Tag Archives: what is home education?

Home Education – the long and short view.

Some time ago a parent on a list I am part was asking the usual questions about whether she should consider home educating her child. One area that she was particularly concerned about was how and whether her children would sit exams, GCSEs and A’levels in particular. It turned out as the conversation went on that the oldest child was around 4 yrs old. It made the question difficult to answer. A lot can happen between now and then and in the world of exams and accreditation a lot can happen very quickly. Nevertheless this parent wanted some kind of long term plan to be sure that she was doing the right thing.

Most home educating families have a “nothing in stone” approach. Things change, families face all sorts of events, and tragedies that will mean rethinking how and even when learning takes place.

Some of us have faced the very real possibility that our children might HAVE to go to school because we might be either not there at all or so incapacitated that we couldn’t HE any longer. There are also parents who face the battle of serious mental illness which, might leave them able to home educate for years but a relapse might put them in hospital for a long time.

We educate with an eye to what they might face should they have to go to school. I don’t think that means many of us follow the National Curriculum, but we do make sure our children are getting the very best education we can possibly provide for them, so that they have a good head start, should they even end up under the NC.

I suppose the other thing about being ill, or facing the possibility of death or serious disablement is that as Christian mothers we know we are supposed to be doing all we can to get ourselves and our children through those pearly gates. if we don’t do our very best at the role God has given us, we’ll have some answerin’ to do.

The question is, does the fact that we faced/face aspects of life that perhaps some other home educating families don’t or haven’t yet, effect or even determine the way we home educate now?

In some ways I think the answer is yes. One area I have considered is that I want my children to form a habit of self-discipline over their learning so that should they need to, they can continue with someone else who might not be able to put the time and effort in as a mother does. Umm, it’s something we are working on. But seeing Alex and Iona do it, I know it’s possible. Just keep at it, one day at a time.


Not every Home Education day (week, month…) is a good one.

Let’s face it, sometimes being a home educating mum feels like pounding at a hard nut and not cracking it.

I confess that the last couple of weeks have been truly hard and I reached the end of my tether yesterday and decided I had no choice but to send Ronan to school and concentrate on the girls. Part of this may be having the flu (or something like it) and trying to keep on top of everything while being yukky, hot and cold and generally erchgh. (If that isn’t a word, it is now. Neologisms r us).

I had planned, with planning sheets and everything, that Ronan would be a bit more inependant in his learning this year. This was mainly based on trying to fit more and more work with Heleyna into the day, and I must admit, I wanted more time for me. Ahem. I didn’t really consider too closely whether it would work or not. Lesson learned!

At the end of a difficult week, a couple of my children are on probation. If next week begins in the same way, they are grounded. So, I dismissed them for the day and they went off to bake and peel acorns ready for leaching the tannin. I put the radio on and set about clearing up and checking the workbooks, wondering what on earth I was going to do, to keep the HE boat afloat.

I was listening to Dr. Ray Guarendi,(Sept 27th or 28th) and suddenly a mother phoned in who was thinking of sending her recalcitrant ten-year old to school because she just wasn’t getting anywhere with him. Dr. Ray gave her some ideas and even gave a rendition of how her day had been. It was MY DAY (well fortnight) as well!! She laughed and I had to too. After giving some final thoughts, including the very good one that leaving the lad to get on with it, and if his day dreaming and groaning means he has to work through tea time and loose free time then so be it. He finished with the words, “Don’t let a ten year old decide for you whether you can homeschool or not.”

So, I am ready – and less fluey which helps a lot – and on Monday, the work will be laid out and I will not bother about how long it takes. I will stop what is happening for joint work, and then outstanding work must be done.

There’s acorn flour to make too. We didn’t get as much tannin out as I expected, which makes me suspicious there’s still an awful lot in there. So more leaching is ahead. Then we’ll make a little soda bread bun or something similar – not to eat too much of it. English oak is not as safe as American oak apparently. But in times of famine it has served English people well.

It wont hurt the children to understand how bad things can be when there’s no food to eat. They have done without some stuff, when we’ve been skint – but have never starved or done without a meal.

Or is cooking acorns really hippy????

UPDATE- I’m going to have a go with Kalei’s little “organise your learning” set.

Home Education the not-so-gentle beat yourself up art of learning.

I hate September. I think I have hated September ever since I started to home educate and what’s worse it’s my own silly fault that I hate September.

There are plenty of articles out there that explain how not to home educate, and what might lead to burn out, misery and abject failure, but I have managed to avoid most of those pitfalls and dug a new one, all of my own.

It’s the beat-myself-up approach. It’s based on a very silly version of keeping up with the Joneses. I look at all the events available, all the places we could go and all the stuff I could be taking the children to, and see all those home educating families going out and doing them all, and realise that we have neither the budget nor my health to allow it to happen. And then I start thinking I am letting the children down and I’m doing it all wrong and they are stereotype home educated children, sitting at the table with workbooks. It’s the stuff of home ed nightmares.

Just as I start the battle of beat-myself-up we get under way and I had forgotten some of the problems we faced at the end of last term and hit them again as we restart. I am also faced with new challenges as Heleyna does not learn the way the other two did and they didn’t learn like each other. I’m having to learn to be as flexible as Elastigirl. And like Mrs Incredible I have children with completely different talents and stumbling blocks.

