Conversations Regarding Your Kids: Home Education

A while back I spoke of an important decision that Kevin and I were in the process of making. We’ve now made our decision and I’m free to share all.

Our three oldest children are currently in mainstream education, but a few months back we seriously considered removing them from school and home educating instead. We weighed up all the pros and cons, and in the end decided against it. I want to talk through our thought process, in order to show that it may not be for our family at this moment, but it’s certainly an option that people should be aware of.

I first thought of home educating our children when I read an article on it. I hadn’t realised how widespread it had become in the UK, and the more I read, the more I wondered if it would be something that would benefit our children. I broached the subject with Kevin, and was surprised when he readily agreed that we should investigate it further. I began trawling the internet, seeking out home educators and contacting our local authority for advice. We also bought Learning Without School: Home Education by Ross Mountney, which we both found really helpful. This wasn’t a decision that we were going to take lightly – this was our children’s future!

There are so many positives to home educating, the biggest one being that you can take whichever approach works best for your family. For a few this will mean recreating a school setup, having formal lessons for each subject and sticking to a rigid timetable. For most families, however, the only limits will be their imaginations. The idea of my children learning about subjects that they would choose really appealed to me, as did the thought of making use of museums/parks/theatres as classrooms. There would be a much smaller pupil:teacher ratio, plus their individual learning styles would be more easily catered for. They would be able to learn in a positive, comfortable environment, with no scope for bullying or peer pressure.

Being a qualified teacher, I had no doubts that I would be able to educate my children at home. Formal training isn’t required for home educating, but I felt glad that I wasn’t going into it blind; that I knew what I was doing. I knew that I would be confident in assessing their learning at all stages – formal or otherwise. Kevin and I have between us a wide range of skills/knowledge, so our children would have a wide range of subjects to explore. Anything which needed a specialist teacher (such as music) could be outsourced, just as children who attend school will have extracurricular activities.

One of the first things people ask when home education is mentioned is “how will they learn to socialise?” Most children will make friends wherever they go. The advantage of home educating is that instead of being grouped with people of the same age, they will meet and interact with people from different age groups and from all walks of life. There are local home education groups, where families can get together for support and for socialising. These groups are just as important for the parents as they are for the children.

People also ask how the children will sit exams and gain qualifications. These can be studied for in the same way as they would be at school, but in a more tailored learning environment. The downside is that we would need to pay for any exams, as well as find an exam centre where they could sit them. The upside is that they would only need to sit exams in subjects of their choosing, rather than because they are compulsory.

The future for each of our children is what we had in mind the whole time we were weighing up our decision. Although the pros far outweigh the cons, there were two particular points which we couldn’t ignore and which eventually swung it.

The first was when I went to see Andrew perform as part of the school choir. Watching him on stage with his peers I saw just how much he contributed to the school community, and how happy he looked at being a part of that community. I thought of how well Julia and Keira have settled at school too and how much they enjoy going to school. I thought back to everything they have experienced thanks to mainstream education, as well as how much they potentially have to look forward to.

Many parents decide to home educate because their children have been bullied, or because they haven’t had a good experience with the school. The school our children attend is excellent: the teachers are supportive and innovative; the pupils all know and look out for each other; there are a variety of extracurricular activities on offer. Parents are kept informed about the day-to-day running of the school and are frequently invited in to talk to pupils or take part in schoolwide activities. In short, there was no urgent reason for removing them from school.

The second reason is a more practical one. We are currently fortunate enough to only be reliant on one income, so there would be no need for one of us to have to give up a position of employment. However, there are things we want to do for our family and experiences we want our children to have. These will all cost more than one income will allow for, so we need to think about what we would be sacrificing as a family in order to go ahead with home educating. Having things is not so important to us, but we are set on building our own house one day, as well as seeing a bit more of the world. We would also like to be able to help our children get a good start on their futures, whatever they decide to do. For these dreams to be realised, I’ll need to go back to work once Jessica starts school, so it wouldn’t be fair to remove the children for a couple of years, only for them to have to reintegrate themselves back into mainstream education.

