Our home education plan for engineering and design includes creative, open ended play with toys such as Lego.

Home education plan: Home schooling a 3 year old

Here in New Zealand, the academic year runs in line with the calendar year, with the long school summer break occurring over Christmas. Since Theo’s birthday is also in December, shortly before both the academic and calendar years come to a close, it makes sense that the end of the year marks a time for reflection on his previous year of learning and a time to consider the year ahead. If you’re wondering what home schooling a 3 year old might look like, this is our home education plan for 2019.

 

Our educational philosophy

Our approach to education is integrative. We are certainly ‘worldschoolers’ but within this ‘unschoolers’ who take the bits that resonate with us from different philosophies and approaches, and we don’t follow the bits that don’t fit with our family values, beliefs and goals for our children and family as a whole.

Neither the plan itself nor our educational approach are necessarily the ‘right’ way to do it, nor what would work best for you. You must choose what resonates with you. Consider this as you read the rest of this post, along with the fact that all children have different interests, passions, strengths and weaknesses, and this plan has obviously been put together with Theo in mind.

In addition, I have obviously developed this home education plan with our family circumstances in mind. I recognise the fact that we are privileged to be able to buy books and other resources, to be able to afford swimming lessons and days out, and of course to be able to travel. We also make use of many wonderful free resources, such as outdoor areas, museums and the library, and I hope that you are able to find services and resources in your area to suit both the needs of your children and your family budget.

We’re very child-led in our approach to everything regarding Theo’s development and how we parent, and we try to foster independence and choice within the limits of some boundaries regarding personal hygiene, safety of himself and others, and the law.

In terms of education, we see it as our responsibility to provide the opportunity for a broad spectrum of experiences and to introduce a range of learning areas, but we’re not going to force a curriculum down his throat. He can decide what interests him at any given time, what skills he’d like to work on, and what topics he would like to acquire deeper knowledge in.

Children want to learn; I have no concerns that he’ll just not want to do anything (as is often feared by those unfamiliar with an ‘unschooling’ approach). I don’t believe this to be possible in any case; children are always learning. It might not be how or what an adult wants or expects them to learn, the adult may not even realise it’s happening, but by observing our children at play, we can identify huge amounts of learning occurring naturally all the time.

 

Why have I written a plan?

Three reasons really.

1

To assist in jumping the hoops.

In order to home educate in New Zealand once Theo reaches compulsory school age (kids here start after their 5th birthday, joining their class at different times of year, and must be in formal education by their 6th birthday), I will have to apply to the Ministry of Education for a ‘Certificate of Exemption from Enrolment at a Registered School’. This process involves proving that ‘your child will be taught at least as regularly and as well as they would be in a registered school’.

This homeschooling plan, combined with an end of year evaluation and proof of learning (through photographs and videos, logs that I’ve written and any pieces of work that can and have been kept, such as artwork), will be invaluable in that process and ‘proving’ our capability in offering Theo a level of education that the Ministry deems acceptable.

Of course this isn’t necessary in all countries so if you’re considering home education, check what the requirements are in your country (it is also necessary to check if you’re world schooling and staying anywhere on a visa that is longer than a visitor/holiday visa). In England for example, children start school during the September after their 4th birthday but you don’t have to inform anyone or provide evidence of learning if you choose to home educate; you just get on with it.

2

For my own and Theo’s records.

As well as having to apply for the initial certificate of exemption, families in New Zealand then have to sign bi-annual declarations for the Ministry of Education confirming that they are continuing to provide home education. Although this isn’t typically a rigerous check, putting a broad plan for the year ahead in writing can’t hurt and will get me in good habits.

Having a written annual record may also prove useful if we find ourselves in a country that requires more thorough evidence of home learning, so may be something that other world schooling families would like to consider doing. It will give me something to go back to when I reflect on the year passed each December, and will help me organise my thoughts for evaluating our home educating journey.

Similarly, keeping regular logs of learning and what I have observed in Theo as the year progresses will act as a memory aid to all we have done and help me identify changes and achievements. Combined, they will be a useful tool for my records.

I was taught to get into the practice of keeping diaries and journals from an early age and I’m very grateful for these snapshots into my childhood. I kept a scrapbook and short diary each day when we were abroad, and my parents kept projects and workbooks from school (I was mainstream educated). Keeping a diary is a wonderful opportunity for learning and developing skills (writing, drawing, scrapbooking etc) but also a tool for processing emotions and organising thoughts and feelings about the day.

Theo is of course not yet at the age where he is keeping his own journals but I have tried to start this for him (and we talk about his thoughts and feelings at the end of the day as an alternative method of processing them). If he takes an interest as he gets older, he can continue it. Like me, he may also appreciate having a window into his childhood when he’s older.

3

To help others.

Finally, I thought it might be of help to others who are also starting this journey and trying to figure out what home schooling might look like for their families. Of course, there are countless ways to ‘do’ home education and it will look different for every family. This is just what made sense to me, but I expect this to change and evolve as Theo gets older, as I get wiser and we all find our groove as a home educating family.

 

Our Home Education Plan age 3-4 years

This ‘plan’ for the year ahead is very loose and is not intended as a strict curriculum or as a benchmarking checklist of ‘can do’, ‘can’t do’ items. Areas of learning will arise naturally from everyday experiences, and if they don’t, that’s fine. Not everything has to be ticked off by the end of the year.

It is intended as a guide and tool for myself, not for Theo. I can introduce the ideas written here as they arise naturally but if they do not spark an interest in Theo, we won’t do them; we can come back to them.

I have structured my homeschooling plan according to core subjects and learning skills. I don’t expect learning to take place according to these categories, and activities and conversations can of course tick more than one box, but laying it out in this way helped me organise my thoughts.

