Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Home Education can reduce exam stress.

I am currently away staying near a private exam centre run by NorthstarWorldWide, who do distance tutoring and have their own exam centre. We really like their exam centre because it is small quiet, with only private candidates and its set right next to the Peak District, which is so beautiful.

I really love how for Home Ed teens exam stress can be minimised. We can stagger their exams, so we have sat five GCSE's over six months with two last November, one in January and two in the last few weeks (May). So for each set of exams we have been able to spread the pressure and focus really intensely on each subject at a time. We have also found this good because it spreads the cost of paying privately for exams. Also your kids can take them at any age that suits them.

We have only aimed for five GCSE's for each son, as this is plenty to attain most goals, except perhaps very top fields of expertise like medicine or veterinary science. My eldest is now at a top University studying law and my youngest has several options open to him for September which he can choose from soon. Only doing five subjects really reduces the stress of exams, it also means your kids can pick the subjects they really want to do, except perhaps for Maths and English, which are a core requirement for many further education options, but not all so it's worth checking. GCSEs aren't the only exam option for Home ed, check this link for more information: http://he-exams.wikia.com/wiki/HE_Exams_Wiki

We have also combined exam pressure with fun activities when exams or revision are not mentioned, so this week we have been caving and rock climbing, being in the Peak District really has advantages. It may have been a small tactical error to do rock climbing on grit stone which makes your hands bleed, just before an English exam, but oh well, my son is tough. 😜

The other stress relief is needed for the HE parent, get a bunch of other HE Mum's around you who understand and you can vent to. This is a good Facebook group for this: https://www.facebook.com/groups/HELinksUK.IGCSE/

Exams aren't necessary for every child, but if they are something that suits your child's future plans make them as fun as you can as they can be quite dull, tedious and stressful.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Home Education; stuck at home with Mum all day?

How can your kids learn to be confident if they are stuck at home all day? They need to be in school mixing to grow up normal... This is what I was told, what I heard so many times when my kids were little. This is a real fear of people who hear of home education but haven't tried it.  I felt looked down on by my friends who were school mum's, they just assumed that being at home all day was bad for my kids, that they would grow up with out friends or an ability to function without Mum. Often a real fear of relatives of home educated kids is that they will be deprived as they are stuck at home and educated by their mother, how can that be good?

I am going to explain why the above fears are unfounded, using an analogy (yes this is a boot in a sink).

Take a look at this photo above. Let's assume you have never seen a boot before and all you had seen was the sole like this one. What can you tell, as far as you know is this item is limited and it's hard to see how it could be of any use to anyone. If you were then told it was for wearing on the feet, it's hard to tell how it would be that useful except the sole seems like it would protect the bottom of your feet, but how can this sole support your feet or how can the sole possibly be attached to your feet, it seems very limited and if you were asked if you wanted this boot to climb a mountain in you would probably say no. This is because you are only seeing it from one dimension, to really know how it works and whether it was for you, you would need to experience it in all its dimensions and try it on to see if it's a good fit. This is why people have so many fears of home education before they have actually experienced it. They just see the one dimension, they see a kid at home with its mother and this looks dull, limited and how can it be a good thing?

I want to try give you a glimpse of the other dimensions of HE. Firstly yes kids are at home some of the time, but the biggest difference new home educators discover is that being at home to study can have big advantages. All the stress of rushing out of the door to school on time suddenly vanishes, pack lunches, trying to find clean clothes, sudden panics when home work is incomplete or a permission slip needs filling in and you are already late! An HE morning in our house when my lads were young consisted of a cooked breakfast every morning, whilst cooking the boys might watch a bit of TV with Dad before he went to work. We discussed what we had planned for the day, which usually involved discussions about which day of the week it was, what the weather was like, and were we meeting up with friends that day. Over breakfast we talked of politics, philosophy, adventure, the latest news or which games were the best. The point is we were never in a hurry, we had time to talk, share, discuss, all before we did any formal study or any activities. I personally believe these sort of meal time discussions have as much power to inspire and teach as the formal learning later. This blog post is an example of one such morning. Another big advantage of not 
rushing out to school in the morning is you can wear what you like! My eldest gave a talk recently to new and potential home educators, his opening line was "We always wore a uniform for school every day, we wore the same every day, it was a handy uniform you can sleep and work in it, it was practical and comfy, pyjamas" This is a almost true, as my youngest was more likely to be wearing fancy dress costume, from Thunderbirds, policeman, army uniform, what ever he decided to be that day! 

