Tag Archive | family life

Why is the concept of home education so alien? We all do it all the time!

I do wonder why the idea of home education seems so weird and alien to many parents.

For don’t we all ‘home educate’ from the minute we leave school? Isn’t that what we do all the time in life? Isn’t that why you’re scrolling the Net or reading this?

As soon as we’re free from institutionalised learning we start to educate ourselves in all the other things that really matter. We practice skills to help us lead independent lives, look after ourselves independently, increase our job skills and professional skills, learn how to connect and communicate out in the real world instead of the false cloisters of an institution.

We learn new stuff to do with our latest technology. We might take on a new course of study – just for ourselves not for school. Learn another language as we travel. Learn a new recipe. Learn new skills as we take on a new career. When we get to parenting our learning curve rises very sharply.

In other words we ‘home’ educate, or more accurately ‘SELF EDUCATE’ (which is really what home education is) all the time.

So why should the concept of home education appear so bizarre to so many, creating bigotry and derision in extreme cases, when it’s what we naturally do all the time throughout all of our life?

The ability to self educate, both mentally and practically is THE MOST IMPORTANT skill we could ever develop, setting us up for personal growth and development to continue throughout life and enhance our life for ever after. So surely home education does all the youngsters a great favour in teaching them that?

Learning new stuff as I finally sign up for Instagram!

Learning new stuff as I finally sign up for Instagram!

And the idea that education can only happen in a school is surely the most inhibiting one a person could ever have? That’s the mindset that seems the most alien to me!

Mindsets need changing.

Self education, or DIY learning, whatever you want to call it, is the best skill to have in order to create a productive and fulfilling life. A skill that we surely need as schooling becomes increasingly out of date and out of touch. But it’s sadly one that’s often totally ruined by schooling, institutionalising it beyond people’s understanding of how to do it.

The further you move away from school, and experience the potential to learn in a myriad of other effective ways, the more you think that it’s the school approach that’s the alien one.

Our human capacity to learn is born when we are – it’s a shame so many put schooling in the way of it.

A hug from me

20161012_175742 Sometimes I stand on the step so I can be taller than my daughter.

This is not for egotistical purposes, honest!

It’s just so I can put my arms around her shoulders in an all enveloping hug. And she can put her arms around my middle like she did when she was a child.

Doesn’t matter how old they are or how tall they grow, or even how loving the arms of boyfriends, they still know there’s nothing like a mum-hug to help ease the stresses of adulthood.

And how lucky I am to be looked to still to provide it.

No one is ever too old for a reassuring hug. But sometimes we get too busy to prioritise them.

No one is ever too tall or too grown up. And it doesn’t matter what gender – boys need them just as much and everyone needs to be tactile. Technology can’t do tactile, that’s one thing at least we still need to be human to provide! Lets not be on our technology so much we forget to be tactile. Life could easily become totally virtual.

Even grown up friends and I swap mum-hugs when that’s what’s needed and there are empty arms needing to be filled. We have the need both to receive and give hugs. Nothing shares an empathy or love like a hug does. Nothing soothes as much or feels as good.

My youngest popped back for one earlier. I see how many I can get in before she goes again. And I did stand on the step!

Someone said recently that my books feel like a hug. When life is challenging and they dip into them, that’s what it feels like they tell me. I think that’s one of the most endearing compliments I’ve ever received; I feel truly honoured. Couldn’t wish for anything better when that’s what I’d hoped they’d feel like, along with the odd tip of course, but perhaps that’s not as useful as a hug sometimes!

So if you’re in need today consider this another one. I’m just sorry not to be giving it in person!

Advice from the daughter!

I’ve just returned from another trip to see my eldest in the city – a very different lifestyle from the one she started out with here. 20161004_121611

The wrench of parting doesn’t seem to get any easier dammit! I realise this after looking back through my posts to earlier visits with her. But we still have just as much fun. And we’re still always learning. Although as I said in my blog post at the time…

It’s me being educated as I discover new grown bits of this vibrant adult. Not only is she working to keep a roof over her head, she is keeping her more creative passions alive with her performing, teaching others, running a business, and developing her own productions thus creating opportunities for others.

And some people accused us of creating ‘jobless, no-hopers’ by home educating our children.

Some people are just unbearably narrow minded.

“So, I want to ask you a question,” I said as we sat over coffee in a brimming cafe full of others sheltering from the chill. Not the kind of hubbub I’m generally used to in my reclusive, rural, writerly days.

“Other parents just starting home educating want encouragement. What advice would you give to parents and children?”

