Tag Archive | home schooling

Image rich education

seeking out pictures - a soothing stream and leaves

seeking out pictures – a soothing stream and leaves

Sometimes I just have to go seek out pictures! Writing can be very monochromatic as a medium, even when talking about the diversity of home education. I begin to hanker for other things to look at besides print.

So I totally get it when kids feel the same. Especially those who don’t readily take to reading but find it as enjoyable as I do a smear test! And there are some kids like that, especially those on the Dyslexic spectrum or those fidgety little people for whom sitting still is an anathema!

When education in schools first took off it was always related to words, especially the printed word. It had to be; it was a person’s only access to knowledge. And it was also part of that exclusive hierarchy where those who had access to reading – and therefore learning – were considered better than those who did not.

That’s no longer the case. Everyone has access to reading and knowledge. And skill in reading is not a direct indication of intelligence. There are all sorts of intelligences and I have known very intelligent children, with a lively, logical and analytical mental aptitude who find no joy in reading because their brains are wired in such a way to make reading as challenging as I’d find running marathons.

Home educating a Dyslexic child made me think about this a lot. And think about ways in which learning, in our media and image rich culture today, no longer needs to depend on print. Although print would inevitably be part of it – it could be a small part at the beginning, building as skill and maturity grew. And we found other ways to learn through practical, experiential, image rich, hands-on opportunities. And that was even before the wonders of YouTube, a fabulous font of knowledge and understanding available through film clips.

For far too long children’s learning has been manifested through the narrow medium (by today’s standards) of the written word. I almost see the old fashioned text and exercise book method (or Web research which is just as bad for a dyslexic if not worse as there’s more to trawl through) needing extinction. Typing with Word is definitely less laborious for children who find writing difficult, but we could still lessen written methods of learning in favour of more image rich ones now accessible. Just because it isn’t reading and writing doesn’t mean it’s not learning, despite the snobbery still attached to those methods!

For many children their learning is inhibited by print. Formats like YouTube open access to learning in ways we didn’t previously have. Many home educating families have told me that their children didn’t practise formal written methods of learning until they were much older yet still went on to write accomplished essays and do Uni work. So we can seek alternative ways to enhance our children’s understanding and knowledge which don’t rely on print.

Meanwhile, I’m off to seek out pictures, away from print, and a visit to the theatre to see my eldest in a production of The Snow Queen. If you’re in Brighton seek it out at The New Venture Theatre and enjoy a print free story with the kids which is bound to inspire! Stories don’t always have to be read – from Snow Queen to Shakespeare – which you can even get in Manga! (Search ‘dyslexia’ for other posts on the subject)

Chelsea playing Gerda in The Snow Queen

The right to educational freedom

I thought I’d respond to Jax’s call for posts about educational freedoms.

The freedom to educate our children outside of the school system is a topic dear to my heart, having had two children who were failing to thrive both educationally and personally within it.

I’m thoroughly suspicious of politicians who try to control our home education, pretending they do so for the good of the child. What do they know about it?! And I’ve seen too many children in schools when I worked there who were not having any good done to them at all for me to believe that.

I also see that, although ministers cite ‘safe guarding’ as an excuse to do so, there are as many safe-guarding issues already existing with children known to schools and other services and they can’t seem to get it ‘safe’ for them, so that reason doesn’t ring true. What it does do is deflect attention away from the impingement of our rights by their ‘concern’.

I believe it is more the case that politicians are simply using that as a strategy to control and mask the rising dissatisfaction so many parents now have with the school system.

Calling home education ‘elective’ is the best mask of all. For I would say that in most cases parents do not ‘elect’ to home educate, they are driven to it in desperation by the failure of schools to provide children with exactly what home educators are by law supposed to provide; an education suitable to their age, ability and aptitude. Consider this; if there was a place where our children could go to be stimulated and inspired, with adults who respected and encouraged, supported and nurtured our children’s individuality and education, where they had real choice and the experiences were such that the kids were gagging to go, how many parents would opt to home educate then?

Home education is growing because politicians are failing to provide what children need. Any attempt to limit the educational freedom it offers is in my view a corrupt strategy to deflect attention away from that failing.

