on days he doesn’t want to.

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Stay Smart Online

Image borrowed from esafety.gov.au

The Australian Government previously had a website for online safety education and resources for children, parents and teachers called CyberSmart.gov.au. It was a great resource that I was happy to point my own children towards and use as part of education.

Earlier this year The Government announced the creation of a new Children’ Cyber Safety Commissioner and it look like Alistair MacGibbon was out to set a mark early. However, CyberSmart.gov.au was decommissioned and its content collapsed into esafety.gov.au. It was horrible. Navigating the site was painful and felt like it was overmuch constructed by a policy maker and not someone passionate about cyber safety. This was evident when I set out to educate fellow parents and point them to easily accessible resources.

Recently I received their new Cyberzine (newsletter) and clicked through to see what had been updated on the site.

esafety.gov.au Cyberzine
esafety.gov.au Cyberzine

It looks like the site has been updated and access to the content is functioning well. Previously the site linked to poor text pages or got you into an endless loop trying to access content.

So if you are looking for self education for yourself and your family be sure to check out the new esafety.gov.au site.

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Weekly Review: 20th – 24th April

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This week was husband-of-awesome’s week off work. So whilst schooling was much of the same, this write-up will be a little more concise than usual. Schooling consisted of maths, handwriting, the premiers reading challenge, preparation for our close friends’ wedding, sorting and donating of clothes and toys to salvos, continued reinforcing of the need for household chores and making soap.

With the storms in Sydney we also looked at weather maps and isobars and how they move to allow weather prediction. Watched “Earth” DVD and the original Annie (including the making of, there was a lot of rain). This was also a time of involving the Robin and Wren in household repairs, plumbing (clogged drains), guttering (overflowing and flooding) and bathroom/shower waterproofing.

Finally we did make it our to violin and swimming. At swimming Robin was praised for staying focused and having a great lesson; of course that led to a lot of questions on what he needed to do to move to the next class, etc.

All-in-all, a very busy week.

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Getting it together. Magically tidy

Washing Machine Fairy
Washing Machine Fairy

This year Husband-of-awesome andI will have been dating for 20 years, of that, we’ve only been married for 15. In all this time, we’ve moved house just once. When we bought our first home we moved in with practically nothing; everything we needed was donated and delivered by others, or we bought it and the stores delivered it. After 8 years we sold, bought a new place and actually “moved house”. Since then we’ve had two children and built a homeschool library and we’ve ended up with a tonne of stuff.

I must have read a zillion articles about how “life is messy” or how cleaning a little every day keeps things under control or that having cleaning routines will give you more time for other things. I haven’t really been convinced by any of them. The issue is thatI hate cleaning and I hate mess, and I resent looking after things I just don’t care about.

So I started with my wardrobe. For the last 18 months I’ve been editing, pruning, donating, testing: searching for items that feel like “me” and look “put together” and a bit professional. I’ve been weeding out the “fast fashion” and investing in “keepers”.

Once the collection was complete I revisited the website at project333 intending to break my wardrobe into 2 capsules wardrobe (Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter) with some backup favourites to “shove” back in later. But the thought of all that “shopping and swapping” was exhausting and I’d still own more items that I could recall.

Husband-of-awesome came to the rescue. He bought me Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing for my birthday. The gist of it is to keep only those things that “bring you joy” and to thank the rest for their hard work and set them free. This is the magic. I set to work immediately. So far, my wardrobe and the childrens’ drawers are sparse and neat. I’ve even seen Wren peaking at her stuff like she’s trying to steal chocolates from the box / choose chocolates at Koko BlackOur lounge room, however, looks like a documentary about hoarders from all the purged stuff I still need to sort into donatesell and rubbish. I nearly can’t be bothered with the sell because the items won’t be immediately gone, but I will get it done as there are pieces that have retained their value and are in excellent condition.

Following Marie Kondo’s method, we should do the books next, but I ‘m preparing for that by conquering the bathroom cupboard. Gone are the product samples, expired anything, decayed perfumes and excess packaging. Anything left has been sorted by type and housed in plastic drawers repurposed from the office and library. Previously everything was randomly dumped in a big plastic box after Wren flooded the sink: big I’ll just chuck the ruined stuff out, should there be another flood.

Books will be hard to prune. Even the ones not in regular use are highly regarded or may be back in circulation as the children mature. But , there are “confutable” type books and old magazines that have survived previous pruning as the are beautiful, even if unused I think it’s time to thank them for the job they’ve done and set them free, or send them to their doom. It will also mean that all the books living in baskets can fit on proper shelves and not just get trashed or take up floor space.

