100 ways, our home ed.

As part of the “100 ways to home ed” blog hop (Click here  to see all the blog hop posts) for day 4, I am going to fill in a bit about how our week has gone.  In our house the children are 15, 12, 2.9 and I am currently 32 weeks pregnant with number 4. We have been home educating since July 2014, what originally was a 6 month plan while I was on maternity leave to allow the older children a chance to recover from bullying and the trauma of their baby brothers health complications became a long term way of life when we saw the difference that it made not just to them, but to our whole family dynamics.

Yesterday I enjoyed reading about Jo and her adventures with her daughters. They have an unstructured, autonomous approach to home education and I always find these fascinating to read, it is the approach I aim to take with my younger children who wont experience the mainstream school system. You can read about their week over at girlsunschooled .

For my older children I feel the need to follow a bit more of a semi structured approach. They can struggle at times to get motivated and need a bit of encouragement to try new things. We find that sometimes the “I cant do this, I dont know how” can result in a total shut down and I aim to support and encourage them to pick it back up and figure it out, explaining that this is how new skills and knowledge will be learnt. However, with this approach it means that no two days, no two weeks look the same. Sometimes they will be flying through various tasks and we will have outings and experiences and adventures, at other times we will be chilling out watching documentaries together and just talking things through over the dinner table.

This week started off with my Monday banking. I am self employed and so Mondays are usually our day for a trip into town, I pay my earnings in to the bank, get any change needed for my cash tins and treat the children to lunch out. They are both involved in my work, they assist me on a Saturday with setting up and play an active role in welcoming my members and handling money. A has on occasion counted and balanced my cash tins for me if small has been being particularly difficult. This provides them both with valuable work experience and my members of all ages enjoy talking to them, they also assist with child care for my members who bring their children along with them so that they can have a sit down, a hot drink and an adult conversation knowing that their small children are being kept safe and amused. Upon our return from town we sat down and watched Sundays episode of “Call the Midwife”. We enjoy this program and it helps to open up conversation about history, child birth and a wide range of other health matters and issues raised in each episode. This week it was carbon monoxide, and we spoke about the dangers of poisoning, how we now have carbon monoxide detectors and how we now know there is no smell.

Tuesday the older children attended a day at a water treatment education centre. Due to the environment I was unable to attend this with them as I had small and it was also unsuitable for pregnant women. They attended with a home ed group and there were other parents there who we know quite well who were happy to take responsibility for my two. Here they had a tour of the treatment works, they learnt about where the water comes from, the importance and ways of conserving water, how the water is made safe to drink and they had challenges that involved putting together piping for water to travel around to get to all the locations and also to make their packed lunch with zero landfill waste. J was interested and in turn disappointed that there was not more hands on with regards to making water safe to drink so this is something that we plan to look into doing further experiments with using water treatment tablets acquired from a camping supply store and explored using his microscope.

Wednesday we had our big fortnightly social meet. This is at a local adventure playground and provides children and adults from birth up to 60+ (grandparents are of course welcome) the chance to play and mix with a wide range of materials available. From games consoles and pcs, pool tables, table tennis, gym equipment, drawing and Foosball inside to swings, slides, climbing frames, trampolines, sandpits, skate ramps and woodland outside. All secured and safe to explore with one gate in and out which is closed to the public. This is always great fun for all who attend. We have new people coming along and within moments their children have been whisked away for a mass game of it, or hide and seek, some children prefer the indoor environment and like a game of pool while some others bring along card games or board games and set themselves up in another corner. All this with tea, coffee and microwave facilities for the adults who also get to sit down and enjoy that social time. One thing that is often noted, is how no one seems to be interested in how old someone is, boys, girls, ages 6 or 7 up to 16 and 17 will often be involved in the same games. It is great to see the younger ones observing the older ones and learning from them, my two year old watched the older ones on the gym equipment and now will happily climb up and jump off into a forward roll on to the crash mat.

Our wednesday finished with the family sitting down after dinner to watch this weeks episode of Further back in time for dinner” which this week was based in the 1920s. This is another series we enjoy on bbc for yet more conversation about history decade by decade.

Today we are having a chilled out day at home. I have a stock delivery coming for work and had some admin to catch up on. A has completed her future learn course in childhood and infant first aid and has started looking into Cancer Medicines and J has a new range of CGP maths and English books that he has started working on, he often finds book work a bit of a challenge, but this is something that we work through together and he is now a lot more willing and happy to sit with me than he was 2 yrs ago and it gives me a great chance to really spot his progress.

Tomorrow they will be attending their photography course and in the evening A will attend Youth Connexions to continue her work towards her Duke of Edinburgh bronze award. You will be able to read about another child led home ed family over at 3 kids and a gluestick for day 5 .

A look at home education, from my perspective.

We have flown through winter. There has been so much going on, not all of it good, however as always we try to dwell on the positive even if that means finding the learning opportunities in everything. Writing a blog was put to the sidelines to make way for Christmas, for planning for a new addition to the family, for dealing with some personal family problems and for continuing to provide the children with fantastic educational opportunities at the same time.

Yes, you read that right, a new addition. Baby Gray number 4 will be joining the mad house at some stage in the next 10 weeks or so, I have been sore, tired and achy, getting through this pregnancy has been a lot tougher on my mind and body than the previous 3 were but we are all excited and looking forward to meeting he or she whenever they arrive.