Educational freedom is not really freedom in the real sense of the word, although home educators are freed from the inhibiting structures of a school system, which is a good thing as most impair learning rather than aid it (testing and Ofsted are good examples). However, none of us are truly free in that we want to fit into the social world that surrounds us, we want to earn and work, eat and survive, enjoy life and have friends, and all those things come with responsibility which we choose to take on.

Nearly all the home educating parents I know take on that responsibility extremely conscientiously by demonstrating that to their children though encouraging learning – in fact most of the kids do it for themselves. It’s just they choose to use other approaches. And that’s where we really need the freedom. Freedom to choose approaches which suit our individual children better than the system does. Freedom to work to the needs of the child, rather than make the child fit the needs of the establishment as schooling does.

As home educated children grow up and begin working as generations are doing now they are proof that other approaches work, that educational freedom and independence works, that we don’t need a government to do it for us. Proof that we don’t need registering, testing, watching, examining, controlling of our approaches, or telling how to do it for it to work. It’s working fine already!

In fact, when I think about it, I can’t help feeling that it is in breach of basic human rights to be told what you must know, how you must know it, where, when and at what age you must know it, that you must not question what is done to you in the name of knowing it, that you have no choice in the matter and if you don’t comply you’ll be a failure. Is that not totally bizarre? Where else in life are those freedoms for choice and preference taken away from us – except in prison of course?

It’s almost as if the powers that be would control our minds by controlling our education. Not forgetting that if politicians can control our minds they can control our votes.

But maybe that’s just me being extra cynical!

Our home education journey by Julia Pollard

I’m thrilled to be handing this post over to Julia from Classroom Free to tell us her story – an inspirational read:


“In March 2015 we will be celebrating twelve years of home-educating. Twelve years! Other than my marriage and being a mama, it’s the longest that I’ve stuck with anything – and if I’m honest, I’m more than a little surprised.

You see, I was such a ‘mainstream’ mama. I was such a yes sir mama. I was such a follow the rules and do as I am told mama, don’t question authority and cause a fuss mama.

At 28 years of age, I was doing what was expected and raising two children of school age. We had done the usual mother and toddler groups, gone on to nursery school, and then handed over the reins to primary. My life was a whirl of daily school-runs, birthday invitations, sleep-over arrangements, and avoiding school gate gossip. I thought that it would be that way for many years to come. I was wrong.

At the tender age of 4 years old, Joseph started to struggle. He was diagnosed with speech dyspraxia, and he had to wear an eye patch to correct a lazy eye – along with glasses. He became an easy target for ‘bullies’ – although that seems like a harsh word to use when referring to primary aged children. Joseph was bringing broken pieces of his glasses home with him several times a week. He became incredibly withdrawn and would refuse to enter in any sort of conversation, instead he preferred to retreat to his bedroom and shut the door.

The change in such a short time was incredible. He went from being a happy-go-lucky, always laughing and smiling, running to get to school early child, to becoming sullen and quiet. His behaviour regressed drastically, so much so that he wouldn’t get dressed or feed himself. He was physically sick during the morning walks to school and complained of stomach pains daily.

He lost his joy.

He lost that dazzling sparkle from his eyes.

He lost his smile.

I found my pain.

I didn’t know what to do. I talked to his teacher, his head teacher, the dinner ladies. I started volunteering to help in class, I assisted with reading and swimming lessons. I was willing to try anything I could in order to observe and see for myself what was going on. I needed answers. Just what was happening to my child, what was he going through? Any reference to bullying was strongly denied by the school and instead our own family life was brought into question. Were there problems at home? Any changes in circumstances? Were there problems within our marriage? It could only be our fault.

I searched the internet for help, looking for advice on school phobia and bullying. I was lost. I was losing my child and I didn’t know what to do about it. Joseph wouldn’t readily speak. He would hardly eat. He wouldn’t play games or do things that he had previously loved. People were telling me that he was just being naughty, that Joseph just didn’t want to go to school, but I knew that wasn’t the case.

I was scared.

Joseph turned five.

How long could I let it go on for before I lost him – my beautiful happy, funny and smiley boy, forever?

