Home Education

Another crochet hat with a Hungry Caterpillar theme.

This book has been Bene’s favourite since the earliest of times. In fact, it has probably been all their favourite book at some point; I imagine that is why after 45 years, The Very Hungry Caterpillar is still going strong. I imagine that is why “pop!” and “caterpillar” and “sun” and “be-uuuutiful butterfly!” have been among his first words.

I imagine we will be doing lots of hungry caterpillar crafting over the coming months, if not years, and it is not hard to grasp, from that link, that it is a subject that captures an awful lot of little hearts.

“In the light of the moon, a little egg lay on a leaf.”

I think you could all do a line each in the comments box and we could get to the end, word perfect, without looking at a book at all.

(Top marks to the person who can do the junk food line perfectly without help.)

He loves it. They’ve all loved it. We read it to Fran in hospital, to all the others in their early days. Even to Freddie.

It’s the perfect book, written before literacy goals and learning objectives and worrying about developmental stages. A little story that sums it all up and ends so perfectly that I bet we all raise the book, flap the pages and help the butterfly fly away.

I made Bene a hat, one night when I was feeling kind. It’s all red, in MyBoshi yarn and a 6mm hook, following a basic beanie pattern and then I winged the face with circles I sewed on, a green rim and silly purple antennae made of a tight circle of 6 stitches. Maddy has pointed out I need to correct his eyes to be the perfect shape. I’ll probably never get round to it but even if this version does end up looking a bit like a gas mask, he will grow up knowing I took the time to indulge him.

The #hungrycaterpillar #myboshi #crochet hat

He wears it everywhere. I’m so glad he gets to do that.

“…and he wasn’t a little caterpillar any more…”

School woes

I have come to the sorry conclusion that the state school system suffers from a fundamental flaw; those are clever enough or well enough supported at home to thrive at school could have managed very well without it and those who struggle with support, learning or the acquisition of skills run a huge – if not entirely inevitable – risk of being utterly failed by it.

I got as far as writing this a week or so ago, as we wrestled with the knotty problem of school not working out for one, perhaps two, of the girls.

I’m at my wits end with the school system, the hold it has on our life, the problem of being firmly in it now and a host of other issues that make our next set of decisions far from straight forward.

Fundamentally though, I am so wearied by how inadequate a system of education it is. There are two things to say about our experiences of it, both to home educators and schoolers. The first is, if you home educate or are considering it, I promise you, you can hardly do worse than an ‘adequate’ school does (and by adequate I mean a school judged by it’s own standards to be satisfactory or good). And the second is, if you are sending your children to school, don’t fall in to the trap of thinking that good means really, amazingly, awe-inspiringly, cannot be beaten, good. Because really, I think it means “not actually harmful”.

I’ve wrestled with this for such a long time; I’ve failed to understand since I was a child how you could do a degree with teaching if you weren’t academically strong enough to do the subject without teaching. I’ve struggled to understand how schools fail to achieve reading and writing and basic maths with children when mine (and so many other home ed kids) learned it at home, without a ‘teacher’, perfectly well.

Our big girls are happy enough; their school has dropped in Ofsted’s estimation and frankly I do not believe that Fran will do as well in her GCSEs as she could have at a different (for which I mean ‘like mine’) school. The standards set are not high enough, the teaching not rigorous enough, the work ethic not strong enough. She is slogging her guts out and I’m going to be really sad for her if school ends up being the weak link. She got an igcse B in History on her own, in a year of work, with just my help; if school cannot better that significantly, questions need asking. But she DOES work, has a busy life and all in all, the school has been a good fit. For Maddy, friends is key and she loves her friends there, muddles through lessons, but gets too little support for issues with written word which are holding her back. I’m going to have to go back to that again and it annoys me to have to. She’s clever and the school will have to do well this summer for me to leave her there but in general it is a good enough fit too.

There is just something wrong when your best option ends up being “adequate”.

Amelie will be leaving at the end of the week. She’s given it two terms but she hasn’t settled in, is lonely, has dealt with low level bullying and unpleasantness that has rocked her confidence. She’s used to being liked and loved, she was fully at home in her junior school, despite joining in yr6 and she is bewildered to be lonely and ostracised for liking to work hard in this school. They’ve tried really hard to help her but she was too far gone before we addressed it fully and she is fed up of noisy, disrupted classrooms, work that is too easy (way, way too easy, paltry, pointless, time filling pap) and sneers for being a good girl. It’s not nice for her and she’s not robust enough to shrug it off. Never has been.

We came tantalisingly close to a different opportunity for her; she was awarded a significant scholarship at the local private school, but we couldn’t make up the shortfall. So now we are removing her from the system and debating the next step. She has 3 choices; one of two local schools if we can get her in (where annoyingly the bonuses of close friends she knows, near enough to walk, excellent academic record and Fran possibly moving to one of them are equally divided between the two) or home.