She burst out laughing over the thought of herself giving advice – she didn’t feel that grown up! But then launched into one of those passionate, pro-active, inspirational outbursts I admire so much.

“I would say – encourage experience in any subject they might be interested in or show passion for whether you know about it or not and don’t just stick to the constraints of the National Curriculum. There are thousands of other subjects which are ignored. Don’t discredit subjects that are not academic subjects … do you want to produce a clone or someone who has had a wide experience of different subjects which could be applied to a spectrum of different careers? And to the kids I would say – don’t just follow the crowd, follow your own interests whether they’re deemed to be ‘normal’ or not.”

Laughter bubbles up again and I catch it too! We both know what an independent spirit she is and how she wants to inspire others to be the same. So much for home educating keeping kids cloistered!

I thought about this on the long way back. Before I go to bed after one o’clock by this time I let her know I’m back safe and we swap loving texts. Among the love there’s more advice to swap;

‘Every day life is about learning is it not!” she writes.

She is so right. I am learning. She loves learning. And I’m convinced that she discovered that from home education!


Home education has brought me closer to my teen!

Back in January a parent got in touch with me about her fourteen year old, the effect that school was having on her, and their desire to home educate. After swapping advice and encouragement at the time, I hadn’t heard from her until recently when she sent me an update.

It’s so inspiring to read how others have progressed that I asked her permission to post it here in the hope of inspiring you all too.

This is what mum Jacqui said in January:

I deregistered my 14 year old daughter Katie who is in year 9 at the end of last term. Katie simply wasn’t coping well with the upcoming exam pressure and found the way things are taught these days was unstimulating and she was constantly comparing her work with her peers and feeling downhearted.
She had begun to have panic attacks and we came to a joint decision that home ed would be better for her.
I replied to the LA when they asked for a form to be filled in and a visit. I declined to fill in the form as it didn’t seem applicable to where we are at the moment and I asked for a six month settling in period and told them I would use this time to follow Katie’s interests and get out and about.
The only problem is I have a constant nagging voice(my own), telling me we need to get going with something more structured, although I think this may turn Katie off. I guess I fear that when the LA do get back in touch I will have little or nothing to show to them.
We are hoping that Katie can do level 1 photography and GCSE maths and English at a local college in September, at the moment she is ok with this.
I have read both your books; A Funny Kind of Education and Learning Without School and would very much value your thoughts on a possible way forward.

(I responded to this letting her know her rights with regard to the LA and what they’re not allowed to do, and suggested that she allowed Katie to follow her interests and try and ignore her nagging voice!)

And here is her update this month:

The delightful Katie and mum Jacqui

The delightful Katie and mum Jacqui

I was just looking back to when we began home educating Katie and read through my original comment on your Blog page and your kind, encouraging response.
I just thought I would send you a quick update on how things have progressed for us. We began with quite a structured approach as Katie said she was used to working to a timetable and felt better knowing what to expect each day. Well this didn’t last for very long and over time we have found ourselves much more Autonomous and it’s been lovely to see Katie’s creative juices start to flow again.
During the year we have visited the beach, Eureka, local historic halls, The Beatles experience in Liverpool, Nature reserves, paddled in rivers, parks, attended a Classical concert, the cinema and lots more. We have also consumed huge amounts of cake, hot chocolate and milkshake in too many coffee shops to mention!
Katie has taken a real liking to baking, photography and playing the Ukulele and Keyboard (all self taught).
Another positive to Home ed is how much closer we have become, and I truly believe that because of the extra time we’ve spent together we have a greater respect for each other and our separate interests, we have of course had our fair share of disagreements too (mostly because of my anxiety over having to be ‘doing something productive’ to collect as evidence for the LA).
One of the funniest moments was when I saw an ad for a local minibus company offering ‘local days out’ I rang and booked us on a trip to Whalley Abbey, only had to pay half price for Katie and they said on the phone they offered a door to door service, all seemed too good to be true. Well the day arrived and we were kindly ushered onto the bus, to find there wasn’t a passenger under the age of seventy and I’ve never seen so many zimmer frames in one place in my life. Katie’s face was a picture and she hasn’t let me off the hook yet!
If you remember I was rather concerned about the upcoming visit from the LA. I gathered together lots of photographs, my diary and a small amount of Katie’s work, we chatted for a while and I explained that Katie isn’t a fan of writing anything down unless she can see a point to it, which he seemed to understand. Anyway in the end he said “Well I think I’ve seen quite enough and taken up enough of your time.” He seemed quite satisfied and is happy to leave us be for another twelve months.
Katie has begun a photography course one day a week at a local college and so far so good. Many thanks again for your earlier advice. I have added you to our FB page ‘Lost in Education’ Congratulations also on your new book ‘A home education notebook’,  I had it on reserve on Amazon and it sits by my bed ready for me to dip into at anytime.

