Thursday, December 14, 2017

How do I get started?

I know that at this time of year the numbers of home-educating families tends to increase.  I believe this is due to a number of factors including disillusionment with the school system upon returning in September – especially struggles with settling into a new class with new teachers – the fact that a child has reached school-age and a parent deems them to be not ready or doesn’t wish for them to enter the system, and what I hear time and time again:  That a parent has ‘had their child back’ throughout the long summer holidays and they can now see how school attendance changes him or her for the worse.
One of the range of questions that I am always finding in my email box is “But, just how do I do it?  I mean, how do I get started?  What do I do??”
The very first thing you should do is to ensure that you have followed the correct de-registration process for your area.  Here in England that is by sending in a letter stating your wish that your child’s name is removed from the register.   There are examples of such letters available on the internet for you to base yours on, such as the one here.
When faced with the ‘how do I do it?” question, I always start by saying that there is no right or wrong way to home-educate.  The beauty of home-education is that you find a way of doing things that suits you and your family.  What works for one family may well not work for you.  Children are all different, their learning styles are different, every family’s lifestyle is different, so every family needs to find their own routine and method that fits with them.
There is a definitive trail of thought that an adjustment period, or ‘de-schooling’ is necessary for those coming out of the school system.  This is generally suggested as 1 month for every year of schooling the child has completed,and it is thought of as beneficial for both parent and child.  The idea is that time is needed to ‘free the mind’ from the structure and pressure of the system and for parent and child to reconnect and start to repair any possible damage that has been done.  Basically this transfers into the real world as steering away from academic study with workbooks and the like, and enjoying living life – baking, spending time in nature, following any hobbies, etc – also known as chilling out!
When it comes to doing actual ‘work’, some families find that they need the structure of a timetable and planned lessons.  Some families are completely at the other end of the scale and are completely autonomous with their days, totally going with the flow.  Either is ok.  Both have been proven to get results.  Many are eclectic, mixing and matching methods to suit.

You have the choice.  You are also free to adapt, make changes, and admit it’s not working at any time.
You don’t have to follow the National Curriculum.  You are free to teach what you think is necessary and you are free to allow your child to follow their own interests.  Sometimes people like the security of following the NC and that’s ok too.  I particularly find this to be true for those wanting their child to return to school in the future for whatever the reason, or for those unsure about what to teach and wanting to know that their child will keep up with their school-going peers.
But, if you don’t follow a curriculum, what can you do instead?
It can feel overwhelming.  There are so many resources out there, so many work books, so many tools for learning.  There are oodles of reading schemes, numerous math manipulatives, and a whole host of science kits and equipment, not to mention the thousands of history, geography and other non-fiction books and materials.
DO NOT buy anything.  Not just yet.
I know from personal experience that it is so easy to fall into the ‘need this to be a good home-educator’ trap.  Before you know it, your home is filled with workbooks covering all subjects and stages, along with numerous text books and learning equipment that would rival any prestigious academy.  A whole new world is opening up to you and enthusiasm is oozing.  I totally get that.  Sadly though, personal experience also suggests that many of these things will sit gathering dust whilst you look at a flailing bank account wishing you had the money for something that would be genuinely useful.
I suggest that time is taken to consider all options.  That you meet with other home-educators either online or in-real, and you ask them what resources they have found useful over the years.  You may be surprised at the results.  Workbooks for example vary greatly in content.  Some are colourful and cartoon-like, some are more no-nonsense get to the facts.  Some offer explanations and reasoning whilst others assume knowledge of the topic is already in place and are used in more of a revision like role.   I have a huge pile of books bought on a whim which my children have absolutely no interest in writing in because the style either bores them or the real content just isn’t there.  I wish I had had someone with me to tell me to stop opening my purse when seeing the workbook ‘bargains’.
Remember:  Bargains are only a true bargain if the purchase is actually used or liked!
There are a few buy and sell groups aimed at home-educators on Facebook and yahoo groups where people can pass off their unwanted resources, it’s well worth joining them.
If I had to make a list off the top of my head of our ‘go-to’ resources, it would look something like this:
  • Paper (white – plain, lined, and squared, and coloured), pens and various art mediums – paints, crayons, pencils, watercolours, etc.  Crafty Crocodiles are rather marvelous for all things child artsy and craftsy.
  • The internet.   One mahoosive resource in itself.  One day I will get around to writing up my go-to internet sites list.
  • A printer.
  • Libraries – I often borrow a book then find out I want to buy it anyway.
Although a rather short and succinct list, genuinely it’s enough to get started.  The internet has pretty much everything you need both free and on paid for sites.  If I were to add a few other things that we often use these would include:
  • Microscope (and a telescope to a lesser degree).
  • A Laminator.
  • A globe and wall map.
  • Nature identification books (and hundreds of other non-fiction books bought via Amazon, charity shops, and the Book People in the main, during our 11 years of home-ed.
  • A Chemistry set and various science kits.
  • An Electricity circuit set.
  • Various math manipulatives that range from buttons and beads through to a set of cuisenaire rods.
  • Wooden letters (which I use alongside flash cards which I make myself and laminate).
These resources are added to throughout the year with things to match the topic we are studying.  This way I know that things are more likely going to be beneficial and actually used instead of pre-buying in the hope that one day they will get a look in.
When it comes to studying a topic, we choose to do cross-curricular projects.  Others I know study individual subjects, categorising individual time for Literacy, Numeracy, Science, Geography, History etc, just as I was taught at school.  I tried that, it didn’t work for us.

