Tag Archive | learning

Why home ‘schooling’ doesn’t fit!

I get really taffled up with words sometimes. Being a writer I know the power – or confusion – they cause.

The word home-schooling is one such term.

I’m loathe to use the term and much prefer to go with home-education as it far better describes what I think most home educators are about. As I’ve blogged about before, here.

But does it really matter?

It seems it certainly does. A friend and fellow home educator has recently pointed out to me why we should avoid using the term home-schooling for deeper political reasons that we should perhaps be aware of.

She is one of the members from the initiative of ‘National Community Learning Hubs‘ who have come

together to provide a holistic, nurturing, self determined approach to learning, within environments that enable everyone to thrive and achieve in a way that suits them best. And she related to me a discussion within their groups about the use of the term home-schooling and how it may affect our right to home educate in the future. She’s kindly given me permission to copy part of the discussion here:

HOME EDUCATION is the correct term in the UK, the reasons why some of us long term Home Edders battled to ensure that it was the term used by the DfE are many, but to give a few: Schooling is a very different thing to education. Mothers and Fathers or educators are the ones who educate the learners. ‘Home schooling’ implies a school at home. LAs increasingly try to force school at home and that will destroy the ability to home educate. ‘Home schooling’ can be a block to moving from a school mindset. ‘Home schooling’ is picked up by the media and used to compare home education (currently) to school children educated at home. In so doing, home educators are being pushed toward being lumped in with them. The public body narrative and that of those who want to regulate us has been INTENTIONALLY used over the last several years to move the idea of home education in the mind of the public closer to school, how better than to wholesale change to ‘homeschool’ wherever and whenever they can. The media follows and circulates that narrative. Why would this be used? Easy, because by changing the narrative in subtle steps, public bodies make it easier to persuade MPs to vote to regulate and the public to cheer them on. If members of the home educating ‘community’ follow suit and use the term, we assist the narrative to grow and we support the subtle version of the huge attack on home education freedoms. Why do it? To bring it home more personally: ONE word changes lives. In September last I took some time contacting education psychologists to ask their experience of home education. Every one of them claimed to have plenty of such experience, but none was aware that home education was not EOTAS (education provided by the LA, often in the home) and that was where their experience lay. Each one of those experts had no expertise in home education, yet any one of them could have ended up in a court room as an expert in home education. Lives damaged by a word. Do you want your child to be judged against school standards? If not, remember home EDUCATION.

This has certainly made me think and question and I’m grateful to have those points brought to my attention. I actually feel quite shocked at my own ignorance about the effect these terms have.

Personally, I have never been comfortable with the term (or the concept) of schooling – it certainly doesn’t fit with my idea of true education. However I was aware that home-schooling was a familiar term that could also help people find support, so have used it quite liberally in balance with home-education.

Perhaps I need to rethink, since it has such a political impact.

I know that not everyone sees it in political terms or wants to be involved in the politics of it. But there are many who are fighting politically to maintain your right to home educate and we should support them by being aware of that and by the terminology we use.

What’s your view?

Help for the Home Educating long haul

When I meet home educators, it’s often those who are new to it and starting out. To them it seems very scary and daunting and feel they need lots of support. I’m very happy to give it.

But I’m also aware, having done it, that there is another challenging side to home education; sticking with it for the long haul. That needs supporting too. So I thought I’d repost this article for those of you doing just that.

Going out to work day after day takes some grit. Unless you’re lucky enough to love every single bit of your job and there’s few jobs like that.

And guess what? Parenting can be like that too. A few years in and I began to realise that this was the longest I’d ever stuck at one job. Before that I’d get restless and switch, or change something, make a break into something else. Can’t do that with parenting!

I totally adore and love being a parent. (Even though my children are adults now). I consider it a privilege.

I totally adored and loved being a home educating parent. It was the best thing ever. But that too is a long long haul and like with all jobs there’s good and bad bits. It takes a lot of grit to keep at it. And sometimes I felt I so needed a little bit of comfort and reassurance from a grown up on a bad day! A grown up who understood and didn’t raise their eyebrows in criticism of our choice, or worse; a ‘what-did-you-expect’ kind of silence and an expression to match. Even expressions can be critical!

It was these kind of times exactly which prompted me to write ‘A Home Education Notebook to encourage and inspire’. To offer you a hand to hold on that long haul and a friendly voice from someone who gets it and knows that the bad bits need negotiating too. Knows that bad bits are not an indication that it’s going wrong. Knows that you need to look after yourself too (whole chapter to cover that in the book). And to reassure you that this is the best thing you could be doing and to help you to keep faith in your convictions.

I know exactly what the long haul is like. But keep going – it will work out okay and if it isn’t you will change it till it does! You’ll be doing a grand job. I salute you!

