Sunday, 1 September 2013

Diary of a Home Ed Family... no longer a novice?

We've been home educating for 18 months now!  The longer we do it, the less inclined I am to ever pursue any other form of education... we just love it!  Growth does inevitably bring change though, including one that I've been putting off...

It was suggested to me several months ago that I don't really qualify as a novice any more, having spent over a year pondering, wobbling, questioning, vacillating, learning, retracing steps, challenging, growing...  and I have to admit that I am significantly more confident now than when we started.  I am in no way an expert, but despite my attachment to the blog that saw us through our most formative early years, I reluctantly accept that "Home Ed Novice" is a little misleading to anyone who hasn't come across my lil blog before now, and who hasn't followed our journey with us.


I am putting my beloved little Novice blog to bed.  I will not close it - all blog posts will stay put as long as Blogger/ Blogspot and the internet endure.  I don't feel right simply renaming it, just in case future novices ever search for blog posts on what the first months of HE are like... but I am starting a new blog, not very imaginatively called "Diary of a Home Ed Family".  Hopefully it is easy enough to find.  With huge thanks to the wonderful Lisa of An Ordinary Life (one of my very favourite Home Ed blogs), I have added a tab at the top of whichever blog you are in, so should you want to flip to the other, all you have to do is just click on the tab!  So clever!  Let me know if it works...?

For now though - huge love and thanks to everyone who has joined us on our journey - and special thanks to those of you who have been kind enough to take the time to comment - you have no idea how much you have encouraged me!  Here's hoping for every success for your family and mine as we start the next chapter together!

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Planning and Gearing Up

Way back in July I came downstairs from settling the younger two boys in bed, and found Eldest on the kitchen floor, surrounded by felt pens and crouched over a 6-page calendar that he was making (to the end of 2013), copying dates off our kitchen calendar.  He looked up at me and asked "When does the summer holiday finish?"  I was tempted to get all deep and philosophical, waxing lyrical about our entire lives being a holiday, not needing to put a "Start-of-Term" date in writing, but I knew that he - like his Mum - really appreciates planning ahead, as long as it's not too rigid... and it was his calendar, his idea after all!  So after a few minutes dithering I finally suggested the first week of September, with the option to review when we got there.  And onto his calendar it went.

Well, here we are (or will be on Monday).  And the timing is pretty perfect.  The boys and I are all gearing up, feeling ready to get back into the flow.  They've chosen their subjects for their next lapbooks (Eldest: food chains; Middle: dinosaurs; Youngest: sharks), and I've drawn up a little plan, with their help.  I love planning, and spent most of our first year of Home Ed fighting my natural desire to order and construct mini-curricula etc, out of a well-meaning but slightly misguided desire to give my boys all the 'freedom' they needed.  Then I found the blog posts mentioned in This is our Home Ed Style, and felt freed myself to incorporate a little structure.

So here is our plan...

You'll notice it's very sparse: just two or three ideas per day, which allows lots of space for the boys to follow more of their own interests for the rest of the day.  It is not a timetable as there are no times when things have to be done (other than the clubs) - it just helps us to have a broad outline to get us focused each day.  If the boys (or I) have an idea that they want to try in the near future, they can write it on a post-it and stick it to the planner, then we will make it happen at the next opportunity!  The subjects with smileys are the only parent-required ones (everything else is optional but stuff I know the boys like doing) - and I thought that seeing as they are "work", they can carry a little reward.  For a long time the boys have wanted some kind of box of goodies to swap their 'merits' for, like they had in school, and although I resisted, seeing it as a form of bribery that I believe has no place in fostering a love of learning, we have compromised on just the bare minimum.  So for every smiley subject that is completed, the boys get to stick a smiley sticker onto their colour-coded post-it (top of planner), and at the end of the week they can swap their smileys for some sweets/ wii-time/ whatever they choose to have in the smiley box.  I'm not 100% happy with it still, but we'll give it a go and see.

So there we have it: our sort-of-plan for the term.  We're all enthusiastic and ready to go... I'll let you know how we get on!

PS If anyone's interested, for our planner we used one of those magic whiteboard sheets that adheres to a surface by way of static - no adhesive needed... love it!

PPS To clarify, for anyone who really wants to know, on Tuesday afternoons a friend and I swap some of our children so she can take her son and Eldest to Science club, while I have her youngest here with my other two for fun with Science.  Oh, and Nature club is on alternating Wednesdays, so on the other ones we visit friends!