Ronan is my classical cum Charlotte Mason child, while Avila is more Mason to Montessori and Heleyna is very hands on in a Montessori way.

September lurched along as we rearranged the daily rhythm of the family to take the lessons on board. We rearranged the rooms to make space for books, flashcard games and who knows what else.

Beavers Cubs and Ballet are under way again and we spent Wednesday at the MAC park with loads of home educating families for the “Not Back To School” picnic. It was a great day and the children played, talked and gathered a humongous amount of conkers. One lad suggested he might make conker stew! Hopefully his mum will curb that experiment.

A friend’s fiance was really kind and took us home before going back for his own family.

Tonight three of my 6 are off to Scout camp for the weekend.

So in actual fact they are going places, meeting up with friends and doing stuff. It’s just that there are so many events to choose from and so many of the mums I know go to loads of them, that I started to think I was doing it all wrong. There is a sort of pride in HE circles among the mums who are never at home and I fell for it, thinking that because we are at home a lot, that I was failing the children.

I have talked with a  HE friend and got my head in better order. My children don’t need to be doing every single home ed event. They are doing enough and having a tight budget and being limited in mobility and health is not a real problem. They are happy and learning and that’s what matters.

It’s interesting though. I would never even think of looking at the neighbours cars or clothes or expensive stuff and wish I could have that. While I have had kitchen envy occasionally and do have powered wheelchair envy (that’s truly sad isn’t it lol) it’s the area of what I would spend time and money on over education that gets me in the silly place. It’s also very annoying that something so small can immediately tip me back to the pit of “I’ll never get it right.” I suppose I never will get it perfectly right, but I know (on a sane day) that I am giving the children the best I can with all the graces at my disposal.

Are Home Educating parents selfish? Phil Gayle from the BBC wonders!

It has been noted that in Oxfordshire and a couple of other places around England that the numbers of home educated children has risen by over 50%. This rise has caught the attention of the local BBC in Oxford who put out this video in which they briefly look at one family and talk to one “expert”. The mother of seven is home educating her oldest son after his move into secondary school proved pretty awful. She intends to HE her other children through secondary ed but is happy with their primary school.  She calls home education “the poor man’s private education,” – which is an interesting view. It is more and more recognised that  private schools offer a far superior education to state run schools, strangled by the National Curriculum.  I came across a few nurses over the years working double shifts and other jobs to pay for a child to go to private school. I think home ed is easier than doing that.

The “expert” is a professor at the University of Buckinghamshire. He was introduced with the words that “experts” believed that the rise in numbers may be due more to improved paper work than more children being removed from school. It’s funny how whenever anything rises- such as autism rates, Ritalin prescriptions or depression in children, someone always suggests it’s about the paperwork – and no one ever produces the evidence for the theory. Whatever the reason, the numbers have increased significantly and it leaves me wondering how many more non-registered families are out there. Most of the HE families we go around with are not registered at all.

So what did the “expert” have to say?

Educating children at home is a very important
freedom, but it is something that really needs to be embarked upon with great
care. It is a tremendous commitment. It may well be that your son or daughter
are not lost in a big impersonal school system, but there are great advantages
to going to school. One of them is that you can see what other children are
capable of. It’s also true that you miss out a lot on the social interaction.
So you may have been protected from bullying but you may not have learned how
to handle it.

I note the “with great care” bit. Does anyone ever tell parents that sending their children to school is an important freedom but should be embarked upon with great care?  After all, schools can leave your children depressed, self harming, alcoholic, illiterate and incapable of holding down a job or making decisions.

He admits that a child can be lost in the “big impersonal system” which surely is a very bad thing indeed, but insists that schools offer great advantages. And these advantages (over home education) are?  Er..that bit was vague and weird.

You can see what other children are capable of in school, he says. Home educated children can see this too, any time they like and they can see it in children of different ages and with different problems to overcome. You see, unlike school children, home educated children get to mix with all sorts of people, because they are not segregated from children on age and ability. Because of this they not only learn what others are capable of academically, but more importantly, in life skills and virtue.

His assertion that home educated children miss out on a lot of social interaction is simply untrue. They certainly have less negative social interaction than school children, but that is a good thing.

The final sentence is yet more evidence that those in positions of power and the “experts” of this country have no respect for children as persons. No one I have ever met who was bullied in school has learned how to deal with it better in adult life. Just the opposite in fact. But then if this “expert” was pushed around, hit, kicked, spat at, half strangled, threatened, mugged, urinated on and robbed he would call the police and demand the perpetrators were arrested. But when it happens to a child in school, either nothing is done or the victim is the one punished. I really do want to know how being systematically abused at school prepares anyone for a healthy adult life. There is no evidence to say it does and plenty of evidence to say it does nothing of the sort.

There was also a radio programme covering the same piece of news but interviewing a different parent. The radio host asked on more than one occasion whether homeschooling wasn’t a selfish thing for parents to do.

There was a call from a home educated student in which she eloquently explained why HE is so good.

Despite both the mother and student talking about the exams they or their children have/can sit and of course doing Open University courses, the question over how home educated children can gain qualifications was asked again. And despite the clear message about how children learn together the work “isolation” was still used to describe HE.

