A welfare concern?

I am sat here wondering, why something that is a legal right of parents is so often considered a risk to a childs welfare? It just seems that there are so many professionals and organisations who consider home education to be an area for concern.

Following interactions with community nurses and hospital staff following an ongoing, diagnosed health issue with one of the children it has come to my attention that it appears to be policy in my local area for all admissions to a&e of home educated children to be referred to social services. The reason I was given for this was due to the lack of contact with school nurses. Firstly I will clarify that I have emailed our local Elective Home Education team to ensure that they are aware of this current policy and to highlight my concerns about it, I have also contacted PALS. Now for me to process my own thoughts.

Firstly, as a mother of a home educated teen, we received a letter from the school nurse with literature about the HPV vaccine when she was due it, this says to me that despite being home educated we clearly are still within the school nurses radar and remit, school nurses are also able to schedule home visits,  and so details of admission could still be forwarded on. As well as this, home educated children have access to community and practise nurses and GPs, so any details of admissions can also be forwarded on to those.

Secondly, we fall under the support of the Elective Home Education Team, yes, thats right, THERE IS ONE! An actual employed team who specifically support families who are home educating their children and young people. Their case load is huge, because the community in this county is huge. If every home educated child who passes through A&E is getting a social services referral then that is going to cause potentially a massive drain on local resources in purely paperwork alone, not to mention man hours.

Lastly, home education is not in itself a safeguarding or welfare concern, to treat it as such is nothing other than prejudice and to alter services based on prejudice is discrimination.  This is a situation that needs to be addressed. Home educating parents should not be made to feel uncomfortable while getting their children’s illnesses and injuries treated, they are entitled to the same level of support and treatment as any other parents. Likewise, if and when there IS a safeguarding or a welfare concern this should not be solely affected by a child’s schooling.

I hear the same old arguments, but lets look at things shall we? Children in school and below compulsory school age are JUST AS LIKELY to be victims of abuse, they are just as at risk of harm. More so in some ways as they are exposed to teachers prejudices, enforced standardised testing and the stress that goes with that and bullying within the school system.

  • The case of Baby P? He was a baby, under compulsory school age, yet failed massively by local authorities.
  • Victoria Climbie? She was not home educated, nor was she hidden, she was failed by local authorities.
  • Dylan Seabridge? Yes he was deregistered by his parents to home educate him, BUT he was also far from invisible, there were concerns raised and Social Services failed to act. The concern for him was not home education, there were concerns while he was in school, before his parents removed him, it was his welfare!
  • Khyra Ishaq?  She was removed from school amidst concerns around her welfare, again the welfare concerns were there long before she was removed from school. Multiple agencies failed to act.
  • Chadrack Mulo? He attended school, he was absent and this wasnt followed up.
  • There are so so many more examples!

These are all utter tragedies, that could have been prevented so easily.  But routine referrals for something that is not a welfare concern will not help. All they will do is add to an already too heavy workload, drain already very stretched resources and budgets and take away focus and support that could be directed at a child who really needs it.

Our local authority (I can not speak for other areas) has put a great deal of effort into building positive relationships with home educators. The youth connexions service has secured funding in several of its offices to offer teen group sessions to home educated youngsters to work on various certificates and qualifications, our elective home education advisors are positive about home education, open and understanding about the different approaches and well aware of the EHE guidelines for local authorities. Sports spaces, play spaces, local authority run locations all offer services to home educators across the county. I would hate to see hospitals, a service required and essential for so many, become a place where there are feelings of worry, anxiety and distrust all because some one responsible for their safeguarding policies and procedures failed to inform themselves properly about the laws, the requirements and the support surrounding home education.

Litter picking at Blackpool Beach

We had a beautiful day in Blackpool, the sun was shining and warm. We visited the Merlin attractions, sea-life, madam Tussauds and the tower eye. We admired the view of the stunning, long, golden sand beach from the top of the tower as the tide was out. We rode a tram to south pier for the experience of riding on a tram and then we played on the beach.

We had our bucket and spades, the children thoroughly enjoyed getting soaked, luckily we had a towel and a change of clothes (that I bought from a nearby beach market) because these children are unable to simply paddle their feet! In they go up to their necks, even the 3 year old showing no fear at all.