After a home educating long haul you end up with lovely intelligent educated adults like we did!

So if you haven’t got a copy to keep beside you for those wobbly bits now’s a good time to invest, because there’s new edition. And, even better, in this new edition is a special epilogue that tells you how successfully it all worked out for those we home educated alongside. The best kind of reassurance of all.

It’s been unavailable a little while but it’s back now on Amazon if you’d like a copy. It’s been called a home educating bible and comforting bedside book, so I hope it feels like that for you and brings you the encouragement you might need both for today and for the long haul.

The Beastly Bill

I’ve written to my MP. I don’t usually like to get involved with politics but the proposals in the School’s Bill are so horrendous I guess any voice will help. So I thought I’d post it here in case anyone wanted to use, share, lift bits or quote from it. Feel free to do so. The further it goes the better.

Also, at the bottom, I’ve put a couple of links to articles much more erudite than mine you might find useful. Plus the link to the petition in case you haven’t signed yet.

Meanwhile, this is the bulk of what I’ve said:

I am deeply concerned by the proposed School’s Bill, because of its many flaws, and would be most grateful if you’d take a moment to give your attention to the points below.

It’s obviously going to impact on all families with children in school, or otherwise, consequently a huge percentage of the population. But it appears to be based more on blinkered and biased assumptions rather than well researched facts, by people who have little understanding of education, learning, or children’s needs, which is not what I would expect from governmental proposals. And more worryingly, if implemented, could cause irreparable damage to thousands of children and consequently the education of our society.

I’m particularly worried about those children whose needs, through no fault of their own or their parents’, are unmet in school.

The proposals in this Bill are based on the misconception that all children can thrive in school, without regard for neurodiversity and the fact that all children are different, and some not at all suited to a school environment. For these children the choice of parents to educate through other approaches, has been a life saver – literally – for some who are suicidal. Through varied approaches, often via home educating, these children have had their failures and their ill health turned round into successes and well-being. Fact.

But the snag is that most people – including many MPs and decision makers – are ignorant, or blinkered, about this and about other approaches to learning and educating than those familiar through schooling. And reluctant to acknowledge their successes. As a result the Bill proposes to measure the performance of those children educated out of school, by the very same structures that failed them in the first place. And consequently make judgements about the parents. Just like Sats tests fail to give accurate indications of true progress and achievement, (ask any teacher), using school standardisation to measure alternative approaches will fail to realise the longer term benefits of home education and other methods of learning. Then, is in danger of criminalising parents with children not in school.

Some children are NOT fine in school, do NOT thrive in school, achieve and progress perfectly well OUT of school, as many graduating home educators are now proving. It is shocking that this basic truth is being ignored and unacknowledged. Parents who turn to alternative approaches to learning are not doing so to threaten the status quo; but to meet children’s basic needs where the system failed to do so. And are doing so successfully. Fact.

To restrict parent’s choice in the education of their children, to homogenize children’s abilities as identical, measure all approaches by the same (failing) bench marks, or fine parents whose children cannot attend school for personal reasons (usually their mental health) is nothing short of discrimination. And NOT of benefit to the children themselves.

What’s even more alarming is the danger that most of the staff who will be making decisions about the education of children out of school have absolutely no knowledge or understanding of school refusal, school phobia, mental ill-health caused by school, home education, or the very successful approaches to learning that home educating parents use. Surely this is no more acceptable than a doctor’s ability to manage their own child’s health being judged by any man on the street? It just wouldn’t be considered appropriate.

To fine and threaten parents, most of whom want to do the best by their children, is in no way helpful or supportive of those families who are already suffering because of their children’s issues and unmet needs in school. As a member of the home educating community myself, I have always felt that the term Elective Home Education is a complete misnomer. In fact home education probably wouldn’t exist if parents were confident and happy with what schools provide, that their children would thrive there, and that it would meet their needs. For most home educators it is not really ‘elective’; they had no choice, not if they wanted their child to thrive and achieve. Have you ever considered that? And have you ever considered why there are so many teachers among the home educating community now? It’s not because they think they know how to educate. It’s because they have seen what goes on in schools and know that it is unsuitable for so many kids because of inappropriate structures imposed there.

The rights and wishes of children, which is supposed to be the point of the Schools Bill, are in no way evident in it. This is more about the wishes of the government wanting to control what parents do, irrespective of the individual needs of children. And it will create more damage, more special needs, more mental health issues, more misery, and in the end a far less educated society than is already the result of a school system which is broken.

We need alternative methods to mainstream schooling. We need alternative opportunities for those neurodiverse children who cannot thrive in a uniform system. We need to acknowledge and embrace the pioneering methods both families and professionals are evolving that are enabling children with different needs to succeed where they didn’t in school.