Part of me wants to keep her home; she is clever, motivated, enjoyable company on her own and needs recovery time. Part of me thinking I can’t provide the social life she would like now, neither logistics nor personal motivation would be on my side. Part of me likes not home educating any more. I like my space, the lack of responsibility for it, having to think of things. Part of me knows school and home ed don’t partner well for us, plus we have Bene to consider, plus selfishly I like time with just Max and going to work, job sharing with Max. Max doesn’t really like ‘educating’ and Amelie plays up for him a bit, so it would fall back to me being home.

Josie is happy enough in school. It’s a nice school, I love her class, the environment, her teacher and the head. It feels like the nicest local primary I’ve been in. She has friends and her reading and writing jumped the last hurdle once she got there; she likes the topics well enough and enjoys her day. The maths provision is far lower than her ability though (she can do most of a yr 6 maths paper but her class maths seems to be at roughly the 4×3 level) and she finds that boring and quite a lot of the other segments of the day don’t go into the depth she is used to.

It just disappoints me to find that overall what we think children should be engaging in through their day as a country is so uninspiring. I expected to find that I’d failed them through home ed, but I utterly did not. Too much time is wasted in crowd control and disciplining and getting time wasters to play ball. Too much of it is filler homeworks and lowest common denominator rehashing. If I see another ‘poster’ homework I may revolt.

Even though circumstance meant it was the right choice, I sincerely regret sending them now. There have been ‘some’ positives, enough that removing everyone is not an option, which is frustrating because I’d quite like to just get back to full home ed. Half in and half out did not work for me. Amelie is leaving because she is unhappy and not well enough served educationally to make that unhappiness something worth fighting through but the others do get things from school. It’s just that it should be a fabulous and inspirational and fit for the future education and I utterly lack confidence that it is.

How depressing to find that I was right enough all along.

Although his sister has already commandeered it. @bigjigstoys  It's very sturdy!

Review: 3m Post-it Full Adhesive Super Sticky Notes #FullofLife

A while back 3m Post-it Notes challenged us to get crafty, which we did with alacrity; this time they wanted us to come up with some uses for their new Full Adhesive Notes (known as the FAN version, with super sticky backs), a product which sounded great as I love the ordinary type but often get annoyed by them flapping if I want to use them for planning. The new ones have just a small edge for pulling them away easily and lots of stick so they can be moved and replaced lots.

With a Year 11 teen in the house, the small ones got grabbed instantly and taken off to be used in the never ending revision onslaught.

20140318-093752.jpg
She made herself a series of question tests on different subjects with answers underneath so she can test herself as the big day gets closer. Using different colours and a variety of ways to revise is ideal as it helps different fact groups and topics stand out in your head. Fran is a very visual learner and all her revision is colour coded, with shapes on posters and test sheets to help her recall what she needs. This is fun and may even encourage sisters to test her and the full stick backs means they can be reused lots and no cheating ;) (I love these mini sized ones, perfect for snippets of information).

On a similar vein, I made Josie a test sheet for times table practise as she isn’t getting as much maths time now she’s at school and some of her speed recall of times tables is falling away (sigh; it shouldn’t be that way round, should it?)

20140318-094610.jpg
I think she will probably quite enjoy this as there are some wrong answers to avoid and explain why they aren’t in the 6x table. It’s self checking in as much as the full table is written on the back but a younger child could have a similar chart written out in order with answers and questions to one side until they gain confidence. Again, a full back appeals because my little treasures are a bit anal about things and like it all to be straight and tidy and not flapping about. It also means putting them on the side is easier and less fiddly in between goes.

We use 3m Post-it Notes at work quite a lot to plan out the layout of new websites or lay out a series of problems or goals and move them into ‘to do list’ groups, ‘similar issues’ or problems that have to be fine in order to be solved. Sometimes they are just nice to plan out a colourful action plan and tick it or remove things when they are done. The link in bold is their Facebook page; do go and join as they are giving away freebies!

20140318-095157.jpg
This is an example of how I might work on a new section of a website using top level groups and then spreading my brands across it. Adding detail like numbers of products to each brand square would help me check the brands are balanced and each area well filled and will also allow me to see if something obvious is missing. There tends to be a lot of moving stuff about during the planning stage so these ones will be able to last the distance and I imagine will end up covered in notes and arrows leading to other squares.