I feel the impression of quiet dull study sat around a table with Mum, who's educational qualifications may be questionable, is really such a one dimensional view of what really happens in HE homes. Here is a blog of a HE friend, this shows a snap shot of fun packed days of learning in an HE home, have a dig through her blog of a real insight in to HE possibilities. The question of the qualifications of Mum to teach the kids seems a valid concern, but again is such a one dimensional view. Learning whilst young happens through more than just formal learning, which alone can be achieved with workbooks from Poundland, but learning truely happens in every moment in many ways. A friend of mine always had a calendar in her toilet, when her kids were at that stage when they were still needed help in the toilet, she would talk to them about the days, months and years on the calendar, her kids learnt the months of the year not in a class room, but on the toilet. People have asked me, but how can you teach things like maths if you are no good at it? Well there is so many online programs that teach maths in a fun way, with testing that shows progress, using these you actually don't need an amazing grasp of maths, but you will be surprised how you actually learn along side your kids and your own ability grows with them.

I think the biggest fallcy about HE is the 'stuck at home' image. This is so incorrect its funny. The main issue when you are home educating is spending enough time at home. We went from one fun group activity to the next, from art classes, sports groups, drama, nature walks, pond dipping, sciences classes, swimming lessons, archery lessons etc etc etc. The main limit is time, money, your own sanity and possibly the need to get some housework done!

Looking back on my lads younger years I see a rich colourful fabric of activity, discussions, fun, study and laughter, that has supported their growing up years, which has seen my lads grow in to confident adventurous young men with a self belief that they can climb what ever mountain they choose to tackle.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Let your kids get bored...

Recently my husband and I have been reminiscing. We are at a turning point in our lives. Over Christmas my Dad died and my Mum had a heart attack, followed by my Husband having triple bypass heart surgery. Also with my eldest son gone off to University and my youngest son applying for the army, it is the beginning of a new season. This has made us all sentimental remember the early days of parenting and home educating life. We have been watching old videos and laughing.

I came across a video that my youngest son made, when he was 8 years old. He videoed a conversation I had with him, you can watch it here. It shows my son declaring he wants to watch TV and me telling him to go be creative with out TV.  I did laugh as I pulled out all the cliched parenting lines, but the point of sharing this with you, is that I sincerely believe boredom breeds creativity. Following this video my son went off with his video camera and made some very creative videos. This is one here.

I want to say loudly and clearly to home educating parents, don't fear boredom, don't worry if your child repeatedly says "I am bored". Let them be bored, let them have time to think for themselves about what interests them.

I went through my school years and probably part of my adult years with no real clue about what interests me and where my passions lie. I was a compliant kid, towed the line and just got on with what I was told to do. You could say this was a good thing, and in some ways it was, but it took me until being a parent when I became fully responsible for my own choices that I discovered what interests me, where my passions are,  I went from being a qualified engineer working in the pharmaceutical industry, to a home educating mother, with a driving interest in how people learn, nutrition and dog psychology.  When you are stuck at home with a your kids every day you might get bored, but you start to find interests and get creative.

I like this university study that was done to determine the effects of boredom on the minds of kids. They found following a very boring task the kids were significantly more creative.

So if your kid is complaining that home education is boring, then don't be fearful and think you have failed, trust that it is a sign that your kids are about to get creative.

 Photo: My Mum, me, Baby eldest, my Dad

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Surely Home Education will produce Mummy's boys?

When I started home education, it seemed such a huge task ahead. I felt like an explorer ready to sail off around the world to explore territories no one had been to before, places where we had only heard tales of adventure and off grid living.

 Before I had kids, like probably most parents, I had this picture in my head, of finding nurseries, looking around schools, to make the best pick for my kids future, preparing my kids for school by toughening them up so they would be ready at 3-4 years old for independent school life, but then I found out about home education and it just cried out of adventure and freedom to be individuals.

 This brought up the new fear in me that if my kids didn't go to school, how would they learn to be strong independent men? I had friends around me hint that they would definitely become Mummy's boys, shy and not able to mix with other kids and stand up for themselves. I even heard it suggested that they need to know how to cope with bullies, and learn to stick up for themselves with out Mum. Another time I was told, that my son's couldn't learn to be adults if they were with me all the time.