Before I answer question about how selfish we are, I want to look at what the other host on the radio show came up with. She said that taking children out of school undermined the school system. She said of the school system “What’s the point of it, if people aren’t using it?” (Oh what a lovely question.) She went on “Its something we pay our taxes for. It’s something I’m immensely proud of.”  But she doesn’t say why she’s so proud of it – what does it genuinely offer as a system? What about all those children the system is failing? What about the shocking drop in literacy levels and the complaints from employers about the uselessness of GCSEs? What about the fact that Universities have had to put compulsory essay writing modules into their first year courses because even students with straight As at A’level can’t write an essay? I could list more, but get my drift.

Then Phil Gayle the host went on to repeat the “is it selfish?” question and also wondered how wealthy we all must be. You would have to be wealthy he thought.

The woman thought we got help. She doesn’t know a thing about HE obviously.

So to answer Gayle and others, no, those of us who spend our time and adjust our tight budgets to home educate our children are not selfish. We want our children to grow up whole, happy and well educated. We want them to be able to live independent lives able to make good decisions and think for themselves. We want them to have the freedom to make those choices, rather than find themselves shoved into a rut created by someone else. And we are obviously massivley counter-culteral because we believe that our children are persons and have an inherant dignity to be treated respectfully.

Our children get a wider, deeper and stronger education than schools can offer. While home education may not be the best answer for all children or all families it certainly is the best answer for very many. And while some children do well in school very many indeed do very badly indeed and an even bigger number of children get a mediocre education from a one-size-fits-all system.

As for the finances we save up, we do without so that the children can have what they need. We share resources, food, curriculum, time and talents. How often do we have to repeat all this before some journalist somewhere gets it? *sigh*

Home education – some questions answered.

Some people ask questions about home education – what it is and how it works etc. I have to say though, that in my experience the vast majority of “questions” are simply assumptions worded in rhetorical form.

Dearest Gwen answers some of the questions. Her irritation over the question of her “socialisation” and being thought of as some kind of Billy-no-mates is shared by her mother.

Perhaps Alex’s increasing portfolio may assuage some who believe a child can learn nothing of use while home educated. (Although those who think that way have a bizarre antipathy to art in my experience). My favourite piece at the moment is the mug.

Home Education; Language Arts – beginners

I am beginning to realise that there is an order for children to learn the language arts. Not just an order for their learning, but the whole process of acquiring, learning and using language has an order. For me this is a new discovery, but if I dig just a little into the history of education, especially the model set up in the schools of medieval Europe, I see, they already knew there was an order, and in fact they understood this from pre-Christian Classical times.

The Liberal Arts of classical days consisted of the Trivium and Quadrivium. The Trivium is grammar, logic and rhetoric and it was taught in that order. Alongside this the  Quadrivium of arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy.

So how do I ensure my children have the language skills they need for all their learning and to work through life? The classical approach is to start with a Grammar stage.

Language in children begins before birth. Research shows that the language centres of a girl’s brain are already active well before birth. She is hearing her mother’s voice and tone and reacting to that. Boys language centres respond slightly later. Before the age of two children are not “learning” language, they are acquiring it. Research has clearly shown that the only way a child can acquire language is through interaction with his or her parents and family, especially the mother. Research showed that the silly way we mums talk to our babies, named Motherease by the linguists, actually helps the child acquire language. The constant touch and play and close face to face contact is all part of the process.

Conversely it has been shown that passive observation, such as with a TV, radio or even in a large group with no contact with the speaker – does not help a child’s language development at all. 

One of my Sign Language tutors told us about her baby. She and her husband are profoundly deaf and have no spoken language. Their son was born hearing, so they decided to buy a radio and have it on by his cot. One day her brother, who was  hearing, came to see his nephew and asked her what was the strange noise coming from the nursery. It turned out she hadn’t tuned the radio in, so it was just fuzzing. Even so, when her brother tuned it in properly, her son did not learn English. He learned BSL because that’s what his parents used with him. He began to pick up some spoken English from hearing family members, but he had to learn English when he went to school. His acquired language was BSL.

I have known a few hearing people whose first language is BSL because they were born to Deaf families.

Essentially, if children are going to have the tools for early language arts, they need to have been with their mother to acquire the language. From the age of two onwards they begin the process of learning. Through interaction with older children and adults they begin to correct miscues and mispronouciation and build their spoken vocabulary.

Oral and aural skills are important for children to be able to learn. Reading stories together, looking at pictures together and talking about what we see are all ways to help a child, listen and speak well. This seems to have been much better understood in the  late 19th and early 20 century as language arts books have a lot of discussion excercises in them for the elementary levels. The other thing I notice about these books is the higher level of language expected of the children than I am used to from modern English school books.

Grammar is important for children to learn the rules of language use and to lay the foundation for the future rhetoric stage, when a pricise understanding of how language works should mean the ability to clearly put forward an idea or arguement, both verbally and in writing.

I wish I had learned these things in school. As it happens I am having to learn with the children and a little ahead of them, just to keep up with it all. Fortunately we have Latin and Greek which works like the morter among the English bricks, so that, not only their vocabulary can grow, but their basic understanding of how language works.

The tradition Classical education provuded children with a very sound and broard language base to learn from. This is not about literacy. In fact the more I learn about how children use, build and structure language, the more I realise the “Literacy hour” every day in school is pointless. If the children cannot speak, they cannot write (as teachers are noticing).

