Sunday 3 July 2022

So What Do You Actually Do All Day?

Home education has been on the public radar quite a lot over the past two years with parents across the country being plunged head first into trying to educate their children from home back in March 2020.  Many parents found this experience excruciating and couldn’t wait for schools to re-open, still others loved in and decided to embark on home educating their children full time.  I had a really hard time during lock down in spite of regularly being told that nothing much must have changed for me.  Clearly there was a pre-conceived idea that home education took place entirely in the home in isolation from the wider world.  This could not be further from the truth and I struggled so much not being able to attend our groups, see friend and visit museums, libraries and other educational places.  These were a huge part of my educational provision, just being home all day everyday was not part of the plan!

Two years on and many families have decided to continue home educating their children; as a result, numbers have risen and the government are starting to get concerned.  They don’t really want children being home educated because that means one parent not working (at least not full time) and therefore contributing less tax revenue than that of a full time working parent. I think the government would also prefer every British citizen to have the same educational experience as each other (except for the rich ones of course), it doesn’t really want too many free thinkers walking about.  So, in a small part as a result of the rise in numbers of home educating families over the last two years, the government have pressed on with their plan to introduce a home education register, along with their “schools bill” which all parents should be concerned about, home educating or otherwise. There is a lot of information on the internet about it, so I won’t harp on here, but needless to say the government’s claims that they will “level up standards” and be providing educational “excellence” are pretty laughable. 

The Government claim that there are children “under the radar”; parents who are keeping their children locked up at home, neglected, with no socialisation and likely abuse under the guise of “home education, or else are indoctrinating children with illegal schools.  The Government claim that a register will make sure that no children are missed (won’t those parents abusing their children just not sign the register seeing as they are already doing something illegal?!)  in spite of the fact that every single child who was abused under the guise of home education were already know to local authorities.   It seems to me a lot of parents, even those in the home ed community think the Governments plan is a good idea, “if it saves just one child from abuse it’s worth it” they say “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” they say.  But the reality is that sadly it won’t save any children from abuse.  More children are abused in school than in home education.  It’s never really about the children.

Maybe because of lockdown and how parents were forced into home learning in isolation, there are a lot of misconceptions about home education, and the image of all children sat at the kitchen table receiving drills in maths an English, churning out a generation of, at best, maladjusted weirdos, and at worst illiterate criminals, continues to permeate the minds of the general public. This perception was further ingrained after the lockdown as parents assumed what they were doing at home with their schooled children was the same as what we were doing with our home educated children (all at home, not going out, not seeing anyone).  And that, as I have said, couldn’t be further from the truth. 

One question I get asked a lot is “so what do you actually do?”.  So I thought I would take this opportunity to dispel some myths and to give an insight into our daily life.  This is in part inspired by a friend of mine who did the same recently on Facebook (so thanks for that Amy).  I’ll tell you what the average week looks like, but I will also tell you about some of the interactions and spontaneous learning opportunities that take place that simply cannot be substantiated. 

I dislike the use of the word routine and lean more towards rhythm in describing our days,  routine feels strict and unbending, but our rhythms change and move and flow with the seasons, the moods and the weather.  So please see this as less of a timetable of events and more of a flow of predictable rituals, traditions and habits interspersed with spontaneous learning opportunities, space for exploration, play and time with friends.

We begin each day at the dining table with breakfast and a story.  At the moment I am reading Bible stories to the children from a big old Hamlyn Children’s Bible with lots of colourful illustrations.  I like this book as it sounds a bit more like the Bible than some other children’s editions, so prepares their minds a little bit for the style of writing in the Bible.  I read a few chapters then summarise what has been read at the end and ask the children to narrate what they remembered.  After this we do a morning devotional.  At the moment this is “Our 24 Family Ways” by Clay Clarkson.  A devotional is usually something a bit like a discussion or Bible study around a certain topic.  This devotional is about character and values.  It begins with some thought provoking questions, followed by a bible verse, some discussion questions surrounding the verse and then a prayer.  After this we read some poetry.  Currently we are reading from Collins “Treasury of Poetry” illustrated by Hilda Boswell. I love Hilda Boswells illustrations and I also have “A Child’s Garden of Verses” illustrated by her. We discuss the poems as we go. 