No one would dispute that all children should be well cared for and given a suitable education. But this Bill is in no way going to implement that, especially if people continue to think, wrongly, that this can only result through governmental intervention.

It is a common scientific fact that our species will only survive, our planet will only survive, through the opportunity to diversify. It follows then that we should allow and encourage educational diversity in order to enhance our species’ evolution. And support those who need to diversify away from the stultifying systematic processing of the young, which schooling is in danger of becoming, towards approaches where they can succeed. This bill is a threat to that happening.

Finally, I’d like you to consider this; what if your child was being bullied or unhappy at school, was not achieving to their potential, had emotionally based school avoidance issues, or if the school was not meeting their needs, or the child was failing to thrive? What would you do if you then faced fines and criminal charges when you tried to opt out of state education – the cause of their problem – to pursue alternative approaches to their education, in an attempt to do the best for them? Which is what most parents want. As I imagine you do.

I’m asking that this has your attention. That you extend your own education by learning the truth about alternative approaches and successes, home educating included. By acknowledging the obvious fact that schools cannot possibly meet all needs and parents require support in attending to that, rather than criminalising. Please represent my concerns at every stage of the Bill’s development by raising the issues I’ve discussed here and listen to the voices of the thousands who are opposed to it for all the varied and valid reasons.

Thousands of children educate out of school successfully, that is a fact. There are thousands of young adults who have been alternatively educated, without governmental interference, now working and contributing to society in productive ways. Fact. To ignore or fail to acknowledge that, as the Bill appears to do, is morally wrong, disrespectful, discriminative and consequently, surely, in breach of the rights of the young.

See also:

https://www.connectandrespect.co.uk/post/the-dangers-of-the-schools-bill

Powerwood.org.uk the Proposed schools Bill article by Joanna Merrett

And sign here;

https://www.change.org/p/updated-attendance-guidance-encourages-prosecution-and-fines-of-families-facing-barriers-to-attendance-undiagnosed-children-with-send-are-particularly-at-risk-please-don-t-criminalise-our-families

Learning is not the result of teaching…

I had such a treat the other day; the opportunity to meet some fresh new home educators just starting out on their home education adventure.

They had two young children who’d only been at school a little since they’d started due to the pandemic. And it was this which had presented the parents with an opportunity to witness other approaches to learning. And see a change in their children’s health and wellbeing when out of school.

The biggest reason for them finally making the decision to take the children out of school now that they were attending again full time, they told me, was the deterioration in their children’s happiness and health again, both of which had dramatically improved in the months they’d been forced into doing school-at-home.

That was exactly what we witnessed in ours and a story that I hear so often from others.

It happens, I feel, because of something so many people fail to see or acknowledge: It’s not that children don’t like to learn – their curiosity and endless questions are proof that they do. It’s more because schools do not provide an environment in which all learners will thrive. That’s through no one’s fault. It’s just the way it is – although huge improvements could be made – but no one wants to acknowledge the needs of some children for something different.

Not every child’s personality is suited to the hubbub of school. And why should they be forced to endure it at the expense of their learning potential and wellbeing. These parents felt exactly the same about this and it’s what fuelled their decision.

Another interesting conversation I had with them stemmed from the fact that mum was a primary teacher. But she admitted she had an immense amount of un-learning to do herself, about the way children were taught, in relation to the way children learnt. And that these, in fact, are two very different things. She’d begun to see that now as she examined other approaches to educating, especially the more autonomous ones that she’d read about.

It put me in mind of an idea I came across very early on in our home educating days which was so helpful: That learning is not the result of teaching. It is the result of the activity of the learners.

During our early home educating days I thought a lot about what that actually means and kept the word ‘activity’ to the forefront of my approach to the children. It really helped.

Some valuable science going on here but sometimes the activities of my little learners seemed questionable. However, they all piece together to make a stimulating and successful education

This new home educating parent felt like I did about much of what went on in schools and what teachers were obliged to do to children under the guise of educating them. And how much of that was not only a waste of time, but also on occasion not doing the kids any good at all!

When you’re stuck in an institution you learn to do what the institution dictates. Schools are institutions which are at the mercy of decision makers and politicians who mostly have little knowledge of learning, education, children’s development and what is needed to become truly educated. Indeed what education truly is and what it’s for; in life beyond school and at a personal level. It’s not just about exams. (Read more on this in my educational philosophy by scrolling down the page ‘About Home Education) All politicians think about are the stats which tests and exams provide. But stats have nothing to do with the humanity of children and the way they learn and how to integrate into society.

These two little ones I met were happy, articulate, social, busy, engaged and had an actively developing intelligence.

This little family are clearly going to be okay as they find their way along the home educating road, making it up as they go along, as most of us do. Just like we do with parenting. And I’m confident it will all turn out okay as it does for most, despite the fact that it feels like a bit of a patchwork, DIY affair when you start out. It all works.

