A Home Education Journey
written in January 2006
Or read the whole thing below
As we have reached a point of change with regards to family life in our household, I’ve decided to write a few posts about our process over the past three and a half years … so here goes.
2000 – 2002
I had always known home education was an option open to us, I suppose that must have been through growing up in church circles knowing christians who had done it for faith reasons. In fact I had always held home education as a philosophical and educational ideal, but chickened out at the point of making a choice for Anna. If you’d asked me when she was a baby, that’s what I would have said I wanted to do. I’d even got in touch with the local EO contact when Abigail was a baby! But life doesn’t always turn out the way you expect it to.
We’d spent a year away from home, 1999 – 2000, during which I had been running a pre-school for 8 children. Anna had been quite hard work during that year, and I’d lost a baby half way through pregnancy as well, so was pretty stressed out by the time we got home! It was a great year in many ways, looking back, but lots of things were difficult processes as well. At the time of having to decide, we didn’t know where we would be living, and we weren’t sure about any of the state schools that we could have considered, so we made the decision to send Anna to a small private school which we thought would be the best thing for all of us at that time.
Actually, it *was* good. While Anna was there we settled back at home, I went through what was, for me, a very hard pregnancy, and had Josiah. I think we moved house twice in that two year period as well! Oh, and started a business, and Steve left his full time employment and went fully self employed. Hmm, not too many changes in a short space of time there then! Anna enjoyed school (well, all of it apart from the work!) and by the end of her time there was reading fluently, and was happy and confident.
Autumn Term 2002
Anna was in full time school and had been for a year, having done a year of part time school prior to that. Abigail had just started school and was doing mornings only. Josiah was about 18 months old. We’d finally settled in our own house, and our business was in its first year.
We began to find that school commitments were cutting across things we needed to do at work. Anna was beginning to struggle with the particular curriculum that the school was using. Also, Abbie seemed to be really tired after school, and I felt as though I was getting the dregs of my children by sending them off first thing and getting home tired, grumpy kids at the end of the day. What was the point, when I was at home with a toddler anyway, and I knew I could teach them what they needed to know in ten minutes flat every day?!
We were also thinking on a philosophical/spiritual level about breaking down the divisions between all the different areas of our lives, and wanting to integrate things – this might sound queer to some, but for us the process of beginning to home educate was a picture for us spiritually about our faith as well.
So I began to look into home education, first port of call being the internet (where would we be without it?!!). First I found the forum on UKParents, and there met some lovely people who directed me to Muddle Puddle, and the associated Early Years Home Education Yahoo group, and that was by far the most invaluable source of information, support and friendship (found my first ever message to the group here, rofl!).
To be honest we didn’t need much convincing, and de-registered the children at Christmas. I think the overriding reason was in order to give us more flexibility with regard to work and home. at the time Steve was working all the hours God sent, and then some – including weekends, and we just felt that our family time was being compromised by school, whereas if we took school out of the equation, we could prioritise the time together when it was possible, as opposed to missing it because the children were in school.
The rest, as they say, is history …
Our first year of home education. Most of it can be found in the archives of this weblog in more detail, and I suspect most regular readers have been reading since the start of the blog anyway, but I wanted to do a ‘highlights’ post for each year.
In terms of quantifiable stuff that I (0r others!) laid on for the children, this is some of what we achieved during the year – Anna was 6, Abbie was 4, Joe was 2:
A project on the Romans with Roman banquet included – with Aunty Jacky.
A project on Ecuador including an authentic Ecuadorian meal – with our friend Maria.
A Caterpillar and Butterfly project, including a visit to the Butterfly and Otter Sanctuary
Mini projects on China and France – the France thing was a just a bit of a pre-amble to our family holiday, but hey, that still counts!
Using Einstein Online (which is no longer available, but at the time was a daily maths/english/science quiz thing)
The Young Scientist’s club Science kits usually once a month
Book track at the library for Anna, which she completed (reading 100 books) in the first six months of the year.
A postcard exchange with other home educators around the UK
Gardening! We grew courgettes and tomatoes successfully in our very small rockery garden this year.
Swimming lessons, bike riding, and Laser Camp for the girls. Oh, and Anna went to school one afternoon a week for Dance and Drama lessons, as well as to satisfy a bit of her ‘I miss my schoolfriends’ feeling.
Art, craft, and cooking factored fairly prominently too.
Plenty of visits – we had a season ticket to Pennywell Farm and used that loads. We also visited Snibston Discovery Centre, Killerton, Bicton, Powderham Castle, the Devon County Show, and all the other parks I could possibly get to
We struggled a bit to get into the local home ed groups, although we did take part in various things through the year. Personally I really appreciated the friend and support network that I found through the Early Years HE list, and having briefly met a few of them in January at a camp in Okehampton, Summer 2003 found us on our first Home Ed camp with friends from that group, which we really enjoyed.
