Questions for Channel 4’s Dispatches episode on Home Education

Like so many home educators in England, I watched the much discussed episode of Channel 4’s Dispatches, “Skipping School: Britain’s Invisible Kids” earlier this week. The episode itself I didn’t find compelling viewing – a bizarre soup of tenuously related issues thrown together, overwritten with repetitive commentary, meant both to get the audience worked up and force some meaning on this mess. However, I know that many watching the programme won’t see it this way.

The Children’s Commissioner’s report referenced in this documentary is part of a bigger conversation around home education that has become difficult, and even dangerous, for home educators like me to ignore. The rally cry for home educated children to submit to compulsory registration and monitoring may well carry.

And so, in an attempt to engage with this a little, I want to ask a few questions of Dispatches, which will likely form the basis of my feedback to Channel 4.

Was the brief to slap on the most incendiary title?

To be fair, they didn’t have to try. They used the title of the Children’s Commissioner’s publication. Did no one at any point stop to ask whether the phrase “Skipping School” was likely to paint the children it was discussing both inaccurately and in a dim light as truants?

And yes “Britain’s Invisible Kids” echoes the report’s “Invisible Children” but that they chose to adopt it without evidence that any of the children discussed (yes even in the desperately tragic case of Dylan Seabridge) were invisible to authorities smacks of propaganda.

If children are indeed getting lost in the cracks between services and professionals when processes to avoid this are already in place, how is a compulsory register and monitoring going to help?

Why are we even looking at home educators here?

Both the Children’s Commissioner’s report and the programme reflect the enormous failings on the part of schools, local authorities and the system at large. Yet the show unwaveringly focuses on home educators, insisting that we must get children back into schools.

Certainly, many of the parents interviewed say that they’re not home educating by choice and one child makes a list of what her ideal school would look like since she wants to go to school.

So surely Dispatches should take a look at what the government needs to do to properly support schools? But it doesn’t really. A quick look at an inclusive school struggling under the strain of decreased budget and unrealistic standards acts as a set up for another fraught look at the menacing alternative: education outside of school.

If schools are “off rolling” children at GCSE level, pressuring parents into deregistering so their children aren’t formally excluded, shouldn’t we discuss how this unethical practice is dealt with? When children are deregistered from schools, school are legally bound to inform the local authority so wouldn’t questions around the circumstances at least identify where it’s happening? And apart from preventing schools from absconding their own responsibilities to students and supporting schools so it doesn’t come to this, why not look at providing more alternatives to GCSEs for students for whom they’re not a fit?

And seriously, why are you even including an OFSTED inspection of an illegal school here?

By the way, WHERE are all the long term home educators?

All the families we meet in this episode are in their first weeks and months of home education. We meet two families just four weeks after deregistration – that’s not a long time to settle into things, work out what’s out there, find who’s around or discover how your child learns. I realise a month sounds like a long time if school is what you’re used to but the move to home education is a lifestyle shift.

I’d have loved to meet families whose children were grown or who had at least home educated for a few years, perhaps even from the start. How different the picture could have been. And I imagine it would not have fit the show’s overarching message.

Why is education continuously conflated with safeguarding?

We’re constantly told that home visits and monitoring should be allowed. But why? When children are under the age of four we don’t invite supervision and inspection of our own homes. What happens at school age that suddenly puts a child at higher risk of abuse or neglect?

Councils may well feel that they don’t have the powers to ensure safety but safeguarding is not a home education issue. If a suspicion is raised then Social Services have the authority to investigate the home life of any child, regardless of where they are educated or how old they are.

The argument goes that the visibility of children in school allows vulnerable children to be identified. Yet schools too often miss children at risk. There have been some devastating cases of child mistreatment where children were not in school. However, these children were known to professionals.

Compulsory registration seems unlikely to prevent these cases where existing procedures did not. The call for it may even distract from finding effective solutions.

Meanwhile, insisting that home educators should all accept home visits recommends an invasion of privacy that the average person would find violating. Yet we’re meant to welcome inspection if we have “nothing to hide”?

Why assume that schools are better at educating children?
I felt for mother Sam when she struggled to pronounce the word “cataclysmic” and admits that she didn’t feel confident in her ability to home educate. Honestly, I regularly Google the pronunciations of words and I have a Masters degree in English Literature. If school is the option families feel happier with, they absolutely should have access to settings that meet the needs of their children.

Yet the underpinning assumption in this segment is that if you have gaps in your own education or are neurodivergent, you’re not fit to educate your own child, even if you want to.

This simply isn’t so. For a start, you probably went to school. So, if you feel unable to help your child gather the tools and develop the curiosity to do the things you want and need to do then school may not have been the most effective teacher.

Parents who want help should have the option of support. Making contact with a local authority rep with a holistic understanding of home education and a wealth of information could be an incentive of voluntary registration. Sadly, this often isn’t the scenario parents are met with.