The last one is a visual representation of something that already happens in the house, tweaked to encourage certain slackers in the establishment to partake more fully ;) Our ‘Friday Tidy’ is a regular occurrence where all the girls help to get the house straight for another week. This is not ‘rewarded’ as such because as members of our mini community (and chief makers of mess!) they are expected to do it. Nor is pocket money dependent on it, although being truly unhelpful might get you a penalty. Anyway, this chart involves some if the jobs that often don’t get done every week or need doing additionally through the week. It serves as a little reminder that if everyone did 5 jobs through the week, the house would stay clean and tidy and that anyone who uncomplainingly gets in with 10, might earn themselves a little treat :)

20140318-100207.jpg

We shall see what happens! I’m hopeful it looks appealing enough to last quite a while and get use over many weeks as I hate waste – let’s see if they stay sticky enough!

20140318-100241.jpg

For more information, see the infographic below.

FAN

 

Disclosure: this is a sponsored post.

Oh, Gove Away! Frustrations with School

I’ve had this post in draft for a while, trying to find a time to write up some of the nagging doubts that are resurfacing about having our children in school. Debating the Paul Kirby blog post (a former advisor to the government) yesterday caused me to say, among other things, this:-

This man may have left his secondment but you can bet your bottom dollar it is discussed elsewhere too. And Gove just can’t be trusted not to say ‘I like this, make it so!’

And look, less than 24 hours later, Gove has the same miracle idea – keep all kids in school for 10 hours a day. I’ve linked to Sky as it has some of a video of him speaking, but the press of all shapes and sizes is erupting in discussion about his radical ideas. Twitter is alight; it comes to a pretty pass when I retweet  Alastair Campbell.

It’s almost like he listened to that man who wrote a blog post. Or maybe, I guess, they’ve long been discussing these ideas in Whitehall.

I’m not sure what bothers me most about this; my kids arrive in school at 8.30 and rarely leave before 4.30pm. They do their lessons and they go to a school that doesn’t have a lunch break and they fill their after school with homework, netball, singing and dancing, CCF, music, trampoline and more. Fran spends a further 3 nights a week and a Saturday morning doing 16 hours of gymnastics at a club, Josie does 8 hours, Fran does 5 hours of dancing and she and Maddy play rugby on Sunday, Amelie does 5 hours of dancing too, they all play instruments, they all help out at home too. They are busy kids, learning to be meaningful humans but it is their choice to be at those places. And part of what makes them who they are is the choosing to do it.

I’m not clear (is he clear?) whether he means these ten hour days should be compulsory. Should it be for reception too? All the way through or just for some kids? Will ones with lives classed as fulfilling outside school be let off or will they have to give up gymnastics to attend a compulsory school club? Will they come home with more homework to do, all that meaningful poster making they do at the moment… Sigh.

And when am I supposed to see them? When will they play? Chill out? Eat meals with us? Read a book? Get to know each other? And should I be worried? After all, this is no longer just a former advisor writing a blog post, it’s the Education Secretary! Or shall I just hope that like Badman, Balls and Brown, he’ll be out of office before the hammer drops on our family life?

At least Kirby seemed to just be being a cold heartened economist about it – let’s get those annoying kids people insist on birthing and then don’t know what to do with out of their hair so they can work – but as an experienced teacher on my Facebook thread pointed out, this is not about parents flexible working hours, the key point here is the welfare of children. Gove seems to actually think he’ll be doing the kids a favour too. And he’s going to do that, apparently, by making all schools as good as those (£30K a year) private schools.

Okaaaaay.

I looked round a private school last week. I went to private school. Gove is NEVER going to make our state schools like our private schools. There is more to them (and they are not perfect themselves) than length of hours, facilities and attitude. They are infused with something you can’t easily inject into a state school for reasons far to complex to bother listing. And apart from anything else, they get very long holidays compared to our state schools. I just can’t see the likes of Kirby and Gove liking that idea.

I’ve had a passionate, hands on role in my kids’ education for their whole life. Sending them to school was a wrench and recently we’ve begun to re-evaluate that. Fran is fine, but in some subjects we now have to help her as she has fallen behind after being ahead when she started. She won’t do as well in her GCSE’s as she would in a different school, or maybe even at home. It makes me sad when I go to parent’s evening and hear her teachers aspiring to mediocrity for her. Maddy gains in social joy what she loses in brilliant teaching but Amelie is sinking fast. I’ve kidded myself for a while that at least they are in the hands of people who know what they are doing and then…

And then…

Fran is predicted an A* in Maths and that prediction was holding over lots of reports. In half term I asked her to do a practice paper to reassure me all was well. She could barely do 25% of it. I started to investigate and discovered the following.

Her prediction is based on her SAT score (at age 11) and her SAT score is on her record as 5A, so she gets predicted a GCSE (5 years later) of an A*. Only she never did SATS, so they took her very good CAT score when she joined them in Yr 9 and extrapolated backwards to guess what she might have got at SATs and then used that imaginary data to guess her GCSE prediction.

That’s pretty bad use of statistics I would say, but wait for this.

