IMAGINE LIVING DIFFERENTLY,
LEARNING, CREATING, GROWING ....
WITHOUT SCHOOLING.


Thursday, 24 May 2018

Home Ed Diary

Thursday
Before breakfast this morning, my youngest son was preparing a letter to send to his best friend. He had drawn a new character and was wanting to add some writing to his picture. He is reluctant to write and was asking me to write it for him according to his dictation. "Why don't you have a go?" I suggested, "I'm sure your friend would rather receive a letter written by you than by me." So he began writing, asking how to spell the words. We talked about spacing between words, capital letters and full stops to break up sentences.

One of the things I notice about my sons' learning is that it doesn't progress steadily, according to any logical programme, but will suddenly move forward leaps and bounds in a particular area, then plateau for a while. This year, my six-year-old's drawing has been developing dramatically, and today we saw the resultant development in his writing skills. As his fine motor skills have improved through his drawing, the easier writing becomes. Although he is still not keen on reading for himself, he is building an understanding of the way in which words, sounds and spelling hang together. For example, he has a good understanding of 'magic e' and the way this changes the sound of a word, as evidenced in the words 'like' and 'name' here in today's writing:


Most of this was completed before breakfast, but he came back to finish it late this afternoon, and was able to write the second section on the left independently simply replacing the word, 'good' with the word, 'bad'. I see his progressing skills in deciphering words and in writing here. Such progress always surprises me when it comes. Later in the day, he wrote the address on the envelope, too, found a stamp, went out front and put it in the postbox.

My eldest son had his first GCSE Maths paper this morning, and my second son was also in school, so after they had departed, the two younger boys and I got ready to go out to our Thursday morning co-operative learning group. Usually we are 12 children and 6 adults, but we only had half our usual numbers today, for one reason or another, and we had agreed to meet at a local National Trust property for a walk and a hot chocolate. 6 children aged 5-12 and 3 Mums, we explored the grounds and saw a brood of goslings and a large brood of ducklings, which was lovely. The children climbed trees and ran and chatted. We have enjoyed getting to know each other this academic year, and have seen the children begin to input and share ideas. As a group, we are looking at the way ideas spark and develop between autonomous learners in a small community. It is an interesting journey.


We had a break in the café for hot chocolate and refreshment and then walked down to the natural play area where the children played together and we had some discussion about plans for our group over the coming weeks. My 12 year old enjoyed chatting to the other Mums about the World Wars following on from his discussions with his Grandpa yesterday. One of the other Mums was once a history teacher and is very interested in all things historical. Her family have recently been to visit Northern Europe and toured the battlefields of World War One in this centenary year, so this has sparked some interest amongst our group which we may find developing further. One of the lovely things about our group is being able to chat, spend time with and get to know children other than our own.

It was late for lunch by the time the boys and I drove home, listening in the car to an audio book, "The Wind in the Willows". Over lunch, we finished our latest readaloud, "Anne of Green Gables" over lunch, and then littlest son and I looked at his latest Eco Kids magazine. We read about the critically endangered irrawaddy dolphins, and the lost cities hidden in the forests of Cambodia, located using LiDAR (Light Detection and Radar) Technology. My 12 year old finished watching the new Netflix "Anne With an E" series based on Anne of Green Gables, which he has been enjoying.

The older boys and my husband came home. My eldest seemed to have got on alright in his Maths paper, and tomorrow will be his last day of school. He has managed to get through his school career attending just 10 terms in this country in total. Tomorrow they will have a leavers' assembly for Year 11, but he isn't really bothered by any of the leaving hysteria because he hasn't been in school all the long years the other students have. My second son has his second GCSE English Literature paper tomorrow, so is doing some revision for that this evening.

Other than that, the boys are out in the garden playing together and with friends, riding and fixing their bikes (older two) and playing tennis and football (younger two).
Another lovely summer evening .....