It really is beautiful, still warm as the sun begins to go down and the tide begins to come up and we all begin to get tired and hungry. And so we walk along the seafront back towards the tower where we parked the car, ready to find a restaurant for dinner before driving back to our accommodation. Knowing that the 3 year old will fall asleep in the car so dinner before we set off is a must. Knowing also that we want to watch the sun set over the sea before we leave this place.

While walking along, I notice a Styrofoam chip tray, just sitting on the sea wall. No one is around, there is a bin just a few feet away. Without a word I bend down to pick it up, carry it with me and pop it in the bin as I walk past. Then I spot a burger tray / box, and a plastic drink bottle, again I pick these up and deposit them into the bins as I walk along.

My husband sees me, and as he walks past a discarded drinks can while holding the 3 year olds hand as he balances on the wall, they collect the drinks can and also this goes into one of the bins. The older children have seen, I haven’t said anything to them, they make the decision to then dart off of their paths to collect bottles, cans and chip papers. We form a line almost along the promenade. Not intentionally but it just happens, picking and collecting litter to put in the bins as we pass. Until before we know it we have reached our destination.

As we cross the road to get to our chosen restaurant another family walk along towards us. A coke can clatters and bangs off the curb, startling the horses lined up for the tourist carriages, as a boy has kicked it like a football. The boy continues walking with his family. While my children look on bemused / saddened / frustrated and angered that people can care so little.

We wash our hands thoroughly and enjoy our dinner before crossing back over the road to watch the sun go down. The tide is fully in now, waves crashing against the steps that we had walked along earlier on. Looking down along the sea front there is still so much rubbish to be seen. Cans, chip papers, bottles. There are bins every couple of yards, anyone who had sat on those steps enjoying a chippy dinner would have walked past a bin as they left the beach. Why sit and admire the beauty of the sea and then purposefully allow yourself to litter it? Even when walking back to the car, they continue to pick up Mac Donald’s packaging and even a whole carrier bag, ready tied, full of rubbish but still just dropped on the floor, very odd, I mean, you’ve already bagged it all up!!! We all get to make that decision, help, or ignore.

I set my children an example that day, I didn’t tell them to pick litter, I didn’t plan to do it myself (funny really, as we planned a littler pick during 30 days wild and didn’t get round to doing it as planned). This was not an organised activity it was just me, doing what I felt that I should do. I am hopeful that my example stays with them, is a lesson to them, one that will also in turn be passed on to my grandchildren.

This was all my thoughts this morning! Making my mouldy bits shiny! — Ross Mountney’s Notebook

I’m off on a little holiday. And looking forward to refreshing and rubbing the mould off my stale bits! It’s easy not to notice it growing. But when I get so bored that complacency and loss of love of the nice things sets in so bad that I realise I’ve even got used to life […]

via Making my mouldy bits shiny! — Ross Mountney’s Notebook

Late Saturday night we arrived home following a fantastic family holiday in and around Cumbria. Yesterday was all about those post holiday essentials, unloading the car, laundry, getting food essentials in and of course visiting the grandparents who had missed the children for the week.

This morning I booted up the PC all ready to write down my thoughts and look through and upload some photos when I read this blog article by Ross Mountney.

I have followed her blog since before we started home educating, in fact it was some of her articles that gave me the knowledge and courage to get started, and I have several of her books on my shelf. (I would always highly recommend these if you are home educating, seriously considering it, or just a little bit curious, they are eye opening.)  This morning however, it was like reading my own thoughts written by someone else.

It is so true that over time you get complacent, you take your natural surroundings for granted and stop noticing things. This is your sign to make a change, see something new, take in a different scenery. The importance of this for children is just as great if not more so as for adults. Children gain so much by being allowed to see different areas, take in different scenery and experience new things.

Watching the joy on my 3 year olds face as he ran along the shore of the lake, or as he jumped in to the waves on the beach, being able to give my children the opportunity to feed giraffes, see some stunning waterfalls and try their hands at waterskiing are those moments that would be so heavily restricted by a school time table, but no one can claim that they are not valuable learning opportunities. When we find ourselves in natural conversation about the force of the water and how and why it shapes our landscape, not because a curriculum is forcing us too but because we are walking alongside a fast flowing and winding river and it was just a natural topic of conversation, flowing as freely as the river itself can anyone suspect that these children are not getting educated? When that conversation beings us again to consider the effect that the reintroduction of wolves had on the eco system at Yellowstone, this stuff is not being taught from a book, its in context, in real life.