Friday, 30 August 2013

Compared to School...

I wasn't going to write this post (am trying to write another), but was prodded into it by two other blog posts posted on Facebook today, by two very lovely ladies.

The first was this one from the archives of Ross Mountney, encouraging just-starting home educators (but also encouraging to anyone HE'ing and needing reassurance).  It highlighted a train of thought I had earlier today about Home Ed compared to school.  I wasn't wobbling, just thinking about all the lessons they cram in to every day compared to the little we have on the planner (for said planner see my next post, coming soon...).  I get the need for Maths & English: they are vital skills - but history?  to a six year old?  (Sorry history lovers, it's just an example based on where the train of thought went next...)  I remember a history lesson from lower primary school about Vikings.  I remember it because I copied the picture that my neighbour had drawn and was subsequently told off.  I do not however remember a single fact that I was "taught" in that lesson.  And it just reassured me that there is no point comparing what we do with schools, because so much of the 'force-fed' education in school will simply be forgotten by those who weren't interested.  As a teacher I was always trying to find new ways to engage my students, to make lessons interesting etc, but had to accept that there was no way of guaranteeing that every student would remember everything I taught. Still, I persisted, and hopefully some of it will have gone in.  Now though, I am so relieved not to have to do all that stressful planning (sorry teacher-friends if that sounds smug)... I find fun ideas, and put them in front of the boys to pick up if they're inspired - but at least equally as often, they find their own fun ideas, and if I can't help, we learn together.  My kids may seem to spend less time learning (or in structured learning at least), but they will remember more of what they learn, because they want to know it... that's the plan anyway!

This train of thought then had me thinking about the 'gaps', or subjects that we don't cover, not having a prescribed programme of study such as the National Curriculum - but before I had chance for it to develop into even a hint of a wobble, I saw this post about Homeschool gaps, shared by a good friend.  The point that the author rightly makes, is that in raising enthusiastic, self-directed learners, we are empowering them so that when they reach an area that they don't know about but need or want to, they will simply find out for themselves.  And of course, there will be gaps in any education, no matter how comprehensive the curriculum.  A history-loving HE friend (read her blog post here) was recently bemoaning the difficulty of studying subjects like the Bronze Age at home, because its exclusion from the National Curriculum means that resources on the subject are not perceived as in demand enough to be stocked in shops.  Et voila: a gap in the education of every state-schooled child.   Quite simply, no education is ever going to cover every single thing that your child is ever going to want or need to know - but home educators are privileged to be able to cater for the interests of the individual in a way that school education would never be able to do, and for that I am enormously grateful!

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Pinterest and Pretty Shells

I confess, I am a teeny bit addicted to Pinterest.  If I have the time, I can spend hours just browsing and pinching ideas - baking, art, other home ed plans.  And ever since my Lakeland catalogue flopped through the letterbox with its jam-making goodies on display - making me think inevitably of autumn and beyond - I have even found myself browsing for Christmas ideas!  You see, yet another of the fabulous things about home education is that for us, our pace of life is so idyllic, compared to many - we get to do all the little crafts and things that I always wanted to do but never had time for before... so my Pinterest board is now nicely filling up with Christmas ideas and other fun.

I was having a little browsing session the other day, when up popped a recommended board.  I'm not sure how the recommendations work to be honest, but I don't really care - it was such a lovely post that it grabbed my attention immediately, and I just had to share it here.  It was called 'Invitations to explore, create and play with shells".  Those who are familiar with the Reggio approach may well be familiar with this concept, but it was the first time I had heard it put like that: an invitation.  Not written or verbal - just the act of putting the enticing treasure out was an invitation to play.  There were no instructions, no diagrams, no guidance at all: just the provision of some shells and other equipment, left in a place where the children concerned would find them and let their natural curiosity and creativity take over.  Read the post - you'll see! There is also a really good link on their page to follow for further information on "Invitations to Play", which although quite purposeful in its methods, reminded me of the joy to be found in "strewing" - a not dissimilar approach to stimulating young minds.  Anyway it all prompted me to get out our own hoard of seashells this morning.  I put them out on a tray with several sheets of A3 paper on the kitchen table while the boys were occupied elsewhere, and just started playing myself, arranging them in different designs...