Charlotte Mason’s writing assumes that children will spend the first seven years with their mother and family. She is appalled by the German idea that children should go to school much younger, pointing out that even in Sparta, boys were left with their mothers until the age of seven.

By the time children went to her PNEU schools, she expected children to be able to recite, speak and read at a fairly high level. She was not aiming at a certain section of society- this was the way children were supposed to learn.

We are getting something wrong these days aren’t we?

Home Education; Socialisation.

Like just about all home educators we have been asked the socialisation question over and over by various people in various ways. To be honest, in the beginning I think it’s a fair question. I remember wondering how I would handle various aspects of socialisation and social skills in my children outside of school – that is, me having to it, not someone else.  🙂

I have less sympathy with those who keep asking the question in a myriad of formats, despite all the clear answers they receive both verbally and through..well…socialising with the home educating family.

This article  is interesting in that it is one more piece of evidence on the massive pile that shows homeschooled children in America are outstripping their schooled peers in all walks of life. Is it the same for home educated children in the UK? I have no idea; although I do know from  what research has been done here that home educated children do better or as well as schooled children academically. It seems that the sheer size of the homeschooling community in America is helping to produce more reliable evidence on outcomes, and those outcomes are good.

In her article Mrs Armstrong makes three very important points (imho); the first is at the end of her article when she reminds (Catholic) home educators that the whole process is sandwiched and founded on a proper prayer life. I concur that prayer is vitally important. It is the battery top up – the powerhouse, that enables us to keep going every day. It is the way we know which way to move in education and then it automatically leads to the second very important point she makes – that we want our children to grow with a formed conscience and good morals. This works best where peer pressure is limited, and where adults with questionable morals do not have free reign over our children’s time.

The finalimportant  point Mrs Armstrong makes, is about how homeschooled children are comforable in their own skin. They are not bothered about what “the culture” says they should be bothered about.They don’t get hung up over the latest trainers, ipod or how they are supposed to look, talk or behave. I am not saying this is true of all homeschooled children. I am quite sure there will be those who spend so much time being “socialised” that they do absorb the culture; but I have to say, I haven’t met many. Nearly all the children we have contact with are just happy in their own skin, and are therefore comfortable around a mixed group of people.

Having said that I have met a few home educated children at the beginning of their life in HE who are in a terrible state. Distressed parents insist that this mute, unable to make eye contact, frightened child is not the child they sent to school. Having been so badly socialised in school, the parents are faced with re-teaching their child to be with other people, and re-teach them how to learn. It can be a tough process- but from what I have heard and seen, it is one that generally works.

Home education as pro-creation.

As I read through Charlotte Mason’s lectures, I am a little saddened that her bright optimism over natural law and it’s effect on human nature back in 1895 is replaced by a more somber and less effusive view by the time she has finished her writings around the 1920s, as Britain never recovers from the First World War.

She speaks with admirable charity of how all families, whether Christ centred or agnostic can (and at this point in her writing she believes will) conform their consciences and habits with natural law. I wonder if, at this point, she has natural law a little confused by the laws of nature and therefore forms the opinion that it is a law of nature that human families will grow in good sense and love.

By the time she is writing Ourselves (pub 1904) she has already moved somewhat from this position. Ourselves is a book that is very obviously inspired by St Teresa of Avila’s writings on the mansions of the Interior Castle. This gives a more robust and realistic view of the hard work entailed in forming a good person.

In the lectures, Miss Mason talks of the Christocentric family in some fascinating ways, beginning with an exegesis on Christ’s words in Scripture about children and how they should be loved. She then makes a very important warning:

Now, believing parents have no right to lay up this crucial difficulty in their children. They have no right, for instance to pray that their children may be truthful, diligent, upright, and at the same time neglect to acquaint themselves with those principles of moral science, the observance of which will guide into truthfulness, diligence and uprightness of character.

In other words, God isn’t there to bring our children up for us; we are endowed with the authority to do that work WITH Him – that is we pro-create our children where pro means jointly.

I think it is fair to say (I can’t be the only one to have seen this) that while there are some parents who have no faith who believe that their children are naturally good and will simply grow up if left to their own devices; so there are Christian parents who think they need not form their children’s habits as it’s up to God to make them good. This seems to me to be why some apparently very holy people have such horribly behaved children.

I suspect things are more difficult for parents now than when Miss Mason spoke to those mothers in Bradford, for a number of reasons. From the Christology point of view, Jesus has been made into a cuddly, softie who would never dream of making a whip and throwing people out of the temple. He isn’t going to discipline or punish us – so we, copy that and refuse to discipline our children.

I am too old and too grumpy these days to care what other people think, so I am quite happy to put my children on the naughty step or make them minutely study the front door if they need to – regardless of who is around. I do remember feeling very embarassed and horrible the first couple of times I decided to go ahead with this. But what I have found is that other mothers are more willing to do the same.

As one mum said to her friend over having to put her son by my front door one day. “Oh no, I wasn’t embarrassed; it was Shell’s house.” LOL

I have become relaxed at removing privileges as well; no chocolate snacks or fun toys to play with – or whatever privilege has been removed.  I know that I am not always consistant and sometimes tend to shout rather than do but, you see, that is where God comes in. He makes up for my lack, but I don’t expect Him to do it all while I sit back and chill.