Now we are curled up watching 'Ratatouille' after a comment over dinner reminded our youngest son of Remy the Rat Chef! Our second son talks like a chef ... He is a real foodie.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Home Ed Diary

Wednesday
Today was an unusual day as I had planned a while ago to drive up to the Peak District for a day's walking with a good friend of mine. The older two boys were at school today. Our eldest had two GCSE exams - Engineering in the morning, and Physics in the afternoon. So having dispatched them, the younger two boys and I got ready, and when my friend arrived, we headed off in the car. Halfway to the Peak District, I dropped the boys off with my parents for the day. The boys usually spend a day each week with their grandparents benefitting from the gifts and wisdom they have to share with them, as well as enjoying time together. This multi-generational input is one of the great enrichers of our home education.

My Dad loves history, and has happily imparted his knowledge to the boys over the years, mostly through stories and discussion which the boys absorb. It amazes us how much they remember. Today he and our 12 year old were discussing European history in the 25 years leading up to the First World War and the beginnings of modern Europe. They talked about the power blocks before 1914 and the build up to World War One, and the boy was really interested, apparently, bringing the subject up again later when they were in the car, and asking some further questions. Our 6 year old is moving through from the beginnings of British history, today meeting Hengist and Horsa and hearing how St Augustine brought Christianity to our island from Rome.

My Mum is an artist, and enjoys inspiring the boys' developing artistic abilities. Today, littlest painted a picture of the volcano in Hawaii, and talked about how he will do a house in the dark next time. He always has definite ideas about what he wants to do. The 12 year old is more open to input, and today painted a landscape of the Welsh hills, working on his watercolour technique. He is really enjoying watercolours at the moment.


My parents tell me our smallest boy played a lot with his new koala soft toy today, sliding him down the bannisters (another trajectory). He expressed again his desire to make some furniture for his teddy. The boys played together nicely with the soft toys today, and our 12 year old also played some tennis against the wall outside their house. They helped my parents with some gardening, and made a lovely lemon cake. There was a discussion in the garden about how the hosepipe had been left in the pond at the top of the garden, but detached from the tap at the bottom. The hose had siphoned off all the water in the pond at the top, and the water had drained away from the hose at the bottom. My parents saw this was an interesting scientific conversation about siphoning. Littlest son also worked with Grandpa in his workshop on a wooden box he is making.

As they often do, they all went for a walk at a nearby canal, and enjoyed their regular hot chocolate and shortbread. But whilst there, they observe the boats travelling through the locks, and are learning about the canals and the way the locks operate.

The boys came home with my husband after he finished work, and our 12 year old played tennis with friends at his tennis club this evening. Littlest son played some football in the garden, and then my husband took him with him to the supermarket to get some bits for dinner, and I arrived home in time to eat.

The boys were playing in the garden with friends and neighbours this evening before the younger two came in for a chapter of our current read-aloud, Anne of Green Gables, and a bit of the book they are reading together before heading off to bed. Our eldest son is still swotting up on his Maths for tomorrow's exam. Another day .... And the Peak District on a gloriously sunny May day was just beautiful.

The Decline of Play and Rise in Children's Mental Disorders

"By depriving children of opportunities to play on their own, away from direct adult supervision and control, we are depriving them of opportunities to learn how to take control of their own lives. We may think we are protecting them, but in fact we are diminishing their joy, diminishing their sense of self-control, preventing them from discovering and exploring the endeavors they would most love, and increasing the odds that they will suffer from anxiety, depression, and other disorders." - Peter Gray, Ph.D.

You can read the full article from Psychology today HERE.


Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Home Ed Diary

Tuesday
Today was a stressful day for my second son, who is 15 and now in Year 10. After just two full terms in school, having opted in to do GCSEs, he had his first exam - English Literature Paper 1, quite an ask for a first ever exam, particularly for a boy who is not really keen on reading and has minimal interest in English Literature. Still, he was willing to give it a go, but he came home very despondent in time for lunch, having sat the paper. I hate the system that makes my boy feel like that. I know he is not alone. So many young people feeling they just aren't any good. "All that time I have spent," he said, "preparing for that exam. And in the end it all comes down to those 105 minutes." Yes, that is the nature of this ridiculous system, my son. They do not see you, the naturalist and conservationist, the sporty guy you are, riding your mountain bike and socialising with your friends, playing your guitar like a pro, lost in music, or drawing on your iPad. They do not see your caring nature, your empathy, your willingness to help, your joy in the outdoors, your skill in the kitchen, your kindness to your brother. In emotional empathy you'd score high. But it all comes down to those 105 minutes. Today I am mad at the system all over again. We will all applaud and celebrate those that do well, that measure up in the 105 minutes .... But too many will not. And that is what makes the system wrong on too many counts. Do not be too discouraged, my son. I treat him to a McDonalds at his request to cheer him, and send him out on his mountain bike to enjoy the sunshine. Paper 2 on Friday, but we'll worry about that tomorrow!

