A Bit of Background
I’ve been home-educating (on and off) since 2003 and my children have been both in and out of the school system. My eldest two sons had rather a ‘rocky road’ (although that’s rather a massive understatement!) with school and after quite a while trying to get the school to address awful bullying and my eldest’s arm being fractured by a group of boys, they were de-registered and home-educated for a few years.
Since then, both have been back to (a different) school and then came out again and in the case of my second son, went back in the very final year (year 11) to sit GCSEs (not the easiest thing to do at the last minute – although he was successful and is now studying A Levels). It certainly wasn’t an easy time for them or me (for very many reasons) but despite the difficulties I still remain convinced that home education is best for my children and, indeed, if I were to ‘do it again’ I would actually look to say no to their returns to school in that time (except for the final Yr11 GCSE attendance which, at the time, made all the difference for E being able to do GCSEs) and maybe support them more to challenge any pressures they felt under to attend. The actual nuts and bolts of their story is really very complicated and not the best read if you value your blood-pressure when it comes to detailing dealing with schools, various agencies and the Local Authority when you have children diagnosed with SEN.
I had always planned for my 3rd and 4th children to be home-educated ‘from the beginning’ but life has a way of sometimes getting in the way and they attended school for a short time when I had to work outside the home for a while (my ex husband left and I tried to keep the mortgaged roof over our heads and wasn’t able to organise suitable alternatives for them). They did well at school, made friends, appeared to be generally popular with both their peers and teachers, and despite having not experienced any formal lessons in literacy or maths (due to their ages at the time) they settled well into their classes and Nin quickly caught up with reading and writing (her teacher said you would never have guessed that she started formal lessons so much later than her classmates). However, they didn’t want to be at school, they wanted to be home-educated and they kept asking to be and I worried about them finding the very odd shifts I worked very hard.
Although I did enjoy my work, there was an underlying unhappiness at home and the nagging feeling that what was happening wasn’t right for us, I was becoming increasingly ill and struggling and coming to the realisation that things had to change. So I de-registered Nin and Ted and we went back to home-educating. This meant that the house was repossessed and we became temporarily homeless and we now live in rented accomodation, but in the end our happiness is what is important and tied up with that is the children being home-educated – who’d’ve thunk?). The decision to home-educate isn’t always in response to a negative experience of school (indeed, we had a lovely letter from the Head wishing us all the best in the future) and my third and fourth children are an example of that.
What We Do
In The Beginning (i.e when I first deregistered my eldest two in 2003) I used workbooks – y’know the ones, they sell them in major bookshops/stationers and they’re aligned with the National Curriculum and they ask you questions and you fill the answer in in a space and if you get the answers right you get a star (or a shiny cup or a smiley face or some-such) and expected that the boys would sit down at a table and work through them with my support. I’d never envisioned that I’d home educate till not long before I found myself actually home educating and it came as a bit of a culture shock (because, like so many other people, when I first became a parent I believed that children HAD to go to school). Lets just say that workbooks didn’t exactly enthuse my eldest two and I was forced to rethink my approach…
I’ve tried a little bit of all sorts of things over the years, from very structured and organised to unplanned and child-led (autonomous) to child-led structure and various variations between and around about. Home-education can be a very organic and holistic process – changing with the ebb and flow of family life as children, their interests and their needs, change and grow. One size most certainly does not fit all and one of the beauties of home education is that you can alter the fit as needed.
- Maths: maybe only 10 minutes or so as a recap/practice, longer if we’re exploring a new concept. We also explore maths through various day-to-day activities such as baking, gardening, craft, etc.
- Reading: both children read every day. My 7 year old began to learn to read towards the end of 2012 (I have waited until he’s approaching 7 before making any formal movement towards this end: i.e. making word cards and sitting with him sounding them out, making sentences, etc.) My 9 year old reads from various pieces I’ve chosen for the week as well as various pieces that she chooses herself. In addition, I also read to them from a chapter book such as “Heidi” or “The Borrowers“.
- Narration and Discussion: I ask the children if they can tell me about something we’ve (or they’ve, in the case of my 9 year old) read. I’ll ask them about something we’ve done the day before (for example a piece of music we’ve listened to) and ask what they remember and what they thought of it.
- Music: I’d like to say we practise recorder every day – but, sadly, I’d be lying. We do tend to sing every day, it’s fun and also very entertaining for the youngest member of our family.
- Poetry: We try to read a poem at least weekly – sometimes the same poem for more than one day. I try to find something related to something we’re working on, or interested in, at the time.
- Art and Craft: we make various things and a there probably isn’t a day that passes when the children haven’t drawn or painted *something*.
- History: I aim for twice a week ‘formally’ although if something crops up that’s relevant on top of this, I’m not one to ignore an opportunity. Currently we’re exploring the Anglo-Saxons (with forays into what was happening worldwide in the same era). The Vikings will be arriving in due course and we’ll be in full swing ready for York’s Viking Festival in February 2013. Our progress in History will be, by and large, chronological for a few years. I hope that we will jump back for a bit of Ancient History in a few years time and then revisit the various eras previously studied with a view to deepening understanding.
