Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Could Home Education be the answer?

At a time of increasing pressures on local and national government to keep providing us with services despite the cuts that have and are being made, a new problem in schools has arisen. Just before the recent downturn in our economy, there was a baby boom. In fact, numbers of children being born is still rising. Those children are now requiring school places and placing a huge demand on schools and local authorities. This is not wrong of course, but is causing a prolonged headache for larger cities like Bristol, Birmingham and London. A recent BBC NEWS article has outlined the problem.

Every child in England and Wales is entitled to a place at school. The LA has to provide this for every child. What do they do however when there is simply not enough room for all the children. There can only be 30 children to one teacher in a classroom and with a shortage of teachers and strict rules about building, in some cases there just won't be enough physical space.

I, and other home educators I would guess, can't help wondering if home education could be the answer.

I'm not in anyway suggesting that home ed is the magic solution. I should imagine that it would be an LA's worst nightmare in fact. It's also not right for every family, just as school isn't right for some others. However, perhaps if more people knew about it and knew about how amazing the support network is, those who may have been thinking about it, would give it a go.

I speak to lots of mums who say things like "I'd love to do it but I wouldn't be disciplined enough / I'm not clever enough / my house is too small / I find it difficult to find things to do in the holidays etc" To all those people I say, look a bit deeper into it, spend some time with a home educating family, join some support groups. It's a great way of life for those who have chosen to go down this road and it would possibly help with the current school place crisis.

This is in no way meant to make those who send their children to school feel bad. Your children are entitled to a place at school and I firmly believe that it is the LA's responibility to provide. Provide they will, it just may not be in an ideal way for some families. It is to those families that I have written this to.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Who needs Rome?

With the wonderful city of Bath just 20 minutes away from us, we decided to go and visit the Roman Baths today to find out why water played such an important role in the development of Bath. It was a fabulous day and the boys learned so much about the importance of water in shaping one of the most beautiful cities on the planet.

The best bit? We have family ticket that lasts for 3 years! We're all very much looking forward to going back and learning more about the Romans. It's a fantastic way to spend a few hours.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Water water everywhere...

This week we've started a topic on water. I'm thinking its going to go on for a while as we're having such a good time. We started out on monday by ust thinking about where water comes from and what we use it for. The boys made spider diagrams (of sorts).

Note the obligatory wizard and power ranger costumes!

We've also made rain using shaving foam and blue food colouring. The pictures are quite self explanatory.

Today a package arrived. I spent some money at Crafts4kids and amongst my goodies was this weather station.

We're really looking forward to checking on it over the next few days.

In amongst all this we've been to a musical home ed group, read some watery poems and decorated them and we've discovered Geocaching. Phew! It's only wednesday!!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012


School maybe an unusual topic to find on a home ed blog, and yet school and home ed are so closely linked that I don't feel my blog would be complete without some reference to it.

Like anything, if you've decided to do something different to the norm, it's likely that you have deeply considered the norm and why you want to do differently. This post is not about the reasons that I home educate my children. There are too many of those for one post and I may tackle some of the others at another time. However, school is obviously one of my reasons and one that I have been thinking about a lot.

My last rambling post was about the journey we're on and the places we've visited. I'd like to come back to that and analogy because school is one of the places we've visited.

George 1 was at school for 3 years and one term before we finally made the leap. George 2 went for just one term in reception. Both enjoyed aspects of school, both disliked aspects. Of course they did! Isn't that the same with any part of our lives? There are bound to be things we love and hate about life.

So what about school made me decide to Home educate?

School obviously provides social experiences and opportunities that can be found no where else - except perhaps prison (as was pointed out by the headteacher of the school they attended) I have worked in a prison and I fully understand where he was coming from when he said that, what I failed to understand was why I would think that is a good thing. As a home educating parent, I now have to provide ALL of my children's social experiences. However, they are never prison like in their nature. I'm not saying that school is like a prison (although the 10ft fences are perhaps making them more so), however in terms of socialisation, its a fairly false social environment. Every day children only see the same group of people. They may be friends or enemies, but every day they must spend 6 hours with those people.

There are many many many issues around curriculum and what teachers are expected to do and what children are expected to achieve. I dislike routine testing and this really was one of the key reasons why I decided to home educate. The job of a teacher has now become impossible. I have great admiration for those teachers who enter the profession with a view to changing the world. However, there's a lot wrong with the system, accepted by government officials, parents and teachers who all want to see change but no one knows what the change is meant to be.

There are two key issues that I can see which make the system fundamentally flawed.

The first is the National Curriculum. Who ever decided that children can only learn about The Great Fire of London in KS1 and Brunel in KS2? What a shame this is. When you home educate the law states that you must educate your child full time according to their 'age, ability and aptitude'. This is completely lost within the schooling system however. The fluid nature of home ed means that I can teach a topic to 4 children of different ages and abilities, and each will get out of it what they are capable of understanding. We can then repeat this topic a few years down the line and once again, they will get out of it what they are capable of understanding. For example, we looked at the water cycle this morning. George 2 understood that steam is water, George 1 worked out that this is how clouds form and then went on to do an elaborate water boiling/evaporation experiment. Had a teacher tried to do this second part with George 2 he wouldn't have followed or been interested in it. However, with only one shot at learning the principle, he may never understand. I can come back to this in a few years when George 3 is ready and George 2 will get more, maybe George 1 will be interested in different types of clouds by then or why clouds form over the sea and drop rain over land. Home ed make learning so much more natural. Schools cold easily adopt a similar system if they weren't so tightly regulated.

