Thursday, 25 February 2016

Subconscious Processing

Having backed off a couple of weeks ago to process my own realisation that I have had an enormous 'SHOULD' underpinning our Home Ed, I think I am getting there.  I realised that from the beginning of our Home Ed journey almost four years ago I had been subconsciously assuming that we would end up taking iGCSEs from home, starting with Eldest (and trying not to think about Middle who has alwys been less inclined to go along with structured learning).  I think this assumption was based on the fact that a good friend who home educates has gone that route and her journey had always inspired me and reflected my own philosophy.  More than that though, I think I fundamentally failed to deschool myself to the point of letting go of exam results as a necessary part of life.  I mean, I knew it was perfectly possible to have a successful life and career without GCSEs, but those who managed it were not common to my limited knowledge, and it was certainly far outside my own experience.  So - it has since become apparent - my hidden assumption was that we would enjoy many years of educational freedom, followed by a couple of years of more tedious exam-driven studies, then my fabulous offspring would be launched into happy and fulfilling adult lives.

Yes I know: foolish assumptions.  But once I realised this wobble-inducing thinking was going on inside me I deliberately chose to step back and lay it down.  That was step one.  I was helped enormously by experienced folk such as Ross Mountney who not only took the time to reassure me here, but also wrote a whole jolly blog post for me (and my fellow wobbling parents of teens)!  I know the HE community can have its moments, but really: the support and cheering on of those who have gone before is invaluable and inexpressibly reassuring.

Anyway, since that wobble and crash of identifying and then rejecting a flawed assumption in our HE foundations, things have calmed considerably.  For about a week I talked incessantly to anyone who would listen (mostly fabulous fellow HEors) about my thoughts, old and new.  This was part of the laying down process. We are now neither committed to follow or NOT follow the GCSE route, and we are more committed to letting Eldest have more choice in the decision.  So we have chatted a little about his options, talked about the direction that he feels he would like to go in, and looked at influencing factors that he hadn't considered, such as potential income, taxes, cost of further education etc, as well as finding a career that is enjoyable and satisfying. Proper grown-up stuff.  We haven't pushed it though, because it is quite new to him and he's not ready to make those kind of decisions.

A friend posted a link to an advert to a course on the emotional needs of adopted children that I happened to click on.  Eldest is not adopted, and as an advert it was a very shallow piece of writing.  However I read the phrase, "for good emotional health you need to meet your child where they are at, not where you think they shoud be". That is not verbatim as sadly I can't find the link to be able to reference it, but that was the gist, and really it was such confirmation in my head that I had been operating under an illusion that now Eldest was a teen he should be thinking about career and should be read for exams etc.  Oh man, those shoulds can breed if you don't spot them!  Having stepped back I was able to see that I was putting that on him unnecessarily.  And as lovely Ross commented to me in her advice, there is no need to see his teenage home ed as any different to the rest of our home ed to date.

So we are enjoying our 'backed-off' state.  We are gently introducing grown-up concepts but I am not pushing him to be ready to make decisions that he does not feel ready to make.  We have talked about exams and non-exam options, and he has investigated a few jobs that he finds appealing, but it is all very low-key, with no prejudice from me - at least, none that is spoken out loud.  I still catch myself mentally defaulting to GCSEs as a preferred route, but every time I do so, I remind myself of the other successful routes that may be taken.

Life has suddenly got very busy, with another (!) house move on the horizon, and I finally got round to writing a book that I had been planning, and these things have been a distraction from the big GCSE issue.  I'm tempted to feel guilty about that, but then I remembered all the times that the boys have hit a level or concept in Maths or English that was beyond them, and we have just allowed them to back off and do something else while their subconscious processes the new concepts being introduced, so when they come back to it later they are suddenly ready to take on what was impossible before.  I figure if it works for the children (and it does work, every time), surely it will work for me too.  So I just popped in to write an update for anyone who wondered how we were doing (thank you for wondering).  Over the next few weeks I may be writing fiction, or finding a house & packing boxes, or chatting about my lovely teen's opportunities, and I may not be blogging as much.  But as we will make progress and I will be back some time soon to fill you in :)

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

The Worst Thing about Home Ed

It's not the lack of understanding or support from the general public - though that can get wearing.  It's not the fact that the only time you get a break is when you're asleep, and even that is not guaranteed.  It's not even the financial challenges that are involved when only one partner works but there are still resources and activities for pay for.  No, the worst thing about home education is the glaring awareness that you and you alone are responsible for your child's future.  When your child is in school you can at least console yourself with the thought that your child is in the hands of professional educators, but with HE they are solely in your care: emotionally, physically, socially and educationally.  And because Home Ed is far from a mainstream option, it can sometimes feel like you are carrying out some sort of high-risk experiment on your best-beloved.  At this point in a train of thought The Wobbles are usually not far behind.

That is where I am: so far into the land of wobbling that I feel I have forgotten how to stand straight.  Not with regards to Middle and Youngest - I am more confident than ever in the Home Ed life that we enjoy.  But Eldest, bless him, is another matter entirely.  Regular readers will know that I have been mulling over his growing needs for a while now, from his developing need/ ability to get stuck into more meaty subjects, to the awareness that he is approaching the age when in school he would be gearing up for GCSEs.  I thought we were heading along a certain track but now I've got stuck.  I'm no longer convinced that the GCSE route is the best for him, but that is proving a REALLY difficult idea to let go of.

Almost since the very beginning of our HE journey, we have stuck with the same style, only occasionally veering off to toy with unschooling or varying degrees of structure before returning to what suits us all most.  Mostly we have carried on with the little parent-led bit of literacy & numeracy, leaving the rest free to personal or group interest.  I am starting to suspect that this was because of a subconscious assumption on my part that the boys would end up needing to take Maths & English GCSEs even if they did no other exams, those being the ones that are essential to most jobs.  I am clearly not fully deschooled.