The real challenge will be having the dwelling operational next week for school, Bible study and other activities (like making Wren’s frock for our friends’ wedding).

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Weekly Review – Bumper edition – March 23 – April 10

IMG_1358Catching up on documenting where we are with our education programme after 2 weeks of “Easter break” and bringing everything back up to current.

Following the last instalment, Robin and Wren were both still sick, but instead of pushing on ahead, we slowed things down a little to make sure that it stuck, revisiting a few things.


Continuing Miquon Maths, focusing on multiplication, creating a times table from a matrix. This was a mini book of 10 pages, and a little drawn out,  Robin found it a slow going and hard to stay focused; the teaching notes on this section were not a lot clearer and didn’t give great help in providing alternate ways to explain. So over the last 4 weeks, Robin worked his way through it all. We read through Sir Cumfrence and the Dragon of Pi several times, a Place for Zero, and infinity and me – you’ve got to love a maths adventure book.


This week we watched “on the reef” and read “the bones you own” and “your skin holds you in” in preparation for the discussed on adaptation in sea creatures:

  • Skeletal features, e.g. eye positions and jaws
  • Camouflage

As a follow up we again went to the Maritime Museum to look at the X-Ray Vision: Fish inside exhibit. In preparation for this we re-read:

This was followed up by borrowing and reading, from the local library, “Scott Goes South”.


Whilst it looks like we didn’t directly cover English, these weeks covered a lot of reading, writing and communications skills, especially in our HSIE work.


As depicted at the beginning of this post, a trip to the Sydney Easter Show was added to the excursions. Other than supplying a great opportunity to look at how others live, for Robin and Wren, it was an opportunity for them both to explain to husband-of-awesome’s colleague from the U.S. (pictured with them) how we farm in Australia and compare to how it is done in America.  As we did last time, we did the farm tour and collected the stamps along the way, at the end collecting a workbook on farming and education in Australia.

After the show, for the following week, we filled in the workbook and discussed the impact of humans on natural and built environments, our responsibility and stewardship:

  • roads
  • farming
  • tourism at the Barrier Reef
  • antarctic research
  • Japanese whaling

This last point lead to a discussion on the history of whaling and “how much is enough?”, “what do we need?” and a discussion on greed and excess (the latter in context of the mighty wardrobe sorting that was to begin – and has now started).

As part of Easter, we discussed Passover and what is being celebrated, how different people celebrate (foods, customs and cultures) and if Robin and Wren would like to create a family tradition to help us honour the occasion. Robin and Wren decided that they would like to create a tradition where on the Thursday night before Easter we have some kind of dinner, read Exodus from the Israelites getting ready for the 10th plague to when they leave Egypt and read from the Gospels from when Jesus enters Jerusalem up to where Jesus is arrested, also incorporating “the four questions” from the modern Jewish Passover tradition.

April 1st was also Ancient/Archaic language day. To celebrate:

  •  Wren greeted everyone in Latin
  • We discussed with Nan (Robin and Wren’s Great Grandmother) how Australian english has changed in her lifetime (idiom and accent)
  • Played a word game: What english words came from older languages and cultures – Greek, Latin, Viking/Saxons
  • Looked at “Chaucer doth tweet” and how much the English language has changed over time.

This review of ancient languages also  spawned more discussion about creating family celebrations and rituals as in “how can we do this next year?”. Some of the ideas that the kids came up with were:

  • Learning a Shakespearian sonnet, or verse from the King James Version Bible
  • Use more Latin
  • Dress up in period costume
  • Write hieroglyphs


This week(s) we included the usual of Swimming Lessons. Food choices in preparation for the Easter Show; what snacks did the kids want to bring on the trip. Personal and Food hygiene – washing hands at Easter Show. Walking 9 kilometres around the show (something our friend was amazed by).

Recently a family member had a biopsy performed on some cancerous tissue, so we revisited Slip/Slop/Slap vs. Melanoma.

Discuss grief and grieving after our friends mother died.

