Separating Home from School

Something I wanted to do when we decided to home educate was to keep home and school separate.  We would be spending more time here than previously and therefore it needed to be a nice space for both of those things.  We used to have an area where all our school work would be kept, which was away from the rest of the house.  We have a garden office which was being used for our business, but in March the business moved to an office in our local city.  Therefore we now have this amazing space in the garden available to us.  🙂

So the girls and I discussed what we wanted that space to look like.  The girls decided that it needed to:

  • display their work;
  • be bright and colourful (bit difficult because of the black carpet tiles already in there);
  • have one table so they were able to work together.

We were very lucky as at the same time, the gym the girls attend was giving away tables they no longer required.  So I asked for one of those and my husband put some taller legs on it and we had a lovely bright red table to use.  We bought some vinyl flower stickers to decorate it a bit further.

We had the colourful drawers from when we educated inside our home. I always thought if it’s bright and colourful it would be more inspiring and for the most part that is true, so they have a set each.  We also had the wicker storage system which holds all their craft stuff, like paint and paper.  We just moved all those things into the lovely new space.

We found this gorgeous rainbow rug and I thought that would brighten up the black tiles a bit.  The girls absolutely love this. Aside from being lovely and bright, it’s soft too.

 

We had a discussion about where we’d like the ‘work’ to be displayed, they decided to separate it into subjects, which is how we had it in the house as well. So at present we have an art wall and a wall that displays French and Vikings.

Anna sits on the Vikings side of the table therefore, she has things useful to her on the wall. (She is learning to read so blending sounds cards).  Also as time has gone on we have added a helpful hints wall for maths.

Our little school room is coming along nicely.  The girls both like being in there and that is half the battle 😀

 

 

 

 

 

What? You Home Educate?

Whenever anyone finds out we home educate we are normally asked a lot, and I mean a lot, of questions. I can usually guess what these questions will be as most people ask the same ones.

Until recently I think people just assumed my children were too young for school even though Elsa is obviously of an age where she ‘should be at school’.  Now we are being asked questions on a more regular basis.

Here are some of the most common questions we are asked, so maybe if you see someone who is ‘of school age’ you will already know the answers to some of the questions you may have. 🙂

  • We are semi-structured which means that we do some formal work. therefore some of the answers we give will not be relevant to how other people home educate their children.

Don’t your children go to school?

No they don’t go to school, we home educate.  This means we educate them elsewhere than an educational facility. Until recently this question has not been asked too often. However over the two weeks I’ve been asked this three times.

Is home education legal?

Yes it is legal to home educate in the UK.

Do we have to follow the school curriculum?

We look at the curriculum for Maths and English occasionally, but no we do not follow it properly and legally we do not have to follow it either. The UK school curriculum is one reason we took Elsa out of school in the first place. Too much ‘teaching to test’ and not enough personal development of the children.

Are you a teacher?

I am not a teacher. I am a qualified nursery nurse. Therefore anything we learn we learn together. We discuss what topics the girls would like to do. I prepare the work we do, so I know what I’m going to teach. A lot of the time I ask for the girls to research their own work.  We use resources from the library and visit places of interest if they are deemed educational to the topic we are doing at the time.

How do you know what to teach?

Formally we do Maths and English and that’s it. We very loosely follow the school curriculum for those, but I don’t teach them the way they are taught in school as it all seems so convoluted and difficult. I give my girls different methods of learning so they can choose which way works best for them. They are very different children, so different methods work better for each of them. In school they wouldn’t be able to do that. It would be one way only and if they didn’t get it then they would get left behind.

The rest of what I ‘teach’? Well they choose what they are interested in learning. At present we have one topic and one language on the go, they chose one each. I collate a mini curriculum so I can ‘teach’ them the main parts of those subjects. We learn together. That is why I love home education. I’m learning as much as them.

Does anyone check what you are teaching?

Home educated people are not checked by anyone. You can, if you wish, accept a visit from the home education department at the council, who will come and see if you need assistance in any areas and offer advice should you need it. We are happy to have these people visit us and at present they only come to see us about Elsa, but they obviously know about Anna as well. She is still under official school age, so they don’t ask us about anything she’s doing.

Some home educators do not wish to see people from the council and that is their right.  Legally you do not have to, however, we don’t have a problem with them visiting us. They have asked to visit once a year and we can accept or refuse as we wish. However, we can always contact them should we need them.

What about exams?

Just because we home educate does not mean that they can’t sit exams. They can do online IGCSE’s which are the equivalent of ones sat in school.  They can also attend college from age 14 and sit GCSE’s there if they wish.

Will they ever go to school?

I can’t say they won’t ever go to school because it’s their choice. Elsa was in school until the age of 8. Anna has never been. I ask Elsa each January if she’d like to go back the following September. So far she’s always said no (unsurprisingly).

What about college/university?

In the county where we live, the local college has specific places for home educated children which is great. So if my girls would like to go to college they can. They can get the relevant qualifications to go to university from there if they wish. or use the IGCSE’s from above to apply for college or jobs.

