The decision to home educate Jack was never a big issue for us. When he was very young, Pete said ‘I wish he didn’t have to go to school’, my response was ‘he doesn’t’ and that was pretty much it.
We read around the subject a lot. We spent one morning looking at local private schools on the web before discounting that. We could have afforded it if I worked but he would still be one of 20 and we would have holiday care etc to deal with so we couldn’t see any benefit at all and then along came Sam and ruled it out completely as couldn’t afford to pay for 2.
We never started off with any preconceived ideas or any particular educational philosophy.
Jack was quite a demanding and ‘full on’ toddler, always wanted your attention. And I’m ashamed to admit that both Pete and I used to get frustrated with his ‘being’ games (he never really ‘did’ toys). His games often seem to consist simply of you repeating exactly what he told you to say, no imagination or spontaneity allowed. As a result, Pete in particular used to divert his attention by sitting down with him and doing ‘early learning stuff’. I don’t mean in a stale sitting at a table way but as games. We had a crocodile from ELC, one of those ones with pockets that you put letters in, if Jack got the letter right he’d throw the letter in the air and the crocodile would jump up and eat it, accompanied my much exaggerated chomping noises from Pete and squeals of laughter from Jack.
Also with no car, we walk or bus everywhere so I became expert at entertaining a toddler with what was around me. We’d stop for a rest at street corners and try and recognise letters on street signs. Practice counting while at the bus stop, ‘I think bus will be here before we get to 100’ etc. The point of these games were never to ‘hothouse’ Jack, just as naturally ‘academic’ people (both of us have studied OU for ‘fun’) this was just how we felt comfortable playing. But the knock on effect was Jack was perfect in his alphabet long before he started preschool.
He did 2 mornings a week at pre-school, purely for the social aspect. I always stayed if he asked, although in practice his friend who I’d also take used to ask me to stay more often (and I did). He loved it and I know would have been relatively happy trotting off to school when the time came.
However, we never doubted home education was the right option for him. He is a very bright child but he seems to learn very much in fits and starts, he seems either to be physically growing or mentally growing but rarely both at the same time. Less obvious now but still apparent, those who have followed the blog for a while will have read we’ve struggled a bit lately, and in the last week I have noticed he’s grown out of 3 pairs of trousers. I hadn’t connected it in my head until I started typing this but it fits with everything I have seen in the past. And this is why home education is the answer for us. A teacher who has a class of 30+ children for one year can’t possibly know the kids well enough as individuals to recognise things such as this and even if they do, there are so many constraints imposed by the National Curriculum and class sizes that they can’t respond and adapt to the rhythms of individuals.
Over the years I have had numerous wobbles, feelings of failure, hiccups and philosophy swings.
Much of it resulting from doing the dreaded ‘comparing yourself to others’. While Jack has always been academically ahead of the majority around him it wasn’t comparing him that was the issue it was me. Others seemed happier, more confident, to have a belief in a certain way of doing things, to fit into a group better…
When you get involved in home education (in the UK at least) you can not fail to notice how vocal the autonomous education faction is. And it is easy to get caught up with the positive stories and in a way the irrefutable arguments behind it. It seems perfectly obvious that a child will learn more when they are interested and the best way for them to learn is to carry on the way they learnt to walk and talk. However, for many kids I believe it is not enough and most do need some prodding and inspiring (especially Jack). A Jack who doesn’t do a regular amount of structured work is a difficult Jack to be around. It seems if we don’t regular challenge his brain he looses the ability to concentrate on anything, and expends his brain power on winding Sam up. I recognised early on that he needed ‘work’ to ‘calm him down’ but it has taken several years for me to accept that this needs to be a routine and not a response, that we need to do a certain amount every week in order keep Jack ‘balanced’. Also I want school to remain an option for the boys should they need for any reason, or want to go at any point, so felt some form of structure is important. That is how I went from someone who is quite sympathetic to the idea of autonomous education to someone who spent quite a lot of time at the weekend drawing up a 14 week timetable.
It as also taken us a long time to find a system that works for us. Pete has always been very involved in Jack’s education and likes to spend time working with him at the weekend, usually playing with maths. And with no knowledge of the education system he basically introduces Jack to topics at random that he finds interesting. Hence we have an 8yo who is able to confidently deal with a lot of the concepts that I covered in my level 1 Maths degree course last year.
However I have always thought it a good idea to balance this and work through a maths curriculum too. Even with a sympathy towards autonomous I do believe you can’t learn many aspects of higher maths from everyday life and you need to get a good understanding of the basics. We started off with Singapore Math, did Earlybird level 2 and the worked through My Pals are Here up to Level 4. At which point I felt we were getting too far ahead so we worked through some CGP books. We alternated through the yearly framework books for years 3,4, 5 & 6 and the targeted question books for levels 3,4 and 5. And also did the mental arithmetic books. But around Christmas we finished them. We honestly don’t do that much, it’s just home ed is so much more efficient. At that point we moved on to KS3 CGP books, but as I said we have struggled really. While I am confident that Jack could do the work, for whatever reasons, low confidence, lack of ability to concentrate, not finding the style of book interesting, he struggled.
Since he is only actually halfway through yr 4, I can’t see the point in persevering so we have gone back and started a third KS2 course, the Galore Park So you really want to learn Junior Maths series. We have gone right back to the beginning, although having looked through it for the majority of chapters in the first book I expect he will just do the summary exercises, more as a confidence boost.
Structure in other subject areas has for a long time used to take the form of project work. For a long time we persevered with Hands of a Child lapbooks (everyone around us was doing them). But I can finally accept that I think they are rubbish and the only thing they are good for is cutting out practice. Eventually his interest in Ancient History led us to start the Galore Park So you really want to learn Junior History series. I had looked at Story of the World but the religious element and cost put me off.
As he got a bit older we started on Schofield and Sims series of Understanding English workbooks, chosen himself from WH Smiths and when he finished we moved on to the Galore Park So you really want to learn Junior English series (spot a theme).
For other things (Geography, Science, ICT) we have CGP books, chosen by Jack. I think the major factor driving that choice was that workbooks don’t allow much space for writing. While Jack loves (and is very good at) creative writing. He very much has always had a thing about writing what he wants when he wants and hating anything else that has required him to pick up a pen. But the problem with the CGP books is that if you ask him in the evening about what he’d done that day he could never tell you so he wasn’t learning anything from them.
So where you find us now is that we have a rough timetable. Morning is ‘work’, toys are banned. However, I do like us to do trips so factor this in and we are flexible with what amount we do each day.
Curriculum wise we use the Galore Park books for Maths (which he writes) and English, Science and History (which he types). Trail Guide to World Geography arrived this morning but we probably won’t start that until September, we started the Galore Park books ‘late’ so we’re working at catching up with them. Plus I like to throw in some project work now and again.
So that’s where we are 4 1/2 years after Jack would have started school I finally feel we’re ‘there’ and have found a system and way of working that suits us.