Beyond that, there are so many online resources, many of them free, and Facebook makes it easy to find real, live home educators in your area with whom you can discuss your options or discover what workshops and activities are available locally.

And children do find what they need with parents who are engaged, even if it takes a while. In fact, despite her concerns about being able to educate her son, Sam helps him learn to tell the time, which he’d never managed in all his years at school.

Is academic achievement the most important thing and is home education incapable of achieving it?

I felt the segment with Sam was positive overall but Anne Longfield keeps us on message, asking whether he’ll achieve GCSEs. Why is the focus on GCSEs at this point, when he’s just learning to tell the time?

And why isn’t his happiness deemed an important part of his future? Throughout the programme, school is presented as the norm that home educators are potentially robbing their children of and yet school is not a happy place for so many children. Repeatedly, the parents interviewed tell the camera that their children are more confident and happier since leaving school. This is never commented on.

Why assume that qualifications are necessary to achieve employment? What kind of last-century thinking are we reverting to here in a world that is rapidly changing? A survey of unschoolers in America showed that many respondents were self-employed and considered themselves polymaths.

Certainly, we can’t know what careers our children will want to pursue later on but there are other ways of achieving qualifications if they need them or even accessing higher education without following the standard pathway. People who have learned how to learn and have not lost their love for learning may well find creative ways to get to where they need to go.

Did they intend to make all home educators appear isolated?

Obviously, there would have been issues around filming home educated children in group settings with other children but could they not have included quotes about what they get up to with others or what’s available in their area?

Again, if they’d interviewed long term home educators it would have inevitably come up somewhere. But who knows if it would have been included as it didn’t fit the programme’s agenda? Is that really cynical of me to wonder?

The one almost entirely positive depiction a home educating family – whom Anne Longfield admits is delivering home education well – includes a line from the child saying that he misses not seeing his friends every day at school.

Fair enough, that’s how he feels but to choose not to follow that up with a look at how he socialises or indeed how any of the children in the programme mix with others seems a deliberate choice.

Perhaps if we knew too much about who they see and where they go outside the home, we’d know that they aren’t, in fact, “invisible”.


Resetting my homeschooling intentions

The last couple of years, I’ve had to make the decision not to make New Year’s Resolutions. I can see how for some people the process of taking stock and putting together a “new year, new you” kind of plan is inspiring, hopeful, exciting even. I’ve felt that too when crossing into January. I have all the ideas and I want to put them into action now. Often, though, resolutions point out to me all the things I’m not.

“Read more books” reminds me that I don’t read enough and is too big and vague an idea for me to get a handle on. I find it easier to make small changes to my routine, like downloading a book to the Kindle app on my phone and reminding myself whenever I’m putting Delilah to bed to read instead of scroll Facebook.

Any resolution bigger than that (one that hit my inbox this week was “resolve to regulate your own emotions” and that was one of five in a single email) just isn’t something I can respond to without some measure of self defeat. As useful as I know it is to reflect and make some choices, I know how careful I need to be not to self sabotage unless I’m firmly in a glass-half-full place.

That said, I do want to reset my homeschooling intentions at the start of this new term. We don’t need to follow the terms but activities and groups stop in the holidays and we tend to take that time to see friends and family who we can’t see during the term. So it’s a natural time for me to think about what I want to take into our next season.

I really feel like I need to reset my intentions because last term was hard. I think it was a combination of the family’s needs changing and me taking on more paid work. Delilah turned two in the summer and I’m finding she needs so much interaction, attention and occupation.

She really isn’t happy with us doing something that doesn’t actively involve her, like reading chapter books or building things. I am generally finding things challenging with her and I need to keep reminding myself that she’s finding the situation challenging too. Nap time has offered a time out but she doesn’t need a nap anymore!

We muddle through with play dough and taking things outdoors, alternating activities and being flexible about when things happen but it’s hard. Often things the older two want to do don’t get done and I wind up feeling like everything is out of balance. With Ophelia’s needs also changing and with her wanting to do things that require more one-to-one focused attention, I have never felt the needs of three (four, including me) so acutely.

And then with also trying to work more, which needs to happen, the house has got messier, I’ve had less sleep and have relied on screens more to give me space when feeling frazzled. I’ve felt more overwhelmed by day to day tasks like having to pack lunch and get out the door and try to get to things on time. I’ve responded by making my to do lists more and more unrealistic, leaving me with a perpetual feeling of underachievement. These are all things I have always struggled with anyway but last term I felt like I was constantly being launched into a ball pit with too many other people in it.

So, having had the breather of Christmas (ie other adults around and not as much to do, having opted out of most of the Christmas fuss), I am setting five, hopefully simple, intentions. Or resetting, as I’ve been here before. I realise that these aren’t necessarily homeschooling specific but I’m thinking about it through the lens of my context. Perhaps some of you find these useful to consider too, whether or not you home educate.