Those online searches came up with a site called Education Otherwise (EO). I had never heard of home-education before and didn’t know that there was an alternative to the school system. When I was struggling with bullying myself during my secondary school days, my mother told me that it was law that I attended school. All children had to go or their parents would be imprisoned. I believed her and had no reason not to. I had never heard of anyone home-educating in the UK.

The feeling of relief that washed over me as I began reading about home-education on the EO site was absolutely immense. I can’t begin to put it into words. There was actually something that I could do to help my son. There was a legal alternative to school. Wow!  That felt huge.

I discussed things with my husband and he too felt relief. It felt like at last there was light at the end of a very dark tunnel. We talked and talked, researched and researched some more, not wanting to just jump at what seemed like the ‘easy’ option. This was a child’s education we were toying with, we had to get it right. We talked about changing schools, but figured that the issues Joe was experiencing could easily happen anywhere – he would still be wearing his patch for some time to come, he would still struggle with his speech, he would still wear glasses. Could we risk that?

Within the week we had sent in the de-registration letter – not just for Joseph but for his older sister too. Chelsea was then 7 and although was seemingly doing ok at school we had numerous little niggles. We felt that we would work better as a family if we home-educated them both. Our initial thoughts were that we could home-educate for just 6 months to a year to build up lost confidence, develop self-esteem, and work on the speech issues. We wanted to give Joseph every chance of fitting back into the system.

For Chelsea we felt that we could tailor her education to suit her needs better than a teacher with a class full of students could ever do. We found out that Chelsea was struggling desperately with maths work but excelled in literacy. We knew that Chelsea was frustrated at the time restraints of lessons. She often wanted to work for longer on her stories and poems, and found that she didn’t get the help she needed in order to understand numeracy. As she was deemed as a ‘good girl’ she would often be left waiting with her hand up throughout the lesson whilst the teacher saw to the more disruptive members of the class.    At home we could offer Chelsea the help and time she required.

It was very much a temporary solution to a difficult problem. I really didn’t think that I was clever enough to teach my children long term.

At first we tried to do ‘school at home’. I worked out lesson plans, timetables, pencilled in breaks and lunch times – the lot.  Disaster! Our lessons would always overrun as the children became enthused on a topic, or a lesson would lead on to another topic and go off in another direction entirely. I became totally disheartened by it. All that effort planning our days was going to waste and I was starting to feel like a failure. I believed that children needed such structure, planning and discipline in order to learn. I thought that they needed to sit at desks with pens, paper, and textbooks being told what to learn and when. Isn’t that why schools are organised in such a way?

Of course, I was very wrong.

I started reading all I could about child development, learning styles and teaching methods. I explored books written by the likes of John Holt and John Taylor Gatto. I became more relaxed and less in need of structure. I dropped the idea of having to ‘teach’ things and stopped myself from searching for an educational value in everything. I began to realise the value of living a happy life and the way we are always constantly learning. I became less focused on educating my children and more focussed on creating happy children. I sought to offer pressure free childhoods and realised that a love of learning can easily be a by-product of such. I didn’t have to force feed information in order for my children to learn.

I read blogs written by experienced home-educators, and connected with families online. I learnt such a lot and we developed our own routine. We found out what worked for us as a family. I noted that when my children were interested in something they developed a real passion to find out all they could about it. I also discovered that when my children knew they had a reason for knowing something, when it was felt as being relevant to them, they would find a way of learning it. An example I can give is Joseph with his reading. He left school unable to read anything other than his name – they had tried to teach him phonetically and with his speech and pronunciation issues that wouldn’t work for him at all. When he left school he felt like he needed to read like his school-going peers did. I felt under pressure to prove that I could ‘teach’ my children and I was going to be a good home-educating mama. If I could teach Joseph to read it would prove that, right?

Oh how we struggled. There were tears and tantrums on both sides. He was frustrated that he couldn’t read, I was frustrated that he would seemingly know a word one day but forget it the next. We both felt like failures. Then I said enough is enough. We don’t have to prove anything to anyone. I just needed to do what was right for my boy.  So, I announced that we were stopping the reading lessons. No more learn to read workbooks, printed worksheets, or boring simplified reading schemes. Instead we were just going to enjoy reading real books.

