Tag Archives: home education

Responsible Homeschooling

I had an unsettling conversation this week with a young woman, a survivor of fundamentalist evangelical religion, who was homeschooled in the US, against her will, in such a way as to severely hamper her life chances due both to the paucity of the education, and the fact that – as anti-government fundamentalists – her parents had failed to obtain any documentation for her, including even birth certificate or social security number.

The discussion thread where this exchange took place was eventually shut down as it turned a little bit nasty, with all the homeschool parents defending their decision and defending homeschooling generally as superior to public (state) schooling, and all the damaged homeschool children shouting that the parents had no right to comment on the children’s stories.

I’ll admit that it did bring out the defensive in me. I remember, years ago, fighting battles to protect the rights of home educating parents in the UK against a government that was claiming it needed extra powers due to the risk of home education being used as a cover for abuse generally or child marriage specifically.

We won that last round of the battle, by showing that firstly the government and local authorities already have perfectly sufficient powers to act to protect children, and secondly that the allegation of home education being used to cover up child marriage was nonsense, since that particular abuse was being visited upon schooled children who were simply being taken abroad during the summer holidays.

Here is the thing though. I have no doubt that children are being abused under the cover of home education by religious fundamentalists in the UK even though the law is sufficient to prevent physical abuse, and here is why.

The kind of abuse that is most likely is neither viewed as abuse nor legally defined as abuse. The abuse is forcing children to be schooled in a way to which they do not consent.

Legally, children do not need to consent to education, either at home or at school. I’m sure that it’s clear that many if not most children who go to state school do not consent to it, and many would choose not to if they had a choice. But they do not have a choice.

School does not suit every child, and it is crucially important to have a legal alternative to school. Equally, home education does not suit every child and it is vitally important that parents do not force children to stay at home if they want to go to school.

I absolutely support responsible home education (although defining what constitutes ‘responsible’ warrants further discussion, as the option for unschooling or education which does not need to traditional qualifications needs to be taken into consideration), and I absolutely do not support any kind of home education which employs coercion or keeps children at home against their will.

It is important that we take these stories of homeschooled children seriously, and that we taken them on board when considering what kind, if any, regulation should be in place, whilst at the same time being aware that most parents protect the best interests of their children, and government regulation is often a very blunt instrument that can do more harm than good.

What is the best way to ensure children are safe? It is a continuing discussion. But I suspect that encouraging integration is helpful. One of the allegations made against us was that our children were “hidden”, but again we showed the claim to be false – we are out and about and in the world far more than schooled children.

One of the homeschooling mothers in the discussion mentioned that the state of Ohio has an open policy which enables homeschooled children to access all kinds of classes and resources through the schools. Sadly, the way things are set up in this country means that unless a child is registered at a school (and therefore under the school’s authority), we cannot access anything at all, despite the fact that we pay our taxes to fund schools in exactly the same way as other parents do.

Flexi-schooling is a rarely available compromise which requires the parents to register their children at school, but which allows them leave to attend part-time or intermittently. Sadly it is rare because it is not a right in law, but is up to the discretion of the head of the individual school. Some parents, additionally, are reluctant to register their children since it effectively means giving up authority.

Ultimately, it seems to me that the biggest problem lies in government viewing parents as the enemy (and obviously fundamentalist parents view the government as the enemy). It would be far more helpful if we were able to work together to make resources available for the benefit of all children – both those who thrive at school, and those who do not.

 

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Archive Post: Schome and Funny Things they Say

Ten years ago, we were involved with a group called Schome, a department of the Open University who were (and undoubtedly still are) researching alternative models of education. For that reason, they were terribly interested in home educators at the time, and invited us to share how and what we were learning.

My blog, or ‘bliki’ as it was called as it was on a wiki website, is here:

http://www.schome.ac.uk/wiki/User:Lillbjorne/bliki_2006

I found a little note in my archives called “Funny things they say” which recorded my eldest’s reaction to the PDA which Schome lent us in exchange for a review:

“Well, I think it’s a marvellous piece of technology, if only we could get it to work” (Dragon-tamer)

Truly, it wasn’t terribly successful, and you may remember that I have written about technology in education before. Certainly, all my attempts to encourage my children to use educational technologies and social media were met with less than enthusiasm.