Of course, the big exams of the future question came up, even though these children were only at the primary stage. And I know it’s what a lot of parents worry about – politics has taught us to!

I told them that parents find their way with that at the time and not to look too far ahead. I always say that if you take care of the little learning moments, conversations, activities of your learners, and their well being each day, the future will take care of itself.

It was such a delight to be in the company of this little home educating family. And it made me feel again how I miss all those Home Ed times and the activities of my little learners!

After the Jubilee

Back to a ‘normal’ Monday then after all the jubilation!

Except it never has to be normal with home education. It’s what you make it. And there’s certainly been a lot of extraordinary fuss made over the weekend.

I’m not necessarily pro-royal, probably more of an agnostic when it comes to royalty and often cringe at the amount of money spent on events like these when there are so many people in such dire need.

But even I was seduced by the joy of so many smiling faces on the news after a pretty austere couple of years fraught with the anxieties and deprivations covid brought, not to mention war. It’s certainly been a spectacle, some of it a tad freaky like the projection of the queen’s smiling face on the carriage window! But all this expenditure – is it justified?

Who knows? That’s a good topic for discussion in your household and a golden opportunity – or should that be platinum opportunity – to do plenty of history and, pro-royal or not, examine the background leading up to the event and the unique concept of seventy years rule in relation to all the monarchs who have gone before.

Learning about history, or indeed learning about anything, is so much more effective, meaningful, likely to be retained, if it is relevant to a child’s life in the here and now. The jubilee is relevant now; the children have lived through a remarkable event unlikely to be repeated. And it presents an opportunity to look back and forward and examine the implications of it. How an understanding of history explains current events and shows us how to proceed without making the same mistakes, hopefully. As we’re trying to do with planetary concerns.

History in my childhood was as dull as ditch water. It was just a question of learning dusty unrelated dates and events and regurgitating them for exams, presented in such a way as to make me question what the heck was it all for. Just so I could be tested?

But today’s educational culture is so different. And even more wonderful with home educating in that you can move away from learning unrelated bites of knowledge learnt for testing and learn purposefully instead, for interest, for fascination, for relevance, for the enhancement of personal development and future life. The children have lived through a unique historical event. And all the discussions, questions, hypotheses, considerations, ideas, opinions, and conversations about what’s happening in the children’s lives now, jubilee or otherwise, promote skills that develop an educated mind. And an educated mind is far more important than test results, both personally, societally and culturally.

Whatever you thought about the jubilee I hope you enjoyed the general goodwill, smiles and celebratory atmosphere that seemed to flow over the long weekend. And you carry some of that jubilation forward into the forthcoming weeks, whatever you learn about and however you do it. For purposeful learning can be just as jubilant!

Home School Wobbles?

Home educating is a glorious experience.

But it’s also no picnic – well – not all the time anyway. Although most if it for us did feel like a joyful romp away from the restriction of mainstream, with an expanding horizon of liberated learning all the way.

Even so, that doesn’t mean to say we didn’t lose the plot on occasion; have wobbles and tantrums (mine mostly) and doubts and bad days.

We did.

They passed!

Someone messaged me recently to tell me that whenever that happened to them they just picked up my book ‘A Home Education Notebook’ and could find comfort and reassurance. That’s good to know. For that’s exactly why it came to be written.

Because I knew exactly what those moments, or days, felt like and I wanted to offer something to help. In fact a reader of another of my books (Learning Without School), which came before the Notebook, said that she kept it on her bedside table for just those occasions. And that nearly became its title; the home education bedside book!

Having been right through home education, and those little children in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ living and working independently now, it’s as if it never happened. It certainly isn’t really relevant to their days any more. You ‘couldn’t tell’ if they went to school or not – as someone once offered as a response to being told they were home educated. We did laugh over that! But it might reassure you to know that although it feels like an enormously unorthodox and controversial step to you now, come the future it will all even out into mainstream life.

So don’t panic.

When you’re panicking and wobbling and losing the plot – which is downright natural anyway, we’re only human – consider some of the following:

  • you would be worrying just as much about your child in school
  • bad days are natural – whatever you’re doing
  • remember all the wonderful opportunities it gives you and why you did it in the first place
  • you might just be tired – back off and trust
  • not every single moment of every day needs to be filled with work and learning. It wouldn’t be in school. You achieve things quicker at home with individual attention, so your kids have more free time which is equally valuable to their development
  • being a thinking and intelligent person as you must be to do this in the first place, you will not spoil your child. None of my contemporaries who’ve also come out the ‘other side’ have spoiled theirs – I don’t know a home educator who has
  • love and happiness are as important to educational development as academics
  • being social doesn’t come from being in school
  • test results don’t equate to being an educated person
  • learning ‘difficulties’ often disappear outside of school
  • everything is always easier when you get outdoors – use that opportunity you have
  • consider what you think an educated person is and aim for that, as much as ‘results’!
Just one of the chapters from A Home Education Notebook

All of these topics and more are covered in my ‘Home Education Notebook’ so it might help you to have one handy to dip into on such occasions as these when, like us, you lose the plot.

