Friday, 8 June 2018

End of an Era #1

Today Eldest sat his final IGCSE of the season.  Any Home Ed parent who has travelled this road will understand how exhausted I feel - it takes a huge amount of mental strength to facilitate learning, revision etc at this level, and emotional strength too, to help your loved one through the peaks and troughs of learning to be tested, let alone carrying the weight of felt responsibility for their success (or failure).  To be honest, all I want to do now is nothing for the rest of the day - to just cuddle with the dog and watch a movie while the kids play on the Wii.  But - I also really want to mark this day - officially the last day of Eldest's home ed journey.  So even though I haven't blogged for many months (oops), I wanted to check in with today's thoughts before surrendering to couch-potatohood.

Now I know August's results are not guaranteed, but right now that is almost irrelevant to me.  I am just so proud of how hard Eldest has worked, and how much he has grown this year - both physically, at over 6 ft 2 (!), and personally.  It was most evident at the beginning of exam season when he turned up to the exam centre ready for his first paper only to discover there had been a terrible mistake and he had not been registered for his first (and best) subject, Biology.  He sat in the exam room for an hour waiting to see if the college would succeed in trying to get an emergency paper sent over, but sadly the exam board (Cambridge) refused.  On paper it sounds such a minor thing, easily summed up in a sentence, but in reality it was such a shock.  The whole year he had worked to prepare himself for this point, and we had been so pleased that his first exam to ease him into the season would be in his favourite subject - but now, not only was that paper cancelled but the whole subject jeopardised, and if that failed, what about next year's entry to sixth form?  As we sat in the principal's office later that day discussing the final refusal from Cambridge, I was so proud by how Eldest carried himself.  He didn't slump into depression or get carried away by anxiety, nor complain about how unfair it all was - all of which would have been understandable reactions.  He simply took it in and joined me thanking the staff for their efforts, and came away resolved to find a way forward.

Well, we now have a way forward of sorts.  Cambridge refused to let him sit any of the Biology papers so he has no chance of getting that IGCSE this year, but the college have done everything possible to be helpful and have said that if he does well in his other subjects they will still accept him onto the Biology A' level course in September.  This was such a relief, but on top of the week-long confusion over whether he would be able to sit any of the papers, it added pressure on him to do well in English (his worst subject) and Chemistry which he only started studying in October.  Thankfully we had had some extra tutor support in both those subjects, so we prayed and did our best to refocus, and although the stress on Eldest was evident over those few exam weeks, he showed so much character-strength that I could almost burst with pride.

So anyway we kept our heads down and continued revising, and this Wednesday afternoon we were going through his English revision when I realised this was it: the last day of involvement as Eldest's home educator (his last exam was today, but he consistently performs best after a day of rest so I steeled my nerves and scheduled in yesterday as a day-off).  As we read through the anthology I realised the significance of what we were doing just in time to really live in the moment and savour the last half-hour. We sat side by side on the sofa reading through one of my all-time favourite poems, "Still I Rise" by Maya Angelou, with Eldest rolling his eyes good-naturedly and grinning indulgently at me every time I enthused about a particular line or the overall energy and attitude of the poem.  It was really special, and I'm so grateful for that moment - captured in my heart for ever.

Of course it's possible that he may not get good enough results in August to go to sixth form college, and we may have to take more time home educating him through retakes - or revising for the Biology IGCSE if he needs to take it in November while studying for his A-levels.  But right now I have to accept that in all probability my job here is done - at least as far as being his official sole educator is concerned.  And so we come to the end of this era.  When we were enduring the drudgery of learning of IGCSEs I often wished we could have carried on doing the fun stuff that I still get to do with Middle and Youngest, but right now I am grateful for those two hard years - not only has Eldest really grown and proved himself ready to go on to his new challenge of sixth form college, but I really won't miss those IGCSE studies!

One era finished - in the coming days I will refocus and make plans for the next season, having fun learning with Middle and Youngest while enjoying seeing Eldest take his next step growing in independence.  But the rest of today is dedicated to one long and relieved slump on the sofa - I figure I've earned it!

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Local Authority: Friend or Foe?

