A few weeks ago I wrote about what life was really like being a parent of three children. The article got a great response, both from fellow parents of three sharing details of their own lives, as well as those who were intrigued to have an insight. It inspired me to launch a new series on Cardiff Mummy Says, looking at what life is really like for different kinds of families.
You can catch up with the previous posts in the series here. This week, Kelly who blogs at Kelly Allen Writer explains what it’s like to home educate her two children.
Tell me about your family
There’s me and my husband Warren, George who is 7 and Molly who is 6 and we have a dog called Ziggy. We live in Llantrisant, not far from Cardiff. Warren works full time for Lidl and I’m working on my blog and novel. We currently home educate our children and have done so for just over a year.
What’s an average day like for your family?
It changes day to day and is dependent on the seasons. Once up we eat and get ready. We discuss how the day will go or sometimes we’ll wing it. It’s very much child-led. We might head to the library, or the park, we might make something, have a go at junk modelling, read together, attend the children’s clubs, go for a dog walk or an adventure, have a day-trip somewhere or attend a home ed group. It varies but I think we are pretty seasonal/weather dependant, i.e close to home in winter and off out during summer.
We go to home ed groups when we can, but it’s very much dependant on other plans, transport and weather. We don’t follow school hours at all, believing instead that learning is a continuous process. So, we may have a chilled morning and pop to the shops and then look at books and do an activity in the afternoon and then before dinner/after dinner do something else, we really go with the flow of the day.
Today for example, George and Molly played with their wooden train set whilst I sorted breakfast. After this we went on a two-hour nature walk with the dog and took gifts to our old neighbour. George and Molly collected lots of bits and bobs to make air fresheners (their idea!) and saw ducks and chickens along the way. They also saw and spoke to a lot of dog walkers! We came home, ate lunch and caught the bus to Cardiff. On the bus we read books and they doodled in their notebooks (it was a 45 minute journey!). We headed to The Cardiff Story Museum and played downstairs for a while with the train and cooking area then we walked to their weekly circus class. Tomorrow we are baking cookies, going to the library, going on a dog walk and having a playdate decorating the cookies later on. More might occur because we’re closer to home and have more time to spare, but that’s our very loose plan for the day.
How do you go about actually educating your children?
We’ve tried so many things, from replicating school to timetables that we thought would suit us, but in the end we’ve settled on semi-structured mixed with unschooling. The majority of what we do is child-led and a big inspiration for how we work came in the form of Christopher Lloyd. His daughter was uninspired by school and when he decided to home educate his children he tried replicating school, still uninspired he asked what his daughter wanted to learn about and she said ‘penguins’, so that’s what they did. We are currently learning about volcanoes. We’re drawing them, making them, reading about them, talking about them and doing other things too. I use Twinkl (an education website) to a degree but I don’t sit down and fill in worksheets much really, because I believe and have seen how much more learning takes place from doing and being in the real world rather than repetitive rote learning. We purchase books to help with our theme, cover a lot of crafts thanks to Pinterest (both children can use this app) and we use YouTube to research certain things (for example, we recently learned about lighthouses), we bake and learn about musicians and artists and we play a LOT.
So no, I don’t ‘teach’ them. In fact, we’re learning a lot together. I remember very little from school, only the stuff I was passionate about. Like anyone I suppose… So I see this as nurturing and focusing in on their passions, from crafting to circus to Minecraft to maths! I facilitate their learning and I pick up some interesting facts along the way.
What made you decide to educate your children at home?
George and Molly were both in school, both unhappy but in different ways. It grew worse over a few weeks at the start of term 2015 and by October I couldn’t stand to see it any more. The tears, the fear and the exhaustion. There are things I don’t feel comfortable talking about, but I will say this, when George left school he sat at the kitchen table for a week filling out worksheets like a robot. It was like he was trained to do it and he sat there for a long time doing it, but he wasn’t happy. Eventually it sank in that he didn’t need to continue. We cracked open the paints and pens and had fun. Then I started to see him again, George who used to wear cardigans and dance to the beat of his own drum. And slowly, over a year later he’s come back to us.
What have been the biggest challenges of home educating?
Strangers and other people’s opinions. There are so many questions and sometimes it’s pretty exhausting answering them all, especially when they all focus on socialisation and GCSEs. My children are not even in double digits yet! It’s so hard and I find other people looking in on us the hardest to deal with. The questions and the judgement; sometimes you just want to enjoy your day and not have to explain why you choose to live a certain way.
What are the best/most rewarding parts?
Seeing my children flourish, ask questions, talk to people. Their confidence has grown in such a way, it’s completely priceless. I love it when they bring up something they’ve learnt out of the blue, because they loved learning about it. It makes me very proud. I also love how close they’ve grown as siblings. No more of that exhausted end of day squabbling after not seeing each other all day. It’s funny how everyone wants a child to be quiet and obedient yet we want strong, confident adults, so I encourage their strength, even if it means they say, ‘No’ to me about things, and yes, I respect them when they do. Perhaps, overall, I love that they’re finding their voices in this huge world.
What are the biggest misconceptions people have about parents who home educate their children?
That we hide our kids away and they’re never socialised. There’s a saying that goes, ‘Forced association isn’t socialisation’ and it’s true. Apart from in some educational settings (mostly school) there’s rarely a time when so many people of the same age are forced to be in the same room doing the same things together. George and Molly are out and about a lot, they meet many people just walking down the street, they talk to adults and kids and they go shopping, to the post office, to the local shop, the library, chat to delivery people, collect recycling bags and take the dog on daily walks…they never stop meeting people of all ages AND they have friends.
A lot of people talk about isolation, but I remember that feeling from being at school. The thing is, although I think the educational system needs shaking up and bringing out of the dark ages, I don’t feel I’m stereotyping those that send their children to school. In fact, we’re friends with families who send their kids to school. What gets to me is the fact that we’re stereotyped all the time. Hippy/Lazy/Out there/Weirdo/Irresponsible… We’re constantly being told by the media that we need to be on a register. It’s ludicrous. As I’ve said before, we as parents are responsible for our children’s education, no one else. If we need to be checked on every year by a complete stranger who will walk into our home and assess us in half hour of meeting us (and you know we’ve all had that half hour of utter madness in our homes, right?), then every parent should have to. If we can be seen as ‘trusting’ during the holidays, weekends and evenings, then why can’t we be trusted during term-time? Safeguarding and education are two very different topics indeed.
What would you most like people to know about your decision to home school?
That it’s our situation. Our choice. Our legal choice. That we have our reasons for what we do, like everyone. I’d also like parents to know that their child’s education is their responsibility, whether this is in school or, as stated by law, ‘otherwise’. We choose otherwise. Both are legal and both are a parent’s responsibility.
Is there anyone or anything that helps make your life easier?
My husband, my mother and my kids! Love makes the world go round. Warren is less affected by the cruelty of society than myself, and my mother champions us as parents. George and Molly, well they just make me smile and that’s all I need 🙂
What advice would you give to other parents who home educate or who are considering it?
Remember, what you’re doing you’re doing for your kids. This applies in any situation. Believe in yourself and believe in them.
For home educators, I’d say seek out other home educating families. Online or in real life, they’ll be your lifeline. They understand and they have experience and they want to help.