I had forgotten just how time-consuming it is caring for a new baby, and our little one seems to like being permanently fastened to my breast - or at least in arms! Fortunately there are many arms willing to take him - his brothers remaining keen to hold him. So how can home education work when I am so busy with babycare? I suppose I am reminded again of the importance of a rounded, wholehearted education, of which care of younger siblings can be an important part. I am convinced that my eldest son, in particular, is a far more compassionate person than he would be were he in school, and it is great for the boys to be able to develop a bond and a relationship with their youngest brother. Were they in school they would see very little of him. I am also reminded that my aims for the boys are not about me, but about developing independent, self-motivated learners with initiative. It cannot all depend upon me.
Last week, my husband and I took our eldest son to look round our nearest boys' grammar school. Why?
Well, I was curious ... but also we are getting to the time where we must begin to consider his secondary education and, for us here, one option is to enter him for the 11+. I thought that in viewing the school, he might see something he liked, something he would really enjoy and could aspire to. I think that, if he decided he wanted to, he could pass the 11+. But it would require that intrinsic motivation and determination that I cannot produce for him. So much of our educational systems are measured according to the teaching, but learning has far more to do with the learner. Our eldest is quite an academically minded, bright boy. He is also very sociable. So I just thought we should explore the options with him.
I thought he might see things we cannot offer in home education, things which would appeal to him. I was impressed with the DT workshops and the noticeboards telling us all about trips overseas! We were shown round by two Year 7 boys, who pointed out the science labs and the playing fields, amongst everything else. I thought our son might come out saying positive things, instead he began telling me all the reasons home education is better than school, and how we can accomplish the same things, and better, ourselves.
I confess that continuing through the secondary years is daunting, and yet I cannot help feeling in my heart that he is right. We were looking at the best that school can offer, and yet I was not blown away. It was still a school with all its confines and limitations. And having broken out of the box, why would we choose to go back in? Is it even possible? We will be thinking through all our options, including continuing with home education, because we want what is best for him. He is the child I find hardest to direct, and often I feel he is coasting. I am sure he would coast even more in school, but if he is bored, he can be a challenge. If motivated and engaged, he can be wonderful. I suppose I am concerned that I will not be able to adequately meet all the boys' differing needs. The span of ages is a challenge.
The daily 'to do today' lists which I mentioned below are a way of differentiating, and enable each child to take control of their own learning, doing what they can independently, with me giving each one my time when I have opportunity. So, when the baby is feeding or sleeping, I can read to one of the older ones, or help them with some tricky maths. 15 minutes of focused input one-on-one can be as valuable as a much longer period in a crowded school classroom.
I have also been encouraged by my parents' input and enthusiasm for continuing in our home educating journey. They have each boy individually for a morning or afternoon a week, and we have been discussing weekly activities they can do with each child to make the most of their valuable time with them. My middle son came home today having cooked a 2-course meal for his grandparents, and having started work on a Viking ship model, which supports what he has been learning through history and literature readings with me. He also has plans for a vegetable patch which we are preparing in our garden, and my Mum is a great source of inspiration for this project. My eldest son this week made a wooden chest with a lock in Grandpa's workshop, and also started work on a model beam engine. Our third son, who is 6, had been in the garden with Grandpa and was studying the ladybirds. So they decided to look up ladybirds on the Internet and print out some pictures, which he has since made into a book. Some of this learning happens spontaneously and autonomously. We respond to a question or an interest at the moment it occurs. Other tasks are planned or guided, but will often still reflect a child's current interests. However the learning happens, I am very glad there are a number of us committed to and involved in the process with our boys - especially at the moment.
I am also concerned that we are not out and about enough. Small boys need fresh air! Admittedly, they are outside more than me - be it playing with their friends in the street after school, at one of their clubs or activities - accompanied by my husband or a grandparent if necessary - or at a friend's house. But I am feeling I need to get out and about again - and that is a daunting prospect. At least I can drive again now! And the wet weather recently hasn't made staying inside so very unattractive. Our weekly nature walks have been replaced with an episode of David Attenborough's 'Life' series on cable which isn't quite the same, but is still not a bad use of an hour and can spark their curiosity and interest.