Saturday, 19 November 2016

Home Ed update

Since September we have been officially (unofficially) home educating out eldest son. Officially because he would have started school in September had that been our choice, unofficially because technically he doesn't have to start school until the term following his 5th birthday.

All my friends and family have been incredibly supportive of our choice to home educate (thank you all of you), most people say that they think it's great but not something they themselves could take on.  I think I have explained to most of my friends and family who are interested how home education works but when I meet new people and they find out that we are home educating they naturally ask questions, and in so doing reveal the many myths that surround home ed, which I duly demolish.
Here is a rundown of the top myths/questions and comments I hear and my response:

So you are getting visits from the local authority?
No, actually there is no legal obligation for home educators to receive visits from the local authority.  Some people find it helpful but it's not a requirement. Often the local authority want to visit to check that you are providing an education suitable to your children's age, ability and aptitude, but in my opinion I don't need to be checked on this by the Local Authority any more than I need the police to come round to check that I am not committing a crime. If you decide to have visits from the Local Authority (LA) then it's useful to remember you don't have to meet in your home, you could meet in a library for example. If the LA ask to visit us by letter I will respond to them (by letter) by outlining some of our home ed intentions and decline the offer of a visit. I recently read a really great home ed philosophy written by Ross Mountney in her book "A Funny Kind of Education":

"We plan for the education to be centered around their needs, for the most part autonomous, deriving from their own interests and daily pursuits, at times democratic, where their learning is shared, helped, broadened and encouraged by our parental input.  Our aim is for happy, self motivated  children who take pleasure in learning.  We hope to provide a stimulating environment in which they may do this, both in the home with materials, books, television, computers and in the community and further afield with trips to libraries, visits to places of interest, field trips and activities which encourage interest and curiosity about their daily lives and environment, all of which are sources of learning and educational opportunity.
We see learning as an integral part of our children's daily lives and not separate from it or segregated into subjects.  Therefore it is not timetabled or structured; this would be unnecessarily inhibiting.  It may take place from the minute their wake up to the  minute they sleep, over meal times, social times, unusual times, any time, by discussions and questioning, conversations, investigations and research, not necessarily normal in procedure.  We see it therefore as mostly spontaneous and unplanned.  Thus we can take advantage of the purest receptive moments when learning potential is at its peak.
We are quite confident that contact with family, friends, social event, clubs and activities of this nature provide our children with plenty of social interaction."

I would probably use a statement similar to this to describe our home ed intentions.

But you have to tell them you're home educating don't you?
Actually no.  So long as I am fulfilling my responsibilities to provide an education suitable to their age, ability and aptitude I need do nothing more.  As above, the Local Authority would like to have a list of all the children being home educated because they have concerns that any children not in state or private education are being hidden away for some nasty reason.  Again, as above I don't need the LA checking up on me any more than I need the police checking up on me (I can't see the population as a whole agreeing to be checked on by the police to make sure they aren't committing a crime can you?)  We aren't hiding away or doing anything nasty, so unless the LA has reason to believe we are doing something amiss they have no reason to put us on a list or pay us a visit.  The onus is on them to prove we AREN'T providing an education, not on us that we are. Therefore they have to have a good reason to believe we aren't providing an education in order to make a visit to check that we are.

Oh but you used to be a teacher so that's ok, I wouldn't know enough to teach my children.
Well yes this is true, but to be honest being a Secondary School Art and Design teacher doesn't help me all that much in teaching literacy and numeracy.  Also lets not forget that the teachers in school learnt what they needed to teach the children, so we too as parents are quite capable to learning what the children need to learn, In fact learning alongside my children has been really exciting.  And here's another thing, we all managed just fine to teach our children everything they needed to know before they reached school age so I see no reason to believe we can't teach them the school stuff too.  Teachers aren't taught all about Anne Frank or Florence Nightingale or how volcanoes work or metamorphosis, they learn it as they have to teach it. As home educators we are facilitators of learning not jugs of knowledge than need to be decanted in to the little brains of our children. We help them to learn by providing the resources, environment, information etc that they need.
I also want to mention at this point that I know not everyone wants to home educated their children.  Just because I am doesn't mean I think you should.  I am not anti school, I think there is most definitely a place for it in our society, it's just not a good fit for our family at the moment.

