Monday, 11 September 2017

Home education is not a magic cure...

Home education is not a magic cure.... I have seen a lot of desperate parents asking in home education groups if home education would be possible and helpful for their children who are having difficulty in school. I am starting to sense the popularity of home education is meaning now it is seen as a fix or option to most issues with school, almost as if it's a magic cure. If school fails, take them out, home education will fix it. 

I can feel passionate home educators hackles rising as it sounds like this post is going to rubbish home education. Don't worry, I am one of those passionate home educators, I love it, I love the family life it has given us, the confidence it has given my sons to follow their dreams, the starting blocks in life that has left my boys with a desire to learn and grow completely self motivated through their lives. I love how it has saved them from losing their curiosity and love of learning, for example my 16 year old teaching himself german and guitar, because he doesn't want to waste his life just playing computer games (his words).

Ok, so why say such a negative thing about home education? Because just getting your kid out of a bad environment or situation in school is not the magic fix. Home education works best when one of both parents are passionately focused and dedicated to the education of their children. This passion and focus is why it succeeds, but it takes huge amounts of effort, time and money... it's not a magic cure. 

The style of education is not the reason home education succeeds or fails, it's the focus that parents put in to their chosen style of educating. For example if you choose unschooling, the most successful example of this are when the parents are really attentive and focused to helping their child with what ever they are focused on learning in their life right at the point of interest. They make opportunities for them, find books, TV shows, activities etc that will build on their child's interest. Also they are pro-active in putting new ideas and thoughts before their kids to see what grabs their interest, whether it's buying a telescope and suggesting they look at stars, providing musical instruments that their children can pick up and start to grow in.... it's not a magic cure.

With a more formal style of learning, for example towards GCSE's the parents will guide their child, encourage them, learn the subjects with them so they can discuss it over the dinner table. Provide materials and opportunities to progress in their chosen areas. This all requires a huge amount of effort and energy, plus a fair amount of crying and sleepless nights to achieve... so again as you can see it's not a magic cure, it's a full time job that takes every ounce of  strength.

I feel the desire to caution parents, just taking your kids out of school is not just the simple answer. Taking them out of school, buying them a curriculum to lead them to GCSE success, is not just the answer. The answer is are you prepared to give their learning your full attention, may be at the cost of your own time, interests and possibly even work? 

I don't want to be a purist, I just want to challenge. Home education can work well even if both parents are working, if one or both has time to still give their attention and enthusiasm to their children when they are not at work, this will take a lot of energy and commitment. 

So in conclusion, any style of home education can work really well, but it's not a magic cure, it does requires absolutely dedication from the parents involved.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Open letter to my MP: regards control of home education

It has been brought to my attention that two members of the House of Lords are starting to try propose a private members bill to control home education (again!). 

This is my open letter to my MP. The first half is written by another HE mum who is good with words. The second half is personal to me. I am happy for other HE parents to plagiarise this letter. 

Dear MP,

I am a mother who has electively home educated my two sons for the last 19 years. I have noticed with alarm a new Bill which was introduced and had its first reading in the House of Lords yesterday 27.06.17.

Home Education (Duty of Local Authorities) Bill [HL] 2017-19 (Lord Soley, labour.)

This bill threatens innocent families with a compulsory state registration and monitoring system over and above the current arrangements including compulsory interview of parents by council workers, children also subjected to compulsory interview and assessment of themselves, their work, their health and their emotional and personal life by a council worker. The bill mentions annual assessment but provides demand for parental compliance by law upon request of the council.

This is worse than a permanent investigation under section 47 of the Children Act and amounts to a scandalous and terrifying attempt to impose a tyrannical regime of state overview upon families which, at the very least, contravenes their human rights under section 8 of the human rights act and threatens the health and well being of electively home educated children, many of whom have already been failed by the very system that would be subjecting them to these abuses.

It is also an implicit slur on the character and integrity of families who have chosen a lawful and valid parenting option, usually after serious consideration, for deeply held philosophical and conscientious reasons, or after their child has been seriously let down or harmed by the state system.

I should like to know your stance on elective home education and on the provisions proposed in this disgraceful bill that would put our country to shame in the eyes of any decent onlooker in my opinion.

Will you tell me please, what position you intend to take on this bill?

If this bill had been in place when my boys were young, I would have found it extremely intrusive and stressful to have assessments and interviews, invading our private home life. When I was already doing the most demanding job a mother can do in taking on the serious role of home educating my sons. I took their education very seriously because I see it as a parental role, not a government role. That society is my son's protection socially and emotionally, as 7 years ago I worked out that they both were seen weekly and known by a minimum of 70 adults a week, through activities, doctors, friends, group activities etc. This is 70 adults that would notice if my children were under stress or abused. This is probably more than many school children, as home educated children tend to be involved in many more wide ranging activities with a higher ratio of adults per children than in school. 

Both of my boys without government monitoring or interviews have grown into productive members of our community and are well advanced in their education. This is not the exception, I have met many many other home educating parents and hear of successes all the time. My eldest son is studying law at Nottingham University now,  having achieved A,A,A*,A* at A levels. He is also in the process of application to be a pilot in the RAF; he would tell you how confident and capable he has become from youth without national curriculum, excessive GCSE's and government monitoring. My other son has just taken his GCSE's from home and has accepted a place at Harrogate Army College starting in September. Both of my boys had a carefree, joyful childhood where they learnt by experiencing life alongside us and out of interest-driven learning, which is not something most council officials understand. 

Also I am very concerned that if councils are given power of entry into homes of educators with out any crime being committed that some will intrude in a way that will  harm the most vulnerable children, especially those on the autistic spectrum whose parents have chosen home education to provide a calm routine environment that is low stress for them. 

This bill would be extremely costly in a time of austerity when every public service is struggling to provide already. This is a mallet to crack a nut! The current system of dealing with suspected child abuse is already effective to help those children most vulnerable and in need, without becoming a police state monitoring every family because they choose a different educational style. In Hertfordshire where I used to live the local LEA is currently struggling to assess the home educated children now; if it became compulsory it would be an officious, money-wasting extreme measure.

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:

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:

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. :-)