Mummy's "Crab"

Mummy's "Snowman in the Woods"

It wasn't long before Youngest twigged on that Mummy was in a different room, and came to see what I was doing.  I didn't say a word, he just hopped up onto the bench and started playing.  Eldest came next, then Middle - and very quickly all three boys were having a go.  Eldest didn't stay long - just made a couple of pictures, and then disappeared off...

 Eldest's "Narwhal"

Eldest's "Snail" 

Youngest quickly deemed his masterpiece to be finished and went after him, no doubt hoping to be allowed to play Star Wars lego with Eldest.

  Youngest's "Shell Mania" (his title)

Middle however was engrossed for considerably longer, and made a picture with Mummy.  Not that he needed my help - he was just enjoying some one-on-one time, being creative together.

 Middle's "Crab"

 Middle's "Crown of Shells"

  Middle's "Turtle"

Middle and Mummy's "Under the Sea"

So thanks Pinterest, for however you came up with that inspiring suggestion - and for the fact that alongside all my lovely new Christmas ideas, we were given a lovely seashell moment, reminding us that summer's not over yet!

July Lapbooks

OK yes I am feeling a bit guilty - it's half way through August already, and this is the first blog post for this month!  I've finally got around to taking photos of the lapbooks that the boys finished in July - sharing here for anyone who's interested...

Youngest finished his first.  His chosen subject was 'Owls'.  We did a lot of it together as he is not really writing yet - so I drew dotted lines for him to draw over, and when a bit more text was required, he dictated to me and I typed.  He loved the cutting and sticking, and created the whole lapbook really very quickly (he would have finished sooner had I not been needed by his brothers as well).  Downloads were courtesy of Homeschool Share's 'Owl Babies' resource ('Five Little Owls' poem with illustration and 'What do Owls Eat?')

Middle's was next.  He had chosen to do his lapbook on the Solar System.  I love the way he seriously considers his chosen subject and then comes up with something apparently completely random!  As usual, he wanted lots of printed out downloads - from Enchanted Learning ('Our Solar System' booklet), ('Planet Riddles'), and Homeschool Share (all the rest).  A slight drawback was that their material was a little outdated in places, with Pluto was still included as a planet - but it didn't cause any real problems, I just explained to Middle that Pluto had been downgraded since the resources were designed.  He put a lot of work into this one - but the information was pretty easy to find as Homeschool Share included some information sheets along with their printable templates, so it was a nice little project for him...

Finally, to Eldest.  Having had an experience in June where he hand-fed Humboldt penguins, he liked my suggestion that he do a lapbook on penguins.  Bless him, he did a really good job too!  Up until now his lapbooks have all been on wider subjects - usually on whole habitats containing several living things to write briefly about.  This time he did considerably more research on a more specific subject (single group of creatures).  I showed him how to do a spider diagram while he roughly planned his lapbook - and gave him lots of tips on how to most easily research the different types of penguins, and where they came from (he seemed to want to group them according to geographical location, which made sense).  The four-page chapter on all the different types of penguin took him the most time, but I am so proud of the way he persevered and finished with a good attitude - that's as valuable a lesson as anything he learned about penguins, in my opinion!  It may not be a traditional lapbook with all the flaps and interactive bits, but it's a really nice project book that he is rightly proud of...

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

African Beads and other Fun...

Hooray for the completion of all lapbooks!  I will try to post photos of them soon - all the boys are very happy - with their work, and with the chance to do no more "work" for at least a month.  Of course, they will still be learning all the time, I just get to have a break from the usual preparation etc, as they get to be entirely child-led for the Unschool Holidays!

I do have a couple of things on standby - but they are things that I know the boys will want to do at some point, so that's not so much me planning work as being prepared for the inevitable requests!  Take for example their "My Little Atelier" box, due in August.  I just know that as soon as it arrives they will be all over it, wanting to have a go.  We had July's box just over a week ago and they were so excited.  Middle remembered it from last time and said excitedly "ooh is that our art challenge?"  All three boys had stopped what they were doing to come and look, so it had to be opened immediately - and the contents had to be explored instantly - and the project commenced with instantly... lovely to see such enthusiasm.  As before the contents were excellent quality, and they had even thoughtfully included a variation for younger children, which I thought was great as technically it's a box for one child, so the fact that more than one child gets to play just shows what good value it is!

