I’m Alaina, Mama Bear to two small bears: Little Bear who is nearly seven, and Teddy who is four. We live in an average house, in an average community near a small town with Daddy Bear, Kev, who works in an art gallery, and our grumpy cat.
How long have you home educated for?
Officially, counting from when Little Bear would have started school, we are in our third year. However, I would say we have been home educating for nearly seven years now, as a continuation of what we have always done as parents.
What made you decide to home educate?
I started to consider home education from pretty early in Little Bear’s life. I was previously a teacher myself, and had seen many children, boys in particular, struggle with the sit-down education that is usual in schools today. As Little Bear grew, he made it clear that he was likely to be one of those boys that needed to move, and would find classroom life difficult. We tried preschool playgroup briefly, but he quickly became very upset with going, and so the plan to home educate solidified.
Originally we intended to find a school for him as he approached Key Stage 2 (year 3), but we are enjoying HE so much and it seems such a good fit for us, we now plan to simply continue as we are.
Briefly describe your HE style…
We are predominantly unschoolers, or autonomous educators. This means that we follow our children’s lead, supporting and encouraging their interests. We believe that they will learn what they need to learn, when they need to learn it.
At the moment I am combining this with a little bit of Charlotte Mason style education. She was a great believer in little and often, learning through reading and listening to books, and encouraging an interest in the arts as well as a lot of outside time discovering the natural world. This works really well for Little Bear, who loves books and can assimilate quite complex information by listening to me read to him. He also loves the natural world, and enjoys nature journaling, bug collecting and observing seasonal changes. Teddy is much more of an unschooler, though!
We don’t really have a typical week. Teddy goes to preschooler rugby sessions, and we all go to forest school most weeks. Apart from that, we try to take a couple of nature walks, visit with friends, and spend lots of time just exploring our interests at home.
What is your home ed highlight from last week?
Little Bear and I watched a clip of Brian Cox testing Galileo’s theory that without air a cannonball and a feather would hit the ground together early in the week. He mulled this idea over for a couple of days, and by the end of the week was experimenting by dropping an umbrella and a home made parachute for Lego people off high places.
Teddy, on the other hand, discovered his shadow the other week. He spent a long time moving in different ways and watching how his shadow responded. This week I pulled out our overhead projector, and he spent a long time using dinosaurs and magnatiles to project new worlds onto the wall.
It is amazing to watch how they fit experiences together to create their own understanding of the world.
What is your favourite thing about home education?
My favourite thing about home education has got to be the flexibility. We can choose the what, when, where and how of learning, allowing the small bears to lead the way as much as possible. Little Bear, for example, likes to do sit down learning straight after dinner in the evening, for example. The afternoon seems to be the best time for a walk or play at the park, and we can drop everything at any time to bake a cake or search Google for answers. We can learn in the garden on a sunny day, or snuggled in bed together when it rains. We don’t have to learn in subjects like Maths, History or Science; we can include Legoing, Minecraft or gardening in our schedules. We can show learning in more unusual ways as well, such as Little Bear creating a huge, relatively accurate, underground dinosaur skeleton in his Minecraft world; or Teddy singing Mars from The Planets whilst bouncing on the trampoline.
As well as the day-to-day flexibility, we can pick and choose when we take breaks and holidays. This is very important to us, as Kev’s work schedule would often make holidaying in school breaks difficult. Similarly, we can drop everything if family want to visit, to fit in appointments or if someone is ill. Saying that, the small bears are so curious and enthusiastic, we tend to find the learning continues wherever we are and whatever we are doing.
What is most difficult about home education and why?
I think the most difficult thing is finding time for myself. It is true that a home educating lifestyle is pretty full on. Even sitting and watching a film together is full of questions and ideas that I need to be prepared to follow up later. Following one of the boys on a section of their learning adventure is exciting, challenging, and forces me to be innovative. But it can also be tiring, confusing, overwhelming and sometimes I just want to step back and take a break from it all.
What advice would you give to other home educators?
I think I would say, relax; let it come in whichever way your children find most natural. Some children enjoy sitting down and working through work books, some prefer to paint and draw, others need to be moving and physically doing. Trying to push a child to learn in a way that does not come naturally to them does not lead to good retention, or good relationships within the home. Those good relationships are even more vital when you are spending so much time together, so it is worth watching and listening carefully to your child’s personal style.
As well as this, I would remind other home educators that there is time for everything. Nothing needs to be rushed; our children have their entire lives to learn what they need to know when they need to know it. One of the wonderful things about home education is that we do not have to follow the same timetable that schools do. There is no rush to be reading and writing as soon as possible, or learn all the times tables, or the periodic table. It will come at a time when it is relevant and useful to our children. Similarly, there need be no fear that we as parents do not know something we wish our children to know. It is more important to teach them how to find out for themselves, and in the meantime we can learn alongside them.
Read more from Bear and Ted here…
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