Our son Ewan has never been to school. He attended a small, nurturing playgroup until he was five years old. When he left playgroup he became ‘officially’ home educated in the eyes of the state. That was two years ago. It certainly was not any easy decision to decide to home educate our son. It has also been a journey with many ups and downs, yet the longer we home educate the more strongly I believe we made the right decision.
Parents experience countless challenges and doubts, whatever path they choose to take, as well as many delights and feelings of joy along the way. Looking at our seven year old son today, I can say with conviction that he is thriving and he is happy. He experiences a whole variety of rich learning experiences every week, in many different contexts with a variety of different people. Below I shed a little light and wisdom on our home educating journey so far.
What our week looks like
Our typical week involves two days at a home educating Montesorri group, one session at forest school, one to two days at home and a variety of day trips out to local nature reserves, museums and education centres. When we are at home Ewan plays the piano, learns to read and pursues a number of ongoing projects, which have included space and local history. Ewan also attends piano and swimming
lessons, goes to Beavers and until recently went to martial arts class. At the weekends Ewan and his younger sister, Tessa, are often actively out and about with their dad doing outdoor pursuits, such as climbing, wild camping, cycle camping, canoeing and attending wildlife groups. We also go on regular holidays to the continent, to Scottish Islands and sometimes further afield to the States or Asia.
In order to be so active and busy we rely on support from my parents and from other families who home educate. Local home educating Facebook groups are a great source of support and information and have put me in touch with some now close friends who also home educate their children. We have built up a strong and close-knit group of friends this way. This network of like-minded parents is essential to me, especially as we have chosen an alternative educational and lifestyle route for our children.
We are also fortunate that our next door neighbours home educate, creating a readymade source of support metres away from our front door, and that our relatives do so too. This has normalised what at first appeared to us a very different and unfamiliar parenting path to take.
Accessing the local community is also greatly valuable as learning resources. We regularly go on home educated trips to local places of interest. These include local nature reserves, museums and education centres, such as libraries and universities and historical sites.
For instance, I recently arranged a trip to the University of Sheffield, called a ‘Be A Scientist for the Day’, accessed through the university’s outreach programme and also went on a day trip to a world heritage historical site, Cromford Mills. Day trips out are generally great fun, sociable and memorable for the children and of course are great learning experiences too!
Forest School is a regular and important part of our week. Ewan attends a local home educating forest school group once a week in term time, where I work as a forest school assistant.
He has attended a forest school since he was three, so it is an integral and normal part of his life. The Forest School ethos is very child-led. Children are able to follow their own projects or simply play in a beautiful woodland setting, experiencing a fire and using tools to make woodland crafts. Ewan is very settled and happy in the group; we are so fortunate to have this resource so close to home.
Ewan also quite recently started attending a local Montesorri group twp days per week, called Pinecones. It is run by a home educating mum and teacher, in her own home, with ten children attending from the ages of three to ten. The Montesorri method is also child-led, enabling children to progress with their own projects using carefully chosen Montesorri resources.
The controlled and more formalised environment suits Ewan and came at time when he needed more structure in a group setting. The group is very popular, with a growing waiting list. In September the group is expanding to three days per week, when I am going to start working there one day per week with our four year old daughter also in attendance.
The right balance
I now feel we have reached the right balance between home and outside activities, as well time with Ewan and time for Ewan to be with other children and adults. At times the mother-son dynamic can become complicated by the learning mentor-mentee relationship. The balance between ‘free-range’ choice and timetabled, more structured activities can be a challenge. Like most children, Ewan is beginning to test parental authority and can sometimes be reluctant to focus on a prescribed activity, such as reading or piano playing, if he has been directed to do so his parent(s).
I feel spending time at other groups reduces the pressure and potential for conflict which could ensue if we were together most of the time.
At times life can get too busy with limited time for Ewan to just ‘be’, being at home quietly and playing in the garden or with his toys indoors. When this happened recently we examined our weekly timetable and made some changes so the week is now a little quieter. Indeed, the danger with home education is that there is simply too much to do and not enough time to do it in, with so many potential groups, excursions and play dates taking place each week!
For all us I have realised it is important to have some ‘down time to refresh and digest, so to speak. For me, it has also meant listening to my own needs, ensuring I look after myself so I can look after my children. With my husband’s and parent’s support, this means I can pursue my own interests, including running, yoga and writing, as well as work part-time at forest school and still have time to home educate.
Home education means we can be more flexible in when and how our children learn, as well as how our year is structured. Learning takes place at any time, weekends or weekends or holidays, in any context. This may seem an obvious statement, but as a schooled child I was led to believe you had to be in a classroom to really learn. Home education has taught me the valuable lesson that the world is our classroom. I am Ewan’s mentor or facilitator more than his teacher. I provide the resources and the experiences and try to support him in his learning. He is as much my teacher as I am his; we are learning together as he enters middle childhood. His thirst for knowledge is unquenchable and his eagerness to learn at times overwhelming!
I am privileged to be able to experience more time with Ewan than I would have done so if he was a schooled child, where I can experience his progression and support his learning more.
There are, I know, many exciting and some more challenging times ahead. Our daughter, Tessa, will turn five next spring and will then also be officially home educated. She currently attends the same small, nurturing pre-school which Ewan attended until he was five. This is where we first experienced Forest Schools and where our decision to home educate was cemented. We look forward to Tessa becoming a home educated child too, as we look into the next year or so before us, with many outdoor adventures planned as a family.
We are blessed to be able to follow this alternative path, to have the strength and the support to do so and two amazing children who are educating me just as much as I am educating them! Long may this remain.
Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your experiences of either home educating or your child(ren) attending school. More home education inspired blog posts; it is hoped, to follow.