We started reading chapter books as a family, snuggled up under blankets on the sofa. I read aloud as the children played with their Lego bricks or train track. Sometimes Chelsea would take over the reading.  At the age of 8 Joseph asked if I could help him to read. Why? Because he wanted to read the instructions for his Playstation games. We started sitting and reading together with purpose and within a week he was a fluent reader. He had discovered a need to read, developed a will to read and thus began to read – even with his dyspraxia issues. It all clicked into place for him.

It took just over a year away from the school environment to help Joseph feel confident enough to leave my side when we were out. I allowed him to cling to me without frustration or pressure, to just be. We had weekly speech therapy sessions at first, which then dropped to fortnightly, then monthly.  The speech therapist was so patient. She said that it was the worst case of school phobia and lack of confidence in a child that she had ever seen in all her years of practice. I was devastated. He hadn’t always been this way.

A year into our home-educating journey and I passed my driving test. This opened up a whole new world of group meetings and exploration. At first I had my boy holding my skirt, but over time he trusted that I would be there for him always and he would go off and play. Joseph made friends easily and more importantly he was accepted.

The change in him was incredible. His confidence grew and he became the joker of the pack again. The glint returned in his eyes and I knew I had my son back.

The speech therapy became less regular. The therapist could see the progress being made at home and saw no need to keep seeing us, she just continued to provide us with support if we needed it. On the day that Joseph was signed off from the sessions, we were told that it was because we home-educated. I quote; “I am of no doubt that if Joe was in the school system, I wouldn’t be signing him off today.”

I was so proud. It really felt as if we had done the absolute right thing. It hadn’t always been an easy ride. Relatives disapproved of our actions and were often vocal in telling us so. I did question myself; was I ruining my children’s future? Was my mum right when she said that Chelsea would only ever be good enough to stack shelves in a supermarket (not that there is anything wrong with that – if my kids were happy and stacked shelves, I’d be happy!).

Now, with hindsight, I know that home-educating was the absolute right path for us to take. Eleven years into the journey, it is still the absolute right road for us to be on. I now have six children and the youngest four have never set foot within the school system. They are vibrant and energetic, they are curious and questioning, with a thirst for knowledge and a strong will to learn. They are amazing. As a family unit we are so close. The children are like best friends, and I have an amazing relationship with all, including the teens. Chelsea is nearly 19 now and studying Psychology, Sociology, and English Literature at college in order to gain a place at University next year.  She wants to study Psychology and earn a degree. Joseph at 16 is still home-educated and happy. He has a great interest in Politics, Journalism, and History and is often found to be reading up on one of these subjects or doing a project. He is under no pressure to decide on his future path just yet, although he is researching college opportunities for himself at the moment.

There are days when I wonder what life would be like for us now if we hadn’t found an alternative to the system, and to be honest it isn’t something I like to ponder on too much. I wonder just how much damage would have been done to Joseph over the years and how he would have coped with it – if indeed he would have. I shudder when I look back and remember the hurt and sadness in his eyes and am so glad that we overcame all we did and Joseph is where he is at now. I know that my own life would be very different. Perhaps I would be travelling along the 9 to 5 work path by now, and I wouldn’t have met any of the amazing people I have – both online and in real. Home-education isn’t just an educational choice, it’s a family lifestyle one.

I know that I have home-education to thank for so much and I will always be grateful to those that have fought over the years in order to afford us the right to such freedom.” Julia Pollard

How a parent helped her child through school by knowing how home education works

Messages from readers are such a joy to receive – most of them anyway!

I had another recently from a parent telling me how useful my posts were in helping them keep a balanced view of their child’s education.

The interesting thing was that it came from a parent with a child in school; the posts about home education helped keep schooling in perspective too.

One of my best friends was delighted to hear this – she’s been telling me the same thing for years; how we helped her see education a bit differently and consequently support her child in school. So her words have been endorsed – she had the pleasure of saying ‘I told you so’ when I rang her today!

She had a dyslexic child who had the classic labels; ‘lazy’ ‘thick’ daubed onto him in class. But she had me in her other ear saying that they were wrong. Hers was a bright child who was just not having his learning needs met by a system which disregards individuals (and very often dyslexics), clumps everybody together within a narrow framework of measurement then, when the obvious happens and some don’t achieve, say it’s all the kids’ fault.

It’s not, but she, like most parents, assumed all teachers and schools knew what they were about.

