I brak the otion with a niphe.

I’ve documented our reading journey plenty over the years.  Two children who found reading became magically easy at 8ish and who are now, by and large avid readers. One who learned to read all on her own at 6 and yet has never, even at nearly 13, become someone who reads for pleasure. One who was phonetically aware incredibly early, the only one of them to be so, with significant skill at sounding out and was teetering on the brink of independent reading at 8.5 when she went into school. She could ‘read’, but becoming a reader wasn’t happening. It then continued not to happen, then crawled along and in the last 2 months, it has finally clicked properly – she’s stopped being a functional reader of words (which to me is not reading, just using words) and become a book reader.

They all, bar Josie, had much the same resources, care and time and input. And as a package – reading, writing, spelling – they came out like this:-

Fran: reading at 8, a reader at 10, writing at 8, a writer at 13, good speller at 10, grammar ninja at 15.

Maddy: reading at 8, a reader at 13, writing at 7, a writer at 13, decent speller at 15, grammar ninja tbc.

Amelie: reading at 6, a reader tbc, writing at 6, a writer at 8, good speller at 8, grammar ninja tbc.

Josie: reading at 8, a reader at 10, writing at 9, a writer tbc, good speller tbc, grammar ninja tbc.


Yes, Fran got the most input, over input really but Maddy got the same and a more experienced mum too. Both Fran and Maddy have pretty awful handwriting, despite my fairly heavy handed approach with workbooks and writing schemes. Fran has never really learned to structure writing, even after nearly 4 years in school. Her brain is not organised that way but her spelling is pretty much spot on. Maddy is the most phenomenal writer of Fan Fiction (she intimidates me) but struggles on paper. She can get an A on 3/4 of an exam paper but has to go slowly, so never gets to the last 3 questions. Her spelling is coming but for years she would ask repeatedly how to spell words it was easy for her to read.

Amelie had the least input of all of the first 3; her education was laid back and hands off. Her spelling is perfect, her essay structure mature, her handwriting neat and flowing and she walked into school just before SATS, having never done a paper, and breezed them. Amelie constantly tells me that certain fonts are easier or she is unfairly treated because she is a slow reader but it is hard to separate that from the girl with an insanely high IQ, for whom everything is easy – but too much bother.

And then there is Josie, my perfect sounder outer. Josie would had all the tools when she went to school but none of the spaces to fit them in. Josie who had had her process interrupted by terrible grief and trauma at a pivotal point which took my eye off the ball (perhaps) and certainly gave her a different pattern. Josie who I think of as always having been reserved and ‘odd’ but who, when I look back at photos, used to smile until that terrible 11 days. Josie who collapsed in on herself and retreated until after Bene came. Josie who was – always – a little Maddy-ish. But not quite.

good reader poor speller

Spelling hasn’t come together for Josie, though reading has, finally, become something she enjoys. She’s still slow and stilted but the discovery of Holy Webb and some gymnastics books has been the making of her (thank goodness it wasn’t Rainbow Fairies, anyway!)But her spelling? No. They’ve worked really hard on her and supported her lots and within the confines of a busy life with 16 hours of gymnastics a week, she works on spelling at home.

The picture above is Josie’s books at the end of year 4; half way through year 5, her spelling has not really improved, though her presentation certainly has. She’s creative with what she writes, sets out her work neatly, has nice enough, joined up, writing now (probably second nicest in the house) and clearly tries hard. But the logic isn’t there. She doesn’t understand the blends and she learns rules and misapplies them, the title being a case in point.

I know how to sound out ‘break’ so I’ll try ‘brak’ – buh, rr, aye, cuh.

I know the sound in ocean comes from a rule like spelled as ‘tion’ so o-tion.

I know some fff sounds are ph and I am clever enough to know they must be asking me to spell knife because it is a tricky word – so nuh, ei, ph for ff, e on the end because most words do.

If it weren’t for Maddy, I’d be fairly sure I broke her and that Josie is the product of my failed teaching, or that terrible 18 months. If it weren’t for her having just had 2 years in school, I’d feel worse. But a small, good school and a young and highly able and engaged teacher haven’t fixed it.