1. Say “no” more
One of the reasons last term was hard was that I overscheduled. I said yes to too many home education opportunities and committed to too many things. We had weeks where we were out of the house every day, which doesn’t give any of us down time or time to do the things we need to do at home.

We were tired, spent too much money and I had the stress of constantly having to pack our bags and plan ahead. It also meant struggling to fit in seeing people outside of set activities, which isn’t ideal as group settings bring their own stress. So I’m realising I need to be firmer with myself about not making too many plans and ring fencing our time at home.

2. Ask for help
I want to keep talking to the kids about what’s going on in our home and how they can help. Sometimes Talitha makes our packed lunch or Ophelia empties the dishwasher and I’m amazed at how much those small tasks help. I want to talk about how we can simplify what we all own so we don’t struggle to put things away.

And I’m willing to accept now that Laurence and I both chose homeschooling as a lifestyle and that my freelance work is a part of that so why not allow him to help me work out whether my timeframes on tasks are realistic and to suggest apps or systems which might help me to organise.

3. Stop looking around
I need to be careful about researching new programmes or books or resources or whatever. We have plenty stuff to play with. If a need for something new genuinely arises we can review but I find that when I’m stressed I can wind up wasting hours looking around for more interesting “things” to offer my kids when actually they’re perfectly happy with what we have and what we do. And that in turn can stress me out more.

4. Recognise what we’ve achieved
I fell out of the habit of recording everything we were doing, whether by taking photographs or jotting them down. It meant that at the end of the week, I looked back and the days looked shapeless. I couldn’t at all remember what had happened.

And so much happens without any initiation on my part. I used to write down their questions, our conversations, what I noticed them making, reading, playing. I’ve bought a notebook specifically for writing down what I notice in our days.

5. Accept my limitations and press into my strengths
My limitations mean that sometimes some things won’t get done. Getting to that workshop on time might mean that we’ve left the house a bomb site and there isn’t anything planned for supper. Finishing that writing project might mean that I don’t have much energy for a while.

I’m trying to stop holding so much in my head by writing anything I need to remember down, somewhere where I’m unlikely to lose it (already managed to lose the list of who we need to send Christmas thank you cards, mind). And I’m trying to get into a habit of putting reminders on my phone when I tell someone I’ll get back to them about something.

I realise I need to counter the constant stream of negative self talk I bombard myself with. I’m not good at everything but I’m also pretty brilliant at some things. That means that the way I home educate my kids will look different to the way someone else does it. That’s OK. That’s fine, actually, because my kids also aren’t theirs.

There is no perfection or even standard we’re all meant to be living up to. Perhaps the biggest part of this for me, is reflecting on a resolution antidote: reminding myself of all the things I already am.


September highlights: our home educating month

September would have seen Ophelia start reception had she been in school. Talitha would have started Year 3. Our fourth year homeschooling, we’re continuing to join the gentle flow of me offering activities and them telling me what they’d like to do (or just going off and doing it). Here are a few highlights from the month just gone by. I must start writing these down as we go along as I struggle to remember!

First up, when we read about Qin Shi Huang in Story of the World, China’s first emperor, Talitha gasped when she heard that he burned books he considered dangerous. She even said: “I’m horrified! I love books!” Never mind all the people he executed… 😉 We’ve just finished up the Julius Caesar chapters, which she’d been looking forward to. She especially wanted to hear about Cleopatra. We’re also listening to Our Island Story on audiobook in the car and both kids were thrilled to spot Stonehenge on our drive back to Cornwall from London this weekend as they’d just listened to the Merlin legend.

A few people have asked me what a reception year looks like in our home. I did a lot more planned activities with Talitha but this second time around I’m a lot more relaxed. Ophelia mostly spends her home days dressing up, dancing, drawing and requesting picture books. She’ll drift in and out of what Talitha’s doing if she’s interested and I’m often surprised by how much she takes in. Lately, she drops very random facts about Space and ancient Rome just to keep us on our toes. I can’t say what I’d do differently if she were a first child. Probably just go out more to play with other children.

Speaking of which, we’ve met up with friends a lot but our two favourite days out were trips to the Flicka Foundation donkey sanctuary, a home education workshop at Falmouth Art Gallery and the incredibly quirky Moseley toy museum. Look at all the Meccano!

They are loving doing Mystery Science together. They watch the videos and do the experiments together and Talitha reads aloud any bits that need reading to Ophelia. They often come away with their own questions – which reminds me that we need to do some reading about floating soon. Lots of questions about floating came up when we were reading about astronauts moving in space.

We finally finished Swallows and Amazons! It took us rather a long time to read because we just didn’t reach for it in the summer months. The upside of that was that Ophelia was actually following it in the end. When we started it, I think it was quite hefty for her but she took a sail with Laurence the other day and announced that she was “able seaman Titty”. We much enjoyed the book on the whole but I’m looking forward to starting something new. I might suggest to the kids we choose an audiobook as I feel like I’m doing a bit too much reading aloud these days (and I like being read to too!).