A few of Anna’s teeth fell out, I think Abbie learnt to read, and Joe was fully potty trained during the year as well …
During the first part of the year I’d been working a tiny bit in the business with Steve, and the children had been going to a childminder’s for that half day every week. In September of 2003 Steve’s dad came to work for us, and so I stopped the part time hours.
I ended up the year taking things very easy due to having lacerated a tendon in my index finger (I normally like to say that it was Steve’s fault for dropping a broken mirror on it ) which pretty much put me out of action for 6 weeks, and was quite an education for all of us! But despite that, it was a brilliant first year of home ed family life, I think. Have I forgotten anything?
2004 – in my opinion our best home ed year, now that I’ve come to write about them!
Our first project of the year was on the Human Body, and during January we also did a mini-project on reptiles.
We also touched on Judaism through a Passover meal that we held, did a summer art project, and finally a project on the Ancient Greeks at the end of the year (which I only wrote up in Jan 05 as it kind of fell over into the next year!).
We had a fantastic time at the first MuddlePuddle family residential with a Roman theme at Melrose in Scotland (a few posts are on this page, scroll down a bit ).
Managed to get Steve to come to MuddlePuddle Summer Camp at Kessingland, and had a lovely time there again.
The BA Science Week 2004 was held in our city, so we took part in some of the workshops and saw some of the films that were shown, with friends who came to stay.
Had one of our best family holidays to date: a week in London! Perhaps a strange choice of holiday destination but it was fantastic.
Other ‘stuff’ included: Animated Exeter activities, typing with Mavis Beacon, more Young Scientist kits, Eduss maths, Flying Boot books for Abbie, Music Appreciation classes for the girls and then Anna starting cello, swimming lessons, Start Right for Josiah, Dance & Drama at Emmanuel School for Anna one afternoon a week, gardening (again), Anna’s Competition Blog (now sadly rather deserted!).
Other than all that (as if that wasn’t enough!) we managed to sell/buy and move house, have plenty of visits to and from friends/family, and film a home ed documentary! Also the Formative Fun escapade for me – no profit but plenty of toys Mustn’t forget moving the blog to WordPress, either, which has to be listed here!
One of our loveliest Christmases ever was spent with friends, away from home at a holiday cottage – a brilliant end to a brilliant year.
2005, our third year of home education. A very brief round up, really. I have appreciated having the blog in place in order to look back on all this stuff, I’d forgotten most of it!
End of the Ancient Greeks project with Aunty Jacky.
The Tudors – rounded up with a lapbook. Plus a bit of a Shakespeare thing going on, in a very low key way.
Very Hungry Caterpillar lapbook project (mainly Josiah’s!)
A little venture into movie-making!
The start of a Narnia literature project.
A Jesse Tree during Advent
Centerparcs with friends
Melrose Muddle Puddle Camp (I hardly blogged about camp itself, but remembering this amused me )
Camping in March and May in a tent, 28:18 … then October in our camper!
Hesfes (start here and go forward for more posts if you’re interested)
Home Ed camp at Okehampton Youth Hostel
Birmingham Botanical Gardens with friends, and Cadbury World a few weeks later with the same friends!
South West Pirate Festival at Morwellham Quay
Portsmouth Harbour to see the Mary Rose with other MuddlePuddle Home Ed friends
Killerton (for various things!)
Workshops at the museum
The Eden Project
Owl Puke – a fab kit that we had for Christmas which involved taking apart an owl pellet and reconstructing a rodent’s skeleton – highly recommended!
Gamecube and Bongo Drums - justifiable on educational grounds of course
A Home Ed day in photos
Animated Exeter stuff
Ongoing cello lessons/swimming lessons, plus this year the start of piano lessons for the girls/music appreciation for Joe, violin for Joe, and recorder for Abbie. Oh, plus Start Right for Josiah until the summer.
Science kits continued throughout the year. We discovered Neopets, played a lot there as well as on other computer games. Spent a fair bit of time at Crealy. Doctor Who was on the TV and Anna spent loads of time on the website, almost as obsessively as her mother!
Maths and English workbooks ongoing throughout the year, plus plenty of reading.
We had plenty of visits from friends
Lots of fun at Home Ed group!
Again, this year we did a fair bit of gardening.
And we had another lovely Christmas
Thinking about school happened here, here, here, and in November 2005, although I didn’t blog the last one! So not altogether surprising that we ended up going down the school route in early 2006, but more on that in another post.
From the summer to the end of the year, Steve and I did a jobshare – starting off with me just working weekends and ending up with us doing half-time each. We had a few niggles along the way but generally it worked really well.
