Hello, and welcome to my monthly newsletter!
I hope you are all safe and well. February has been a really difficult month for us, for various reasons. We have well and truly hit the proverbial lockdown wall. Despite being the shortest month of the year, it has felt so loooong. In fact, we're not even through with it yet, are we?!
We started off the new year feeling positive and productive, despite our lockdown news. But then the Beast from the East arrived, rendering us quite literally house bound, and I definitely felt my mental health begin to waver. We also had some heart breaking news in our family, so I spent the best part of a week feeling on the edge of tears. Bean has been struggling too, with a mouth full of wobbly teeth. It's definitely been a case of survival parenting here this month.
Valentine's Day Celebrations
One of our highlights this month has been our Valentine's Day celebrations. In all honesty, it wasn't that different to any other lockdown day, but with a few little treats spread through the day, it did feel a bit celebratory. We started with exchanging cards and gifts, and made our breakfast pancakes extra special with heart shaped strawberries. Even our guinea pigs got a special Valentine forage mix!
For lunch I ordered us a take away afternoon tea box, with sandwiches, scones, cakes and chocolate dipped strawberries. It was a nice break for me from making endless uninspiring lunches! Sundays are generally our day of rest, where I take any pressure off myself to do much but a bit of housework or gardening, so it was the perfect lazy day.
Science Project Highlights
Our science project pretty much grounded to a halt at the beginning of February. Despite browsing through our books and planning one last round of chemistry experiments, we some how didn't manage to get to them. We had one lovely afternoon session where we investigated all the chemistry experiments that we had 'in progress' (sugar crystals growing, ice in the freezer, an egg soaking in vinegar etc) and then we packed all of our chemistry books and materials away.
Later in the week, while Bean was at her Daddy's, I gathered together all of the books and materials for the next part of our project... a biology focus. We're now halfway through reading our 100 Things to Know About the Human Body book, which, like the others in this series, is excellent.
We've made a start on the Body Lab biology kit Bean received as a gift at Christmas. We were disappointed to discover that half the contents of the box were missing, but having ordered it way back in October, there wasn't much to be done about that. The materials included are quite basic (zip lock bags, a drinking straw, petri dishes etc.) but with the addition of a decent, functioning stethoscope, some stickers, posters and the activity manual.
Bean has enjoyed the activities included. They're quite simple, but well presented, with a good explanation of the science involved. The plastic gloves in the photograph below are filled with flour. One has lollipop sticks to represent the bones, so quite fun for comparison. In the zip lock bag below, she's making stomach contents with banana and white vinegar. You'll be glad I didn't share the finished product as it was revolting!
Most of the activities suggested in the manual require very little materials (some don't require any), and demonstrate bodily functions in a way that young children can visualise and understand. It's worked out well for us in this season of life, where I don't have the energy or motivation to plan much.
Last month I wrote a blog post entitled 20 Science Books to Inspire and Educate, where I shared many of the books and learning materials we have been using for our science project. You'll also find them linked in my Bookshop here.
Our loose plan is to continue with this project, eventually moving on to a Physics focus, until we have exhausted it. However, with lockdown restrictions easing over the coming weeks and months, and our world opening up a bit, I have no way of knowing how it will pan out.
Similarly, we've made very little progress with our courage project, aside from reading. We finished reading The Power Book, which you can read a more detailed review of in this post on my social media accounts. It's a brilliant book, which inspired many rich and interesting discussions.
Just this week we've made a start on two new books for our project, Politics for Beginners and This Book is Anti-Racist. I wasn't sure if we'd read both at the same time, or just the one for now, but first impressions of both are good. I read Bean the blurb and first chapters from each, and she was keen to read more, but we haven't read enough of either for me to confidently review them yet. I'll share more in my March newsletter.
At bedtime we've been reading Forgotten Fairy Tales of Kindness and Courage, which is a lovely collection of slightly longer and less well know fairy tales with a kindness and courage theme. We're also still really enjoying and working our way through Break the Mould. The last chapter we read was about how the author, Sinead Burke, prepared for her TED talk, Why Design Should Include Everyone, which was incredibly inspiring. The TED talk is worth a watch too, as are the others she recommended in this chapter.