Oh and I loved reading Anna Hibiscus to Ophelia. I bought it for Talitha, who’s now read a few of them, on the recommendation of an online friend whose son loved it but I finally took the opportunity to read it aloud and Ophelia kept asking for more and more. I think for now we’ll keep doing separate chapter books if we can.

We’ve been following Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Lessons when Ophelia feels like it. Sometimes she loves it but sometimes she’s not interested. Talitha pointed out that where we’re at is actually way below Ophelia’s reading level and started writing sounds and simple words for her to read. So I’m going to see whether she wants to skip ahead, keep playing Teach Your Monster to Read (an off and on favourite) or continue as she is because she’s clearly learning to read, albeit in a completely different pattern to her big sister.

We signed up for the British Red Cross’ #milesforrefugees, setting ourselves the challenge of 108 miles. This was pretty unrealistic as we can’t really walk to places in the countryside, it needs to be a set walk which couldn’t always happen with needing to make the most of the boat and people getting ill. I realise I should have just mapped the miles spent walking around the places we were at as we probably did do quite a bit of walking! Anyway, we changed to the more achievable goal of 22 miles (a lesson in itself!) and got there in the end, raising £100 and learning about the charity’s work and refugee experiences along the way.

Talitha has started doing a few bits on Easy Peasy Homeschool, which I wasn’t sure about before as it’s free then decided to try it at least for maths – as it’s free. It’s turned out to be quite a hit as she can navigate it independently. She asks to do the language arts, maths and Bible lessons most days and is really enjoying it.

Violin practice continues to structure our mornings. It’s been a bit of a slog recently so I suggested Talitha look for a song tutorial on YouTube. Learning to play Happy Birthday was just the treat she needed to help her keep going. I’m finding it all a bit much at the moment, though. It helps to remember that she loves it when she gets going but I sometimes wish we weren’t doing the Suzuki method so I could just leave her to it.

In terms of “extra curricular” activities we’ve switched everything to after school as daytime commitments were making our weeks feel too busy. We are at capacity, though, and it’ll likely be a case of swapping if they decided to take on something else. They’re both doing dance and swimming and Talitha does Beavers and violin.

And not to be left out, I’m enjoying seeing two-year-old Delilah’s fascination with the names of colours and count with great certainty: “2, 6, 8!”

Other home education reflections you might enjoy:
Our home education year – looking back
Eight reasons we home educate
Finding peace on hard days home educating

I tend to do lots of stories on Instagram about what we get up to, homeschooling in Cornwall, so do come join me there.


Our home education year – Looking back

We don’t follow the school terms here and now that we’re back from our month in Trinidad and Tobago and don’t have family staying with us, getting back to our usual routine makes sense. We’ve agreed that from next week we’ll be returning to the homeschooling rhythm that gently structures our lives. So I thought I’d do little catch up on the highlights of the last “homeschool year” before jumping into the new. Had Talitha been in school this would have been her Year 2 and it would have been Ophelia’s preschool year.

Talitha starting violin lessons last September was the biggest change to our homeschool routine. Unless we’re rushing out the door, we try to start the day with violin practice so that she’s fresh and we’re both motivated. This tends to flow straight into a pile of books or a planned activity so violin has become the main thing that structures our day. I hadn’t thought that she’d start an instrument at six but she asked and was super keen. A year later, she still loves it and is excited about working towards her grade one exam.

We also began a structured study of history with Story of the World this past year. This has been quite a hit. I loosely pull ideas from The Well Trained Mind, amongst other things, and this is one of the associated resources. However, we’re taking things very much at our own pace and spending lots of time on specific areas of interest. So we stayed for a long time with the ancient Egyptians and are still on the Romans with quite a long way to go before moving on to the next book.

I was surprised to find how into it Ophelia got. She was typically running in and out, playing with the toy kitchen or dressing up and generally seeming not to be at all paying attention to what we were doing but every now and then she’ll pull out something about the Greek gods or I’ll find a drawing of the Parthenon and I’ll wonder when she picked up on that.

Talitha’s also been doing history workshops once a month with the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro and Ophelia will be joining her for the last couple this coming term.

I’ve just put together all the drawings, photographs of crafts and written bits from Talitha’s history study into a folder, which she’s loved looking through. This year we’ve decided to do books instead of loose pages in folders for different “subjects”, just putting everything in one book until it’s done. It feels simpler and less artificial to do it that way.

Read alouds continue to feature as the main way we learn together and while I’m still reading lots of picture books, mostly to the younger two, Ophelia began to enjoy longer form stories in the middle of the year. So I began reading them separate chapter books. I’m not sure how sustainable this is going to be long term, though. We may have to up our audiobook consumption. Certainly, I’m thinking we might get next book of Story of the World on CD.

In terms of reading to herself, Talitha started the year with me still checking whether a book might suit her reading ability and finished it reading Harry Potter. A lot of our “school day” involves her disappearing with somewhere with the book.