They don’t use current data (ie the marks she is currently getting in class, homework or tests) to make assumptions on her GCSE grade. So had I not made her sit that test, no one would have flagged up that she was not even going to get a D in an exam 5 months away. It’s lucky I did – and that she has able and interested parents who coached her in the 3 weeks before her mocks to try and remedy the situation. She missed a B by 3 marks.

And so it is because there are people making decisions like that in charge of our education system, that I think it is a good idea to be alert and questioning the words of anyone who has recently walked the halls of Whitehall. And because 24 hours ago I said that in a list of reasons to be wary, Gove should be on it twice just for the sake of safety. I’ll end with the statement I started with. I think it turned out to be justified.

I shall say this politely and only once, but any government that brings in 45 hour school weeks and 7 school holiday weeks a year will lose the pleasure of all my children’s company in the school system. And they are uppers of averages, so think on Policy makers.

PS Mr Gove, I think the tax contribution to a child in the state system is something like £1600 a year compared to even a cheapish private school being roughly £13000 a year. So, you know, good luck and all that.

Older Teen Novels – Recommendations from Fran.

A while ago I asked some friends who have girls of similar ages to Fran and Maddy for some book recommendations. They all make reasonable use of the school library but I was pretty depressed a while ago at sight of another school library where the teen section was mostly stuff with books like “A Boy Called It”. There has to be more to life than that. The friends in question came up with some excellent suggestions and Fran and Maddy got a pile of books (real, paper ones) at Christmas. Here are some of the ones Fran has read since Xmas (and one from further back since I met the author the other week). She’s dictated quick, not very spoiler-ish remarks on them for me, just as a record of what she thought. I’m going to try and encourage her to keep me up to date this year. I do find that I’m very out of the loop these days; I don’t get time to read everything and books for teens are NOT like they were when I was 16.

5 Books read between the ages of 13 and 15.

The Book Thief -  It’s about a girl who has to stay with foster parents in Nazi Germany; it’s the story of how she learns to read, stealing books to satisfy an obsession she develops after a tragedy. The story is told by an unexpected narrator and it made me cry! Just really well written and interesting.

Linked – Story of a girl who gets weird hallucinations for a reason she doesn’t understand. She meets a twin sister and the story follows them through a alternative reality where twins are in great danger.

Ways to Live Forever – is about a boy with leukemia and a diary he keeps about things he wants to do before he dies. It’s a bittersweet look at fatal illness for children and ways of coping.

The Fault in Our Stars – about a girl who has cancer and gets really depressed. She meets a boy at a support group and their love story. Despite the storyline it’s a really funny book!

I’d Tell You I love You But Then I’d Have to Kill You – about a girl in a private school which is actually a spy school and the web she has to spin to keep her real school life a secret.

Teen reading.

Other suggestions from my friends included:

Gone. (quite Horror-ish apparently).

The Mortal Instruments.

Divergent.

Chaos Walking.

Long Earth.

I’m also taking inspiration from Jax at LiveOtherwise who does lots of book blogging. I happen to have one of her recents on my Kindle for next The Midnight Rose and I also have my eye on the Flaxfield series.

Last year I had a year totally off’ actual reading’ (though I listened to masses of books; more on that soon) and this year Max and I have pledged not to watch mindless TV and read or ‘do’ in the evenings. I’ve set myself a 50 book challenge for the year (6 achieved so far) and decided not to be too high brow or prescriptive. I’m happy to read, listen, reread, wallow in chick lit and enjoy old favourites. It’s preparation for doing some writing soon, I hope. I just want to get back to modelling sitting down with a good book and I’m hoping to encourage all the kids to do more of the same. Maddy’s recent read list to follow shortly.

Any suggestions of things a mid-teen should add to her reading list?

 

 

 

 

 

Watching the Time.

I remember getting my first ever watch; I was five and I woke up really early and there was a box waiting for me. It was small, important looking, hard for little fingers to open but inside, a delicate Timex watch on a bright blue strap, just the colour of my terribly smart school pinafore, moulded with circles through the strap. I was extremely proud of how grown up it looked, prouder still that I could tell the time and that the infinite pain of clock lessons with Mrs Kenworthy had paid off. I was free to be my own master, know the time, come and go at my own pace and speed.

Or, as it turned out, be constantly dashing to keep up with the demands of time and always, ALWAYS late. The late Miss Taylor, I was known as by one teacher. Ha, ha. Very funny.

Time marked a defining moment in our home educating journey too, the moment where Max and I realised our skill sets when it came to teaching the girls the things they needed to know. As with most maths, I worked on the principle that anything causing grief or stress would cause much less grief and stress in six months time. And one thing I did understand was that a heap of skills were required to tell the time. Max, a man who sees pictures in equations and rhythms in statistics that beat like a musical drum, was baffled and frustrated beyond measure that they couldn’t ‘just do it’.