The second issue that I see with school is parents. I'm not trying to be offensive or antagonistic here, but parents expect schools to do too much. Most parents would say that their children go to school to learn. They learn English, maths, history, geography etc etc. However, an increasing amount of time is now given over to teaching children about life and helping them to become the next generation of fully fledged citizens. Shouldn't parents be able to teach their children about voting, employment, friendships, relationships, moral behaviours. It was the schools who were blamed for the riots last summer across the UK. It's schools who now have to cover careers advice since connexions was shut down.

There is little time for teachers to do these things and cover the basic educational needs of the children. Therefore, children are leaving school knowing how to take drugs safely and what to do if there's an overdose (no talk of not taking drugs in the first place), how not to get pregnant or catch an STI, but many of them still don't know how WW1 started or how to do long division. Yet ask most parents and they'll tell you that those are the things they think their children are learning.

I truly believe that parents need to take back the responsibility for their child's education. I'm not suggesting for one minute that we should all home educate - it's certainly not for everyone, and I may have taken back my responsibility in a rather dramatic way, but we need to be parents and teachers need to be teachers. That way, perhaps both homes and schools can be more successful.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Brunel Day

I have been so excited about looking at the work Isambard Kingdom Brunel did in the south west. We have a lot locally to remind us of his legacy. I am particularly excited about the school trip we will make next week - but more on that when it happens.

So today we started off by looking at some images of Brunel and from the pictures we worked out that he built railways, bridges and ships. Today we concentrated on the Great Western Railway which runs from Bristol to London Paddington, and the Clifton Suspension Bridge which spans the Avon Gorge in Bristol.

The boys got the wooden train set out and set about building their railway.

This is taken from the north so Bristol is on the right. The resplendent Box tunnel aka Pampers box near Bath is decorated with lots of trees

George 2 was even motivated to write the place names

We then set about building the Clifton Suspension Bridge. This as so much fun. We built ours using straws, masking tape and dental floss. The idea came from Building Big. We learnt about engineering and force. George 1 even did some money counting! Once the towers were up, we hung a plastic cup off the bridge and put coins in it. It held £10 in pound coins and 50ps before it collapsed.

When we added the dental floss suspension wire, it became almost indestructible.

It even looks pretty good I think

I was able to hold George 1's wallet which weighed 480g. DadaSmu suggested that we move the weight from the centre, to the edge. It immediately collapsed of course. Then George 1 asked how that works in reality as cars don't just go in the middle of the bridge. We discussed supporting wires and weight distribution.

This has been a really good activity and we've covered a lot of areas of learning including history, geography, maths, science, literacy, art. I feel very satisfied today

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The trial has ended

When I started this journey, I gave myself 6 months as a trial. I de-registered after the October half term and I set Easter as our trial period. Some of it was to save face I think in case it didn't go well. It was also so that I didn't have to think about it again until this point. I'm glad I did that. I'm glad because it gave me an end date to work towards. I'm glad because it stopped me constantly asking the boys if they were happy or threatening to send them back. (I'll be honest though, there were a few instances of that early on) So, where are we now? We're still very much on the journey of a lifetime without a map. We're travelling through unchartered waters and discovering new places all the time. We've already discovered several new worlds. The key one being the world of us. We've grown together as a family in ways that I couldn't have dreamed. Instead of getting on each others nerves as some might expect, the opposite has in fact happened. We've become tolerant of each other. I have developed more patience than I thought I could ever have. (I'm not perfect I hasten to add and I can still lose that patience occasionally)The boys have developed a greater respect for family rules. Simple changes have occurred that have made life infinitely better. For example, putting rubbish in the bin instead of on the floor. That's been a wonderful change. They're also more conscious of money. They rarely ask for things now. The odd ice cream when we're out but nothing much more. Their behaviour when we're out has also improved. There's less madness and more interest in where they are. I feel like I've reclaimed my wonderful little boys. George 1 was at school for 3 years and I always felt like I didn't know who he was. For 6 hours a day he was in this secret world, doing things I had no idea about and midway through reception, my beautiful boy was left there and this monster came to live with us. We've since found the lovely boy again. Yes, the world of us is definitely the best place to be. Another world that we've discovered but have yet to really start exploring, is the world of learning. I get the feeling that we could spend a lifetime visiting this place and never get to see the whole of it. It's an exciting world, one that when we first started visiting, we were all a bit frightened of. So many paths to take, so many methods of travel. We tried structured, it was quite simply too soon and we didn't get far. We tried autonomous, it was chaotic and we kept getting lost. Now we're trying a combination of the two. The boys name their topic of interest and I direct them to aid discovery. It's working well for now and when I look at how much we've discovered on a daily basis, I realise that we're getting along just fine. Occasionally we leave the world of learning to visit the world of us (or is that the other way around?)and gain strength from being together. So, where does that leave us at the end of this trial? It leaves us still travelling. Still laughing, still tolerating and most importantly still learning. We're going to continue on this journey together. The six of us plus my Mum who plays a major role. Along the way we'll hitch a lift with others and hopefully be able to offer lifts to someone else. It's so exciting to be doing this. So exciting to see where we go from here. We quite simply don't even have time to discuss school now. We've got three exciting topics to study over the next few months. We'll see where they lead us and what we find along the way. Thank you to everyone who is supporting us on our journey. We know you're there for us and we feel uplifted by your support.