This is also the year, she took up cursive handwriting. I hadn’t thought of introducing it yet but she insisted she wanted to write like me and asked me to write all the letters out in a book, which she then used as a reference for writing letters, signs, invitations to imaginary parties, menus and so on. She asked me to show her how to join them as she went along. Basically, she just kept going until she could write them comfortably. I can honestly say her cursive is completely self taught.


We loved following Exploring Nature with Children a bit more this year, though I definitely wasn’t as dedicated to it as I could have been. Mainly, it got us into the habit of nature journalling – so much so that the girls often ask me to take photos of things to sketch later on. Our animal encyclopaedia and various British wildlife reference books have been well used this year. We are so, so lucky to have all of Cornwall to explore in.

We’ve done a lot of projects inspired by magazines, especially OKIDO, Wildlife Watch and Whizz Pop Bang. This is the first year we’ve done so much of that sort of thing, probably because both of the older two have been pretty into it. It’s still been a huge balance with a toddler and I’m not sure that’s getting any easier now that Delilah’s two, with naps growing less reliable.

Talitha and Ophelia also work through the lessons on Mystery Science together, which they can do pretty much independently – a great help when my attention is elsewhere.

The girls asked to learn French so we were using Muzzy off and on and had an occasional French class with a native speaker but it just wasn’t really working. We switched to Spanish as a more regular class opened up (and with A-level Spanish I hoped I could support them more) but the timing was difficult and I realised we needed something that I was involved in. So we’ve got a few at home resources and we’re just going to DIY it for now. They’re still really keen on French so I’m trying to wrap my head around how to keep bringing that in as well.

Maths is interwoven into everything else we do, from music theory to cooking to Sudoku to working out what time something is happening. However, we have also been using Life of Fred, Spielgaben and Mathseeds. And Talitha loves asking me to write down things for her to work out too.

This year, I’m not sure what we’re going to carry on with. I have to really watch costs so we may give Fred a rest and I’m thinking that we won’t renew Mathseeds and Reading Eggs. Talitha has finished the main Reading Eggs game but uses all the other language arts resources in there and Ophelia has been using it as well. It’s a bit pricey for two kids, even with discounts and I don’t really want to get it just for one of them. So, I don’t know. I also find that the Spielgaben learning resources require more parent input than I can give right now. At the same time, Talitha is hungry for more in this area so I’m thinking to suggest she try Khan Academy again and see how she likes it.

Our approach to “preschool” has been to let Ophelia play and dip in what we’re doing as she likes, attempting an experiment or craft if she asks to and showing her how to write something if she asks. She’s picked up loads of writing this way and she’s started recognising sounds but her reading is emerging in a very different way than it did for Talitha. She constantly surprises us with addition or subtraction that she’s simply worked out in her head. None of this has been taught. In many ways, I think she benefits from me being more hands off because I’m busier and more laid back than I was when Talitha was four.

My big takeaways from this year have been to make time for my own learning and creating, schedule lots of time at home where we’re not doing anything in particular and make the most of what we already have. And as I look forward into the coming year, my big words are simplicity, patience and trust.

What about you? Have you taken a break over the summer holidays or have continued as they usually do?


Our homeschool term: Spring

We’ve been following Story of the World since September. It’s our first year consistently checking out history. I very loosely look to The Well Trained Mind for ideas of what to offer when so we’ve been hanging out in the ancient world.

Six-year-old Talitha has been drinking it all in and was especially enthralled with ancient Egypt. I suggested we pick up the pace quite a bit more this past term because I imagined she would love arriving in ancient Greece (we have and she is) but we found lots to capture the imagination along the way, especially in ancient China and Persia.

Last term, I read them adaptations of The Trojan Horse, The Odyssey and Shanhameh: The Persian Book of Kings (still going on this one and she’s read it to herself a couple of times too).

In all this, I’m amazed at how interested Ophelia is. She often wanders in and out doing her own thing, not appearing to be listening at all and then will ask a poignant question or later muse about something we’d been reading or talking about. I don’t think she’s even aware that we’re reading these things primarily for Talitha’s benefit. To her there’s no demarcation. She may only have just turned four but she regards herself as home educated. All the things we do are, to her, just another part of how we live together.

And so she expects to participate. She’s been asking me to write words for her, which she copies, and she now knows most of the letter sounds and can sound out very simple words. She recognises a lot of numbers and works out simple sums without realising that’s what she’s doing.

I’m so laid back with her, partly because in the end Talitha became a fluent reader on her own. Apart from occasionally offering her Reading Eggs or, more recently, Teach your monster to read so she can play alongside Talitha, I just let Ophelia be. As she fills pages with random numbers and letters, three-letter words and her own name, as she sits and recites books to herself and her baby sister telling me she’s reading, it’s such a pleasure seeing her develop in her own way, a constant surprise.

