The Whatever Works Approach

Part of the #100waystohomeeducate blog hop from Jax’s Making It Up blog. You can read about how Heidi unschools in yesterday’s post on Tending the Vegetable Patch.

Sometimes I think we’ve tried 100 different ways to home educate ourselves at least 🙂  When I speak to new home educators one of the things they sometimes need reiterating is that there is no magic ‘correct’ way to home educate.  You have to be prepared to find a way that works for your family.  Every child needs different things, every family has different dynamics, every parent has a different skill set and philosophy, every area has its own varied home ed community.  You need to marry all of that and then be prepared for it to change, often!  Our weeks now with a nearly 15 year old in school and an 11 year at home are very different to when I had a 5 yo just reaching compulsory education age and a toddler causing mayhem.

Before I try and explain where we are now I suppose I had better explain where we came from.  I enjoyed primary school, secondary much less but not in a ‘it was awful’ way. If you asked me at 6 what I wanted to be when I grew up it was a primary school teacher, at 18 the wish was just as strong.  However the shutters started to be lifted from my eyes pretty much immediately and by 18 months into the course I quit.  It was the National Curriculum that stopped me carrying on, I couldn’t bring myself to teach to a scheme that I truly believe fails most children.  To be honest I would still really love to teach just not the NC.  My thoughts on the NC are a whole other post, sufficient to say I was disillusioned with the system at 20 and had mentally already noted that I would be looking in to alternatives should I have my own children.  About 6 months after I quit my sister raised the idea of home education for her children as she didn’t want them to go to her local school, it wasn’t something she did in the end as she moved but the idea that it was possible had been planted.
2 1/2 years later I had my own children.  One day when the eldest was about 2 my husband said ‘I wish he didn’t have to go to school’ and I said ‘well actually  he doesn’t’ and that was pretty much decision made.  I asked my husband if he wanted to look around schools, state and private, when the time came and he didn’t.

We read lots of books and websites, joined the local and national groups which were all Yahoo in those days and tiny by today’s standards.  Because we knew no one locally we did 2 mornings a week at preschool (pre EYFS) alongside 2 home ed activities a week.  When the time came to drop preschool it wasn’t a big deal.  While swayed by the idea of unschooling I can remember being so excited to do a ‘project’ in our first week.  I can still see 4 yo Jack interviewing passers by on their favourite chocolate bars for a chocolate lapbook (I have developed a hatred of lapbooks over the years, too much cutting out).

In the early years of home ed our patterns were very seasonal, we’d do some projects over the cooler months, some workbook maths and more computer based education programmes.  In the warmer months we’d do bits of maths and reading set by me or more often Pete for 20 mins max and play for the rest, outdoors a lot of the time.  We gradually slipped into more structure as it seemed to suit better but how much and how that structure worked has changed a lot.  Slipped makes it sound like it was a lot smoother than it was but in reality lots of doubts, soul searching, mistakes, changes in a approach, swinging one way then the other was more like it. 

Fast forward about 6 years which have seen a fair few about turns in home ed approach, lots of wobbles along the way and one child decide to go to school for the social aspect.  The wobbles and doubts have long since receded.  Partly seeing what J covers in school means what little respect for the system I had is pretty much gone, there is very little that J has done that we can’t do better.  I worry far less about home ed than school.  It is also partly that I have been doing this nearly 12 years if you count from when we made the definite decision at preschool age and 10 years with a child of CSA and I have the confidence and evidence that I am doing a good job and the trust that we’ll adapt and fit around the challenges that the future will bring.

So how do we home educate?  I commented a few weeks ago somewhere that if there is a continuum from radical unschooling to school at home we would probably be as close to the centre as it is possible to get.  Labels are pointless. We could be called semi structured as we do have a structure to the level of spreadsheets and being able to tell you what maths we’ll be aiming to be doing in any particular week, but neither of us like to feel constrained so we aim is the key word and plans are always seen as a framework of ideas rather than something to be rigidly adhered to.  An unschooling friend commented that my approach was some serious strewing which made me smile as I had never thought of it that way.  In my opinion Sam ‘needs’ structure, he doesn’t necessarily want it but he is more relaxed, less anxious and happier for it.  The deal I have with him is I need to feel like I am providing an education, I need to see positive steps and him being engaged in activities, he gets a lot of input into the practicalities but I have non-negotiables. 

The biggest impact on our home ed has been the need to fit around J being in school so as time has gone on it has become easier to adopt school terms and school days.  Very little of that is what many would think of as traditional schooling, but idea is we spend 9-2 every day actively engaged in projects of some type.  I try to make sure I am about at this time, that I don’t work or do more than 5 min put the washing on style housework.  Friday’s do tend to wind up at lunch time though 😉

Day to day lessons are short we use lots of different resources for variety.  What I call our core work takes about 1hr – 1 1/2 hours max 4 morning a week.  This is Maths, English, Spanish and Latin.  Other subjects get covered by a combination of read alouds, documentaries, trips and hands on projects.  I am starting to introduce recording his work and more writing projects as we’d left them for years as they caused unneccessary stress.  While still along way off I feel we need to baby step towards essay writing and exams as keen that they don’t take over and become huge causes of stress, but important to me that we do some. 

We use an online planner and Sam is able to structure his days as I add jobs to it on a weekly basis.  If jobs are left at the end of a week either they carry over or we delete depending on how relevant/important we judge them to be.  Maths and English are planned annually in August, other projects are pencilled in and fleshed out in holiday’s closer to it.  We find we drop some stuff completely as do tend to find August always makes me over ambitious.

Social activities take up a lot of our week and could take up more easily we have a huge thriving local community.  

Roughly our weeks go like this

Monday – Home of a morning doing jobs from the planner. In the afternoon we have a science group with a small group of friends very close in age fortnightly at our house, or we’ll do a big hands on activity or now the weather is improving we’ll go out geocaching or slot in one of our rarer activities like laser quest.
Tues – PJ day.  This is our designated day at home, only something very special can intrude.  Work from planner usually followed by some sort of strategy game.
Weds – This is our social day.  We spend nearly every Weds afternoon with friends either meeting at a local hall, a trip somewhere or sometimes just coffee and play.  If we’re home we work from planner of the morning.
Thurs – Work from planner of a morning. Afternoon with Grandad, either boardgames at home, park or beach in summer or fortnightly trampolining with the local HE group.
Fri – The most flexible day.  We might have work left on the planner to do if we’ve been out for a full day earlier in the week, often though it’s a free day.  Once a month I run a craft group for the younger ones and Sam potters about town.  Pete is usually off so sometimes we take opportunity of it being a good day to grab a lift to the station and go up to London.  Other times we play games, go out geocaching (alone or with friends).  It is the day that if we have errands or appointments I try to stick them on.  A whatever comes up day.

Which takes us back to our whole educational philosophy which is basically to do whatever works at this particular time and if it isn’t working change.

Some photos of this week.

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