Baking, for example, ticks the Maths box (measuring out ingredients), the English box (reading a recipe), the Science box (baking of course involves a series of physical and chemical changes to particles when ingredients are combined and heated), a number of cognitive skills (working memory, inhibitory control, planning), and of course the practical life skills box (learning to cook is an essential life skill!).

 

I recommend reading this home education plan alongside my post on our current rhythms and routines, as they support one another. This will also give you an insight into the daily and weekly rhythms of a worldschooling family.

 

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Maths and Numeracy

 

  • Basic counting and arithmetic using real life situations and incorporating multiple senses. We do number work all the time as we play, eat and just go about our day. Here are a couple of examples, but you can count anything!
    • Counting pushes on the swings.
    • Asking him how many grapes (or whatever food!) he wants on his plate and then counting them out. … ‘You ate one, so now you have x’.
    • Asking him about numbers as he plays. ‘How many mechanics do we need to fix your car? … Two, ok. One, two. … This person has gone on their lunch break so now there is one mechanic.’
    • We watch the birds eating on our lawn while we have breakfast and count them, adding and subtracting as they fly away/back.

 

  • Number recognition and identification in real life situations. Again, this crops up naturally all the time and we don’t have any specific toys or learning materials with numbers. Here are a few examples.
    • He identifies house numbers on mailboxes as we walk down the street and traces the number with his fingers. He also points out numbers in shops, on speed limit signs, on buses etc.
    • Asking him to press the correct button in lifts (elevators), at ATMs, on chip and pin card machines (and anywhere else numbers appear).
    • Although technology has somewhat eradicated the need for a family calendar displayed in the kitchen (as was the norm when I was a kid!), having seen how much Theo enjoyed finding the correct door on his wooden train advent calendar during December, behind which was a Christmassy activity for us to do that day, and how this enabled him to practise his number recognition, I will now be displaying a calendar and asking Theo if he would like to identify the correct day, date, month each morning. Depending on your preferences, this could be done on a traditional paper calendar or with a Waldorf-inspired perpetual calendar. Either of these options will visually introduce and reinforce the idea of natural rhythms according to seasons, months and weeks.

 

  • Clocks and time keeping. Obviously clocks (both digital and analogue) can be used as tools for counting, arithmetic and number recognition. When it comes up, we do just this. In addition, over the next year, I would like to facilitate Theo’s understanding of passing time. He is still a bit young to understand that other events are occurring simultaneously outside of his world, so getting his head around the idea that if we allow time to pass, we may miss the things he enjoys may well be something to work on next year. However, developing an understanding of ‘if you want to go to gymnastics, we need to leave when the clock says x’, ‘Mummy will be back when the clock says y’ is much more achievable. I have recently begun introducing this, and he has been demonstrating that this is a helpful strategy for him, particularly around managing separation when I need to go out.

 

  • Basic understanding of money. Of course, like time keeping, using money provides a real world opportunity to practise counting, arithmetic and number recognition. Developing a working model of how to navigate the exchange of money and goods, as well as an appreciation for the money we have, gratitude for the life it buys us, and an understanding that money and the items it purchases are to be valued, can be explored through:
    • Involvement in handling money in shops and supermarket checkouts.
    • Role play.
    • Conversations about where our money comes from, what we use it for, and those that are less fortunate.
    • Donating both unwanted items and money to charity.

 

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English Language and Literacy

 

  • Reading. 
    • We provide access to a wide range of fiction, both modern and classic, non-fiction, and poetry aimed at both adults and children.

 

  • Phonics. We haven’t taught Theo the alphabet, nor will we for the time being. He will instead, in his own time, learn to read and write by first mastering phonics (the sound a letter or combination of letters make. e.g. ‘fff as in flower’ as opposed to ‘ef’, as is taught in the alphabet). He will then learn to correlate these sounds with their alphabetic symbol. Here are a few examples of how we are introducing this to him.
    • Following words with my finger as I read helps Theo make links between what he’s hearing and what he’s seeing.
    • We also take the time to identify specific sounds and their symbols when we read, and highlight any commonalities between words e.g. “This is ‘bh’ as in bug, and bus, and book. All these words start with the same sound, ‘bh’.” (while pointing to the ‘b’ at the start of each word). Poetry is particularly good for recognising patterns in language as rhymes rely on the use of the same sounds.
    • We play sound games like ‘I spy’ but use the phonetic sound rather than the alphabet letter. e.g. “I spy with my little eye, something on the table beginning with ‘ssss’ (not ‘es’)”…”spoon!” We have made this game more complex in stages. I started by presenting one obvious object so Theo just named the object when given the sound. Then, I presented two objects so he had to make a choice depending on how he interpreted the sound. Then more objects, each with different sounds. We have just started the next stage, which involves using a sound that corresponds to multiple presented objects. When Theo has given one example, I encourage him to find further examples. I will then progress this further by giving digraphs as well as single letter sounds, by choosing larger areas in which to search (a whole room, an outdoor space, an image), by introducing ending sounds as well starting sounds, and finally by introducing all of the sounds in the word.
    • I plan to also try rhyming variations of the sound games. e.g. “I spy with my little eye something that rhymes with …”, and “rug starts with a ‘r’ sound and ends with a ‘g’ sound – can you think of any words that rhyme with ‘rug’?”.
    • We will try sorting games as an introduction to matching written letters to phonetic sound. For example, encouraging Theo to place all the objects that start with a particular sound next to their corresponding written symbol.

