This is not radical

As I walk past the school on my way to an outing, I can’t help but notice that I am going in the opposite direction to everyone else. The parents and children all going in the same direction, speeding up as they look at their watches, desperate to get there on time.

Later, I pop to the shops and while I am there, I am asked almost every time why my child is not in school…. and I am struck by the feeling that I am doing something radical. Something so unusual and ‘out there’ that people are surprised by it and have cause to ask me about it. Every. Single. Day.

Except that this isn’t a radical step at all. This is normal life for me and my daughter. This is the day-to-day life for us and between 45,000 and 80,000 other people.

There is nothing radical about learning every day as we go about our business. There is nothing radical about choosing not to put my child into a class of 30 other children of differing needs and abilities, to be taught (and expected to learn) the same things at exactly the same time, for 6 hours a day.

And don’t get me started on the fact that that 6 hour day is probably taken up by just over 1.5 hours worth of actual learning per day (I love this blog on the subject).

Sure, to choose not to do what the majority does is unusual. Only up to 2% of children are educated in this way. However, we are not unusual people. We are ordinary people doing what works for our children in an ordinary way.

Home education is a valid choice. It is calm. It is gentle. It is sociable. It is fascinating. It is exciting and fun…. But it is not radical.

22 April 2018 – co-operation

One of the things that W loves to do is to collect the post in the morning and separate the letters into piles according to who they are for. With 5 members of our household, it is a great opportunity for literacy learning. I love the way that learning just happens as we move through life and skills are gathered and improved upon with little effort on my part, really.

Another example of this is when we passed a brick wall and W commented to me that she wondered how many bricks there were in the wall, and set about trying to work it out. We stayed a while by that wall, talking about multiplication and trying to add it up in our heads. To her, it was a bit of fun; to me, a great opportunity.

When we finally reached the train station, W had a go at reading the screens and finding the correct platform and seat etc.

Of course, we could only do this as we weren’t in a hurry that day. Sometimes it just isn’t possible to stop for a while, but I try to do it whenever we can.

Our destination was a meet up for home educated children at a park. W played with the other children and adults there and then also played with some equipment where she had to pour sand onto different levels of it. W was trying to figure out how heavy the sand had to be before it tipped onto a lower level.

On a different day this week, W wanted to help me with my work, cutting out labels for customers and opening my parcels. For her, this is great fun. She likes to see what stock has come in. I suppose it is like opening presents in a way. She is becoming much more dextrous with the scissors and also with tiny items.

Another thing that W and I like to do together is to watch the Shakespeare on CBeebies plays. Their plays usually pop up around Christmas time, but are also available at other times of the year. We watched A Midsummer Night’s Dream this week, which W absolutely loved. W doesn’t cope well with any mild threat on TV or in films at all, and these plays are brilliant as they are a gentle introduction to Shakespeare’s plays without being too fast-paced or scary.

On Tuesday, W wanted to spend her birthday money. When she bought the items, we spent some time working out how much of her money had been spent and how much was left. She paid for the items herself at the till.

On the way home, she was asking what my favourite animals are and then asked a lot of questions about tigers and how (and why) some types became extinct. She learned what the biggest and smallest types of tiger are and where they live.

J and W later played hide and seek, which W loves to do. She now hides completely for the others to find her, but does giggle when she is there!

All the children then played Charades together and W is learning how to demonstrate something in a way that others understand. She is working on it… for example, a plane is demonstrated by her jumping up and down and a vacuum cleaner is shown by V waving her hands above her head….. It is a work in progress!
But the point is that they had lots of fun trying to figure out what she was demonstrating…

The next day brought yet more playing – W and D have had a very calm and lovely time playing with their toys together many times this week and are learning now to cooperate during their play and to make things fair in terms of following one person’s rules of the game and then making sure that the other child can have a chance at playing by their rules too. Again, it is a work in progress, and because we are a blended family, the children are getting to know each others ways and preferences. It takes time, but I know we’ll get there and they are doing really, really well.

Topics covered: Maths (bricks in the wall), English (Shakespeare and reading names on parcels), Biology / geography (Tigers)

15th April 2018 – A birthday

W had her 5th birthday this week, so we had a great time seeing the grandparents and playing with new toys. She was lucky enough to get this Stephanie’s House Lego set (age 6+) and built it almost by herself. She showed good concentration and is now very good at rotating objects in her head to see where the Lego pieces might fit. A few days later, she built her new LEGO Minecraft set and then played with it afterwards, role-playing showing her minifigures around the new sets.

