Last updated December 2015
We are a home educating family from Birmingham with four children, now aged between 10 and 18. I have been teaching them myself for nearly 10 years, since my older children were in Years 2 and 3 at school.
Over this time our experiences as a home ed family have changed greatly. When the children were young we did very little formal work, instead spending most of our time learning by experience and discussion. We baked, went on nature walks, visited museums, galleries and historical buildings, made things from Lego and all sorts of other materials, listened to excellent children's literature, discussed everything from politics to cartoon characters, painted, exercised, sang and generally filled our lives with interesting and educational experiences. We also studied topics ranging from Ancient Egypt to Light, local history to Volcanoes, Explorers to astronomy. You can find out more about some of the work we did by clicking here
Building a bronze age roundhouse from clay and wood, 2014
Eventually, however, we had to decide how we were going to enable the children to have the best possible access to training or education beyond home schooling. We chose to do iGCSEs - GCSE level qualifications that don't involve course work so can be studied from home. Many families choose other routes, but for our very academic children this seemed the best way forward.
Joel did 2 subjects (Maths and ICT) a year "early" (though as home educators we had no restrictions on the age at which the boys did their exams), and then a further 6 this year. We found that for both practical and financial reasons (GCSEs are expensive when you have to pay for everything yourself, from textbooks to equipment to exam centre fees!) this number was the most we could cope with. Joel has also done Grade 5 and 6 music theory. Toby also did 2 subjects early this year, and we are preparing for him to do a further 7 in 2015.
Doing GSCEs from home has been very hard work - harder for the boys because they have had to do so much more independently than they would have done in school (although that is excellent preparation for A level and beyond), and very much harder for me as I have had to spend so many evenings preparing work and making sure that we covered each syllabus. I have enjoyed the challenge, if not the hours of work involved in doing it! It has also meant that I haven't focussed so much on Kirsten and Elsa, and they have ended up doing much more formal work and fewer hands-on and fun activities than the boys did at their age - this is still a balance that I am working to get right.
Using indicators - an experiment everyone did together at home, 2014.
In 2014 Joel went on from home ed to our local Sixth Form College to study A levels in Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Computing. Then this year Toby went on to Solihull Sixth Form College to study A levels in Maths, Religion and Ethics, Russian and English. I miss them hugely, but they were both ready to move on; to face new challenges and be in a different environment. They managed the transition with no problems at all, and it was wonderful at Parent's Evening to hear all their tutors praising both their work and study skills. Every home educating parent I know spends their lives full of doubts about what they are doing - it has been a real boost this year to see Joel and Toby achieving good GCSEs and then moving so effortlessly into sixth form education.
Of course, having two children in the education "system" has affected the whole family. Until this we have had total flexibility over when we take holidays (I miss this especially!), and which days we work or don't work. When children have been ill we have learned through watching videos or gentle craft activities; when the weather has been good we've spent it outdoors. A great advantage of home ed is that the children can learn at their own pace, and time isn't wasted "lining up" or waiting for the class to be quiet. Obviously I still have most of these advantages with the younger children, but I do miss our less structured days. I would certainly encourage anyone who is home educating children who are younger than about Year 9 (age 13) to make the most of the freedom they have - don't be trapped into thinking that it has to be school done at home or that children can't learn unless they are sitting at a desk!
Making our film "Boudicca" with our home ed friends the Lewises.
Of course it hasn't all been GCSEs. Our topics this year have included Bronze Age and Iron Age Britain, rivers, and heraldry. During the topics we have experimented with "casting" "bronze" (using plaster of Paris and making plasticine moulds), made a film about Boudicca, waded through a good number of rivers and streams, and designed coats of arms.
Another aspect of home ed that I especially enjoy is the freedom that the children have to discover their strengths, and the time they have to work on their own interests and skills. The girls are both keen bakers, and this year we have made huge cake creations such as the Great Pyramid at Giza and an Iron Age hill fort out of cake. They have also made many other goodies for us to enjoy, and in the spring Kirsten and some friends spent a whole day baking and then sold the cakes at church, making £70 for Oxfam in the process.
Toby's special areas of interest are linguistics (which he is hoping to go on and study at degree level), and film making, particularly special effects. Last year he was involved in a large amateur film-making project with some friends, including acting, sound recording and working on special effects and computer generated images. Joel enjoys computer programming; he also gained his Level 1 canoe/kayak coach certificate last autumn, and has been involved all year in coaching children and adults at the local canoe club.
Home Ed watersports group trip on the Severn.
One of the questions I get asked most often about home ed is, "What about PE?". This one has always slightly confused me, as so many school-educated kids do sport that is not directly related to school, and obviously we are no different. Living in a city there have always been a huge number of after-school and weekend sports activities to choose from: We often play tennis, cycle and walk as a family, we belong to a canoe club, go swimming and riding most weeks, and I also run a watersports/outdoor activities group for home educated children based at local Outdoor Education Centres. The kids may never have climbed up a set of wall bars or been shouted at for forgetting their PE kit, but my hope is that they have a wide and interesting range of sports skills that will enable them to be active all their lives.
Home ed isn't for everyone, child or adult. There are no right or wrong ways to do it. As with parenting, no-one can ever really give you advice on what is best for your child, and you, at this moment. It is a constant journey of getting some things right and some wrong, a lot of love, and hoping it all works out ok in the end! But for our family, at this time of our lives, it works; and personally I hope that it carries on working for us for many years to come.
If you are interested in home ed, or have further questions, I'm more than happy to answer them if I can. You can contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org