Learning to tell the time needs a heap of skills; counting, counting in 5′s, 10′s 15′s as well as by the minute. Understanding that our decimal rules are broken by time and it does not beat to the drum of our ordered life of 100′s. Learning to speak in fractions too; half, quarter, three quarters and equating numbers and groups of numbers to each of those. Then there is the ever complicated past and to conundrum and to make things worse, numbers start counting backwards after half past, which is also 30 and also 6. We won’t even mention that the little hand counts big things and the big hand counts little things and sometimes there is a second hand and sometimes there isn’t. Breaking it down into parts, learning time in your own time, when all those skills assemble, is far less painful than marching through a set of rules to learn to tell the time before time needs to be telling you anything at all.

By the time (ha!) a child assimilates all that they need a breather before setting about digital clocks and 24 hour time. I still have moments where I have to think carefully about 17:00 and 19:00.

Image Credit: The Watch Hut.

Image Credit: The Watch Hut.

Despite the world jumping up and down over mobile phones and snazzy gadgets, all of my children have asked for a watch during their early years, perhaps to enjoy the power that time telling gives them and the badge of honour a watch is. I don’t suppose it will be all that long before Bene is choosing his. When he is ready, perhaps we will chose at The Watch Hut. I wonder which one would catch his fancy? Which one do you like?

Disclosure: this is a sponsored post and we have received compensation for writing it.

Let Down.

When there are a lot of the children in the house, a lot of needs to be met, meals to cook, places to be, abilities to nurture and worries to ease, there is normally something that gives at each stage. Sometimes a hobby goes, or a chink of time together, or a relationship falters a little. Sometimes we get crabby. Sometimes one child gets the upper brain space portion, or more resources, or more outward affection or more worrying.

This house exists with a lot of balls in the air. I guess we all do. It’s only when we stop for a bit, or a few kids are away (or back) or a need changes, that I really notice the pace we live at. Out most nights, juggling work and job shares, school runs, weekend activities, shopping – just all that shit. It relies on being a well oiled machine. There are no relatives who we can easily rope in as backup, we spend a lot of time in hospitals, or juggling a change. Every week involves minor adjustments. Whose doesn’t? How I crave an ordinary week.

And then the wheels come off. In the space of the last two weeks the girls have lost their gym again in circumstances that I’m still trying to decipher, sift, understand and weigh up. They’ve had to make choices, guided by me, and I don’t have all the answers. I’m without a roadmap or understanding and I’ve been caught between loyalty, fear and frustration – with a massive dollop of not wanting to cause pain or hurt and knowing I can’t actually avoid doing that with my choices.

It’s been shit.

Fran has lost trust in somewhere she loves – and needs too, her future is pinned on it – and I don’t know how to help her. Lost her sport, her peers, probably her job. And worry, sifting, searching, waiting it out, takes energy and time I barely have.

I feel up to my neck in things. Again.

And then there is school. My hobson’s choice, my compromise. It’s limping by, better for them in lots of ways but not meeting every need. We are virtually still home educating alongside it – with no perks to the job – and it is wearying. (That’s another blog post). At least one child is not thriving and home ed right now would throw spanners in the works. And I don’t have the money or the resources or even the choices available to make it easy for any of us.

I juggle too many needs every day, too many balls up in the air; kids, work, futures, money worries, little one needs, big kids needs, recovery, joy. Well, who doesn’t? And I’m frightened, all the time of making the wrong choices. I worry my brain, my thinking power, my ability to creatively work the problem, is diminishing daily and that mainstream equals humdrum and busy equals failure to find solutions.

I’m up to my neck in motherhood today and the current feels too fast, is dragging my clothes too hard and the branch I’m clinging to is far from sturdy. All the problems of parenthood have flooded the pitch, again; it’s not leaving enough time to enjoy it. I’m certainly not shooting the rapids and feeling the buzz.

20140108-232901.jpg

Questions about home educating with Quib.ly

The good people of Quib.ly invited me to get involved in a conversation about home educating and why/how people decide to do such a thing. Quib.ly is a parenting and technology site which aims to link parents up with answers to their questions by accessing knowledge from other parents. It’s a really interesting, innovative site which, I have to admit, I was unaware of till last week. Now I am, I think I may well be coming back to it. I’ve still got lots of questions that need answering, especially now I’m back to parenting a toddler again! Quib.ly has an education questions section which covers everything from mainstream to unconventional educational topics.

I may have just ended my home education journey (for now, who knows?) but after 10+ years, I think it’s a great time to look back and reflect. Over the years, home educating has shaped so much about us as a family – we are incredibly different people to the parents who decided not to send their first child into school at 4 years old. Over those years we’ve been asked so many questions from curious people; in the olden days they were horrified and querulous but these days more people know home educators and we are not quite the curiosity we once were! I thought a good way to write this post, since it is all about starting conversations, is to answer some of those questions for the very last time!