Building her new Minecraft set had spurred W on to play real Minecraft on her tablet, where she built some more of a house that she has been creating. I have to say that I am amazed at how quickly children can pick up the game and learn how to create things on it. I don’t let her use the multiplayer mode yet, but she is happy enough creating her own ‘world’ in the game so far.

I’m pleased that W plays with Minecraft Lego as well as Friends Lego. I need to point out that we do not do ‘boy’s toys’ and ‘girls’ toys’ in our house. Toys and clothes are not gendered here. The children are free to wear pink or blue or any other colour that they choose. They can play with any toys that are age appropriate (and are not guns) regardless of which gender they are marketed to (more information on this can be found here). I read a fantastic book, backed up by a great deal of research on the subject by Cordelia Fine, called Delusions of Gender. In it, she debunks ‘neuro-sexism’ and explores how society will have us believe that there are huge differences in male and female brains; and seeks the scientific proof to the contrary.

Another new birthday present that W received this week was this Disney Princess Heart Box, which she spent some time decorating. She then really wanted to paint this Galt Toys Tea Set. W enjoyed choosing the colours and styles that she wanted on each item. She liked it so much that a few days later, she went on to paint a couple of china chicks for us to have as Easter ornaments. They turned out great and are now part of the Easter box of plastic eggs and trinkets that we get out every year.

W, D and J all did some ‘work’ for me on my business when they wanted to. This is both educational and a great way for them to learn about the value of money. I have written more about the subject in my blog posts about pocket money and chores.

The next day, J, D and W all played together at a soft play centre. On the way there, W wanted to spot which bus was ours. She looked out for the correct numbers on the bus and found the right one in no time. She then spent a long time talking to J on the journey, and teaching him all she has learned over the last few weeks, showing that she has taken in a lot of information.

Later, all the children watched two videos together, as they needed to wind down after such a busy day. Whenever we watch a video, we have the subtitles on. The older one likes to read them to catch anything he may have missed (or to pick out inaccuracies), the middle one likes to read the words of the songs so that she can learn them, and it is helping W to be motivated to learn to read as well.
Three friends came to the house later in the week for an Easter egg hunt. My partner had set up clues for the children to follow to find eggs around the house and garden. D and J’s clues were written, and W’s were in words and pictures. They all did well to work out the answers and find their eggs. After much chocolate was eaten, they all played noisily in the park and the house and properly enjoyed their day! We had another social engagement later in the week when another friend came to the house to play and much fun was had again.

In addition to the planned play dates we had, there was also an impromptu social opportunity for W, when one of the trains that we traveled on this week was delayed, meaning a 3 hour journey for us. W spent the time playing with 4 other children (ages 9, 7, 5 and 3), sharing her toys and role-playing moving house, going to prison (!) and playing doctors, amongst other things. The other children loved playing with her and they all got on very well for the whole time we were travelling.

Back at home, W wanted to work on some activities in one of her magazines, so she read a few words of an Alphablocks story, even reading a couple of words without sounding them out first. She also matched some sticker shapes, followed dotted lines with her pen and cut out some shapes.

Since we are lucky enough to have all the children at home because of the school holidays, we visited Deen City Farm. There was lots to do and the children learned about what goats, sheep and cows eat. One of the goats ate a piece of the paper packet that the food was in and we had a discussion about what would happen to the packet and why goats eat things that they shouldn’t. They also learned the difference between herbivores’ teeth and carnivores’ teeth, since they noticed what shape the goats’ teeth were. We had a chance to pet rabbits and guinea pigs, and to ask lots of questions of the staff there.

We saw owls and W asked why the owl was awake in the daytime. She learned about how owls are bred and tamed, and how they are cared for. We then watched a riding lesson and then pooped in to see the rabbits and guinea pigs being cleaned out.