What about doing sport?

As a home educator there are so many classes available to us in a number of different subject areas. My girls go to gym and they both love it. Last year I arranged a sports day for our local home ed children. That was a lot of fun. If there isn’t something available during the day (e.g karate or swimming), we can often get groups together and we can contact places and often they will put on classes/lessons especially for us.

How will they socialise?

This is the most common question we get asked. It’s funny because it is the thing I worried about the most before we actually removed Elsa from school.

However, at school the children are mixing with their teacher and their peers. All the same age, all the same people day in and day out. Home educated children meet lots of different children from different backgrounds and different ages. My children attend various clubs during the week to cover the subjects I think are important that I can’t do.  At these they meet and play with other children ranging from new-born – 15. They are also interacting with different adults during the week. I think that my children (particularly my oldest who was shy and quiet) are more confident now.

Do you receive funding?

Oh I wish we did but sadly no we don’t. So the more classes/events/trips you do the more expensive it is. Home education can be as cheap or as expensive as you make it. We do 4 classes a week. Financially that is about £40 a week for each of my girls.  We also do one off educational visits.  As home educators, we can often get discounts or free entry to educational places such as museums or castles if we use them during school hours.

These are the most common questions we are asked, but if you have any that have not been answered here, please leave a comment and I’ll answer them the best I can. 🙂

Contact from the Local Authority

Before we took the decision to home school we were warned by other home school types that the local authority would probably want to ‘visit us’ and ‘involve themselves’ in our home school journey.

Just a few weeks after deregistering Elsa from school we received a pretty standard looking letter which outlined the councils legal obligation to ensure our child receives a ‘suitable education’ and in a round-about way asked for a meeting.

None of this was any surprise to us.

Some HE parents that we spoke to very deliberately rejected the idea of inviting any member of the council into their home. Such parents felt that they did not need the council to form an opinion as to how their child was doing – that the council’s view point is simply unwanted and uncalled for.

While we agree with the sentiment – we really do not care if the council think we are doing a good job or not because (as far as we can see) their standard methods of measuring success or failure are fundamentally flawed – we wanted to meet with the council in order to explain why we chose to home school in the first place.

So, in September, we wrote to the council and explained exactly that.

“We have no questions for you and we trust all the information you need to satisfy your questions are contained in this letter, but we would welcome a home visit if only so that we can share our views on home education and why we think it is a better option for us.”

Just a day after sending this letter, we took a call from the ‘Service to Home Educators’ team at the council. MB was very nice, very friendly and offered help.  She said she was aware that we had only just started on our journey and didn’t expect to visit any time soon, but as my partner had said around Christmas would be a good time to visit – that would suit her fine too.

While I had initially panicked about the thought of a ‘visit’, several weeks later my confidence is good and we are organised with various subjects. Elsa is progressing really well and choosing the things she enjoys so is trying really hard.  I am not worried about the meeting – we’ll simply have a chat and show her what Elsa has done so far – but I probably will be really nervous the day before!

Coding with Dad on the Dragon 32

In 1983, when I was around 10 years old, my father bought our family a Dragon 32 computer. These were the days when computers had ‘Made in England’ stamped on the bottom and became affordable enough and small enough to have in the home.

home school computer lesson ukWe are talking the era of the early ZX Spectrum, Atari 2600, that kind of thing. At that time, nobody outside of the military or science establishment (people like Sir Tim Berners-Lee) would have known what the internet was. In fact, it was probably still called ‘Interconnected Network’ or something.

These were real computers, where you had to write programs to get them to do anything, or at least buy a cassette tape that might have had a program or two on.

My parents were not well-off by any means, at the time I seem to recall it cost maybe £300 or so – based on averages wages at the time I would have said that is an equivalent spend of maybe £1200 today. A fair wedge for any working parent.

Cutting a long story very short, this computer was my companion throughout much of my childhood and is both the foundation of and trigger for my career in IT. Today I own and operate a small IT support business and I personally spend time writing software for my own and other businesses.

Home School Computing Lesson Dragon 32With my Home School hat on, the first point I want to make here is that I learned about computers in spite of the state school system and not as a result of it. Now we are home-schooling our children I find it very telling that the foundation of my career is based upon an investment that happened by my parents in our home and is most certainly not something that happened as a result of attending any school.

Another interesting fact is that, until I attended college, I was completely self-taught when it came to using and programming computers. Schools had neither the time, expertise nor the equipment necessary to teach me the skills I would eventually need to have a career in IT. This is more of an observation than a criticism, but over thirty years later I am reasonably sure this has changed very little.

And so, it is for these reasons, I fired up that 30 year old computer this week and started teaching my eldest little girl to program BASIC on the Dragon 32. I have to say she loved it, and so did I!

 

EDP 24 Article – Parents of eight-year-old girl fined for taking her on charity-funded holiday.

I saw this article today and it was enough to make my blood boil.