Whilst he is in his exam, my oldest son has chosen to study at home again. He has two exams tomorrow, so is swotting up on Physics equations. He is one of those fortunate people who just seems able to remember things, but he is putting in the work. My third son, aged 12, wakes up with a list of things he has planned to do today. After breakfast, he settles down to some Maths. This year, he has chosen to follow an online Maths programme called Conquer Maths, which he enjoys working on independently. Whilst he is doing that, my smallest son and I go into the garden where we attempt to rig up a model cable car. This has been lent to us by a friend with whom I was discussing his current play with regard to schema. In recent weeks I have observed my 6 year old wanting to rig up a zip line for his teddy bears from our upstairs window down to the garden, which he and his brother did successfully. I have also observed him propping up some lengths of drainpipe and pouring water down.


If we observe our children's play carefully, we will see patterns which we can explore and encourage. If you are not familiar with the word 'schema', it "is generally used to describe patterns of repeated behaviour which children use to explore and express their developing ideas and thoughts through play and exploration." So begins the excellent book "Again! Again! Understanding Schemas in Young Children" by Stella Louis, Clare Beswick, Liz Magrew and Lisa Hayes (Edited by Sally Featherstone). I recommend it.


In their book, they identify some of the most common types of schema seen in children's play and exploration, and give suggestions as to how we can recognise and support schematic play. My friend and I discussed last week my son's trajectory schema, and she lent me the cable car to encourage and support his explorations. He enjoyed watching and helping me rig up this little cable car, which was fairly complicated. In the end, we got it working reasonably well, and he and his brother enjoyed winding some Lego minifigures up and down in the sunshine. They talked about ski lifts, and the possibility of building a Lego resort around the cable car, then considering how it might be possible to build a Lego cable car. My smallest son suddenly suggested he might like to make some furniture for his teddy bear .... Out of clay, or maybe out of wood. He thought perhaps this was something he could do with his Grandpa.


By this time, my second son had come home, quite despondent post-exam, and after leaving him alone for a while, I chatted to him about how he felt it had gone, and we talked a bit about exams and schooling etc. I asked what he might like for lunch to cheer him up, and he wanted a McDonalds meal. We live very close to a McDonalds, so his three brothers and I trooped up there and brought home McDonalds meals for them all. (Not for me, 1) because I try to avoid McDonalds as much as possible due to their use of single-use plastics, and 2) because I have joined Slimmer's World, and am trying to lose the weight I have gained from being unwell and inactive this winter. Jacket potato for me!)
After lunch, my 12 year old did some more of his chores, and the older two went off for a bit of a bike ride to get some fresh air and exercise. My smallest son and I sat out in the garden and looked at his new Eco Kids Magazine to which I have recently purchased a trial subscription. This months' edition is about the Mekong River. He especially liked hearing about the giant ray and catfish which inhabit the river, the largest freshwater fish in the world, because this ties in with his ongoing fascination with the oceans, sharks and underwater creatures. We talked a lot about the geographical location of the river and the threat to habitat and wildlife, and we constructed the little model white shouldered ibis included in the magazine.


After this, he came inside to play and look what he chose to do ....


Do you see the ongoing schematic pattern to his play? His 12 year old brother was by now sat at the computer continuing an epic piece of writing he is working on about his tennis hero, Andy Murray. After this, we had to pop out to Boots where I was very glad to find Apple Cider Vinegar in a glass bottle, something I have been looking for. My 12 year old was looking at some sportswear he has been saving up for, and my smallest son found a soft toy he wanted to spend some pocket money on. He was working out how much he had in his money box, how much I would need to lend him, how he would pay me back and how much change I would need to give him.