One day I am going to have to answer to Him for how I did my mothering (and wifeing), and while Dr Ray advices “Don’t take credit when they are good, then you wont take the blame when they are bad” – which has truth to it, I know that however they turn out, I have to try and form them and their consciences to give them the best chance of turning out right.

Of course this side of education has no tick box, but I have come across some American Christian curriculum that includes forming manners, kindness, honesty and diligence in the children. 

 If we love them we will form them or else those who don’t love them will do it in a far more painful way.

Homeschooling study. I wonder what it might show about Home Education in the UK?

Studies of home education in the USA seem to be happening on a fairly regular basis and so far always show that children who are home educated are doing as well or more often better than their schooled peers. A new study (opens pdf) has been reported in the New American that estimates as many as two million children are now being educated by their parents. H/T Zoe Romanowsky

Studies like this do not seem to happen so much in the UK, and after the way Ed Balls and Co behaved are hardly likely to happen successfully. But I do wonder if the increase in HS in America is mirrored by the same thing happening here?

Totally anecdotally, from my experience of American homeschoolers online whether on blogs or forums, I get the impression that there is more recognition over there that children need parents to be parents.  Over here the rights and responsibilities of parents have been so undermined they are practically crushed.

The media in this country has been largely antagonistic to home education, but even bad press has raised awareness and seems to make more people ask questions.

I watch the American HS community with interest. I think those who believe that the future belongs to HS families might be true.

The Educational Paradigm in our Home Education.

It seems that Sir Ken Robinson and his great ideas is making him the darling of Home Educating parents. THIS Youtube Vid is doing the HE rounds. While I can’t disagree with Robinson on his view of modern factory schooling and I have said more than once that one of the primary reasons to home educate is so that our children are not subjected to the stultification of the National Curriculum., I think the root of the educational paradigm problem is the lack of truth and humanity. It is because the nature of the person is not recognised, that schools crush it and with it they crush creativity.

The other massive problem in education today is the complete lack of history. The arrogance of those who dismiss the people of the past as though they have nothing whatsoever to teach us, who [believe we] are further along the evolutionary line and therefore nearer Superman than those idiot Jesuits and medieval peasants. Even Robinson falls into this trap with his silly ahistorical remark about only those who could afford it getting a Jesuit education. Umm, so the untouchables of India were rolling in dosh were they, when St Francis Xavior SJ was teaching them? And the indians in Paraguay? Oh and the slave labour Indians in South America who relied on the Jesuits and Dominicans to help fight for their rights, and education – they were rich? 

As soon as I see people say things that are simply not true, I question the rest of their words. So I treat Robinson’s words with extreme caution, though my inclination is to agree with him. [But I agree more with the Man who said someone who can’t be trusted with the small things, certainly can’t be trusted with the big ones.]

The lack of history in education is raised often in some political circles, so that it even reaches the mainstream press occasionally. Bizarrely then, I read comments in blog articles about the degree price hike problem in which a degree in history is considered pointless. [Perhaps if it’s not real history it is].

Schools have no sense of reason, habit of virtue or sense of where we come from. They have, therefore, no foundation from which to teach.

I want my children to learn who they are and what is real and true. I want them to hone their reason so that they have the tools for discernment. I want them to know, in some depth, where they have come from, and who the genuine great thinkers were and what they thought. I want them to appreciate beauty, because in that there is truth to be found.

There is no point in critical thinking if all that is spouted is unfounded opinion and relativism.

There is no point is the absolutes of mathematics if everything is relative.

There is no point in history, if there is only black legend and fog.

And there is no point in literacy is there is nothing worth reading.

Charlotte Mason’s educational atmosphere is built on the strong foundation of the habits of discipline and honing virtue, so that children grow in the genuine hope of discovery; the discovery of truthful things. She wrote in the assumption that truths do not contradict one another. She wrote with an understanding of the place of the family and the genuine personhood of all children. “Children are born persons,” she wrote. There are in fact conceived persons- personhood is a state of being; a rational being.

Schools offer none of this. Personhood is lost in the demands of the factory machine. Machine’s don’t think, they don’t reason; they just “do.”

I don’t want my children to “do” I want them to “be.” There are persons in their own right-and always will be.

The Education of Last Resort.

The council sent a letter addressed to my 3 yr old, whose name they spelled incorrectly. The letter wasn’t to her anyway, it was to her dad and me.

It used legalistic jargon to tell me that by the time my 3 yr old is 5 I am legally obliged to ensure she is receiving a suitable education…and here are the forms for primary schools I should complete.

The whole thing went into the bin.

There is no hint in this officaldom nonsense that home education even exists, much less being a very good suitable choice for the education of our children.

My friend received her letter for her 3yr old daughter too. She has written all over the form that she and her husband are choosing to home educate and they are pretty unimpressed that the council doesn’t even mention this as a viable option, as choosing any school.

Back when I sent my older children to school I had never heard of home education. Later I discovered homeschooling in America, but it was some time after that I heard of home education in the UK.

These days when I mention to people I meet that we home educate, nearly everyone has heard of it. Many have even considered it as an option, but most still react by telling me how “brave” I am to do it. Frankly I think it’s “brave” to take the risk of sending children to school these days.

