We have been using Dreaming Spires since 2018, our 4 older teens have done a number of different English courses as well as Spanish and a couple of the summer mini-courses. They offer a wide variety of subjects and we have friends who have enjoyed some of their science and history courses. I initially used it to help our eldest get through his English Language GCSE (3 sons have now completed their English gcse successfully with DS) but I have been really impressed with the wide variety of literature they have read (and mostly enjoyed!) and the Charlotte Mason emphasis on reading Living Books and doing narration. There are also plenty of optional fun activities they can do alongside the more academic side of things and they get to do about three presentations a year as part of the course which is great experience.
The lessons take the form of a lecture from the teacher with slides to look at and the students communicate with each other and the teacher via the chat box at the side of the screen. The kids have made some really good friends through their classes and the chat forums on the site (though we do have to monitor how much time they spend chatting with their friends instead of working!).
You can do a 30 week year course (£365) with an additional ‘add on’ class if wanted (£140) or one of the 6 week crammer courses in January or summer courses (£120). We have found the courses quite home-work heavy (mainly lots of reading!) we found two courses (one English and one Spanish) just about manageable in addition to our other study commitments. Dreaming Spires came highly recommended to us from other families we knew and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to others!! We have really enjoyed meeting other home-educating families from around the country through the connections the children have made as well!
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 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 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.
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 . 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 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. 
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.
I was so excited when I learned about Odyssey. My family moves around the world every two years, which usually means new friends, new house, and new foods! With Odyssey, my kids can now meet and stay connected to their peers, no matter where we are living. In addition to that, I also can meet and connect with similar parents to support each other without all the drama and fighting that can happen in Facebook groups. While enmeshed in Odyssey, I can forget that I’m not in the mainstream and can discuss openly the different ways to work, un, or homeschool without judgement. I do try to teach my kids good digital citizenship, but having a safe space where I don’t have to worry allows me to relax a bit related to screentime!
Review written by Elizabeth and submitted by Streams.
Surprising as it may sound, I consider socialising one of the great unsung strengths of home education. Children learn social skills from others around them. In a home education scenario, where the ratio of children to adults rarely exceeds 6:1, adults are able to intervene constructively to help children build effective social skills.
For example, for a long time, my daughter was close to a girl who is very different from my daughter in personality, in the way she thinks, in her whole outlook on life. My daughter is rambunctious, exuberant, and enthusiastic. Her friend is quiet and loves inventing rules. Yet the friendship was important to both of them. For the first couple of years, as we met up every week, the friend’s mother and I spent much of our time helping the girls to resolve problems. Since they saw the world so differently, they frequently ran into difficulties. Because the friendship was important to them, they stuck with it and resolved their problems with parental guidance and teaching. Eventually they reached a place where they used the skills we had so patiently taught them, and we would overhear them solving their problems themselves. Both girls have taken these skills beyond their friendship and used them to resolve problems in other relationships.
Another example is in the co-operatively run home education group that we participate in. The children are friendly and welcoming. New members are drawn into games and feel welcomed and wanted from the very first day. If other children come into the playground while our kids are out there playing, they are welcomed into the game and sorry to say goodbye. The teenagers stand in a circle chatting, but welcome any adult into their group and involve them in the conversation.
Because adults are involved so closely in the friendships of home educated children, bullying is minimal and immediately dealt with. Better social skills are modelled and directly taught. Indeed, I have seen very little bullying at all. Two of my daughter’s friends have stutters, one of them bad; when I mentioned it, my daughter was surprised, as she hadn’t noticed it. My daughter, who has learning difficulties with reading and spelling, was only ever bullied once: ironically enough, at church, by friends who attend school. Because I witnessed it, I was able to intervene constructively, and those friendships have been maintained now for over a decade.
Because of home education, my only child is a confident, friendly girl who can make friendships easily and maintain them for many years.
After being hugely inspired by the talks from last years home schooling global summit which aired back in May there was a great buzz around self directed education (which I loved) and a new online learning platform called Galileo was mentioned which sparked my curiosity, it sounded great.
Having a few wobbles about my kids motivation and accountability coupled with being very interested in the ethos that Galileo followed I embarked on some research into this new idea, hoping it would fill some current gaps.
I found out that Galileo is a new online learning platform; it’s worldwide, self directed and very forward thinking in its approach. Exciting and sounded perfect for us!
I watched videos, read the website twice over and listened to lots of talks on the benefits of self directed education for kids. Intrinsic motivation being the major benefit that really resonated with me, if my kids can be internally motivated to learn the things that they’re interested in then I feel like they will be set for life.
We finally took the chance to give it a try back in September 2020. After our application was accepted we trialled a month first to make sure it fit us as a family and that Miss L enjoyed it (she did), so much so that we’ve now committed to a year.
It’s taken a little getting used to (and has dramatically helped improve Miss L’s ability to tell the time and time management skills). It’s lovely to see Miss L interacting with other adults genuinely interested in her learning in an unpressured environment. She has a 30 minute daily ‘check in’ every morning where they discuss goals, ask questions, chat with friends and play games. She also has weekly clubs that she has joined, so far science, history and writing being favourites (there are many, many more to choose from). They even offer regular nano degrees; these are interesting project based topics such as coding a game or creating a digital magazine with a set time frame (e.g. a month or 6 weeks) which Miss L is also hoping to join soon.
I really loved the application process, it’s not just a case of, can you pay? then you’re in, there’s a, is this right for you and us? ‘fit’ process to check that the children can adapt to the style of learning and that the family understand the type of place that Galileo is. I like that you have to ‘get’ the ethos.
As Galileo is worldwide, you can join from any country, (they split clubs etc into EU/Asia and America to fit in with time zones.) It’s wonderful to see Miss L connecting with kids from different cultural backgrounds and to get a glimpse of the world for the amazing place it is. It’s so easy to sit in a bubble thinking the world is a scary place (especially with media hype) but talking to and having a laugh with children from all over the world is a great idea to break down barriers.
Another thing I love is the price, after seeing some amazing looking alternative schools here in the UK they have often come with a financial barrier; incredibly high prices, some were eye watering (think £20,000 p.a. for both kids!) Galileo pricing however, I feel, offers excellent value. It works out at $300pcm or you can pay for the full year for $2000 per child, (with a discount for siblings also available) which is much more affordable.
It’s an exciting scheme to be involved in so early on, I’ve already seen new developments in what they offer and the ideas that are flowing through the project look great – a planned retreat next year, more nano degrees etc. It has, most important of all, already given us what we needed:
Miss L has some accountability not just to me
She has had to learn to tell the time
She has to manage her time and remember when her classes are
She has gained a lot of confidence speaking up in a group
It has encouraged her to look at new topics
Her computer skills have also improved
I can’t wait to see what she joins in with next and would definitely recommend Galileo for any families who feel it would be a great fit for their learning style.