A Working Mum and a Home-educating Dad – How We Make It Work

A Working Mum and a Home-educating Dad – How We Make It Work

My wife and I are not ‘normal’. Amongst our peers and our family members we are the outliers, the ones that have chosen a slightly different ‘lifestyle path’ to everyone else. For a start, we are home-educating, but you’ve probably guessed that already. Nicola is, at the time of writing, a curate in the Church of England. This too, is not the norm. And even within our home education community we are unusual as Nicola is the one that is out at work, earning a crust, whilst I, Matt, am one of a rare breed of home-educating dads.

We started home-educating when Nicola started her training at Trinity College in Bristol. We moved there from Surrey, where I was a youth worker and Nicola was a part-time self-employed occupational therapist. Up until our move to Bristol, our two daughters had been in mainstream school (both in the same, really good, nurturing primary school) but we had started to consider home education as a viable option ever since our good friends had started home educating and we had seen their children thrive. We were possibly only going to be in Bristol for a couple of years whilst Nicola studied, so to minimise the disruption to our daughters’ lives we decided we would join up with our friends and home-educate our children together. Time goes quickly and we are now into our fourth year of this home education journey; what follows is a picture of how we have made it work as a family where the dad is at home and the mum is out at work.

How we make it work: tips and principles

Shared vision

The first thing is to have a shared idea of what home education is, a common vision as it were. More crucially, in our experience, it’s about working out together what you think is important for your children: what sort of people do you want them to be? What are the values that you want to expose them too and instil in them? Learning facts is actually secondary (in my opinion) and, as a couple, you may disagree on what’s vital in their formal education (times tables are one of those issues in our household). However, you can agree that you want your children to be (or at least have the opportunity to be) creative, kind, confident, curious, caring… Keeping these end goals in view puts everything else in perspective. And, that even includes learning times tables!

The cost

Ever since we have started home educating, we’ve been aware that it costs. It costs money. It costs time. It costs your original hair colour. But I suppose you can say that about parenting in general (and we can testify that it’s also worth every penny, second, grey hair and wrinkle)! It is worth taking time to recognise this. We all have to explore the financial implications and plan for this, this is obvious. The less obvious implication of following this path is the potential cost of being misunderstood by family and friends, feeling like you are disconnected from ‘normal’. On some days this is liberating, on other days you can feel “wobbly”. We have to recognise that these emotions are real. It has highlighted to us that this is not a road to walk alone but to find a community to walk with. This has been essential for us on our journey, particularly as we moved to a new city when we started home educating.

Playing to our strengths and not playing to our strengths

I’m a natural educator. I love learning and so it followed that I would be the one who did the home education. Our circumstances also determined who was at work and who was at home, although we ultimately did have a choice. I don’t find planning or budgeting easy, but Nicola is fabulous at both, so leads the way with those things. She is very organised – I am not – so it follows that she helps out with that side of our home education. For example, recently, Nicola has been producing monthly plans for our girls so that they know what is coming up.

There is a tension with just playing to your strengths, however, as there is great opportunity to be had in children seeing how their parents learn how to do things that aren’t in their ‘sweet spot’.

Additionally, it can be very beneficial for the non-home-educating parent to get involved when and where they can. Nicola’s present work schedule means that she can take the girls to different groups. This keeps their relationship going, she sees what they are up to (even home-educated children can be very minimal in their response to the question “How was your day today?”!) and it gives me a bit of a break!

 

This is an extract taken from the book “Another Way to Learn? Discovering the Beauty of Home Education” due to be published in September 2022. It has been slightly edited from the original (with the author’s permission).You can find out more about the book and pre-order a copy here: https://www.anotherwaytolearn.co.uk/

Twinkl, My Go-to Resource

Twinkl, My Go-to Resource

Twinkl has been my go-to resource since we started home educating over three years ago. My first thought when starting to plan group time (IMHO Twinkl works best for groups) is “What does Twinkl have about this subject?” For almost whichever subject we’ve been looking at, Twinkl has had a teaching resource to go with it. PowerPoints, activities, worksheets, colouring pages, interactive resources… the list goes on. It is such a comprehensive set of resources, we’ve hardly scratched the surface during our home educating time.

There is a dedicated Home Education section on the site which is pretty thorough as it includes guidance on home educating, planning resources, curriculum overviews (if that’s the style of home education you’re following), as well as projects and lapbooks you can use and subject specific lessons and activities. 

The down side to Twinkl is that there is so much on the site – sometimes it’s overwhelming! And, of course, you need to adapt the resources for your children. 

In summary, Twinkl is probably my most-visited resource for when we’ve been looking at learning something in a group. It’s excellent for that.

  • All ages
  • https://www.twinkl.co.uk/
  • From free to £9.99 per month (Ultimate Package £8.49 per month with a yearly subscription)
  • 5
MEL Science for Budding Chemists – Good, but Pricey

MEL Science for Budding Chemists – Good, but Pricey

MEL Science is a subscription service that we were gifted for a few months and, for ages, didn’t get around to using (for one reason or another) so we had a bit of a stockpile. When we eventually got around to using them we enjoyed following the experiments.

 

The first box we used was “Flame” which was “pretty cool”. Think different coloured flames, some whooshing, smoke and some classic magnesium burning action. I used this with three 10 year olds and they were able to follow the instructions to be able to do the different activities but some of the explanations went way over their heads. But they had fun and enjoyed science.

 

The other boxes were good, but not as engaging as “Flame”. That said we were using one kit for three children and they were taking turns to do the activities. I also probably didn’t make enough of the VR glasses and app that you can use alongside the experiments.