This week they tested her and the following results appeared.

She has the academic and non-verbal attainment of a 12+ child. She has a reading age of 10.5, so slightly above her actual age. She has the spelling ability of just about an 8 year old, meaning she varies between being on the 99th and 23rd centile.

It’s a pretty huge mismatch. And hard to know what to do. Intervene, hope it rights itself like Maddy did, watch and wait, keep her in school for extra testing, a possible dyslexia diagnosis and specialist help, or take her out on the basis that the others had less issues than this out of school? I have no idea.

Making a gym achievements poster #FridayHomeEd

Making a gym achievements poster #FridayHomeEd

Josie loves her Fridays; she does her maths, her Bonds books, writes stories, verbal and non verbal reasoning. She is relaxed and happy and crafts and plays and reads. She has been edging towards coming back to home ed at Easter but now it is coming up she is simultaneously excited and not sure. The rest results produced instant relief for her as she is aware enough to know she is finding spelling harder than others and was angry about it. The gymnast in her means she compares herself constantly to others. So they’ve helped her to feel less of a failure, which is good, though I suppose that might backfire. But her teacher says she is less engaged than she was and more frustrated and switched off than a term ago and socially school is clearly not the places for her. They’ve really tried and can’t make her feel comfortable or part of it. She hates free time and unstructured work, hates big group work, is rigid and closed up and a bit of (my words) an ‘odd fish’.

It’s not something I see at home or gym and all in all, it is becoming a package that worries me.

Do you have a good resder but poor speller, or an ‘odd’ dyslexic? I’m floundering and I’d like some input.

5 reasons The Works made Home Educating easier.

Back in the olden days when budget was less of a problem and my house hadn’t actually exploded with stuff, we would often occupy ourselves with a trip into town, which was within walking distance back then and peruse the lovely retail opportunities it offered. We normally had a reason to go to town in the first place (often SHOES!) but the way home tended to be sweetened with a little bit of retail therapy and there were few better places to end up than The Works, which was conveniently positioned on the way home.

This had a number of benefits:-

  • Nothing about my coercion in the behaviour stakes looked like I was going to renege on it, so whinging and pleading was reduced during the trip with the promised land still on the horizon.
  • Sometimes they fell asleep in the pushchair on the way home and then I had a bona fide excuse for not being separated from my cash.
  • If I accidentally indulged in heavy things, the amount of time spent lugging them was much reduced.
  • There was ALWAYS something inexpensive to bribe them with that could be bought, enjoyed and then got rid of quite quickly afterwards.

When we started home educating though, The Works took on a whole new meaning.

  1. Stationery. It’s the perfect place to buy cheap and cheerful pads, pens and colouring pencils in the quantities that young children who have a wild need to ‘mark make’ require. I would stock up and then leave them to wolf their way through paper in their own time and without constraint. Drawings, scribbles, games of hangman, join the dots… holidays with a crate packed full of value paper pads and pencils that would only last the holiday. Perfect.
  2. Books. Books for all sorts of reasons. Books to read fiction, often in handy boxed sets or so cheap we tried something new, books about random topics we didn’t know were interesting. Books were full of fabulous pictures to inspire us or intrigue us or flick through for a few weeks until it got too dog-eared to keep. Baby books to pop in a bag for a long car trip, knowing they’d possibly be lost, trampled or chewed by the baby before we got home again but at £1 a time, not too disastrous to lose. If you can buy at half price, it feels a risk worth taking and the range was always different and changing.
  3. Posters. We had a lot of time in rented houses where walls had to be kept pristine (ha!) and tastes changed frequently. Home ed is always better with a poster or something about the current information obsession up on the wall so their laminated posters would often be on the backs of door or hung on sliders from hooks.
  4. Arts & Crafts. Back in the days before I had a business selling this sort of stuff, we’d often stock up on ‘bits and bobs’ to stick and glue and collage with. With a well stocked art department, I could buy a bundle of brushes, paint and canvases, books with ideas in, paint by numbers kits, playdough without spending anything like a fortune and grab and afternoon of peace while they ‘did art’. Christmas was often well served by the ‘upstairs’ of our store too – while Max thanked the stars I couldn’t go up there with a pushchair ;)
  5. Books again – art books. When I was going through my most Montessori/Charlotte Mason phase I tried very hard to expose the girls to lots of art. I had loved books of postcards of famous art as a teen but they seemed to have fallen out of production. We made a few sets of famous painting cards by buying cheap art history books and cutting them up to have a pack of easy to view paintings. Both those educational methods advocate having the full information, so we stuck the pictures on to plain card and wrote date, artist name, painting name and style on the back.

works art

This post is in association with The Works.