I haven't done a generic post for ages, but recently in a Facebook group a new home educator asked a really important question: why we (the HE community) have to refuse LA visits.  I waited until I had enough time to write a decent answer as it's an important topic and one that many people gloss over but don't always fully understand.  The responses were that it was helpful, so I wanted to write it down here so that I could find it again the next time the subject comes up - which it does, often.  So here is my explanation of why the HE community generally seem so resistant to LA involvement:

Firstly it must be said that every home educator has a choice - nobody HAS to refuse - or indeed accept - a visit from the Local Authority.  It is true that there is a lot of emphasis on refusing visits within the Home Ed community - this is mainly because those with experience have seen too often how most Local Authorities do not understand their remit and send out letters requiring visits and making other demands that overstep what is legally required of them.

In law, HEors currently do not have to register, do not have to be monitored, do not have to have our plans and education officially approved.  This is because parents hold the legal responsibility for the education of their children.  Schools are monitored etc because parents have delegated their authority to then so somebody has to check that they are fulfilling that responsibility.

Unfortunately, society has become so brainwashed into thinking that school is the norm, that we just assume somebody else is in charge of educating our kids, and what we do must be evaluated by them.  The truth is, we are legally responsible for ensuring that our children receive a suitable education.  The LA's remit is simply to step in if they have reason to believe this is not happening and only then can they ask for evidence.  Only when they are sure that a child's education is being neglected can they take steps to send them back to school, but this is very rare, because what constitutes a suitable education is flexible enough to cover most educational philosophies.

The UK is pretty unusual in leaving the duty of care in the parents' hands where it rightly belongs, but even so over the years home educators here have had to fight government attempts to erode our proper freedom (there is another such attempt in the House of Lords at the moment).  Part of this fight has been to resist Local Authorities who are conditioned towards standardisation, monitoring and form-filling, and who assume a heavy-handed duty of care that is legally not theirs.  Therefore new HEors who have just deregistered their children are usually encouraged by the HE community to resist filling in LA forms or having them visit, to take time to deschool (get school-based assumptions about education out of their thinking) and understand better the implications of handing over our parental rights and freedom to an organisation.

Many new HEors are inclined to go along with LA demands because of not wanting to rock the boat, and because of advice from some who have had visits which seemed to go well.  However generally unless there is a specific reason for wanting the LA's input (such as single parents with an ex-partner who is anti-HE, or non-nationals needing help with visa renewal), most seasoned HEors (and I myself) would recommend refusal, at least to begin with.  Veteran HEors have been liasing with Local Authorities for many, many years to educate them (it is shocking how many do not appear to know or follow their legal remit), and establish clear boundaries, so it is always wise to consult the local HE community before engaging with the LA on any level.

For anyone reading this as a new HEor or without a clear reason to welcome LA visits, my best advice is to make sure you understand your legal rights and responsibilities (link here), then write a polite letter briefly explaining that you understand the law pertaining to Home Education, that you have all the support you currently need locally and nationally (Facebook is a great place to start), and either briefly outlining any plans you may have, or - more likely - explain that you are having a settling-in period while you investigate options, available resources etc, and that you will contact them in six months with a more coherent plan, which just needs to include resources (internet, library, local HE groups, any curricula), and a VERY brief overview (1-2 paragraphs) of what your HE has looked like so far, including your child(ren)'s deschooling process, especially if there were problems in school that took time for them to recover from.

Hopefully this has been helpful to new home educators, those wanting to explain why they advise refusal, and anyone else generally interested.  As always I'm really happy to answer any further questions - feel free to comment below!

Thursday, 12 October 2017

On a Roll

Sometimes we can be so busy with the day-to-day 'stuff' of home educating that we forget to notice how far we have come.  Just a cursory appraisal shows that since we started our Home Education journey Youngest has learned to read and write, and has developed a passion for all things tech-related, Middle has healed remarkably from the anxious and withdrawn child that he had become in school, and is now a very sociable boy who loves to read books and share what he has learned, and Eldest has grown from childhood to a young adult, taking on new challenges and starting to spread his wings.

This evening Eldest and I are going to a sixth form college to investigate the possibility of studying for A levels next September.  We were chatting last night about what questions he might want to ask them, and it struck me that he has spent over half his educational life learning from home - it's a long time since he was in a schooly environment!  It does feel pretty alien for both of us to be heading back into one.  And in one sense I am not ready, because we've only just got into our stride on this year's IGCSE studies - next September seems a long way in the distance: way after the summer exams which we are nowhere near yet!  But time marches on, and children grow up when you're not looking, and it is the season of open evenings, so here we are, getting ready to visit some colleges.