We were open and honest with our children throughout the whole decision-making process. It’s their education, so of course they were entitled to a say in it. They were all really enthusiastic about being home educated, but understood the reasons for not going ahead with it.

Making this decision was slightly bittersweet, as it had so much potential for being a wonderful thing for our family. However, we know we’ve made the right call and it’s made us more aware of what we can do to supplement our children’s education at home. I’m currently putting together some literary projects for the children, which I can later adapt for teaching when I go back to work. Kevin tends to do the science and technology activities with them, the latest being making their own animations using Lego and other toys!

If you think that home education could be for you and your family, I’d definitely recommend looking into it more. If it’s not for you, then have a look at what you can do to enhance your children’s learning. I’m aiming to write some more posts on education in the very near future. Please let me know in the comments section if there’s anything in particular you’d like to read about.

We’re going on a Gruffalo hunt!

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson is one of our favourite stories. We also love the sequel – The Gruffalo’s Child – and we have copies of both in Standard English and in Scots.

It tells the story of a mouse having a wee saunter through a wood. He meets (in turn) a fox, an owl, and a snake. They all invite him to dine with them, when really they intend to have him for their dinner! He declines each invitation by saying that he is going to meet a Gruffalo, and then goes on to describe it as a terrifying creature that likes to eat foxes/owls/snakes. He has of course made up the fearsome sounding beast, but then actually meets one! The Gruffalo also wants to eat the mouse, but the mouse has a cunning plan to get out of his sticky situation.

Since Andrew was around eighteen months old, we’ve been going on Gruffalo hunts when we do a particular forest walk in the Highlands. We’ve never come across any Gruffalo…until now!

I bought these two Bajo figures when they were on special offer, as I thought they would go perfectly with our books. The children love to play with the figures as we read the story together, as well as make up new adventures for the Gruffalo and the mouse.

Keira was determined to take them on our next walk through the wood, so that’s just what we did. She took charge of the mouse figure, and recited the story from memory as we walked along.

Andrew, Julia and I ran ahead to hide the animals that the mouse would meet on his journey. The fox was near his underground house, the owl was in his treetop house, and the snake was in his logpile house.

Keira had great fun seeking out the three animals, and acting out the dialogue between them and the mouse. She flitted flawlessly between the Standard English and the Scots version, which was so cute!

Then we got to the “Oh help, oh no, it’s a Gruffalo!” We’d finally met a Gruffalo in our Gruffalo wood!

We continued our walk and acted out the rest of the story. I won’t spoil it for you by saying how the mouse gets out of being eaten, but I will say his clever plan works, and at last he finds a nut “and the nut wis braw.”

When we reached the end of our walk, we sat by the pond and read the story together, whilst being eaten alive by midges! (Welcome to a Scottish Summer!) Jessica was too busy growling at every dog that passed to really pay attention, but she was wearing her Gruffalo puddlesuit, so took part in her own way.

We had great fun reenacting one of our favourite stories as a family, and have plans to do so many times over in the future. My kids have been chattering away excitedly over which story to do next, and how we’re going to do it. They have great imaginations, and often play out their favourite books and films – sometimes with Lego, sometimes with sticks, but most of the time no props are needed at all!

Do you have a favourite family story you could act out? Perhaps you did so as a child. I’d love to hear your ideas and memories in the comments.

Do you believe in faeries? – a Litha celebration

The wheel of the year continues to turn, and we have once again arrived at Litha – the Summer Solstice. The sun at its highest point brings us the longest day, and we can bask in the beauty of the flora and fauna all around us. Bees are buzzing, flowers are blooming, and fruits and vegetables are flourishing. If you are patient and still, you may even catch a glimpse of the faery folk.

This Midsummer’s day we have celebrated by focusing on the magick of the faeries. My little rays have an unwavering belief in the fae, as do I, so it seemed a fitting way for us to honour this Sabbat.