After looking at all the animals, it was time to play in the playground. Even though it was the school holidays, we managed to find another home educated child there to play with. W chatted to him and played with him on the slides and climbing frames.
D and W played catch at the bus stop on the journey home and then D later read her book to both W and J while we waited. W just loves being read to and loves books in general, so having D read to her benefits them both so much. We had one of those perfect parenting moments at that bus stop. You know, one of those moments where all the children are behaving perfectly and doing something very sweet while people look on and smile. It was definitely one of those times where I felt all smug (before the children’s grumpiness kicked in a few minutes later, but I won’t mention that…..).

Subjects covered:

Economics (business), Maths (receiving wages for ‘work’), Spatial skills (Lego, Minecraft), Art (pottery painting and decorating jewellery box), English, Biology (mammals’ teeth and animal characteristics), socialisation (friends visiting, meeting a new friend at the park, sibling play, extended family visiting). Technology (Minecraft).

8th April 2018 – The Big Bank

W has been very interested in money this week, so we decided to visit The Bank of England Museum. I love it there and, although it is a small museum, it is free entry and they have great activities for children, such as Easter Egg hunts.

There was lots to do and we started with looking at the different security features of banknotes, since W asked last week why people don’t just print more money when they run out. She learned about the Royal Mint and why it is important that money only comes from there. She got to use a UV light to show patterns on bank notes, which she loved.
In the museum, you have an opportunity to hold a gold bar and to try to lift it. W had a go (but couldn’t lift it as it weighed around 14kg – the same as her….). She asked why it was so heavy when it was so little, so we talked about density. There was also a fabulous display on the properties of gold and why it is so valuable.
After that, W learned what people did before money came into use, and also about the history of the Bank of England itself. She found some of it fascinating and engaging, then had a rest at one of the tables where some crafts were set out. She had a great time colouring-in and drawing too.
Next, it was time for the fun (and still educational) part – an Easter hunt around the museum, following clues to find certain things and answering questions about some items. We filled in a quiz as we went and got a chocolate egg as a great reward at the end. The staff were all lovely with her, especially when we realised that we had left her beloved teddy somewhere inside the museum. We searched everywhere, but had no luck. Eventually one of the porters helped us, even moving some exhibits to look behind them.

In the end, to W’s relief, Teddy was found and all was well with the world!

On the train home, W asked about the UV light that she had seen: what is it and why did it show patterns on the bank notes? We had a good long conversation UV light – eg how it fades fabrics, what it is etc. At this point, I found myself reflecting on the fact that school children don’t get as much of the ‘follow-up’ learning that W does, in that there isn’t time on the way back from a school trip for a child to ask so many questions of what they have seen. Sure, there is some time, but it is very short, considering that teaching staff are focussing on getting so many children from one place to another safely. I don’t know if it is different for other children, but my kids tend to learn so much more after an educational trip, rather than on it. There are usually additional questions for days afterwards, after they have had time to process what they saw or did.

Later in the week, W was lucky enough to be able to go on the London Eye. It was great for her to see the city from a different perspective and to have a chance to point out her favourite landmarks, which she loves to do.

When we travel, W loves to help me to find the correct train and platform and this is currently her main motivator for learning to read. She really wants to be able to find the right train on the display and to tell me which platform to go to. Aside from being a sweet thing to do, it is also a valuable life skill to have and I’m sure she will get to grips with it very soon. We keep looking at the displays together every time we get on a train.

When we got home, we spent some time building a Lego set. She is learning now that, although a build can take a long time, when she perseveres with it and finishes, she gets a brilliant toy to play with afterwards. Her building skills are great, so it doesn’t take her too long to put them together and she does really enjoy the end result.

W also noticed that she had some mail today. The Book Trust provide free books to all reception-aged children, so that includes home-educated children. W’s book had arrived, so we read it together. It is always lovely to have a parcel in the post that you weren’t expecting, and this was a lovely example.

The evening board game this week was mainly Charades For Kids and, as usual, we had bedtime stories every day.

[Topics covered: Science (UV light), Maths (denominations of money; what was used as currency before money and how it was added together), Geography (London’s skyline), English (reading books and departure boards), Spatial skills (Lego building)]

Can You Work and Home Educate?

I hear this question a lot from people who are considering home ed. There is a belief that home education is expensive (more about that in a later blog post) and that you won’t be able to work while doing it either. Neither of these are true. Home education is as expensive as you want it to be and you can definitely work while doing it – you just have to be creative.