I know some home educators successfully study A levels from home, and we have considered it, but I don't think it would work well for us.  I will need to be able to concentrate more fully on Middle and Youngest - especially as Middle will be approaching IGCSE season himself - and I think it can be too easy for Eldest to lean on me when he studies from home.  He has learned some good autonomous-learning skills, particularly through the IGCSE studies, and I think he will benefit from the challenge of moving that to an external environment.  Plus there is the social side of things, which really dried up once he started exam studies, meaning that he was mostly too busy for the HE groups that his brothers enjoy.  He still enjoys youth group and church and has friends over from time to time, so isn't totally isolated, but sixth form will hopefully give him the opportunity to meet a wider circle of people again, and give him more opportunities to spread his wings a bit before heading to university (as is his current plan).

So that leaves us balanced with one foot in the future, considering colleges and making plans - and one foot in the here-and-now, studying hard the subjects that should enable him to follow those plans.  Now that Eldest is on a roll with English and Biology, and doing really well (hooray for overcoming the initial problems at the start of September), we are adding a third subject to his list of IGCSEs this year.  He did ask about doing ICT but it has proved to be difficult to find a college where he can sit the practical element for that.  Also we have realised that many universities like to have Chemistry as well as Biology A level for Eldest's desired degree subject, and seeing as he was already considering Chemistry IGCSE as well, we have decided to follow that route.  It's far out of my comfort zone, so we will be using an online course provider - probably Echo Education - and relying on Daddy who has an A level in chemistry for back-up.

And right now I am going to finish typing so I can help Eldest find the necessary piece of gauze for this morning's Biology experiment - and I am going to make the most of it because it's not going to be long before my hands-on involvement with his education will be no longer needed.  I am so proud of him, especially now he's on a roll again with his studies.  I just need to remember to step off the treadmill myself from time to time and enjoy it while it lasts!

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

IGCSEs: What's the Point Anyway?

So we've only just started the new term, and already it's all about adjusting.  Before Eldest's summer exams he was working flat out, getting up early and working long hours, and I promised him that after the exams were over he could sleep as late as he liked for the rest of the summer.  He certainly took me up on that promise, in typical teen style - and has grown at least a couple of inches meanwhile so I guess it's been helpful.  It's not easy for him having to get used to studying to a timetable again though, or for me dealing with it, and I have already had to check my attitude.  It's so tempting to wish he could just carry on doing the fun stuff that I'm doing with Middle and Youngest.

I mean, what IS the point of IGCSEs anyway?  It's a much more boring way of studying than we used to enjoy and it's not actually proper learning in my opinion: I'm sure Eldest has already forgotten plenty of the Maths & Geography information that he crammed in temporarily for the June exams.  It's just pointlessly hard slog, isn't it?  Eldest and I can both can get pretty fed up with the whole ordeal, even this early on in term.

The obvious answer is that these seemingly pointless tests do actually have value - albeit in a limited way.  They are a gateway to doing what he wants to do.  At present Eldest wants to study A levels and then go to university.  There are cases of Home Educators who have gone to Uni without GCSEs or A levels, but I don't know if that included Science degrees, and Eldest and I felt that this was the best route for us.  So if cramming temporary knowledge for exams is what is needed, then that is what we will have to do.

And then I remind myself that even if he may not be learning much of permanence that is subject-based, he IS learning some really important skills for a lifetime.  Last month when we were expecting him to fail because of our joint rookie mistakes I reminded Eldest (and myself) of all that he had achieved regardless of the results of the days' testing.  As blogged previously, studying for exams rather than for pleasure caused him to grow in resilience, perseverence and maturity.  Unpleasant challenges can cause us to grow in character (if we let them) and to be honest that is far more valuable than whether or not we remember how to calculate using the irrational root of an integer.  So we are already reviewing some of these lessons, with more opportunities to develop character and approach tasks that we don't enjoy. Not the most fun to be had, but probably the most value.

