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Overview of our Homeschool Plans 2019/20: The Arts and Languages

This next post in the series focuses on how we tackle the arts and language learning in our homeschool.


I’m about as unmusical as you can get, so this is where I outsource the teaching elements where possible! Luckily, MrJ is much more musically talented and supports the children’s learning in the different areas during the evenings and weekends.

Piano: We’re lucky enough to have a truly excellent piano teacher. The Beans have been having lessons with her for about three years and they absolutely love them. She flexes her approach to match the children’s individual learning styles and happily follows their passions. As such, they don’t see the weekly lessons, daily piano practice (about 15 mins a day) and theory exercises as work, but simply a fun element of our homeschool. I’ve decided not to go down the grading route yet, quite simply because they’re enjoying the music too much. There’s plenty of time for that later on. For now, they can just relish playing the pieces they’re working on and building up the skills and muscle memory at their own pace: Bean8’s Moon River is a particular favourite of mine.

Singing: We’ve recently started weekly singing lessons with an exceptional, classically trained tutor, which has proven to be another highlight of the week. They’re both currently practising ‘Hear the Wind’ separately and will at some point, come together to sing the piece. On top of this, we learn a new hymn every three weeks and sing it daily in our Morning Basket session. And finally, they join MrJ in the church choir each Sunday to help lead the congregation in the hymn selections for that week.

SQUILT: This stands for Super Quiet Uninterrupted Listening Time and is “a method that teaches children to listen attentively and focus on the essential elements of music: Rhythm, Tempo, Dynamics, Instrumentation, and Mood.” Currently in our Morning Basket, we’re finishing off Volume 1 – The Baroque Era. The Mike Venezia books about the individual composers act as a further support to our studies. This week for example, we’re listening to and analysing Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 and learning more about its composer, Johann Sebastian Bach, with this book. Each week of the course focuses on a different key piece from the period, along with information about the various instruments played, such as the pipe organ; musical forms, such as a fugue, toccata or chaconne; techniques, such as pizzicato; and genres, such as oratorio.

The curriculum is of the pick-up-and-go style; it’s literally all laid out on a plate for you. I’m certainly proof that you can easily deliver this programme with minimal musical expertise! Once we’ve completed the Baroque volume, we’ll move onto the SQUILT Nutcracker Unit Study in the run up to Christmas (and hopefully tie it in with a performance of this famous ballet). In the New Year, I’ll open it up to the Beans to work out what they’d like to study next.

In addition to SQUILT, I’ve also ordered A Child’s Review of the Orchestra, which, through 37 selections, teaches the children about the instruments, music and composers. We’ll weave this in to some of our morning basket time next year. And finally, in the car we listen to classical music and the Famous Composers Audio CD.

Bean8 has also just started teaching himself to play the guitar, with a little help from Daddy. His first song: “It’s a Shame about Ray” by the Lemonheads

Art & ICT

Here’s how we’re planning to develop their art skills over the year:

  • Continue using the brilliant Artventure curriculum – we’ve been using this for a couple of years now and it’s a definite favourite in our household.
One of his Artventure creations
  • Every three months, attend a three-hour sewing course with a local instructor and friend of mine. They took part in a summer course with the same teacher and fell in love with sewing, coming home with a plethora of home-made goodies from pencil cases to pillow cushions. Rather embarrassingly, I cannot sew for toffee, so I’m thrilled that we’ve found such a good tutor who can provide the Beans with these skills that I’m so seriously lacking!
They’re so proud of all they made during the summer sewing course
  • Visit the National Gallery, Tate Britain & Modern and the Victoria & Albert museums in London.

And as for ICT, they’ll be carrying on learning to type with the free Typing.com curriculum. They completed ten minutes of this each day over the summer hols and can now touch type, albeit slowly, so they’ll keep practising to improve their speed. Once they’ve achieved this, we’ll pick sections out of this book to work on together: KS2 ICT, creating spreadsheets, designing PowerPoint slides etc.


Aside from writing, drama is Bean10’s other major passion – she’s been set on a career in acting and writing from really quite a young age. Bean8 is less interested, so whilst he gets involved with many of the drama activities we do, some of them Bean10 does individually, leaving Bean8 free to focus on one of his own passions: engineering, which I’ll cover in another post.