 

  • Vocabulary. Vocabulary expands very naturally through two key methods.
    • Conversation. We have always spoken to Theo like he is an adult, choosing not to ‘dumb down’ our language or use ‘baby talk’. We use adult words for things, although through his friends and other influences he has also picked up the child terms, e.g. penis vs willy, stomach vs tummy, excavator vs digger. We narrate play (without imposing our interpretations or ideas on him) and the world around us, we converse while we eat, we discuss our day and we make up stories, songs and rhymes.
    • Reading. Reading is obviously hugely important for developing vocabulary, and this is part of the reason why we try to offer a wide range of reading materials (another is that we want Theo to be able to choose what interests him; I didn’t really discover a love of reading until I left school and was no longer forced to read set texts that I had no interest in). Poetry is often broader in its vocabulary than stories, as it requires specific language in order to conform to patterns in rhythm and rhyme.

 

  • Pen holding. This is a skill that Theo will master as he develops stronger muscle tone and control in his hands and fingers. Alongside providing activities to help strengthen these muscles, I will model how to hold a pen, and ask if he would like my help to adjust his grip. Some example activities to build hand and finger strength include:
    • Modelling clay.
    • Play dough.
    • Kneading bread.
    • Threading work.
    • Using scissors.
    • Tasks that require a pincer grip and fine motor control. Peeling onions and eggs are a good starting point.

 

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Science, Ecosystems and the Planet

 

  • Provide answers to questions and further learning for topics of interest by:
    • Discussing topics as they arise (plants, animals, the body, space, weather, tectonics etc).
    • Visiting museums at home and while away. We have a number of great museums here in Christchurch, including the Canterbury Museum, the International Antarctic Centre, Quake City and the Airforce Museum. We recently stumbled across the Southland Fire Service Museum in Invercargill while camping on the South coast. Needless to say, Theo loved it!
    • Providing opportunities to ethically view and learn about wildlife. For example, we recently visited the Royal Albatross Centre in Dunedin, located in the wildlife reserve on Pukekura Taiaroa Head. From an observatory, we were able to view wild albatrosses sitting on their eggs, as well as a number of other bird species. Our guide gave us a great deal of insight into the life and struggle of these birds, the history of the headland, and the research and conservation efforts occurring at the Centre. 
    • Reading books, looking at photographs and visiting the library to fill gaps in knowledge and resources available at home.
    • Conducting ‘experiments’ through play and the provision of sensory experiences (e.g. water play, sand play, baking, gardening etc)
    • Utilising our large world map, presented at eye level for Theo, to visualise and discuss topics such as habitats, climates, geography etc.

 

  • Model a positive and care-taking relationship with the planet by:
    • Practising recycling, composting, and litter-picking.
    • Finding joy in nature.
    • Discussing conservation, threats to species and how we can help.
    • Discouraging wastefulness with regards to food, water and electricity.
    • Making positive choices with regards to fuel use, sustainable product use, meat consumption and waste reduction.

 

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Engineering, Design and Technology

 

  • Support his interest in vehicles and mechanics by:
    • Making toys and books available that allow him to explore this (Tegu magnetic blocks, road networks and toy vehicles, wooden nuts and bolts, Usborne ‘Look Inside Cars/Trains/Things That Go’).
    • Visiting the car garage and enabling him to observe mechanics at work.
    • Visiting the library’s ‘Imagination Station’ Lego and Duplo area.
    • Attending relevant museums and exhibitions.
    • Allowing him to help fix our bikes, pump up tyres, fill the car with petrol, clean the car etc.

 

  • Provide opportunities for construction, woodwork and sculpture by:
    • Making toys and books available that allow him to explore this (Haba shape and tack board, building blocks, wooden nuts and bolts).
    • Making modelling clay and play dough regularly available. This will also benefit his muscle tone development required to correctly hold and manipulate a pen or pencil.
    • Using real tools at home to make home improvements and fix broken items.
    • Assembling furniture.
    • Providing opportunities for large scale construction with soft play equipment or sofa cushions.
    • Visiting the library’s ‘Imagination Station’ Lego and Duplo area.
    • Attending relevant museums and exhibitions.

 

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Art and Drama

 

  • Appreciation of the arts. 
    • Visit art galleries.
    • Attend theatre productions (these might be musicals, dance, acrobatics, stage drama, pantomime or street theatre). Theo’s first theatre production was ‘Aladdin’ on Broadway when he was 19 months. He loved it! He sat glued to the stage, dancing and clapping his way through the entire performance. In the last year, we have taken him to see Dr. Seuss’s ‘The Cat in the Hat’ and a local theatre group production of ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’. Over the next three weeks, Christchurch is hosting the World Buskers Festival. We attended today and caught several wonderful shows. Theo then spent the rest of the afternoon climbing, jumping and hanging upside down from whatever apparatus he could find; the trapeze artists were clearly a favourite!
    • Introduce famous artworks and provide opportunities to copy and comment on them. This will enable regular discussions on shape, form, angles and the whole vs details, which will pave the way for the development of visuospacial skills and the ability to reproduce what he sees. 

 

  • Opportunities for artistic and dramatic self-expression.
    • Provide opportunities for both guided and free-expression craft using a range of materials, mediums and equipment (paint, watercolour, pencils, crayons, collage). We display his work at home to promote a sense of accomplishment, pride and self-worth. 
    • Dress up, role playing and imaginative play. During play, Theo often assumes a particular role both with and without the use of props. He has access to some dressing up clothes at home (we avoid characters so these tend to be more open ended, but he can access set costumes at Playcentre* should he wish) and some role playing toys (he has a particular interest in doctors at the moment so we got him the Plan Toys doctor’s set for his birthday). If he doesn’t have the props he needs, he’ll make it out of paper, play dough or whatever open ended materials he has available to him at that time. He’ll also often narrate roles during his play without the use of props. 
    • Support photography. Theo has long shown an interest in my camera and has been able to use it on occassion (under careful supervision!). He was kindly bought a children’s camera for Christmas and has been loving snapping away at whatever catches his interest. I would like to support this by displaying a selection of his photographs and helping him to create scrapbooks of specific days out and events. 