As a proponent of non-coercive education, I think this is the crucial thing: if they’re curious and they find the technology useful, they will use it and benefit from it. But if we make them use it when they have no curiosity or innate desire to make use of it, they will not get the full benefit but may find such tools burdensome and not freeing. The same, of course, is true of books and reading and indeed any subject.

Basic plans Autumn 2016

I thought I would share my basic plans. This is our initial timetable (the times are flexible, just a guideline, and to be honest, the lessons end up being much shorter than the hour I’ve allowed):

The first session is “Morning Time” which includes all of the subjects on the top line, a little each day, but those listed will be our “focus” subjects to make sure none get left out. The Times seem to have got cut out of the photograph, but that should be 9:00 am.

Then Maths and English every day at 10:00 am, followed by history, geography or science at around 11:00 am. Wednesday has always been our traditional science day with experiments and a nature walk, whatever the weather, and then French or art/ design which will alternate at around 12:00, and lastly an outdoor activity in the afternoon including some spaces for different options (like beach!). In between are breaks and lunch, obviously.

The timetable is sketched out in my Bullet Journal – I can’t really do pretty and creative planning, but I’m enjoying using it for notes.

Then, for my day-to-day weekly notes are in an Erin Condren teacher planner  (you may know that I am a planner addict, and Erin Condren is one of my favourites which I have used a few years in a row):

I have made a bit of a mess of this page, and I don’t use the rows per day (I might cover them up with stickers at some point), it is just a list of subjects to cover over the course of a week, and I have an insert listing the order of the day.

It may change, it may not work, but one of the advantages of home education is that you can respond very quickly and re-work your plans if needs be.

What are your plans this year? Are you a planner addict, or do you enjoy “pretty planning”? What do you use?

Happy new year!

Welcome to September! Another month, another term, another year! Somehow I seem to be starting my 18th year of home education! 

This year I’m teaching (or is it facilitating? I still haven’t worked that out!) Baba Zonee (B.Z.) who is now 13 and Pony-rider who is now 16.
Pony-rider wasn’t expecting to be at home this year – she was assured by two separate schools that she was welcome on a catch-up GCSE year leading into sixth form and A Levels, and both schools subsequently turned around and realised that the funding wouldn’t be there so neither would the places be. That has left us with a quandary – what to do?

There are other colleges, but that would mean travel in the wrong direction (or at least the opposite direction to her dad and brother – it would mean I have a 2 hour round trip every morning and afternoon, with carschooling B.Z. – certainly not my favourite option),  or we could start studying GCSEs from home and sit as external students. That is probably what we will need to do, but we weren’t expecting to have to do this. It seems that we can’t do the subjects that Pony-rider wanted to do from home, and I feel completely unprepared.

We’re also just beginning to gear up for yet another house move – our 5th (or 7th if you count the three months we lived in emergency accommodation after being flooded out of our rental property – actually the emergency place was 10 times nicer than the place we were renting but that’s an aside) and hopefully our final move!

I can’t wait to be finally settled but I have a niggling feeling that it will be too late for our home education. We have had more than 5 years of almost constant disruption, chronic ill health and stress. I’d like to be able to say that I’m now an expert at home educating through crises and chronic stress but in fact I think it’s more a case of just barely surviving by the skin of my teeth.

Next time I’ll share some of the resources we’re using, and some of the things we plan to study this year (just as soon as we’ve worked it out for ourselves). 🙂

What are you doing this year? Are you new to home education or are you a seasoned veteran?

Phonics Fun

alphabats

Dragon-tamer caught the reading bug early. After learning the alphabet with a little help from the Alphabats books, all I had to do really was read a lot to him, help him learn a few sight words with Ladybird Key Words, and by book 4a he was off into the brave new world of easy-readers.