Educating Josie.

“How many people are there in the world?”

It’s a pretty typical question for the 10 year old, an age where scale and numbers are beginning to make sense and an understanding of the wider world is something that can be grasped and considered.

We talked about there being 7 billion people and about how many there were when I was her age. She guessed that there would be 9 billion people by the time she was my age.

I said I wasn’t sure.

We talked about how many people there were in the UK and how much that has changed in the relatively short period of time (in terms of the human race) since the middle ages. We talked about the plague that swept England at that time and the decimation of the population (over 1/3 of the people of England died in 2 waves of plague in the 12-1300’s). I didn’t mention that there are some suggestions it might have been an ebola type sickness… there are limits to educating children after all. I like to get some sleep at night.

We talked about the 7 billionth baby and how that happened round about when Bene was born.

So we looked up some stuff and her prediction was quite right. We talked about how growth might happen faster because more people produce more people. We could have talked about what might stop that – but we can another day.

Home tutoring Friday. Josie is settling in to a chill out Friday that gets homework done and leaves time for following interests too.

Home tutoring Friday. Josie is settling in to a chill out Friday that gets homework done and leaves time for following interests too.

Regular readers will know that Josie very much wants to be home educated again but that for various reasons, we can’t really manage that right now. She has been given one day off school a week to regroup and recover from the life of an elite gymnast plus school child. She’s marked as home tutored on those days; sometimes her teacher sets her some work to finish off but mostly she does her homework early on while I get on with work of my own.

This week she read to me while I sewed up her cushion; reading has really not come easily to Josie and spelling even less so. School seemed to stutter the process that had only really just begun at home for her at 8 – its not their fault and they’ve been very supportive – but I think home ed into school doesn’t work well. Her flow of understanding and immersion got interrupted and she had to change track and something didn’t fit together. She’s more like Maddy with her word skill anyway and it doesn’t come easily. She’s just discovered Holly Webb books though and finally something is catching her interest.

Friday’s have to be about fitting in with me; she knew this when she took the offer of it and has been very good. Bene is at nursery so the house is quiet and she sits with me and works. Right now she is enjoying Bond 11+ books, spelling and doing mini projects of her own. She does a couple of hours in the morning and then crafts, reads or plays beside me. These days were all about her mental health and heading off the onset of school refusal and I think they’ve worked well for that. She relaxes on a Friday and winds down and by Saturday she is ready to play and have fun.

If she had been in a less supportive school, I’m not sure what would have happened. She’s had one class teacher throughout all her time there so far and a huge commitment from them to help her feel happy there. They manage her lunchtimes where she struggles to just let go and join in and give her jobs to do that fill her time and give her a role. I don’t know what we will do next year without Miss B, because I think only the ongoing connection and understanding from her really makes it manageable for Josie but for now, home ed Friday is an okay balance.

I’m struggling with enormous guilt that I can’t give Josie what she wants just now. I want to home educate her again, I’d love to. She would be a dream to have at home and it may well have to happen next year or the year after. I think this Friday arrangement has helped us both; it doesn’t take very much time to tip the balance back in the right direction. She knows all the adults listened and she is getting some time to be with a parent and be heard and given attention as well as down time.

It’s not perfect but it’s not a bad arrangement. If it has to change, I guess we know now that she will just have to leave school.


You might not yet know that we are gearing up for another hideous round of intervention in home educator rights. You might have thought last time that we were a bunch of ranty loons. Well now, perhaps, you know better about government and our right to a private family life. Please listen. Please support. You never know when you might need to home educate.


