AKA how home education generally happens here
Home education is the legal default in this country, the law does not say that a child must attend school, rather it says that it is a parents responsibility to ensure that their child receives an education suitable to their age, ability and aptitude, plus any special educational needs that they may have. For a better overview of frequently asked questions regarding home education, please visit the links at the end of this post.
I’ve been involved with home education for over 12 years now. My eldest two boys, both home educated at some point, are now working and at university (respectively). My youngest son (9) was home educated, but chose to go to school in 2013 (and really enjoys it so continues there), that leaving just my daughters at home (11 and toddler).
The way we approach home education has changed over the years, ebbing and flowing with family life and what was felt was needed at any given time. I have an interest in elements of Steiner Education (and started a degree in Steiner Early Childhood Education, which I unfortunately had to put on hold a few years ago) and I retain an interest in this approach, however, I find as the children get older, a more autonomous (child-led) approach suits them better. My second eldest son was autonomously educated for much of his secondary school time, returning in Yr 11 to do GCSEs (although it is possible for home educated children to gain qualifications as private candidates) and passing them all, despite having not looked at the National Curriculum, or having had any ‘formal lessons’ for quite a few years).
There isn’t any legal requirement of home educators to plan in advance, or keep records or stick to any sort of time table, so I generally don’t do any of these things, save for sporadically blogging.
As I’ve said before, we’ve tried a little bit of all sorts of things over the years, from very structured and organised to unplanned and child-led and variations between and around about and whilst I’m a lover of lists and spreadsheets, I find strict planning doesn’t work for this family and can become rather constrictive. I also believe that it is very important that children have plenty of time and space to explore and discover the world for themselves and that learning often happens best when self-motivated and based upon our own internal interests and desire to learn about the world around us.
However, all that said, I am a fan of Rhythm. Rhythm is not a strict timetable, but is a means of flowing through the days of the year and is, I feel, especially useful in the early years (with under 7s) although as my family has grown, its benefits for everyone have become apparent. We are surrounded by rhythm, from the changing seasons to our own breaths in and out.
I baulk at strictly time-tabled anything, the rising of the sun isn’t governed by a clock, neither the flowering of a daisy, so why should we? But I do find it helpful to have some sort of loose framework to the day and it can be a comfort to young children to know that y, follows x (even if that is something as simple as brushing your teeth after you get up before going downstairs for breakfast), but a unlike a timetable, rhythm does not expect that x happens at 7, followed by y at 7.10, followed by z and 7.30, no, these things happen in their own time, but happen they need to, before the next thing is moved on to.
We don’t time-table or adhere strictly to the clock, save for externally imposed needs to do so, such as guitar lessons being at a certain time, or Ted, my one child at school, needing to be there on time – and how I miss the days of not having to adhere to this particular stress addition in our lives! My ideal would be to throw out the alarm clock and arise when we’re ready!
Yes, there is still an element of the routine within the rhythm, but there is more to it than that: rhythm is flexible, shifting with the changing days of the week, the changing faces of the seasons – our rhythm in Summer is very different from that in Winter – but the change is unplanned and gradual, a natural response, not only to what needs to happen within our home, but also to what is happening in the natural environment around us.
This is, for me, an important part of my interpretation of the philosophy of Slow Living.
So, planning is often swept, quietly, into a corner somewhere. ‘Formal learning’ is mostly a responsive affair: something may come to the childrens’ minds, or they might see something whilst out and about, or on TV and that is used as a springboard for enquiry.
We have some general ‘over-arching’ themes which make up a part of our daily lives, for example, “British Flora and Fauna” aka we have to walk the dog every day and whilst walking the dog we pay attention to what we see around us and will photograph flowers, trees, or animals that we see, for later identification.
When we recently visited my father and stepmother in the South of France, this became “Flora and Fauna of L’Alberres” – it’s a very adaptable approach!
There are two things that I insist upon daily: maths and foreign language practice in the morning (unless we have a rare appointment to get to):
- Maths: Nin is currently following a paid program of study with Conquer Maths (it is only in very recent years that I have subscribed any of the children to any paid online program – it really isn’t necessary, especially so in the early years, and I didn’t use any at all with my eldest two boys) so the agreement is we pay for it, if Nin agrees to adhere to actually using it. Occasionally she also uses Khan Academy which is another excellent (and free) resource that not only covers maths, but other subjects such as coding. I don’t rely on an online program alone to cover maths for Nin and am always available if she has any further questions or difficulties, plus naturally we also engage in other ‘real life’ practical activities that use mathematical concepts, such as baking or gardening and, indeed, using compasses to draw beautiful shapes and patterns and other more artistic pursuits.
When Nin was younger we would play games and sing songs to help build foundation maths skills and I wrote a little about some of this in “Learning Maths through Music and Movement“
- Foreign Language practice is with Duo Lingo. Both Nin and I have a daily target to adhere to – yes, I practise too – a very positive approach to have to home education is to learn alongside your children and model lifelong learning (plus, how can I support my children’s learning if I don’t have some sort of understanding of the subject myself? I don’t necessarily need to know it in advance, rather I can support them by showing them how to access the information and different ways in which they can process it).
Naturally we also do other practice throughout the week, making posters, watching a video, etc to support the practice done on Duo Lingo and I’m hoping to be able to find Nin a penpal to enable her to further her skills. We are lucky in that my father and stepmother have a house in France and Nin is able to practise her French with her grandfather.