Grateful thanks to Jacqui and Katie for sharing their story with us.

When your Home Ed child wants to try school

Some children thrive well in school. Schools are a valuable and necessary route for many families.

You may be surprised to hear me say that given that I’m all for home education and work to raise awareness of it and support parents wanting to home school their children.

But I’m not one of those home educators who’s dead against school whatever. It’s the systematic, conveyor-belt style of schooling offered to us as education, which attempts to make kids all the same and expects them all to perform all the same, that I’m against. And I personally abhor some of the methods used by generalised school approaches (like recent backwards move to grammar selection) to reach targets that seem nothing other than political. But that’s just a personal opinion.

The idea of schools as a place to go and learn in inspirational ways with inspirational guidance from enthusiastic others, alongside friends, is a good one. It’s just that this idea doesn’t manifest itself as reality in many cases, thanks to an obsession with measurement, testing, politics, ignorance and disregard for individual learning preferences.

Watching our children wilting in happiness, health, and motivation to learn anything at all when they’d been such inquisitive little beings before school, was what drove our decision to change.

But it was only ever our intention to home educate as long as they enjoyed it. And as they grew older there was always the choice for them to go back and learn as their friends did. Mostly they decided not to, but there was one point where we were thrown by our youngest’s announcement that she fancied trying it, even though she was the one who’d wilted most of all. You can read what happened in the book ‘A Funny Kind of Education’.

Like many home educating parents in this position we saw it as a failure on our part to fulfill her needs.

That was daft; it’s unlikely we could fill all their needs – just as schools cannot – there is no one experience that answers as education. And her curiosity about school (and that’s all it was) showed her intelligent and inquisitive mind which we had nurtured and developed as part of the educational process. And curiosity and a willingness to try things out is a good thing – even if it is school they want to try. We should rather be congratulating ourselves than bemoaning it.

If your child is going through a stage like this you have to keep an open mind of your own – hard though it may seem. And congratulate yourself on your intelligent child and their ability for curiosity and decision-making. The decision may well be reversed again – as ours did, as did other Home Ed children we knew who wanted to try school too. Many families use school for one and homeschool other children effectively But it’s important to respect their ideas, keep on talking about it with them, learn what you can about what they’re thinking, discuss their options, and hang in there!

For being rigidly against school can be as institutionalising an attitude as the one which school users sometimes display towards home educators when they’re having a go, isn’t it? The rather bigoted one we sometimes come across among those members of the public who don’t really understand home schooling or how successful it is.

All decision making as parents is hard. We need to share concerns, find support, and make sure we have a cross section of opinions, to guide us as parents. And meanwhile be brave enough, and open enough, to go with the flow of our children and respect that they will come to grow and know their own minds through experience. Whether that involves school or not.

And though thick and thin we must always stay on their side.

(Do dip into my books for more support and information)

Five common worries parents have before they home educate

Many parents tell me they’d like to home educate but don’t do so because of the same common concerns. Here’s five of them and how to view them differently:

1) I’m not clever enough to teach my children anything.

If you’re clever enough to raise your child past toddler stage, toileting stage, eating stage, speaking stage, you are clever enough to extend those skills you have to their further learning. Because that’s what they’ve been doing with you so far – learning. Everything you’d need to know and understand is online. Every fact your child would need to know is online. The support you need is also online and can lead you to groups and physical meet-ups. You don’t need to be clever. You need to be skilled; as in kind, encouraging, willing to learn and research and happy to give some time to your child. You are probably that already!

2) I worry my child will have no friends

All the home educated children I know and have met have friends. Schools DO NOT have the monopoly on friendships and are not always the healthiest place to forge them. Children make friends at school because they happen to be there. Children make friends wherever they happen to be; park, football, music groups, cubs, gaming, and similar activities and online. They also make friends among the home schooled community through regular meet-ups, family swaps and social events.

3) I’m afraid of leaving the mainstream and feeling isolated.

An important fact: just because you’re leaving mainstream schooling it doesn’t mean you’re leaving mainstream life! You do all the ‘normal mainstream’ things all parents do and integrate with other mainstream families whilst you’re doing it. Isolation comes through lack of communication and connection and is not to do with physical isolation which doesn’t happen anyway – you’re so busy connecting with others. Some of your connections may change – you’ll make new ones. But if the people you are with are making you feel isolated because of your choices or beliefs then I suggest you choose different friends!

