Milestones

When W reached CSA (Compulsory School Age), I found myself thinking that we had hit a major milestone – that now it is official and W really isn’t going to school. We are ‘officially’ home educating now, although you could say that we have been home educating for years, since nothing has changed in terms of her child-led learning. We have been doing it all along.

Of course, we have had other milestones along the way. I remember when W was 3 and I received letters telling me that she could have a place at nursery, which I ignored at the time. This felt like a minor milestone. Then the deadline for applying for a school place (in reception year) neared and I had fleeting worry that I should apply, just in case. However, I didn’t. I strongly believed that home education was right for W at the time, and when the deadline did actually pass, I felt a sense of relief that the decision had been made and that now we could just get on with it.

But then her peers started school in the September when she was 4. I saw all of the Facebook posts, chatted to my friends about their excitement at their baby starting school, how cute they look in their new uniforms and how their friends from nursery will be in the same class as them etc etc. I couldn’t help feeling that W was missing out and that that was all because of me. What if she actually would have liked school? What if she needed more than I could offer her?

At this point, W was still nervous of loud noise. She didn’t like big groups of people and was a sensitive soul. Should I have pushed her to overcome her fears or would that make her withdrawn? Should I go with my gut and keep her out of the institution that is school, until she is actually ready and more able to cope with the challenges of the classroom? Is any child really ready at only 4 years old?

All these questions would pop into my head at night and I found that I was asking myself over and over if I was doing the right thing. If so many people were doing the same thing as each other and sending their 4-year-olds to school before they were even CSA, surely they were right and I was missing something?

However, I had read the studies and reports on the fact that the UK starts formal schooling when children are too young. The evidence is clear (More information can be found in this New Scientist report and this report by the Foundation for Economic Education, both taking evidence from, and linked to, various respected studies on the subject) that early school enrollment is having a negative effect on our children’s health, wellbeing and also educational attainment.

So what could I do to feel better about my decision? How could I find my ‘tribe’ who would support me and my daughter through our brave and unusual choices

I joined all the home education email, Facebook and real-life groups that I could find and talked to as many people as I could about home education. I asked them about their journeys. Some home educated from the start, some took their children out of school when they found that they could not cope with the school environment. Some were radical unschoolers, some were structured home-schoolers, and some were somewhere in-between, but all had an absolute belief that what they were doing was right for their children. That they were their child’s advocate when others wouldn’t listen. When parents of schooled children questioned my new-found friends on home education, they responded that they were certain this was right for them. Not for everyone – but for them.

I started to feel more assured of my decision. I felt that maybe I could educate W myself and maybe it would turn out ok, as my new friends were telling me.

Later that September, when W and her peers were still 4 years old, my friends with school children started to tell me of the difficulties their children had settling in to their schools. They told me of the tears at drop-off time and the stress and tantrums when they came home, exhausted from the day. Of course this wasn’t the case for all of them – a few of my friend’s children settled-in straight away and loved school from the beginning. However, the majority didn’t and that is when I knew absolutely that I had done the right thing for W.

I am not anti-school – far from it, in fact. But I do dislike the all-or-nothing approach that our government and Local Education Authorities have towards school. Children either attend school for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, or they are home educated. There is no in-between (flexi-schooling is vanishingly rare and in almost all cases a temporary measure leading to full-time schooling).

If only we could make our own decisions about our own children’s education in the way that we want to.

If only our government actually informed every parent that their child does not legally have to go to school (or be home educated) until the term after they turn 5 years old, instead of sending letters to parents giving them the false information that they need to enroll their child in school for their reception year. What would be the effect on the nation’s young children if all parents were told when their child is legally supposed to start education, I wonder?

Anyway, one year after W would have started her reception year, W has reached CSA, I have never felt more certain that I am doing the right thing for her. We have had so much fun so far, and I have loved to see W’s development in a way that I just wouldn’t be able to see if she were in school. I look at her and I see how happy she is, and I know I have done the right thing for her as an individual.

9th September, 2018 – two birthdays!

This week brought two birthdays for our family – one for J, who turned 10, and one for my partner too. W also squeezed in a trip to Ireland with her other Mum (for our non-regular readers, W’s other Mum is my ex-partner. My new partner is W’s stepmum and we are a blended family of 3 children and two mums / stepmums). As you can imagine, it has been a very busy week for us all, so here is a condensed version of W’s learning, arranged by subject, as usual….

Geography: W learned where Ireland is in relation to England and also learned a little about the Irish language. When she was travelling there, she asked why we need passports, so learned about that too.

Art: W and her Mum went to a photo exhibition, where there were big portraits of local people. W asked why they were in black and white and then said which ones she liked and why.

When W was back home with me, she did a lot of colouring-in over several days. She has better pen-control now and colours very much inside the lines. However, she doesn’t have the patience to colour large areas without gaps yet, which is fine, of course.

She also spent some time drawing using lots of sheets of paper to try to get it just right.

Politics: When we were at Liverpool Street station, W saw a statue of evacuated children, so she asked about them. I explained that their parents thought it was a good idea to send them to the countryside when the war was on, to keep them safe. I then explained that there would not be a war here, and even if there was, she would never be sent away from her parents.