But always remember that whenever the plot is lost – you can always find it, or renew it, or recharge it, and get going again!

Meanwhile, enjoy your home education. It won’t be there forever!

Oh – and a little head’s up; keep your eye on this space – there’s a new edition of ‘A Home Education Notebook’ coming soon with a completely new chapter which revisits many of the young people we home educated with to see what they are doing now! Always a subject everyone wants to know about!

Learning to read – whatever age!

How will the kids learn to read if they don’t go to school? This is a question often asked by potential home educators.

Bearing in mind the fact that there are kids who have gone to school and not learned to read, and adults out in the working world who also can’t read like Jay Blades, the presenter of the programme ‘The Repair Shop’, I’d like tell you that school is not the only route to learning to read. And sometimes even hampers it by the approaches and strategies they attach to it, particularly if you’re dyslexic, a condition which affects the way you process information like the written word.

I watched the programme by Jay Blades; ‘Learning to Read at 51’. It was brave and insightful. Yet he’s not the only one who has been blighted by school approaches to learning to read and the lack of empathy for an individual who needs a something a bit different. It was great that he brought that to the public eye.

The education system has over complicated the process of learning to read with their use of strategies and schemes and over intense focus on acquiring certain levels at certain ages and not allowing time for those who need longer. Even worse is the fact that children who learn differently and not at the expected generic rate are made out to be failures.

Added into this recipe for disaster is the way in which the literacy curriculum inhibits the associated use of language by the complicated dissection of it into named parts like ‘frontal adverbials’ and ‘split infinitives’, and invent academic exercises to practise use of them, as if this helps kids to use it more competently. It doesn’t really.

I’d like to tell you a little known fact: none of these approaches are in fact strictly necessary. Or will guarantee a child learns to read or communicate effectively through the written word, which is after all the point of it. But parents have been frightened into thinking that their children won’t learn to read, or be able to successfully use language throughout their adult life, without such approaches.

Totally untrue.

Children can – and do – learn to read without any of these formal approaches. There are enough home educated adults now who are living proof.

Although most home schooling parents do guide and facilitate their children towards reading, there are children who have learnt by themselves without any formal intervention at all apart from encouragement and exposure to reading and text. And there is plenty of opportunity to do this surrounded as we are by signs, packets, media, texting, gaming, all of which are valuable opportunities to experience reading. It’s not confined to books!

Another very important influence on them acquiring the skill is the sight of you reading. Children want to do what you do, want to access and enjoy books like you do, want to read your tablet, texts and messages, and love being read to – which has a direct effect upon their reading skills. It’s all part of their desire to read, important for motivation. If they’re motivated – and not put off by dull strategies that kill the joy of using language – they’ll read.

It doesn’t have to be attached to age either, despite what schools would say. Each child is different and will come to it at a different time and maybe in a different way. Even those with specific challenges like Dyslexia, like Jay, have been able to read in different time frames.

A marvellous book which illustrates how this happens, and how we should perhaps change our minds about the teaching of reading is ‘Rethinking Learning to Read’ by Harriet Pattison, an educationalist and home educator herself. (Blog here about it). If anything is going to give you the courage to believe you could teach your child to read it’s this book – worth a read.

What’s most important is that parents should believe in their ability to facilitate their child’s progress with reading, and trust the fact that with encouragement and faith, they can make it happen.

After all, I have known adults who’ve been through the school system and come out unable to read. But I haven’t known a home educated child who hasn’t managed it in the end.

And maybe if Jay had been afforded more patient and sympathetic approaches during his education, he would have been able to read before the age of 51, as he clearly has the ability to overcome the challenges he faces.

However long it takes, and unless your reader has very severe or specific difficulties, home schooling gives you the time you need to develop a reader – you just need to provide the encouragement and patience!

A perfectly imperfect approach to your Home Education

Happy New Year, and a happy new start to your home education!

As a fresh approach to it, which we were always ready for when we got back down to it again, how about adopting the philosophy of Wabi Sabi?

What is that, I hear you ask?

Well, I’m not going to be able to give you a clear definitive answer, basically because there isn’t one. I’ve read it’s as difficult to define as love; we all have ideas about love but to express what it is in words is almost impossible. It’s more a matter of feel than of definitions.

And it’s the same with Wabi Sabi.