Pony-rider, on the other hand, has been a little bit more complicated to teach. In addition to trying the Ladybird Key Words reading scheme, we’ve used Alphabats, Letterland, Jolly Phonics (lots of Jolly Phonics, in fact: Board books, to introduce the letter sounds, the Phonics Handbook, and the Jolly Phonics ‘Read and See’ series – two packs of books with 12 titles in each: quite cute, but not enough to tempt her…). We tried Sonlight’s “I Can Read It” (what was I thinking of? Thorough, certainly, but nowhere near high-interest enough, at least as far as illustrations are concerned!). I even looked into Ruth Miskin books and Debbie Hepplethwaite’s “Synthetic Phonics” (current favourite of the UK National Curriculum people) but it didn’t seem to offer anything new. Finally, and reluctantly, after many recommendations, I thought I would try “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons”.

Not only does this US scheme use small print in so many colours it makes me feel dizzy, it infuriatingly tells me exactly what I must say to the child. I can’t stand it! Neither can Pony-rider, although Motor-biker who is almost 2 years behind her absolutely loves it! The ‘say-it-fast’ concept really appeals to him, and he has no trouble now with the idea of blending letters together into a word.

Hmm. Now we have a problem: Pony-rider’s self-esteem has taken a blow, and although I have always tried to avoid making learning to read a big issue, the fact that Motor-biker is fast over-taking her is not popular! So I’ve been on the lookout again for something new. What I’ve found is My World’s “Now I’m Reading” by Nora Gaydos and illustrated by BB Sams. (Another US programme, so watch out for different spellings, not to mention alternative words: ‘Rooster’ for ‘Cockerel’, and ‘fox kit’ instead of ‘fox cub’.) We have the ‘pre-reader’ set, aimed at ages 3-6, which comes in a cute case with 10 books and a set of 40 stickers.

Presumably, this ‘pre-reader’ set is designed for the parent to read to the child rather than for the child to read, but Pony-rider is absolutely smitten! She read right through the whole set the first day I showed it to her, totally without my prompting! The other sets are as follows: level 1: short-vowel sounds, basic consonant sounds; level 2: long vowel sounds, reinforcement of set 1; level 3: consonant blends, double consonants; level 4: multi-syllable words & compound words and finally, Independent: high interest topics, using previous skills. The blurb on the back says: “the greatest success comes from a balance of phonics and literature-based reading: Now I’m Reading! ™ successfully combines both to build confident, independent readers”. Well, I’m amazed, but I have to concur! I’m not sure that we’ll bother with the other sets though…

 

This post was originally posted on the Svengelska Hemskolan blog, and while this is a good few years old and we encountered more hurdles and pitfalls on the road to reading, this is a good reminder that each child is different, and home education affords the possibility of tailoring your approach and resources to their individual needs and styles of learning.

Balancing Curriculum with Interests

unschool bus

In our more than 15 years of home education, we have moved through various seasons of more and less formal learning. We never quite qualified as bona fide unschoolers (although I was quite attracted to radical unschooling as a philosophy) but nor did we fully qualify as traditional homeschoolers, since we often had very relaxed periods and largely went with the flow depending on the children’s interests, but with formal book-learning available as a foundation.

This post, originally posted on the Svengelska Hemskolan blog, details the ebb and flow of projects-based learning in this flexible framework.

“If anyone asks, we use Sonlight curriculum, which is an American, literature-based curriculum. Originally designed for American ex-pats and missionaries, with a ‘big world’ focus. In practice, we often go off at tangents to study areas of interest which capture the children’s imagination, or to cover UK history, or (more often than not) because I’ve been snared by other literature selections (Ambleside Online, Tanglewood, Winter Promise, to name but a few) and can’t resist adding to our library.

Sonlight grade 5 which I’m using with Dragon-tamer is entitled “Eastern Hemisphere” or “Non-Western Cultures”, and as part of our Sonlight studies, we’ve looked at the Pacific Islands, Antarctica, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, North and South Korea and China.