IMG00324.jpg

What is home schooling?

BIG KLAXON!!!!! In the UK we home educate as the default, we do not home school!!!! Home schooling suggests sitting at a desk and doing lessons while at home while home educating is a broader term which covers all sorts of ways of having an education, just outside of the school system. In the UK, our laws state that a parent must provide an education, “in school or otherwise” and that is what we do. We provide an education in a way that suits the “age, ability and aptitude” of each individual child; it might be workbooks at a desk, but it might equally be a lot of Lego, much reading, many documentaries and a obsession with Minecraft. It’s amazing how much a child will learn in seemingly unlikely places.

 

Who home educates?

You’d be surprised; rich, poor, clever, average, single, couples, famous, everyday. It’s far from narrow; there are celebrities and ordinary mums and dads, people from every walk of life and so many different reasons. Life choice, reaction to a problem, helping a child past mental or physical illness, to accommodate a gift or a need – people have so many reasons. We are far from the narrow field of crunchy, religious, academics that people imagined when I first started. Hardly any of us even make our own yoghurt ;) Why home educate when school is there for the taking? That’s the next question.

Why did you home educate? What’s wrong with school?

For us it was very simply that Fran (and then Maddy) did not feel ready for the school system. Fran was very young and non-verbal due to her cleft palate and Maddy was still struggling with issues related to her Aspergers at 4 years old. They needed a slower start than school was going to offer, particularly school that was rigidly entrenched in the National Curriculum and testing at the time. We started with their needs, extrapolated that the system did not seem to fit their needs and decided that if they were almost certainly going to fail in school, the very worst that could happen was they might fail at home. The fact was, school would be there to pick up the pieces if we failed. It didn’t feel much more of a social experiment than sending them into a busy inner city school would be and both of us had had unconventional junior educations, so home ed seemed a smaller step for us than it might for some.

One tiny piece of home educating.

How did you home educate?

The fact is, most parents home educate for 4 years, even if their children attend nursery or playgroup or a child minder too. Most parents teach walking, eating, speaking, socialising, dressing and often even reading and writing. We educate from birth but for some reason we stop believing in ourselves when they hit 4. If you think about it, aside from reading, writing, basic maths and talking to people, we use very little of what we learn at 5, 6 or 7 in the rest of our lives. The most important skill we can develop is loving learning and knowing how to learn. And we can certainly do that from home with a caring, interested parent, some books, an internet connection and time to enjoy those things.

In the early years we did projects, following what they were interested in (which was often well resourced because it often matched the NC, that having been built around topics that typically interest children) and went on visits, watched programmes, read books and tried to access lots of skills through one topic. These days they call that the Edison Curriculum in schools – funny really that schools seem to be moving closer to home education than home ed is moving closer to schooling :) Later on, particularly as life got busier, we used some text books and workbooks and lots of online learning. I’ve a home education resource page with lots of ideas on it on the blog.

The things that were always vital were books, talking, visits out, an internet connection and time. Time. Really. Nothing is so important as time to think and evaluate and be bored enough to decide to find out what you need. A project doesn’t have to be written up to be finished, sometimes it just needs to be really thought about, while making something quite unrelated with Lego, Geomags or Fimo.

How do you know what to teach? I’m not clever enough!

My eventual conclusion (and I say this with some trepidation because I’ve just sent my 8 year old to school) is that school gets in the way of learning on a regular basis. I don’t know any illiterate home educated 10 year olds but I know schooled ones who can’t read. I don’t know any home educated kids who can’t work out change or do the maths the world requires, but I know of schooled kids who can’t. School is great for some and terrible for plenty. Home educating rarely seems to fail in all honesty. Left to themselves, all home educated child seem to learn to tell the time, add up, read and write; 3 of my girls couldn’t read at 8 but 2 of those 3 have achieve reading and writing at 10 (one is still only 8). Both the first two have started school as high achievers with excellent academic abilities. I basically left them to themselves aside from making sure they ‘tried’ to do things regularly and encouraged them to add to skills they had. When a maths problem was difficult (often something that in school they’d be expected to do by that moment) we would leave it and come back 6 months later – it would always be magically easy to understand. Kids learn at their own pace and my considered opinion at this point is that artificial time tables of learning are a hindrance. It doesn’t really matter if you know your 7 times table at 6, so long as you can use it by the time you are 16.

It’s back to time again. Given time, an internet connection and a parent prepared to learn alongside, education happens and skills are learned. Some of our best maths moments (I am not good at maths) came from learning a skill together.

We don’t have space… where do you home educate?