Sadly, not always, they also have agendas other than the needs of an individual child. I’ve worked in them – that’s how I know – and that’s one of the things I told her.

I also know that there’s no magic training that makes a person a good teacher, no magic technique for teaching that makes teachers recognise children’s needs more intuitively than many parents, and most teachers have no training in dealing with children with special needs anyway.

If you’ve got a child who fits happily within the very narrow criteria schools use for measuring success, you’re very lucky.

Most children don’t actually fit, but that doesn’t mean they ‘fail’ either; instead they are failed by this system.

Anyway, thanks to her faith in her child, her intuition (and my words, she says) she enabled him to succeed against awful odds, go onto Uni and he’s now started his first job. So I asked her what were some of the things she did as a result of our conversations and her observation of our home education that supported them through the many challenges they faced within the school system.

These are some of the points she mentioned, which we’d talked about when we were homeschooling:

  • Stay on the side of the child (particularly when the child feels the school is not), listen to them, believe in them, rather than unquestioningly believing what the school wants you to believe.
  • Remain focussed on the needs of your child. Not on the needs of the institution. Basically we should remember that the school is there to serve the education of your child – your child is not there to serve the school! Challenge them!
  • Understand that children take different amounts of time to learn something, gain skills, to develop and mature. This is quite normal and they are not abnormal if they don’t fit into a prescribed and generalised timeframe. Just because a child hasn’t learnt something when the curriculum says they should, does not mean they’ll never learn it, or that they’re failures, so don’t panic or worry or pressurise. Try and keep it lightweight and be patient.
  • Listen to your guts and your intuition and your child. If you sense something is wrong then it probably is.
  • Don’t always assume that the school and the teachers are right, are professional, or are to be unwaveringly respected. We are trained in obedience to these institutions (banks, schools, health care centres spring to mind). That’s how celebs got away with abuse – no one could believe that these icons weren’t right or good. Basically we know and respect when someone’s doing a good job – and when they’re not. All professionals have to earn respect by their continued integrity and respectful behaviour. Question them if it’s not.

Home educators are told that they have to by law provide an education suitable to a child’s age, ability and aptitude and any special educational needs they may have. I often wonder just how many schools really do that!

Down with homework (unless you’re home educating!)

There was a piece recently in the Telegraph about the effects of homework on our kids.

All through my schooling all my senses balked at the idea of home work. Most of my senses balked at school anyway, it seemed so totally pointless, irrelevant and intrusive.

Why on earth should the government dictate what we should know?! Let alone what we should wear and where and how we should learn?

A bit radical perhaps and I’ve maybe refined some of my earliest rebellions. But homework is still something that angers me.

It angers me because I feel it’s far, far less to do with what children really need and far more to do with control and politics. Especially the politics of schools and curriculum and tick-sheets where people need to be able to say; ‘yes, we’ve covered that’ and get Big Brother off their backs, whether Big Brother is Ofsted, heads or politicians.

None of this is about what’s good for children. Unless they’re one of the kids who happen to love learning like this, and admittedly some do. It’s more likely they don’t!

What’s good for children is that they’re doing other things like playing! What’s good for children is that they’re thinking, imagining, inventing, creating. What’s good for children is that they’re out playing. What’s good for kids is that they are organising their own lives, not always having their lives filled for them by schools and nagging parents. What’s good for young people is that they’re developing other skills besides academic skills, that they’re engaging in a diverse range of activities other than school ones, that families are getting together and being out and active and happy. Not being torn apart by the dictatorial routines of homework.

And actually, would we ever look back on life and say – ‘yep, it was homework that got me where I am today’ or ‘yep – I’ve failed miserably because I didn’t do that English homework in Year 8’!

For goodness sake, can’t people see that there are other ways to learn and develop skills than sitting doing home work? There are other things to learn about life. Other ways to learn.

Researching is obviously good, and kids do it all the time on the Net, but whilst the demands of homework constantly prescribe children’s lives they are not getting the chance to develop skills needed to live purposeful, practical, responsible lives. They do that by engaging with purposeful, practical responsible life, making decisions about what to do, how to do it, what they’d like to do, for themselves. And engaging with the lives of others around them.

