We are a larger than average family, with 7 children aged 22, 21, 17, 14, nearly 8, 5 & 3. The eldest 2 are now obviously grown up and getting on with adult lives and our 17 yr old is due to start college soon, but the younger 4 are still very much in full time home education stage. We have been home educating for 7 years now.
Our eldest 2 went all through school with a mixture of success and struggles, but when J & S (now 17 & 14 year olds) were in primary school we started to wonder if there were alternatives. I had friends in the States who home schooled and I had always felt quite envious, presuming that here in the UK it would not be a legal option. I cannot even remember what prompted the initial Google search, but something did one day when the kids were on summer holidays between J going up to year 6 and S going up to year 3. I can’t even remember what I searched or where exactly that led me, but I suddenly found myself aware that Home Education was not only something legal here – but also very simple to do and actually quite common! It was like a suddenly realising you lived next to an amazing garden that you never knew existed – I wanted to explore every single possibility, my mind swam wildly with excitement and everything seemed to make so much more sense.
J had never really been happy in school, he has ASD and struggled badly with the social side of things – and also the misbehaviour of classmates. S had health issues that meant she missed big chunks of time in class for hospital visits and stays. She was regularly sent home poorly or unable to go in for mornings – her worst time. The school were awkward about offering support, saying she was ‘clever enough and would catch up’. She struggled also socially because friendships were being forged in her absence and girls can be mean! We were struggling ourselves as parents, not really agreeing with the school system of over-testing and ‘one size fits all’ education.
Excited, but apprehensive I mentioned the idea of Home Education to my husband. Neither of us had enjoyed school, our kids were not enjoying it … so it just made sense! Cautiously I asked the children what they thought – no pressure, your choice. To be honest I expected reluctance, but they both jumped at the idea and that was that! We sent off de-registration letters during the holiday and they never returned. All decided in less than a week and we haven’t looked back!
We had one toddler too at that point (F) and have since had two more (R &E), none of whom have been to school – not even preschool. We hope they will always stay out, but the choice will be theirs.
We have tried many different approaches over the years. I love reading about the different styles of Home Education. I have never been one to follow a particular style strictly, I prefer to be inspired by the theories and take those that fit into our lifestyle. When life has been manic – house moves, new babies, etc. we have taken time off from scheduled work to be unschoolers/ autonomous. Inevitably though, both myself and the kids find ourselves wanting some kind of structure back in our days. I find it helps us stay focused and achieve more … even if those achievements are only those that the kids want for themselves. With so many children, at quite different ages and stages, all with different interests and personalities I found it too hard to meet everyone’s needs without some kind of routine. At least half of our household also like to know exactly what is happening each day too!
A typical day for us would involve me and the smallest 3 waking somewhere around 6.30-7am. When we are all awake enough we have breakfast together and do what I call our ‘breakfast basket’, which is basically a selection of books I read aloud. Typically it will include picture books for the youngest and some fact books on a given theme for the week, some poems or a moral story to discuss. On busy periods I may just read our current chapter book instead. We use Five In A Row with the youngest – which means we cover various subjects just through discussing the picture books we read and using them as a springboard for more ideas. I often use my own choices of books too though, but with the same idea.
By this point the teens are starting to rise and we all get on with our designated household chores for the morning. After this I like them to go out in the garden for a bit of exercise and fresh air, while I do one to one with S – working on her English. They come in, I do some activities with the youngest two and F (8) has some time on the PC (I found he concentrates so much better later in the day if he’s already gamed, rather than clock-watching or asking constantly “Am I done now?”). S then goes to do her independent work. Some days at this point we have scheduled lessons or activities with other people. Other times the kids like to play on the LeapTV or just go off and play.
Lunch altogether, while I read our current read aloud chapter book, then various lunchtime chores. I am hoping to get more chance to get a trip to the park in after lunch as the weather improves, but so far that hasn’t happened as often as I’d like. Then I work one to one with F. This has to be very small bursts (10 minutes per activity). We practice handwriting, reading and maths, etc. He has a few workbooks he chooses to do, but for the most part we play games.
The little two usually appear again at this point – requesting ‘work’ too, so I have some basic workbooks or sheets they can join in with. We have different activities during the afternoons, some I reserve for play dates, park trips or others we have family activities we do until dinner time – board games, cooking, arts and crafts, etc.
One of the highlights of our week is nearly always on Tuesdays when we have our ‘History Tea-Time’… with table set with sandwiches and cakes and hot chocolate in a teapot I read books or we watch YouTube videos of our current topic. Last year we covered explorers, this year we are looking at inventors and inventions. I like to find picture books that really bring the events to life, rather than just factual encyclopedias for example. Food + read alouds often go hand in hand here – it helps wriggly bottoms stay on seats and ears listening if the mouths are busy chewing!
My favourite things about home edding include seeing my children bond so closely with each other and also getting to spend so much more of their precious childhood with them. I love feeling so connected with their development, getting to see them have those ‘aha!’ moments and really seeing them progress. Or the times when they enthuse to others how much they enjoy learning at home. I also enjoy being able to encourage their individual interests, to help them make the most of their strengths.
Another thing that I love about home edding is the choices available for trips, the amazing opportunities that our kids get. A recent example being a trip to the Holocaust Museum, for my 14 year old – complete with a chance to listen to and ask questions to a survivor. It was an amazing, emotional and unforgettable experience. He was an incredible man and left an impact on everyone who met him. From PGL activity holidays to workshops held in The Royal Courts of Justice or The Houses of Parliament, from making pizzas in Pizza Express to a tour of the sewage works, our kids get some great experiences!
The hardest things can be not having enough energy/time in the day to do all that I want to with them. Likewise, trying to have realistic expectations of what is achievable! With such a large age range I can often feel disappointed that we don’t get to go on as many trips as I’d like either – but I console myself that as the little ones get bigger more will be possible!
My best bit of advice for other home edders would be that if something isn’t working, if your child is not enjoying it or it is hard work … try something different! Sometimes you only need a small tweak, other times a complete overhaul. Don’t be confined by a certain style or curriculum, what works for one might not for you and there is no point having all the freedom of choice that comes with home edding if you don’t make the most of it!