“But where will the whiteboard go?!” Moving from school education to home education

“But where will the whiteboard go?!” Moving from school education to home education

Matt and I are adoptive parents to three wonderful daughters all of whom, if they were in school, would be in secondary education. But they’re not in school. Our story is a familiar one of initially buying into the traditional way of education by entrusting our girls to the school system in their primary years. At first, all seemed well and we enjoyed being part of the school community and had a good relationship with the teachers and leaders. But it soon became clear that the emotional and educational needs of our daughters needed more support than the school could offer. And so the ‘home education’ niggle was born……..

Oh, how I tried to suppress that niggle! I’m not a natural revolutionary and I really did want us to be ‘normal’ and to follow a ‘normal’ school route – I had been a secondary school teacher for many years, so the school system was my comfort zone! But it was not to be. When your children so obviously need a different provision, it’s hard to keep pushing on, hoping that next year, with a new teacher, it will finally all fall into place. As Einstein so helpfully pointed out, ” The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” And we were all definitely becoming insane!

In the book ‘Another way to learn? Discovering the Beauty of Home Education’ I tell the story of how Matt and I finally gave into that niggle and jumped into home education. We are now four years on and despite many wobbles along the way, we are so incredibly thankful that we are able to live our lives as a home educating family. There is, after all, no ‘normal’. We are all parents, home educating or not, who just want to find the best path for our children that will enable them to thrive and grow into who they were created to be.

In the following extract from the book, it picks up the story following our eldest daughter’s deregistration from school at the end of the summer term. The start of the autumn term is fast approaching and Rosabella (not her real name, but chosen by her!) will not be returning to school. I take some time in this part of the chapter to pause and reflect on other people’s responses to our decision to home educate.

Navigating questions and comments

The summer came and went, and in all honesty, I didn’t give an awful lot of thought as to what I would be doing with Rosabella come the start of the autumn term. She had left school, but her sisters were going back; Matt and I were still dealing with our own response to that as well as fielding all the questions and comments that came our way from friends and family, most of which we didn’t have answers to! And breathe … Maybe here is a good place to pause and say a word or two about those questions and comments.

If you choose to home-educate, get used to it: questions and comments from other people will be a part of your life – even from complete strangers! In our experience, most of the time, comments come from genuine curiosity and some have been wonderfully encouraging and affirming. It would be a fun exercise to gather from UK home educators a Top Ten list of the most frequent comments they have received! The most common we hear is “I could never do it”, a loaded comment driven either by fear, or by admiration, or a mixture of both, depending on how satisfied that person is with the mainstream education system. “You’re so brave” is another, to which my response in the early days was “Yes, I am!” followed by a slightly hysterical giggle. “I couldn’t spend all day with my children” is another favourite, and one that I’m still never sure how to respond to, so I don’t. “You’re a teacher so you can do it, but I wouldn’t know where to start” is the one that makes me laugh out loud, because it should make perfect sense. “No, no, I don’t know what to do!!” is what I wanted to scream in the early days, knowing even then that being a home educator would be a very different thing to being a secondary state-school teacher. Reluctant teenage learners taller than me I can cope with, but home education?!

What about friends; what will you do with them? How will you follow the school curriculum? What about socialisation? What if they fall behind? What about GCSEs? What about Art? How will you teach science? Where will the whiteboard go?! The list goes on and on. But at the end of the day, whether these questions are asked from concern, curiosity, or just undisguised criticism, as a new or imminent home educator, they can be unsettling and unnerving. But remember this: when you step outside of the norm, it can be unsettling not just for you, but for those around you as well. I’m not great with change; I’m better than I used to be, but generally I like predictability and familiarity and I’d prefer it if everyone else would just stay the same as well, thank you very much. I don’t know about you, but if a friend moves away, I struggle. I want to be happy for them, but the truth is, I liked them living where they lived, near me. If they’re moving, should we be moving? Are we missing out or are we OK where we are? Maybe this inner questioning just highlights my own insecurities, but I do wonder if, when someone else makes a change or steps out into something different, it provides us with an opportunity to review where we’re at in life. This is how I choose to view the comments I receive about home education.

Within your school community, some parents will be perfectly happy with the provision for their children and so will either think you have lost the plot, or simply be very happy for you. For others, it will cause them to consider in greater depth their child’s school experience and what they want for them; having paused to review it all, they will either happily continue as is or watch you closely to see how you get on. And for others, there may just be plain regret that this is something they are not able to do right now. Whatever the response, my advice is to try to respond with an awareness of what may be going on for that person. It’s very much a relational thing.

