Friday, 25 September 2015

Too busy to think...

I have absolutely nothing to say. Ever get that feeling of complete lack of inspiration? It usually occurs after being too busy for too long, which pretty much sums up home ed life. 

As with many home educators I am working two jobs, actually it's probably three jobs. Full time educator, dog boarder, house wife, plus trying to start retraining myself for what I hope to be my next job when my kids wave bye bye. 

All the busyness is kind of a brain wipe, as you crawl in to bed at night relieved to be there for a break. 

I did realise though I actually love these mad busy years, I thrive when faced with a challenge. Having to relearn my schooling just ahead of my youngest son to keep him on track to take his GCSE's in a year or so. Sometimes he is ahead of me and loves to tell me about it. 

I am currently also navigating the UCAS system with eldest son, which has been super fun, visiting all the cool cities in the UK, just because they have a University. I am typing this as my son drives me to Liverpool. 

I am looking forward to completing all this educating and having that huge sense of achievement and joy of watching your kids head off to conquer their own dreams. Also, if I can be quite honest here, having that 'told you so' feeling to all those who told me you can't home educator. 

Enjoy your busyness.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Simple guide to GCSEs...

EXAMS! This word fills us 'normal' home educating parents with terror, it drives us to tears and keeps us awake at night. Not because exams are not achievable, but because the whole system of specifications, exam boards, exam centres, booking procedures are like a black art designed to confuse 'normal' parents and make them believe only a trained specialist can navigate it all.

So as promised to several friends, I am going to write here a starter guide. Keeping it as simple as possible. Its not going to include all the information, but this wiki page is a full guide. So my aim here is to just calm your nerves and get you heading in the right direction.

1)  Pick a subject... Go for IGCSE (international version of GCSE), as this means you can avoid practical papers (mostly, except languages) IGCSE are accepted by colleges. If you are worried whether your chosen IGCSE will be accepted for future activities, go check the requirements for future activities your teen might have in mind.

2)   Pick an exam board......I do this by having a good look at the subject course books available for the subject. You could pop to WHSmiths for the hands on feel, or Amazon you can read reviews. I have made mistakes with texts books, bought some and taken a look at them and instantly disliked them, some are SO boring you want to fall asleep within seconds, others grab your interest and suck you in, so it may take a few tries to find the ones for you. There really is not enough difference between the exam boards to matter which you pick, so by choosing the one with the most user friendly material is one great way to decide.

3)   Find an exam centre....Best way is to ask local home educating friends, who have already used one, this is because they vary greatly in quality and price. Failing this go to the exam board websites (see the wiki page above). The exam boards have links to schools that will let private candidates sit with them. You can talk to the exam centre you pick, you won't need to book the exam until about 4 months before your child wants to sit the exam, its worth chatting in advance to the exam centres, just in case they have special conditions or problems with your chosen subject.

4)  Plan your work... If you are using tutoring (online, distance or personal) your tutor can help with this. If you are going to study the subjects on your own, I find the best way is to look through the full coursework book and work out when you would like to take the exam, i.e two years (can be a lot less, we did ICT in 2 months). Then divide the books chapters to give you time to cover the material and allow a month or two at the end to thoroughly revise. Revision can be done using past papers, as many as possible works best. You might want to stagger your exam subjects, we did a few a year for several years, this spreads the cost and the stress.

5) Don't abandon your teen... Most home educators have several children to work with, all I can say is there are some phases when you will need to work more with the teen who is working towards exams, than your perhaps younger children.  I had a whole year where my oldest child had most of my time, but now he is in College and my youngest has all my time. So it works out in the end. I have also heard of parents getting annoyed at their teen for not focusing and pushing it along themselves. I have found they need help to dig in to a subject, get enthusiastic. You need to get passionate along side them about the subjects they have chosen, find interesting trips and documentaries to supplement basic book work. You may need to change your lifestyle to adapt to having more serious work to do, please adapt, this is only a season and it passes quick. Let your younger kids join in with age appropriate versions of the course work, i.e biology, looking a cell structure, everyone can have a play with microscopes and slides and learn.

6) DON'T PANIC... having a good cry can help from time to time, just focus on the small steps right in front of you, this will help you when you want to hyperventilate.  It does feel like climbing a steep mountain.

But having reached the top, the view from up here, makes it worthwhile.

Monday, 18 May 2015

My kid won't focus...

Patience is the most important tool in the home ed. tool kit. When our kids aren't interested, learning as fast as we thought they should, concentrate for as long as they should; our response needs to be patience. 

We need to stop and think, how can I change my approach to engage with my child, grab their interest. 

Perhaps we need to notice their interests and work with those, drop our own agendas and search our hearts to find what makes their hearts beat. 

It could be that the season in their lives is changing and we haven't caught up yet, they may be ready for a more mature approach to learning. 

What I am trying to say is the issue isn't with your kid...I can hear in my head people reading this and saying "kids need to just knuckle down and work, it's not my issue, some kids are just lazy"

But I believe when the curiosity to know is there, the learning happens. Curiosity can be sparked, encouraged like a fire that's fed wood. 

Many different things can fuel the fire of curiosity. Simply changing subjects, so if your kids passion for dinosaurs has waned, move on,  even if the beautifully planned lap books are incomplete. 

Also sometimes we need the patience to admit defeat, that our awesome plan to complete a set curriculum we have purchased at great cost to our pockets, isn't lighting that fire. We might need to swallow our pride and change our approach. I have had to do this so many times in 17 years of home educating, that now I am much slower and more careful about jumping in to a paid set style of learning. I have discovered that often, when I thought I needed others help in teaching my kids, when actually what my kids needed was my passion, time and focus on them. The lastest program of work, wasn't going to light their fires.

For example, when teaching my youngest to read, he didn't need a program of phonics drummed in to him daily, what he needed was a mother that knew the phonics sounds and was prepared to daily sit and enjoy reading simple fun books with him, repeating the sound and slowly building that confidence in reading. This takes huge amounts of time and patience. Sorry it's not a button you can press and your kids will learn because you have asked them to at a time that suits you, in a subject you think is suitable for them. I found story books that my son loved, ones with a cute dog in it, and I spent time enjoying them with him, this is how he learn't.

Anyone who knows me knows my love of dogs, well recently I have been learning how to engage and teach my Border Collies more effectively, one of the most helpful things I have learnt, and I have observed to be true, is when I am passionate and focused in what I am trying to teach them, they will be focused and passionate. If I get side tracked or lose interest, so do they. Border Collies being super intelligent not only learn what you are teaching them, they learn whether what you are teaching them is important or not by really how much effort you give it. I think to a degree children are just the same, if we are enjoying a topic of learning, discussing it passionately with them, enjoying it, throwing ourselves into, they too will learn to love it. As long as we stop before we start faking  interest. 

But again patience is the key here, because you need to be patient with yourself too, sometimes you just won't be able to give your full attention to learning, the housework overwhelms or the baby has been crying all night, but that's ok, just recognise that its unfair to then yell at your kid for not focusing when you are completely distracted. On these occasions admit defeat, give up! Make hot chocolate, break out the cookies and all sit and watch TV (you might be able to throw in an engaging documentary, and let someone else do the inspiring that day).