I fear our young people’s lives are becoming narrower and narrower, more controlled, more dictated, with less and less chance to learn about what it takes to really lead a life, make decisions, find out about themselves and how to be independent. The more we control and dictate the more we take those skills away.

Down with homework – let’s keep it in better proportion with all the other valuable things children could be doing. Unless you’re home educating of course. Then you’re doing a whole range of homework in the day!

Another approach to learning

There was a little piece about Home Education on Radio Five Live the other morning and an interview with the Meek family.

They’re taking a year to travel with their children to enrich their education. It’s fascinating reading their blog ‘Do try this at home’.

But the presenter came out with some rather daft questions, seeming not to understand a great deal about home education and how children learn from life.

It illustrated the huge difference in thinking between those who can only define education by what happens in schools, compartmentalised testable outcomes, its effectiveness measured by such, and those who know that education is far, far broader.

Education is to do with learning about life, an approach to living and learning, and about the qualities of an educated person rather than any finite outcome external to that individual.

The Meeks are living a learning life with their children (albeit for a year). As a result their children are having rich, varied and educative opportunities and experiences which develop many of the skills they need to transfer that education to real life.

In contrast a school education consists of unvaried experiences transferable only to test results and irrelevant to real life – certainly to children’s real lives.

For example, instead of sitting at a desk learning about water pollution the family is examining what happens for real. Instead of the ‘socialisation’ of a classroom, where people seem to think skills will develop from being in a confined institution, they are engaging with a range of people and their social skills are developing naturally and organically from those interactions. Instead of their learning being dully delivered by irrelevant others in uninspiring ways through a prescribed curriculum they are instead being excited and motivated by their experiences. Nothing teaches more profoundly than exciting experiences!

None of these are really testable experiences. But that’s the other misconception that many people have about education; that it’s only valuable and accomplished if it’s testable.

The truth is that education is only valuable and accomplished if it’s transferable to living in responsible ways.

Real valuable learning, that means something, will be transferable to tests and exams if and when necessary to the individual. But for now the Meeks are just living. They are educating their daughters through real living experiences from which they are learning.

Thousands and thousands of families now opt to do this, but not just for a year’s trip; for the majority of their children’s childhoods. Some home educating throughout their children’s entire ‘school’ age, until such time that they’re ready to move on.

And making a wonderful success of it too.

Living a learning life is such an inspirational way to raise and educate children quite different from the ‘school’ way. And the more the media – and presenters – understand what it is to be educated, rather than what it is to be schooled, the better it will be!

(Check out the page of home educators blogs on this site for a real illustration of how it works for each family)

Home Education and History…a guest post

Firstly, I would like to thank Ross for allowing me to publish a guest post about home education and history on her blog.  When I was forced to home ed my son (who has complex special educational needs), I was very scared and frightened by the entiredaunting prospect.  I am a professional business technologist with a lifetime of working in the City with “grown-ups”, so what did I know about teaching a child?  Especially a child with such a complex cocktail of special educational needs as my son? But Ross’s blog was a beacon of light in what could have been extremely dark and frightening months. So I’m delighted to be writing a guest post about home educating children in the exciting discipline of “history”.

What is history?
When you see the word “history”, do you instantly switch off and think “oh no, that’s so boorRring”?  Or do you think “I can’t possibly teach my child about history, it’s too academic/I’m not clever enough/I don’t know anything about history/I hated history at school”?

Well… I’d like to put it to you that history is one of the easiest, richest and most diverse of all topics you can undertake.  I can guarantee that wherever you live in the United Kingdom, there will be “history” in some shape or form all around you. Whatever is your background, culture, race, or religion, there will be “something” historical which you can explore with your children as part of a rich and rewarding home education programme.  Even if your child is like mine, a young person with severe learning disabilities, they will still be able to take part in learning about history.

Sometimes this “history” will be easy to spot: such as visiting London’s main museums.  But other times, history is not so easy and so will require more hard work from you.  For example, your local town will have its own history – some of it will be easy to work out, others less obvious, so you will have to ask questions about the subject you wish to explore.