- Geography: most of the geography we’ve covered, so far, has been incidental. As a part of History, we’ve looked at maps of the Roman Empire at its height and how it changed towards the time when Rome withdrew from Britannia. As a part of Nature Study we’ve talked about different habitats and noted features of the landscape when we’ve been out walking. When visiting the coast we’ve discussed features that the children have come across, e.g. coastal erosion. I would expect that this subject will continue to be incidental to other subjects for a while yet unless a particular question arises.
- Natural Science: when possible we go out for walks exploring the local area and further afield. The children have their own Nature Journals and they record things that they find that interest them in these. Although they go on the same walks, their journals are very different. My 9 year old’s is populated with fungi, a frog, leaf rubbings and poetry. My 7 year old’s is filled with pencil and crayon drawings of beetles and spiders (not strictly ones that he has found because there’s a Goliath beetle, a resident of Africa, amongst others in it – but this is what interests him!) We may try to identify flowers; go on a scavenger hunt for leaves or fruit/seed pods; see what birds we can spot; note landscape changing with the seasons and much more – there’s always something new to learn when you get outside. We sometimes discuss other aspects of science in response to questions (e.g: why steam comes out of a boiling kettle) but I’m not planning (at present) to do anything that resembles a ‘science lesson’ because I prefer to focus on what the children observe around them and support them in learning more as and when the opportunity arises.
- French: rather simple French at the moment and mostly because I speak a bit of French so it’s not completely alien to me. I’d like to learn Arabic but I think I’d struggle to make the time amongst everything else (especially as I think Latin would be really useful!)
- Spanish: I organise for a Spanish tutor to come to our house and we share the cost with a couple of other home-edding families.
- Sports/Exercise: Well, small children quite often don’t need much encouragement to be active (well, mine don’t) but in addition to this my 9 year old attends classes in Multi-skilled Martial Arts twice a week and Ted attends Beavers. Both children have bikes and we live walking distance from a playing field with playgrounds and there’s plenty of countryside to go tramping through.
How We Do It
Now that I look at the lists above it all looks rather scary in many ways and may give the impression that we spend a large amount of time sat at a table with me drilling my children! Nothing could be further than the truth. Whilst sitting down at a table is helpful when practising handwriting, for example, maths practice can be done anywhere – we’ve shaken our times tables with maracas and bells, jump-roped number bonds and played Yachtzy on the floor (although a tray or something helps, throwing dice on a carpet isn’t the best idea). Ted regularly does any sums on the floor with a basket of ‘jewels’, he just finds it more comfortable than sat at a table. Weights are always far more fun to explain when you’re baking a cake (as are ratios). Discussion and narration can take place anywhere – breakfast or lunch is a good time and, if you’re my children, any time when I’d prefer to be doing something else (and yes, this includes when I’m on the loo and in the bath *sigh*)
It helps if you can keep your eyes open for opportunities, every day occurrences that can open up doors for observation and discussion. One day we went out for a walk and I’d planned a scavenger hunt for autumn leaves and fruits – I’d even printed off lovely sheets and everything 😉 – and this went well for all of about 5 minutes until we noticed all the different fungi in the fields and woods and ended up off on a tangent, seeing how many different ones we could find and take a photo of. Sometimes you can make a plan but something else comes along instead and it helps if you can see these something-elses as opportunities rather than hindrances (after all, the autumn leaves were still there the next day and the day after that). So, although I’m structured in my approach to home education with my children, I’m also flexible in going off on a tangent if an presented with a question or opportunity.
Home education can be a very organic thing and, in my experience, doesn’t necessary happen in the way that you might first expect it to. It can be a very steep learning curve, not so much for the children, but for their parents and/or adults involved in the children’s life.
So If They’re Not In a Class With Other Children, What About Socialisation?
A common misconception about home education is that children are isolated from their peers. In my experience this is the exception rather than the norm for home educating families. Nin and Ted have various friends, both home educated and schooled, and also attend one of the local home education groups as well as occasional events. In my opinion what my children experience is quality of socialisation over quantity – lots of children in a school environment does not a good social experience make if you are horribly bullied and isolated by your peers (the experience of one of my eldest two). We have the opportunity to choose who we see regularly and whilst I won’t say that everything is always rosy at any meet-ups, because we’re all human (and home educators are comprised of as just as wide a cross section of society and just because we all home educate, it doesn’t mean we have anything else in common) we are not compelled to attend and can go elsewhere if we choose. That choice is a wonderful thing!
I’ve written a synopsis of what I do here with my children at the moment, but if I was to return and write again in a few years time my approach might be very different. I have no way of knowing whether it will be, or not, but I’m looking forward to finding out!
If you’d like to find out more about home-education, the statistics, legalities, etc, I recommend: Ed Yourself.