Category: Tips

Talking About Politics With Children

Talking About Politics With Children

We’re a fairly (read massively) opinionated lot in our house, and what is going on the world is usually discussed at length at any opportunity we get. As you can imagine with the sudden decision to hold a snap election in the UK there is a lot of opportunity for debate right now.

But how do you explain all of this to a child? Personally I think its vitally important that they understand that politics affects everyone, but where do you start? With a general election usually only held every 5 years, sometimes its hard to put things into context, ,so now is a great time to introduce ideas as so much is in the news.

Something that does concern me is how much my views will cloud my child’s judgement. My house wasn’t a place for political discussion when I was growing up. With the old adage of never talk about politics or religion I found myself a little adrift when thrust into debates when I was 16. I will always remember my first day of 6th form when someone asked me who I would vote for and why. I had no idea and decided to start getting a little more informed. I started to ensure I read a “proper” newspaper at the weekend to understand more of what was going on and to be able to back up my opinions (which was one thing, I had been taught to do!)

Fast forward a few years and the wealth of information available is vast so where do you start? Here’s what we’re looking at right now:

  • Why is it important to vote? We’ve been looking at who is entitled to vote and whether its always been that way. It seems quite alien to children to find out just how unfair the UK was a short while ago, and how equality for all still has a long way to go.
  • What can voting affect? You can talk about money for schools, hospitals and doctors, and public services like the library. All accessible and relevant to a child.
  • The environment. This is one that usually strikes a chord with children. You can explain how investment can be made into different methods of power and why this affects how people may want to vote. Who is going to look after the planet and all the life within it.
  • Explain the history of the different parties. This can tie in with the point above, for example years ago there wasn’t a Green Party, the need has arisen due to societal and environmental changes.

A lot of this can be explained whilst out and about in your local environment. Can they notice changes that have happened in their lifetime? Personally we’ve had our local surgery privatised and homelessness in our city rise massively. All quite visual changes.

If you’ve a child aged 8-14 you might like to try The Week Junior. With succinct writing in manageable sized articles, it’s a great starting place for children to learn independently of their parents political ideals.

We’ve also been looking at resources from Twinkl. Always quick to provide new resources when needed, there are some excellent ideas on how to ensure your children are educated on what an election entails.

Finally, I do think its important to explain the need for sensitivity when talking about politics. B did have a habit of asking people which “colour” they voted for when he was younger and proceeded to tell them which way he thought they should vote. No idea where he got that from….honest!

School Allocation Day

School Allocation Day

Today my social media has been awash with good news and bad news. Parents who have got the schools that they desperately wanted and those who have not. I remember staying up to the early hours waiting earnestly to see if B had got his place a couple of years ago, and dramatically declaring I would simply build a free school if we weren’t successful! Fast forward to now and I had no idea that we would end up on the journey we have. But like they say, life is what happens when you are busy making plans.

So where am I going with this? I mean after all today’s tales don’t really affect me, but I really wanted to put something positive out into the arena. Even though B got the school of our choice, it still didn’t instil me with positivity. I was uneasy about sending him and had started to research other options, but home education just didn’t seem like a viable option. I didn’t know a single other person who’d either been home educated or was currently home educating their children. I thought that we’d be a pair of loners at the kitchen table day in, day out, wondering what the hell we were doing. Fast forward to now, and as you can see that’s rarely the case. To anyone feeling unsure of their child’s future after todays results I would just say the following:

  • School will always be there. If home education turns out to be a disaster for your family you can always reapply.
  • Just think of what you’ve always done. You’ve taught your child to talk, walk, ride a bike, swim, read and question the world. You’ll just be building on these skills.
  • You can learn alongside your child. I’ve learnt a wealth of information on trains and space in the past year. Sometimes you’d be amazed by how much your child knows.
  • There are hundreds of resources to help you. From online curriculums to web based learning programs, there will be something to help you.
  • It is not a lonely place. Join your local Facebook groups and you’ll be amazed by how much is going on. Usually I have to limit our activity as the home education network is so busy. There is always something going on.
  • You will find your tribe and your people. It may take a few visits to different activities, but you will find the mums and kids that you click with.

I truly hope you’ve found your school place and are happy, but if the alternative is looking like home education for you, it really is a massively rewarding journey. Hard work, but like most things in life, the things that are tough are the ones that are worth it.

Books Books Everywhere!

Books Books Everywhere!

We have a strange habit in this house and its one I’m trying to stop. I’m not sure when it crept up on me, but it’s also a habit that the boy has inherited and it drives me mad. What is it? What is it that’s so bad?

Starting book after book and never finishing them.

I have quite possibly 10 books that I’m somewhere in the process of reading. I justify this to myself by all manner of reasons. Some books are too bulky for the train, so I need to grab a smaller one. I prefer to read on the iPad at night in bed, so the other half isn’t disturbed. There is always a reason/excuse as to why I’ve picked up a new one and not finished the current one. It’s not even as if I don’t enjoy them, I just seem to be really poor at finishing them, and I never use to do it.

I wonder if its partly to do with embracing the joy of new technology. We’ve got so many ways to read or be read to now, and in this house we use them all. We’ve story CD’s, Amazon Audible, Borrowbox, Kindles and iPads all delivering us instant reading pleasure.

Then I wonder if it’s the quantity that are available. If the library ticket says I can have 12 books, you bet I’m going to find 12 to take home.

In fact maybe I’m just greedy for books? The wonder of what lies within, and a thirst for knowledge? Or maybe I just like shiny new books? Either way, I’m hoping that facing up to it will be part of overcoming it.

So I’m going to try really hard to finish my current ten or so, and pick up one at a time from now on.

I can but try!

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.

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!

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