Category: Education

The Epic Reading List

The Epic Reading List

When I was at school (quite a long time ago admittedly), the humble reading list would provoke one of two reactions in me. In primary school it was sheer joy. A chance to tick off a wealth of books I may have already read, and new ones to dive into. I would read them at speed, desperate to be able to return to school as a champion of books. As a hapless sports player, books were my thing. My chance to win at something.

Cue secondary school and my reactions changed somewhat. The books on these lists seemed dull and didn’t engage me. A rebel like me couldn’t be told what to think and read,  so I would scoff at the sheer improbability of getting me to read the books suggested on them and revert back to drawing CND signs on my bag, and reapplying my Rimmel “Black Cherry” lipstick.

And now we’ve gone full circle and reading lists are back in our house with a vengeance. We’ve excel spreadsheets, apps and good old fashioned exercise books listing what we’ve read and what we plan to read next. After poring through 1,001 books to read before you die and realising unless I a) live to 150 or b) give up all plans for the next 40 years this was something I’d never get done which made me a little sad. Books used to be a massive part of my life and I’ve found that now it seems an indulgence to read. If I’m watching TV I can multitask with a craft, catch up on emails, and social media, or just generally “busy” myself. But this pursuit of being busy is something I’m quite intent on moving away from, and so the books make a natural alliance to this. If im trying to convince the boy to increase his reading repertoire it seems unfair that I sit around playing games on the iPad. So I’m trying to lead my example. The boy’s got a list to last him for the next 3 years, and I’m desperately trying to get through the piles of books that have lain untouched for the past few years on my shelves.

So by putting this into the public domain, I guess I’m making a pact with myself. The books are going to get read. It is going to happen.

I’ll let you know how we get on.

100 Ways to Home Educate : B Man and L Girl Style

100 Ways to Home Educate : B Man and L Girl Style

100 Ways to Home Educate? What’s that all about then? Don’t worry, I’m not about to give you my definition of 100 ways, it’s a wonderful collection of just how diverse and different the paths of each home educating family can be. Yesterday was the turn of Elin Sion giving us an insight into “Doing it Her Way” and today it’s all about us so here goes…

When I think about how we started on our home education journey, it’s like we didn’t find home education, it found us. B had started at a sought after local primary school and couldn’t wait to get started. He lasted a year and a half before we made the decision to deregister him and home educate instead. Home education was loosely on my radar as I’d considered it when looking at primary schools and never being convinced I’d found the right one. After bullying and potential SEN issues raised their heads the boys mental health took precedence and here we are. The funny thing is when we started I thought we’d maybe home educate for KS1 and then look at schools again. Now we talk of the possibility of going all the way to A level via home education, it truly opens your eyes once you embrace it.

We’ve tried a few methods before we’ve settled into our groove of what you’d call a semi structured approach. We de-schooled, timetabled, unschooled and then decided on a combination of the two. Despite my desperate attempts at pretending I’m a laid back go with the flow type, I’m lost without a plan and B has always needed structure and routine or he panics. So we have devised a weekly plan and here’s how it looks at the moment.

Monday

Monday is usually spent at home. We tend to knuckle down at the kitchen table and work through a variety of subjects. We follow the curriculum for maths using a range of resources from online sites like Conquer Maths and Khan academy through to work books from Schofield and Sims. We also use Twinkl which we’ve found to be invaluable for a range of material. We’re more interest based for other subjects and can cover buildings, Native American headdresses, hedgehog habitats, human skeletons, English counties and French days of the week in a morning. Some topics may lead onto something bigger, others a general query. We swim with friends on a Monday and B has Beavers too so we tick that “oh so often asked” socialisation target too. Win.

Tuesday

Similar to Monday’s in that it’s a day for getting some structured learning done. We’ll try and include some piano if we can. After a year of formal lessons B lost his interest and now just wants to play tunes from Frozen. I’m in a quandary with this as I’d love for him to pursue the instrument more, but pushing him leads nowhere. At the moment I’ve found if I play, I soon get a buddy playing alongside. We’ve a new allotment so some planning and work there will be taking place on Tuesday’s I think. B has ballet and modern dance classes for a couple of hours in the afternoon. I get housework and shopping…

Wednesday

Usually a day for getting out and about either at organised home education events or by ourselves. After a year I’ve found that there is SO much to do, I have to be careful not to say yes to everything. This week we are off to see Romeo and Juliet at the National Theatre which will be B’s first foray into Shakespeare so fingers crossed. We’ll no doubt have to have a ride on the London Eye while we’re nearby and have a discussion on engineering and structures. Trips to London provide us with a lot of life learning, from journey planning to observational moments. As they say, if you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life. Or something like that.