Other subjects are generally explored in an holistic manner, as part of every day life, or in response to a particular question or desired project. Examples as to how this might happen are below:
- English: Now that Nin is older, I don’t ask that she practises reading or writing regularly, rather I expect that basic literacy and language practice happens as a part of everyday life. She is an avid reader and loves to write stories, poems and plays, plus keeps a sporadic nature journal, so she just gets on with these activities as and when she wants, pausing occasionally to check a spelling, or similar, as necessary. I will point out any errors spelling or grammar-wise and we will discuss elements of story and essay construction (for example) as they arise. I don’t see that there is much point to expecting Nin to write arbitary pieces based on my whim, as I believe she gets a far better experience of learning when she is engaged in writing things that she is interested in and wants to write.
We got to this point by regularly reading good quality books to all of the children, singing songs, reciting poems and generally ensuring that the children have access to material that uses a wide vocabulary. I prefer a ‘later’ approach to academics and as such I don’t seek to formally teach my children to read much before they are six (and some children may not be ready until later than this!)
In the more recent past we have used Reading Eggs and Reading Eggspress (the follow on programme) daily with good results (Reading Eggs was the first paid for program that I subscribed to for the children and I found it well worth it, but it isn’t necessary to use paid for programs). If you’re looking for an early phonics programme, Teach Your Monster to read is good (and free on computers, the IPad app costs).
- Music: Nin attends a home ed guitar group organised by the local Music Education Hub. She also attends a weekly ‘after-school’ funded recorder group and choir.
More general music, rather than specific instrumental practice, is an ‘as and when’ occurrence. Every-so-often I feel enthused and will put on some classical music (most recently we have been enjoying the BBC’s Ten Pieces) and this can be a springboard to all sorts of discussion and artistic expression (Art). It has also led to mini projects learning about various composers (thus also practises various English language and literacy skills)
NB: Sometimes there appears to be a belief that home-educating parents have some magical reserve of patience that other parents don’t have – if this is the case, no-one’s let me in on the location of that reserve, because there are times that I could do with it. The fact that this comment comes after mentioning recorder is not a coincidence…
- History: Whilst, I have, in the past, organised more structured projects involving eras of history, this was mostly due to having my younger son at home (who needed a bit more ‘prompting’ than Nin does). Generally History is now covered as and when a question presents itself. Nin has been particularly interested in the Georgians reasonably recently. This was mostly due to her being interested in Jane Austen and this interest led to her wanting to learn more about the Regency period and then she extended her learning from there.
Even more recently, her reading of the The Book Thief, has led to discussions about Nazi Germany and the experience of Jewish people during the Third Reich (covering, again, English Language and Literacy, History, RE and PSHE)
Like many children, mine also really enjoy Horrible Histories – various are available on their YouTube channel and she enjoys watching documentaries (many of which will spark further interest in learning about the topic).
- Art & Craft: Again, as and when it presents itself. I don’t specifically plan ‘activities’ as such, rather I’ll respond to requests to make something, or, every so often we’ll have a trawl through Pinterest for ideas on something we might like to make. The various festivals of the year are another inspiration, of course!
- Geography and Natural Sciences: we go out walking every day when possible, exploring the local area and further afield. As part of this we take lots of photos and try to identify what we find (these can be found under 52 Weeks in Nature). 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.
Most of the geography we’ve covered, so far, has also been incidental. This can take the form of discussions when we’re out and about, for example, when visiting the coast we’ve discussed features that the children have come across, e.g. coastal erosion. As part of a history-based project, we might look at a map from the time, how country borders (and, indeed, countries) may have changed over the years. I would expect that this subject will continue to be incidental to other subjects for a while yet unless a particular question arises.
Another important source of learning is the garden. We moved last year and are currently renovating the garden here. There are a wealth of science-based subjects to be explored in the garden and much of the science that Nin learns about is based on her own surroundings; the environment she lives in.
- General Sciences: Again, learning is often incidental to an event, for example, why steam comes out of a boiling kettle, or something else they may have seen or heard. Nin has attended Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) events organised by Sheffield and Hull universities (respectively) and we have recently received some fantastic-looking Dyson Challenge Cards (52 STEM challenges) that we are going to start working through, 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.
- General bits and pieces: Another very important part of what we do here is the children learning to take responsibility for their own education, both from an academic and a personal (life skills) point of view. The ability to dress oneself, keeps oneself clean, know how to wash clothes, cook, garden, manage a budget, etc, are all necessary parts of learning and very useful to skills to have – what point is there to understanding who discovered electricity if one cannot change a plug?
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.
I’ve probably forgotten something and this list certainly isn’t exhaustive, so I may add to it as I think to.
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 has both home educated and schooled friends and, common to many children, often goes out to play with the various children who live on the next street, as well as keeping in touch with other friends who she sees at the weekend or during school holidays. As well as the home ed guitar group, we also meet up with other home educating families a couple of times a week and Nin also attends Sea Cadets twice a week.
In my opinion what my children experience is quality of socialisation over quantity – lots of children in a school environment does not make for a good social experience 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!
This post is a synopsis of what I do here with my children at the moment (focussing on Nin, the only one of my children ‘of school age’ who is currently home educated). 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 indepth information about home education in England, the statistics, legalities, etc, I recommend: Ed Yourself a website that offers free, impartial advice to ALL. You do not have to be a member of any organisation, be registered with any group (or the local authority) or carry around any form of proof that you are a home-educator or a member of an organisation or registered with the local authority.