In the park, in bed, in the lounge, garden, under the table, at a friend’s house, by the book shelf, in the library. Space matters relatively little. Same goes for money – I’ve spent plenty on educational resources over the years – I could have saved the money on most of it. My base ten blocks, Geomags and Draw Write Now books have been my best buys.

What were you thinking… my kids would drive me mad!

The hardest part for me was when my eldest girls were small and attended nursery part time. I found half and half care really difficult. Once were were together all the time, we rubbed the corners off each other and became a real community. We are a close family now and the girls are huge friends, within the bounds of sibling normality ;) I think the opportunity to really learn to live with each other and know each other well was one of the greatest benefits to us. I know people talk about home educators ‘not being able to let go’ but truthfully I have seen almost none of that. Our girls have always done lots of activities and had lots of home ed and schooled friends; I don’t regret prolonging their reliance on family and lengthening their childhood at all but letting them spread their wings has not been difficult. Nor do they drive me any more mad than most kids drive their parents mad.

What about exams?PANIC!

This is the bit that makes people hyperventilate; junior education seems manageable, once you get past the fact that children do survive without a SATs score (and you can always download a few and test them for any gaping holes yourself) but GCSE level seems scarier. In the end, our home ed journey seems to have stopped before that bit but it didn’t worry me. In fact Fran has ended up doing one GCSE from home as the school couldn’t fit her in; she studied a (fascinating) iGCSE History course. The books and past papers are available, the mark schemes and so on are there to use – it can be done. The bigger question is whether you want to bother with them at all. Now that education is compulsory to 18, I’d say there is good reason to question a raft of exams at 16 anyway – going straight to A Level might make more sense. And then, now that coursework is being dropped and iGCSEs exist, home study alone or with an online course, makes a good alternative to school anyway. Plus you could consider that doing them on the dot of 16 is not essential… why wrestle with trying to wriggle into the system when you could just delay a year, study from home and do them at a local college at Lower Sixth age.

The biggest query is perhaps if you actually need to worry about them. Universities are perfectly capable of assessing a prospective student based on an interview and plenty of home educated children have gone to uni with no formal exams. In fact I was only hearing the other day about how an ‘unqualified’ HE teen has found it easier to get a place at college because she was assessed on ‘other criteria’ than a teen who did 4 basic GCSE’s to get some qualifications and therefore fell, by default rather than fact, into a low achiever category.

When did you know it was time to stop home educating?

This seems to have happened pretty naturally. Regular readers will know we had a pretty dreadful time over the last few years and home education stopped being ideal in some ways. It was fine, because we were in our groove but it stopped feeling like freedom and became a little humdrum and sometimes a little too much pressure, particularly when local authorities flexed muscles and governments tried to bother us. Fran felt ready to move on a couple of years ago when an ideal school place came up. She stepped into school and flew. Amelie followed when home really began to be a bit too small for her; she is a huge socialite and just needed more company. For Maddy and Josie it has been dictated by school places and circumstances. Maddy is ‘just about’ ready I think but also ready for some new direction. It’s far more of a leap of faith for Josie but the school she has gone to follows the Edison curriculum in mixed year group classes so isn’t a bad fit for her. There was just a point where they felt ready, I felt ready and circumstances combined to make it all happen. I’m a believer in spotting the moment where the universe says “now!”

One thing for sure is that we don’t seem to have failed. All the big ones are capable, able and doing well academically and socially – certainly within the characters and natural tendencies I’ve known from babyhood. It is an experiment which did not fail and seems to have worked well and I’d certainly do it again.

Two last questions… ones from kids…

The first normally gets asked while in a sports hall surrounded by people – “how do you do sports and make friends?” and the other is the toughest question (and asked repeatedly) that any school kid ever seems to feel they need to ask “what is two times six”. I’m pleased to report the girls have long since developed derisory replies ;)

Would you do it again?

Like a shot, if it felt right for the child. I almost hope I don’t have to, because it has been a long and tough and mentally draining 13 years but worth every second and also hugely enjoyable. I miss them very much now they are out all day and am so very glad we had all those extra years together.

If you’d like to know more four bloggers (hopefully including me if my daughter is safely through surgery) will be hosting a Quib.ly Home Ed Twitter chat on Thursday 20th June at 11am. Follow the hashtag #QuiblyQs and come and join in :)

Disclosure: I have received payment for taking part in this conversation. As you can see, it was money for old rope ;)

The End.

And then Tuesday came and with it, the end of a way of life and the end of a blog life.

Wibble. #endofhomeed
Perhaps that’s a little dramatic. But it does all feel a little dramatic, though I am trying hard not to BE dramatic about it. You can forgive me a momentary blog flounce perhaps ;)

First day #endofhomeed

Josie going off to school too is not what I wanted, though I felt the opportunity had to be offered when Maddy’s place came up – and she took it. So off she went. She’s temporarily flexing schooling to settle in and we shall see. So far her days have been good (with wobbles) but she’s emotional about it in the evening. It’s certainly a tougher first two days than the others have had, though that’s to be expected. That’s the short version, just for now I’m going to respect her privacy and say no more.

