This is us!

This past week I was part of a blog hop on Livinglifeourway’s blog (Click here for post). Reading back over the post I realised it was too simplistic and there was so much more I wanted to say so thought I’d expand my thoughts here and ramble a little.

As you are aware I am a mum of 3. A single mum of 3. My eldest (Minion 1) went all through the school system. Much to her distaste. I just wish I was in a place financially and had begun to see life off the hamster wheel a little sooner so she could have had a different experience than she did.

My son (The Boy) 14 came out of school a little over 2 years ago. He has always thrived at school. However Secondary school wasn’t kind to him. Bullying over his sexuality as well as the fact he is intelligent and just coasts along were both factors in our joint decision for him to opt out of school.  I allowed him the choice to either stay in school, try a new school or to be home Educated.  He chose Home Education.

My youngest, Lil’ Lady 8 has never been to school, and I have no intention of sending her. Even though sometime she views school as this mythical beast which is all rainbows and unicorns. That is mainly due to me being a childminder and her interactions with the children I care for after school.  However as much as she may want to go to school in the future. She will not go until age 14+ to access Education to gain qualifications when needed. The education system right now in the UK is going from bad to worse, and I do not want her to be any part of that, and until it is fixed, well thats a whole new post.

I started truly Home Educating when my youngest should have started reception year, which is age 4. I say should have as reception is not compulsory school age in the UK. Age 5 is, which I think is ridiculous. And the move for the government to change its early years directives (EYFS) for nurseries to include teaching, and for children to be school ready, and the push for this to be younger and younger. The introduction of SATS for 6 years olds and the pressure there is now in primary schools and the reduction of the arts has solidified my position on the UK education system.

So if I count reception year I would have been home educating for 4 years. 3 years if I don’t. There were so many reasons why I chose Home Education, some mentioned above. However the main one was seeing the state of the Education system from the inside out. I was one of those… a teacher!

Now now.. no booing.

I loved teaching, or what I like to call, and is more appropriate – educating. I loved the interaction with my student, facilitating their learning, but as the years past being able to educate was being eroded, replaced by teaching, more specifically teaching to test and it was slowly killing me.It was eroding the students love of learning , they stopped questioning so much and started to play the game. Doing what they needed to pass their exams and no more. I was lucky in that I did not just teach exam subjects, otherwise I think I would have left teaching a lot sooner.

So when I became pregnant with  Lil’ Lady, it seemed the stars had aligned. The school I was teaching at was to become an Academy (something I still disapprove of) and they were asking for voluntary redundancies. I jumped at the chance and decided to use the cash to train to be a childminder so I would have an income whilst I Home Educated.

It wasn’t an easy decision as I was newly divorced (whole other story) and my income was about to become a quarter of what it was. However it was more important for me to be time rich. I was in essence living to work. I had no quality time with the children. I was basically waking at 5 am to get up and get ready for work, waking the minions at 6am. Shouting to make sure the eldest was out the door to get to school whilst I dropped the younger two at the childminder. Returning home late (even later some evening  twilight training or parents evenings) cooking tea, feeding the children, putting them to bed, marking and  often passing from tiredness. Waking up on the sofa in the midst of my marking to get up and repeat the previous day. Weekends and holidays were not much different. And when I did have a few precious weeks of reprieve in the summer holidays it was short-lived. I was only seeing glimpses of my children.

I wanted to be present in my children’s lives and most importantly to be able to facilitate their learning and provide an education. A true education! One that they had a say in.

So what does our home ed style look like… in all honesty I’ve never really had one. As with anything there is no one way to Home Educate. My style has to adapt and change with my children, and also fit in with work. My work adapts too. At the moment I work 3, very full days per week. I need to be able to make sure I can pay the mortgage, can put food on the table and cover the bills and also fund the interesst of the children. Needless to say I live pretty frugally.