We have had illness, our family has suffered a bereavement and we hit some hurdles within our marriage that we have worked hard to over come. As with most life situations there is no quick fix, these things take time, but I am hoping that while getting through this the children have learnt important lessons in the importance of team work, co operation and communication.

We have continued with social meet ups at adventure playgrounds, the children took part in a Christmas wreath making workshop with a florist, we visited the tower of London amongst other destinations. The older children take part in weekly gatherings organised by Youth Connexions for home educated teens. The aim of these meet ups is to work through various AQA Unit Awards, A also continues to attend sessions for her Duke of Edinburgh bronze award which she is hoping to complete this year.  Both have also been taking part in a photography course along with a small group of other home educated young people, and are signed up for various other visits over the course of February and early spring including a trip/tour/workshop at a water treatment plant, HMS Belfast and   Duxford IWM. They are booked to continue their NICAS climbing lessons and we have trips to The Heights of Abraham, Cadbury World, Alton Towers, Sealife centres and the Lake district booked and planned.

We have made fantastic use of our annual passes for a local safari park over the course of the year, and we will continue with these visits through the early spring. It has been fascinating for all of us as a family to see how the tiger and bear cubs have grown, and how the behaviour of the animals varies so greatly with seasons and weather. We have had much more enjoyment watching the tigers and the sea lions through the colder more miserable days, the days when people wouldnt usually choose to pay to visit zoos and wildlife parks, turned out to be the days when these animals were much more active and fun to watch.  J has been able to get lots of practise with his camera as he would love to be a wildlife photographer so this has provided him with some really fantastic opportunities and he has managed to get some great shots.

Both older children have signed up and have been working online to complete courses. J achieved a certificate in exploring google earth and is planning on doing a course about the use of youtube as his other interest (like most 12 yr olds) seems to be youtube. It is great that there is the opportunity to complete a course learning about it. A has been working on Future Learn on a child and baby first aid course, later in February she will also use future learn to cover Shakespeare. She is debating returning to learning Spanish as she has developed an interest in travel, so languages and tourism may be another path we begin to explore.

Small is adamant that he will soon be getting a baby sister and has developed a lovely soft side with friends babies who he enjoys cuddling and stroking. I am enjoying watching him learn new things all the time, new words, sentences, becoming clearer in his speech. His confidence in climbing and jumping grows and he is always watching and learning from not just his older siblings but all the many children of all different ages at the groups that we go to. He is confident and secure, he will play, talk to people and over all is pretty chilled out and fun to be around.

I had information through the post arrive this morning regarding applying for his nursery place. I was sad that the instructions read as “What do you HAVE to do?” and “You must….” I have no intention of applying for a place or enrolling him and I am pretty sad that there wasn’t more effort put into specifying that you DON’T HAVE TO SEND THEM!!

That note leads me onto another topic today, I have woken to find home education once again in the news. A home educating mum made the front pages on red top papers and appeared on This Morning following an interview in which she stated that her children did most of their learning via computer games (approx 7 hrs a day). This seemed to send many into melt down. I was deeply disturbed that the article saw fit to share childrens names, childrens online gaming IDs as well as what games they played and their home town as well as other personal details. This makes me feel very anxious for this family for starters. Again uproar amongst the average Joe public calling for regulations, the cry of unfairness that they are not allowed to take their children on holiday yet “this woman” can allow her children to play computer games all day…. and within the home ed online community sheer shock and disbelief that she would give such an interview, that she surely must have known the spin the media would make of it and how damaging to home education as a whole it could be. I am sure people will be reading the article and questioning certain things. I urge anyone to do some research and if need be read the mothers blog. The article in the Mirror actually does specify that the children read aloud every night, that the eldest attends English and Maths sessions, that all the children attend football and swimming on a weekly basis, they do get to mix with others. Regarding screen time, there is no rules on this, gaming can be highly beneficial in many ways and lots of home educating families have unrestricted screen time and are able to see how key skills are learned and developed through online gaming. I know of children who have learnt whole new languages via online gaming with people in other countries! There have been studies into the improved hand eye coordination of gamers and several of the most successful adults I know spent most of their teens online at a computer gaming, many still do in their spare time even as highly successful adults. Unfortunately many people still seem to think that home education should recreate school, with children learning by subjects, sitting tests and following set hours. Why this belief seems so commonly held when so many people acknowledge the school system is far from perfect anyway and so many are concerned about home educated children being “socialised”.

I don’t get the socialisation thing. My children mix regularly with children of all different ages, with all different backgrounds. The children are inclusive and no one gets left out. New families come along to the social meets and within moments the children are off running around, joining in and the parents enjoying a hot drink with a sigh of relief. At school my children weren’t allowed to mix with children in different year groups. If staff didn’t actively discourage it, peer pressure did. They were not allowed to chat, they had break times to play and talk but spent huge portions of the day sat at tables with children the same age as them, not allowed to speak. How does that teach “social skills”? How many mainstream school children are happy and able to hold a decent and enjoyable conversation with other adults outside of the family circle? Because I have stood back and watched my children have conversations with care staff, nurses, animal keepers, museum staff and my members at work when they come with me to help on a Saturday etc, I don’t mean just asking questions, I mean 2 way fully interactive conversations, this is not something that I ever experienced when they were in school and not something that I observe with a lot of their school age peers. I have no concerns about their social skills.

If we can all agree that one package does not fit all, and we can all agree that the school system is not perfect and does not suit everyone, then can we not all agree that children learn in different ways, so no home educating families all look the same either?