We arrived home and visited Nanny and my 3 year old told her all about feeding the giraffe, even remembering to tell her about their blue tongues, he was only 3 in May and has never attended a nursery and nor will he be attending school, but I am not worried that he is missing out on learning anything. He knows about tides coming in, he knows about things sinking and floating and he knows that flat pebbles are better for skimming (even if he hasn’t actually mastered that skill himself yet)

We visited the Beatrix Potter attraction, she was a fascinating lady and J was intrigued. He loved her quotes about how pleased she was that she had not been sent to school, he agreed with what she said about it rubbing off some of her originality. He also has a strong love of animals, nature and drawing. But this experience also highlighted the difference in how women and girls were treated from today.

The Black Country Living Museum also gave a valuable insight into historic lives and our country’s industrial past. We included a visit to the traditional sweet shop, chippy and pub as well as having a go with some of the old toys and street games and watching a Victorian school teacher at work with a class.

As well as the obvious and real benefits for the children educationally, the emotional benefits for us all as a family make holidays, even cheap holidays and trips visiting family, so incredibly valuable. To feel the sand under my feet and the waves breaking around my ankles refreshes me. The sound of the water flowing over the stones in the river and the splashing of the water falls wakes up my senses and makes me feel at peace. My mums ashes were scattered at Stock ghyll force waterfalls in Ambleside, it was her favourite place and I sense that when I am visiting, it heals my mind and puts me in a better mindset to tackle the challenges that parenting my own children can bring. Benefiting the family.

 

When a child finds their “thing”.

Yesterday we had the privilege of attended the first pony show of a very good friends daughter and her pony. We took the camera so that we were able to get photos of the event, allowing mum to just enjoy the precious experience with her daughter. It was lovely to see and I feel lucky to have been part of it.

As a home ed community we open our arms to each other, it hasn’t proven difficult at all for the children to form friendships and they are not restricted by age groups or gender, they mix and enjoy each other for who they are as people. We see our children build relationships and work through difficulties, and on occasion it really doesnt work and we are free to step back from certain individuals. But it isnt even all about the children, us parents have benefited from the friendships and support networks formed, support that doesnt just reach out in home ed situations but in all manner of difficult times also.

And so this is how I came to be present yesterday. It wasnt a “home ed” thing for my children, it was us showing support, one family to another. But isnt that just as important a life lesson, if not more so, that all the academic stuff? The meaning of being there for others, to make that effort to be there through the good, the bad and the scary? Being there just to do what you can to make the days easier for the people you care about. It seems like a pretty important lesson to me. To see a girl who you have watched grow in mind, body and confidence for the last nearly 3 yrs (and a lot can happen in 2+ yrs usually, but even more so when a child is allowed to thrive in their own way!) a girl who experiences pain every day due to physical disability and who suffers anxiety come out of herself. To see her smiling, and overcoming her nerves with confidence because she is in the ring doing what she loves with her best friend, the pony that her mum recognised the benefits of her having and those benefits far outweighed the costs involved. It was beautiful. What a journey they have been on. My friend said to me “its a learning experience, she may not enter anything, she will experience getting the pony out of the school, and being there.” Well that girl went on to win a fantastic 5 rosettes!

This is what happens when a child is allowed to find their thing, that happy place that makes their heart sing. Without time restrictions due to enforced mainstream school hours and the constant run around every day focusing on things in environments that made them miserable, they are allowed to flourish. Rest when needed, play when needed and work towards their goals.

Our wild challenge.

Its the second year that we have followed 30 days wild and taken part in the challenge. Last year was eye opening in many ways, and bought us all closer to nature as we discovered new areas, new activities and raised our awareness of the natural world around us. This year as we take part again, this time with a 3 yr old and a small baby, we think about our impact on the local area.

We have done walks around various different woodland areas near and far. Admiring the different types of plant life, from pine forests to wild meadows. We have enjoyed climbing trees, smelling flowers and even found a highly enjoyable knitted animal trail thanks to kind donations of knitting volunteers.