Thursday

Thursday is our usual trip to London for B’s drama class at Sylvia Young Theatre School. It’s a bit of trek each week, but he is buzzing when he finishes his class and we usually fit in a museum beforehand. This month we discovered the Design Museum, and need to plan a return trip. I find the joy of not having to cram an entire museum into a day in the school holidays, makes the whole process more relaxed and enjoyable. This week we’ve a visit to Anglian Water to learn about the water process first. Wish me luck!

Friday 

This is a day that can go one of two ways. B can be pretty tired from the day before so it’s usually spent locally. Ideally at a drop in kind of event rather than an organised one in case his brain is fried. If we’re at home they’ll no doubt be Minecraft and YouTube involved. B loves a documentary on anything from canal building to the new cross rail train line so he’ll happily watch anything along those lines.

So that’s a snapshot of a week in our home ed lives. Sometimes I have to pinch myself at how lucky we are to live like this. It’s everything I dreamed it would be and so much more. I’d say to anyone considering it to go for it, and to my fellow home educators who paved the way. I salute you.

You can continue the 100 Ways to Home Educate over at REO Life tomorrow for day 13.

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The Design Museum

The Design Museum

Always on the lookout for somewhere different to explore, we made our first visit to The Design Museum yesterday and wow what an amazing place. Situated in Kensington (you’ll be wanting High St Kensington not South Kensington if you’re going by tube), the building itself is a beauty. Personally I love this part of London. From marvelling at how the other half live, to taking in the amazing buildings. The pace always feels a little more child friendly this side of town, if you’re used to the hustle and bustle of the city.


We decided to look around the main part of the museum and not opt for any extra exhibitions on our visit this time, but these are available if you’ve more time. We managed to see all that we wanted to in a few hours and left feeling like we’d had a good explore. Sometimes a single visit just won’t do a large museum justice, or can be a little overwhelming for some visitors.

With plenty of eye catching exhibits and lots of hands on activities be prepared to immerse yourself. You will need to keep an eye on little ones as the exhibits change from hands on to ‘Do Not Touch’ quite frequently though. We looked at products you might use to design a babies toy, through to which products would be best for a reusable cup. The exhibits spring forth a lot of questions from enquiring minds. It certainly makes you think about the story behind all that we have in our lives and homes. Be prepared to feel ancient as you relive your youth looking at Sony Walkmans and technology from the not too distant past.

With workshops available for children KS2 and above, this looks like a museum that will easily earn its place in our top ten!

Educational Apps and Websites

Educational Apps and Websites

Educational apps and websites can be a bit of a minefield to navigate. What works for one family might not strike a chord with another, and you can end up making some costly mistakes if you fork out for one that ends up unused. Fortunately, with the serious dedication and hard work of some experienced home educators there are some excellent discounts available to home educators on some of these websites and apps which may help you on a day to day basis.

When we embarked on our home education journey I already had a huge supply of exercise books from Bond, Collins, Letts, and Schofield and Sims. B liked to do them for fun so we started off with these. We thought that he would be going back into school at some point so we did hover around the curriculum quite a bit. It gave our early days some structure and continuity from school, reinforced what B already knew, and gave him confidence that he would learn just as well at home as he would in school.

At this point, aside from free apps on the phone and tablet I was clueless as to what was available. I knew I didn’t want us to work from exercise books all the time as we’d used these to complement not to educate in their entirety. Our first discovery was Twinkl and we’ve used it consistently from our early days. B had often come home with worksheets from school from the website so it was an easy progression. I love the breadth of what is available on the website. Covering so many subjects at so many levels its been invaluable. We use it a lot for maths, from exercises to print outs plastered all over our kitchen, its not only helped B but its been incredibly useful for aiding me with long division, fraction terminology and all the things buried in the depths of my brain. With a dedicated home education area, there is an absolute wealth of material here.