 

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Sport and Movement

 

  • Support his love of gross motor activities.
    • Swimming lessons. Theo started swimming lessons at 5 weeks old. He has had breaks from formal lessons for both short- and long-term travel but we have enrolled in lessons whenever we have a home base. These have continually been a highlight of his week so we will continue them for as long as he enjoys them. We also swim regularly together to ensure that he is confident in the water, he has opportunities to practise his skills, and to have fun. 
    • Gymnastics. Our council runs drop-in gymnastics sessions every day. Theo loves attending so we go whenever our day allows and Theo says he wants to. He is currently working on perfecting his somersaults and completing the balance beams without the need for support. 

 

    • Mountain biking. We are very lucky to live right by a forest filled with mountain bike trails and jump/push tracks. Theo was given a balance bike for his 2nd birthday, after which he requested to go mountain biking most days. He has gradually built up his confidence and his strength to enable him to try bigger hills and more daring drops. He was given his first pedal bike with no stabilisers for his 3rd birthday so over the next year he will be given the opportunity to use whichever bike he chooses so he can continue to enjoy biking and gain the skills and confidence to use pedals.

 

    • Family hiking. We all really enjoy hiking so this is in no danger of falling by the wayside! Read some of my top tips for hiking with children here. I also talk about how Theo’s engagement with hiking has changed over time.

 

    • Skiing. We are lucky to potentially have the opportunity to move to Queenstown in March, where we will have several ski fields right on our doorstep. Alex and I are very excited about the upcoming ski season and we’re looking forward to giving Theo the opportunity to try it out to see if he enjoys it.

 

  • Explore dancing and body movement.
    • Songs with actions. ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ is a long-time favourite!
    • Play music from different genres to allow free expression with and without props (play silks, ribbons etc).
    • Introduce games like musical statues/bumps. These also enable a number of cognitive skills to be practised (e.g. inhibitory control and attention).

 

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People and Cultures

 

  • Attend cultural festivals.
    • Christchurch hosts a number of cultural festivals through the year, including a Chinese Lantern festival, a Polynesian music and dance festival, and several parades that celebrate the diverse population. 

 

  • Eat and help prepare a wide range of cuisine.
    • We enjoy food, both at home and in restaurants, from all over the world. When we travel, we always eat the local cuisine, and have been lucky to pick up tips, ideas and recipes from all the places we have been. We practised Baby Led Weaning from the age of 6 months, so Theo has always eaten what we are eating. So far, we haven’t identified anything he doesn’t like.
    • Our meals can be accompanied by a discussion of where this particular food is eaten and how it is prepared.

 

  • Discuss previous travels. Theo certainly remembers some of our travels, as far back as 2017, but has understandably forgotten lots too. We remind him of his experiences and what we learned through conversation and photographs.

 

  • Languages.
    • Introduce foreign language books, audiobooks and songs.
    • Alex and I know bits (little bits!) of French and German, but we have also discussed introducing Spanish and/or Mandarin as these are more widely spoken. We will see what sparks Theo’s interest and enjoy learning languages alongside him.
    • Theo is picking up bits of Te Reo Māori just by living here. He hears individual words, verses and songs regularly, and has access to books written in Te Reo Māori. Take a look at  my beginner’s guide to Te Reo Māori here.

 

  • Learn about England and visit places of interest in London. This is obviously partly tied to our hope to return to the U.K. for a visit this year. Regardless of whether or not we do make it back, we inevitably talk about England a lot since Alex and I both grew up in London, and Theo was born in and spent his first 18 months living in North-West England. Our family and friends are there, some of whom have been able to visit this past year. They have then obviously returned back to England, so Theo is aware that these loved ones live there. 

 

  • Māori learning. As we are living in New Zealand, it is of great importance to us that we all learn about Māori history and culture. We do this by:
    • Visiting cultural sites and museums.
    • Viewing Māori art and sculpture.
    • Talking to Māori people about their traditions, family structure, celebrations and traditional food.
    • Ensuring that we all respect Māori customs. Some examples relevant to Theo include that it is considered disrespectful and unhygenic to sit on tables. In the U.K., it is commonplace to see people sitting on picnic tables in parks or perched on the corner of other food tables. Essentially, don’t put your bum where you eat! Food is not to be played with, so you won’t get kids making photo frames or jewellery out of pasta. Heads are considered sacred, so anything that touches them (hats, pillows etc) also need to be treated with respect. We don’t put hats on tables or sit on pillows.

 

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Life Skills

 

  • Theo helps with and takes responsibility for specific tasks within the following practical life areas. Over the next year, he will continue to build on these skills, working towards doing more complex tasks independently. I will ensure that he is provided with the equipment and materials he needs to be able to carry out these tasks (e.g. size-appropriate equipment).
    • Cooking.
    • Gardening.
    • Laundry.
    • Cleaning, hoovering and tidying.
    • Loading/unloading the dishwasher and doing the washing up.
    • Grocery shopping.
    • Personal hygiene, self-care and self-dressing.
    • Caring for a sibling. Theo will soon become a big brother and I plan to involve him in his younger brother’s care as much as he chooses. I suspect he will enjoy taking a leadership role and assuming additional responsibilities (at first, simple tasks such as helping me fetch nappies and muslins, and later, helping to teach his brother new skills).

 

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Music

 

  • Music appreciation.
    • Listen to a variety of music genres/radio at breakfast and throughout the day when Theo chooses.
    • Attend live music performances.

 

  • Musical self-expression.
    • Provide opportunities to explore instruments and the use of his voice.
    • Teach him well-known rhymes and songs.

 

 

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Cognitive skills

 

The following cognitive skills will be mostly practised naturally through self-directed play, games that involve matching/sorting/memory, and by simply sitting back and allowing Theo to come up against difficulties, make errors, and figure out solutions.