Do you have to follow a curriculum?
No you don't.  You don't have to follow any curriculum or you can follow one if you want to, the National Curriculum or any of the other free curriculum online, or the many you can pay for.  We are choosing to loosely follow the National Curriculum because, if for any reason we feel it would be right for our family for any of our children to go into school I would like them to have equivalent understanding to the other children in their year group.

But don't the Local Authority send you the Curriculum and everything you need to teach at home?
No they don't.  As far as I know they don't send you anything (possibly a link to the National Curriculum online at the most)  Which is another reason why I feel no need to have the Local Authority involvement in our Home Education.  It should be a two way relationship and as far as I can see it is more about proving to the LA that we are doing enough than them providing support and help.  I don't need their assessment, as it is of no value to me and my children.

But what about socialisation?
This is the question I am asked most often.  We socialise nearly everyday (probably a bit too much actually) We go to groups, meet with friends at their houses and have them at ours, we see our families and we socialise with members of the public at playgrounds, shops, church, National Trust Houses etc etc etc.
The funny thing about this question is that, as a pupil I was always led to believe that at school I was "here to learn not socialise".  Ironic really.

So you've had to sign a register then?
As above, no there is no requirement to be on a register.  If your child has already been in school and is then withdrawn then they will be known to the Local Authority, if they have never been in school or Preschool then they won't be known to the local authority and won't be on a register.  A register of home educated children in the thin en of the wedge in my opinion.  You start with a register, then they insist on visits, then there are boxes which need to be ticked and with boxes come requirements, and there begins a process of enforced curriculums, visits, examinations etc etc.  No no we don't have to sign a register and I would not be in support of any kind of Home Education register.  I am aware that people feel that there should be one for child protection issues and I would like to remind those people that all the children who have been involved in high profile child protection issues in the media were already known to the local authority. We are no more a threat to children by home educating them than anyone else in school.  I also resent the implication that by choosing to home educate we must be doing something nasty that our children need protection from.  I heard on the radio the other day that the equivalent of one girl PER DAY is raped IN SCHOOL!!  So please, spare me the child protection concerns and concentrate on those children who are being abused on a daily basis actually in school!

What will you do when they have to take exams?
Well we don't HAVE to take exams.  There are many careers which do not require exams for you to be successful in them.

But what if they want to go to University?
Not all Universities require you to have previous qualifications particularly if you go to University after the age of 25.  However we are still able to take exams as and when we choose (i.e. we could do two or three GCSEs a year for 4 years rather than 10 in one year as in school)  we just need to find a Centre which will take us on as an external candidate (which I am led to believe is not difficult)  The only downside is that we would have to pay for the exams, although some Local Authorities will help Home Educators with these fees.

I don't know how you get your children to listen to you, they only listen to their teacher and wouldn't sit still for me.
My children don't know any different than me being their facilitator of their learning.  They don't see it as a teacher being someone who teaches them stuff and I am this other person that gives them food and takes them places.  Some children who have previously been in school can find it difficult to adjust to the change in relationship with their parents, there is a different dynamic between them, but it is my view that this can easily be altered by a period of de-schooling and with the provision of lots of interesting learning opportunities.

Aren't you worried they'll turn our weird?
No I am not.  My hope is that they will turn out with their love of learning in tact (children are wired to learn from birth), celebrating their individuality not hiding it, (Boris loves pink, My Little Pony and doesn't see any difference between boys and girls, I wonder how long that would last in school?), their energy and enthusiasm enhanced, a good ability to socialise with people of all ages, an understanding that creativity is more important than knowledge.  I hope that my children will question and challenge the status quo, stand out, not blend in, know that they can make a difference in the world, have the potential to lead the revolution, and above all know that experiencing and showing love and kindness are the most important lessons we can learn in life.

(A painting I did recently for a friend)

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Revelations en France

Yesterday I returned from a week’s holiday in France with my husband and our boys.  There are many things that are really great about going on holiday, here are a few:

Having my husband to help me.  My poor hubby works in London so has a long commute to work and back every day, I am thankful that he is around in the evenings and at weekends and am well aware that many mothers don’t even have this, but to have him there 24/7 to help is really great.  (I also quite like him, you know, so it's nice having him around!)