I am now at the end of my home education journey, my son's have been taught by me, plus a few tutors and group classes. They have spent a huge amount of time with me. I even went to many activities with them, like running cub scouts when my son was there. I sent them to scouting activities and Air Cadets, as they got older. Together we did bus trips, train journey's, bike rides, mountain adventures. We moved house, made new friends and went to many activities where we didn't know anyone.

I have never deliberately pushed my boys away from me, to make sure they grow up strong and independent. As my youngest at 4 years old was a permanently on my lap, having a cuddle. I remember saying to my husband, if he was in school, he wouldn't be able to do that. 

I found I knew instinctively when my son's were ready to do things by themselves and I let them. Not every one develops at the same rate. I remember the first time my youngest went on a train journey on his own, he got in a bit of a muddle and got on a train going the opposite direction, but he learned from that and now at 15, he is constantly on trains and buses visiting friends on his own. I also remember sending him to a  Beaver Scout camp at 6 years old, and he loved it and it didn't occur to him to miss home, whereas he friend who was a school kid and had followed the tradition route of nurseries and childcare, really didn't enjoy it, cried and missed his Mum. Its was simply a matter of when they are ready, and not how much time they spent with their Mum!

As they have got older, they have both shown exceptional confidence in social situations. My youngest had to move air cadet squadrons when we moved house and he instantly mixed and made friends in his new squadron with out any difficulty. My eldest has exceptional self confidence and he didn't even start outside clubs like cubs until he was 9 years old, everything had been with me before that time. An example of his confidence, a few days ago he popped down to his Sixth Form College, where he studied his A levels, to pick up his exam certificates, and got chatting to his teachers, and ended up giving a talk to the 2nd year A level law students, with no preparation. This is the son that didn't attend school until 16, did all his learning from home, was with me every day, pretty much all his life, but this doesn't appear to have produced a shy, quiet, Mummy's boy, on the contrary, it seems to have turned him in to a young man who isn't scared of public speaking, training others,  or any social situation. One time a few years ago he went on a trip to the Houses of Parliament and got chatting to his MP, and ended up being invited to the MP's lounge and the MP brought him dinner, and ended up chatting to the speaker of the house, so yes he is not shy. 

My youngest is currently doing his last GCSE's this year, and has an interview at the local College today, and also has applied for Army College, as his dream is to be a Paratrooper, which he has wanted since he was little. He is fitness training and preparing very seriously, and doesn't lack any confidence that he can go for his dreams.

So if anyone tells you, if you don't put your sons in school they will become Mummy's boys. It is not true!

Sunday, 21 August 2016

How can kids get good grades from home education?

My eldest son has just passed his A levels with A*, A*, A, A and is off to a top University to study Law in a few weeks. 

Friends have now been asking me for tips on how to help their kids achieve good grades. I want to state straight away, before anyone gets angry, it's not necessary to get good grades to be a success in life. Having failed my A levels I am speaking from experience, I have had a wonderful life so far, with interesting jobs and having met wonderful people all with out good grades. 

BUT, I do have some tips to help your kids achieve the best they can in their education. 

Tip number one: Chill out while your kids are young! Really have lots of fun, do many interesting things. You can do a few basic learning activities like maths, learning to read and write, but most learning can be done by following interests and getting out and about in the world. I think inspiring your kids to find life interesting by finding that spark that interests them and feed the fire. May be your kid loves animals, then go to farms, go see animals, touch them, watch documentaries about them, sign them up for zoo keeper holiday club, etc. They might not end up following this path later on but it's more about letting them see the world and being interested. The most noteworthy comment I got from my sons A level teachers was that he was interested in his subjects, which they remarked was very unusual. That I believe was helped by the fact learning for him has always been led by interest. 

Tip number two: play to your child's strengths. Don't fix in your head an idea of what you consider is academic success. Get to know your kids, if they have been in school a while, it might be hard for them, as they might not know what interests them, as all their lives they have just learnt what they have been told to learn. Time is a great healer, it might take a while of just being, chatting, living and doing interesting things for you and your child to start to find a passion for learning. It might surprise you and be a love of learning to cook or may be making videos to post online or a particular sport. I have discovered with my own kids that forcing them to be interested in something I think is worthwhile is a fruitless task. Also be ready to adapt constantly to their changing interests and strengths as they grow. The only constant I have found in home ed is the constant need to rethink my plans. 