Creative and Practical Arts:

This weeks work consisted of:

  • Robin created a cardboard Iron Man suit for Barbie – as a small scale model for a future version for himself
  • Wren tried some Pointillism – The girl with the pearl earring (though she wasn’t old enough looking so a lot of squiggles were added)
  • Retraining household chores – with all the sickness a lot of the routine was left by the wayside whilst we all recovered.
    • Cleaning surfaces
    • sweeping UFOs (Unwanted Floor Objects)
    • Vacuuming
    • Sorting and folding washing
    • Loading and unloading the washing machine
  • Draw skeletons/fish from X-rays and explain their work
  • Create and size patterns for elf slippers
  • Fill and decorate 40 knitted chickens for Easter – As part of the kids talk this year both Robin and Wren helped stuff knitted chickens with chocolate easter eggs and also drew on eyes and  beaks for the knitted fowl.
  • Make birthday cards for me!
  • Violin practice
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Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 5.00.54 pmOur pattern of doing school doesn’t neatly fit into any particular style. We are inspired by Classical, Charlotte Mason and Unschooling ideas, and are bound to fulfil Syllabus Outcomes from the Australian National Curriculum. We pick and choose what suits us, and what works with the resources to which we have access.

We use textbooks to teach Maths, Art, Science and English skills, and as a guide for teaching Science and History content. We read ‘living books‘ for pretty much everything else. Every single book in our home has educational value, or doesn’t last long. We aim to give our children a broad exposure to the wealth of human knowledge, and develop in them the skills to sift out the useful and interesting bits.

So, we always have a range of themes running at the same time. This month we are learning about Ancient Greek mathematicians and philosophers, set theory, Vikings, ships and submarines, Tudor England, Post-Impressionism, Atomic theory, sound (frequency, pitch, volume), Romans, Ernest Shackleton, the Great Barrier Reef, polar regions, auroras and skeletons. We will cover multiplication, fractions and area in the maths textbook, some basic grammar, comprehension and finding the required information, poetry memorisation, handwriting, telling a story based on a painting and retelling a passage in our English texts. We will recreate the techniques of some well-known art works, and learn a bit about the artists from our art textbook.

So how do we link it all together?


This year you will notice that many of our interest-led reading is related to exhibitions at the Australian National Maritime Museum. We bought a membership so that we can visit frequently, take our time each visit and not feel rushed to see everything in one day. It also helps that they have exhibitions about things that I have little or no expertise in, and an excellent childrens’ programme.

So far we’ve visited 3 times since joining. It’s March, and we joined in January. We’ll be there sometime before Easter, and likely during the school holidays too. We do school work when we visit during the term, and let the children explore for themselves during the holidays or on weekends (when it’s much more crowded).

For school excursions I generally put a few sticky notes in Robin’s day book with instructions on them, and questions to answer. The first time we went to see “Going Places” my notes for him said: “Draw what you see, What is it?, How does it work?, What is it for?”. He filled in those questions for 4 displays. Afterwards we read more about types of transport in Great Explorers (also published as Into the Unknown) and watched James Cameron’s Deep Sea Challenge. On their return visit, the children explained to Husband-of-Awesome how each display worked and related it back to the notes Robin had taken earlier. You can see what else we did here.

Our next visit will be to see X-ray Vision: Fish Inside-out, A Different Vision and Painting for Antarctica. We’ll be taking the oil pastels and some drawing paper to do some “inspired by” artworks. We will try to connect what we know about different types of fish to their skeletal forms (eg: placement of eyes or size and shape of jaws cf: to the environment the species inhabits). We will use what we know to extrapolate the situation for other species, then google it when we get home to test our guesses. We will compare the art styles we observe: x-ray photographs, x-ray paintings on rock and bark, oil pastel and gouache on paper. We will discuss visual art as a communication tool and talk about the information we understand from the works observed.

When we visit in the school holidays, we’ll likely hook in with the children’s programme (hopefully they will have some kind of play or performance on) and also visit Shackleton: Escape from Antarctica.

In preparation for both these visits we’ve been reading up. Our regulars include:

Doomed Ships by Penny Clarke

The Children’s Atlas of Exploration by Antony Mason

Great Explorers  By Stuart Ross and Stephen Biesty

Pole To Pole by Pamela Freeman and Philip Blythe

Fire to Life by Pamela Freeman and Philip Blythe

The Bones You Own by Becky Baines

We’ll (hopefully) get to the public library this week and find some other topical reading. But even if we don’t, we have enough to get started and the children will still have a useful experience at the Maritime Museum even if it were purely an art making activity.

The intention is that as we expose our children to more experiences and information they will become interested in new things, develop deeper understanding of the things they know, or discover connections between the things they have already known. The life-skill of learning in all situations.