However, I’m not going to say it is easy – it isn’t – but raising children can be difficult anyway and we’ve managed to do that so far, right?

You will need to make sacrifices. Instead of arranging childcare around your work, you will need to arrange work around your children. Self-employment or freelance work is probably the best type of work for home educators, simply because of flexibility, but it can be done if you work away from the home, too.

In my case, I am self-employed. I work for an hour or two in the daytime, whenever W is otherwise engaged in play or an organised activity, and then I work from the time she goes to sleep until I am falling asleep at my computer, usually at around midnight. I am lucky in that I can be very flexible in the daytime as I don’t have appointments or (many) deadlines in my line of work, but I find that simply fitting the hours in can be a struggle. For example, tidying, cleaning and cooking has to be done in the daytime when W is awake. I don’t get the chance to clean up after bedtime as that is the time that I am working. I very rarely watch TV in the evening, but this is the sacrifice that I made to home educate W. I do realise that it isn’t for everyone. It is difficult – very difficult – sometimes, but I do strongly believe that the benefits of home education far outweigh the costs to my free time (and the loss of the money I could earn by doing something else if W were at school). I get to spend hours a day at the park, in museums or seeing our good friends (see my post on socialisation here), so this ‘sacrifice’ is definitely worth it for us, by a long way.

In a two-parent family, you could tag-team, in that when one of you comes home from work, the other can work from that time. It takes a lot of organisation and again involves unsociable hours, but it can be done. I know of a few families that work in this way, with one partner working two or three nights a week and the other partner working in the day. Again, it involves sacrifice. You will see a bit less of your partner, so the time that you do have together becomes all the more precious. If you find that this is the best working pattern for you, do make sure that you can fit in just a little bit of together time now and then. Savour the moments that you do have.

I have spoken to many home educators on the subject of work. I know editors, people who teach languages online at home, transcribers, bloggers, eBay sellers and many, many other freelancers. I know people who have had high-powered jobs, but have given that up when making the decision to home educate their children. I know single parents who home educate, some working and some not. I also know many people who are fortunate enough to survive on one person’s wage, within a two-parent family. Every family’s situation is different and it is important to make the decisions that are right for you, as a family. It is about looking at where you are now and what you want your future to be.

Questions to consider:

Do you have extended (or nuclear) family support to cover for the hours that you will work?

If your children have grandparents, aunts, uncles or other trusted extended family that would love to have regular time with them, take them up on their offers. Your children will love the time and attention from them and you will have space to work for a little while, when the opportunity comes up.

If not, are there other hours that you can do when your children are asleep or occupied at workshops, groups or lessons?

If your child is old enough, and ready, there are many and varied lessons or workshops that your child can do without you needing to be present (subject to all of the relevant DBS and qualification checks, of course). You would then have an hour or two to do some work while these happen.

Are there working from home opportunities that fit your skill base?

Try searching for local or national jobs that can be done from home. These are very often lower -paid jobs, but can be much more flexible in terms of hours. Be careful to never pay anything up-front and to check that any company is a reputable one before you commit to anything.

Is it possible to work fewer hours at your current place of work, or to ask for more flexibility with the hours that you do have?

Often people think that they cannot change their hours or request to work from home, for fear of upsetting their employers, but it might be worth an ask, at least. Explain your situation and your reasons for doing this. If you have an approachable boss, you might just be lucky.

I do realise that this is not an option for many people, simply because the job that you do needs you to be present at work for all of your hours, or because your boss is not approachable at all….

If you have a partner, can you work opposite hours to them?

Draw up a plan of how that could look for your family. How would you feel about it and how would your children feel about it? Could you trial it for a while and see how it works for you?

Have you researched local groups or lessons locally that your child will benefit from, while you can also work?

Check local Facebook groups and email lists for all the current activities, clubs, lessons and groups that your child could do. At this point, I have to say that it is important to not book in too much, especially if your child has only just been deregistered from a school environment. Make sure you have plenty of down-time and free-play opportunities in between organised activities.

In the end, the decision to home educate and to make a change to your working hours or overall employment lies with your family only. Only you know what is best for you and your family and no-one can tell you what to do for the best. Have a think about what life would be like if things stayed the same. Would things be better or worse with a change? You can’t predict that, of course, but sometimes it is better to make a change, than to keep things the same, for fear of making the wrong decision. Maybe this could be the change that you all needed. Maybe this could be the best thing for you all and you would be a happier and more relaxed family because of it. You will never know until you make that leap….