I started by setting up an invitation to play for the two older girls. (My biggest ray opted to do something else; fairy* play is open to all in our house.)

The book is based on the stunning Flower Fairy illustrations by Cecily Mary Barker. It has magical doors which give little glimpses of the fairies and their world. I included little fairy figures and used Grimms and Grapat wooden toys for the scenery. My littlest-middle had a wee play with it, but was desperate to get outside. Ah well, it looked pretty at least!

The next part of our celebration was educational. I read them Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream – the comic book version! We sat on the grass in the sunshine and the children marvelled at the pictures. They laughed at Bottom and Puck, and cheered when everyone married the one they loved. The book is a great way to introduce young children to the genius of William Shakespeare.

Once we had faeries and magick well and truly on the brain, we cast a summoning spell, inviting the fae to linger in our garden. We gathered flowers, and used leaves and grass to wrap them up into little parcels. We then recited our spell and left the parcels on some rocks.

The children checked on the parcels at least seven times before it was time to come in, and I’ve no doubt it will be the first thing they want to check on tomorrow morning!

We talked about the different flowers that are associated with Litha, and my two middle rays wanted to draw them. They pulled out our Usborne Flower Spotters Cards to look at how the stems, leaves, buds, and petals are formed in each one. They looked at daisies, honeysuckle, lillies, and roses. Out came the felt-tipped pens for some flowery artwork.

Once my wee rays were tucked up and dreaming, I took myself back out to the garden for some quiet reflection time and an oracle reading. Usually I stick to a one/two card spread for my readings, but I came across a specific spread for Litha on ethony.com, so decided to try it out. I found it to be quite uplifting, especially as each randomly-drawn card complimented the next. I ended up with the most detailed reading I’ve ever done. I’m really loving my Earth Magic oracle cards, and the more I use them, the more enlightenment I receive from them.

Just as I’m becoming more acquainted with my oracle deck, the Sabbats are becoming a more permanent fixture in my life. There are so many different ways to celebrate each one, and I’m enjoying exploring those different ways. Most people tend to focus on solar imagery for Litha, but the faeries were calling out to me this year. I also found it a great way to introduce my wee rays to this particular Sabbat.

However you’ve celebrated the longest day, I hope you’ve had as much fun as us!

* I’ve used fairy when talking about the book title and pretend play. I use faery/fae when talking about the spiritual folk – wee, flower, or otherworldly.

Possibilities

I’ve been quiet for the past month, but there’s been a lot going on! I can’t disclose all of it at the moment, but be assured it’s all positive.

First of all – my husband got a new job! It came out of the blue, and all happened very quickly. He’s been working at a university as a research associate for the past four years, playing about with planetary drills and robots! I’m playing it down, but he’s actually a super clever guy, and is always looking for ways to develop new technology. He has a PhD in robotics, although rarely uses his title.

That’s about to change, as recently he was advised to apply for a lecturing post that had suddenly opened up. These posts are few and far between, and usually only become available when someone either retires or relocates. He got the job, as I knew he would. This means that he now has a permanent position at the university, instead of having to apply for funding every year or so to keep his job. He’ll need to get used to people calling him Dr! It also means more stability for us, since I’m still doing the SAHM thing!

That could also change sooner than we expected! After toying with a few ideas, I had sort of made my mind up that I would go back to teaching when my littlest ray starts school. I was initially a bit apprehensive about this, as it’s been a long time since I’ve been in the classroom. The curriculum has changed, policies have changed, plus my referees have now retired, so references will be a problem.

I found a refresher course at a local university though, which helps teachers who have been out of the classroom with new policies, plus gives help and advice when it comes to applying for jobs. This eased my mind a bit, and I began to look forward to the thought of being in the classroom again.

Then I stumbled across something which threw me a bit of a curve ball: Forest School.

Forest School is where children can learn in an outdoor environment, usually woodland. They learn survival skills through different games, plus anything which is covered on a typical curriculum can be incorporated into their surroundings. They get fresh air, will learn about nature in a natural environment, plus have plenty of opportunity to run around and just be kids.