1000 Hours Outside
At the beginning of January we started logging our hours spent outdoors for the 1000 Hours Outside initiative. This too has pretty much ground to a halt. It's not so much that we're struggling to get outdoors (although we have been a bit this month). It's that, in general, tracking progress is not something that motivates or inspires Bean.
In retrospect, it may have been a better idea for us to start with a 50 or 100 hour tracker, where the visual progress is clearer. It also would have been a better idea for us to track our hours outdoors as a family, instead of having individual trackers. We decided on individual trackers as we thought Bean would still be attending Farm School once a week where she spends the whole day outdoors.
Our outdoor time this month has mainly consisted of trudging around the city streets, sometimes with an incentive such as a quick trip to the corner shop for sweets. It's been hard to motivate either of us outdoors when it's cold and we can't meet friends. Perhaps we'll pick it up again now that the weather is warming up.
Here is Bean litter picking on one of our recent walks.
Our studio membership for Masterpiece Society renewed mid month when I was too distracted to consider whether we still really want it. It is a big financial commitment for us. I think I'd probably consider it good value for money if we used it a lot (3+ times a week) or if we had a bigger family with more family members accessing it. We've had a go at just four classes in the past month, which we have both really enjoyed, but despite being in lockdown we haven't seemed to manage to fit any more in.
We were disappointed to discover that many of the lessons require specific materials that we don't have. Also, having been raised with lots of opportunities to hone her 'process over product' skills, Bean found many of the lessons too prescriptive. This is why we opted for the Abstract Art course, but were so disappointed to discover that the course is missing the last two lessons. We'll make the most of the membership over the next few weeks, but I've cancelled our subscription for now.
February Cleaning, Decluttering and Organising
After such a busy and productive January, our home felt a bit neglected in places and I felt a deep need to clean and declutter. If I'm excelling in one area of my life, then it's pretty guaranteed that another area will suffer. Anyway, I spent one sleepless night pondering the rearranging of furniture (as I often do!) and the next day I set straight to work.
Last Autumn we had our washing machine replaced, and I had to move a fair amount of stuff into our downstairs toilet to make space for the installation, including a lovely wooden shoe storage bench. We don't generally use this toilet, and having had no guests all winter, I'd abandoned it in this state. The first job of the morning was to clear it out, liberating the storage bench, and give the whole thing a deep clean. It's fit for guests now!
I then moved into our dining room to have a good old tidy up and switch over these benches. We do most of our project work in here and it doesn't take long for things to build up in piles. I wanted to switch over the benches to take advantage of the extra shelf for storage. It's been almost three weeks since I made this switch over and the space is working so much better for us now.
The excess bench got relocated to my bedroom, where it's nice and accessible for when we can have family and friends to dinner again.
And the last job in this four step plan was to create a little dressing table for Bean with the table and chair I liberated from my bedroom (bottom right). While I was in there I gave her bedroom a really big sort out and clean, and set up her first toy rotation since Christmas. It's since become clear that the dressing table is not fit for purpose (it's much too small), so I'm researching a dressing table/desk for her upcoming 10th birthday. After the toy rotation, she wanted to play in here non-stop for almost three days, so this is partly why we lost our project work mojo.
With case numbers dropping mid month, and our mental health being so low, we decided that we'd take the risk and meet up with our support bubble for an outside walk. We met in Ford, which is about half way between both of our houses, for a beautiful walk along the By Brook. There had been some major flood damage about half way along our route, rendering one of the bridges unsafe to cross, so we had fun navigating a new route. It felt so good to see friends, and have a proper break from the city. A much needed mental health boost.
We also had to take a short (but essential) trip to Wales for a few days, which was a mixed affair. We had one day of really beautiful weather which we took full advantage of, with a lovely walk up on the hill behind Talley Abbey and lake. Gosh, we miss our monthly trips to Wales so much! It's been almost 6 months since we last visited.
The rest of our visit was extremely wet, with widespread flooding. It didn't really impact on our time, as we weren't visiting for fun, but was quite dramatic nonetheless. You can see in the photos here that the little river on our quiet lane had burst it's banks and flooded the road. Thankfully, the next morning, it had retreated and we were able to travel home.