This last term saw her suddenly shift to longer books so although we have a steady stream of picture books, she devoured James Herriot and was suddenly all about Beatrix Potter – we need to get some more of the latter. She also listened to her first chapter book, My Father’s Dragon, which is also the first chapter book I read to Talitha when she was four.

Talitha has read it a few times since so I read her The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. We’d been putting it off for ages because I tried reading it to her about a year ago and she was too worried about what would happen when they got to the witch so we shelved it. With a lot of discussion and the promise that we’d stop if it became too much, we approached it again. This time, the book was a delight from start to finish. This was absolutely the right time for her to encounter it. I’m glad I didn’t try to push through with it when she was five.

At the moment we’re halfway through Charlotte’s Web. Talitha’s already read it but she’s finding that listening to it is quite a different experience. We found the same with Little House on the Prairie. She flew through it on her own, enjoyed it and clearly understood it because she kept accidentally giving us spoilers when I read it aloud but she was still super keen for me to read it.

I’m finding that she’s begun to prefer to read fiction to herself than to be read to. Recently I’ve been wondering how to navigate this and I found the transcript of The Read Aloud Revival’s recent podcast on reading aloud to 8-12 year olds helpful on this point. Sarah McKenzie explains why we stop reading to children when they become proficient readers and value of continuing to read to them. For one thing, their listening comprehension is generally a lot higher than their reading comprehension so it exposes them to richer language and prompts discussion. Reading aloud also keeps a relationship around books open, which I’m keen to sustain. Anyway, do check that out if it’s something you’re interested in. It’s given me lots to consider.

We started using Mystery Science this last term which both of the girls are loving. The lessons are videos with open and go activities, set by grade. If there’s any writing required, Ophelia just draws instead. Again, there’s no expectation that she’ll join in but she expects to join in! We spent the term mostly on the human body, driven mostly by Ophelia’s many questions. So we looked for “mysteries” on body systems, dug out a Whizz Pop Bang magazine on bones and an OKIDO magazine on lungs and read the human body books we have here at home.

We once again moved a lot of our home ed stuff to the dining room. We have a playroom but I think I need to stop insisting that all this stuff has to live there when the kitchen/dining room is the natural hub of our home. This included putting rehoming the Spielgaben (a collection of open ended wooden toys we managed to get second hand a few years ago) in our diningroom shelf which has been brilliant for encouraging me to use it.

They’re always creating with it but it was a bit out of sight out of mind for me in the playroom so moving it here got me looking at the resources that came with it and I asked Talitha whether she’d like to try out the maths games. So that’s been fun to do alongside Life of Fred and Mathseeds and I’ve had a new appreciation for the precision the collection is made with in terms of how the sets all fit together. I’ve also started offering Delilah sets to play with. She loves hiding the knitted balls, posting pieces or threading beads on a stick.

The older two are also heavily into boardgames now that Ophelia can (with support) hold her own. That’s even led to them inventing games of their own. Talitha’s also started using Scratch, which is one of her favourite things right now, a fun free programme which teaches kids to code by allowing them to create games and animations.

As always it was a term of special days with Candlemas Day, Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, Chinese New Year and, of course, Easter. And Talitha and Laurence went to see a touring First Experiences version of Julius Caesar by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Newquay. I’m still gutted I was too ill too go but it was a good experience for them to share. AND it snowed and settled! TWICE! Thrice?! I actually can’t remember. In Cornwall where it NEVER snows! I know that’s more a life thing than a home ed thing but actually, it all flows into each other, doesn’t it?

Talitha’s continuing with the violin and Beavers and both she and Ophelia took up capoeira last term and have just started with a Spanish class. We’ve also continued with our community art group. I’m conscious that we’re probably too busy (and it all adds up!) and Talitha has been asking about swimming lessons so we’ll have to make some changes this term.

The takeaway for me, as always, is that a lot happens without me noticing or needing to cause it happen. We don’t have any plans for the term ahead but I’m going to try to chat about what we’re up to a bit more regularly here on the blog. I tend to share a lot on my Instagram stories if that’s more your jam. We’re likely going to continue using the resources I mentioned here but the changes I expect we’ll slow down a lot, spend more time up at the allotment and once the boat gets in the water, that’ll become a focus too.


Eight reasons we home educate

I started this post on a day that took it out of me. I’d texted a friend earlier admitting that I was finding everything too hard, that school looked like an attractive option. And actually, come September, I could have two kids in school since Ophelia would be reception-aged.

Almost as soon as I’d offloaded and she’d empathised, though, I knew that I didn’t mean it, as is often the way. The reasons we homeschool run deep, our third year in.

Every now and then someone asks why we home educate. I wrote a little bit about it back when we were just starting out. With some real life experience under our belts and a lot more thinking time, the reasons have expanded and gathered more weight so I thought I’d share some of them with you.

I am so mindful we are privileged to be able to home educate and that it just isn’t possible for everyone. Perhaps this list is partly an attempt to remember not to take this opportunity for granted.