1st Apr 2018 – Overcoming Fears

After seeing Tower Bridge in all its glory from a train window, W was desperate to go on a visit there, so this week we took a trip to The Tower Bridge Exhibition and experienced the glass walkway at the top of the bridge. I was scared to walk on it, but W was not nervous at all and even lay down on the glass to watch the traffic below. I didn’t mention my nerves at all and eventually convinced myself to walk on it too. Being able to overcome fears that I have is something I have only managed to crack since becoming a parent. I know that, if I show my (more irrational) fears to W, she gets the message from me that she should also be afraid. Obviously, for some situations, a degree of nervousness is needed in order to keep us safe, but in this instance, W was really enjoying herself and was completely safe. Who am I to take that from her by telling her that I am terrified and that, by default, she thinks that she should be too?

It’s so hard to face fears like that, but I can honestly say that I have done so much more than I usually would, just by giving my children experiences that I wouldn’t normally give myself and it has been quite liberating, to be honest. I would happily go on the glass walkway again.

Anyway, this is not a diary about me – this is about W’s learning, so….

We visited the engine room of the bridge and learned about how the bridge used to be lifted by steam engine many years ago, and how it works now. We also saw the tools that were used to build the bridge and learned how it was built across the river and why, by watching a video on it’s construction. W was interested in what people’s job roles were on the bridge and where all the materials came from to build it.

When we were on the glass walkway above the bridge, we spent a long time watching the river and road below. After that, we spent a long time playing in the fountains nearby with some other children and also walked through the gardens and tall buildings and looked at their different features.
When we were at the side of the river, we talked some more about the Thames and where it goes.

The next day, we did some work on telling the time, because she is keen to learn it at the moment. The main reason, I think, is wanting to know how long it is before her step brother and sister come home from school as they love playing together so much. She wants to be able to tell the time herself so that she doesn’t have to ask me how long it is until something happens. So, W now knows what the hour hand is for and knows what ‘half past’ means.

After that, it was time for a visit to the library for more chapter books that I will read to her at bedtime. W chose fiction books with an animal theme this time. She has one chapter of a book before bed (or one picture book, but she usually chooses chapter books nowadays), and D and J also have the same, so W actually gets 3 chapters read to her of an evening. She can also have unlimited chapters or picture books read to her in the daytime if she wants, of course, but at bedtime there is a limit of three, or bedtime would take even longer than it currently does…

I took W and D to the park and the children watched ladybirds for a while, to see how they moved.
J (9) and W made breakfast by themselves one day and W was proud of making it herself, so proud in fact, that she and D later wanted to put away all the shopping too.

I took W to the social group that we visited a couple of weeks ago. She played with lots of children, built Lego, played with a geometric shapes game and generally had lots of fun again. We stayed right until the end as she loves it there.

Just to squeeze in a bit more playtime, we went to a funfair, just for… well fun…. I can’t say much for the learning aspect, but they really had a great time there! After that, a friend came to visit and W had a great time playing with her, as usual.

Although it is great that we have so many opportunities for learning everywhere we go, I am still careful to not make everything we do educational. Its important to simply have a good time for the sake of it and this week was definite example of that – certainly for me and I hope for all the family too. Having children is a great excuse to be able to go to funfairs and be silly, in the name of entertaining them.

Socialisation and Home Education

Whenever I talk to other people about home education, the socialisation question almost always comes up. Actually, it is a bit confusing for me as I wonder where people have got the idea that home educated children don’t see other children. Where did it come from? It can’t be that all these people know some home educated children somewhere who sit at home and see no other children at all, because I’ve never met any and I’m fairly sure that this mythical family doesn’t exist…

Is it from the media? It is certainly true that there have been a couple of cases where the children in a family have been held captive and haven’t been allowed to see the outside world, but these are extreme and incredibly rare cases. It is estimated that there are between 40,000 and 80,000 home educating families in the UK. Is it the popular belief that all of these families are hiding from the world at a desk at home?