Forest Schools are run by Forest School practitioners, whose training includes outdoor safety and working with children. It sounded right up my street! I did a bit of digging on the entry requirements, and was over the moon to discover that one of them is a teaching qualification. It will be at least a year before I would consider doing the training, so I have plenty of time to make my mind up about whether or not it’s something I’ll pursue. At the moment I’m really excited at the thought of being able to work outdoors, yet still put my diploma to good use. I’ll also be able to take my littlest ray with me to work, as well as my older three during school holidays.

I love that life is full of possibilities. One decision can be the beginning of something wonderful. It can also have the opposite effect, which is why some decisions are very hard to make. You’ll never know whether they’ll pay off if you don’t take a risk once in a while though. My husband and I are currently in the process of making one of these decisions. It could either go horribly wrong, or be the best decision we ever make. I can’t say much else on the matter at the moment, as it’s a very personal consideration. I’ll disclose everything once we’ve reached a decision either way though. (I know you kind of hate me for leaving you hanging right now, but I completely understand. 😉)

Its good to have options, and we count ourselves very lucky, as some are not as fortunate to have choices in life. All we can do is live our lives in a way that makes us happy, without harming others. For us, this means the best possible life for our children, giving them the freedom to live their lives as they choose, and showing them the importance of looking after our planet.

Where will life take you today?

An Ostara Celebration

The Spring Equinox is upon us, bringing lengthening days and the hope of a fruitful growing season. Light and dark are equal, bringing balance for a fleeting moment, before the light triumphs. Seeds are sprouting tiny green shoots, trees are budding, and animals are emerging from their dens. The earth is warming up; nature’s incubator at the ready.

As with the other festivals on the Wheel of the Year, I wanted to mark the occasion. The wonderful thing about the pagan festivities is that they open themselves up to so many different ways of honouring them. I decided to keep it fairly simple, since I’m only starting out. I have my eye on some more involved rituals for future celebrations, but for now my priority is getting a feel for each Sabbat and identifying which facets work for me.

I focussed on some of the more well-known symbols of Ostara:

  • eggs and rabbits/hares for fertility
  • candles to welcome back the light
  • flowers as a representation of the warming earth and its bounty

Myself and my wee rays dyed some boiled eggs last night, then feasted on them for breakfast this morning. The children squealed with delight as I served them up – I foresee colourful breakfasts becoming a more regular affair!

As the children ate, I read to them from Wendy Pfeffer’s A New Beginning: Celebrating the Spring Equinox. We learned how people celebrated the end of Winter thousands of years ago, and how different cultures had their own rituals – some of which still hold fast today!

We then set up a mini Ostara altar, using an empty egg carton for the main structure. We filled it with some of the colourful eggs, chocolate mini eggs, candles, and flowers. My littlest-middle helped me to collect some moss from the garden, and we added that too.

I also had the main display set up in the living room – flowers, more candles and chocolate eggs, a wooden rabbit (procured from my littlest ray’s toy box for the day), and my celebration ring (adorned with a bee, a ladybird, and a butterfly.)

When the children arrived home from school, we scampered into the garden, where we planted some seeds at the time the equinox occurred. (16:15) While doing so, we conducted a growing spell, summoning the elements to bestow on us a plentiful growing season.

We then came in for dinner – mini quiches, followed by chocolate mini eggs for pudding…all in keeping with the egg symbolism.

After dinner, we all traipsed into the girls’ bedroom, where we had a lovely view of the sun setting before bedtime.

Here in Scotland, we had a beautiful day for our Ostara celebrations. It was an apt welcome to the growing season, and hopefully a sign of things to come.

Happy Ostara to you all!

Whimsical Wednesday: Feeling Bookish (Part 1)

I love books: the smell; the texture of the paper; the soft rustle as the page turns; the plethora of information/new worlds/fictional friends hidden between the pages. I do have a Kindle, but I tend to use it more as a tablet than for reading. I can see that electronic books have their place in the reading world, but I much prefer the experience of reading a physical book. Of course there can be implications for the planet, but that’s a debate for another post.