Back then, with those who I knew had our best interests at heart and who mean a lot to us, it was good to take the time to talk it all through, remembering that ultimately it was our decision. With others whose motive for questioning I was less sure about, a quick “Oh, it’s just something we want to try to help Rosabella with her confidence – we’ll see how it goes” was sufficient, followed by a change of subject if needed. I tried hard to be me, to not hide my nervousness, to be real, to say “I don’t know” when I didn’t. “If you see us banging on the school doors come October, let us in!” was my parting plea as we finished the summer term. Most people respond well to vulnerability, I find, and boy, did I feel vulnerable.

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.You can find out more about the book and pre-order a copy here: https://www.anotherwaytolearn.co.uk/

Reflections on a Journey

Reflections on a Journey

This reflection I wrote for a family blog in 2017 when we stepped out of school. I rediscovered it again this week and thought I would share it here. It very much captures that sense of freedom that you feel when you step out of the system. It is a decision made five years ago that we have never regretted.

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2017 – So, we have finally taken the leap and are officially home educating our kids… I am aware that there should be a coherent answer to the ‘why’ questions which have already started to come – the dog walker we met as we flew our kites yesterday, the cashier at the checkout… I have not yet quite worked out quite what to say; other than knowing it is where we are meant to be right now!

The ‘what if school looked different’ thought process began when my son started school age four and half… I could see quickly that my little boy with boundless energy was contained and restricted in the classroom; so much of his energy was taken by trying to sit still, that school became something that needed to be simply got on with and out of the way. We decided quite quickly that one day a week out of school at a local Forest School was going to be good for him – and how he thrived; I would collect him wide eyed, covered in mud bursting with excitement after five hours of exploring ‘Hidden Woods’ with his ‘teachers’.

This stopped when we moved to a city and we decided to join the local school at the end of our street. As a family we have loved them being part of the community for three years. However, the more I read, the more I observed my children in school, the more I knew that it was right for us to exit the traditional school setting.  This spring we felt the time had come to take the leap.

I am not anti-school – I think school can be amazing.  So many teachers work so hard to enable young people’s learning journeys and there can be a lovely sense of community both for the children and adults. The bit that I struggle with is seeing the immense pressure put on teachers, and the subsequent pressure that children feel as they sit tests and are told what to learn. It takes a brave head teacher, like ours was, to fight to keep the extracurricular activities on the weekly schedule alongside the Ofsted assessed maths, literacy and reading.

In our journey, I know we are privileged to be able to make it work financially (although this comes at a cost, we are learning to prioritise different things). I am excited, but I am also a realist and know that some days will be tough and many will be chaotic! So, as we journey into the unknown of our kids learning and exploring life outside of the system, we will take a day at a time.

People keep asking me if I am a teacher, to which the answer is no. People ask, “but what about the curriculum? What about SATS? GCSEs? How will you teach Science and DT? What about Bunsen burners? How will your child be prepared for real life if they don’t navigate the challenges that school brings?” I feel starting with these questions is the wrong place to begin. We have chosen to start with looking at the big picture and ask the question, ‘what do we want our kids to be?’ Our thoughts are that we want to grow children who will be independent lifelong learners, who are creative, resilient, fearless, and fun loving. Kids who are confident in who they are; understanding what gives them life and excites them. We want a slower pace of life, with opportunity to reflect, to learn life skills as well as maths and literacy, to celebrate the lessons learnt through failure together, to encourage and support one another. I am not saying school can’t do that, I am simply saying I could see it was not doing this for our children and the individual personalities they are. Already I have found it is easy to lose sight of the big picture and start to wobble and feel overwhelmed by ‘curriculum’ and what our children ‘should’ be learning.  In these wobbly moments, I am finding I have to remember to focus on the ‘why’ and the daily freedom we now feel we have as a family in this journey of learning.

This week gave me a wonderful example of the freedom we now enjoy. My son has spent the week building puzzle boxes from Lego. He has set his own challenges by making three dimensional boxes with so many moving pieces. He has also learnt to do the Rubix cube watching YouTube.

At school these past two years writing had become so difficult for my son, he hated literacy. The reason being that he had to write cursive. Last year I chatted with his teacher one day and asked why he needed to do this – she said because ‘that is what Year Five kids need to do’. Yet for my son this does not work; he is left handed. To write cursive as a righted handed person, you pull your pen along a page, the writing flows as you move from left to right. As a left-handed person, you have to push the pen, it is slower work as you move across the page. Writing cursive was simply hard work.  My hope is he can continue to learn to write in a style that suits him.