Now we choose a topic and I incorporate many subjects into the one project.  
Topics get chosen by the children themselves.  We hold regular discussions to review how everyone feels things are going and what sort of things the children want to learn about.  I input what I feel about our routine, and everyone has a voice regarding what they feel is working or otherwise.  We make a list which continuously gets added to as interests develop, but I find it is important for me to have something to work from.
As an example of our cross-curricular study, if we were going to do a project on Ancient Egypt, we could…
  • Look at the location, noting river areas and landscape  (Geography).
  • Measure distance from our own location and figure out scaling (Numeracy).
  • Discuss what life was like, kings and queens, imports and exports, food, and clothing. (History).
  • Find out about religious beliefs, gods, and customs and rituals.  (Religious Education and History).
  • Make costumes and try to recreate recipes. (Arts and crafts, Numeracy, Cooking, History).
  • Build a pyramid, make a sarcophagus .  (Numeracy, Arts and Crafts).
  • Look at writing – hieroglyphics.  Create own messages using picture code. (Arts and Crafts, Literacy).
  • Examine mummification, the beliefs, and the science behind it.  Mummify a chicken!  (Science, History).
  • Case study the life of a child, or the life of a wealthy family compared to the poor.  Write a diary like entry about what life is like and the expectations put upon a child during the time.  (Literacy, History).
  • Write a newspaper style report about an event that happened.  (Literacy, History).
  • Make a poster advertising a special day or event.  (Literacy, History, Art and Craft).
  • Writing a poem (Literacy).
The list goes on and on but I’m sure you get the idea.  Remember throughout that all discussions held will include using verbal and listening skills.
This basic outline can be used over and over for a variety of subjects.  As examples, topics to study could include:

  • Ancient Greece
  • Romans
  • Tudors
  • Victorians
  • The Weather
  • The Water Cycle
  • Life cycles (Butterflies is a good one and easy to do ‘hands on’, as is frogs, or chickens).
  • Animal Habitats
  • Nocturnal Animals
  • Life in the forest or oceans
  • Electricity
  • Crystals
  • Growth – Flowers, vegetables
  • Religions of the world
  • Various countries.
  • Pond life.
  • Animal study or Pet Care Routine
  • Self Sufficiency
I could list hundreds of ideas but I’ll stop there.  I usually type in the topic name followed by ‘for kids’ on google and that often comes up with a wealth of easy to understand websites.  I’ll then start collating the resources that I feel are usual, typing and printing either as I go or at a time when the littliest people are sleeping.  I’ll have a notebook at my side (I’m still an old fashioned paper and pen kinda gal), and will make a note of websites that I really like, ideas for study, and things to do or places to visit.   I will then check out Amazon for any craft packs, books or activities that relate to the topic, and look through the Bookpeople and Ebay for the same.  I will also continuously check out charity shops and buy and keep things back that I think will be useful if they relate to a planned future topic.

I must reiterate that this is our way of doing things and what we have found works for us.

My younger children are calling out for a little bit of direction at this time.
They want to be given a bit of work to do – not much, but some.  They want what they describe as ‘school work’ and I facilitate that request.  Some families don’t do project work, some do.  Some families don’t study in what could be deemed as the conventional sense and have no ‘work’ to show that learning is taking place.  That’s ok and it worked well for us for a good few years.  As a parent, we don’t need to see oodles of handwriting and pages of study to know that learning is occurring.  We have the time to talk more than any class and teacher could ever do.  We can discuss facts, figures, and locations etc, and hundreds of questions can be asked and a reply given – things don’t have to be written down as proof that the child has listened and understood.  We don’t have to prove to the powers that be that learning is taking place in the way that a school teacher does with their record keeping and box ticking.  We don’t have to discuss a child’s progress with an anxious mother or a keen for high marks father during parents evening.  We can witness progression first hand as a parent.  We can see learning as it happens, everyday.  We can celebrate those light bulb oh-I-get-it-now moments and help with the struggles as they occur.  We are in the very privileged position of being there, sharing that learning experience and able to see the growth and development in all areas over time, far easier than a teacher with a classroom full of students ever could manage.
Over time I assure you will find your own direction.  You will find your routine and your way of doing things.  The true beauty of home-education is that you can mix it up, try it out, and adjust as necessary.  You can be structured one week and be unschoolers the next.  You can be structured for Maths and English lessons, and relax on the rest.  You can set aside study time in the morning, afternoon or evening – or have no set aside time at all – whatever works best for you and your kids.  You can have late bedtimes and late rising – some of our best, most fruitful discussions have come about at midnight and beyond.

You will find your own path and travel along it your own distinct way – that’s what makes home-education work for so many, it is completely tailor made to suit you and your family.

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