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?

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