The way I deal with this cross-curricular study which,, being aimed at grade 5 and designed to be suitable primarily for ages 11 or so+, is to break it up into areas of study (easy with Sonlight 5 as it is already neatly divided into countries, but I’ve done it with the lower grades too) and do projects, themes or ‘unit studies’ so that all the children can get involved to whatever degree they’re interested. In addition to reading Sonlight’s literature selections, we take out additional books from the library, we make maps, sometimes 3D models, dress up in national costumes, cook and eat traditional foods, sometimes write little books or make lapbooks and other incidental activities.

Some of these projects have been really popular, especially with the younger children; notably, Australia and New Zealand. Dragon-Tamer was particularly interested in Japan (and scared me for a while talking about wanting to learn Japanese!) Others I have really struggled to get any interest going. Hence, I realise, Sonlight 5 (designed as a one-year curriculum) has now taken us 2 years, and we are only on week 18 (out of 36 – a US school year)! I have been talking for months about finishing up on our China project and moving on to the next projects, but for some reason we’ve all really dragged our feet. We still haven’t finished all the Sonlight books on China (though at the beginning we took extra books out from the library). Right now we’re reading a biography of Eric Liddell – Olympic champion and missionary to China. All the books have been fine and good and we’ve enjoyed them, but somehow I don’t think I can face another book about China! Should we skip the rest, save them for later, or take a(nother) break from Sonlight?

When a friend suggested doing a project on Rivers (which, actually I had wanted to do for years but for some reason had never got round to) I jumped at the chance! I have spent most of my free moments over the last weekend brainstorming and planning how we might cover a Rivers Project. We have one of England’s longest rivers running close by, my maps are prepared, and I’m keen for any plan of study that will take us on a trip to the sea! Ah, but now Pony-rider has announced that she actually wants to do a project on South America, please, so it looks as though the river we’ll be looking at is the Amazon. Okay, back to the drawing board…”

And so we proceeded to develop a new project of our own on South America that created memories that still resonate with us all even today.

It is possible to purchase a pre-packaged, prepared unit study that has joined all the dots and made all the connections between the subjects for you. But we found that this kind of fluid way of learning suited us well, and when you see the ‘dots’ and make the ‘connections’ for yourself, the information is that much more deeply learned and remembered.

john holt quote

Looking forward

Hi people 🙂 A happy post for a change. I’m feeling good!

I have been so down for so long. All the heaviness of the past few years just heaped up on me and I was so weighed down I couldn’t get up. There is obviously a situational basis for my misery – I had the most miserable year of my life living by the beach (ironically) because I was ill in an unsuitable house, with financial troubles (not to mention marital, car, family troubles!) and no friends! But it was more than that. The stress had worn me down until I had no mental or emotional strength to fight it.

But then, there’s no rhyme or reason to depression.

black cat

I feel better now, but there’s no particular or obvious reason why I should feel better. I just do. I’m sleeping better too, and hopefully that means that the vicious circle is straightening itself out.  I hope I’ll be able to shrug it all off now and things will start to look better on a permanent basis.

I know I keep saying this, but I don’t have the life I wanted, or hoped for, or thought was right around the corner. But we hopefully have some good things on the horizon, and I truly am grateful for all the good things I have.

(But, do you know what? the glad game doesn’t work when you’re deep in the pit.)

I started a dose of amitriptyline about 3 weeks ago, and honestly I usually forget to take it, so I’m not sure whether or not it’s having any effect. But at this point, knowing what the deep pit looks like, I thoroughly recommend taking whatever hand is held out to you, just to get your head above the parapet where you can see the sun again.

Funnily, you know – I have been down in the pit deep enough to ask my GP before to give me anti-depressants, but that GP refused (bizarrely, a few years before, when I was desperately trying to get a proper diagnosis of ME, I was offered anti-depressants when I didn’t need them). This time, I just casually mentioned to my new GP that battling ME makes me feel a bit depressed every now and then, could I try anti-depressants?