4) I’m afraid my kids won’t learn anything

Look at your kids. They’ve learned loads already, without you, without school, without teachers, testing or targets. I bet they know how to game, use their technology better than you do. Kids learn anyway, wherever they are, all the time. give children experiences and they learn from them. They can’t help it. With your guidance and direction they’ll learn even more as you take them places, show them things, talk endlessly about what you’re doing, observe, bring awareness to the world around them – there’s so much to learn about they’d never have the chance for in school. They learn more through conversation than any other way. So chat about; where you’re going, what you’re buying, the route you’re taking, the advertising, produce, budget, work, climate, waste, traffic, whatever. Observing, questioning, discussing is an enormously valuable learning approach that can be formalised with research and study skill practice at a later date. Their brain is an amazing self-organising computer that stores it all away for future reference and extended understanding. Stimulate them and they’ll learn – it’s as simple as that.

5)I’m afraid of how it’ll turn out and the kids failing.

Another important fact: kids fail in school all the time. With home education you cannot fail because if anything isn’t working you can change it. You will learn from other families how to approach it. You will also learn that everyone approaches it differently and that’s okay for we are all different anyway, so we can adapt good ideas to suit our own individual kids and family circumstances. That’s the beauty of home educating. When the children start school we tend to look at it day to day. We don’t really look too far ahead to them being teens, or exams, for example. In fact this is unimaginable when they’re small. It’s best to adopt that view when you start home educating. Take one day at a time. Make it the best you can (and there’ll always be days that are not the best, but that happens in school too doesn’t it!) There’s no point in worrying too far ahead as children constantly change – as does the rate at which they change – but one thing is certain; they never stand still and they never fail to learn.

So relax. Keep in contact with others. Review. Adjust. Keep flexible. Progress with your child. Trust in yourself as an intelligent caring person. That’s all you need to be.

And enjoy it. that’s the best approach of all.


Buy it at a discount from birdsnestbooks.co.uk this month

(There’s a lot more about worries and wobbles in my new book ‘A Home Education Notebook’. Available through the publishers Bird’s Nest Books who are offering a discount on their home education titles this month).

An experienced Home Educator shares her story

I had the great pleasure recently of re-meeting a friend I hadn’t seen for ages, who is still home educating her family of six. Of course, that’s what we talked about! I asked her if she’d be willing to share her wealth of experience – and confidence – here for us all to learn from. Here’s her insightful story in her own words:

I have six children and none of them has ever been to school.


mum (left) and Rosie all grown up and on her way to Uni


In the beginning, I didn’t really think about school and was horrified at how quickly the subject of school came up after my eldest, Rosie, was born. I’d heard about home education (I think it was a magazine article in the dentist’s surgery) but I presumed that it must only be for children with special needs.  When I learnt that ANY child could be home educated, it was a total light-bulb moment.

My husband was against it from the start, even though he could see our little girl thriving and learning. He had, as a lot of people do, a belief that school ‘makes’ you, toughens you up, shows you how to fend for yourself blah de blah.  I sucked up as much information about home education as I could for him to read and he wouldn’t. So in the end I put my foot down and said that if he wanted Rosie to go to school, he would have to fill out all the forms, buy the uniform and take her there each day himself.  It was a dirty tactic, but I was convinced that home education would be perfect for her and a few years later, my husband agreed with me!

Like most little children, she was an absolute sponge for learning and our small house filled up with books and resources from charity shops and car boot sales as well as boxes and boxes of art and craft equipment. I bought a bulk box of 100 exercise books (around fourteen years and five more children later, we still haven’t used up all those exercise books!!) as well as lots of other expensive educational equipment.  Some of it was pointless – the anatomical model where you could remove the plastic heart, lungs etc and fit them back into the body for example – once the body parts had been taken out, put back in again, that was that and the body parts were soon lost.  This was all in the bad old days when I was feeling anxious at this beginner stage of home education and surrounding myself with the same equipment that schools had made me feel safer.

I drew up a timetable, but it fell apart after a few days. One thing I learnt through experience was that even when I had prolonged periods of time where formal education went out the window (like the births of Rosie’s brothers and sisters), the children kept learning.  Just because I wasn’t there to open up a workbook or get the maths cubes out, they didn’t fall behind or stop learning.  When formal education resumed, they were always up to speed, which I found very heartening and which gave me confidence.  Our style of education has relaxed a lot over the years. Sometimes we get workbooks out, mostly we don’t.  Nowadays, workbooks fill in the bits that haven’t been learnt in some other, more hands on way, which I’m happy about.