Anyway, this month's theme was African Bead Art.  Coloured pipe cleaners and pony beads were included for the little ones - and Youngest immediately set to work producing a bracelet/ wrist band for each of us (supplemented with a few beads from our own craft box)...

Middle had fun making a wiggly worm, and then used the kit's PVA glue (with brush), ceramic tray and seed beads to make a fish.  He went a bit overboard with the glue & it took 24hours to dry, but he was very happy with it.

Eldest - as usual - immediately knew what he wanted to do, and twisted the jewellery wire provided into a snake shape (complete with forked tongue), making the zigzag pattern with the seed beads.  It took him a while to get the hang of twisting the wire at the end of each section, but he stuck with it and did a really good job.

Of course I stayed with them and had a go too, as is my wont - I think it's important to experience new things together.  I try to go slow so as not to intimidate them by comparisons, but it's not a huge issue - they just love doing things with Mummy.  There was just one bit of jewellery wire left over so I used it with a pipe cleaner... I think this is what inspired Middle to do his PVA fish.

All in all, a simply lovely atelier... can't wait until the next one!

We're also looking forward to a group meet up next week where we have arranged to do a Science Bag Swap.  One of our local friends has organised it - allocated each of us an experiment with list of instructions and cheap inexpensive resources to make into 20 identical bags.  Then we will go to the meet-up and swap 19 of our identical bags for 19 different ones, so we end up with 20 bags containing different science experiments.  More "challenges" for Middle... we're all looking forward to that too!  Watch this space to see how we get on...

And just because we're on our 'Unschool Holidays', it doesn't mean I won't suggest things from time to time.  For example, yesterday afternoon I had to call 'time' to the boys playing Minecraft as they had been on it a while and their behaviour was deteriorating.  I didn't fancy the usual pouting and arguing session that often attends switching the computer off, so I distracted them with paints (it was raining, otherwise my usual port of call would have been the trampoline first).  We got out the oil pastels and watercolours and had a go, with the following results...

"Sun and Tree" by Youngest

 "Monster-thrower" by Middle

"Commander Cody's Helmet" by Eldest
"Waterside" by Mummy

For somebody who was told by their teachers I wasn't good enough to take an exam in art (and who is determined not to pass on that kind of crushing judgement to my children), I find art surprisingly therapeutic.  We never used to have time to fit it in when we were at school...I'm so glad we get to do it together now.  Here's to more arty days this holiday... and next 'term-time' too!

Deschooling FAQs

Questions about deschooling have come up a few times just this past week, so I thought I'd have a go at giving my version of the answers, at least...

You see, for many if not most home educators whose children were in school before being deregistered to home educate, part of the reason for choosing to do so was because they could see that their child was being failed or damaged by school.  This is not an exercise in teacher-bashing - I love teachers - it is just an acknowledgement that the school system is not good for all children.

Regular readers of this blog will know that this applied to at least one of my children, so I can empathise with the angst-laden deliberations over whether or not to leave a child in school... trying to balance the need for repeated conversations with staff with not wanting to come across as a pushy parent; the incessant arguing inside your own head, debating whether you're falling for some clever childish manipulation that your much-loved offspring is making up/ putting on, or whether your instincts are actually right and they are really suffering; the desperate wishful feelings of "maybe it will be better next term"...all of which deliberating delays the decision to remove them.

It is a horrible feeling to realise that a decision you once made in good faith for your child turned out to be the wrong one for them.  It is oh-so-easy to beat yourself up about it and wish with hindsight that you had woken up to what was going on sooner.  But that is completely unhelpful.  In this scenario the absolutely most helpful thing you can do for your child and for yourself is to deschool.

What is deschooling?
It is a period of time, usually immediately after the child is deregistered, when the child is given little to no required learning - when they are free to play and begin to get over the negative experiences they have had at school. 
If it helps, think 'detox'.  Detoxing is a tool used by people who have been on an unhealthy diet for a while, high in fats, sugars and other toxins that have been stored by the body.... so deschooling is needed by children who have been in an unhealthy learning environment, absorbing unhealthy attitudes towards themselves and learning. To leap from an unhealthy diet (or learning environment) straight to a more healthy one is sometimes not enough.  Old cravings and unhelpful behaviour patterns creep back in, often without noticing.  For some people, a detox is needed: a period of time when no toxic matter is consumed, to allow the body to get rid of the old negative influences.  The toxins are released into the body and expelled - and the person concerned starts to feel the benefits.  Hopefully you see where I'm going.  A child who has experienced a negative educational environment will struggle to go straight in to any other educational experience.  They need a period of little to no required learning, when they can heal from the emotional wounds and low self-confidence, and start to feel better about themselves - the foundation for any healthy childhood.
For the parent, deschooling is an invaluable period of time for you to reconnect with your child and rethink your own learned assumptions on what makes for a good education. 