The chance to grow together
We never liked the idea of sending our kids to spend most of their waking hours away from their family. Childhood lasts a few short years. We just want to enjoy being together. And actually, it turns out that they’re not keen on the idea either. I asked Talitha tonight whether she’d like to go to school at some point and she essentially said that she wouldn’t mind going some of the time but would rather spend most of her time with us. I kind of think, at six and a half, fair enough.

I also see great value in the time our children spend together. My mind is regularly blown by the thought that, had she gone to school, Talitha and Delilah would never have had time at home together apart from weekends and holidays. Who knows whether that might have altered the dynamic between them? And yes, the three don’t always get along perfectly but it’s interesting to observe them develop in their negotiation with and empathy for one another. I’m certain that having an abundance of time to connect with each other and work through these processes helps.

Freedom for our family
We are grateful that school does not dictate the way we spend our time, structure our day or define our values. And I don’t just mean we want to avoid the stress of school runs and take holidays in term time. Actually, we’re trying hard to make decisions democratically as a family and this is far easier to achieve without school. If we need to take a slow day at home, we can. If we need to spend hours outdoors, we can. If we need more time to play or snuggle or have bigger conversations, we have it. If we need to take a few months to totally change our rhythm we can – and we did this both when Delilah was born and when we moved from Bristol to Cornwall.

Autonomy for our children
Directly related, we want our children to be able to make real decisions about their lives, right now. That means we actively choose discussion over dictation and try not to impose arbitrary rules. We’re on a real journey with this, so sometimes we catch ourselves slipping into familiar authoritarian patterns but on the whole, we’re aiming to model self-control and create a consensual environment where everyone’s voice is heard.

Time outdoors
Even when we lived in a city, we prioritised time outdoors, even if it meant hanging out in our garden or going to the park around the corner. We may have more access to natural beauty spots now but the aim has always been to spend a lot of our time outside, giving all of us the opportunity to become familiar with local fauna and flora, align our bodies and minds with the changing seasons and move as much as possible. Admittedly, we go out less in deepest winter but, generally, the kids are spending most of their childhood out in nature, which has always been a priority for us.

Time to pursue interests
Most of these reasons centre on time because that’s the gift home education gives us. I appreciate the time our children have to work on the things that matter to them. For Talitha, that’s mainly time to read books and play with her sisters. She also has time to practise her violin in the mornings, when she’s feeling fresh and motivated. For Ophelia it means making things, dancing and having me read to her.

Both get to spend time on life skills because we are unhurried. So I can say yes when they ask to help me cook and clean or to make their own breakfast or try to fix something that’s fallen out of place or torn. Not that they always want to do these things, obviously, but their desire for independence often drives them to work out how to do things for themselves and they have time for that process. It’s interesting to see what this abundance gives them the time to do at every stage.

A tailored education
With three children with varying temperaments and timelines, I have a small sample confirming to me what most of us know, that children are all different. Yes, it’s possible that a nurturing school would be mindful of their needs but I severely doubt that any classroom could match the attentiveness of our adult-child ratio. We have spent far more time with dinosaurs and Ancient Egypt than the national curriculum would allow, for instance.

Learning is unhurried and driven by delight. We’ve been loosely keeping nature journals and for weeks the kids vetoed every topic I suggested, insisting that they wanted to keep finding out about birds, drawing birds, setting up bird feeders, looking at videos, reading books, identifying them in our garden and listening to them on our walks.

They’re also free to learn the way they want to. At the moment that looks like lots of read alouds, trying things out from magazines, listening to podcasts, drawing and roleplay. I’m mostly interested in them developing positive associations with learning and with learning how to learn.

Independence by choice
This may come as a surprise to some but one of the reasons we home educate is to allow our children to develop their independence on their own terms. Just as the goal of attachment parenting is to give babies a secure base to move from the familiar to the unfamiliar, our hope is that our children will move into new environments with confidence and optimism.

In addition to this, we want them to be settled in their values and sense of self and to trust themselves so that when they do separate from us, they’re able to think critically, make sound decisions and relate to others compassionately. At the moment they have small opportunities to separate, whether that’s going to a friend’s house, playing that bit further away, going to a class or a group. As they ask for more, we’ll work out what that looks like.

Socialisation opportunities
I thought I’d include this because one of the most frequently asked questions about home education is how children socialise and yet this is one of the reasons we’ve chosen to do this. We love that the children have time to play extensively with friends and that we can be on hand to help them navigate challenging social situations, should they need it.

They also get to play and develop friendships, more often that not, with children and adults of varying ages, getting the chance to explore lots of different roles in their interactions and to develop their social confidence in an atmosphere that looks a lot more like real life, because it is.

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I have a workshop airing today (23/02/2018) at the online Start Homeschooling Summit. I’m speaking on how to homeschool older children with a baby. The summit has been going for a few days and finishes tomorrow and you can access it for free until then. There’s an opportunity to buy lifetime access to the workshops afterwards and they cover all styles of homeschooling from classical to unschooling. Do check it out. The links I’ve included here are affiliate links so I get a percentage if you decide to upgrade to the paid bundle but I really think it’s worth having a look even if you just take in a few videos for free today and tomorrow.