Wabi Sabi is a Japanese approach to life which holds within it lessons about letting go of trying to make everything perfect, of letting go the idea that life can only be happy if we meet our expectations of perfectionism – many blasted at us through social media, and of accepting and appreciating things as they are in order to get the best from life. Acceptance of the fact that things don’t have to be perfect in order to be good.

If you’re anything like I was you’ll probably be worrying about making your home education perfect. You feel the responsibility of living up to this decision you’ve made to do it, of making it better than school, along with the inevitable comparisons and weight that subsequently brings. Worrying over the judgements made about you if you’re not getting on perfectly. Heavy weights indeed.

Having been through all this my advice to you would be to stop that immediately. All that will do is create tension and anxiety, stress and conflict none of which will be good. Certainly isn’t helpful in making a good learning environment.

Far better instead is to approach it with the wisdom this concept of imperfection brings. Understanding that imperfections are still experiences and all experiences teach us something; often show us the way forward, even when they’re the wrong ones!

And understand this about the educational process:

  • It doesn’t have to be perfect to be valid
  • Learning approaches don’t have to be perfect to be worthwhile
  • Each day doesn’t have to be perfect in order to usefully contribute to the overall development and progress of your youngster
  • Becoming educated is a diverse, sometimes messy, varied and experiential journey that has as many imperfections, as life does, and which never ends.
  • There is no perfect time frame, no perfect approach, no perfect outcome, no perfect strategy, no perfect answer.
  • But a perfectly imperfect education still works!

Many of your days at home will be less than perfect. Many days at school will be less than perfect. We wouldn’t actually expect them to be so, so why put that pressure on your home educating days?

And of course, children are not perfect either. Thank goodness for that, for all our diverse idiosyncrasies. Diversity is essential for our perpetuation. Accept your children as they are, where they are; they will change. Wabi Sabi embraces the concepts of impermanence, imperfection and incompleteness. As things are in all nature; as are we – children particularly!

So go gently with your days. Ditch any ideas about making them perfect.

Enjoy the good days. Accept and move on from the difficult ones. Take each day as it comes.

And allow imperfections to be naturally part of the rich pattern of home education.

Wishing you a happy new home educating year

(The book I read was ‘WABI SABI Japanese wisdom for a perfectly imperfect life’ by Beth Kempton)

Christmas tales…

A little Christmassy extract from ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ – the heartfelt story of our family’s learning days at home, when the girls were roughly nine and twelve:

“…With it being our third year of kids at home full time around Christmas you’d think we’d have engineered a plan for secrets. We decided we’d try honesty and appeal to their mature natures now that they were eleven and eight.

“Your dad and I are just going upstairs for a while and it’s important you don’t disturb us. Have you got things to do?”

“What for?” There was a little twinkle in Chelsea’s eye as she asked which reminded me distinctly of mum.

“It’s a secret,” I said smiling.

“A Christmas secret?” asked Charley also grinning now and knowing exactly what we were up to.

“Maybe,” said their dad. He tried to be mysterious but the girls are too clever for him. “So you won’t disturb us, will you?”

“Maybe!” returned Chelsea copying him and Charley smirked.

We went upstairs and de-hid all their presents from our various drawers.

“Do you think they’ll disturb us?” said Charles, cutting paper on the slant and wrestling to find the end of the sticky tape.

“I don’t think so, but look, we’ll turn back the bedcovers then if they come up whilst we’re wrapping we’ll throw the duvet over everything.” You have to be inventive when you’re a Home Educator.

“Do you remember doing this when they were at school,” I said.

“Yea, life was easy then,” he said grinning and spitting sticky tape from between his teeth.

“What? You think tears and illness every day were easy?” We laughed. I wrapped. He stuck. If he was in charge of the wrapping all the presents would look like parcels of fish and chips.

“No, it was awful. I can’t believe we’ve done this as long as we have. It just seems so ordinary now. You should hear the others at work going on about homework and packed lunches and stuff. Not to mention Christmas concert practises. They’re complaining the kids aren’t getting on with their learning” He stuck my finger to the parcel.

I extricated it and reached for some ribbon.

“I can imagine. Do they say anything about ours then?”

“Only how they can see why we do it.” He put his massive thumb on the delicate bow I created, squishing it. I tied his thumb down.

“Not enough for them to have a go though!” I laughed. Then the stairs creaked. Charles leapt off the bed, smacked his head on the sloping ceiling but still managed to toss the duvet over the presents as I stuffed the paper under the bed. We sat there and listened. Sniggering was coming from the landing.

“Go away,” Charles called.

“We’re not coming in, we’re only going to our rooms.” The giggling got fainter. We exchanged looks. Charles sneaked a peek through a crack in the old planked door.

“What they doing?” I whispered.