The next day, W asked who Jesus was, so I explained that he was someone who lived a long time ago and that some people believed he was God’s son, but some people believed he was not. We had quite a discussion and this led again to war and why people would argue about God.

Numeracy / Maths: On the way home, we had to buy a couple of small things for the birthdays coming up, and W did very well at her mental maths, working out how much change she would get when she paid for certain items.

W asked about university and qualifications, so my partner, F showed her a few of her diplomas so that she could see what they looked like. We then talked about what each one was for (F is a doctor, so has a few).

When we got home, W wanted to make new blankets for her toys in the doll’s house as she had more dolls than blankets. She found an old t-shirt and cut out some ‘blankets’ with a little help. She was very definite about how they should look and how big they each should be. She wanted 5 of them and said things like, “so we have 3, which means we need two more,” which was great.

Literacy: On the train to and from the picnic, I read some of her book on dog training to her, which she really liked.

We found a couple of items with our names on when we were tidying and W could identify all of our names on each item straight away, without sounding out the letters (the items were letters, exercise books, envelopes etc). I am certain she can read more than she says she can…..

On J’s 10th birthday, W helped to make the cake and biscuits. She is great at putting the ingredients together and weighing them. She can read all numbers easily. She looked at the packets and tried to figure out the words to identify the sealed pack of flour and sugar etc.

W wrote a lovely message in J’s birthday card, which she had chosen herself.

J had a great birthday and we all enjoyed seeing his joy on opening his presents and playing with his new toys, one of which was Articulate For Kids, among other things. When we played this game, we all had a lot of fun trying to describe words to each other, with W keeping up with the rest of us well.

W loves it when one of the others has a birthday. She gets so excited, but was able to keep J’s cake a secret this year, which was no easy task for her!

At bedtime, we sorted through her library books and realised we have read all of the chapter books that we have from there, so we will make a trip there on wednesday for more chapter books and hopefully an encyclopedia on animals.

Socialisation: W met her Irish cousins B (13), T (11) and K (15) for the first time this week, which she was very excited about. They had some lovely chats and she can’t wait to see them again soon, when she next goes to Ireland.

On Wednesday, we went to our first ‘Not Back To School Picnic’ in a lovely park. It was fun and we saw a few of our friends from our social groups there. W wasn’t too keen on dashing about and playing (I think she was still tired from her trip), but did chat to some of the other children and played a little with a few of them.

We dropped J (9) and D (7) off at school for their first day back and W loved seeing their new classrooms and where they were sitting. We talked a lot about school and what happens there and W is very aware of what J and D do in the day and still says that she doesn’t want to go to school.

The social group was very busy this week and we met lots of new people, along with our usual friends. W played mainly with B (5), who she knows well, and J (5), who she had just met. She also did a lot of charging about and rolling down the hill too, and also playing football.

Science: At the airport, W saw different type of planes: some with propellers, some with covered engines and even private jets.

On a visit to a lovely sandy beach near Cork, W paddled in the sea and climbed sand dunes. She also had the chance to look at commercial fishing boats up close, with their fishing nets and lobster pots. While she was there, she collected shells and stones and threw lots of stones in the water, listening to the different sounds that they made.

Back at home, some plants arrived through the post and W learned that some plants like the shade and some prefer the sun. We talked about plants flowering at different times of the year and W told me what she had learned about cactus plants previously. Then, whilst I was cooking dinner, I found a potato with roots growing out of it, so we spent some time talking about potatoes and where they grow and how.

On Saturday, we went to Kidzania for J’s birthday. The children really enjoyed it there and knew what they wanted to do there as they have been a few times now.

W and D went into the PDSA room to work as vets and performed an ‘operation’ on a toy dog who had swallowed a toy. They absolutely loved doing that one and loved learning about animal care.

They then went into the Baby care unit as a nurse and cared for the babies, which were realistic dolls. After that, D, J and W all performed a liver transplant as a doctor in the hospital (W didn’t drop the liver on the floor this time)!

In the hotel section, the Kidzania employee said that the children were the tidiest children she had had there and that they could work there again. I told her that we do tidying time every day at home, and the member of staff said that W had told her about that!

In the evening, we decorated cupcakes for my partner, F’s birthday, wrapped a present and the children wrote in cards that they had chosen.

On Sunday, F opened her presents from the children and I and then we spent a long time in the garden planting the plants that she had received as gifts. W was great at digging holes, putting the plants in gently and watering them too. She was reluctant to get her hands dirty at first, but then really enjoyed making the garden look good. She also spent time sweeping the yard and generally tidying the garden.

After we had finished, W asked me to help her to make a list of things that she wanted to do in the garden, which we then put up at the desk so that we can work through it.

In the evening, we watched a movie called ‘we bought a zoo,’ which we all really enjoyed… and W had the chance again to learn about animal care.

Play / Spatial Skills: W built her Lego Horse Trailer set by herself and then played with it for ages. She really does love her Lego these days

She later helped to build some Lego desk tidys and enjoyed putting different colours together to make them look stylish.