 

A definite plus is that when you start the subscription, you get a free starter kit. This contains some mini stoves, conical jars, beakers, safety glasses and the like – very useful if you want to do other experiments of your own! Also, each subscription kit comes with everything you need for all of the activities and, additionally, disposable gloves. The instructions are step by step and well presented.  Another plus is that everything can be disposed of in your normal bins or down the sink when you’ve finished experimenting.

 

One of my slight gripes with this subscription service is that while it is possible that one or two children can successfully use the kit, any more and there’s not a lot to do. Some experiments can be repeated because there are enough resources, but that’s not always the case. It is expensive at nearly £30 a month and it feels like you should get more “bang for your buck”. However,  I don’t know the cost of all the chemicals and equipment that you get sent through. 

 

This was good to do with our little group of 10 year olds, but I think an older individual 11+ may find it more interesting and beneficial to run alongside other science learning. In summary: good but pricey.

Duolingo – Learn the Basics of Many Foreign Languages for Free

Duolingo – Learn the Basics of Many Foreign Languages for Free

This app is a brilliant way to start learning a language or to supplement another course. Duolingo has used the concept of the “gameification of learning” to develop an app that’s  fun, engaging, a little bit addictive and deals with the basics very well. The app is very well laid out in six main sections. The first section is where you’ll find your Units. As you complete units, more are opened up to you. You earn XP as you complete units and these XP determine where you are in the League Table that you’re assigned to (part of the addictive nature of this app is if you want to stay higher up in the league, you have to keep using it). You also earn diamonds that you can use to buy items in the game. If you make a mistake you lose one of your 5 hearts (in the free version), but you can watch an advert to replenish a heart or use some of your diamonds to buy more hearts. The app is aimed at people who are at least 13 years old and that feels about right, although I’m sure a younger child could do well on it – sometimes you need to type in answers that may be more difficult (but not impossible) for a younger child. There is also a social side to the app where you can make friends, but there’s no way of communicating with those people. Weighing up the free version versus the paid version: You can progress perfectly well in the free version if you don’t mind watching a few adverts along the way (you may need to make a call on whether this appropriate for your child) and if you don’t make too many mistakes – it takes a while to replenish your hearts and you can’t access the unit you’re working on if you don’t have any hearts. The paid version gets rid of the adverts and you have unlimited hearts so you can practice to your hearts (no pun intended) content. But, at the time of writing this, the cost is £12.49 per month or £77.99 per year, for which you get access to all languages. In conclusion, my kids have really enjoyed learning languages through Duolingo, but they will need some immersion in the language to truly get to grips with understanding and speaking it to a good level. https://www.duolingo.com

It Was Only Meant To Be for Two Years

Our home education story began a number of years ago when I was working as a youth minister at a church in Surrey, UK. It was during that time that I first remember meeting families who home schooled. I’m not completely sure why they chose to home school (as I didn’t think to ask at the time), but I assumed that it was partly for idealogical reasons, partly for practical reasons (one family had had to move countries) and partly for educational reasons. I never really considered that home education would be for us as our family didn’t fit my preconceived mould of what a home educating family was, nor did I think we had the capabilities (for a start which parent would give up their job to educate our daughters anyway?!). Sure, I’d experienced working in the school system, having been a youth worker in a secondary school and then working across several schools providing PSHE lessons, mentoring, assemblies and the like. But to take responsibility for your child’s whole education – that was another level. No. Thank. You.

And then we found ourselves moving 120 miles west to Bristol in order for Nic (my wife) to train to be a vicar. Times change. That in and of itself wouldn’t have been cause to delve into the peculiarly wonderful world of home education, but there were other things afoot. Several factors came into play: 

  1. Nic was receiving a bursary to study. If I worked, then the bursary would be reduced. If I was a house-husband, the bursary would remain the same, I would be at home and available to be there for our daughters. At the very least, if I became a stay-at-home dad for the time that Nic was at college, I would have two years with our daughters – what a gift!
  2. We were definitely in Bristol for two years. After that? We weren’t sure. We felt that it would cause the least disruption to our girls’ education if we home schooled for the two years that we were in Bristol and to assess it after that.
  3. In an age before the pandemic, when I was a youth worker, I had noticed a subtle rise in problems with mental health with the young people with whom I came into contact. Depression, anxiety, self-harm, panic-attacks… all issues that I was helping young people to navigate. I started wondering what we were doing to our young people that meant that they were experiencing these difficulties on a more regular basis. I wondered if the school system (including the overdeveloped pressure of exam culture) was a part of the problem. NB.I must point out that I am in no way belittling or criticising the incredible work that teachers and support staff do with our young people – many of these adults are a lifeline to the students in our schools. I think they do an amazing job despite the system that they find themselves in. 
  4. Our eldest daughter (E.) was due to start secondary school and our youngest (T.) was going into Year 4. I had already noticed that E had developed a distinct dislike of getting things wrong. She wasn’t happy just to give things a go and take a risk in case she got the answer wrong or did the wrong thing. I wondered if this was a consequence of the system or a personality trait.
  5. As a family (parents and children) , we felt that this was a good time to give this home education thing a go. Our friends, who were living in Bristol, had educated their children at home for a year and had seen how their youngsters had come alive and had flourished. If we decided to home educate, we would be able to join with them (and glean from their experiences!)

So, considering all of the above factors, we decided to take the plunge into the world of home education.

During the first few months of this new way of educating, we all learned a lot, not just about the Romans either. We all learned things about ourselves. We realised that we all needed to “decompress” from the system. We learned about each other – what we each needed. We learned about our limits too. And we learned that being together could be a lot of fun. I started to see some of the spark return to our daughters that I hadn’t realised had disappeared.

Three years later, with all of the highs and lows, frustrations, internally spoken expletives, conversations with family members (some difficult, some joyous), delights and breakthroughs, we are still educating our girls at home. Would we change it? Not a chance.