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Home Ed + Self Employment = A Continuous Quest For More Time

January 17, 2016

So it turns out creating a habit can be pretty hard! I was determined to write a blog post at least once a fortnight but things got a little chaotic and once I let something slide it just seems to keep going… a bit like my self-assessment tax return.

It’s always said that being a parent is a juggling act and recently (for a very good reason) I’ve thrown a whole lot of extra balls in. I’m just in the process of learning how to juggle them again. But what with moving home, starting home ed, taking on more self-employed work and Christmas throwing everything out of whack it all got a bit hectic and crazy for a while.

With Christmas out of the way and a new year upon us I’m taking control, or perhaps less control, depending on how you want to look at it. Everything has become a little more efficient. Everything that is except for home ed.

You see, we’re kind of freestyling, quietly waiting to see what our home education will evolve into. I wasn’t 100% happy with how things were going. Don’t get me wrong, Elliott has learned a lot over the short time since we started but how we were approaching things didn’t feel right to either us. I want him to be super happy everyday.

I’ve been reading. I read a lot. I do it for a living. When I’m not earning money from it I’m doing it for the joy of learning. Despite the chaos of the last few months I’ve still been trying to fit in lots of reading material on all the different ways to approach teaching and learning. I still have a queue of books waiting to be read so I can’t say I have a definite confirmed approach going forward. We’re just getting started and this is a fun journey. I’m driven by instinct at the moment. As time goes on I’ll let you know what our approach is. Right now we’re learning while having a lot of fun but our days are more unstructured. I find myself doing a lot of listening rather than talking and “teaching”. The brain of a 6 year old child is astounding. Elliott blows my mind frequently. No idea of his is stupid. Nothing he says falls upon deaf ears. We usually have long conversations during our walks. Sometimes he’s contemplatively silent. That’s fine too. We need quiet time in order to organise our thoughts.


So while our home learning is shifting into something new we were paid a visit by an Elective Home Education Co-ordinator from Cornwall Council this week. When removing Elliott from school in Somerset, just before our move to Cornwall, the Head advised me to inform Cornwall Council of our decision to home educate in case Elliott became known as “a child missing from education”. They were thankful I’d contacted them although I now know I was under no obligation to do so. But as I had done I was paid a visit which involved an hour long “informal” chat that I was assured wasn’t really an assessment. Still she filled in a big form about everything we talked about and at the end said I’d be sent a copy of her report. Hmmm. It all seemed terribly formal to me.

On a plus she seemed to genuinely like what we’d been up to and was astonished by the amount of “work” we’d done in such a short time. Luckily for us evidence of what we’d been up to was all around us in the living room. She was also very fond of child led learning so I felt quite relaxed knowing she shared a similar ethos. However, I dread to think what it would be like if we were visited by someone who didn’t share our views. And what about unschoolers who do no formal education whatsoever? How would they be expected to provide reams of evidence of their children learning? Parents who are deemed as not providing an adequate education can be legally forced to send their children to school. Who really has the right to make that decision?

Thankfully I’m fairly certain that things went well and Elliott’s joy at never being forced to go to school won’t be shattered. We won’t get another visit until Elliott is of KS2 age. We should have found our stride by then but I’m glad to say that in amongst the chaos home ed has already become a natural part of our lives.


Our First Fortnight of Homeschool

November 14, 2015

…and breathe.

Only joking. We’ve actually ended on a high!

Our first fortnight of homeschool has quite honestly flown by with the exception of the end of the first week when my patience was beginning to wear thin. Come the second week I decided to ease any pressure I was feeling by making things a little less challenging for myself and my son. I think I felt an unfounded need to fit in as much as possible to destroy any naysayers notion of homeschool being an inadequate form of education.

During the second week we slowed down and things became much calmer. Home education became the enjoyable experience I knew it could be! We became a little less “academic”, threw in some kids yoga, attended a home ed arts and crafts session with other local HE families, spent an afternoon getting caked in mud at the local park with the same HE kids and had a beautiful spontaneous trip to our nearby beaches for some awe-inspiring scenery and a glorious coastal walk. Our second week has been truly fun while still completing daily activities that I consider mandatory, such as daily reading.

Swanpool Beach, Cornwall

Have there been improvements in my son’s abilities?

In terms of what my son has learned I can say for certain that I have witnessed a rapid progression in his reading ability. Removing him from school has meant he has been able to read a book every morning as well as partake in reading games on the laptop. The morning is the ideal time for this activity. He is fully awake, willing to engage, uncomplaining and actually enjoys it. Rather than relieved he now looks pleased with himself when he completes a book.

In school he was not reading aloud with his teachers every day but was expected to read with me when he got home. However, at the end of a long school day he was tired and never responded well to the suggestion of reading aloud. Instead it felt like I was enforcing a torturous regime which was then heightened when “spellings” were also introduced as homework.


How do you conduct your lessons?

Our living room has become our classroom and we are surrounded by different books that we dive in and out of throughout the week. Reading aloud a variety of books often is something I feel strongly about. We are also using some texts that would usually be considered above Elliott’s age range. We simply read one short story or chapter at a time and stop to discuss and research anything beyond his comprehension.