W again spent lots of time with her Lego and helped to build lots of little cars, which her minifigures drove and then got stuck in a traffic jam. She also played with her doll’s house. She seems to know exactly what she is doing when she starts a game and has it all planned out in her head first.

When she was in Ireland, W played frisbee and catch, managing to catch the ball with ease, then also played quite a bit by herself with the Sylvanian families and My Little Ponies that were at the house there.

After all that happened this week, we were ready for a rest…. but next week we have an appointment with the Elective Home Education Officer from the Local Authority, who is coming to the house to check that I am providing a suitable education for W. I’m nervous as it is my first visit from them. Watch this space to find out how it goes…..

 

28th Jan 2018 – record keeping

We’ll start with a long journey cross-country journey on the train. Whenever we do this journey, W likes to do some of her activity books and then play with her toys. True to form, she completed a couple of pages of her numbers workbook (like this one), where she had to count items and write the number. She also completed a page of her literacy book again. Then she enjoyed doing some activities in a CBeebies magazine including writing words, colouring-in, learning letters and where they fit into words, and spotting the difference between pictures. I do like some kids magazines for the educational value. I try to steer clear of the pink ones which just seem to focus on colouring-in dresses or reading about going shopping. The magazines that are not aimed at a specific gender such as the CBeebies magazines or Alphablocks are really good for having a range of different activities in that do not just focus on appearance or shopping.

Also, while we were on the train, W asked about the counties of the UK that we were travelling through and where they were in the country, so a bit of a geography lesson on the UK here.

While we were travelling through London, W asked how the Shard was built, how electricity is carried into underground trains, why the lights flicker, how a train becomes derailed and how they fix it. She also asked why the president of a country might say mean things about his own people (W had overheard adults talking) and so we talked about why it is wrong to discriminate. We covered quite a few subjects just in conversation alone. It’s definitely exhausting sometimes, but I do love following a child’s train of thought and getting to know how they think and helping them to understand the world. Being able to take the time to talk about these things and explore different concepts when they come up is a true benefit of home education. If we can discuss and learn things in an unhurried way, when they come up, W gets to explore a subject in depth at the time that she is interested in it, rather than when someone else says she should learn it, as she would if she were in school.

Later on, we had an appointment to go to. While we were there and talking about boring grown-up stuff, W decided to practise writing her name with a pen and piece of paper. Looking at it afterwards, I noticed that she had written her name in different sizes and slightly different styles.

I keep almost all of W’s written work as a record of what we are doing, just in case I have to show details of W’s learning to the Local Authority, who may want to come to visit us to see how W is being educated (more info on this here). Any colouring-in sheets, doodles, pictures or worksheets are counted as pen practise or artwork etc for the purposes of her education. I figure that if anyone wants to see evidence of W’s progress, we have a little record of how her writing, pen control or number work has changed over time.

Do any of my readers keep a record in this way? Do you keep records at all, or make notes of daily learning, or do you prefer to use a photo diary or secret Facebook group? I’m interested to know what others do in terms of evidence. Do let me know and we can update this with details….

We decided to go to a cafe after the meeting, for a treat and while we were there, W randomly asked to count my coins. This kept her occupied for a while.

The bedtime book that day was the same Science book that we have been reading over the last couple of weeks. This time, we learned about the elements. Over the next couple of nights, she learned about power and nuclear energy too (D, 7, read the book to her a couple of times). The General Knowledge book also included lots of science and history, which W found fascinating again. She later attempted to read some new signs that J had written for his bedroom door (‘keep out’ type stuff).

W bought a new toy this week which uses magnets to open and close items, so she learned more about how the magnets worked. This built on her learning with the fridge magnets last week.

Later in the week, we had a visit from the grandparents. All 3 children played board games with Grandma, which included counting and mental maths. Maths seems to be a theme with the board games at the moment because the pre-bedtime board games have all been number-related this week. The children also played lots of hide and seek and W is getting the hang of hiding so that people cannot see her now. It’s a shame really as it was very funny watching her hide behind her own hands when she was younger. I guess all these things change eventually, only to be replaced by new funny things….

Later that day, W wanted to help make dinner and then also learned how to make a fromage frais cake, so that would be her home economics lesson I suppose…

We did some work on the basics of telling the time – just through discussion and demonstrating on the kitchen clock, because W was waiting for something and was trying to work out how long an hour is. I gave her examples of things that take and hour, half an hour and a few minutes, so that she could get an idea of how long it is. She did well with her understanding, since it is a difficult thing to grasp when you are 4.

Later in the week, we also went to one of our favourite social / educational groups, where W played a lot with the other children. She made a couple of new friends and also played with children she knows from before. There was a lot of physical play such as jumping in and out of a ball pool and climbing on climbing frames etc. There were educational activities laid out for the children to do, but this time, W just wanted to play and socialise, which was fine by me.

In the evening at home, we had the house to ourselves – just me and W, so we spent some time playing silly games with her Lego and Playmobil minifigures, which wasn’t educational, but was good fun. And that is what life is all about, after all…