More and more studies, stats and research show that more and more children are not receiving a suitable education in school. I see parents having to buy resources and pay for tutors to make up for the lack of school education. So the children come home after 6-7 hrs of school to face the homework, the “extras” and even tutors.  This happens so much that Letts, Dorling Kindesley and other publishers have whole networks of books aimed at this extra-at-home market.  I am not just talking about extra tuition for exams at gcse either – I mean primary school and early secondary.

I do think as HE is more widely known of, the more parents will keep their children away from the failed school system. This isn’t brave, it’s just performing our legal (and moral) duty to ensure our children receive a suitable education.

School should be a last resort for parents and children who need that option. If it was a last resort class sizes would be smaller and maybe if parents had their power back, they could demand a better system.

Home Education and the “socialising” of siblings.

I recently met with a  friend who has just about finished her long career in home educating her children, though of course she is still a mother.

In passing she commented on the way my children were playing together and how they get on well. I nodded, adding “most of the time.” Continue reading

Home Education “I wish I could do that.”

Back in the dark days of starting out home educating my children the main reaction I got was “Are you a teacher?” and “You wont be able to teach them science,” and of course the good old canard “They wont be socialised.”

I think things have changed over the last 6 years or so. When I meet parents now and admit that I am home educating I often get a really wistful expression of “Oh yes, I wish I could do that.” I realise of course that some people wouldn’t dream of taking on their own children’s education in any way at all; notwithstanding the duty they have to ensure their children actually receive a suitable education. But I am sure many of those mothers who say “I wish I could do that,” really do wish it. They have looked into it and thought about it, but for whatever reason – and it’s usually she has to work- they decide they can’t do it.

But among those wistful mums, I bet the fact they have now met a mother who is doing what they would like to do, might just add a little fuel to the fire of that deep longing and just maybe one or two will make the leap and begin to home educate. Something as countercultural as home education takes a great deal of courage and I think it can only happen when you meet and get to know at least one person who is already doing it.

I am not sure what on earth I would have done if I hadn’t been blessed enough to have met and talked with a couple of home educating families before I pulled my son out of school. My initial experience in the whole thing was a bit of a baptism of fire in some ways, but I met other families and more children and gradually it all came together.

There are still changes and shifting tides in how we do things but I am glad I had that chance to talk of home educators who were willing to answer my questions on what to do and how to do it back in those early days. A lot of the really good advice came from internet friends  many of whom had been in the homeschooling lark over in America or Canada for many years.

The internet has meant that many home educators scattered around the country and around the world can talk and share ideas and support one another.

Last year the British media had lots of articles and news items about home education. There were newspapers, radio interviews and comment boxes full of information. It didn’t matter how silly, inaccurate or negative the news piece might be, the way the internet works now, home educators could put their side of it and answer (over and over) those questions, which were more often statements about how we couldn’t be doing it right; not socialising our children+and even abusing our children.

Those answers were often apparently ignored by those who were bitterly opposed to us, but other people read them and I think more and more people are getting to know they do have a choice and that school isn’t the only option for their children.

There is a growing awareness among people who can think for themselves that the mainstream media isn’t reliable. I laughed out loud when I read Jeremy Paxman’s concern that the upcoming BBC strikes to co-inside with the Conservative Party Conference might compromise the BBC balance and make it seem there’s a bias! Perhaps he is unaware there are whole blogs and blog entries all over the place dedicated to correcting the misinformation put out by the BBC. If they go on strike will anyone notice?

The lack of balance in reporting on home education and the deliberate attempt to portray it as something rather odd, posh people do looks to have backfired as more and more people are looking at their children’s education and realising it isn ‘t right.

The mother who so wistfully said “I wish I could do that” so recently had bought study books for her daughter to do after school. You see after spending 6 hours a day in school she still wasn’t learning enough.

Of course the other great obstacle to many mothers taking on home education is the money. While poorer families can make it work and do, it takes a lot of sacrifices and giving up on much that today’s culture seems to think you “need”. I think it’s the same for those who want to have their children privately educated. They might have more money up front, but I have met a couple of dads who work a lot of extra hours and have given up quite a high standard of living to find the thousands of pounds each year to put two children through private school.

In some ways I think we are back to the Neanderthal parent thing. At what point do adult “wants” give way to what children need? And how, in a culture that says we need all sorts of stuff and more stuff that frankly we don’t need at all, do we discern what is the right thing to do?

Many home educating mothers and a few fathers I bet, are tired of answering the same old questions, of fielding the disapproval and banal remarks. But I think we have to face through all that, because among the defensive ones who really don’t like the fact we have done it, is surely a sense that they should too. If we are gentle and polite in answering questions then maybe we can look back later and see we gave the “permission” that parent needed to break out of the tick box and embark on home education.

Home Education; Better Late Than Early: Is it really?

Term is approaching. I had it all planned and had a fairly good idea what we would be up to right up to Christmas. I might have to rethink a few things.

For a start this is the first year when we are not really tied to school term dates as such because no one is in school or college. So we can be more flexible. But then if I am going to be ill I need to re-assess how I go about the whole Home Ed process a bit. One area where I think we have an advantage in that Ronan is a strong reader. While I think Avila finds reading more of a challenge she is reading reasonably well too. A primary school teacher friend pointed out that while I was a bit concerned about how Avila was reading, that she had no children at all in Reception and only a couple in year 1 who were reading at her level; so she is ahead of school children. However, I have to say, having worked in a Rec and year 1, I would hope any home educated child was finding reading easier than those children- because they get one to one or at least one to a few attention and books are everywhere in the home.