We have been following the RSPB wildlife challenge in order to gain their awards, time in the big boys Childrens University Passport (6 hrs for the bronze award) and inspiration for other wild activities that we can take part in.

We have worked on becoming more aware of the difference that we can make in our local wildlife, and this has included sowing wild flower seeds to attract bees and butterflies, building a bug hotel and putting out bee and butterfly watering spots.  We also have planned to carry out a litter pick around our local park and pond.

We have read about urban wildlife and how animals have adapted to life alongside humans thanks to our subscription to “How It Works” magazine, and we received the RSPB magazines which are always a fantastic read. I submitted one of J photographs to the magazine as if they print it I think it would be a great ego boost for him to see one of his photos in print. He is becoming quite a keep photographer.

J entered the British Wildlife Photography Awards competition, choosing six of his favourite photos of British wildlife that he wanted to share with the world.

A had a play and got creative with her younger brothers playdough and discovered that she had a natural skill for making roses, which she now plans to practise and develop further using clays to make more permanent ornaments and fondant for some edible treats. She is also regaining her interest in British history, looking once again at the tudor era which we can kick start and incorporate into our 30 days wild by considering the uses of flowers and plants.

We have also started a subscription with Little Passports, which I hope will serve to introduce N to learning about the world and will reintroduce J to geography as this is one subject area that *should* fascinate him with his desire to travel and love of animals, but that he has lost all passion for following negative experiences in school. I will update on our progress in this area beyond Junes 30 days wild challenge and it will remain ongoing if successful.

As part of the wild challenge for me, with the general election looming, I wanted to look into political parties views and plans for our green spaces and for conservation, so while I didn’t get out and about in wild one day, I certainly broadened my awareness in other ways and I am able to discuss my findings with the children. We discuss where the votes from our household will go. I choose to involve the children in these decisions as much as we are able to so that they can grow with more understanding of politics than I did.

The 30 days wild challenge encourages us to think about the world around us, every day. Something that with the rush of every day life is very easily forgotten about. What is exciting is that we are only one week in. We have ideas and inspiration for other activities and visits and we are all confident that July will see us continue on with other projects in a positive mindset.

Living to learn? or learning to live?

As a home ed parent I often find that friends and contacts come to me and ask me questions about what we get up to. With schools around my local area being what they are, bullying being so rife and considered by many school head teachers to almost be a normal and expected part of growing up and the general dislike of the pressure children are put under to perform, it seems like a tempting option for many who want to find out more. I get asked questions like “how do you do it?” “How do you know what to teach them?” “how much does it cost?”. I try to answer these questions but can only do so from my own personal experience. In truth the answer to these questions will vary depending on who you ask, and sometimes even depending on when you ask them.

Approaches to home education are infinate. as unique as each family, as each individual. From a strict structured time table right through to radically unschooling and everything in between. Needs depend on the child, and they change. Many families plan to follow one approach and then things change, its ok. Have faith in your children, they learn what they need to know!

Sometimes I may have answered referring to online resources, downloadable curriculum and shop bought work books. Other times I may be a lot more relaxed and answer that I dont teach them, I allow them to learn about whatever interests them. Some months I feel like I am being bankrupted and need a 2nd mortgage to cover their activities, when in actual fact that is my choice to pay for different lessons and activities to broaden their experiences. Its not necessary at all, but it brings us back to the ever common question of socialising. The opportunities are endless, and we have to be selective both time wise and financially.

It is important in my opinion to offer different opportunities to allow the children to find things that they can become passionate about. To allow them to build their knowledge of themselves. We attended a workshop last week in clay animations. A discovered that she actually really enjoyed it, she liked taking the time to put detail in to her animation, plan what was going to happen and make it work. J wasnt so keen on the day due to circumstances beyond control. We discussed this and he is greatful that he was able to try it and has expressed a desire to try again in different circumstances which I am able to arrange for him. Neither had previously been interested in this subject having never tried it before.

We have found Js niche, photography is his thing. When he started his first photography course he wasnt keen on any of the technicalities, prefering to point and click and hope for the best but now he enjoys looking at his photos of the pc, playing around with contrasts. He tweaks the settings on his camera when taking photos and explores different angles and is looking forward to entering his first photography competition this month.