Back to School
People have always asked us ‘how long do you think you’ll carry on for?’ I suppose there is the expectation that at some point we would have caved in and used secondary school, or something along those lines – when education got too hard for us mere mortal parents, or something. I never had any qualms about being prepared to home educate for ever, and neither did Steve. We were (and still would be, if things changed again!) completely committed to seeing it through and making it work for our family. I didn’t ever see it getting too hard, I just saw it as different challenges – to keep one step ahead, or to work to provide the right opportunities, or whatever. I still see it as the ideal way, in fact. I am sincerely hoping that at some point in the future we might change again.
If you’ve read the first in this series of posts, you’ll know that running our business was a factor in our initial decision to home educate the children, to make the best use of our time. It’s been a factor again this time. At the end of last year, having been looking for a while, we found premises for a mechanics workshop which were perfectly suited to our needs, and affordable. Having a workshop has always been part of the master plan, so when the opportunity presented itself, we had to go for it. Steve has only signed the lease this week (which is why I couldn’t blog about it before now), but it’s all systems go there and we are opening next week! Very exciting but obviously it’s been pretty stressful as well. As I write, Steve and his Dad are meeting the signwriters about putting this up on the wall:
The implication of running another business without a great deal of extra capital to invest (well, any, in fact!) is that one of the things that will be invaluable is man hours, ie our time. To be honest, towards the end of last year I was already feeling fairly bad about the amount of time that the children had spent either in the office, or in the car running errands with one or other of us, and we had already (even before the workshop) discussed the possibility of using school.
I think I always knew that there would be a crunch point at the time that Josiah could start school, and here we are. The combination of feeling as though we could manage our time better if we had some childcare in place, and feeling bad about how their time was being compromised by the demands of the business(es) led us to suggest the idea to the children. The evening that we were talking about it, Steve just went upstairs and asked the girls what they would think, and they both said yes very excitedly.
The process was really quick after that. I think if they hadn’t been so positive, we might have taken longer over it and tried to start the new workshop with them still at home, but they just jumped at the idea so much that we decided to give it a go. In the first full week of the January term Steve and I went to see the head at our local primary. By this point, the local school was the only one we were really considering as we can’t afford to pay private fees, and we wanted to be able to walk to school – it’s 5 minutes round the corner! It is a largish ‘outskirts of the city’ C of E Primary school.
When we first visited, I felt so negative, it was all so institutionalised and much of what was held up as wonderful practice was actually stuff that I have come to despise – but hey, it’s crowd management, so to some extent it has to be done like that. The head and most of the staff that we met couldn’t seem to get their heads round the fact that we were only thinking about the idea and not definitely wanting the places, which seemed weird to me, but I guess they don’t have strange people like us in the school every day! Anyway, we arranged a taster day for the children as we felt that would be the best way to help them see, as much as they could, what it would be like.
We considered sending the girls and not Josiah, as he is still so young (and yet too clever by half for a reception class!), but he wanted to do the taster day as well, so he did. They all had a ball, and loved every minute of it. Joe was a bit cautious at first, but he always is, in a new situation. They pushed us to choose fairly quickly whether we wanted the places (we found out later that it was because budgets had to be submitted the next day!), which in some ways was hard and in other ways it meant that the decision was made quickly without any faffing around, and I think that was good.
So, we had a day off to go and buy uniform, and then they started the very next day, giving them a two-day week before the weekend. We’re now at the end of their first full week, and so far it has been incredibly positive. They have all got on really well, and settled down amazingly fast, and I’m very proud of them. They’ve all been absolutely exhausted, bedtimes have been very early (their choice!), but they’ve been happy. I think I’ve found it harder than they have! It’s a big change for everyone, but once we’ve settled into it I am quite sure it will be a really good phase in our lives.
My secret (or not so secret, now that I’ve put it on the internet!) hope is that at some point in the future (perhaps at the end of Primary school, perhaps earlier, maybe different for each child?) they and we will choose home education again. I was looking forward to the really interesting stuff! If I’m honest I’d love them to be out of school and have the freedom to study what they want to, when they want to, during their Secondary (for want of a better word!) years. Not to mention the fact that I’d like to steer them clear of the peer pressure at that age, I think that puberty can be hard enough without throwing school into the equation! But there we go, that’s my personal view at the moment, and everything can and probably will change before we get to it.
We feel really really blessed to have been able to have the past three years of home education. It has allowed us to build really strong family relationships, and we’ve had so much fun along the way. It feels like a really firm foundation to be working from, which is reassuring to me, as I’m still struggling personally with all the changes. However, this move is just the next step in our family’s journey and I know that it’s down to us to make the most of it, seize the day, and enjoy living life differently.