We had an online cookery lesson with our lovely cookery class teacher from Live Learn Cook, where we made Brookies (a cross between cookies and brownies). Bean loved it, but I was NOT having a good day and barely held it together. Usually, cooking is a joyful experience, especially with our class, so this was a clear sign to me that I was struggling. The brookies were delicious though, and I have a great big tub of them in my freezer for any repeat episodes.
After one of our most difficult days this month, I felt that Bean really needed some good quality play as a way of working through some of her feelings and for us to reconnect. I set up a play foam invitation to play one morning that worked wonders for her mood. She's always loved sensory play. I think it's assumed that this type of play is most suited to little ones, but I have to disagree. I think we're too quick to move our children on from certain types of play. This is one of the activities in my 31 Days of Morning Play Invitations collection, and is so quick and easy to set up. Bean played here for almost two hours, with me reading aloud to her from some of our morning time books.
We also seem to have had a bit of a sewing theme going on here. Bean asked to sew one afternoon when it was the absolute last thing I felt like doing. She wanted to make clothes for her dolls and I honestly just didn't have it in me to help her. I made the effort to set up the machine and persuaded her to make some little pillows for her dolls instead. She was really delighted with them, and I felt a sense of accomplishment for meeting her needs and getting that little bit closer to bedtime.
She's also been working independently on a sewing kit I bought for her in Hobbycraft. She finished it while we were in Wales and I could not be more proud.
Bean and I are still working our way through and really enjoying Junior Bake Off and The Great Pottery Throwdown, both on Channel 4. We watched the film Little Women while we were staying in Wales, which we all loved. We don't watch many full length films, as they tend to be a bit long for Bean, especially those with a slightly more mature plotline. I've found that if she has something to play with on the floor then she can mostly be quiet and will dip in and out while playing.
Somehow, I managed to squeeze in the full series of The Queen's Gambit which I really loved, and has made me desperately want to teach Bean how to play chess. We have a board, but I need to source some nice chess pieces. I also watched the film The Dig which was wonderful. Both on Netflix.
Spring Play and Learning Guide
Did you know that I have a play and learning guide especially for Spring?! It's been designed with the 3-7 age bracket in mind, but may be adapted to suit younger and older siblings. My Spring Play and Learning Guide is just £10 and includes a recommended reading list and more than 20 Spring themed activity suggestions.
The coupon code for my 40 Days of Lockdown Inspiration collection is also still valid. Type in 'stayathome' at checkout for a 50% discount. This code will be valid until we come out of our national lockdown here in the UK.
We have had a couple of new additions to our morning basket this month, in addition to those that I've already mentioned above.
We've also been reading and enjoying The Breast Book which we've been reading at bedtimes. This is a puberty book, but with a focus on breasts. I'm 100% comfortably talking with Bean about puberty, sex, our bodies etc. but she's not always up for listening. It's been so useful to have a book that goes into more depth than other non-fiction type puberty books, covering the emotional side as well as the physical.
I've only read the one book this month, but it was one that I read in just three days and that will stay in my thoughts forever. A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea tells the story of Doaa, a Syrian refugee, and her journey across the Mediterranean Sea to find safety in Europe. It's a heart breaking story, but an important one. You can listen to Melissa Fleming of UNHCR talk about the story behind the book in this TED Talk if you'd like to know more about it.
Audio Books We haven't listened to any audio books this month. We've been eagerly awaiting the sequel to Hetty Feather, Sapphire Battersea, which arrived in our Borrowbox just yesterday. We have listened to a few episodes of the J House Podcast written by one of Bean's favourite home educating YouTube families.
Here are the blog posts I've written this month, just in case you might have missed them.
If you have enjoyed reading this monthly newsletter, and don't want to miss another one, perhaps you might like to subscribe? I can promise not to flood your inbox with spam (but I can't promise that I'll remember to send newsletter reminders either!) Scroll down to the bottom to subscribe. Also, if you have a specific request for the blog, please drop me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org
Next month, I'll be sharing an update on our current projects (providing we haven't completely abandoned them), as well as our plans for the summer term. There will be the usual book reviews and recommendations too. I'm hoping to run my online course, The Simple Art of Toy Rotation, in April, so I'll be sharing more about that too.
This blog post contains affiliate links. If you do click through, Bean and I will receive a small amount of commission which will contribute to new books and resources for her home education. You can, however, find all of these resources elsewhere, including other online retailers, second hand selling pages and your local library.