  • What happened to your town during the industrialisation of Britain in the eighteen/nineteenth century?
  • How old is your local church and why does it look like a medieval castle?
  • Why does your village have a road called “Hanging Hill Lane”, or “Gallows Corner” or “Witch Lane”?
  • What is the history of your road? Your house? Your family?…

All of the above could become questions and projects to investigate for a home educating family.

The British Museum in London. A more “traditional” approach to including history within a home education programme?


Berbice Lane – a road sign on a side road near my house.  There is a historic reason why this road is thus named.  Local road names – an opportunity ripe for an project into local history by a home ed’ing family?

 Questions, questions, questions!

Questions are exactly what history is all about: looking for, and answering questions about a historical topic.  Professional historians often use the “6 w’s” to help with their historical investigations –

What happened?

When did it happen?

Who did it happen to?

Where did it take place?

Why did it happen? (This is often the most exciting historical prompt to explore and investigate!)

How did it happen? (ok, so that’s not a “w”, but it kind-of fits in!)

A famous painting of the Spanish Armada.  A fantastic home ed’ing project to investigate the “6 w’s” of this painting. What? When? Who? Where? Why? How?

School Trip Friday for the Academically Challenged
My child had been called “academically challenged” by one of his previous teachers (who should have known better). But I knew that he was more than capable and we could investigate history together.  Thus was born something we both called “School Trip Friday for the Academically Challenged” (to thumb our nose at his so-called “teacher”).  Each Friday, we went out and about on field-trips to investigate a topic or theme of historical interest.  In amongst all the “normal”  home education activities such as maths and English, our School Trip Friday became the highlight of our week.

So each term, I picked a historical topic that I thought would be good to study.  As I knew that ultimately my child would be returning to school, I decided to (very roughly) stick with the KS2 curriculum and keep to the historical topics covered there.  So some of the historical topics we studied included:

  • The Tudors.  We investigated stately homes, National Trust and English Heritage properties all connected with the Tudor kings and queens of England.  Our favourite Tudor School Trip Friday was when we made a trip to Leicester and Bosworth shortly after the body of Richard III was discovered in the local Council’s car park.  We turned that into an entire long weekend and had tremendous fun researching Leicester and its medieval king, and how the Tudor dynasty came to the throne of England via the bloody battlefield of Bosworth Field.


Here’s looking at you, kid.
My son came face to face with Richard III, the last truly medieval king.

  • The Romans. We headed up and out of East Anglia and into beautiful Northumberland to the area of Hadrian’s Wall, where we investigated the Romans in Britain.  This was another School Trip “Friday” which turned into a long glorious weekend of investigation.

My husband decided that we were having far too much fun on our history trips so joined us for our Hadrian’s Wall weekend. Our home education and School Trip Friday was for all the family to enjoy!

  • The Vikings. Living in Essex, we are extremely fortunate to live near one of the areas where the Vikings invaded in the year 991.  Today it is a beautiful area of outstanding beauty.  Yes, despite popular misconceptions about Essex, there are some incredibly beautiful and historic areas within our county!

The approximate location where the Vikings invaded England in 991.  History literally on our doorstep.

Dos and Don’ts of History and Home Ed
Like all things, there are dos and don’ts to history.  Here are some of mine…