My Dad always tells the story of when I was two, sitting on my potty with a book – I really have been reading even before I can remember. I was desperate to learn, and when I finally did understand that all those symbols joined together to make words, I felt like I’d unlocked a treasure trove of possibilities. My first time in a library was much like Matilda’s: open-mouthed wonder at the fact that I could read all of those books, that I could even take them home to read!

I was lucky, in that our local library was four doors down from our house. When I was a child I spent every afternoon after school choosing three or four books. I would then take them home and read them all that night. When I would return them the next afternoon, checking out some more, I don’t think the librarian believed that I’d actually read them!

My favourites included the My Best Fiend series, by Sheila Lavelle; The Babysitters Club series, by Ann M. Martin; the Sweet Valley Twins series by Francine Pascal, and anything by Judy Blume. These were the books my friends read too, and we talked about them in the playground and swapped them under our school desks during class time. My Nanny, Grandad, Great Auntie Marg, and Auntie Lucy used to send me books for my birthday and Christmas. These books were always classics, such as the Discworld series and The Chronicles of Narnia. I’m sad to say that at the time, these books didn’t really appeal to me. I did read The Little House on the Praire series, as well as my childhood favourites – the Anne of Green Gables books. Only now am I revisiting those books that I’d initially cast aside, taking in every word, and seeing them through the eyes of my nine-year-old son, who devours any book he can get his hands on! It’s so lovely to share the beautiful Chronicles of Narnia set that I was given for my ninth birthday with him – a true family heirloom-in-the-making!

When I went to university, I studied Scottish Literature. A lot of classic texts were included in the syllabus, as well as a few modern ones. My absolute favourite book was discovered when I was in my first year – Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh. The story is quite gritty, but I love that it is written in the Scottish vernacular. When I first opened the book, the words swam before my eyes, but after the first page the words flowed and thrust me right in the middle of the various thoughts and escapades of a drug addict.

My love of literature was the reason I decided to train as an English teacher. There are so many lessons you can relay to teenagers, using books as the building blocks. One of my favourite things to teach is how to interpret different texts; a skill which is especially important today, given the amount of misinformation and fake news that circles the internet! It’s also fascinating to share texts that were written centuries ago, but contain messages that are still so relevant today.

I have a to-read list that is constantly expanding. The books on it differ in genre, as (similar to every other aspect of my life) I have eclectic taste. There are children’s books: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; Swallows and Amazons; the How to Train Your Dragon series, classics: Dracula; The Age of Innocence; Bleak House, and non-fiction: The Little Book of Hygge; The Second Sex; The Selfish Gene. These examples are a miniscule snapshot of my list – I don’t expect to ever get to the point where every single one is ticked off! That’s the way it should be too. How awful would it be if there were no more books left to read; no more new characters to meet; no more unique thoughts shared from inspirational people?

It is said frequently – reading has so many benefits. It gives us knowledge, teaches us lessons, and lets us escape from reality for a short while. I use it as one of the many ways to spend time with my children. My biggest ray, as I mentioned earlier, ploughs through books of all genres. He can retain facts in a way that amazes me, and soaks up information like a sponge. My biggest-middle isn’t as avid a reader (which I believe is down to her lack of confidence), but loves having stories read to her. We’re currently on book two of the Harry Potter series, and she delves into that magical world with enthusiasm every night. My littlest-middle is in the midst of learning to read, and has taken to it beautifully. She is now enjoying reading all her favourite books to her baby sister. My littlest ray is just starting to understand the concept of story time. We have read to each of the children from around the age of four months, starting with the Usborne That’s Not My… touchy-feely books.

It’s never too early (or too late) to kindle a person’s love of reading. Even ten minutes a day can be beneficial. So turn off the electronics, grab a snuggly blanket and a drink, and settle down for some thrills/adventure/romance/whatever takes your fancy! I’m off to dive back into The Big Book of Practical Spells.

Which book are you currently reading?