Having only a few possessions with us.  I love this part of being on holiday, it always reminds me of how little I need to get by, be happy, have a good time.  I took a few luxuries with me like my Kindle for reading, my laptop so I could catch up on some writing, my journal, a hair dryer, that sort of thing, but not having to look around my house thinking about everything that needs doing, and not having so much stuff to tidy away daily provides such a break and a rest.

A change of scenery.  Being in a different place is great because you get to see different sights every day, being at home, although we get out and about a lot, it is often to the same places week in and week out, and seeing different types of buildings and streets, flora and fauna is really exciting.

Being more relaxed about what we eat.  We usually eat pretty healthily and I make about 80% of our meals from scratch but on holiday I excuse myself from this (although I like to eat healthy food, I do not particularly enjoy cooking it) and use frozen and easy to cook food when we are on holiday.

Sitting in the car.  As sad as It sounds this is probably one of my favourite things about being on holiday, we travel by car to visit different places, usually by the scenic route to enjoy the views and I get to read my book, the babies sleep and I can enjoy looking out of the window at the different sights, I find this most relaxing.

Enjoying my children more.  Although I am with them all week, they are often off playing in playgrounds, playing with friends in their bedrooms or taking part in activities, but on holiday there is a much more intensive closeness because we are doing things for them and with them.  So for example walking round a museum requires much more of our attention in stopping them running off/climbing on the exhibits/getting they to focus on something and we therefore get to experience them more.  I realise I am not selling this so far, it is hard work, but the things they come out with that I might otherwise miss, or might not be said are brilliant, (Biscuit said one evening “When I am older I am going to get a motorbike, then I will be the best man in the world, like Jesus!”) seeing them achieve new things (Boris went down the water slide in the swimming pool for the first time, he was really brave, he was scared, I could see by his face, but he did it anyway and I felt so proud) and watching them play together is priceless.  We also didn’t have TV or internet connection so were far less distracted than we would be normally.


I am sooo glad to be home.  Begin away makes you realise the things you miss doesn’t it, and it’s make me immensely thankful for some things that I haven’t really considered before. Here are some things I am newly thankful for:

Speaking English as a first language.  How lucky am I that I speak English??  It’s spoken in so many places around the world, and although I do make attempts to speak the language of the countries I am lucky enough to visit, I am not great at it and we can often ask “parlez vous Anglais?” and continue an otherwise disjointed and confused conversation in my native tongue.

Being born in the UK.  I am so thankful for being born in the UK, it has given me so many opportunities that people from other countries might not have had, we are so lucky to live in the UK with so much freedom and relative safety.  Also being able to speak the language of the people who are native to the country is so wonderful and I have renewed sympathy for people who have moved here and are not yet able to speak the language.

Access to lots of delicious vegan food. The French are great at food, but they aren’t great at vegan food!! And by vegan food I am talking about processed food because the fruits vegetables here are really great, fresh, tasty, huge variety, seasonal and without all the packaging you are encumbered with in the UK.  However if you are after a Linda McCartney sausage, and tin of baked beans, a carton of oat milk or some dairy free cheese you will be out of luck.   There is a growing variety of convenient vegan food in the UK which is so liberating and exciting.

Having a sofa to sit on.  We have spent this week in a static caravan and there is no sofa, just a bench round a table with a soft-ish pad of it.  I miss my sofa, it’s big and squashy and soft and fluffy and I love it and I am so happy to be back snuggled up on it with a big cup of tea (only small cups here, sad times). I realise that being able to afford a holiday at all is the height of luxury relatively speaking so I am well aware how ungrateful it sounds to be complaining about a lack of sofa, but you know #firstworldproblems.

So yeah, we had a great time, but I really am glad to be home. Now where’s my cup of tea?

We got caught in a downpour one day, Boris gave me two giant leaves to cover myself and Nut!

Sunday, 4 September 2016

My not-so-secret obsession

Ok, it has to be done, if you know me, you'll know, if you don't know me, you are about to find out.

I have a confession to make, I have a little obsession.  It all started on a breastfeeding facebook page, someone mentioned a fictional TV series which shows a woman hand expressing, I though "normalising breastfeeding! This I have got to see", and this is where my obsession began.  I watched the first two series of Outlander on Amazon Prime and I was totally hooked.