  • When out and about, DO always be respectful of the historical site or ancient monument.  Bear in mind that you might be walking or exploring a monument or site whose very fabric may be extremely fragile.  No climbing on walls or touching/holding fragile objects – unless, of course, there is a sign (or a helpful warden) which explicitly states you are welcome to climb/touch/hold.  If you’re not allowed to climb that tempting wall/pile of rubble, then use other methods for engaging your child in learning.  For example, when we walked along some of the Roman forts at Hadrian’s Wall, instead of climbing the ruins (and running the risk of destroying 2,000 year old constructions!), we spent time looking at the perfect building techniques of the Romans and trying to understand how they achieved what they did without modern building techniques and equipment.
  • If investigating a historic site/building, DO engage with any staff, volunteers or helpers. Many of them will be absolute fanatical experts on that particular building/room/family and will love to spend time with you and your children telling you about their passion. For example, when we visited the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, there were some amazing volunteers stationed at each house, just absolutely dying to share their knowledge. There is nothing more captivating to a small child then being shown the marks a hob-nailed boot made on an earthenware tiled floor by countless generations of men who had come in from the fields and warmed themselves in front of a roaring fire. Or for a modern child to be shown the sleeping conditions/rooms/cupboards of children their age. Engage with staff and/or volunteers, and your child’s education will benefit.
  • DO thank any member of staff or volunteer who has gone the extra mile with your children’s education or experience.  When you have a passion for history, there is absolutely nothing like being thanked by someone – particularly a child – who has benefited from your knowledge.
  • DO age-appropriate / ability appropriate “history learning” with your children.  For example, a teenager could benefit from undertaking proper historical research using primary source materials from libraries and record offices.  Whereas a younger child could prefer a more “hands on” approach byphysically visiting sites and exploring historic buildings.
  • DO consider that history is nearly always a multi-disciplined topic.  For example, weather has had a massive impact on British/English history.  So if your child is interested in weather and storms etc, then consider how the weather may have impacted the historical theme you are studying.  Science and history can go together hand-in-hand!  Or, maybe look at geography as geography and history are also a perfect match.  For example, when I was researching my book about the town of Bishop’s Stortford, I discovered that the nearby river which runs through the town has had a massive impact on the town’s fortunes.  So, whilst I was writing my book I spent a great deal of time walking the entire length of the river and investigating the town’s industry which took place there in the 1800s.
  • DO use a variety of methods for teaching history.  For example, when driving to/from the historical sites we were investigating, we used both the Horrible Histories and Tony Robinson’s series of audio recordings about history to totally immerse ourselves in our chosen period.  We also listened to good children’s historical novels on audio recordings.  When we were looking at medieval/Tudor England, we watched the BBC’s recent broadcasting of the Hollow Crown – Shakespeare’s “take” on the medieval kings of England.  My small child, who, because of his special educational needs had been labelled as being “academically challenged”, sat enthralled watching, digesting and understanding very high-brow Shakespearean plays!
  • DON’T explore famous or popular historical sites/monuments during school holidays.  As you are home educating, you can miss these peak days and weeks, therefore creating a better learning experience for yourselves.  If you really want to visit a popular place so to benefit from school-holiday activities, then sometimes going the week immediately before or after the school holiday will be quiet but still geared up for school-aged children.  For example, we were desperate to see the Richard III display in Leicester.  I’d researched that they were increasing the displays, information and volunteers in the Guildhall during a half-term week.  So we visited on the Friday just before the half term week, with the result that the Guildhall was empty – up until that day, there’d been queues up out the door and up the road.
  • DON’T stick to a historical subject/theme/period because you feel “you have to”.   For example, part of key stage 2 is to study the Tudors but, if Henry VIII and his 6 wives bore you silly, then don’t do it!  Home educating history should involve the entire family so pick something which will excite and interest YOU.  After all, if you become enthusiastic and impassioned about a particular period/era/theme/topic, then your own enthusiasm and interest will fire up your children.

Finally, DON’T be frightened about history.  Embrace home education as a chance for you to explore something which really interests you and engages your entire family.  History is absolutely all around us – there is something there of interest for all ages and all abilities.

Hadrian’s Wall: Time to explore the science of how echoes work and how loud you have to shout to produce a magnificent rebounding sound. Also time to see how fast we could both run when we realised that we had been shouting loud enough to wake the dead. And we had absolutely no wish to wake the dead of thousands upon thousands of sleeping Roman soldiers!


About Kate Cole
Kate home educated her learning-disabled son during the entire academic year of 2012-2013 whilst she took her local authority to two Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunals (SENDIST).  Having “won” both cases, she is pleased to say that her son is now thriving in a specialist education placement.  But her son (and her!) learnt a great deal history during their year of home education together and are still continuing to actively learn history together.

She has recently had published her first local history book, Bishop’s Stortford Through Time, a pictorial history of a historic East Hertfordshire town.  She is pleased to report that, although her son was back at school whilst she researched her book, he helped her research her book by walking the length and breadth of the town with her, helping her to investigate items of local historical interest.  He appears in many of the modern-day photographs of the town.


Kate blogs about East Anglian history on her blog, Essex Voices Past. This week, she is on a tour around various blogs talking about history and her new book, Bishop’s Stortford Through Time.  Catch her on the following blogs this week:-



© Essex Voices Past 2014