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Weekly Review: 16th-20th March

This week both Robin and Wren were sick. They’ve been taking naps in the day time and volunteering to go off to bed early. We cancelled on violin and swimming lessons too.


Robin did 3 pages of Miquon Maths this week; multiplication and number patterns. We read Sir Cumference and the Knights of the First Round Table and Sir Cumference and the Isle of Immeter, then we estimated Pi using craft sticks following the instructions from Natural Math. We discussed that sometimes it was ok to use rounding up or down to make calculations easier and reviewed the parts of a circle, and finding area and perimeter. We practiced all this, and learnt about re-arranging equations by playing DJ Decibel by ABC Splash. Robin arranged speakers to fill the arena with sound, then estimated the size of circles to make robots dance. Lastly he read co-ordinates off a graph and compared them to the equation for the line passing through each point; this launched fireworks in the arena. Robin worked really hard to succeed at DJ Decibel, pulling together lots of bits of maths he already knew to solve new questions. He described it as “fun, but it made by brain sweaty”.


We had a brief discussion about Democritus and Leucippus and their early ideas about atoms. Robin noted that it would have been hard to believe in atoms when the idea was new, but he related to the analogy in our text of the ‘beach’ as an object, comprised of tiny particles called ‘sand’.


In First Language Lessons we reviewed the poems Robin and Wren had already memorised and practiced standing nicely and speaking them clearly. We talked about how punctuation gives us hints about tone and pace.

I began reading The Ark, the Reed and the Firecloud to the children. Usually when I read longer books to them I just read and read until my voice wears out or the book is done. This time we’re taking it much slower, just 2-3 pages a day, so they can really brew on the story and the characters. I think this will help when the number of characters increases and the action takes off later in the book. I read this book for myself last year and really enjoyed it, so I’m hoping the children will too. (I started reading its sequel for myself this week too – one advantage of napping children).

After spending a lot of time in bed and on the couch this week, we finally made it to the library on Friday. Robin borrowed two DK Readers (Sharks and Iron Man) and one book for Premier’s Reading Challenge (Princess Smartypants). He read Princess Smartypants aloud to Wren (who loved it). Wren borrowed books from her two favourite series: Queen Victoria’s Christmas & Friday the Scaredy Cat. She also regularly borrows Queen Victoria’s Underpants and other Friday books. This time Wren also borrowed a beginner reader and Dustbin Dad.


We played through the first case in QED Cosmo’s Casebook also by ABC Splash. Wren navigated the gameplay (deciding where to go and what questions to ask), I read the dialogue and Robin read out the information cards (lore, evidence, historic information). We solved a mystery and won the case. We also watched three episodes of Horrible Histories on DVD (which both children find quite confronting, but they asked for it and managed through nearly the whole of each episode). We own the Horrible Histories Book Box as well, it’s not bad, just basic historical outlines punctuated by toilet humour and complaining about parents/teachers/adults. They are quick reads to give a basic idea of the time period before you really start learning about it (from other sources), or to fill in the bits you’ve forgotten already. We bought it primarily as a source of “chapter books” so Robin can develop his reading habit.


There was a lot of resting this week, we didn’t even do swimming lessons. We did walk to the library. We visited with the friends we would ordinarily meet at the park as the weather turned wild that afternoon. Before visiting we talked about not sharing germs and hand hygiene.

Creative and Practical Arts:

Inspired by his reading about Iron Man, Robin designed and made a similar suit for one of his Barbies out of paper and cardboard. He intends to make a larger one to fit himself using cardboard and duct tape.

My cousin was in town this week to display a structure he had designed and built. Robin and Wren helped unload the structure from the truck for storage after it was dismantled. My cousin and Robin had a quick chat about building things for a specific purpose, not wasting materials, and the kinds of work he does as an architect. We looked at the photos of the structure (completed and being built) as we hadn’t managed to visit while it was assembled.

Wren and I weeded part of the vegetable garden and we picked one pumpkin to share with our family (it wasn’t quite ripe enough, but wasn’t bad). We also picked 3 eggplants, a good bundle of beans and a stingy amount of raspberries and strawberries.

We listened to the Suzuki CD a few times and practiced correct finger, feet and violin positions, but neither child was feeling very motivated to balance the violin very long (Robin managed 30 sec, Wren wasn’t having any of it).

So that was our week of sick kids. It seems like we did quite a lot considering they both ran fevers for nearly 48hrs straight, then melted into boogers and coughing. But I think that it’s more the case that the few things we did were quite challenging and I was happy for them to rest as much as possible in between.

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