So, we are home educators. We look forward to breaking down some of the stereotypes these two words can bring to mind; we are excited to be doing something I believe stirred in our hearts six years ago, again, a seemingly reckless decision made with confidence because we believe our children will flourish. ‘What if you fail?’ people have asked, ‘what if you get it wrong?’ In response to this I feel we can answer – at least we will have tried! And what if we get it right? What if this is the right way for our kids to learn and thrive? Our kids will always be richer for knowing we had the courage to pursue our dreams and explore a different way of doing life.

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/

The start of a learning adventure

The start of a learning adventure

Guest Blog Post by Fabienne Vailes

On 17th January 2022, we started our journey and adventure into home education and officially de-registered our son from secondary school.  He is 14. We initially described it as jumping out of the plane! 10 weeks into this new approach to learning, we feel like we’re slowly settling into our new life and routines. I’ll be honest – it was harder for me than it was for Thomas. He took to it like ‘duck to water’. I initially spent a lot of time crying and letting go. We both said that it felt like breaking up with school.

Here are our four take-aways so far:

FOLLOW YOUR HEART

As I said in the intro, it took us several months to finally make the decision to de-register Tom and it wasn’t an easy one for us to make. That said, my heart knew long before I allowed my head to ‘catch up’. My challenge is I am an overthinker. A pure product of the academic system in France and in the UK, I used to believe that I had to use my logic and to ‘think about things’. My final decision was made when I watched my son’s face as we were heading home after having a chat with another home ed Mum and her son in early January; Thomas asked me: ‘do you think it’s possible for me to leave school? Do you think there is truly another way?’ Sometimes as parents we know in our ‘heart’ what the right answer or the next move is. We just need to give ourselves permission to follow our hearts. Taking this step for Thomas and starting the journey has enabled my ‘head’ to catch up.

AGENCY

Our decision to home educate coincided with my own year-long sabbatical and stepping off the ‘hamster wheel’.  Combined with Thomas becoming self-directed in his learning, this means that we are both discovering the power of agency – that feeling of freedom and choice. We can decide how we schedule our day and what we explore. We can be open and flexible and that feels good. And the exciting thing is that as we develop our sense of agency and we explore new skills, we build a sense of competence too.

BELONGING

We were very lucky that we connected with a local group of home educating families. We join their regular gatherings two days a week. With a range of ages from 10 – 15, all the young people have been so welcoming.

With Thomas’s help, I started sharing my French and Spanish skills one day a week offering an immersive languages day.  The young people have embraced this learning opportunity and every week I feel so energised. I feel so lucky to be able to spend time with these young people. They are all so different, so friendly and always willing to share. What I love the most about this group of adults and young people is that they are so life-giving and life-affirming. They have created a real safe space for us all to learn, grow and evolve.

I feel like I am also getting to know my own child. I am discovering who he is, what he likes and doesn’t like and what he stands for. Last week, Thomas and I commented on how we both feel that ‘we have found our tribe’ and how lucky we both feel to have access to this amazing community and self-directed learning hub. Everything in life is relational and interconnected and we can feel the real benefits of the sense of belonging and the positive relationships we are establishing with every single individual in the group.

PURPOSE

Over the last ten weeks, it feels like we have ‘freed’ Thomas. We have opened the cage and most importantly unclipped his wings. We are allowing him to explore new areas of interests. We are allowing him to stretch his wings and to see what they are for. He is discovering who he is and what he stands for. He currently thinks he might want to become an architect and so every week he attends a local architecture course, and he is loving it. He also takes part in a weekly woodwork workshop. These things wouldn’t have happened if he had stayed in school. It’s so wonderful as parents to watch our child flourish. His passion-led learning is enabling him to soar.

And it’s not just Thomas who is becoming a self-directed learner. I am also allowing myself to explore my own interests and to become in charge of my learning – this is a truly liberating experience.

It feels like we are both discovering what inspires us – our sense of purpose and passion: architecture, design and technology for Thomas, educational reform and the link between being self-directed and wellbeing for me.

Together we are discovering our preferences, through experience and we are taking action. Empowered to do so.

And of course, it’s still early days – we are only just starting on this new adventure, but I feel that we have the right ingredients to move forward. My professional research has shown me that it all starts with ‘flourishing’. We have the five wellbeing essentials in place: intrinsic motivation (purpose), sense of belonging, positive relationships, agency, and sense of competence.