Now it was almost time for me to nip up to my Slimming group. The two younger boys watched a few episodes of Tinga Tinga Tales, which they love. They recognise echoes of Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories in these tales from Africa, and my smallest son has created a few of his own, narrated to me and illustrated himself.


Another tennis squad training session for my third son this evening, more physics equations for our eldest, chill out time for our second son and the littlest was busily improving his Lego watch tower from yesterday, talking all about it to our friend who came over for dinner. The boys played in the garden before sharing a story together, as I was busy, and then heading off to bed.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Home Ed Diary

I met someone at the weekend who asked me how a home ed week looks. Of course, that's a difficult question to answer because each week is different. That is the nature and freedom of alternative education. However, she said it would be helpful for her to see what we actually do day-by-day, hence today's post, the first in a series I will try to complete each day this week - Home Ed Diary ....

Monday
So, this weekend, my parents were taking a trip to visit my Auntie on the south coast, who has two grandsons, the older of whom is the same age as my youngest. So, they invited my littlest boy to accompany them, which he was glad to do. He has spent the weekend on the beach in the sunshine, making new friends and enjoying time with his grandparents. He won't be back until later this afternoon.

My oldest son (16) is off on study leave and studying here at home for his GCSE exams which he is in the midst of. He says he prefers to study at home than at school because it is too distracting, so is getting on with his revision here.

My 12 year old has been to his home ed swimming lesson this morning, which is half an hour, and has then gone with a friend to play tennis. It is such a gloriously sunshiney day, so nice for him to be able to get out and enjoy it. I have been doing the weekly online shop, and making soup for lunch. My 12 year old is a creature of habit and likes home made leek and potato soup for lunch on Mondays! He comes home from tennis to join us for lunch, and a discussion about healthy eating and BMI, during which we looked up our healthy weight range for our heights and talked about lifestyle choices with regards to food.

Monday afternoon is chore time in our home ed routine when we usually put on some music and get on with cleaning the house for an hour. The older three boys all have assigned chores and the youngest is apprenticed to his brother to assist. But he is not here, so two boys and I get on with some housework. My eldest hoovers the bedrooms, stairs and landing. The 12 year old cleans the downstairs loo and sink and does some laundry. He and I are bearing the brunt of chores this year as the others are so busy.

My oldest son has been asking for new shoes for a while, and asks if we can go and get them this afternoon. So, chores done, the three of us troop across to the Common to the store he works at and where we can now, therefore, enjoy a staff discount. He selects the shoes, and chats to some colleagues whilst his brother researches some sportswear he is saving up for. Percentage discounts are calculated and shoes purchased. We then walk back. Conversation centres on what my oldest son will be able to buy for himself once he is earning on his apprenticeship next year. My 12 year old is looking at the trees, picks up a leaf to identify in our spotter's guide at home. Having done that, he settles down to read his current book which he is keen to finish, 'Twist of Gold' by Michael Morpurgo. His older brother cycles off to meet a friend from school who is coming round to do some maths revision.

My parents arrive with my youngest son having driven back from the south coast. He is full of the super weekend he has had, and pretty swiftly heads out to the garden to paint a clay man he made last week. He gets out the acrylic paints, palette and brushes and gets on with this independently whilst my parents and I have a cup of tea together before they head on home.

The school crowd arrive home, and my oldest and his friend head down to our garden room to tackle a GCSE maths paper which they will later discuss with my husband, who is a maths teacher and has now arrived home, too. My second son comes in from his day at school, and heads out into the garden. Littlest is now busy with his Lego. Our washing machine has packed up, so I am trying to haul washing out to the line to drip dry in the sunshine. Somehow this leads to a conversation with my 12 year old about soap. Does all soap come from soap nuts? How is soap made? He looks it up on YouTube, watching several videos about how soap is made.