Tip number three: Read to them, read lots and lots of books to your kids when young. Reading is wonderful, you can inspire and they can learn so much, right from your sofa and for free if you use the library. Even if they are reading by themselves read to them as this can lead to discussions and shared experiences of the stories that are such powerful learning tools. 

As your kids get older you can introduce more formal learning if they start to have a particular direction they want to head academically. You might need help with this if their interests don't match your skill set. I hate teaching english, and as my eldest has ended up taking all subjects based on that horrific thing called essay writing, I hired a good friend who was an english teacher to help him. I have done the same for my youngest son. Whereas being an engineer I felt perfectly comfortable teaching them physics, biology, and maths.

Basically just keep adapting, encouraging and listening to your kids. My youngest is completely different to my eldest, so there is no point trying to force them down the same road academically. It feels like an impossible climb, but keep going you will get there. 

This is us on top of Ben Nevis this summer, it was hard work but what a feeling when you reach the top. :-)

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Housework is overwhelming you?...

Do you home educate and are you feeling overwhelmed and exhausted?... Is your house out of control and you only just manage to keep enough clothes clean for the kids to wear, but they are in a pile somewhere in the house waiting to be put away? Does your garden need weeding and the grass need cutting? Have you forgotten what colour the floors are in your kids rooms?

Can I let you in to a secret? All the above things are normal when you home educate.  Can you be different? Probably not with out killing yourself in the process.

So why bothering blogging about it if there is nothing we can do about this? Because I believe we need to shift the way we think about ourselves and our home.

Here is my list of things that can change:

1) Stop comparing yourself to school mums!

It is tough being a mum, whether you home educate or not, the biggest difference is the sense of responsibility Home Ed mums feel towards their kids education. So the following is a generalisation based on how it feels to home ed, so please don't shoot me if you are a school mum reading this.

There are three types of school mum, ones with all the kids in school who work away from home full time, ones who have some in school and some at home and a few who either don't work or work part-time.

Firstly the ones who's kids are in school and work away from home full time, guess what? There is no-one in their houses messing it up all day. So you can't compare yourself to them. I had a lovely neighbour, who was in this situation, and I always felt like a bad mother and beat myself up about it, when I went over to her perfect home! Everything was organised, floors were clean, everything put away! ARGHHHHH!

Secondly some with kids at home and some at school, these mum's you can relate to, because they will have toddlers probably throwing toys and food around, but still remember they have not also taken on the full responsibility for their children education. So you can't really compare yourself to them.

Thirdly mum's who don't have a paid job or a part time job while their kids are in school. They have free time alone! How they spend it is up to them. You have zero time alone, ever. So stop comparing!

2) Us mum's/dad's who home educate, have mostly been in school ourselves, so a lot of us have the mindset of formal study times and term tables. Lets throw this out of our heads. If you need to take two weeks off to get control of the house because you feel like you are drowning, then DO IT! Stop all study and get the kids to help, and get on top of things, not to perfection, but to the point where you feel like you can function again. You can then start studying again with a clear head. Kids learn a lot from sharing the responsibility of caring for the home.

3) Set a few small routines in place for first thing in the morning. I learn't this from Flylady. If you can get a few little things done every morning, then they at least won't hang over your head. My personal routine is, get dressed immediately, unload the dishwasher, put the washing machine on, empty the kitchen bins (recycling, compost etc), then make breakfast. Then the biggest issue is remembering to move the washed clothes from the washing machine to the tumbler dryer or washing line later, I often set a timer on my watch, as I always forget and get distracted by the kids.

4) Bin ruthlessly, really get rid of a lot of stuff, lets face it, our kids don't play with most or their toys, we have lots of clothes we don't actually wear. Keep only the things that bring you joy, I learn't this from this amazing ladies book, its really works. I am probably half way through the process she suggests and I feel a bit more in control than I did. The best bit about it is that you actually become aware of what you own, then you spend less money, because you know what you have and where to find it.

5) Know you are not a bad mother/father and you are not alone. Its was very hard for me to admit that I was overwhelmed, because when my kids were younger I was considered by family and friends as a bit silly, probably wrong, to home educate. If I was to say I couldn't cope, they would just say, well you can put your kids in school! So ye, its not always easy to home educate.

6) Enjoy the chaos, my kids are now all grownup (18 & 15), they don't really need me as much for daily care. It won't be long before they leave home, and then my house will be tidy, organised and I will be wondering what to do! Enjoy the laughter, enjoy the madness, its only for a season, then you will miss it, trust me!

