We are a family of four: our eldest, Sam is nearly 10yrs, and youngest, Fae, is 5yrs. Neither of them have been to school. My husband, Kai, works full-time, employed in Software Architecture/Development but based from home almost all the time. I stopped work when I had Sam in 2011, and have been at home with our two kids and leading their home education since then.
I can trace our choice to home educate back through a variety of parenting decisions, starting with my mum suggesting she buy Kai a baby backpack carrier when I was pregnant with Sam. Research through forums and recommendations opened up the world of babywearing, cloth nappies, cosleeping, Montessori child-centred and respectful parenting, Forest School, and hearing about alternative (and legal) education approaches. I guess the groundwork for our being open to home education was laid many years before. I had a childhood traditionally schooled but filled at home with nature study, lots of books, and handicrafts. I studied Psychology at A-Level and at University and had intended to practice Educational Psychology, as I recognised the experience of the mainstream education system in this country could be improved for most children. Eventually though I was burnt out from years in said education system, and had little interest in the teaching training and experience necessary to take the Ed Psych qualification - ironic now, that I am facilitating the education of my own children!
Anyway, we read books, forums, and chatted to local families already on the home ed path, for over a year, until I felt that, with Kai’s complementary strengths and presence at home, I would give it a go. I’d say we were equally drawn to the positives for the kids - such as spending more time on their interests, more time for nature, movement, imagination and creativity, family connections, and a broader curriculum - as avoiding what we see as the negatives in mainstream education, such as standardised testing at young ages, large classroom sizes, a prescriptive curriculum, school-based peer pressure, bullying, authoritarian style handling of masses of kids, and too much time with children of only the same age. We wanted them to have time to spend on interests and passions that may carry them through the rest of their lives, not crowding out their time on things they won’t need or want to know, as well as the space to know themselves truly. After trying two different Preschools, it was clear that Sam would benefit from a slower, gentler building to time away from his parents and coping with large groups. Home education gave him the time and space to foster relationships in his own way, and now at 9yrs old he’s confident and sociable, and still a lovely sensitive boy. Alternatively, Fae has a need to move her body almost constantly and to have agency over her days. She rarely wants to do activities I have suggested! For very different reasons, I think both would have found the school system uncomfortable, and a hindrance to their learning journey.
Now five years later, after a lot of learning as I go, a huge local, national and global community around me, with two kids very different from each other, we love our days and the long childhood they are getting. It isn’t always easy - it does feel like a lot of responsibility. I’m responsible for sourcing materials for interests, and planning engaging resources and activities for core skills, but the hardest part is seeing it all from the learner’s perspective. Sometimes the learning is invisible and fruitful only over a long period of time. You need to place trust in the process, and celebrate the wins as they appear. Some days can feel like a frustrating lack of anything productive. But over time you see that these hard times are out-shone by the progress the kids make in their own ways, in their own time.
I’d describe us as eclectic. We get inspiration but go with what feels right to each of us, on any given day, for different learning needs and wants. In my reading, talking and listening I’ve been inspired by unschooling, Charlotte Mason, project-based, child-led, Waldorf. I gain a lot of encouragement and practical child-centred advice from the superb Julie Bogart at Brave Writer. I try to ensure that we get out in and learn a lot about nature, the kids learn life and homemaking skills, focussed learning is short and kept sweet, we respect the kids’ interests, learning styles and ebb and flow of brain development and energy, whilst scattering our home with a variety of resources, ideas, conversations and motivational chats. We aim to maintain their love of learning, so that they feel enabled and intrinsically motivated to learn throughout their lives. Kindling that fire in them, for the long run, means being open to times of fast-paced, flame-fanning, learning leaps and deep-dives, but also quiet time to let things settle in their minds, focus on physical developments that need to precede certain mental developments, and keeping our relationships to each other honest and respectful.
Pre-covid the kids were getting Forest School days with more than ten other children of a variety of ages once a week, twice a month crafting and learning with two other families, physical health activities multiple times a week, lots of time with extended family, time in the community to chat to and learn from people of different ages and backgrounds, trips, concerts, holidays, and workshops. We had aimed to give plenty of living learning opportunities through travel, local, national and start to get abroad. As our eldest heads closer to his teenage years we are focussing on relationships and communication, whilst getting ready to chat about opportunities for learning with others and/or qualifications in things he may be interested in focusing more on. We look forward to bringing back greater variety to their resources.
