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/

Community

Community

The word community evokes different emotions. For some the thought of ‘community’ brings up warm sentiments, for some their experience has been negative and at times, painful.  With such a broad understanding of community interwoven with a myriad of personal experiences, it can be helpful to step back and look at what community is and then explore why it is important. The Cambridge Dictionary[1] describes it as ‘the people living in one particular area or people who are considered as a unit because of their common interests, social group or nationality’. From research completed in public health[2] a different definition is given:  ‘A common definition of community emerged as a group of people with diverse characteristics who are linked by social ties, share common perspectives, and engage in joint action in geographical locations or settings.’

Both these definitions feel devoid of emotion. Searching further there is a beautiful zulu word ‘Ubuntu’ which translated means ‘I am, because you are’. It is part of the Zulu phrase “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”, which literally means that a person is a person through other people, embedded in the philosophy that community is one of the building blocks essential for humanity. The late Desmond Tutu said this:

One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity. [3]

I find this definition beautiful, powerful and, also, challenging. Perhaps a rallying call for humanity? Where community has generally been seen as geographically local, in our ever-evolving online world the concept of community is enlarging. This is even more so in our post Covid world where community can be seen as transglobal with dynamic groups forming community via zoom and other online platforms. Yet in our western culture there is increasing individualism, a drive for personal success and a seeming disinterest in the world around us. Loneliness is a reality for many [4]. We need to rediscover community.

On a very personal level my desire for deeper community developed when we had our first child. Living in central London at the time, we were fortunate that our block of flats was opposite a small park. The surrounding flats were full of a culturally diverse mix of people which led to a beautiful gathering of mums from around the world in the park with their little ones. I quickly realised that life as a mum could be quite isolating; the daily rhythm and desire for sleep often disconnecting you from others. Where the park bought conversations and smiles on sunny days, on the wet days we could find ourselves each in our own flat missing the social interaction. It didn’t take long for there to be a regular gathering in our flat with shared meals and lots of little people, ‘more the merrier’ seemed to be the unadopted mantra. Our flat became a space of seeming chaos with numerous toddlers bouncing around and creating mess; on reflection what I experienced was the buzz of life done in community. The ups and the downs of being a mum; space to laugh and to cry, to be vulnerable and to encourage, to release each other to have a little space (maybe even grabbing some sleep), and to laugh with the little ones as they played and explored. The kids had fun too!

Leaving London was a necessity when we found out we were having twins – our small third floor flat with no lift was far from ideal. Moving west and landing in a small city with an active three year old and then giving birth to twins was hectic – I craved community, it developed slowly over the first year with our house becoming a place for mums to gather. Yet I longed for more!  This led to us as a family choosing to create an intentional community home. Moving to Bristol we took a risk; renting a large townhouse and inviting people to come share our family home. For seven years we lived with a range of people of different ages from 0 – 65, singles, couples and two families, some for short seasons and a few for the duration. Our extended family developed a rhythm of shared meals, evenings hanging out and adventures together. Challenges were discussed, dreams were encouraged and birthed into reality. Sadly our landlord selling led to us stepping into a regular small, terraced house for just the five of us, but the desire for a community home does not go, and it is a dream we still pursue.

What we learnt in that time was that life is richer with when shared with others; yet not always easier – we had often had to work through some tough issues – choosing connection, being vulnerable, choosing to forgive both others and ourselves, this is where community is built. In real, gritty, and vulnerable living. On our wall was a framed print with the words ‘May we catch each other with grace[5] when we fall short of who we want to be.’ This underpinned the values we embedded in our home.

It was during these years that we stepped out of school and became home educators; this had never been the plan but a decision we have never regretted.  I knew very quickly that finding community was key to us thriving as a home ed family.  This community was slow in developing but it did grow, as did we as a family.  What I recognise for healthy community to flourish is that we have to be willing to be vulnerable, to love, to sacrificially give, to open our homes, to welcome in chaos and mess. Within this, acknowledging we are different, we have different opinions, different educational approaches, different families and within this variety there is opportunity to learn and develop. Always choosing connection.

I wonder if deep down we are all meant for community, a movement from ‘me’ to ‘we’.  Individualism, consumerism, and careerism don’t seem to be working anymore, I feel around me a longing for more. Surely we are more than isolated individuals, more than the careers we pursue, and more than the stuff we own? In our western culture our lives can become fragmented, and yet, I believe we all crave connection. There is a deep desire in us all to be real and belong.

Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance. [6]

Sian, Matt and I would discuss community and how it could healthily grow. Being connected by a mutual friend to Juliet our joint desire for community led to the birth of Streams; a place to belong, with a mission to encourage, equip and connect home educators. Our dreams for Streams are big and we are evolving slowly, listening to members, and growing in new ways that were unexpected. However, as we evolve and grow at the heart is always community. Community forms one of our core values: We’re inclusive, we appreciate difference, we know we are stronger when we journey together. Community is experiential, not taught, therefore as home educators we have the gift of being able to build a healthy community around our children.

Our desire is bigger than just our own children. Our desire is that all children grow in a community where they can flourish; collaborating, championing each other, experiencing loss, failure, and success, growing together. A healthy community surely must be the foundation for all education. With so many conversations happening globally about the need for educational reform, a need to move away from competition and standardisation, it surely is essential that community is at the heart.  To bring change we cannot go alone; our world faces huge challenges which are complex and difficult. They cannot be solved in isolation, we have a need for ‘ubuntu’. Only in community can we discover this; dreaming big dreams, championing each other, navigating failures, and, encouraging each other to believe for the impossible.