There is often this notion that Home Education equals middle class and wealthy. I even read a quote this week that a comment was made that “its the new vegan”, which really made me laugh. Being wealthy to Home Educate could’nt be further from the truth. I’m living proof of that.  I pay for a few regular classes. Swimming for Lil’ Lady, which we get at a reduced rate at the local leisure centre because I am a low income. Rock CLimbing which we attend as part of a home Education group, which a reduced fee organised as th group utilises the centre during the day when it would otherwise be empty.  And we also run Park Run at the week ends as a family.

We’ve also attended Theatre trips, at the school rate with fellow Home Educators.  As well as workshops and educational visits, again co-oping with other families we’ve connected with on facebook. Again these being at a reduced schools rate. And you also get good at scouring for free days out and educational events, making connections with museums, and galleries so that your children can access facilities, in fact our local gallery now offers session sespecially for Home Educated Children and The Boy will be access an arts bronze award at a reduced rate as the gallery has been given funding.

As for resources, I utilise the buy and sell Home ed pages on facebook. Amazon Marketplace is a god send, especially now The Boy is gearing up to sit his IGCSE’s. Textbooks for a penny plus postage – yes please!

The internet is also your friend. Tonnes of free resources, as you can see from the tabs above on this page. I utilise them often, and youtube is definatley your friend not only for your child but also for you too. Often times I use it to get my head around a subject, so i can break it down so the children can understand it. I don’t know everything after all.

I digressed… so on the days I work things take a little more organising, so I make sure I have work to hand that Lil’ Lady can dip into that does not require much input from me. The Boy is pretty much self-sufficient, so we discuss his work every few days and I find out what he needs and provide it so that he can continue with his learning. We work around naps of the children I care for and try to incorporate activities we can all do where ever possible so i can balance work and Home Ed.

When Lil’ Lady was a little younger we were very much play based,, and things were alot cheaper, but as she’s gotten older we’ve incorporated a little structure to ensure the basics are covered in Maths and English and other subject areas need for us to do more structured work. Once The Boy joined us a little over a year ago I suppose we have become semi structured as a good part of the day is spent doing written work as he is studying for his English Language and Maths IGCSE. (edited to say  – yayyyy he passed! English A, Maths B.)

This had an effect on Lil’ Lady as she wanted to be like her big brother so she does work at the table with him most days. However she hates work sheets, as do I, so we use a myriad of resources to make learning interesting and meaningful to her.

This means we have no typical week, we fit our work around a regular Home Ed Rock Climbing session. Swimming lessons and then any trips we book through local Home Education groups.

One thing I will not negotiate on is Maths and English study.  We’ve bough subscriptions to Maths and English online programmes.  bulk buy with other home ed families at a huge discount. It also helps in that on those days I am workign they can use this so thy can just get on with work, and they need less imput.

They each get to choose a language. The Boy has chosen Japanese and Lil’ Lady Spanish. We regularly do Science, and History is a family love. But we tend to find that most subjects over lap. And I think that is another beauty of Home Education as we get to see how everything interconnects and that subjects cannot be studied in isolation. Recently the subjects of race, immigration, politics, geography, history, economics have all been at the forefront of our learning which has led to us looking at in more detail the media, literature and society as a whole. And yes for both age groups.

However we do tend to stick to term time learning as I work term time. But that does not mean our education stops. We use the half term breaks to travel or to follow interests in a more in-depth way.

Now I hear those reading, especially those thinking of taking the route of Home Education – yeah but you were a teacher. It’s easy for you!

Errrm – no!

Home Education is so different to my experience as a teacher. I was way out of my comfort zone. Firstly I taught secondary/high school. I didn’t teach any core subjects (It took me 4 attempts to gain my Maths.) I had sent Minion 1 and The Boy off to the magical land of school at age 5 and a few years later they were reading and writing fluently. I had never had to sit and think about how to impart the basics of the English language on a little person. And to be honest it was scary and I have doubted myself countless times. And guess what I still do.

