Hello, and welcome to my monthly newsletter!
September has been a challenging month, with the inevitable highs and lows that seem to be a staple of this unsettling time. Writing my monthly newsletter has become quite a therapeutic process for me though, as reflecting back on our month together helps me to see exactly how much joy and magic still fills our days.
Back to School
When we are having a day (or morning) at home, we always start with morning time. We've been beginning our days together in this way for as long as I can remember, but getting to the dining table after breakfast, dressing, morning chores etc hasn't always been easy. This past month, we have made a small tweak to our daily rhythm, which has had such a positive impact that I feel compelled to share.
We are now starting morning time bright and early at the breakfast table, still in our pj's. I read to Bean while she eats and, depending on what we are reading and what projects we are working on, this can last from 45-90 minutes. I'm now less concerned about how long it takes her to eat her breakfast, get dressed and finish our morning chores, as we have had a good chunk of our 'schooling' time first thing in the morning.
North America Project: Canada
This September we have made a start on our North America project, learning about Canada, mainly through reading books. We started with Carson Crosses Canada which is a sweet picture book about a woman crossing Canada, with her dog Carson, to visit her sister. It references lots of Canadian sights and landmarks, and includes a map for following along with their journey. We then spent quite some time poring over the illustrated Canada map in the Maps book, where we were able to find lots of the sights and landmarks featured.
We had a go at making maple candy, which was pretty straightforward and absolutely delicious (a bit like fudge). We halved the recipe, but still ended up needing a whole bottle of maple syrup. It's green because Bean added food colouring! This is the recipe we used.
For our math focus Bean worked on this nice little activity from our Maps Activity Book where she compared the size of various countries, including Canada, by colouring in one square to represent 100,000 square kilometers. This really helped Bean to visualise what an enormous country Canada is.
The following week we read M is For Maple which is a great one to read as a gentle introduction, with something Canada-related for each letter of the alphabet. For non-Canadians, it isn't always clear what each reference is all about, so we sat with Alexa and barked questions at her! I love learning alongside Bean in this way, as I feel it is so important for her to understand that I don't have all the answers, but that I can support her in finding them.
We also read Honk! Honk! A Story of Migration, about migratory Canada geese, which turned out to be the perfect introduction to watching my all time favourite film, Fly Away Home, also about Canada geese, filmed in Canada. If you haven't seen this film, I recommend that you do. It's so beautiful. I recommend that you pre-watch it before sharing it with your children, as it has some scenes that younger/more sensitive children may find distressing. I basically blub my way through it every time.
And lastly, we have been reading Anne of Green Gables as our read aloud. I wasn't too sure how Bean would take to this story, as it is quite old fashioned, with challenging vocabulary and concepts. As is often the case, she has surprised me, and reminded me to be brave with books and give them a try. Anne Shirley is such a fabulous character, and we've had a lot of laughs reading her story.
As an end of topic celebration, I cooked us a traditional French Canadian dish called Poutine, following this recipe. The gravy was the best I've ever tasted. The chips were a right faff to make, and I'm not sure I'd go to that effort again, but they were SO good. Lovely, tasty comfort food for the beginning of Autumn.
We've had some wonderful day trips this month, making the most of the splendid weather and places being quieter now that children have returned to school. We had a proper British beach day at Burnham-on-Sea, sheltering from the rain showers under the slipway, ice creams from the ice cream van and a play in the arcades.
We also had a glorious day on the beach at Dunraven/Ogmore-by-Sea, where we met Bean's Granny for a picnic lunch and a swim in the sea. These beaches are further than we would ordinarily travel for a day trip (around 1.5 hours each way by car) but having spent much of the summer at home, we were very much seeing this as our summer holiday. It made such a welcome change to our usual estuary beach trips.
We visited Slimbridge Wetlands Centre in the hope of seeing the Canada Geese before they migrated (we didn't - they had already gone). The weather was beautiful and the children had an absolute blast feeding the Greylag Geese. In the late afternoon we had the Wellington Boot land to ourselves and our children spent two glorious hours playing in the shallow water in their pants!
Slimbridge offer an excellent discount for home educators. If you visit on a week day, during term time, you pay around £8 for each child, which I think is the 'schools' rate, and one accompanying adult has free entry!
The following week we went on our annual visit to Chew Valley Animal Park. This is what I consider a 'treat day', as the entrance fee isn't cheap. Ordinarily, a lot of the animals at the park are free range, and you are able to enter a lot of the enclosures to pet and feed the animals, but this isn't the case at the moment. The 'cuddle corner' is also temporarily closed.