I’ve learnt that there’s no ‘right’ plan, resource, subject combination, etc. No two families will home ed the same. It starts with you, their adult learning coach and your attitude towards life, learning and your family. So much is deschooling ourselves, the adults, and pouring into each of our family relationships so that communication is open, honest and respectful. You need to hold the reins very loosely, and be happy to leap off into rabbit trails with no notice. Being flexible to interests, energy, different personalities and balancing your own needs is key. There is no such thing as a perfect home ed day! But each little moment adds up to a bigger picture of habits, knowledge, and layering of attitudes which I hope will colour their approach to themselves, others and learning anything throughout their lives. It’s certainly doing that for me.
A typical day for us looks like our kids waking around 7am and piling in with Kai, while I sleep in for a bit or have a cup of tea in peace. I’m a typical introvert, slow to want company in the mornings! After they’ve had breakfast we all wash, dress and start the day around 9am when Kai logs-on for work. While the kids play, I’ll reset the kitchen from breakfast, start some cooking or washing, and gather our resources. Then around 10/10.30am we come to the kitchen table for Morning Time and snacks. This varies from day to day, but generally includes reading and/or activities on about five things, such as a seasonal poem, personal development, language arts, history or geography, art appreciation, maths. Usually Fae listens in to what she’s interested in, plays with some manipulatives, does some simple phonics activity or leaves to play. We’re done around 11.30am, and I’ll get lunch together. Recently we’ve been playing a board game over lunch once a week. After lunch we may pull out a project they’re working on, a hands-on activity, or break for some ‘alone time’. They might watch some documentaries, TV or play Minecraft. Mid-afternoon they’ll snack again, and we might get out for a walk or bike ride. One of us will usually read one of our fiction read alouds to them over dinner. There’s usually a lot of conversation, questions, and weaving together learning threads at this time of day. The time between dinner and teeth brushing is brief, but after a quick family house reset, Sam will read to me. Although he’s clearly tired, this is his preferred time of day to sit one-on-one and practice his reading. Bedtimes are full of stories, chatting about our day and cuddles. Then from 8pm, until I drag myself up to bed, we get some adult time, too much TV, tidying up and pulling out resources for the next day.
Previously, our weeks looked a lot like the above on Mondays and Tuesdays, but Wednesdays saw morning swimming lessons, Thursdays the kids were at Forest School from 10am-3.30pm, and Fridays were typically for housework, stories and Poetry Teatime, plus we usually saw one or both sets of grandparents each week too. This last pandemic year most days of the week now follow the same rhythm, which has meant less variety of experiences and time with others, but has brought a predictable flow to our days and more learning time around the table spread out over more days. I must also include weekends, because although we don’t do Morning Time, and there’s a lot more time as a family of four playing or individually doing things we enjoy, the kids do lots of practical learning, especially engineering, electronics, music and IT with Kai. It brings a good balance to my often book-based learning feast!
Having Kai working from home has been a major facilitator in choosing to bravely try home educating, and contributes greatly to its success in our family. We get to discuss our morning’s learning over lunch, they see Daddy 7-9am, for breaks, for up to an hour at lunchtime, and from 5pm until bedtime, every day. This enables me to balance the needs of the home, myself, parenting and their learning so much more easily. I think Kai would need to answer for himself how he balances having us all here most days whilst he works!
A decision to home educate is never an irreversible one, but I think we would struggle to pick apart the kids’ education from our family life now. The two are, on the whole, an extension of each other, and our experience has shown us it works best when it reaches this organic, living, learning family way of life.
Hannah can usually be found sipping tea whilst trying to navigate being an introvert parenting two strong spirits, and seeking a simple, authentic life, connected to nature. Married to her best friend and partner of 23 years, follow her on Instagram at @seeing.the.serendipty, where she shares her creative writing and real family life, enjoying kitchen discos, garden bonfires, and wild swimming.
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