I have been asked, once again, about plans regarding nursery for N. Once again I hear myself describing how well he is doing with peers of all ages to learn from and mix with. I  consider  the damage that school did to my time with my older children, what it did to their spark and passion, the repair work I have had to do  with them. I dont know why anyone would question my plans for the younger children, of course those who actually know my older children dont question it at all they have seen how well it works. you can read more about this here  N is doing well, he is confident, he is happy. He is learning numbers and letters, he knows colours and is learning opposites. He loves being read to, he loves drawing and tracing over lines. He is always on the go experiencing and living life. I have no desire to stifle that with a classroom.

We have been unintentionally not doing academic work for a while now. This is totally ok too. Interests come and go like the tide, and learning is everywhere all of the time. So we have enjoyed time with friends and family in different locations. This included a trip to see the Grey seal colony at Horsey (a fab photo opportunity for J) and a trip to the heights of Abraham to explore the mines and caverns as well as walking down along a natural fault line. We are going back to basics with geography as school appears to have killed the childrens spark of curiosity in this subject but when out and about we find it is very much still there buried deep inside. We have visited theme parks, which are great fun but also to hear the progression and the children talking amongst themselves about forces pushing them in different directions and holding them in their seats is great to listen too. Life skills are covered, map reading, navigation, laundry, cooking, cleaning and caring for younger siblings. They are progressing at their climbing and continue to cover various issues with connexions such as healthy living, bullying and addiction. We have continued with watching documentaries together as a family. Most recently these have included the Secrets of The Tower of London, Great British Castles and an all round favourite was The Kindness Diaries which sparked  some fantastic conversation! We have a “to watch” list which begin to cover themes around gender and sexuality on bbc iplayer as this is a current interest, we visited the British museum to see the LBGTQ exhibition and the children were shocked and saddened at the laws still in different parts of the world, it was quite eye opening for them in terms of how lucky we are here. With the upcoming general election we also cover a lot of politics, history and laws, it is living life.

Academics arent going anywhere.

 

A long and busy month of April

I logged on and saw that my last post was over a month ago. I wasn’t surprised, things got busy as life tends to do and time at the computer was the first thing to go. As it stands I am writing this on my phone, while sitting under a sleeping baby.

Yes, our family is now one more, I am a proud mama of 4. Baby Michael arrived on the 23rd March. Born at home, pretty quickly. He beat the midwife, caught by daddy while the older 3 were downstairs in the living room.

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind since, A and J have their commitments, climbing, ice skating, photography etc that continued. We have enjoyed lots of time with Ryan being home, paternity leave followed by the Easter long weekend. We have visited several woodland areas, English heritage sites and had other days out. Getting used to getting out the door on time with everyone has been a learning experience in itself. A new baby brings lots of practical learning opportunities and increased independence.

The older children have been building their photography skills. Both are doing well. J especially has really developed an eye, he will take a photo of a patch of stinging nettles from such an angle with lighting that really makes you stop and admire them in ways I never thought I would. He has developed the patience to sit and wait for the perfect shot whilst watching the herons nesting, able to catch on camera the moment an adult heron returns to it’s waiting chick. We have decided to enter some of his photographs into a wildlife photography competition.

We are looking forward to our first trip of the year. A weekend to Norfolk, which will include a visit to spot the seals and allow more photography oppprtunities and a trip to bewilderwood. Then driving across and up past Birmingham.  We will visit a military vehicle museum, Alton towers, Cadbury world and more. Following the theory that learning is everywhere and stepping away from the idea that education has to be seperate to fun, which is a rather disturbing and disheartening view that many seem to hold.

Around us through April once again the subject of schools came up, specifically? Nursery places for N. Friends and acquaintances were finding out which places their children had been given, excitement, disappointment and worry covered my social media. I saw the increase in posts on the early years home ed groups as others were not allocated appropriate places, while in other parenting groups I see parents asking for advice on where to buy the smallest school uniforms. I wondered if I would feel like we were missing something, but I’ve watched N, I’ve seem him interacting with so many people, mastering so many skills and gaining knowledge and there’s nothing but certainty and peace with our decision. I am glad that I can continue to enjoy my spring and summer, our time together isn’t on any kind if countdown. We have so much time, so many adventures ahead of us, bringing nothing but excitement.