I also have a few professional tricks up my sleeve; games, exercises and mindfulness-based strategies that I use clinically with children and adults to either assess or practise these skills.

Many of the activities we already set aside time for also involve the use of a number of these skills. In reading the following short descriptions, perhaps you can identify where these skills might be useful in every day life for a 3 year old.

Cooking, for example, requires planning (to ensure you have all the ingredients), working memory (to hold steps of a recipe in mind), response inhibition (if you become distracted, you risk spoiling your efforts), sustained and multiple simultaneous attention (sustained attention to complete individual steps and the dish as a whole, and multiple simultaneous attention when attending to different items on the hob/in the oven etc at one time), and problem-solving (when things go wrong!).

 

  • Category formation. The ability to organise information into categories. Mammal vs. bird, food vs. non-food, fruit vs vegetable. Being able to categorise information in this way facilitates our ability to think about it, process it, and remember it.

 

  • Pattern recognition. Successfully identifying patterns enables us to logically predict what will happen next. This is known as inductive reasoning.

 

  • Working memory. This refers to the short-term temporary storage of information while it is still needed to complete a task (like a mental post-it note). It’s important in decision making, following instructions, holding multiple steps in mind in order to solve a problem or complete a task, and responding in conversations. 

 

  • Sustained attention. This is exactly what it sounds like: the ability to attend to, look at, listen to, think about something for a prolonged period. 

 

  • Multiple simultaneous attention. The ability to repeatedly shift attention, thus enabling successful multitasking.

 

  • Cognitive flexibility and control. This refers to the ability to shift between thinking about two different concepts. In other words, being able to adapt to a changing environment. 

 

  • Speed of information processing. Again, exactly what it sounds like: how quickly new information is processed and understood. This is necessary in being able to follow conversations or multiple step instructions.

 

  • Response inhibition. This is the ability to refrain from responding to distractions and is important for successfully staying on task when faced with a noisy or otherwise stimulating environment. 

 

  • Planning and strategy formation. This is simply the ability to think about the future and mentally anticipate the necessary actions to successfully reach a goal.

 

  • Problem solving. Closely linked to planning and strategy formation, this is the ability to predict the outcomes of a variety of strategies, choose an appropriate solution, and then analyse and evaluate the outcome.

 

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Social-emotional skills

 

  • Theo has recently started to enjoy board games and loves hide and seek. We will continue to play games (even if not entirely following the rules at this stage!) that encourage turn taking.

 

  • Continue to attend Playcentre* and organise play dates. Although Theo obviously meets children at other activities and while out and about, Playcentre* and organised play dates are the best way for him to develop sustained relationships with other children and to have meaningful social experiences with them (due to the number of children that often attend gymnastics, social engagement can often be fleeting, and despite there only being one other child in his class, there’s only so much socialising you can do during a swimming lesson!). 

 

  • Label and validate emotions, and introduce regulation strategies. As a clinical psychologist, this (I hope!) comes very naturally to me; teaching people emotional regulation skills is a large part of my job. Children do not yet have the ability to do this by themselves since the part of the brain that deals with emotion regulation doesn’t fully develop until their early 20s. Instead, they look to their parents or other primary caregivers for clues and help with this. So, with both positive and negative emotions we do the following:
    • Help Theo to identify his emotions by labelling them.
    • Pinpoint the trigger and thought process behind the emotion.
    • Help him problem solve the most helpful way to manage his emotions. 
    • Label our own emotions, both positive and negative, model to him that it is acceptable and natural to experience negative emotions, and show him how we manage our own anger/frustration/sadness etc in a helpful way.

 

  • Talk about the day and any emotions, both positive and negative, that arose over dinner. Several months ago, Theo started waking in the night visibly upset (but easy to settle with a cuddle and breastfeed) and muttering about things that occurred during the day. He’s always been a bit of a sleep talker but this was a step up and I suspected mild nightmares related to processing the events of the day. In laymen’s terms, memory processing, which happens largely at night during R.E.M., can get a bit stuck in the case of difficult memories. Since my clinical speciality is trauma, I am well aware of the negative impact on sleep poor processing of difficult memories can have, and often some daytime processing is also required. Now, obviously we’re not talking about traumatic memories here, but big emotions and confusing events that seem trivial to us can feel traumatic to a toddler. So, I introduced a daily conversation at the end of the day (but not right before bed) to help him process his memories of the day. Typically, Theo rarely volunteers negative emotions or experiences when asked about the best and worst parts of his day, so I may probe: “I noticed it made you sad when your friend took the toy you were playing with / angry when I said we had to leave the playground / frightened when your friend chased you but you didn’t want them to. Was that difficult for you?”

 

  • Support to prepare for, and then adapt to having, a new sibling (we’re expecting a second son next month). We’ve had many conversations about pregnancy, child birth and what having a baby in the house will be like, and we have a few books that we’ve enjoyed reading together. So far, Theo has been excited, tender, and all for sharing his possessions (and more importantly, milk supply!), but I don’t doubt that the reality will still be a shock for him and he will need ongoing support to manage the influx of emotions that having a new sibling will bring. 

 

We will be living in New Zealand for at least another year (with trips, we hope, to further explore parts of the country we have not yet seen, back to England to see friends and family, and potentially some of the Pacific Islands) so this year’s plan has been written with this in mind. After that, we don’t know where we’re going to be so it might be that next year’s plan takes account for longer term travel and time spent in other countries with differing services and resources (obviously we can only attend Playcentre*, swimming lessons, gymnastics sessions etc where these things are available). 

 

I hope seeing an example of a home education plan has been of help to you and offers some insight into what home schooling a 3 year old means and looks like to us. Just remember it will be different for everyone! I’d love to hear what does and doesn’t resonate with your family in the comments; it’s always interesting to hear how other families are doing it (and there might be some ideas worth pinching!).