Once the boys are dressed and teeth brushed and chores done (I will do another blog post about chores soon)  we usually sit down to do some Maths and English.  For Maths we are following the curriculum “Maths no Problem”.  Maths is my weak area so I feel much more confident using a curriculum which I know will take the boys through everything they need to know for Maths.  I like Maths no Problem as it uses The Singapore Maths approach, but also the traditional approach which I learnt at school, so it given children different ways of working things out.  I wouldn’t say this is necessarily the best Maths curriculum out there, but it is good value for money. For English we use workbooks for reading, spelling, punctuation and handwriting, the skills they need to decipher and understand texts and to write their own.  But they are free to do their own writing whenever they want, both hand written and typed on the computer, story and letter writing happens fairly regularly, on its own in our house.  On an average day this rhythm takes most of the morning.

We do a variety of things in the afternoons, at the moment on Mondays our afternoons are free so we usually do some work on our current topics.  Often this is listening to a story which we might do round the table with a cup of tea, sat on the sofa with biscuits, on a picnic bench in the garden or even on the trampoline!  Currently we are reading about Alexander the Great. We also do crafts, art,  baking, or science experiments in this time, then the boys play.   In the evening my two eldest go to Cubs.

On Tuesdays, after our usual morning rhythms, I take my eldest to drama, one of the home ed mums is putting on a performance of Mary Poppins 2.  While he is there I take my other three boys to a park and we usually do a nature walk.  After I collect my eldest from drama we go home and do stories, then the boys are free to play outside or with their friends or our neighbours.  In the evening all three boys do Jujitsu class.

Wednesday afternoons are a meet with a group of our Christian Home education friends in the afternoon.  We usually do some sort of activity or social.  On Wednesday evening my 6 year old goes to Beavers.

Thursdays are another free day. The afternoons are often spent with friends or doing activities at home.

Fridays are a social day, we do nature group in the morning, always with a different topic, usually following the “Exploring Nature with Children” curriculum.  This involves a walk in nature, be that a meadow, field or pond, a story and sometimes an activity.  We do this with a group of friends.  In the afternoon we do park meet with a big group of home educators from all over the Forest.  Friday evenings are a treat night, so the boys have a snack and dinner on the sofa whilst watching a film.

This is the general rhythm of our week, but what you don’t see from this description are the many spontaneous activities that take place.  The comic book strip writing, the engineering structures in the garden, the team work, the podcast one of them wants to make, the random questions that require an exploration in an encyclopaedia,  the board game playing, the spontaneous piano lesson, or French lesson on Duo Lingo, the story writing, the YouTube video inspired by something we read in a book, the lego building, the coding session, the stop motion animation, the nature walks, the excursions to castles, museums, libraries and shops,  the list goes on.  All these things happen spontaneously and without them being timetabled or planned in.  Making sure there is plenty of free time allows for this sort of exploration and genuine learning experiences.

We are very flexible with our week, we do not do Maths and English every day if there is a day out planned, or perhaps, some days things are just different, maybe we slept in one day because we were late to bed after staying late with a friend the previous day, or maybe the mood just isn’t right for table work and we decide to do some baking or painting instead.  I don’t like to be too strict with our days.  I like to present my children with new ideas and experiences as much as possible to allow their brains to think and grow.

So that is our life at the moment, it changes and flows throughout the year as different groups or classes start or end and the seasons roll on, it’s working well for us and is unique to our family, but might not be right for another family. Some families will do fewer groups, be home more, others will have online classes and group lessons and be at home even less. That is the beauty of home education, it is tailored, personalised and unique to each family. 

Most importantly we are doing life together, learning to love and care for each other, to be responsible, to be kind and make life good as a family.  We see the good and the bad together and work through big feelings.  We don’t live a complicate life and I try not to be too busy, I like to be calm and have as little stress as possible.

I hope this dispels any myths you may have and satisfies your curiosities, I hope it gives an understanding of what home ed life might be like, not to persuade you to make your life like mine but to gain understanding, because with understanding come acceptance.