Our highlights were the piglets, of which there were three or four litters of varying ages, and we were able to give them a good scratch through the fence. The children enjoyed feeding the goats and sheep, hens and horses, and charging along the vast open paths. It's the most beautiful setting.
Home Library Makeover
This job has been long overdue, but was one of those that kept slipping down the ladder of priorities. For months now, I've had stacks of books littering my bedroom floor. New arrivals, bedtime reading books, topic books, early readers, books returned from friends, all in a muddle. Below is the before and during photo.
I started by taking all of the books off the shelves and stacking them on my bed. I removed the box insert, drawers and cupboard door from the shelving unit as I wanted to dedicate the full 4x4 unit to books. I fixed some little label holders (which I had left over from upcycling our school drawers in the dining room) to each cubby.
Then, I got sorting. I managed to declutter over 60 books. Mainly those that Bean has outgrown, or that are for topics that we are unlikely to repeat. I've since sold the majority of these books on my Instagram stories, so we now have some funds available for buying the books we need for our next projects.
I'm really, really delighted with how it has turned out. I no longer have books in piles on my bedroom floor. Every book has it's place, and it is so much easier to find what we're looking for. I'm happy that there is also space for our collection to grow, which it will!
Autumn Play and Learning Guide
I'm excited to share with you that I have finally finished and listed my brand new Autumn Play and Learning Guide! For a while, with various hurdles appearing in my path, I didn't think I'd pull it off in time for this Autumn, but I have. My house has suffered from my lack of attention after a few long days at my laptop, but it is done.
The Autumn Play and Learning Guide is a 26-page instant digital download, packed with nature inspired activities and invitations to play, for children age 3-7 years and their families. The guide can be worked through at your own pace, but there are enough activities included for you to complete one a day over four weeks.
I've also restocked my Autumn Themed Play Dough Collection, and have a few sets of Autumn Themed Wool Felt Balls left in stock. These will be discontinued once they have sold out, so now is the time to order them. If you don't fancy making your own wool felt balls for the Autumn Garland on p. 18 of my play and learning guide, these are a quick and easy alternative.
We've had two new additions to our morning basket this month, both sourced to fit in with one of our side projects, learning more about animals. Both are excellent and come highly recommended.
After finishing Fearless Felines: 30 True Tales of Courageous Cats we were both left feeling bereft (you can read my full review of it here), so after a little research I ordered WildLives: 50 Extraordinary Animals That Made History. This book is quite new (published in 2019), so not available from our library and neither was I able to find it second hand. Similarly to the Fearless Felines book, each double page spread features the true story of an extraordinary animal. Personally, I found some of the stories very hard to read, as I am such a sensitive soul. Bean, however, loves these types of true animal story books, and we've been flying through it during our morning time.
The other book we've been reading is called Planet Zoo: 100 Animals We Can't Afford to Lose. This book came highly recommended to me from various sources, and it has completely exceeded my expectations. It showcases 100 animals, of all shapes and sizes, who are on the brink of extinction (some already extinct now, as it was written 20 years ago) but with a positive focus on conservation and on the web that interlinks every species on earth. It's really cleverly written, inspring and thought-provoking, and has led us to further research about each animal featured.
I've only managed to read one book this month, The Dalai Lama's Cat, which was gifted to me by a dear friend. If you're interested in Buddhism, and would like a gentle introduction through the eyes of a cat, this book is for you! I loved it, and found it so heart warming. Perfect bedtime reading for me during the transition into autumn, which is often a time when I feel more anxious and need something therapeutic in the evenings.
Audio Books This month we have finished listening to the last of the Harry Potter books on Borrowbox, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. We both really enjoyed this one, listening to it together while we do arts and crafts alongside each other in the afternoons, and had a huge celebration when it culminated in the long anticipated death of Lord Voldemort! Our Harry Potter journey has come to an end for now, as we're not planning to watch the films.
I've just finished listening to Leaving Time on Borrowbox. I picked up this novel in our local charity shop last winter, started reading it but didn't find it especially gripping, and promptly abandoned it. I thought I'd give it a second try on audio book. It's been an interesting one to keep me company this September while I cook and clean. I didn't love it, but one of the main characters is working on a research project into elephants, with a focus on memory and grief, and I found those chapters fascinating and moving. It also had a very surprising and heartbreaking ending, one which I never would have predicted.
Here are the blog posts I published this month, just in case you may have missed them.
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Next month, I'll be sharing an update on our North America project (learning about Native America specifically), as well as seeing some of the activities from my Autumn Play and Learning Guide in action with my new little mindee.
Also, keep an eye out for my next series of 'Advocates of Play' interviews, featuring on the blog every Sunday for the month of October.
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.