So, we hit and exceeded the one year mark and wow, we’ve certainly learnt a lot! I honestly can’t believe how quickly this year has passed, but at the same time, how much we’ve packed in!
Here follows my ten things, I think I could probably list about 100 as it’s been a constant learning curve, and I’m in no doubt that we will keep learning and adjusting, but for now I will try to consolidate into ten!
1. Creating school at home is not a fit for us.
Okay, so when we first started home ed, I had this delusional image, that we would sit at the dining table, knock out our ‘core’ subjects every day for a few hours and then break for lunch, before embarking on the next part of our well planned day. I don’t know why I tried to enforce this initially, as I had craved autonomy for the children in their education, and we thought about doing it for so long, to get away from enforced structure and static learning. I think I just needed to try this as a security blanket in the early stages, and I of course had a fear of them ‘falling behind.’
But a few weeks in, after noticing the children’s enthusiasm seriously starting to wane, I began to question what on earth I was doing?! Falling behind in what?! The age related expectations? The one size fits all curriculum? We had wanted to create a bespoke form of learning, which was unique to them, their interests, their needs, their strengths. So, yes, we sit down together and complete projects, but they choose the topics, they choose where (so much of what we learn is learnt outside!) because home ed is not restricted to the hours between 9 and 3pm, its 24/7, so why try to work it like school, when there is so much flexibility? It has become clear to me, that the core subjects, and a multitude of others are subtly learnt through these child led projects ultimately anyway.
2. Travel can become an addiction!
When you are suddenly unrestricted by school holidays in your travel planning, destinations become more accessible. We have always adored our family holidays together, but since being able to travel more freely we have seen the huge benefits educationally for the children. They learn and remember so much from these experiences. They retain much more information than when being told about a culture or a place by actually experiencing a little of it. I wrote a blog about our Adventures in Travel if you fancied a look.
3. Allow and encourage input from family and friends.
When trusted people offer their skills in a subject that your child is interested in, let them! An education that’s diversely received, is so much more enriched for the children we believe. From each different person they gain a different perspective, an understanding of different ways of learning. The children have an amazing tutor once a week for an hour each. Some might argue this goes against the ‘not recreating school’ point, but I don’t feel it does. I discussed with the tutor what their individual interests are right now and the work was designed around that. I guess this makes us semi-structured in approach but it has really shown so much benefit to them to have one weekly structured lesson each. They love their short lessons and I feel the benefits are demonstrated constantly when I talk to them and they surprise me with their knowledge. This small chunk of ‘formal’ learning really seems to compliment their overall aptitude and confidence.
Also, they have little cooking lessons with my sister on occasion. I am not an experienced cook at all so instruction from someone with great culinary skills is awesome. We do bake at home sometimes but they definitely gain more insight from her!
These are just two examples but we are grateful to so many different friends and family for all their input, they are all making individual contributions to their education.
4. Make things accessible.
I cant recommend this enough! I, a self confessed neat obsessive, had a rude awakening to the fact that stuff will need to be untidy for many parts of the day. Books need to be handy and in eye line for us to be reminded of their existence. Craft stuff will be out, pretty much all day and needs to be kept somewhere easy to access and close by to encourage and support creative interests, which can spur very unexpectedly at any moment. Keeping materials and equipment to hand is key!
5. Unstructured play is essential to education.
So, this one is probably quite obvious, and often the lack of it in school is a reason people choose to HE. However, I feel like I was more aware of ‘free play’ and its benefits with nursery and reception aged children and below. What I’ve discovered is that for an almost 8 and almost 10 year old this is still so essential to learning. One example is Henri and Molly recently decided to set up shops in their bedrooms. Yep, bog standard stuff of childhood play. However, they both had very specific ideas about what their shops would be. Now, the level of detail they have both gone into has really amazed me.
Henri’s shop is a hat shop, (typical choice for our Henri!) he worked out the pricing and the design of his logo, has fitted up most of his soft toys in different hat types he has sourced from around the house and his own quite extensive collection, thought about the functionality of the hats for the individual models (teddies), and even practised a good sales patter when myself and Rob have visited to browse. He also designed a till and invented his own currency. He did consider using sterling but decided against it.
Molly has thought really carefully about her business. Her shop sells bows mainly but is also branching out into other areas. One of the first things she set up was a large charity box by the door so that people can use it to recycle things for people who may need them more. She spent time choosing an appropriate name that would appeal to her ideal market and she’s thought about how often the shop can actually be open and discussed with me the possible pros and cons of employing staff in the shop, to keep it open when she is not able to. She’s started discussions with me when we’ve been in shops about different products that they stock, and how practical it is to sell more than one type of the same product in terms of storage, whilst also balancing out the customers desire for choice!
Just from this game they have both learnt and researched so much, pretty much independently. It came from their own interests and they were both completely self motivated and eager to do this. They have drawn on me for help occasionally but for the most part have just needed me to be an active customer in the shop when required. They have even thought of ways to improve their shop experience further after the ‘customers’ have visited! All of this learning came completely from self directed play. Children need this to discover and explore subjects freely, it should not be a treat, I think it’s so integral to meaningful and memorable learning.