I am hoping, that as both of them read well enough that if I am too ill to do as much as I would like- they can read.

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The question of a suitable education.

The question of what constitutes a “suitable education” rumbles on. Perhaps it should as it is a question that needs some discernment, especially when we see so many children failed by schools these days both academically and personally. It’s not just that children are leaving school with poor academic ability (regardless of exam results quite often) but that they are not able to think logically or take initiative without being pushed or led.

If I was to answer the question on what constitutes suitable education I would have to say what it is that I believe makes home education so much more suitable for my children than a school one.

I am home educating my children to ensure they can live and learn in an environment where they are safe and loved and truly respected. They are first and foremost part of a family. From there they can learn to be part of a community and a wider society. No child of mine has suffered assault, verbal or physical abuse since being home educated. I cannot say the same of those who were in school.

My three younger children (7,5, 3) have not been exposed to foul language, aggressive language or retelling of “adult” television programmes – unlike those who went to school. (by “adult” I mean those crass soaps that have such horrible story lines and yet parents allow their 4-6 yr olds to watch for some unearthly reason).

There is silence when they need to have it for learning. Impossible at any school I have ever set foot in.

Their health needs have been met. (Schools have a pretty shocking record on this one).

Being part of a home education group that is mixed age means they have role models to look up to, other adults to learn with and younger children to care for and role model for. This enhances their social skills and maturity as well as morals in their treatment and respect of others. Having more responsibility also naturally enhances self esteem as well as verbal skills.

For example my 5yr old sat with my 3yr old today to do a game about counting ducks.

So far this suitable education hasn’t mentioned a single academic subject. “What about science?” someone will bellow.

Well yes, we learn that, but more importantly they are learning what commitment in marriage and friendship is about. They see motherhood and fatherhood as positive things not something to be dreaded or treated as second rate to a “career”.  I do not want my children to imbue the horrible cultural view that “Career” and “money” are the pinnacle of success. I want them to learn to be good people who might just have a successful career.

Finally they are learning to learn so that we can do the academic things such as maths, Language Arts, languages, critical thinking, science, ….and so on.

As they get older (the younger ones) I think I am leaning more towards providing the Trivvium and Quadrivium that was the bastion of medieval education. That is was was once known as the Seven Liberal Arts:

Grammar, rhetoric and logic

Arithmetic, geometry, music(and art) and Astronomy(Cosmology)

This system developed by St Albert the Great was rooted in a view of the value of the human person and developed out of the rich soil of learning and life laid down by St Benedict of Nursia. He had set up ‘schools’ in his monasteries where boys (the girls went to his sister St Scholastica) from all social backgrounds mixed together and learned together. But they didn’t just learn reading, writing and arithmetic. They learned farming, animal care and how to look after themselves and others. Benedict’s “suitable education” was about learning respect for each person and finding value in all work.

I think if what the children learn gives them a grounding in all these areas they will know how to learn, how to discern learning and what they need to learn, and having never attended school they will hopefully not learn to hate learning.

Confessions of a (semi) Structured home educator

Now that all the damage is done the DCSF have rather strangely decided to start some research into home education. They state the object is

Close the gap in educational achievement for children from disadvantaged backgrounds

Of course I laughed. If they really want to ensure hardly any EHE families come forward this has to be the way to do it.

But I do wonder, just how my family and group would fair in research like this.

I have wondered if on the surface at least, my family and group set up looks quite good to someone of Badman’s mindset. After all he could turn up and quite often find a load of children sitting around a table doing history and mapwork.  That might look “suitable” to someone with a ‘school-knows-best” mindset because it looks a bit schoolish. But then I wonder what he would make of the lessons.

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Is home ed worth considering?

A Guardian post asks Is Home Schooling Worth Considering?

I think more and more people will start asking this question now that home education is getting a broader exposure- even in essentially hostile pages like the Guardian.

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Answering questions on home education.

It has been nearly five years since I began home educating my children and the reasons seem almost irrelevant at this point. The child who was being so badly bullied in school is now a young man with a great talent doing well in college, work and with his portfolio of art. He is no longer the closed off miserable 14 yr old who could barely read when I first got him home.

I am now home educating children aged 15, 6 and 4 as well as bringing up their 2 year old sister. Unless something dreadful happens these younger children will never attend school.

My 15 year old daughter is autonomously educated, something that Graham Badman thinks is a form of education worthy of eradication. She plans her own learning and organisers her own day around her learning and the skills she wishes to hone.  I offer some guidance and help her with resources as any mother would when their child is trying to achieve something. She completed her IGCSE maths when she was 14 and got a B.  After discussion it was agreed she need not sit other gcse exams unless there is a real need to. She turns 16 in Jan and will be starting Open University courses in Feb. She wants to write for a living and certainly has a way with words, but she is aware of the difficulties in that market and has back up skills for earning a living.

But is she socialised? She is relaxed in the company of adults, children and her peers. She chats with the mums at our home ed group meetings and plays with the babies; she teaches some sessions with the group and is considered “professional” by a couple of the children. Her friends come over and she goes out with them and to Explorer Scouts. Having two older brothers she is able to hold her own with their friends too.