As we’ve progressed I’d read a lot about the dedicated apps available and knew I wanted to add some into our armoury so to speak. If in doubt of what might be a good fit for your family there are tonnes of discussions on these in the home education groups on social media. Our children are surrounded by technology in a way that has been unprecedented for previous generations. Computer games when I was small really were limited to shoot em ups and in depth fantasy wizarding type scenarios. One such app that combines games and learning is Literacy Planet. Its appeal for us is how much fun it makes each exercise. I’ve been blown away by how much B’s spelling has improved since we’ve started using it, and he is always so keen to get on the app and work. With the facility to add in your own spellings for your child to practice, we’ve been using alongside Schonell’s spelling list to link in with our other literacy work. I’ve also found that B is beginning to identify where his strengths and weaknesses are within his literacy work, and going to exercises which he finds tougher to improve in these areas.

Maths wise we are hooked on Conquer Maths. With the comprehensive videos to help with explanations and the user friendly interface, its a big hit in this house. Like other educational programs available, its worth looking out for a discount in the home education groups. We do follow the curriculum for maths as I find it works well for us. Building maths knowledge in manageable blocks has helped B with his confidence and knowledge. We tend to use tangible aids to reinforce ideas using fraction blocks and cubes where needed. Being able to set specific tasks is really useful within the website and the printable certificates are great if your child enjoys the recognition.

I’m sure over time we’ll add more to our must have list, but for now these are our recommendations. If you’ve any you’d like to share, we’d love to know!

Home Education Anniversary – One Year On

Home Education Anniversary – One Year On

I can’t quite believe that we’ve been home educating for a whole year now. Like lots of parenting aspects, some parts of it make me feel like it’s flown by, others like we’ve been doing this forever. So the big question is what have we learnt from a year out of school and do we like it?

The resounding answer from both of us is yes.

For me I love the freedom. I love the time spent watching the boy learn and grow. He is smiling again. I love the endless days out, and the cosy days in. The questions, the experiences, the opportunities.

We always thought that this would be a temporary measure and we’d find a new school for juniors or KS2. After a few months in, it became apparent that B would stay out of school for the whole of primary. Well that’s the current plan. Who knows if he might feel the urge to join a school before then!

Like any change in life there is always a lot of emotional investment. You’re putting yourself in the line again and again socially as you venture out into this new way of life. We’ve tried a lot of days out, groups and clubs and have now worked out what works for us. This has been particularly hard for me as this is one of those areas I find immensely hard. I’m rubbish at social occasions and all that goes with it so it’s probably been good to get me out of my own comfort zone. I was quite happy spending my school holidays with my books up a tree so don’t really buy into how much people need to socialise. I’m more a believer in you need to do what makes you happy. B is pretty similar to me and gets burnt out by constant pressure to see friends so we’ve learnt to pick and choose our events and days out. If social events aren’t your cup of tea, choose things where your quite hands on with the kids. The sitting around drinking coffee events are infinitely harder if you’re not a social butterfly.

I’ve learnt it’s quite OK to spend time just the two of us.

I’ve also learnt to become a little more tidy. That’s a win right there isn’t it? I think spending days in constantly looking at “stuff” has led me to become more ruthless in purchasing, de-cluttering and tidying. I’m constantly amazed by how much I’ve learnt about trains, space, minecraft and Pokemon from day to day life.

Lots of people will be interested to hear your story. Being out and about with a school aged child during term time does create some interest. We’ve been asked many a time by strangers about the ins and outs of home education which has always been a positive experience.

There is a wealth of stuff out there if you need it. Social media is full of groups, meet ups and events. It might take some time to unearth them all, a lot of groups are quite secret, and you need to meet someone in person to be allowed to join. Kind of like some kind of home educating masons. I’ve not found any that made me do a funny handshake yet though.

The Cost of Home Education

The Cost of Home Education

I see this spoken about a lot on social media. Just how much does home educating a child cost you as a family? When families are weighing up whether they can take the plunge, they often want to know what are the true costs to educating a child outside of the system. The answers vary massively and one answer that springs up so often is this:

It can cost as little or as much as you want it to.

Now this is very true, but until you’ve dipped your foot into home educating waters this doesn’t always give you a great deal of clarity. After a year of home education I’ve found it useful to break it down into 3 areas.

  1. What will you save by not going to school?
  2. How much can you afford to spend?
  3. What do you consider essential?