Friday, 10 June 2016

Should I use a curriculum?...

I noticed a few new home educators have been asking, which curriculum should we use?
Can I suggest, what about no curriculum! No curriculum? Really? ...I am not anti formal learning, I just want to open your eyes to the possibility of the wonderful world of flexible home education.

I can talk with confidence about this, as we have used curriculum, when I first started home education, 18 years ago, there weren't many people doing it. I managed to find a few people and pinned them down and questioned them with my list of 'how to HE' questions. One veteran home educator wisely counselled me not to tie myself to a formal curriculum as it would restrict our creativity and exploration of subjects. I heard what she said, but I was scared and under pressure from disapproving relatives and friends around me, I felt I should formally follow a curriculum as then I won't miss any topic of learning or mess up.

So thats what we did, I found at the time there weren't many curriculums available in the UK, as all of them were developed and produced in the USA. So we used one that was being imported at a reasonable price, which looked pretty comprehensive. We stuck with this until my eldest was 10 years old, but I observed that my eldest son was getting more and more morose, many mornings he would come down stairs, stop half way, sit down with a sigh, and ask me how many pages of work he had to complete today. This wasn't making my heart sing, as my idea of home education was exploring topics and enjoying them, finding things fascinating, exploring the world.

When my eldest son was pre-school age, our favourite thing was to snuggle on the sofa and read lots and lots of factual picture books, my son loved learning, and was fascinated. I didn't see this when he was working his way through work books from a formal curriculum.

I didn't start my younger son on the same formal curriculum, as he was such a lively practical child, he didn't suit this learning style at all. This is when I started to doubt what I was doing. I tried many different learning styles out, we did Charlotte Mason, 5 in A Row, Sonlight, workbooks etc. Non-really suited us, so finally with trepidation, I stopped searching for formal ways to lead our learning and started exploring things that interested us, at the time my eldest was fascinated with marine life, so we started exploring that, reading books, watching documentaries, visiting Sea Life centre, going to the beach to catch crabs and explore rock pools. Suddenly this is where our learning became alive, we weren't restricted by how many pages we had to complete that day, and we reignited that passion for learning and exploring.

Having never liked history at school, I absolutely didn't want to get a dry old text book and teach my kids dates on a timeline. Instead, we read books together of stories set in history, like 'The Machine Gunners' or 'Huckleberry Finn'. We read and listened to a ton of Horrible History stories, my youngest could sing some of the songs from them, learning history with out realising. We visited castles, and places of historical interest, like Omaha beach in Normandy, which the boys were so moved by the cemetery for all the dead, which was very shocking, and helped them grasp the horror of war.  We watched movies based on historical events, which always an sparked interest in the era that the movie was set.  For example, I remember watching Oliver, and the boys starting to ask about the Victorian times, which is not something we had ever looked at, from that we found the amazing 'Victorian Farm' series on TV, plus 'Turn back time' which looked at the history of the high street. We found that so fascinating, we went to visit our local village high street butchers shop, and they had old photos of the shop through the years, they were very happy to chat to us about it.

As well as topic learning, we went out and about joining in with other home educators. We did group art lessons, practical hands on group science lessons, we learnt to build cob walls, we did nature groups with pond dipping etc. We did sports groups, many kinds. We went on trips, walks and park visits together.

We have taken several trips to Europe, where we toured about. In one trip we tried to experience as many countries as we could. Which included learning to speak the languages of the country we were in, reading signs and menus, talking to locals. Experiencing the biggest mountains my sons had ever seen at the time, which sparked a plan to climb all the highest mountain in the UK, which we will have completed this summer. We have been to the Olympics, we have met the Queen, and over the years the boys have gone off on many adventures with their various scouting and cadet groups.

Need I say, we really didn't miss a full formal curriculum, we did use various online maths tutorial programs to keep maths ticking over, but this didn't kill our love of learning in the other subjects.

This is how we enjoyed learning up to the age where my sons started to think careers and wanted qualifications to support their future careers. At that stage we studied IGCSE's with my eldest and are currently doing the same with my youngest, but this is very positive formal learning as we have a clear goal in mind and we are looking to the future. My eldest then went to Sixth Form College to study A levels, where he studied History formally for the first time, his History teacher told us it was so refreshing to teach a student that was genuinely interested in the subject. This week he is sitting his exams and after he will be heading to a top University to study Law.

I hope this might inspire someone to take the plunge and try flexible Home Education.