Let me give you a little background information.  The series is based on the books by Diana Gabaldon.  They center around the main character Claire who goes back in time (stay with me) from the 1940's to the 1700's in the Highlands of Scotland. Like any good story she falls in love and the series revolves around their relationship and their adventures through time, facing life and death situations.  It's romantic, thrilling, erotic, exciting, I haven't been able to put the books down for the past three months.

So why am I telling you about this? Well apart from the fact that I want every friend of mine to join me in my obsession so I have people to geek out with over it, it has actually changed my life.  I know that sounds dramatic, and probably makes me sound like a massive loser, but it's true.  Let me tell you how.

The relationship in the book between Claire and her Highland husband Jamie is perfection.  It is every woman's fantasy of a perfect relationship, and I suppose that's the point of fiction isn't it, to give us a fantastical alternate reality.  At first it bothered me, I started asking myself "well why isn't my relationship like this? How come my husband doesn't say all these terribly romantic things to me?", and then it struck me, these characters are constantly facing life or death situations which we rarely come across in our everyday lives (thank goodness) and thus they are given many opportunities where professing their undying love for each other is pertinent. And on reflection if I had to choose between a life filled with loving sentiments, yet being constantly in fear of losing your significant other, or a a life with professions of love written in a yearly valentines card, yet secure in the knowledge that the loss of ones husband to execution, murder, or falling down a cliff, I would rather take the latter.

I reflected on this and realised that, in fact, if my husband and I were constantly living in fear for our lives, he more than likely would profess his love for me more often and without inhibition in the most spectacularly romantic ways possible.  This led me to appreciate my husband more, because I know he loves me and has strong feelings, but that he just doesn't profess them that often.  I also remind myself that the book is written by a woman; for women, so she is writing what we want to hear, not what men actually say.

Reading the books has definitely sparked fresh joy in my relationship with my husband, new appreciation of everything he does for me and our family, I am trying to love him more and better and it's made me feel amazing about our relationship.  It's definitely inspired me in the bedroom too if you know what I mean.

Another way this series has changed my life is through a shift in my feelings about my children, in relation to my husband.  In those days children were seen as far less significant than these days, children were quite often seen as a bit of a nuisance, and in the story our couple are separated from their  offspring.  This made me realise that, as much as I love my children, one day they are going to leave home and it will just be me and my husband again, and with that in mind, the need and importance of nurturing the relationship with my husband, because that's the relationship I chose.  We chose to have children, but we didn't chose the people they are.  I sometimes see parents treating their children like little gods that must be appeased (not any of my friends by-the-way) and they quite simply aren't, they are little people who are going to go their own way one day and all we can do is prepare them for that and hope for the best, our relationships with our partners are the enduring ones and in some ways are more important than the relationship we have with our children.

Next reading the books has really helped to scratch a little selfsufficiency/prepper/survivalist itch that I haven't scratched for a long time.   I made some rosehip cordial yesterday!!
It's also motivating me to lose the baby weight; I am buying myself little Outlander related treats when I reach every weight loss target (Today I am buying myself a Sassenach car decal.  Read the books if you want to know what I am on about here.  Seriously read the books.)

Finally this series of books and the TV show have been an absolutely fantastic escape.  Not that I have a life that I need to escape from but during the end of my pregnancy and the first weeks with a new baby having a place I can retreat to away from the craziness was and is so incredibly valuable.  I am a strong believer in mum's (and anyone actually)  having some sort of diversion from every day life be that painting, sewing, cars, football, whatever it's an important part of what makes us human and just generally makes people more interesting I think.

So the other day my mum said to me "I think your becoming obsessed with Outlander" and I was like "And that's a problem because...?"  Because I literally cannot think of a single reason why being obsessed would be a bad thing, it's changed my life for the better, made me a happier person and improved my love life.  Who could possibly complain? So now I am on a mission to get all my friends obsessed so I have other people to geek out with over this amazing series, if you have Amazon Prime you can watch it there or on Sky Starz, but even better are the books by Diana Gabaldon.  Get on board friends!  Get on Board.

And as for me, well I am waiting on series 3 which will be out next spring and continuing to devour the books, I am currently on book 4 (there are 8) and Gabaldon is writing number 9 as we speak so I have plenty to keep me going.

Now I am just going to leave you with this: