Monday, 21 July 2014

School's Not Out....

....because it's never really in.

 A teacher friend of mine once told me I was cruel not giving my children school holidays. I was a bit confused by this at the time, but then I realised, they were looking at home education through the lens of school and probably assumed that I did what schools did, just as I had assumed that they would know that I didn't.

I guess part of that particular misunderstanding is that state schools are all pretty similar in lots of ways - lots of children in a class, lots of classrooms in a building, a playground surrounded by a high metal fence, gym equipment, a library. They all have to follow the national curriculum, they all have a start and finish time, set break times and the same local holidays. I know that different schools will also have different strengths and some will have different facilities - swimming pools, drama groups, choirs and orchestras. But despite the differences, they all have lots of things in common.

The same cannot be said of home educators. The only thing most home educators have in common is that they don't send their children to school. You can read lots and lots of home educators blogs over at Adventures in Homeschooling with the weekly #homeedlinkup or see lots of photos on Instagram with #100homeeddays to see the many faces of home education.

But will they give you a clear insight of what home education might look like in your family?
No. Not really.
You see, every family is different.
Every child is different.
Every day is different.

Take us, for example, readers of this blog will know that I have chopped and changed my approach quite a number of times. Before I started writing this blog, we just got on with it. (We still do actually). My children were little and learning was just part of what we did. (Still is.) Just as my children learnt to walk and talk, so they learned to count, recognise letters, identify shapes, colours and the words to nursery rhymes. When I had only The Girl to educate, I just went with her flow. Her strong-willed, determined to learn, explore and do-it-her-way flow. Not exactly always easy, (did I mention that she was strong-willed and determined?) but it all felt very natural. It was all just part of the normal, everyday stuff that the majority of parents do with their children.

Only I wasn't getting her ready for school, I knew she wouldn't be going. You see, I had already been autonomously home educating for 8 years when she came along and my eldest was  then at college. Recognising the learning that was happening through every activity, every conversation, every moment spent in observation, had become a way of life. I think it could possibly be harder to stop seeing education as something that is constantly happening, than it is to stop seeing education as something that only happens in schools, during school hours in term-time.

So there we were, one child grown-up, finished college, working and left home and one child happy in her free-flowing autonomous learning world, when baby number 3 came along. Different child, different character. And a couple of years further down the line, I realised that I couldn't do autonomous with two children with a 4 year age gap. Oh, I know there are lots of families who successfully autonomously home educate lots of children, but it just didn't work for us. I have one child who is very self-directed, leaving a trail of activities behind her and another who always puts toys back in exactly the same box they came from, and puts the boxes back in exactly the same place every time. Cars and animals never mix. To this day, Boykin's love of order is evident in his colour sorted Lego collection, even if his bedroom floor is a little more chaotic than it used to be. And that love of order meant he needed a plan. Not a full-day-inflexible-timetabled plan, but some kin of definite-rhythm-to-his-day plan.

And there you have it, one of the major challenges for any home educating parent. How to make home education work for everyone in your family. Because it is a family thing. Claiming 100% responsibility for your child's education means that  rather than fitting your family life around (school) education, you weave education and family life together, creating a pattern that is unique to your family. I believe that home education is about parents too - we learn with and about our children every day. As far as I'm concerned, me and my children are in this together.

Parents whose children have come out of school often find that they need to change their mindset even more than their children do. Some call this deschooling, some call it the settling in period. Parents and children need time to learn to adjust to being together all day and every day when they're just not used to it. Think about all the comments people make about how much we parents must be looking forward to our children going back to school during the long summer holiday. We're not supposed to like being with our kids, dontchaknow. We're supposed to want to get rid of them for a few hours every day. And while that may be true of some parents, it's certainly not true of all, HE or not.

But I digress. Home educating two children with a 4 year age gap. Well, after I recovered from the shock that I would have to give up my firmly held belief that only autonomous education was real home education, I started to explore the internet. And blimey, did I soon discover how things had changed in the home ed world because of the internet. There are just SO MANY resources freely available, so many curriculum choices, so many different labels for the many different styles of HE. Most home ed resources are American, of course, because homeschooling is really big in America and lots of states require the use of curricula and testing etc. None of which is required in the UK, so most UK resources are aimed at schools - although this is beginning to change. We are lucky in this country, that we are free to choose how to fulfill our responsibility to provide our children with a full-time education. We don't have to follow any curriculum; our children never have to take SATs; we can be as child-led, or as curriculum focused, as we see fit, or more likely, as suits our child's learning style and character.

One of my favourite sites when they were little was Homeschoolshare, and it's thanks to the lovely ladies on the forum there that I heard about unit studies, lapbooks, workboxes and Five in a Row. I can't even remember how I found the HSS site in the first place, but it really was invaluable when they were younger. I still enjoy reading Ami's blog at Walking by the Way, one of the many blogs I was grateful to read that showed me that a less autonomous approach could still inspire learning as well as being fun.

Which brings me back to blogs. Sometimes it can seem there are too many home education blogs and it can get overwhelming. The families all seem to do so much. Such creative, clever parents with obedient, eager to learn children....or so it seems. Everyone has bad days, I'm sure. Everyone has days when the children are arguing, nobody has slept well, someone is poorly, the toast has burnt and they've run out of milk for breakfast. But why would I want to blog about that? If I want a good moan, I have friends and neighbours for that...or I just ring my mum.

Part of the beauty of writing my own blog is that it reminds me of the good days on those days when everything feels just a bit hard. It reminds me of how much they've learned as well as containing lots of cute pictures of my kids when they were younger :) Looking back on early posts reminds me of  what we tried and what worked - if it's not on the blog, it most like as not didn't work and therefore, can be forgotten.

And one thing that definitely didn't work was having school holidays. We tried it for a full 6 weeks last summer, and come September, a week back into our maths curriculum (which definitely does work for us), they both declared that they don't ever want to do school holidays again. And they have remembered that. So even though their local friends are off school, my two will still be doing some formal education every day - some maths, some grammar and some Picture Book Explorers activities.

Cruel? Not really. You see, during term times, we have lots of days where we do our learning out of the home - in museums, at workshops, in home ed groups. Days when they play long and intricate games, when they don't touch a maths book or write a proper sentence all day. And on the above mentioned bad days, when someone, or everyone, is feeling grumpy, we read books, watch films, play games, bake or just each do our own thing - together.


  1. Home ed families are so different. We do school holidays as we took one child out of school and the older two were at school. Now the older children have left school and we are vaguely doing school holidays. The younger two get bored toward the end and one is doing a little maths and phonics on line each day-a little means a little! We also have an agreement that they will work a couple of days in the holidays so that they don't have to work on either of their birthdays.

    1. Thank you for commenting :) I love hearing how different families make HE work for them.
      That's the beauty of home education isn't it? Adapting breaks to suit our own families :) I've never had one in school and one out, I imagine it can be tough juggling that sometimes.

  2. I enjoyed reading this post so much because it is all so true. Every home-ed family is different although I think our goals are often shared - to raise happy, inquisitive, well-rounded children. We don't stick to the school holiday pattern although we do slow down during the summer time because we like to get out doors plus the door is always going as their friends pop around to play. That's the beauty of home-ed though, it's so fluid.
    Thanks for linking up and thank you for the mention:) have a lovely week.

    1. Exactly. The fluidity keeps it fun.
      Being able to follow the seasons and make the most of what they each have to offer is vital to us. We definitely do more book work in the winter, and Autumn always feels like the time to start new projects to me. I almost can't resist the urge to knit come September :) Summer learning is different, even though we still do 3 formal learning activities every day, there is still lots of time to spend outside and we will still have the usual days out too :)
      Thanks for your comment. I'm enjoying taking part in the #homeedlinkup and reading the other blogs too :)

  3. I was worrying about our first summer break as a home ed family. I didn't want to stop the few bits of more formal stuff that we do, my son did. However, I've just watched him eating an orange - he couldn't eat it without commenting on how many segments it had and whether that would be the same in all oranges, how we could divide it up etc etc - the boy loves maths and I know he'll find it in everything we do, all summer. So maybe we'll go with the flow after all.

    He's 8 and my 3 year old is now starting to write and has been learning to read for a while, so I'm approaching HEing two children with a 5 year gap. She's so young though that I will just take my cues from her rather than trying to teach her to write.

  4. Isn't it lovely how learning happens all the time? It's so rewarding to see them develop their own skills and interests and so reassuring when they let you know how much they've learnt in such an informal way. Don't you just love being able to adapt things for each of your children? :)
    Thank you for commenting :)