So I had been sort-of progressing along with the GCSE assumption, and Eldest recently had a chat with a lovely friend who was offering to give him some tutoring in English.  When I spoke with her today she said she felt he wasn't really in the best place to be considering starting with a GCSE in English at least, as he sees it as something arduous and feels discouraged by the thought of it before even starting.  And that's before considering his literacy skills (which may be patchy) and exam skills which are non-existent (hence the need for a tutor).  I asked him if he wanted to go ahead with the tutoring and he said yes.  It surprised me that he was positive, but then he said she was the best option.  When I asked what about if he didn't have to do any English he looked like he'd been handed the keys to a sweet shop, so clearly it is not his favourite.  I think I have probably not helped here, as although I have encouraged his love of reading and his self-expression through writing, he know that I think very little of the current education system's presentation of English as a subject... maybe I have inflicted my negative bias upon him!  We could pursue a GCSE course in Geography or Biology which are the most obvious choices, but I don't want to put him off those too.

So now I am basically just questioning if GCSEs really are a good route for him or if I have been succumbing to deep-seated conditioning.  Eldest does have a general idea of preferred future career options, and there are possibilities of pursuing his chosen area that do not include GCSEs, although they would give him a boost.  The question is, can I de-school myself to the point where I am not automatically imposing GCSEs on him, so that we can both look at it again without prejudice?  I don't think he is connected enough to the idea of starting on a path to a future career for that to motivate him yet, and although it's tempting to panic that he might be the sort of character who never connects enough with what he wants to do to really throw himself into getting there, I don't want to push him prematurely.  After all, surely the point of HE is that each individual progresses at a natural rate as they are ready.

Oh I don't know - but I do know that my head is in a bit of a flat spin about it all.  So I am going to do what I always do when attacked by The Wobbles: back right off!  From tomorrow the boys will be entirely unschooling again for a season, which will hopefully give me (and Hubby) time to talk to others who have walked the "GCSEs or alternatives" path before us, and talk to Eldest, and pray, and generally invest in consideration of the stage we are at before coming up with a revised plan.   Unschooling doesn't scare me: I know they'll all still be learning and thriving.  It's just time to get to grips with the way ahead...

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Busy in Unexpected Ways

We've had a fairly productive start to this week, so I thought I'd make a note here before the rest of the week gets really busy...

We started yesterday morning reading a chapter of the Bible together.  We don't do this every day, and even when we do it sometimes takes just a few moments, but yesterday the boys really got into it and were asking lots of questions and sharing opinions, and it took almost an hour of lovely interested chat. Things went a bit downhill from there though as we had mathswhizz next but Youngest and Middle were repeatedly distracted by minecraft on Youtube so in the end I had to ask them to come into the same room as me to do some maths workbooks instead, while Eldest finished Mathswhizz and worked on a KS3 Geography workbook which he found very easy.   It was quite late by the time the younger two had finished Maths, and they needed to do something that wasn't parent-led, so they all chose their own arty thing to do.  Eldest did a painting of a woodland by a lake, and Youngest had a go at something very similar, while Middle chose to draw four different facial expressions and colour them in according to mood....

Eldest's "Fishy Reflections"

Youngest's "Sunny Forest"

Middle's "Happy, Sad, Scared, Angry"

Over lunch we watched an episode of "Come Outside" found on Youtube, showing how clay is made and used (as Youngest had asked a few weeks ago to learn how china was made), followed by another episode called "The Windy Day" which reflected the weather outside!  Youtube is great for tracking down old episodes that aren't being broadcast any more - we love it.

Today the boys did their usual half-hour of Literacy Planet, followed by a quick session on BrainPop (Eldest learned about Taigas, Middle did Facts and Opinions, and Youngest did Rosa Parks).  Then it was time for Science.  Today's experiment came about from a conversation I was having with some HE friends about primary Art, recommending Deep Space Sparkle as a brilliant resource, and saying that I wished there was something similar but for Science - ie a blog with science projects laid out.  I searched online but didn't find what I was looking for, however part of my searching took me to a National Curriculum site that laid out the KS2 goals for Science.  The first topic mentioned was on plants, and I thought it would be really easy to do an experiment on the requirements of a seed to grow, so I quickly wrote up an experiment sheet there and then.  So I didn't find what I was looking for, but knowing the boys love to do a bit of experimentation, I did come up with something fun (free PDF download here) - and we did it this morning, planting six sunflower seeds in six different jumbo test-tubes and changing the conditions slightly for each seed (depriving one of light, one of water, etc etc).  Simple and easy... now we just have to wait for the results (and I need to keep looking for the general science web resource that I'm after).

our "seeds in tubes" experiment (test-tube no 2 is in a dark cupboard)

Finally this morning it was time for a bit more history.  The boys are all still really interested in the Tudors, so it makes for easy learning.  Today I read from a paperback book on Henry VIII, filling in other details that I knew as we went along.  It's funny how I did so badly in my history O'level, and yet it's the only subject where I still remember things I was taught as part of the course.  Go figure! Anyway, the boys were all engrossed, and drew some fun pictures afterwards, before watching a selection of Horrible Histories clips on the Tudors over lunch.

Youngest's picture of himself as a cake-eating spectator at Anne Boleyn's execution

Middle's comparison of himself to Henry VIII

Eldest's picture of Henry VIII's over-burdened horse

So that was our start to this week.  We had made other, busier plans that changed last minute, but we're not complaining as we are used to adapting, and so made the most of a couple of days at home before it all gets busy again - lovely!