“They’ve gone into their bedrooms but their doors are open.”

“Let’s carry on. I don’t think they’ll come in. They wouldn’t want to spoil their Christmas surprises. Besides, I think Chelsea’s becoming aware of other things that go on in bedrooms!”

Charles raised his eyebrows in glee. “In that case, perhaps we should make good use of it.”

“What? You think you could enjoy sex with giggling going on at the bedroom door and creaking floorboards?” We laughed like naughty kids but continued wrapping.

“What you laughing at?” came from right outside the door. We bundled the duvet back over everything once more.

“Never you mind. Go back downstairs,” I shouted. I crept over and peeped to see if there was any peeping coming from the other side the crack. None.

“Come on, let’s get it done before they come up again.” The rest were wrapped in haste and I fear my parcels looked like fish and chips too.

Charley looked shocked and uncomfortable. Her face was full of both thunder and distress and very red. Her eyes looked like they were going to fill up any minute. She turned her head away and would not look at Charles or me either.

Chelsea just folded her arms across her chest, adopted her most disdainful position and stated emphatically “If anyone asks; you are not my dad.”

Charles couldn’t help it. All the staff were told to dress up for the Christmas market for charity but the girls weren’t impressed. And Charley absolutely hated anyone dressed up in costume.  I got a bit of a shock myself seeing this large rotund red fellow with two cushions up his jacket and his face adorned with a mass of flowing white stuff. It’s very off-putting seeing someone who you are as familiar with as your own body parts taking on another persona. He was sweating so much the bits of his face you could see were authentically shining as Santa’s does in all the pictures. It did the trick. A good crowd had gathered at the store and money was being thrown continually in the charity bucket.

“God, I keep losing my trousers,” he said grabbing a handful of red bottom and hoisting it up. I couldn’t help laughing.

“I knew you’d laugh,” he said.

“Sorry, I’m not laughing at you, it’s just your trousers.” I tried to help. But grappling with Santa’s trousers seemed even funnier. Obviously everyone else thought so too as two more pounds went in the bucket. It’s not every day people see Santa being groped.

“Do you have to behave like that?” demanded Chelsea, standing holding Charley’s hand a little bit distant whilst we tried to control our hysteria. She still wouldn’t look at him.

“Have a sweetie,” said Charles holding out the bucket to her.

“No!”

“It’s only a bit of fun,” I said.

“You look stupid.”

I didn’t care, I was in the Christmas spirit. I had a quick snog with Santa and left him to his collecting.

“We’ll go look round the Christmas Market. See you later.”

“Okay. See you later girls.” They ignored him and pulled me away. But Chelsea called back over her shoulder.

“Save us some sweeties, dad.”

We bought a few Christmas presents and then had to get some new wellies for Chelsea. Charley just got the hand-me-downs but she was still at the stage where anything of Chelsea’s was revered. Wellies had taken on a new persona of their own in the shops. They were more pictorial than the efforts we see in the Tate Modern and a hell of a price. I refused to be ripped off, plus the fact we had tight budgets. But Chelsea ogled the bright ones wistfully.

“I’m sorry darling, these will have to do. The others are just too expensive,” I said picking up the plain green ones, the cheapest we could find. I felt a bit wretched about this. In order to Home Educate, time isn’t the only thing we sacrifice and all I ever seem to say is ‘we can’t afford it’. But she’s so intuitive she must have picked up on it.

“It doesn’t matter mum. I’ll paint my own with the paints we got from the recycling centre.”

I was so grateful for her magnitude I cuddled her up. “What a brilliant idea! And I bet they’ll be better than any in the shops.”

“Yea, and no one else will have any the same,” she said looking at a girl wearing some we’d just seen in Woolworths.

“Can I paint mine too?” asked Charley.

“Sure. We’ll have a wellie painting session. We could even paint your dad’s,” I said winking at them. They really liked that idea.

When we went back later Charles looked his normal self again. He opened his arms to Charley and she leapt into them with clear relief. Chelsea lobbed her arms round his waist.

“Is that better now?” he asked carrying Charley to the car. She inspected him slightly doubtfully. Chelsea smiled happily up at him holding the free hand.

“You did look daft, dad,” she giggled.

“Did you remember the sweets?” asked Charley.

He put her down and produced a packet from his pocket. Finally Charley grinned at him too. It was definitely better now.

“Mum! You can’t go out like that,” Chelsea said as I tied tinsel on my shoes ready for a Christmas party.

“Why not? It’s Christmas isn’t it.” I looked at her in feigned indignation. She’d got that suffering look on again.

“Doh! What do you look like?” She was getting to be a right Tweenager.

“I think you look nice,” said Charley clasping my leg in a cuddle from the carpet where she was building a structure with our logs.