I am sure the rest will follow…

 

Fabienne is an educator, author of The Flourishing Student and co-author of How to Grow a Grown up, wellbeing expert and parent of 2 boys aged 14.5 and 12. She will share her learning from 7 years of action research and hours of conversations on her Flourishing Education Podcast in order to empower all to become flourishing lifelong learners.

You can follow Fabienne’s journey as she connects with educational thought leaders in her weekly blog: https://flourishingeducation.co.uk/podcasts/

You can find her book here:

https://flourishingeducation.co.uk/book/ 

Keeping the Big Picture in Mind: Part 1

Keeping the Big Picture in Mind: Part 1

People home educate for different reasons. Some parents know before they even have children that they want to educate their children themselves, whereas others find themselves home educating because a school environment is simply not working for their child, or they believe they can provide their child with a more personalised, supportive approach. Regardless of what gets you started on the journey of home education, many parents find themselves uncertain of the best approach to use – should they try and retain the structure of school? Should they buy workbooks? Should they have a curriculum, and hold their child to government-imposed standards? Our reasons for home educating are often what defines our ideas about what that education should look like. If you’ve had time to prepare yourself and do a lot of research on home education, you may have a very clear idea of what approach to take, but very often we come to home education with preconceived ideas and stereotypes ourselves.

Understanding our ‘WHY?’ Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  1. Why have you chosen home education?
  2. Why do you follow the approach that you do?
  3. Why do you use the methods you use?

And the ‘WHAT?’

  1. What motivates us to home educate, or motivates us to home educate in the way we do?
  2. What drives us?
  3. What frightens us? What fears are shaping how we educate/raise our family?

When you spend some time exploring your WHY and your WHAT, you might find that there are some NEGATIVE MOTIVATIONS behind the approach you have chosen. Here are some examples:

  1. Pressure from friends and family – Do you find yourself making sure your child does certain types of work to ‘prove’ to others that they have “done schoolwork”?
  2. Fear of failure – Are you concerned that your child will ‘get behind’ and that others may criticise you if your child does not appear to be performing according to a school-defined standard?
  3. Comparison – Are there others around you that you compare yourself to whose children may be in school or home educated? Are you being drawn into unspoken ‘competition’ with others?
  4. Emotional “baggage” – Consider your own experiences, fears and regrets and whether they affect your educational approach
  5. Fear of authorities – Are you concerned about needing to prove yourself to your Local Authority, doctors, etc? Is this informing your educational choices?
  6. Feelings of inadequacy – Some parents are told they are ‘too thick’ to educate their own children successfully or have experienced educational failure themselves. This need not impact your ability to educate your own child.
  7. Desire to please others – This links to some of the other points above, but could result in you making certain choices because you are trying to make others happy.

It is really important for you and your family to ‘clean up’ your WHY so that you can make positive educational choices, uncorrupted by these negative motivations. It can be beneficial to examine these negative motivations and baggage we carry around with us, and work through some of our own issues. How we process these depends very much on personal beliefs, philosophies and upbringing, and sometimes we might even need someone we trust to help us. It can liberate us for the journey.

In this blog I hope to share with you some ways you can flip to POSITIVE MOTIVATIONS which will lead to a more positive approach that will be in the interests of your child and your family.

We are going to ask ourselves the questions:

  1. Where do you want to go?
  2. What is really important?
  3. What does success mean to you?
  4. What outcomes do you want for your children?

Some of you may have heard of this powerful demonstration:

A speaker stood behind a table on which were a large jar and a container of rocks. He filled the jar with rocks and asked if the audience thought the jar was full. When they replied “yes”, he took a box of pebbles from under the table, and managed to shake them into the jar, filling the spaces between the large rocks. Was the jar full? The audience replied “yes”. But the speaker produced a canister of sand, and was able to pour it between the gaps between the large rocks and pebbles. Finally, he showed that the full jar could hold even more by adding water to it. The moral of this demonstration is that you must put the big rocks in first! If you started out by putting pebbles, sand or water in the jar, the big rocks won’t fit! The ‘big rocks’ of life must be dealt with first or smaller things will crowd them out.

As a family you need to decide what your big rocks, pebbles and sand (and water) are, so that you can consign them to the correct place in the order of priorities. Here are some examples, although, of course they will differ for every family.

There are so many activities, interests, opportunities and problems vying for our attention that we can easily get sidetracked if we don’t focus on what we regard as most important. If you make sure you fit your ‘big rocks’ into your day you can ensure that they don’t get lost in all the busyness of life. They will form the foundation and help support the vision you grow for your family’s home education journey.

In Part 2, I will look at other factors that might shape your approach to educating your children.