No problem.

It totally depends on the doctor you get. If you need it, don’t take no for an answer, or by all means find a better doctor. They are so variable, and some of them are complete buggers.

So now, despite contemplating moving house again for the 7th time in just over 5 years, I am actually looking forward to moving. I think. I mean, I’m not looking forward to the actual moving of course, that would be crazy. But I am looking forward to being settled.

I’m looking forward to living right in the centre of town where everything I need will be within walking distance. I’m looking forward to living in a place where I already have a bunch of good friends who can’t wait to visit us.

Incidentally, I keep wondering why I found this place so unfriendly? I can’t work it out. I don’t think it has anything to do with Cornish culture, because we’re not even that far down into Cornwall, and it isn’t that Cornish here. (And before I am accused of being racist, I never thought it was that, but the suggestion keeps getting thrown into the mix, so I thought I’d mention it. Whether there is a truly Cornish culture, or whether what we’re experiencing up here is just countryside culture is another topic.)

I think the problem here has been a mixture of being here at the wrong time, with the wrong aged children (home educating never isolated us until we moved here, but the HE group in this place was just filled to the brim with under 8s. The only families with teens we knew passed through and moved away long ago) and apparently having nothing in common with any of the people we met. It can’t be helped. I think we weren’t meant to stay here, it was just for a season. I do just wish that season had been a little easier. But anyway. It’s nearly over.

And here’s another irony for you. After all this time – five years with virtually no friends despite huge effort on my part to be social and gregarious (without appearing desparate! lol) to no avail – I just discovered a local vegan group that didn’t seem to exist when I searched for it a year ago, or five years ago, and I’ve MADE FRIENDS.

Really.

So here’s what I am expecting to happen: when we move away, we will be coming back here to visit and go to the beach more than we ever did when we lived here.

Isn’t life just gloriously ridiculous?!

p.s. I just passed my one month as a vegan mark. It’s about as long as I’ve managed to stay vegan before, but this time I have plugged into social networking for accountability, and I’m thinking about getting a vegan tattoo. That would probably keep me vegan. Oy vey.

 

Change of Seasons

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After muddling through for just over a year with most of our books still in storage and without any significant social contact, Motor-biker decided at the beginning of April to try school.

It took a while for the bureaucratic wheels to turn, but once the ball was rolling everything seemed to happen very fast.

We had a tour of the school on the Thursday and then filled in the forms to officially apply for a place. On the Monday we were informed by the County Council that the place was ours and so he started on Wednesday morning.

We agreed that, given that the transition from home to secondary school is such a massive one, it could be overwhelming to jump in at the deep end and so he would start gradually. One lesson the first day, two on the second and so on.

Tomorrow is due to be his first full day.

So far it has been a mixture of enjoyment, overwhelmed exhaustion and frustration. (I will elaborate on the reasons for his frustrations later.)

For those of us left at home, there is also a mixture of feelings of joy and sadness – joy because I am happy for him to do what he wants to do (and he is such a sociable character, I think he will be in his element), sadness because my home education journey is coming to an end before I expected it to and with that I am experiencing feelings of disappointment and a niggling sense of failure.

It is nonsense of course – motherhood inevitably includes a sense of guilt but I know that actually I have done my best and we have had an incredibly difficult set of circumstances that have been and continue to be outside of my control.

Baba Zonee has decided to stay at home. He is a different character from his brother and doesn’t feel ready for school.

Pony-rider has turned 16 and is still at home mainly because she can’t decide what she wants, and Dragon-tamer is still at home struggling with mental and physical ill health after his breakdown which school caused.

I’m not worried that Motor-biker will have the same experience at school that Dragon-tamer did – again, they are very different characters.

Whereas Dragon-tamer found the education useful and the social contact difficult and frustrating, Motor-biker is likely to have the opposite experience, and I am prepared (and fully expecting judging from his reactions to the lessons so far) to need to supplement the education at home.