And the others? Well to be honest my 2 yr old is not yet socialised-but then find me one who is. The three younger children do have friends and see lots of other people of various ages. Our house is the home ed hub at the moment (although occasionally we think about getting a hall or somewhere) and there’s plenty of group lessons, play and outings.

But aren’t they hidden? Apart from being known by the fellow home ed families, the children are well  known to the neighbours and local shop owners. They are also well known at our parish church and Beavers and Scouts. When my 15 yr old wasn’t too well recently I took her to the GP and while we were there I sat quietly while she explained her symptoms and answered his questions. He was obviously surprised that a 15 year old could do this and commented on it two or three times while we were there.

Surely you need to be a teacher; no one knows all the subjects? There is a great deal my daughter has been learning that I knew nothing about when she started. Let’s take The Franklin Expedition for a start. When she wanted to learn about it neither of us knew much-now she knows a whole lot and I have learned quite a bit alongside her and from her. Her science modules and projects have been done as a joint learning excercise. One thing I would never do is teach her something false just to look like I know something. I will never forget my son being given erroneous information in science by a teacher who refused to listen to the correct answer.

At home we have access to some excellent internet resources, other parents who are often experts in their field and the library. With all this how can we all help but learn?

The younger ones are all under 7 so there isn’t much I can’t manage with them. I do have DVDs for Math (because that is something I am not much good at and Mr Steve Demme is) and I am grateful for Mr Linney for providing lessons and pronunciation for both Latin and Spanish. I am fluent in Sign Language and so teach a group of children.

What about real life? You can only get that by going to school. This gets said a lot. I can’t quite see why school equals ‘real life’ and being part of a family, local community and broader home educating community with different approaches to life and with responsibility for your learning and behaviour within those communities is ‘unreal life’. It seems to me that real life is about having the life skills necessary to live, to have self-respect and respect and care for others whatever their age or ability. If my experience of schooled children is anything to go by, schools don’t teach this at all. Sadly far too many schooled children can’t speak to anyone not exactly the same age as them at all. My dd has pointed out the appalling habit of texting friends to say they are coming to the door, to avoid having a parent answer the bell! I don’t see how an institutional set up like a school ever teaches ‘real life’.

Yeah, well maybe you do it okay, but what about those others? These ‘others’ are the ones Badman and his mates have been unable to unearth. Have I ever met families who I personally think are making a mess of home education? I have come across a family who struggled with it to a huge extent especially when a baby arrived and mum wasn’t that well. The children are now in school because, while this may surprise some people, parents do tend to know when to do that. Another family I knew were just pretty unpleasant people and yes I think that effected the education. What can I say? Home educators are human just like the rest.  I have come across other families whose approach to home education is one I wouldn’t have been happy with, but I still thought the children were doing better than most schooled children of comparable age. We are not closing down schools because so many children end up illiterate and bullied- there is no evidence that home education harms children at all and a great deal that shows home education works very well indeed.

It isn’t fair that your children might do better than mine. In an equal society they should be forced to have the same (low) standards as our children. Apparently this really is an attitude from some parents. Fortunately I haven’t come across it. I’m not sure how I would answer it. I can’t think of anything polite to say anyway. All I can say is, if you really think like this then give up your time and give it to your children so they too have a better standard of education.

You can’t teach science though can you? Actually I don’t think I ‘teach’ very much of anything. We learn together and if I happen to know extra then I’ll pass it on. However I would rather the children learned to learn, to do their own research, than having me just spout information at them.

Science is just as easy to learn as any other hands on subject. Most experiments get done in the kitchen or the garden. You need a kitchen full of white vinegar, salt, sugar, oil, red cabbage, potatoes, lemons and bicarb and you’ll need some wires and a  9 volt battery. For other stuff you’ll need to buy a little science kit. Shop around and you can pick one up for £20 or so. My daughter’s school friends complained when they saw her science work because she was able to do so many experiments compared to them.

The only aspect of science I might find difficult at home would be A’level chemistry because there are assessed lab works involved-other than that; it’s a breeze.

Homeschooled children miss out on music and drama though don’t they? Not in my experience they don’t. There is plenty of music to be learned easily at home and those of us who can play instruments share that with other families. Getting in tutors for instruments is a cost problem but music, singing and getting to grips with composers is free. Drama is often done in the group and children join drama groups in their area, as well as dance and other things.  In fact, from what my children got in school, most home ed children have better music, art and drama access than school children.

You are doing your children a disservice by making them different. (LOL I saw this written on the Guardian comments a couple of days ago!!) As I mentioned earlier my children are learning self-respect and respect for others. There is nothing shameful about being a little different. In fact the ability to be different seems to me to be a definite advantage.

Children need to get away from their parents. You are too close to your children if you keep them with you. All the evidence is that children need strong attachment to their parents and where this is missing children feel afraid, angry, lonely and miserable. Take a look at the research. Independence is learned properly through training from the family. As children grow they learn to do more and more for themselves and take on more decisions. At home they get to decide their learning and learn to work with others of all ages including adults.  There are plenty of home educated young people out there, including my own older ones, who are capable, autonomous and responsible -like adults should be.  My son’s employer comments how unusual this is in a young man of his age (18). Why is that?

Finally, I have a right and duty to the education of my children and I will ensure they get the best education possible.  For us that means home education.