What will you save by not going to school?

To me starting with what will you save starts the whole exercise off on a positive footing. Firstly the uniform. In our experience school required specific school jumpers, ties, white school shirts, grey trousers and smart black shoes. None of which comes cheap. Add to that a school bag, lunch box, PE kit, stationary, it’s all going to start to add up. Obviously your child is still going to need clothes, but you’re not going to be spending it on specific clothes that only have one purpose. I’d hazard a guess that the amount of belongings that get lost when a child is at school won’t affect you quite as much either.

Next we can add on school trips and extra expenses. Depending on the school they may be the weekly bake sale, the PTA donations, the raffle tickets, the school trips. Add that on to your figure.

Perhaps you’d have to do the school run by car? So we can allow some petrol on to our figure. Possibly parking too? Add this of it would have affected you.

Also think of the savings with term time holidays. It all adds up.

How much can you afford to spend?

Once you’ve worked out how much you’ve saved it’s good to have a look at how much you can realistically afford to spend each month on home education. Obviously this is the figure that varies massively from family to family, but trust me, they’ll be someone out there with a budget similar to yours. It’s going to be hard to always stick to it, but try if you can. It’ll make life a lot less stressful in the long run, and it’s great working things out with the children.

What do you consider essential?

At first this is probably the most overwhelming part. Far more questions crop up at this point that answers. Will I need to spend a fortune on resources? What about days out? How will my child socialise if I don’t go to every event? Do we need a tutor? How about memberships? The early days are quite overwhelming, but the resounding home educators advice would be to chill. Don’t start spending. Wait and see. I found this part really tricky but it’s so true. Here’s a list of things we’ve found that we spend our budget on:

  • Annual passes – from the National Trust, the zoo, Merlin passes, to the RHS. If it’s something you love, it may be worth a pass. Consider them for presents too. Is there someone in your family who could buy the children a pass for Christmas?
  • Ink – I get a bit print happy at times, as there are so many excellent FREE resources out there.
  • Educational Apps – we use Conquer Maths, Twinkl and Literacy planet, but waited months before signing up for all of them. Wait and see is the old adage here again.
  • Days out. Don’t be afraid if you can’t do them all. I would have signed us up to anything and everything in the early days which is not only expensive but also pointless if you and your child have no interest in the event!

There are loads of places which offer things for free. From the amazing museums, to your local library. Pack a picnic so you’re not forever forking out for lunch. Invest in a good flask for days in the woods.

It might not always be the cheapest, but the value of the education your child will receive is priceless.

Hibernating & Deschooling

Hibernating & Deschooling

It seems like I’ve not written for ages, so after over a month of blogging hibernation we are back. December was a funny month for us. It felt strange not to be caught in a whirl of Nativity plays and rehearsals, and the mania that surrounded us when B was in school. After struggling to shake off the dreaded cough that’s doing the rounds we spent time recuperating, chilling and taking the festivities in a far more slower fashion.

By taking the time out it was like having another period of deschooling which I can’t recommend enough. I love how you can evolve your home education style as you go. As your children grow, and their needs change, so can the method in which you educate them. I noticed that B had emerged with a new fascination with the world. Those constant questions of “how does this work”, “why do we do this”, “when did this happen” were back. But a month without much structure also brings about challenges for the both of us who secretly thrive on it. So this year requires a way in which we can have enough structure to give us a framework to know what we are doing, balanced with the freedom to let our minds run riot with ideas.

So far we’ve got a lot more organised at booking events up for the year ahead which is something I’m usually a lot more impulsive with, but B likes to know what he’s doing in the future and with whom so it’s a must. On the flip side it also gives me a chance to see which times of the year are getting too busy, and to schedule in some downtime to stop us burning out.

I’m not sure how long we will prevail in this style, but when it needs evolving again, that’s what we’ll do!

Kinetic Sand Building Set – Building Made Fun

Kinetic Sand Building Set – Building Made Fun

B was beyond excited to receive a box of Kinetic Sand to try out and couldn’t wait to get stuck in. We’ve been looking at buildings as part of our home education journey after B decided he wanted to do a project on them so the timing couldn’t have been better. There are a range of different sets available so you can veer towards whatever your little ones are interested in. The sandcastle set is is great for girls and boys as the colours are neutral, ideal if you’ve more than one child to please.