Lil’ Lady and I had issues. Firstly I went the route of replicating school and how they teach (read my earlier blog posts about reading and phonics). I bought every phonics reading scheme going (which I am now selling. Still in pristine condition.) Only for Lil’ Lady to behave like a rabid dog every time I sat down with her to teach her to read.

In the immortal words of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman- Big mistake! Huge mistake!

After much research I found that phonics doesn’t work for every child (and she wasn’t broken) and that in fact scholars have debated the best way to teach a child to read, and guess what – there are none!

So I took a back seat approach, and just let her listen to me read, and enjoy books. Praise be to the literature god Michael Rosen (yes that Michael Rosen of the Bear Hunt.) Finding his Facebook page and listening to him about the school system and his ideas on teaching children to read were a revelation.

There were also a few issues surrounding Lil’ Lady not believing what I was saying. Questioning my knowledge with me trying not to lose my temper as I screamed at her retreating form (yes screamed on more than one occasion) “I used to be a teacher you know” as she walked off mumbling under her breath “I’m asking google!”

When The Boy first de-registered after bouts of serious bullying over his sexuality. He thought he had a free ride.

I think he forgot who is mother was.

So I allowed a month of him getting used to just being again. Watching him shed the cloak of school. Watching the boy emerge and not the jaded teen that school had turned him into. Even now a year and half after de reg he is still telling me snippets of what he had to put up with. How he had to dumb himself down, how he felt trapped and it is heart breaking to listen to.

So after his initial month of wonderland we sat down and we worked out what it was he was interested in. What he would like to learn about. At first he was stumped. You see school takes away autonomy. Takes away the ability to think for one self. He was constantly asking what to do next and it drove me nuts. I had to grit my teeth and paint a smile on my face as I’d say “what do you think?” “What has to be done next?” “Where will you find that?” How will you find that?” It took a lot of patience to give him the encouragement and support he needed. Patience with my own children does not come naturally to me. I have certain expectations, especially surrounding using initiative a by-product of my own upbringing. So it took me a while to get my head around the institutionalised way he would behave. Now this wasn’t something I’d seen on a daily basis. You’d think I would being is parent and all but because school takes your child away from you for a large part of the day/week/ year there are some things you miss. Tha t was hard to admit, that I didn’t know my child fully, But Home Education has allowed me to bridge that gap again and to get to know him. The adolescent him… and he is witty, and smart and intelligent and funny!

What I would say is you know your own children. You know them best.Listen to them, even those silences. They speak volumes. Use your knowledge as a starting point. Build on it slowly. As I said earlier and then digressed, most think “oh you were a teacher, it’s easier for you.”

It wasn’t!

If you’ve ever watched the Simpson’s. There’s an episode where Miss Crab-apple looses the teacher answer book and virtually has a breakdown… being a teacher was like that. You were only ever a step ahead of the children. It’s the same for Home Education, what you don’t know you can learn to pass on to others. And what you don’t know there are so many support groups out there that you can reach out and someone else will know who are willing to share their knowledge with you.

And if like me you have a teenager who just shrugs every time you ask them what they want to do, or whispers aggressively ” I don’t know” every time you ask them what they’d like to do or what their interests are, then just book them onto things to see what sparks their interests.  There are tonnes of Facebook Home Education Groups. Some national but lots local and we are able to book onto trips and workshops at museum’s. Join in forest school session and rock climbing all aimed at Home educated Children. It also knocks on the head the tiresome “what about socialisation?”

There is ample opportunity to build friendships, to interact with others of all ages, and for your child not to be lumped with an age specific peer group they may not necessarily get along with.  The Boy is an introvert. Lil’ Lady a social butterfly. But what I have found is that they are able to converse with young children and old alike They have a confidence when speaking with others, and this is often commented on by people we meet no matter where we go. How articulate, confident, polite and intelligent they are, and especially how they can adapt so quickly to different social situations.