So practically speaking that has taken us to some false-starts already this term. Firstly in English, where Eldest does NOT enjoy the subject - despite being an avid reader and creative-thinker, he finds it very hard to apply those skills in the way needed to master it as an academic subject and so has a significant barrier to overcome for every task required.  Life Lesson no. 1 right there: a negative attitude can make progress impossible but persistence and a good attitude reap huge results. Secondly in Biology the tasks are less of an issue than the sheer volume of work - there are a LOT of facts and concepts to learn, and we need to learn from the mistakes we made last year, and take better notes etc from the beginning. Note-taking is a skill in itself - and not one that comes naturally to him, so this is where we have hit life lesson no. 2: the work you invest up front makes your life so much easier when the pressure is on further down the line.

Life-lessons are the hardest to learn and I can't think of any that are instant.  And this is what I keep reminding myself whenever Eldest (or I) want to quit.  It's been difficult for him to transition from lazy summer-holiday mode back into hard-work mode, and if it gets too much I allow him a break to calm down and then we come back to it an hour or so later.  We have had to adapt and re-adapt our initial planned timetable, and are not at all on-track with the first one we drew up, but it's all good.  I am trusting that we will find our stride much earlier this time round than last year (when we never really found it, tbh).  So we have already faced opportunity for discouragement but are not going to give up - just adapt and keep moving on. Hopefully by the next blog post we'll be making steady progress. Meanwhile we are about to draw up Plan C (or is it D?) and are getting closer to the solution with every adjustment.

So basically the mantra I am rapidly adopting is that the point of IGCSEs is not so much about learning the subjects themselves - although they do have temporary value - but more about learning the life-lessons that studying for testing provides.  It seems to be mostly about growing up - learning to go through not-so-nice stuff in order to get to the goal you are aiming for... taking on some difficult challenges and allowing that process of growing through trials to work its magic.  So I will correct my attitude for the umpteenth time, as my wodnerful teen is also having to do, and we will press on and ultimately conquer.  Bring on the IGCSEs (again)!

Monday, 4 September 2017

Not Back To School

There are many home educators who do not follow term-times, because they say that children are naturally learning all the time and you can't switch that on or off.  They are absolutely right.  But for home educators who follow any kind of structure, be it full or partial, term times can be helpful, especially for those of us who have something to plan.

This school year I have a LOT to plan.  Last year I mainly focused on Eldest and getting both of our heads round how to sit IGCSEs as home educators.  I felt that Middle and Youngest were a bit neglected oftentimes throughout the year. This wasn't a massive problem because, as mentioned previously, children carry on learning regardless - and they absolutely did, even with less input from me than I would have liked.  But this year Eldest and I have more experience: even with different subjects to study we feel more like we know what we are doing.  And so I have been looking forward to being able to divide my time more fairly between the three of them (up until revision season at least, and then I suspect the younger two will be more autonomous again!

Educating at different levels, especially when one of those levels is highly structured learning-for-exams, is not for the faint-hearted.  It has felt intimidating but I really want to give it a go, so my way of preparing for that has been to plan, plan and plan some more.  I have drawn up a detailed timetable of what the boys will be studying:

Eldest has 2 subjects (for now at least): English and Biology. We are using online tutorial courses (Catherine Mooney and Echo Education respectively) and have divided all of the work he needs to cover between available days, aiming to finish by February half term so he has plenty of revision time.  I think we have paced it much better this year.

Middle and Youngest will be doing the same as ever with just a couple of parent-led activities a day and lots of space to follow whatever else interests them at the time.  They will be alternating MathsWhizz and English workbooks, and then we have some art 'lessons', stories of the British Empire for history, Science workbooks, STEM challenges, and a cooking curriculum to work through as Middle really fancies becoming a chef.  All of those alongside Forest School and our other HE groups.

There's nothing too strenuous for any of the boys (especially because Eldest has no re-takes - hooray!), but I will be relying on my plans to keep myself on track, juggling them all.  All I can do is try and see how it goes.  I do love a good plan, it's true - but I also love to be able to change up whatever is working.  An efficient plan allows plenty of room for adaptation.  After all, flexibility is the key to happy Home Ed! :)

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Results Day

I don't really like that title because it makes the little bit of paper we received this morning sound so all-important.  And ultimately the results of Eldest's hard work this year and throughout his education cannot be summed up by just a couple of letters of the alphabet.  He has learned resilience, perseverence, maturity, to pace himself, maintain a good attitude... and that's just off the top of my head.  But as far as the results of his exams go - well I suppose that is the focus of today at least, and it will make a difference to his more immediate future - but I have to say this is not the blog post that I was expecting to write.