On the one hand, I can see that if you are going to choose to send your child to state school, you really ought to abide by their rules of engagement, but their rules are a one-side contract which have never been negotiated by the parents of attending children. We certainly never agreed to accept fines if we chose to take our children out of school for a week or two.

 

Points Mean Prizes!

So, yesterday and today we decided to take Elsa out of school to help her with her home school jitters. She is naturally worried about being unable to make friends and so we took her to a local farm who were hosting a field trip for home schooled children in the area. At the farm she met a number of children of varying ages*. On the following day there was a beach trip to Mundesley with another family and their children.

The key motivator for Elsa on the Mundesley trip turned out to be a real winner: the night before I looked at a map of Mundesley, looked at the Wiki Page and hey presto about an hour later I had written some ‘Field Trip Questions’ suitable for an eight year old. There were questions about a (provided) map of the area, a list of buildings to find on the map and then take a photograph of to prove she could find them physically. There were also some research items which I had made sure she could find in her children’s dictionary and even a question that required some colouring-in.

In total there were ’20 points’ available for 100% correct completion of the questions and a scale of rewards based upon the number of points gained. The whole points for rewards thing was a real winner and very popular. I will at some point upload the sample quiz but I must say that for selected activities, providing points in this way (which can be saved and traded in for certain rewards) was a really good idea.

*Right there is an answer to the social concerns. She’s already having to deal with a broader range of children.

Such a Good Example of Why We Home School

Before I have even had time to go into detail about why we have chosen to home-school, this article appears. Score 10 out of 10 for toeing what is presumably the government line and training our children to be loyal subjects.

Every year, the situation with schools preventing parents taking their children on holiday will get worse, if parents do not stand up for their rights soon our children will forget that it is they are ultimately responsible for their own destiny and shaping the government – it is not the other way round. It is not for the government to dictate to parents when they can take children on holiday.

http://www.kentonline.co.uk/dartford/news/headteacher-threatens-to-kick-children-39568/

Angela Konarzewski, head teacher of Fleetdown Primary School in Dartford, you should be ashamed of yourself. These are children. If you can’t educate them sufficiently by having them 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, and piling homework on top of that, then there is something wrong with the system and you are just helping to reinforce it.

But what about the Social Aspect of home-schooling?

We will be expanding on this topic in the future of course, but this particular concern is a natural one to parents who are thinking about educating outside of a school. Every member of the family we have mentioned it to raises this with us. We have already done our homework and as of this moment we are convinced that Elsa will get a far richer social life outside of school than inside it.

Yes, in school, Elsa will be able to mix inside the closed walls of a classroom with 30 other children of the same age and ability. She may or may not be able to interact with them, it just depends on what is being taught at the time. Is that really a good representation of the way our social life works? I suppose if you want to work in a factory that might be a good way to go. At work, do you sit in a room with 30 other people of exactly the same age, all from similar backgrounds, or do you mix with people of all ages and experiences and from all walks of life?

In however many years it has been since we (that is human beings, not our family) started walking the earth and grunting to each other, we have learned skills and experience from our elders, not our peers. If you want to be a well-adjusted adult that can hold a meaningful conversation with someone old or young, rich or poor, black or white, English or foreign, then the best place to do that is not in a classroom full of children who are the same age as you and come from a similar background within a 6 mile radius.

Only time will tell if Elsa will get a richer social life outside of school than in it, but if I were a betting man, my money is on the home school.

 Wall Street Journal – Teaching kids at home can be terrifying, but it’s sure to grow as families demand more choice

I’m still unsure that the people best equipped to teach a 14-year-old boy how to be a man are other 14-year-old boys.”

The Schools Response

I took a call from the head a Elsa’s school today after sending the de registration letter and I must say it was a really warm conversation. It was clear that the head was interested in our decision not just as an education professional, but on a human level too.

I outlined in more detail some of the reasons for our decision and we discussed them for a good 10 minutes. I explained that it is not the school or the teaching that is an issue, it’s more the education system as a whole. In no way did the head try and dissuade us from our decision and even told us that if they could provide us with any support, that they would do.

So, top marks for the head of our school, she is a credit to her profession.

 

Our Homeschool Journey has Begun!

Even though we had already decided to educate Elsa at home, actually sending her school a letter of de-registration was a really big deal. Just because we are not satisfied with the education system, it does not mean we are unhappy with the school which Elsa has been attending to this point.

Remember that teachers and head teachers are human beings trying to do a really rather important job with one hand tied around their back by the government. It can’t be easy for them being used as a political football, jumping through hoops and juggling the demands of pen pushers, parents and students.

Before we sent the letter, we (that is the grown ups) had a final chat to make sure we were 100% sure about what we were doing. I made sure that we focussed only on the disadvantages of educating at home to see if we would be swayed to change our decision. To be fair, it was hard to think of many disadvantages at all.

While discussing this I was mooching about on the TES Opinion Forum and I came across this post. It really was rather interesting, at some points funny, and actually helped reinforce my viewpoint that home education will simply be better for our our girls and our family.

Our position remained the same, we sent the letter tonight straight to the head, our home school journey has begun.