* Playcentre is an early education service in New Zealand for 0-5s. It is led and managed by parents, with a central philosophy is that parents (or other primary caregivers) are a child’s best educator. The approach to education is entirely child-led. It is a parent’s responsibility to observe their child’s play, note how and what their child is learning at any given time, and then respond by providing opportunities to further develop this learning.

The perfect picnic location in Christchurch, New Zealand: the Port Hills overlooking Lyttelton Harbour. When we're packing for picnics, we like to use zero waste food storage, reusable straws and cups, and a sustainable lunch bag.

Zero waste food storage: Packing for picnics

When we’re travelling for extended periods, I tend to pack a picnic lunch for us most days (eating out every day gets expensive but we don’t want to have to come back to wherever we’re staying to prepare lunch, so taking food to have while out makes sense).

Likewise when we’re hiking or likely to be far from amenities for a good portion of the day, I always come prepared with plenty of food and drink (it’s one of my top tips for hiking with children; check out this post for my other suggestions).

So what do I store everything in to make sure it stays fresh, the right temperature, and doesn’t leak everywhere?

These are my zero waste food storage essentials. I would recommend them to anyone, not just families, looking to move towards a less wasteful, less plastic-filled lifestyle.

 


1

Snack bags

We use these every single day, not just when packing for picnics. Theo’s snack bags get filled with everything from rice/corn cakes, to nuts and seeds, fresh fruit and vegetables, and homemade sweet and savoury treats. These are a great zero waste food storage solution for any age (I use them for my snacks too!) that remove any need to use cling film or plastic sandwich bags.

We love Planet Wise; made to last (ours are still going strong with no wear and tear after more than 2 years of daily use), no leaks, the perfect size, and they come in a lovely range of patterns. I wash them at the end of the day in the kitchen sink, but they can also be put in the washing machine if you prefer.

 


2

Sandwich wraps

My go-to picnic lunch for us all are sandwiches; energy-boosting, tummy-filling, easy to prepare in travel accommodation, and can be packed full of goodness. Sandwich wraps are therefore a staple when it comes to packing for picnics.

A piece of cloth with an easy wipe-clean lining, they fold around your sandwich and seal with Velcro, keeping it fresh and secure. When unwrapped, they act as perfect plate.

We use two brands: Keep Leaf and Planet Wise. Keep Leaf are circular and more flexible, which equates to more forgiving when trying to pack thick sandwiches (or two on top of each other), whereas Planet Wise are square and less prone to staining; pick your priorities!

Both are great for zero waste food storage either at home for work lunches, or while travelling and out and about, it’s really a matter of personal preference.

 

The Planet Wise tint range has the added bonus of forgoing the cloth lining, meaning both sides can be wiped dry after cleaning. While not as pretty as the cloth patterns, this has proved very useful when camping or when we have limited time or ability to hang items to dry.

 


3

Insulated stainless steel bottle

If you don’t currently carry a reusable bottle, where have you been??? Stop buying disposable plastic bottles and invest in a good quality reusable one. My preference for material is stainless steel, and I particularly love Klean Kanteen’s vacuum insulated versions.

 

For me, it’s all about keeping my water cold, but they’re just as effective at keeping hot drinks hot if that’s what you’re after. Many coffee shops and smoothie bars even do discounts if you provide your own bottle or cup so it’s worth asking! When I’m packing for picnics, particularly if the excursion involves some strenuous exercise and the weather is warm, cold water is essential and I can rely on our insulated Klean Kanteen bottles to keep us refreshed and rehydrated all day.

 

 


4

Stainless steel canisters

Maybe sandwiches aren’t your thing and you’d rather have salad, soup or yesterday’s leftovers. As plastic Tupperware is prone to leaking and breakages (even the expensive stuff!), it’s far from ideal when packing for picnics and doesn’t make the cut for zero waste food storage! Stainless steel canisters are a great alternative and if you opt for the vacuum insulated ones, you can even enjoy a hot meal followed by still-frozen ice cream!

 

Like their bottles, Klean Kanteen’s range is reliably leak-proof, made to last, and consistent with marketing promises regarding the length of time food will remain hot or cold.

I am not suggesting you throw out all your plastic Tupperware to replace it with these (or glass alternatives to keep in the freezer). Keep using what you have until it’s not longer fit for purpose, but instead of buying more plastic ones when you do need to replace them, you might like to consider these instead.

 


5

Lunch bag

So, where do you put all your sandwiches, snacks and hot food once they’ve been prepared and stored?

You could of course just stuff it all in your day bag (and when we’re only taking out snack bags, this is exactly what i do) but when I’m packing for picnics, I prefer to store all the food together so I know where it is, nothing gets squashed at the bottom of my rucksack and I have somewhere to put all the empty wraps (and leftover crumbs that would otherwise be destined to spend eternity squished into the seams of my bag) once we’ve eaten.

Although the idea of them is romantic and incredibly quaint, let’s face it, picnic hampers aren’t all that practical! Unless you fancy lugging your woven wicker basket up mountains or even just to the office every day, you may want to invest in a lunch bag.

The size you opt for will depend on your meal preferences; for us, we have a small, box-shaped one with a zip lid that’s made from recycled plastic bottles. It’s big enough for about 5 sandwiches plus fruit and a snack for each of us. This works for us (for now…we’ll likely need something bigger as the boys get older!), but there are lots of ethical brands out there making lunch bags in all shapes and sizes and in a range of sustainable materials. Fresk and Fluf are two brands with great ethics that are worth checking out to see if any in their ranges would suit you.

 


6

Stainless steel straws

I always have some reusable straws in my bag, not just when I’m packing for picnics, so I’m always prepared to decline any plastic ones. We like stainless steel ones as they’re incredibly durable and easy to clean.