With everything you need to get started B got on with the job in hand. The sand moulds so well, we had creations in no time. There is enough sand included to create all the plastic moulds that are included which pleased him no end. Sometimes there’s nothing worse when having to choose to build one, you need to destroy your other creations!

One of the first things you notice with the sand is that is has a really pleasing texture. Over the years we’ve played with many modelling toys from moon dough, to sand, through to plasticine and none of them feel as nice as this does on your hands. When sensory issues come into play when choosing toys, this one was a hit for us.

A favourite thing about kinetic sand is just how well you can mould it. B managed to make them all without the familiar despair of a castle collapsing too soon!


With a handy tray to play and store everything in, this is a toy that parents needn’t fear being brought out either!
**We were sent the sand to review, but all opinions are our own **

Unschooling and Structure

Unschooling and Structure

In September we thought we’d try a more structured approach to our daily routine. We set aside times for maths and English and I went crazy printing off a million and one worksheets. Add some brightly coloured lever arch folders to the mix and I was in an organising and filing frenzy. I thought it would be the perfect solution to adding the structure we thought we wanted and I’d made some lovely spreadsheets to tick off everything we were learning about.

Needless to say a couple of months later and we are having a major overhaul yet again. Does that mean our heavily structured method failed? I don’t think so. We’ve drawn from it the things that we both liked. I like the fact that should we choose to follow the curriculum strictly I have all the resources to hand, and B loves a worksheet like there’s no tomorrow.

But what about the unschooling?

I was desperate to free B from the constraints of following something rigid. I thought that we could dip in and out of things as interests changed. That we could choose a topic and get lost in it. I’d noticed so many benefits over the summer from stepping away from the formal learning and spending lots of time outside, but this is not what he wants to do.

So after much discussion we’ve put together a timetable of when and what we are doing. It’s all led by B, and he wants to know what he’s doing and when. So our child led learning may look completely different from what I envisioned, but isn’t that always the way.

Changing Your Home Education Style

Changing Your Home Education Style

I’m going to say it, and it’s one of those things I’m not too keen to admit to, so I’m going to have to get the words out and move on.

I made a mistake.

When I say I don’t like to make mistakes it’s not that I’m so arrogant I think I never make them, it’s just that I’m a researcher and a planner. I like to know the ins and outs of everything I do. If I don’t know about something I’ll find out all I can, or I’ll admit I don’t know. I’m a mistake avoider if there’s such a thing.

I’m not sure whether it’s a big one, or a vital one to stop me veering off in a direction that’s unmanageable, but it’s a mistake nonetheless.

I’ve spent the last month happily planning out our maths work for the year, printing away worksheets from Twinkl and neatly filling out spreadsheets as we completed each task. So far, so good. We’ve happily ploughed through lots of work and my system worked wonderfully for September. Then last night whilst working out our work for October I realised we couldn’t work on what I’d planned without knowing what I’d planned for the month after!

In the grand scheme of things it’s really not that major. We’ve picked it up early and I’ve managed to have a re-jig of our timetable to accommodate our new plan.

What it has shown me however, is some of the things I’d forgotten about from those many years ago when I was at school. It’s strange how the fear from over thirty years ago has a way of creeping over you. I’m not sure why I have such a hang up with maths. I was in top group at school, I passed my GCSE and I had a career in financial services. But still I don’t consider myself a numbers person. I find myself worrying that this is where I’m going to let B down. Which is ridiculous as B’s dad is an accountant and constantly reassures us that he can help where I can’t.

Where do these labels come from and how can we help to overcome them? I don’t like the idea of being identified as the person who’s good at this, but can’t do that. It’s the fear of growing into this preconceived idea of someone else’s that I don’t like. I’m not sure if it comes from my family structure or not. I don’t recall being pigeon holed at home, but I can tell you now we have very different and distinct personalities and maybe subconsciously I’ve chosen this box for myself. Almost as if all the good labels were taken and I’ve had to become what was left.

I know that I don’t want to pass this fear onto B. At the moment he is still in the delightful phase of where he believes everything and anything is possible. Every now and then he’ll have a wobble, usually when faced with his 6 weekly ice skating tests, but on the whole, it’s him against the world. Anything that can’t be solved can be put in the dustbin. Right now he has enough faith in the pair of us to get through so I’ll go with that

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