The pressure to socialise your child when you start to home educate is MASSIVE and if you’re a very shy person (as I was back then), the idea of meeting strangers is terrifying.  I stuck my name down on the contact lists of HEAS and EO and I was contacted by a few home educators who I dutifully invited to our house and went to groups.

I think the children liked the home ed groups better than I did, but that was ok because we weren’t there for me, I was just there to tick a big, important box marked ‘Socialisation’.

The trouble with home ed groups is that there is no such thing as a typical home educator, so there were inevitable disagreements!  The groups contained people who were very confidently home educating as part of their alternative lifestyle, people whose child had been in and out of school, people who were home educating for religious reasons or because they couldn’t find a school they liked. Some worked well, some didn’t. We have not been to a home ed group for about six years now

My two older sons started going to Scouts about four yeas ago and absolutely love it.  It was a bit hard for them in the beginning, there were children who picked on them a bit and others who were envious that they didn’t have to go to school, but once the novelty wore off, they made friends very easily and really enjoy it.  My second daughter began Brownies and endured a whole nine months without anyone talking to her.  Her Brownie leader suggested that home education was to blame which was very annoying.  I switched her to Cub Scouts where she has never looked back and gets on with everyone and her little sister followed suit by becoming a Beaver Scout.  Joining Scouts has been the turning point in their lives and has given them so much more than socialisation.  They have gone abroad, been on many camps, stood up to read in front of large crowds and a load more that I didn’t have the social confidence to do when I was their age.  Children do not have to go to school to be socialised or to fit into social situations.

Home education’s greatest advantages are not being bound to term times, a more relaxed pace of life, and I can tailor their learning to suit their own abilities.  Rosie, for example, was very unconfident at maths and went through a stage where just the sight of me holding a maths workbook made her shut down and give up.  So I took the pressure off, gave her a break from maths and when we resumed, she used workbooks suited for a child a couple of years younger and she found that she could do the maths and her confidence grew.  Within a year she was back using workbooks set at her own age again, she just needed that confidence boost and I don’t think she would have got that chance at school.

I didn’t have any set goals when I started home education.  I just concentrated on tailoring their education to their needs, interests and abilities.  I always told people that I would only carry on home educating so long as the children were happy and thriving; if I felt that I couldn’t do it anymore, or that school would be the better option, of course I would do the best thing for them.  Happily though, they have never wanted to go to school and each LEA inspector that has come to visit has been very satisfied and told us to carry on!  I did want the children to take GCSEs, because I wanted them to see how they measured up against their peers.  I wanted them to have the camaraderie of suffering coursework, exam pressures etc that the other children they met had and also to see that just because they hadn’t been to school, they were taking the same exams as everyone else, facing the same questions as their friends and could see where all their hard work had led to. Seeing my daughter pass iGCSE maths (which I failed miserably) gave me a huge confidence boost.  Post sixteen; it’s all up to them.  Both my eldest children have slipped very easily into college without any problems and Rosie is now headed for university while her brother is on his second year learning carpentry and joinery.  They love college life and I love stepping back and watching them do it for themselves now.

What advice would I give to someone just starting out or considering home education?

Get rid of those fixed ideas of what is the best method of education!  People get hung up on the details of how education should be delivered and lecture each other.  But this is your child, you have put yourself in the driving seat and you will test ride all the routes till you find the one with the least potholes and is best for you. These may not be other people’s experiences, but you will know when your child is learning.  You don’t have to learn everything to be able to teach your child either.  You don’t have to be a fountain of knowledge because you are the facilitator – the person who shows the child where to get the information so the child can learn.  That way, your child learns how to find it for itself, which is a good foundation for a future life of independence.

If you’re still unhappy about school but worrying about home education, just give it a try.  School will always be there and you will never know what home education is like from just reading about it.  Nothing is forever, literally nothing.  We got confused and my son ended up on the wrong college course, so we changed mid-term.  He now has two sets of friends from each course and he is very happy.  Home education is like that, you try something and it doesn’t work, so you think about it and find something that does work and along the way, you learn patience and confidence.  If it turns out that home education isn’t working for you, well at least that’s better than not knowing and torturing your days thinking; ‘what if?’

Home education chops and changes and what you do with one child isn’t what you end up doing with another and I think that’s how it’s supposed to be. I don’t need to have all the answers right now because I will learn as I go, just like I did with all my other children; that’s the beauty of home education.