How long does it take to deschool?
Hmmm.  That is as easy to determine as working out how damaged your child was.  A rough rule of thumb that I was given was to allow roughly one month for every year that the child was in school.  HOWEVER, that is a very rough rule of thumb.  Middle had been in school for three years.  It took him only a month or two to relax, let go of the over-riding depression and anxiety, and become the happy, chilled, loving boy that he had been before.  Then it took a further ten months before he was confident in his abilities as a learner.  Even now, sixteen months later, we still occasionally hit a blip and he needs extra help to get over a learned negative attitude to anything that looks like schoolwork.
For the parent, especially the majority who went through the school system themselves, deschooling can take much longer.  I still have to periodically stop myself from defaulting to old ideals of 'broad curriculum' and self-discipline (they have their place but are not the foundation of what we do), and remind myself of what I actually want for the children: confidence, enthusiasm about learning, freedom to explore their own passions etc.  When a home educator has a 'wobble' and questions 'am I doing enough?' or 'am I denying my children a better life?' etc, it is often because they are going through another level of detox, ditching old school-based ideals.

How do I deschool my child(ren)?
The answer to that is going to be different for every parent, every child.  It is whatever works for you.  However, key features of deschooling involve agreeing with the child that they do not have to do any school work for a given period of time (I recommend at least the rule of thumb as mentioned above, with a review at the end where you are prepared to extend the deschooling time).  Don't worry about them 'falling behind' their peers - learning is neither a race nor a competition.  That is some of the old-school thinking that you will need to detox from.  Your child has been disabled by a crippling emotional experience.  You wouldn't expect someone with a broken leg to run on it straight away - so you need to accept that they will need time to heal before they can handle any demands on their newly healed self-belief.  During this time the child needs to be given space to play, read, get outdoors, make things, hang out with you (and siblings), talk about their experiences at school (when they are ready) - whatever they want.  For some this may mean a lot of time on computer games or watching TV for a season.  Personally I would say not to worry about this too much - it really won't last forever, although I admit I did agree with my boys a screen-time limit, partly because of the deterioration in their behaviour after too long on it, and partly because I wanted them to reconnect with their imaginations and the world around them.  We spent a lot of time outdoors... still do, to be honest. 
The focus of the adult is to play with their child(ren), chat together, visit places and do things together, learn about them again: what makes them tick, what their preferred style of learning is etc.  It is also a time where you naturally find yourself starting to re-examine what you previously held to be true about education, and investigate alternatives (you will come across terms like 'unschooling', 'structure', 'child-led', 'curriculum-based', and authors like Charlotte Mason & John Holt (amongst many others).  Don't worry, it's not as heavy as it may sound - your own thoughts about education will naturally take you on your own journey of exploration and learning.

What if the Local Authority want to see what we're doing?
Legally as new home educators you are entitled to a period of time where you explore possibilities open to you before you commit to any style or form of education.  Even if and when you do choose your own educational philosophy, they still have no legal right to demand to see any work.  They are only entitled to make enquiries to satisfy themselves that an education is being undertaken - basically, that you are taking this seriously.  You do not have to have them round, and you do not have to show them anything.  I sent my LA a brief outline of our HE philosophy (our approach), and that was it.

Phew - that turned out to be longer than I intended, oops.  I wanted to try to answer the main questions that crop up but don't want to overwhelm you - but please, please do reply with any questions if you feel unsure.  I love Home Ed, love helping others to Home Ed - and deschooling was such an invaluable blessing to us as a family, I would love to help as many people as I can to experience the same.

PS I deliberately haven't addressed the style of education that you will adopt after deschooling.  You may love it so much and realise that your children are learning all the time without trying, that you carry on 'deschooling' indefinitely - like unschooling.  Or you may decide that a form of structure with some required learning elements needs introducing.  Either way, it matters not - deschooling rocks (and gives you all the time you need to think about it).  Happy deschooling!