Another little evacuee.

A couple of years ago Amelie managed to sneak in on an evacuee day only a couple of weeks after joining school. Today Josie, otherwise known as Ivy Wilson, visited Stibbington to do the same day. From spam sandwiches (she woosed out and went for jam) to an air raid and having to write with an ink pen to see whether she could win her spot in the big kids class, she had a day filled with 940’s drama and intrigue.

I love these types of learning. It is how it should be all through school. Josie’s school do “wow” days which immerse the kids in the new topic and let them really absorb it. All education should be that way.

And doesn’t my little evacuee look adorable?



Sponsored Video: Choosing wisely for a bright future.

We flowed from the high of GCSE results day to the final decision on what Sixth Form Fran would attend, to last minute tweaks and changes to A Level choices and the scheduling in of enrichment activities around personal commitments. And all of it, for the first time, was judged up against the future. Lists were consulted, pathways considered and options – in the sense of the word far bigger than choosing school subjects – looked at and assessed.

I’m an enormous believer in it being possible to change your stars at any time. I’m not one for panicking about making the perfect choice at one moment and never wavering, as I wrote about here. I played safe and took no risks for fear of failing when I was at school and not following my heart meant nothing more than I look back not knowing if I would have been good enough but knowing for certain that I never really tried. And our home ed life certainly taught us to think differently about the paths our children might take – to try the unconventional, to follow your (and their) instincts and be prepared to carve out a way personal to the child, not carve the child to the accepted norm.

Fran has plenty of aspirations; like me, she has a tendency to think whatever is laid at her door is a great idea. having passed her Level 1 British Gymnastics coaching last week she already knows she can work as a gym coach. She;s likely to be a decently qualified coach well before she leaves school. And she is aspirational about her academic future and her career too, with physiotherapy and sport science at a good uni both high on her list of hopes. That means she has had to consider her A Level choices far more carefully than I did because some careers do become closed off once you turn your back on science subjects. She’s settled on Sport, Biology and Psychology for her AS Levels, knowing that they not only excite her but also support those careers that call to her. Carrying on working and training as a gym coach give her the tantalising possibility of having back up, skilled earning power through uni and gap years or even while she hunts for the perfect job afterwards. And if things don’t go to plan, if the high A level grades she needs don’t happen, she has a cast iron fall back plan.

It’s a set of subjects I find myself surprised by, my bookish, humanity subject loving, history conscious daughter choosing so far away from anything I would have imagined. I catch myself wondering what she would have done if she had continued with home education.

But in all that, there is another thread.

The stage calls her. Alongside those subjects is a BTEC in Performing Arts which, judging by her all round good parents evening last night, filled with all the normal praise, is where she excels. And sitting next to her in her exam success West End show treat a few weeks ago, it is  clear that the desire to perform at a high level tugs her bones even harder than it did mine.

When I was at school, the message was clear; get your education first, no matter what and then, if there is room left, follow your dream along the side.

I’m not sure if I agree with that. There are some things – gym and dance to name but two – which have a shelf life. It’s not only gathering qualifications that matters, though once you are in the system, doing well is clearly a good way forward. But passion and desire and total commitment will get you a very long way. There is little worse than regretful wishing – whether it is wishing you worked harder back then or wishing you had tested the footing on a different path..

For Fran, this looks like taking a few different forms. She’ll gather these A levels at school and give it her all but she plans a gap year before uni, if one of the courses she wants will take her. And in that gap year she plans to finish her basic gym qualifications and do a course that will give her some skills that link dance and performance and gym all together. And alongside that she plans to do some West End auditions (because why the hell not? The worst that can happen is a no) and apply to some performance colleges too.

And that’s as many doors to universes kept open as possible. Which is the subject of this rather lovely video, all about helping teenagers see the possibilities that science can bring them and all the ways their lives can pan out depending on whether they make one choice or another. Your Life is about the benefits of studying maths and physics at A level. It’s a 3 year project aimed at inspiring young people to see the career pathways they open up, the employers who value them as subjects and how being informed at up to date about technology and the sciences at drive them leave you able to step into any ‘universe’ you want to.