So, I hope you can take a moment to look at your own community you find yourself in, often it is there even if we don’t recognise it. If you don’t have it, how can you find it or create it, have courage to reach out to connect with others. Let us each to take a moment to examine our hearts, seeking to be more generous, to look out for those who maybe isolated, to be willing to welcome others in.  May we find ways to celebrate together, collaborate, challenge broken systems and create safe spaces that enable growth and flourishing. To do this we need to be brave, take risks, put ourselves out there, be willing to step up and lead for a bit even if it does not feel natural, and, importantly to catch each other with grace when we fall short of who we want to be. My experience is always that we are richer for it and surely the world will be a better place with ubuntu embedded at its core.

[1] https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/community

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1446907/

[3] No Future Without Forgiveness, Desmond Tutu, Image; New Ed edition (October 17, 2000)

[4] https://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/loneliness-research/

[5] Grace, has many meanings, in this context it is defined as ‘kindness freely given’ https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/grace

[6] https://brenebrown.com

 

Image credit: Bethany Sweetland

I Feel Proud of Myself

I Feel Proud of Myself

The photo is such a special one to me, the happiness and laughter on my daughter’s face is one thing – but there is something that you can not see in this photo…  Minutes before this was taken on Saturday night, my daughter had just watched herself on a cinema screen for the first time in the film premier of a movie that she is in. As the credits rolled, so did her tears – I watched as the tears flowed fast down her beautiful face, she swiped at them quickly, desperate to stop them before the cinema lights came back on.  I held her in my arms, and squeezed her tightly- when I asked her why she was crying she replied… “I’m happy mummy, and I feel proud of myself.”

Rewind to four years ago when we decided to take our daughter out of school – she was suffering terribly with anxiety and low self esteem – school were not supporting her at all. At her worst, she was being physically sick everyday, it really was such a distressing time.

Making the decision to home educate was the best decision we have made.  At the very start we enrolled Ellila-Jean in a local drama school in an attempt to help her with her confidence, and help it certainly did. She found something that she truly enjoyed and we watched her confidence blossom right in front of us.  In the last couple of years she has had some great opportunities, and met the loveliest people.

So this picture is much more than just a happy photo, it represents an incredible journey that Ellila-Jean has been on.  It has not always been smooth sailing – but we are worlds apart from where we were at the start, and words can not describe how incredibly proud we are of her.

Four years ago I would never have imagined that our little girl would have the confidence to stand up in front of a cinema full of people and talk, let alone be in a film… but what means so very much more than that, is that she now believes in herself…and that truly is the best thing of all!

(Photo credit Grant Archer.  Also in the photo is Tom England)

Written by Kirsty and uploaded by Streams.

From Mainstream to Home

From Mainstream to Home

We joined the world of home education over two years ago with our two girls who are now 13 and 10 years old. They are very different from each other and, therefore, need a different approach to learning, as was the case in school but they were unable to provide that individual approach and interest-based learning in the way we can at home. The older one is generally happy to sit down and concentrate on a task, drawing a sense of achievement from having a plan and achieving that plan. The younger one is much more of an external processor and needs more ‘convincing’ to sit down and concentrate on work, not being motivated by the simple achievement of a task.

When they were at school, our older daughter had learnt to get on, to stay out of trouble and please people- she hates being told off! She learnt this early on in her school career, with a very strict (and pretty shouty!) reception teacher. In hindsight, I can see now that we saw the relaxed, fun-loving side of our older daughter gradually diminish from reception onwards, along with her own sense of integrity. Thankfully, this has come back a little with a more relaxed nature of home education and she is now more confident in her sense of self and, whilst it’s not always easy, I’m very glad she’s now willing to stand her ground when she feels she needs to as I know she’ll need that in life! I am SO glad she’s not having to deal with the social pressures many 13 year olds are having to deal with in mainstream education, on top of just the brain & hormonal changes that take place when you’re a teenager AND the pandemic too.

Our younger daughter took convincing EVERY day to go to school, unless it was a day where they were having an outing, or a party day, which was about once a term. So, each morning was a struggle to get her to get dressed and ready for school which was tiring. Funnily enough, despite our concerns, she was actually doing OK according to the parents’ evenings, with the reports that she simply needed to concentrate better and stop talking to her friends in class. But she’s an external processor and is naturally very sociable, finding friends life-giving so the restrictions in when she could and could not talk in class were very confining for her. Being able to learn through the things she finds interesting works so much better for her. I’d be lying if I said she now always wants to learn (she still needs convincing to get going!) but I know she is a lot better off for the pace we can take each day and being able to learn in ways that suit her better.

We have had interesting conversations with family members who shared their concerns with us in the choice we were making to ‘home-school.’ I was privately educated, so my parents invested A LOT and went with a lot because they held education in such high regard. They held a lot of pre-conceived ideas and questions: Would they have enough social contact? How would they do science? What about team sports? What about exams? We have worked through these questions with them gradually as we’ve learnt ourselves, not claiming at any point to have it all completely nailed! They’ve become more supportive as time has gone on and they’ve seen how we’ve been doing the home ed, with others, with variety…and they’ve seen how well the girls are generally doing and that’s ‘proof’ in itself isn’t it?! Like I say, it’s not perfect and it’s not easy, but I am SO glad we’re investing in our girls this way, with the time and the energy – I don’t think we’ll ever regret that.