It is now time for him to head off to his tennis squad training session. Maths tuition continues in the garden room. Dinner is prepared. Washing is managed. The garden is watered. Lego construction continues. Everyone assembles for dinner. Afterwards, my second son disappears to watch Romeo and Juliet. He has his first ever GCSE exam in English Literature tomorrow morning. The rest of us clear away, and then my littlest son proudly shows me his Lego construction. It is a mini figure in a rotating watch tower. There is a ramp brick up to the tower which looks like lava. I ask him if he has heard about the volcano erupting in Hawaii. Maybe this minifigure is keeping watch over the volcano. Yes, he says, maybe they have a watchtower like this in Hawaii. We watch a few YouTube videos together about the eruption happening now in Hawaii and talk about that a little.


Time for youngest's shower, and then a read-aloud with his brother. We are currently reading "Anne of Green Gables" together, which is a favourite of mine. Then smallest goes to bed. The older boys are still busy with their own work. Our online shop arrives, and everyone helps unload the boxes and get the food put away in the kitchen. As the evening draws to a close, they sort themselves out with showers, and drift bedwards. One day in our home ed life. How much did we learn?

Thursday, 10 May 2018

On Exam Season

It's exam season, and this year we are feeling it in our house .... Our eldest son is about to sit his GCSEs - 15 exams over the next 5 weeks or so. And our second son, who opted to follow his brother into school in September, will be sitting GCSE English Literature in just a few weeks time. Two different boys, two very different learners. But just the looming shadow of exams brings home to me once more how much I hate and object to testing.


It is over eight years since I deregistered the boys from the school system which had so disappointed me. I deregistered an anxious boy from whose eyes the light of joyful learning had been extinguished, a boy who had learned to sit down and shut up, silencing his primary means of learning about the world, which is to ask questions. I deregistered too, with more qualms, his brother - just a year younger - who was compliant and what I would have called 'happy' at school. Except, it turns out, he wasn't. He was just compliant, which is not the same thing.

One of my chief objections to the schooling system was the culture of testing, the shadow of SATS, dominating the early summer skyline in primary schools up and down our country, seeping into the system and shaping the curriculum, the priorities, the focus. With numeracy and literacy at the forefront, the creative, artistic curriculum was being squeezed out. And headteachers, their staff and, ultimately, children, too, felt that ominous shadow keenly even then.

And so I opted out. Some people probably think this is a cop-out, that we need to remain within the schools, within the system to push for change. And I am glad there are people doing that. But if I had waited for that culture of testing to get better, for the pendulum of government policy to swing, which it inevitably must, surely, sometime soon .... If I had waited, it would have been too late for my children. For the system has only gotten worse in these past 8 years. If we hoped that the play-based philosophy of the early years would press upwards to reclaim Years 1 and 2, we would be disappointed to see instead the more formal, sedentary, test-oriented philosophy of Year 1 press downwards, now threatening to claim reception and even our nursery classes. It would have been too late for my children. And so I do not regret taking them out, and giving them the broad education all children deserve, free from the judgement of testing and performance ratings. I do not regret it. Because performance ratings have come to matter more than the mental health and wellbeing of teachers and children alike.

But now our boys are growing up, and we are facing GCSEs - and it feels just the same all over again, the sausage-factory exam machine is in full, glorious swing. And parents' evenings are all about working levels, outcomes and predicted grades, not really about our children. A curriculum is delivered to be learned and regurgitated for the purpose of the test. And I am appalled at the need in this modern age to learn quotes from numerous pieces of literature to be regurgitated on cue in the exam hall, which is great if you have a good memory, and an absolute nightmare if you do not. Or your mind goes blank. Because you're just not too good in an exam situation. Or you get stressed. Or your gifts are in other areas. Tough luck. The measuring sticks are out. How will you measure up? And how will you compare to your peers?

That is my objection. Children are not commodities to be so processed and measured. They are unique human beings, each with their own particular strengths and gifts, each deserving their chance to shine. And I do not believe our current system provides that opportunity, no matter how old they are.

These past two days, my oldest son had refused to go to school because he wants to study for his exams in his own way. He finds the organised revision sessions in the classroom distracting, not helpful. He has his own study plan, and he just wants to get on with it. So what do I do? I am not prepared to fight him at this stage, to get him into school - What would I be fighting him for? Rather he needs my support, so that he can study in the way that he deems best for himself. He knows the way he works. But schools want control. They have a responsibility. Gone is any trust, such as was exhibited by the study leave I had when I did my GCSEs almost thirty years ago. I know study leave might not suit all students .... But could it not be acknowledged that it will suit some? Can we not move away from this one size fits all? Because it never will.