6. Go outside!
If in doubt, go out-These days we really live by this and it rarely lets us down. If having a stressful/bored/irritable etc, etc day, and we don’t already have outside activities planned, we go outside. We utilise all the public parks and are so lucky to have a beautiful seafront a few minutes drive away. The times this fail safe has served us are countless. So, we make sandwiches and chuck them in my bag, (as kids are always hungry and this can bring us home too early or land us in expensive cafes when that wasn’t in the plan!) We get out of breath, stop and look at stuff, and we don’t rush!
This is a big one for me, I’m definitely not the outdoorsy type, see my blog post Out of my comfort zone and into the rain-if you want to hear more on this subject, but I’ve learnt how important this is, for everyone! It’s like a reset button and totally invaluable!!
7. Acceptance that everything is not completely planned out.
When we started home ed, one of the most common questions, (usually the second one after, ‘what about socialisation??), is,
“What about when they do their GCSE’s?”
I understand this as this was something that troubled me initially when thinking of HE. Even after we started it sometimes made me anxious to think that everything is not all mapped out, piece by piece.
But then it began to dawn on me that that was whole point of it wasn’t it? Allowing choice and change of plan, where required. Because it is difficult to know what subjects you will be interested in enough to want to undertake a GCSE in when you’re 7 and 9 years old. What we do know is that they will have options, they can choose which ones they might like to take, which ones they don’t want to take and where and how. There are different ways of doing this, they can enrol back into school to take them, or they can be taken privately and we pay a fee, they can be taken in colleges, and I’m sure there are other options out there that we haven’t fully explored yet either. They may even be back in school by this time if this is their choice. We have an ongoing open idea and possibility conversation with them, about what they want to do. They have never come close to this as yet through our talks, but if one day they said (either or both), that they wanted to go back into the schooling system, although it wouldn’t fill me with joy and wouldn’t be my personal choice, they could go back. We would respect their choice. Because that’s what its all about for us.
8. You don’t owe anyone an explanation!
When you first reveal the fact that you’ve decided to home ed, people are, understandably and genuinely intrigued. When we started we had the same conversation with so many friends and family, detailing the reasons for our choice. How we had unexpectedly taken this turn and what we felt the intrinsic benefits of home ed were. We also had multiple conversations with strangers who often freely asked the children directly, “no school today?” To which they would proudly answer,
“No, we’re home schooled!”
Cue awkward/surprised look up at us. Often people will just come out and ask us why? Some will say “you’re crazy!” But inevitably we would begin to explain our choices, as if these people needed, (or wanted!), a full explanation. Some people would say ”I think you’re amazing” some would not be so positive, but overall people would just listen.
People are curious and surprised and I get that, but at the same time its exhausting repeating this conversation, and feeling like you have to lay out your reasoning to all, in order to justify your decision. After all, we wouldn’t ask people to explain their decision to send their children to school, yes, this is because this is the majority, however, its still a choice.
We are still always polite but I don’t feel the need to go into a huge explanation each time someone asks any longer. I might say “there are so many reasons really, but we’re really happy with our decision.” And to be fair, people accept this fully on the whole too. It was me who was subconsciously feeling a need to give a full and frank outline and explanation.
9. Find your own home ed community.
Now, when I say your own I mean this…when we first started HE we joined all the fb groups, went to the local meet ups and put our names down for pretty much all events on offer. We were desperate to find others in similar situations to us, therefore we set about meeting everyone! Of course this was utterly exhausting and in hindsight was a bit too much! We did calm down and chose just a handful of different groups to attend regularly. Like any situation where you’re suddenly thrust into groups of strangers we found that we didn’t always ‘gel’ with everyone. That’s pretty much standard. However, after a good few months we found our own little group of friends. There is only about 8 different families in the group that we meet up with regularly and then we see the wider community at larger gatherings/trips etc. We have made some really lovely friends in our little community and although totally scary to meet loads of new faces initially, when you find ‘your people’ its so brilliant! Persevere with this as much as possible. It won’t happen overnight!
10. Question everything and expect to make mistakes.
Last one now, I promise!
Needless to say we have made mistakes in our journey so far. We have changed our approach to things many times and found some grand ideas have blown up in our faces and other unexpected things have really been effective towards their learning, we’ve bought expensive apps that looked brilliant but have turned out to be very linear and non inspiring for the children and decided to boycott them altogether.
I have beaten myself up for not getting things right at times but come to realise, (with some input from my amazing husband!) that that’s not what its all about at all. Its about being reflective, asking yourself ‘is this working?’ regularly and if its not, working out how to change it, sometimes even chucking the whole thing and starting again. I find it really beneficial to change things up for the children. It refreshes them (and me!) and renews motivation. Find new resources, and explore new learning concepts as much as possible. There is so much available for free online these days.
So, thats it, for now anyway! Still learning so much and really embracing our journey, everyday is NOT perfect and we definitely have our ‘moments,’ but overall it feels so right for us!
Are you interested in or considering home education?