He passed!  C in Geography and B in Maths!

We are both slightly in shock but very happy!  We totally expected to 'fail' and were prepared to learn from our mistakes (we still will) and work towards resits next year.  Really we did so much wrong, being total IGCSE novices.  We left far too much until the last minute - nowhere near enough time for revision.  He hadn't even started on the two-year Maths syllabus by January this year, but was slightly behind according to school standards. And yet here we are, rather stunned at the very lovely piece of paper that has graded his work on the exam days.  He did work extremely hard over the revision period: for that alone he deserves every recognition - and without the tutor support we had, I'm sure it would have been a very different story (if anyone needs online Maths tutoring, I can recommend Absolute Maths - they were great).

I feel a lot more cheerful, prepared and relaxed as we get ready for the new term.  I'm sure there will be challenges and stresses ahead, but right now we're just basking in the glow of our (albeit unexpected) success!

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Back to the Fun Stuff

Well, we've done it!  Eldest has sat his exams, after which we immediately drove to Wales for a week's family holiday - and a blissfully relaxing time it was too!  Now that we're back, I can't express how much I am enjoying getting back to the fun stuff with Middle and Youngest!  Eldest is taking full advantage of my promise to him that after exams he would be free to sleep-in every morning and just do whatever he wants once awake - that stands at least for a month, and I figure it is well-earned!

Meanwhile the younger two and I are enjoying some time together doing all the fun stuff that I have missed so much.  They were having fun anyway while Eldest and I were on Planet Revision, but now I get to join in too - it's so lovely!

They have being doing MathsWhizz and Literacy as usual, and Youngest is doing a little handwriting every day (one page from his Collins book) as he's in need of some extra regular input, and then we loosely follow a plan drawn up for the remaining month of term:

Monday: Maths, Art
Tuesday: Literacy, STEM
Weds: Maths, History
Thurs/ Fri: Literacy, Geography
Fri/ Thurs: Forest School (we go to two which both run fortnightly on different days, so one week we have Thursdays at home, and the other week it is Friday)

It's hardly an exhausting schedule - just adding in one extra subject per day to prompt me to find some fun things that I think we'd all enjoy, and it leaves plenty of time for them to choose further games and activities for me to join in with or follow their own interests while I attend to the huge piles of housework that accumulated while I was engrossed in exam-season.  Of course, we are also taking every opportunity to socialise in all the groups and park meet-ups that proliferate in the summer term - just lovely!

So this week we started off with Art, and a marbling project that actually took most of the week to complete as the boys were very generous with their oily inks, which then took days to dry(ish) before we could cut out the shapes and assemble them...

On Tuesday they chose a couple of Dyson's STEM challenges that they fancied having a go at: attacking a potato with a straw (exploring pressure and stability), and learning about surface tension using ground pepper and washing-up liquid...

We also played a couple of games of Latice (a strategy game using colour and shapes), at Youngest's request...

For history on Wednesday I wanted a fairly short project as we only have a few weeks left of term, so we opted for a mini project on local history.  Browsing the internet, I found a nice potted history of Droitwich Spa (one of our closest towns) and read it to the boys, after which they wrote down and illustrated the bits that stuck out to them...

Finally Youngest chose an "Earth Science" DVD to watch before Gaming Club with friends
On Thursday we combined Literacy with Youngest's handwriting practice and made up some colour poems...

This was followed by a fun project for Geography.  The boys have a cousin who is - conveniently for us - currently traveling around South America with her fiance and their mascot, Brian-the-Duck, so today I thought it would be fun to print off some maps and trace the journey that Brian (and his travelling companions) have taken so far this year, courtesy of their blog, Ticket42.

Finally we watched a Horrible Histories special before a lovely visit from friends that rounded off the day nicely!

Tomorrow we have lovely Forest School to look forward to, with all the usual socialising, fire-lighting, marshmallow-toasting, den-building, rope-swinging fun that is to be had there, and then we have Daddy home for more weekend fun!

So that's our week - it sounds a bit busy written all down in one place but really it's been mostly chilled-out fun, and I am relishing the break from the intensity of exam studies. Roll on next week!