As we navigate this exam season, there is one big difference and that is that the boys are sitting GCSEs by consent. They are at school by consent because that is the way they have chosen to tackle this stage of their education. But for younger children, there is no consent about school or about SATs. They are passive recipients of a test-driven curriculum, rather than active participants in their own education. Education is being done to them, and to that I still, and will continue to, object.

In Praise of Apprenticeships


What we need in education is to move away from the one-size-fits-all conveyor belt. What we need is choice and diversity so that different children with their differing talents, needs and interests can access education which is suited not only to their age, but to their aptitude and ability. For this reason, I welcome the resurgence in apprenticeship opportunities for young people.

At 16, staying on at school is not going to be the preferred option for all, or even most, youngsters. Continued academic study, and the ongoing path to University, will not be the right path for everyone. It is a particular concern that young people drift towards University without any real idea of what they want to do at the end of their course, nowadays accruing huge debt before they even commence their working life.

An apprenticeship combines practical training in a job with ongoing study, and there are a whole range of opportunities on offer - from food to farming, hairdressing to hospitality, engineering to education. As an apprentice, a young person gets to work alongside experienced staff, gain job-specific skills, earn a wage and get holiday pay and time for study related to their role. Apprenticeships take 1 to 5 years to complete, depending on their level, and can be applied for from the age of 16. It is good to see that some apprenticeships have no academic entry requirements, which is great news for so many young people who may have great personal and practical skills which are not reflected in formal academic exam results.

My eldest son was all set to stay on at the engineering academy he has attended since September 2016 to do his A-Levels. He had the place conditional on his GCSE results, and was considering a degree-apprenticeship after A-Levels, at age 18. However, rather last minute, his attention was drawn to an apprenticeship at WMG - The Warwick Manufacturing Group, a place he had become familiar with through his work with the F1 in Schools project in which he had achieved such success. He decided this kind of work-based, real life, project-based learning would be a far more preferable route forward for him than remaining in the classroom. So he decided to apply.

Last week, he had his interview. My only job was to get him to the building on the University campus for 11.00. This is normally a 10 minute drive. We left half an hour, to ensure he was there in good time. It was absolutely pouring with rain, and unfortunately, a car had overturned on the dual carriageway near our house. We ran into gridlock. There was nothing to do but crawl along in the traffic jam, and make a huge loop of a diversion during which time I tried not to let my stress show. My son didn't seem too perturbed, and phoned them from the car to explain and to say he would probably be unavoidably late. I dropped him off at the door, with some relief at 11.02.

In spite of this drama, he felt the interview went as well as it could have done. He presented a portfolio of his engineering work over the years, and his predicted grades for GCSE. He chatted about his projects, and the experience of F1 in Schools and designing the Fastest Car at the World Finals last year. He is an accomplished engineer. He didn't think he could have said or done any more than he did. And so we waited two days for their decision.

It is a great joy and delight to me that he was given an unconditional offer for an apprenticeship starting in September. WMG is at the cutting edge of research, education and technology, working with organisations such as Airbus, Arup, AstraZeneca, BAE Systems, GlaxoSmithKline, Jaguar Land Rover, Network Rail, Rolls-Royce, Siemens, TATA Motors, TATA Steel, and TVS Motors to tackle major challenges and opportunities, connecting with businesses, students, and government organisations worldwide, believing in innovation and cooperation to overcome shared global challenges. It is a wonderful thing that my son, the engineer, will be able to learn and work in such a dynamic environment amongst others who share his passion for engineering. It is a wonderful thing that he is thriving in his area of gifting and enthusiasm. It is wonderful that this project-based learner, having spent only 9 terms in British classrooms in his school career, will be able to work and learn in an innovative environment which will value his quirkiness, indeed welcome it.

I am excited for the next chapter in his ongoing life of learning. It is a delight to see our children achieve in their area of passion and expertise. And the fact he will be earning from September is an added bonus.