Currently Bean10 attends a weekly drama lesson at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury, which she adores. From what I can gather, the 90-minute session covers various aspects of history and English literature as well as acting skills. Last year they covered Christopher Marlowe’s poetry and the history of Henry II and Thomas Beckett, culminating in a performance at the Medieval Pageant. This term they’re doing Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors. To prepare for playing identical twins, they’ve been practising impersonation and exaggerating each other’s movements and speech. In her spare time, Bean10 has read a summary of the play in this good book: Tales from Shakespeare, and now intends to read the full play. I’ve also bought this DVD for her to watch and examine how the characters are portrayed. Anything with Judi Dench in it has to be good, right!

Acting in the Medieval Pageant

In addition to the above, she used her birthday money from her grandma to sign up for these masterclasses from Helen Mirren. Each week, we sit down together to watch the video and then work through the associated assignments. This week for example, it’s about characterisation, and one of her tasks is to pick one or two strangers to observe closely – their mannerisms, behaviour, posture etc. She’s then to think about their backstory based on these observations and write it down in her notebook. Next week, she’ll use these observations to perform as that person whilst delivering a Shakespeare monologue picked at random. I’ll film her and then we’ll critique it together.

The Shakespeare/poetry work we do in our morning basket also makes for plentiful opportunities to practice standing up and presenting a poem, monologue or dialogue. For example, they’ve just learned a Falstaff passage from Henry IV, Part 1 (“If sack and sugar be a fault…” from Act II, Scene IV). As part of their preparation for getting into character, they worked on acting out the whole scene together. In this scene, first Falstaff and then Prince Hal take turns in pretending to be Hal’s father, King Henry IV, with the use of a pillow for a crown and a pretend dagger for a sceptre. Perfect for kids! We watched this Royal Shakespeare Company version and then they each had great fun playing first Falstaff and then Prince Hal.

Full day acting sessions provide a further opportunity for practice. This post shows how powerful (and fun) these sessions can be. Bean10 is studying A Christmas Carol this term and so I’ve organised for Bindlesticks to come in again to deliver a similar session on Dickens’ novel for a small group of home educators.

Our Twelfth Night Bindlesticks acting session from last year

And finally, our piano teacher (previously an English and drama teacher) has offered to help work with our local home ed group to put on a Christmas play. Both Beans are super excited to be involved in this production.


A few years ago, Bean10 asked to learn Spanish and so we started on a journey to study the language together. We use a number of different resources for our Spanish tuition, which seem to be working well together. These include:

  • Michel Thomas CDs – we’re just finishing up with the Total Spanish Foundation Course and moving onto the intermediate level. The last couple of CDs covered the present, future, past perfect, imperfect and conditional tenses, so we’re reviewing these lessons before moving up to the intermediate level. We do one track most mornings.
  • Rosetta Stone – we have the family download version and they do a lesson once a week (it only takes about 15 mins), either speaking, grammar, writing, or listening.
Working on a Rosetta Stone lesson
  • Practice Makes Perfect Basic Spanish – Before the summer, I introduced this for them to exercise their written Spanish and would highly recommend the book. Each chapter introduces new vocabulary and verbs, with lots of written translation practice from English to Spanish and vice versa, along with fun facts for them to read in Spanish. Again, they do this once per week.
  • Pasos 1 Spanish Speaking & Listening Skills Practice Set – I realised we weren’t getting much practice listening to the speedy spoken language of native Spanish speakers, so we’ve started using this set and so far, it’s working well. We literally do one page of activities per week.

In addition to this, I’ve found the 501 Spanish Verbs book I borrowed from my sister to be an invaluable resource.

Finally, we’ll plan a visit to Spain next year to practise their budding Spanish skills; an invaluable part of their language learning. A few years ago, they attended an intensive Spanish course in Seville (see this post), which was very effective. I’m hoping to find something similar for next spring.

That’s it for the arts and languages – I hope it’s been helpful. The next post will be the last in the series, covering our plans for science & humanities.

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