We have tried two brands: U-Konserve and Klean Kanteen. My slight preference is for the U-Konserve ones simply because they’re straight and only made from steel, but Theo likes the Klean Kanteen ones as they have a colourful silicone bendy tip which detaches from the metal straw.

 

If you don’t like metal in your mouth or you want to allocate a different colour to each member of the family, Klean Kanteen are the ones for you. I also imagine that the soft, curved tip would be better for some people with disabilities. Personally, I don’t like the silicone tips; they’re unnecessary dust magnets whether they live in my bag or in the kitchen draw.

Klean Kanteen straws come in a pack of four with a little brush for cleaning but I find it gets stuck very easily and is more hassle than it’s worth. The U-Konserve straws can be purchased in a two-pack or as a single with a brush (we don’t have a U-Konserve brush so I can’t comment on this).

 

 


7

Beeswax wraps

The final zero waste food storage essential on my list for packing for picnics are beeswax wraps. Eliminate the need for cling film by getting (or making) some of these wraps in a range of sizes.

There are a growing number of brands on the market and I’m sure they are tough to differentiate. We have tried Abeego and Honeywrap and love them both.

 

Our Abeego wraps have been heavily used for about 2 years and are still going strong. The Honeywraps, which we’ve only had for about a year, seem a bit more durable so I expect to last for even longer.

We use the extra large ones to keep bread fresh, the large for covering plates or wrapping sandwiches, and the medium and small are ideal sizes for chopped fruit and veg (perfect for corn on the cob, which is one of Theo’s favourites!) and covering bowls.

They’re a great addition to your kitchen cupboard and your travelling kitchen kit, but consider what you’ll use them for. They’re certainly not as long lasting as the sandwich wraps so if this is all you envisage using them for, your money is probably better spent on an extra couple of those.

If, however, you end up with a lot of chopped avocado halves, half eaten apples and pears (I believe this is symptomatic of a household with young children!) and you’re looking for a zero waste food storage solution for purchasing bakery items, beeswax wraps will be ideal for you!

An additional use for travellers is that they can be used to store soap or shampoo bars. The wax sticks to itself, keeping in even wet, sudsy soap!

Remember to wash with cool water only (otherwise the wax will melt) and with a mild soap or dish soap.

 


So, next time you’re packing for picnics, whether they be for a family hike or a mid-week office/school packed lunch, be sure to try out some of these zero waste food storage items to reduce your family’s footprint and make eating on the go a fun, mess- and waste-free affair.

A father hiking with children through the forest

7 Tips for hiking with children

Hiking with children is one of those things that people often assume is too hard, not worth the effort, or simply isn’t possible. Alex and I did a lot of hiking before Theo was born, but this hasn’t changed just because we now have a little person, soon to be two little people, in tow.

Thankfully Theo is also an outdoors person and he enjoys being in fresh air and surrounded by nature as much as we do. Sure, some kids just don’t enjoy this kind of activity so a rethink may be required. If your kid(s) fall into this category but you’d love them to share in your passion and enjoyment, I suggest trying these 7 tips for hiking with children before giving up all together. Ensuring that it’s an enjoyable experience for everyone can require a bit of forethought, patience and creativity, so here are our top tips.

 

1

Know everyone’s limits

If you intend to go hiking with children, the route you plan for will depend on your children’s ages and development. It pays to have an accurate idea of what everyone can manage without getting tired and grumpy.

Theo was introduced to hiking at 4 days old. Of course at this age, he was in a sling for the entirety of our outing and as long as he could still feed on demand, he was happy.

As we got past the newborn stage, we’d get him out of the sling for stints so he could crawl around, explore and eventually toddle about. By 16 months he had scaled England’s highest peak as well as many of the Lake District’s other fells. By the age of about 18 months, he was a very confident walker and was happy to go on hikes of approximately 10 miles (16 km). Of course this still included stints in the sling either to rest his legs or to have a nap.

Over the following year, he managed longer and longer stretches of walking by himself and was happily doing over 6 mile (10 km) hikes up mountains by the age of 2 and a bit without the need for breaks in the sling. The steeper and more technical the terrain, the more fun he had !

 

We’ve found that the age of 2.5 to 3 has been most challenging so far in terms of planning long hikes, and have needed to drastically cut back our expectations. I suspect it’s partly that he’s out of practise (it’s been winter here so we’ve been hiking less over these past 6 months), partly that his current learning is based on role play rather than exploration of the physical world, and partly that he’s at a stage where he wants to exert his independence and make his opinions heard. That’s fine, we encourage this, and we see it as our responsibility to tailor activities so that they cater for his current learning, preferences and needs rather than drag him on things he has no interest in just because it’s what we want to do. So, our recent hikes have been shorter and slower. I go into a bit more detail below in point 6 about how we’ve adapted our outings to suit his current learning.

 

2

Bring loads of snacks (and water!)

Most parents don’t leave the house without ample snacks so I’m sure you’d probably think to do this anyway. The difference though is that when on a hike, if you run out of food, you risk having a hungry child on your hands for potentially miles of walking and then perhaps also a drive back home or to the nearest shop. A ‘hangry’ child is a very good way to instantly ruin your peaceful hike through a beautiful setting, so try to avoid this at all costs! 

Bringing water on a hike is hopefully obvious. Stay hydrated by stopping for short water breaks regularly, particularly in hot weather. A bottle of water is also handy to wet cloth wipes on the go, for post-snack sticky hands and faces, nappy changes/unfortunate accidents/stops behind a tree, and to mop up muddy and scraped knees and hands.

 

3

Bring a sling

This is obviously most relevant for babies, toddlers and preschoolers, but may also apply to some older children, particularly those with disabilities or medical conditions.

