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.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

It will be alright...

When I look back on the early years, home educating seemed so fun, a small amount of formal learning, mixed with a huge dose of informal learning, plus fun clubs, activities, sports and days out. We have done so many things, the most memorable for me were things like making houses out of clay that we mixed with our feet, trips to castles with friends, swimming outings, wide games in woods, touring Europe, visiting DisneyWorld, big parties in our garden. Daily things I loved were snuggling on the sofa teaching my kids to read, watching interesting documentaries, and messy play with paints and play dough.

It is lovely to look back on those things, but I try not to forgot too the huge uncertainties that you face when your kids are little and you decide to take full responsibility to home educate them. Also the pressure from relatives and friends, who think you are going to break your kids. It's a case of hindsight, I wish I could have had that certainty, known the awesome grownup lads I have now and see how it will work out, then I would have perhaps have been less fearful, and enjoyed those relaxed younger years with them even more.

The season I am in now, is very tightly timetabled, as my younger son and I have targets to achieve three IGCSE Science exams by November, then Maths and English, next summer with possible two language certificates and an European Computer Driving licence. On top of that he wants to achieve black belt karate, three star kayaking, level three sailing, plus the highest level at rock climbing he can get on the NICAS scheme, plus training to being a competent horse rider. On top of that he is a committed member of the AirCadets, and is doing his Duke of Edinburgh's award, plus all the exciting activities they provide.

I can see my home educating journey is nearly at an end, I am not fearful now like I used to be, as I can see my boys following their dreams and ambitions and it's exciting. I still look back though with fondness on those simpler days, enjoy them my friends with little ones, it will be alright.