***

Because really, I can just make it all about me :) This is how I feel at the end (perhaps) of our home educating life.

A mixture of emotions.

Relief, that the pressure, the responsibility, is finally off.

Sad that it is over. Pleased that they have opportunities in places I am happy for them to be attending. We’ve got school place bingo lucky and I’m grateful for that.

Missing them. A little confused about what I am now? Just a mum. Not as “goodness I don’t know how you manage” as I was.

When Fran first went I was unforgivably angry with her. I’m not this time, not with any of them. I think the big three have made the right choices at the right time and for good reasons and I genuinely support them wholeheartedly and intend for this to work for them. With Josie, I can’t blame for her wanting to go, for company in the face of them all leaving home and because I have underperformed in the home ed department for her.

That’s the nub of it. I look back now at all that time stretched behind us, those little girls who grew up – and I feel I wasted it. There are books unread, crafts undone, places unvisited. First the business, then a trauma and then a tragedy and somehow I ended up being an adequate home educator, but not the one I meant to be.

I meant to do so much more. More baking, more hands on maths, more classic stories at bed time. More crafting and teaching patchwork and having education just roll off our fingertips. I meant to be more dynamic.

I ended up being adequate. Age, aptitude and ability well served but not quite what I planned.

I look back and while, clearly, I have 4 wonderful and talented and able girls, I worry that I served up a poorer meal than I meant to. They have done well in spite of more than because of.

I feel I wasted our time together. They’ve voted with their feet now, not out of disappointment (I think they’d be sorry if they thought I felt it was that) but out of readiness, but I wish I had had more to offer in the end.

It all got so hard.

It’s a sort of grief, this end of home ed. It’s a fairly small grief compared to what we’ve been through but it is an end and I miss them, even if secretly I am just a little relieved to be able to be… just.a.mum.

 

 

The big change. School again.

A while ago, I don’t know where, I think I wrote a little about how  much we felt Amelie was outgrowing being home educated. In an ideal world, this would not be so; if she was the eldest, if her brother had not died, if I hadn’t had the business, or Bene, if she had not been third, this might not have happened. It’s not home education’s fault but a combination of circumstance, personalities and, if I’m honest, my own weariness at battering my head against 2 of 4 girls who are at least as distracted as I am. Fran and Amelie suffer the same sort of benign, undiagnosed ADHD that I do – flitty brained, multitasking, never finishing, procrastinating etc etc. (Sorry, where was I?)

After a full on hissy fit at her daddy, we called her bluff. Well, not her bluff, we meant it. Things had to improve or she would be taking up the place we applied for at the junior school Fran did a term at. The thing is, Amelie is lovely, adorable. She is caring, clever, loving, funny, sassy, sharp, gentle and ocmpassionate, strong willed and warm hearted. At home though, she exerts most of her will to evading doing anything and outwitting or overcoming everyone. She’s the perfect person to have by you if your back is against the wall and she’d fight to the death for any of us – but if you aren’t in danger, she might just fight you instead. (Actually, I think she might be a Nac Mac Feegle.) We put various things in place to try and help her, including some weekly one to one with her godmother, who has been teaching her ice skating and by the time the letter arrived, we were happy with the effort she had put in and the maturity she had handled the situation with. It might not have been a comfortable thing for us to have done but even in a family that strives to encompass the individuals, you can’t have one person making everyone else suffer.

But when the letter came, though she was adamant that she didn’t want to go and we respected that and said it was now entirely up to her. I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that it might be a really good thing. I suggested we went for a look round, particularly as one thing putting her off was that the school year includes a child she didn’t particularly gel with at the panto. So we went; to my absolute no surprise at all, the (rather excellent, old school) head teacher chat, the possibility of being with Fran’s old (very funny) teacher and a girl she knows from gym swung her. She’ll have to do SATs and a WW2 day outing is coming up and various bits just appealed. She came home clutching the prospectus and read it avidly.

She starts Monday.

When Fran started I worried terribly; she was less formed than AMelie, who writes and mathemathicals ;) much more than Fran did. She is socially competent and I know it, which I didn’t with Fran. I resented losing that bit of Fran but with Amelie I am looking forward to just being her mum for a while. She’s ready, I know she is and I hope it will form her down a different path from the very clever – very lazy -very smarty pants one she has begun to go down. I think she could be happier about herself than she has been recently and with luck, the stretch of the challenge of SATS and school will actually be a positive thing for her. Longer term is less obvious, since she is unlikely to get a place straight away at Fran’s school, so we will see.

From Monday, just Maddy, Josie, Bene and I will be puddling along in this house day to day.