Our homeschooling month – October

November is well underway but I don’t want to miss the opportunity to look back on what we got up to in October. Reflecting helps me to make sense of what our lives look like right now. Yet I’m also cautious because I would hate for someone to misconstrue this as any kind of “how to”. The shape of our home education mirrors the shape of our family in whatever season we happen to be in. For this reason, comparison is unhelpful. That said, I like seeing what other people get up to and perhaps the same is true for you.

Talitha got seriously into cursive handwriting this month. She asked me to write out an alphabet of lowercase and uppercase letters in cursive and religiously traced and copied them. She kept it for reference and checked with me if she wasn’t sure how letters joined together. Now almost everything she writes is in cursive as she wants to practise. I hadn’t intended to suggest cursive to her anytime soon so it’s one of those things that’s been led entirely by her, which is probably also why she’s got the hang of it quickly and finds it fun.

Ophelia is also writing lots of letters (mostly not in any particular order) and can now identify a lot of their sounds. She’s also suddenly started picking out the beginning sounds of words and points to words in books to ask what they are. She’s enjoying longer stories now, often asking questions or making surprising observations as we read to her.

The month’s big read aloud was Heidi. Talitha requested it, having read an adaptation. We’ve really enjoyed it though it’s a lot heavier than I remember! We’re still going, actually! Laurence has also started reading her Tarka the Otter.

We’ve continued to follow Story of the World, which I’ve mentioned before. We’ve spent the month on Ancient Egypt. The curriculum moves on to other things soon but we may stay here for a while as it’s really captured both girls’ imaginations. Talitha particularly enjoyed making a cuneiform tablet and a hieroglyphic scroll and listening to me read Jacqueline Morley’s Egyptian Myths.

We missed the monthly French lesson as it fell in half term when we were in the Isle of Wight with friends but they’ve been learning French on an online programme called Muzzy. I got a huge discount on it earlier this year but was a bit confused by it. Now that the baby fog has lifted a bit, I took another look and it’s actually pretty impressive. Talitha needs some support to do the written games but she’s getting a lot out of it and Ophelia enjoys the videos.

Violin practice has naturally added a little structure to our day. We hit a wall with it this month with Talitha not wanting to practice and I reminded her that she didn’t have to do it. This freed us to talk about what she was finding difficult and what we could change to make practice more enjoyable. I needed to recognise that it is a tiring instrument to learn. I think she’s benefited from knowing that she’s in charge of the process, and that it is a process – it sometimes takes time to learn things.

We’ve vaguely continued using Lynn Seddon’s Exploring Nature with Children, if only for ideas of what to look out for on our walks and read aloud suggestions. The harvest moon so captured both of their imaginations. We tried looking at it from the woods opposite our house but the kids weren’t keen so we viewed it from our top floor instead. I wish we’d taken them to the beach to see it rise as friends had done. Next year. We also made leaf crowns, did a spot of pond dipping and had fun sketching pumpkins in our nature journal as well as learning about their seeds.

This month also threw up a fun opportunity to learn about Diwali, India and Trinidad & Tobago – where I’m from and where the Hindu festival is a big deal. We made diya inspired lamps from air drying clay and had a go with henna.

They’ve been gardening with Laurence as he gets into micro greens and continues his challenge to keep our salad going through the winter. They also planted some bulbs in the front garden bed. We may be getting an allotment so they may be getting into that too. I’d like to say I would too but I’ve got out of practice with gardening and I think I may have lost interest! Is that bad?

The girls asked if we could do a “theme” and they suggested sea creatures. They used to have themed days at their childminder’s in Bristol. To be honest, I was really daunted by the idea. Anything I have to prepare is still really tricky when Delilah is often in arms in the evenings.

As it turned out, they were happy to come up with their own crafts and asked to do activities and experiments from the aquatic issue of Whizz Pop Bang. We still have a few more to do and they’re not ready to move on yet so we’ll be continuing with this theme too.

We’ve read pages they’ve chosen from our animal encyclopedia, looked at books from our collection and the library and checked out videos online. I’m trying to weigh up whether Blue Planet 2 would be a bit scary. Talitha has been sketching various animals and writing down her favourite facts about them.

Serendipitously, this all tied in with a field trip to Plymouth Aquarium with a home education group for a workshop day. I’d love to take the girls back for a day where they could just wander and spend more time on whatever they find most fascinating, though.

The trip made me realise that we really don’t need to be travelling long distances and doing lots of activities. While that stuff is fun, it’s tiring and maybe not the best way to spend our resources. So I’m trying to focus instead on slowing down, keeping it local and making the most of what’s free. Education is not a sprint. We don’t have to do it all now. We hopefully have lots of time to explore different things at the ages when they’re the most meaningful.