“Well at least put some lipstick on,” said Chelsea still trying to make something out of me. She rummaged in a make up bag so extensive it would be the envy of Julian Clary. “How about this?” She produced something nearly black.

“Black?” I shrieked. “It’s Christmas, not Halloween.”

“It’s not black, it’s plum.”

“I’ll have some,” said Charley hopefully. She was ignored. I sneaked a look in the bag of sticky powdery tubs and jars and pencils. It staggered me how she loved it so, I wasn’t into it at all. But I humoured her and found a jar of lovely sparkly glittery gluey stuff with sequin stars in.

“Ooo, this is nice.” I opened the pot and smeared some across my chest. It made grubby stains as if I hadn’t washed for a week. “Oh!” I looked in the mirror, disappointed.

“Oh, mum, not like that.” Chelsea took over and I had the sense our mother and daughter roles were reversing. She wiped it about and the smudges disappeared leaving a myriad of glistening sparkles. Then she added the sequins.

“Can I have some?” asked Charley again, thinking her sister had softened her attitude.

“No!” was the emphatic retort.

“Can I have some then?” asked Charles.

“NO!” they both shrieked together. And give us their parents-are-prats look.

We finished getting ready.

“So do we look alright now?” I asked.

“Yes.” They smile united. But I couldn’t help a last word.

“You know it’s not how you look, it’s what’s inside that counts.”

“Yes, we know!”

They know too much, my kids.

Christmas continued sparkly all the way through.

The best thing about it was the painted wellies. They were works of art fit for exhibiting in The Tate themselves, with swirls and colours and rainbows. If I’d bought the coloured ones we never would have had such creativity. Being on a tight budget certainly makes you think creatively so maybe I shouldn’t worry after all. Charley painted gold stars on hers. But she painted straight over the mud so the stars had a brown tinge.

Charles and I used the ‘holiday’ from education to ignore the children and just live life. But it didn’t work. We didn’t want it to really. We were a family, we were a team. Life and education were as indistinguishable from one another as our family and love. I suspected it always would be.”

Best moments of home education

What are your best moments home educating?

Don’t know about you but I always found that a tricky one to answer – that’s because there are so many. And during all our years of home educating these matured and changed with the children.

When we started, as well as being a teeny bit terrified at the enormity of the decision, there was a much stronger sense of liberation. Not liberation from school as much as the liberation to learn, the freedom to learn, without the obsessive restrictions regimented schooling imposes. It was quite a moment when I realised the potential that offered. We quite literally could learn any time – schedules not always necessary, anywhere – wherever we were, anything – whatever and whenever it came up. So some of our best moments were seeing the children blossom and develop as their curiosity (often quelled in school) expanded the subjects we studied. The possibilities are endless.

Following that was witnessing their health and happiness recover (school was detrimental to both). Why is happiness important? See this blog here – it’s vital!

One particular moment I’ll always remember. It was whilst we were out and about learning, the kids absolutely absorbed by the world around them, and as I watched them satiating their need to know with endless questions, inquiries and explorations I realised how absolutely ‘right’ this was. The moment. The home education. The approach to learning we’d adopted. It felt so good.

Anything, anywhere, any time can provoke learning.

Then there was the laughing moments. Yes – you can laugh and joke and mess around and still learn stuff! Not something encouraged in school. There’s a funny story here which shows what I mean. Education doesn’t always have to be serious!

Other best learning moments came when a concept, skill or understanding that had escaped them suddenly clicked. I wasn’t one for keeping to time frames or age frames or battling on with stuff that clearly was beyond them at the time. It was better that they came to stuff when they were ready; far better to leave it a bit. Then, quite often when we came back to it at a later date, it all fell into place. And their eyes lit up.

You miss those moments when they’re in school, especially when they’ve been made to feel a failure when they didn’t get it first time.

Then there were the social moments. Watching a group of home educated kids, who have no reason to compete or to bully, to ostracise or exclude, to do another down for there is no threat about who can do and who can’t, is an absolute delight. Age becomes unimportant. Kit is unimportant. Cleverness is unimportant. The whole ethos of the home educating groups we were involved with was one of support, care, looking after and helping one another without much segregation between parents and kids either, although this occurred naturally. No one ‘had’ to do, or to mix in any way they felt uncomfortable with and no one was forced. I describe a Christmas party in my ‘Home Education Notebook’ that really opened my eyes to what ‘social’ truly is. It is not what happens in school!

And the very best moments I think, were about us. Our togetherness. Our unity. Our bond. Our respect. The wonderful relationship which grew between us and the kids, us and the grown ups they are now.

What are your best moments? Do leave them below – they’ll make such lovely reading for anyone who might be looking at this and wondering whether they should home educate or not, or just a reminder to overcome a tricky day.

And besides I’d love to read about them!