For literature Elliott’s currently enjoying listening to a chapter of Black Beauty each day and sometimes asks to listen to more rather than a couple of picture books before bed. At times I’ve stopped reading in places to explain the meaning of words such as “colt”, “horse bit”, “blinkers”, even bringing up pictures on the internet to aid his understanding. When it comes to history, geography and nature study we use the same concept of reading aloud using “living books” as was advocated by the educator Charlotte Mason. If Elliott’s not much in the mood for sitting and listening I’ll find something else to engage him with.

One of the best ideas that we have taken from Charlotte Mason is conducting very short lessons. During our morning Elliott is not usually engaged in one activity for longer than ten minutes unless he’s particularly eager to continue. This may seem quite rapid but it means that some of our activities can be practised in small increments every day throughout the week, which is far better for developing skills and committing information to memory than one long lesson. So far this has been working out well for us. The pace keeps his enthusiasm and ten minutes seems to be the perfect length for a five year old with a short attention span. As he gets older we’ll increase the amount of time as his attention span increases!

One of my favourite items that I’ve introduced Elliott to is a wonderful children’s picture atlas complete with a huge pull out illustrated map. In just a fortnight it has become a regular point of reference. Possibly the best fifty pence I have ever spent in a charity shop! So far we have used it to discover where Egypt is for our Ancient Egypt history topic, along with the Nile running all the way through it. This links nicely to our African nature study topic where we learned of the world’s largest crocodile, the Nile Crocodile. This species also lives in Madagascar, of Pixar movie fame, which of course Elliott was delighted to discover. Our reading of our living geography book “Paddle to the Sea” led us to search for Canada where the Indian boy’s model boat begins its voyage. I was then able to easily point out the USA right below so he’d know where most of his favourite YouTube stars live. Not only can my five year old now point out with complete accuracy Egypt, Madagascar, Canada and the USA but also Australia and his homeland, the UK. Not bad for a five year old after two weeks of homeschool.

We regularly stream music during certain activities, listening mostly to Vivaldi, a name that now falls off Elliott’s tongue as easily as Peppa Pig. Keeping with the theme of string instruments we have found via Youtube a contemporary violinist named DSharp who plays instrumental covers of popular music. Elliott has become particularly fond of this musician! We shall look at other string instruments during the term with the plan of helping Elliott to differentiate between them. We will move on to listening to a different composer next term.

Base Ten Starter SetMathematics has been conducted using manipulatives in order to help Elliott grasp what is an obscure concept to a young mind. I decided to invest in a Base Ten Starter Set which allows us to think about numbers, large or small, in a visual and physical way. Charlotte Mason thoroughly believed in children using manipulatives. Having taught daily with them for a fortnight I can see that they are of great benefit. Written sums can be translated into a physical unit system that helps Elliott to easily work out answers by the removal/adding of blocks.

The afternoon’s are completely unstructured and it’s my hope that as Elliott grows older he’ll wish to invest time in long term projects of his own choosing. Right now it’s wonderful to spend time together doing arts and crafts, messy hands-on science experiments, walking, playing and collecting natural objects from the park.

In this short space of time I have also introduced Elliott to a small amount of French. I hope to increase his understanding of the language not through lessons but simply through everyday communication. Charlotte Mason taught her students foreign languages in the same way that we learn our mother tongue. First by listening, then speaking, then reading, then writing. It will be more of a test on myself whether I can remember to keep dropping French into everyday situations however!


What I have learned

1. I still need to improve my patience.

Although my patience is good I know I can still do better! Education is not a race. Learning will happen when the child is ready. I can’t force comprehension. I must remind myself every morning to stick by my principle of gentle learning.

2. Stay calm and have fail safes

When our homeschool morning isn’t going to plan e.g. too tired, lack of focus, overexcited, lack of enthusiasm, then promising a “fail safe” can quickly raise productivity. For us this has become kids yoga! He really engages with it and seems to become more focused. I shall measure its effectiveness over the coming weeks.

3. If all fails, go out!


The Coming Weeks

Like our second week of homeschool my only real plan is to keep things fun. With Christmas approaching and by Elliott’s request we’ll be making time for lots of arts and crafts. After losing some beautiful heirloom Christmas ornaments to the damp in our old home we’re now in need of some new keepsakes. I’m sure Elliott will take on that task with great enthusiasm! We’re also hoping to attend as many local events as possible to help us both integrate into our new community here in Cornwall. We’re not only new to homeschooling but new to this beautiful county. It’s a lovely adventure to be on!

Our mornings have so far not been strictly structured and I’m happy to continue with this approach. I’ll keep using my vague plan of activities to complete throughout the week and will pick items off this list as and when I feel they are appropriate. If they don’t get done because unexpected ideas arose, no worries. We’ll keep them in mind for next week. Keeping things flexible is much better for Elliott. I’m looking forward to seeing how things play out. We are experimenting and things may pan out very differently to our first experiences. Our days may evolve into something entirely different!

After two weeks I am simply delighted that I have been able to reignite Elliott’s enthusiasm for books. Long may it continue!