Likelihood is you won’t forget a sling for your baby because they’ll need to be carried the whole time, but once they are walking confidently it’s an easy item to overlook. Little legs get tired though and having a sling or carrier of some kind will save your back and arms! If your child still has a daytime nap, a sling is the perfect place for this and having this option will mean you can also plan for longer hikes as you’ll cover a lot of ground while they sleep.

 

The type of sling or carrier you choose will depend on the age of your child, the length and difficulty of your hike, and what you and your child both find most comfortable to use. A stretchy or woven wrap may be ok for younger babies and for shorter hikes, but a buckle carrier may feel more secure on longer or more technical hikes and for heavier children. I recommend the Ergo 360 Cool Air Mesh, and the Connecta Solar, both of which are lightweight and breathable, and can be worn to front or back carry. If you prefer a heavy duty backpack style carrier, or you’re embarking on a very lengthy hike and envisage carrying your child for longer periods, I recommend the Osprey Poco AG Premium. It’s very breathable, has useful storage space, and has a maximum weight of 22 kg (48.5 lbs), meaning it may also be suitable for older children with disabilities.

 

4

Plan for double the time you think the hike should take

When you look at the trail map and it gives an estimated time for a particular route, ignore this and double it!

 

Older children and teenagers will of course be better able to keep up with this predicted pace (perhaps even storm ahead of you!) but younger children have shorter legs, they may be liable to run off back the way you’ve just come, and regular stops to explore their surroundings are to be expected.

The exact deviation from the predicted time will of course depend on your kids’ ages, their personalities, everyone’s fitness and hiking experience, and how often you stop for rests/food/photographs/learning etc, but the point remains: everything with children takes a bit longer (even leaving the house!) and hiking with children is no exception.

If your kids need to be back by a specific time for food or sleep, I recommend planning accordingly and leaving more time than you think you could possibly need!

 

5

Be flexible – sometimes you have to back out

I’m sure you’re used to this as parents but flexibility is key. Sometimes plans have to change last minute and it can be annoying, but personally, I’d rather back out or take a shorter route than endure the frustration of hiking with children who just don’t want to be there. It’s ok if your child’s just not feeling it today, adult’s have days like that too; hopefully you’ll have another opportunity to try again another day.

 

6

An opportunity for learning and play

Hiking is not just about getting from A to B. It presents a wonderful opportunity for children to learn a wide range of skills and knowledge while being outside and enjoying the natural world (as well as getting some exercise, fresh air and vitamin D). So, like in everything else we do, we play and we learn while we do it.

For the littlest of hikers, a simple blade of grass can be a fascinating. For infants, opportunities to use their senses are in abundance. Explore the texture of grass, bark, different leaves, mud and water (if you come to any); take the time to smell flowers and point out the sounds of birds and branches waving in the wind; name objects and their colours as you come across them.

 

Between their first and second birthdays, your toddler is likely to enjoy working on their gross motor skills so you may find that games revolve around walking, running and climbing. At this age, Theo loved finding objects (sticks, pine cones etc) for us to throw further up the path and then he’d run off to find it (yes, just like playing ‘fetch’!). We also liked this game because he kept him heading in the right direction rather than going back on himself all the time! Hide and seek also has this positive effect providing that whomever is hiding does so further up the path!

 

Climb fallen trees, practise jumping off rocks, kick and jump in fallen Autumn leaves; burn all that toddler energy!

Theo was also curious about flowers and insects at this age, so it was the ideal time to practise being gentle with fragile living organisms, and learn to observe and appreciate them without causing harm. He enjoyed taking photographs of the things that interested him along the way. Although not all of these images were in focus or even included his intended subject, they’re a wonderful documentation of a particular hike through the eyes of a one-year-old. I printed them and together we stuck them in a scrapbook and talked about where they were taken. I write captions about where we were, what we were doing and what he was finding interesting, but as he gets older, I’ll instead encourage him to write about his memories.

 

After their second birthday, you will likely find that your toddler’s speech really erupts and, although they may have been talking for a while, they may suddenly be able to engage with more complex conversations. As certain topics cropped up on our walks (often as a result of a ‘why?’ question!), we started introducing concepts such as the life cycle of plants and animals, the water cycle, and we talked in more detail about the insects we saw while hiking.

Theo still loves exploring the outside world and working on his gross motor skills, but as we approach his third birthday, he is really engaged in role playing. While he still collects sticks, looks at flowers and marvels at bugs, our more recent hikes have also included time pretending to be a lion hunting in the grass, collecting stones to use as money in exchange for ‘goods’ (also collected along the route) in whatever shop he has created, and rescuing vehicles or people that have got stuck in the mud/water/steep or rocky terrain. He loves ‘fixing things’ at the moment so a stick becomes a screw driver and he finds trees with holes to fix.

 

As his play and learning interests continue to change and develop, so will our hikes.

 

7

Pack light but don’t forget the essentials

You don’t want to have to lug around everything except the kitchen sink, particularly if you’re likely to also be carrying a child at some point during your hike, but forgetting sun cream, hats, bug spray or spare supplies for children in nappies or those who are not yet reliably toilet-trained, is a recipe for a potentially unpleasant hiking experience. Children (and adults!) with sunburn, bites or soiled clothes are going to be pretty miserable!

I made the mistake of forgetting a spare set of clothes for Theo once when he was about 2 months old. Halfway up a mountain in the British Lake District, I changed his nappy and had to improvise some trousers using my fleece, one leg in each arm! I was cold, but at least he was warm. Suffice to say, I didn’t forget spare clothes for him again!

 

Hiking with children really is a pleasure; it’s a joy to see the world through their eyes. It will almost certainly be slower than an all-adult excursion, but don’t let that put you off! With these tips, I hope your family can enjoying hiking together as much as we do.

7-tips-hiking-with-children 7-tips-hiking-with-children