The truth, in fact, is that us families see each other. A lot. The friendships that home educated children have cross all age ranges, social strata and are neurodiverse. They form friendships according to common interests and not simply because they are exactly the same age or ethnicity etc. Schooled children are made to sit with the same people of the same age for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week. The potential for these children to find other people who like similar things and play in the same way is drastically reduced as the ability to mix with a varied range of children is almost completely closed to them.

I would like to suggest that actually, us home educators are as worried about socialisation as much as anyone (because we are questioned about it so much, perhaps), and because of this, we go out of our way to seek groups and play opportunities for our children in order for them to form many friendships. It has to be the case that our children are having so much opportunity to mix with children with common interests, that they could be forming more varied and meaningful friendships than those children who happen to be in the same class, age (and often gender) at school.

So, if you are new to home education, or have been doing it for a while and are worried about socialisation, here are some tips for how to get your children out there and forming lasting friendships:

1. Join as many home education Facebook groups as possible.

I have found that the vast majority of meet-ups are advertised on local Facebook groups. Just search for “home education [your area]” in the Facebook search bar and it will bring up groups local to you. Try searching by county and also towns local to you. You’ll find a range of meet-ups and groups at various dates and times available to you.

2. Don’t worry if you’ve been to a meet-up and your child didn’t play with anyone.

As is the case for adults, children also need to find other children that they ‘click’ with and have the same interests as them. Don’t be disheartened if you have been to a group (or a few) and your child hasn’t engaged with many people. It will come. Keep going to different meets until you find your ‘tribe’… Those people that ‘get’ you and your children and welcome you for who you are.

With more reserved children, it may take a few visits to the same groups for them to ‘warm up’ and step outside of their comfort zones to talk to other children. I find this especially true for those children who have found school stressful or difficult socially. They need time to adjust and to regain their confidence for making friends. For some, school settings can be damaging socially (it certainly was for me, but more about that in a future post), and it takes time to undo the fear that some children experience when walking into a busy room full of children again. Give it time.

3. Chat to the parents!

When you go to meet-ups, make sure you chat to others. It can be daunting, but I have found that there is a big sense of community amongst home edders and they are happy to share knowledge and tips with others as they have been where you are too.

Other parents can tell you about the social meets and groups that are not advertised on the Facebook sites. These meets are many and varied and are often arranged by a group of friends whose children get on well together. If your children have common interests with the others (and even if they don’t), they will be welcomed along and you will have a full social diary in no time!

4. Go to your local park in the daytime.

Do your children play with other children at the park? If they do, walk over to the children’s parents and chat to them. If your child is playing with another child for a long time, go and say ‘Hi’ to their parents and introduce yourself. Parks are very busy after school, but if you go in the daytime, it is much easier for your children to play with one or two other children and have the space to run around. I have found other home-educating families this way and have made some great friendships, for me and for W. It is a bold step to go out of your way to meet people in this way, but you and your children could end up with friends for life, who live very near indeed.

5. Go on organised trips.

Organised trips for home educators happen all the time. In fact, they are so frequent that I have to pick and choose only the best ones for W to go on as there is so much choice.

Ask other parents at regular home-ed meets to join you to email lists and Facebook groups that are advertising trips at the education discount rate. It is not expensive to go on these as home educators can get the schools rate when they go in a group. Adults are often free and children’s tickets are at a drastically reduced cost, often with workshops included in that price too!

Search on Facebook for ‘Home education trips’ to find some of these.

When you are there, you will meet even more families similar to yours, especially if you are going to s specific workshop for a specific interest.

6. Relax

Try not to push your child to mix with others if they are not comfortable doing so yet (especially if they have recently been deregistered from school and are still finding their feet). Our job is to provide the opportunities for them to play with others, but not to push them into it. If a child feels pressured to do something, it is less fun and less meaningful for them than if they had done it under their own steam.

Model the behaviour you want to see in your child. Talk to others (adults and children) and show that being with others can be a fun experience. Take it easy, though. It takes time to step outside of your comfort zone, just as it does for our children.

We have all been there. We have started the home-ed journey with nerves, trepidation and doubt. We all found each other somehow and have the common goal of doing the best for our children. Taking the first step of de-registering (or even deciding to home educate before school age) is a huge decision to make, but we did it. And we did it with our children’s best interests at heart. And that is the point of all of this, after all.