So perhaps not much will change in a way except for the timetable, and Baba Zonee will benefit I’m sure from having one-to-one attention for a change (not to mention a bit of peace and quiet! Motor-biker’s other nickname is Tigger due to his irrepressibly boisterous and bouncy nature!)

ruby-slippers

I couldn’t help noticing that this massive change of season for us occurred on the occasion of the Full Moon at Passover and Orthodox Easter (also counted as Beltane for those who celebrate on the full moon rather than on May 1st according to the calendar). That confluence of Christian, Jewish and Pagan dates felt auspicious to me in a way. Perhaps it’s just me being fanciful, but perhaps that’s just me! 🙂

I feel a little as though I, like Dorothy, have been caught up in a whirling, mad tornado (again) and deposited in a new land – charmed and bewitched, and I’m a little bit lost and unsure. Unfamiliar territory with unfamiliar landmarks. I will triumph eventually, but we may have a strange journey ahead.

I am thinking happy thoughts and taking deep breaths, and trying to adjust to the idea without going crazy.

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The Very Hungry Princess

hungry-princess

Birthday week

We made the fatal error of saying to Pony-rider “what would you like to do for your birthday – you can do anything you like!” Now that I think about it, I realise that we got off lightly. She could have asked for a trip in the Virgin Space Shuttle!

Instead, she asked for:

1 trip to Grandma’s,
1 trip to a Farm,
1 trip to Toys ‘r’ Us,
1 Swimming Lesson,
1 Party,
1 slice of Swiss Cheese
1 Ice-cream Cone and
1 Slice of Salami
(just checking to see you’re actually paying attention).

So instead of a birth-day, we ended up having a treat every single day for an entire week: Monday was a trip to a farm and a swimming lesson. (More about the Farm later).

Tuesday was a trip to Grandma’s (actually we had to go Monday evening because she particularly wanted to wake up at Grandma’s on her birthday – we obliged.)

Wednesday was a trip to a favourite local place which provides an outdoor play-area positioned conveniently close to picnic tables where mums can chat over coffee (a treat for me too!);

Thursday was playgroup, followed by the girliest girly birthday-party imaginable (it was so great – maybe more about the Party later too!).

Friday was play at an indoor play-centre (while the mums had coffee) followed by lunch at the unspeakable McD’s, and in the evening a surprise visit from some friends from out of town who took us to Pizza Hut!

And finally, on Saturday we shared the birthday cake with her best friend (who couldn’t make the party due to not actually being a girl).

On Sunday, I laid in bed with a headache, neck-ache, back-ache, leg-ache, etc., the result, I think, of party-stress and way too much icing, coffee, chocolate, cake, McD and Pizza Hut. I did eat one nice green leaf, and after that I felt much better. 😉

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Originally posted on the Svengelska Hemskolan blog.

High Culture: Closed for the Winter

1teddyrow

We started the day with Latin: Dragon-tamer orally going through the noun tables and verb paradigms we have learnt so far, and reviewing vocabulary, and finally doing a simple translation exercise that involved placing the correct words in sentences. He did quite well considering we only do it occasionally. Pony-rider listens in too.

As we are fairly relaxed and unschooly, I never insist we do these or any other lessons. My goal in introducing Latin, and other languages, is to give the kids a flavour of the language so if they decide they want to take it up seriously, they can.

We all listened to a children’s classical CD (Bernstein Favourites: Children’s Classics), and Dragon-Tamer dictated a couple of music reviews which I typed up and posted on to our local home-ed reading group website.

We thought that, in the afternoon, we would just ‘pop in’ to the local museum, or gallery, but when I checked their opening hours, I discovered that both are closed: the Gallery for two weeks while they change exhibits, and the Museum for the whole winter (except for education groups of 20 or more children… so possible to organise for a later date but no good for today).

Disappointed, we discussed other alternatives for the afternoon, but nobody could agree, and since Motor-biker was poorly with a slight temperature, we opted for a quiet afternoon in, watching nature programmes and schools maths programmes recorded earlier.

Originally posted on the Svengelska Hemskolan blog.