Thinking of home education? How to get started.
I have read a number of articles entitled "Is Home Education right for you?" These really focus on the costs and time issues from the parents perspective. Many seem to start with the assumption that home education is the best form of education there is, so it is just a matter of a pep talk for Mom. Don't get me wrong, I think ... home education is wonderful - but it isn't for everyone. If you are considering home education, I feel the most important factor is whether it is right for your child or not. If you have more than one child, you may find that home education is the best choice for one, but not for another. I think the most important aspect is whether home education is best for the child, but the whole family must be considered. Home education requires a lot of time and commitment, and there will be some expenses as well.
WHY HOME EDUCATE?
The reasons to home educate are as varied as the families who choose this path. Our family started with home education simply because I felt the school starting age in Northern Ireland was to low. P1 in Northern Ireland starts when children are only 4 years old, with most children starting nursery at age 3, or even as young as 2. I had only intended to teach my son for the first year or two - but the old saying "If it isn't broke don't fix it" applies here. My son is happy with home education, and does not want to attend the local primary. I believe he is learning much more at home, and still has more free time. I'm afraid there really is no local school - he would need to be bussed - and there are several problems with the school he would attend - the most glaring being the large number of boys who never learn to read, but violence, supervision, and other issues have also been raised.
Many families home educate simply because they feel there child will learn more at home. The flip side of this are families who home educate because they feel children should not be forced to learn academic subjects until they choose to do so. A large number of families began home home educating in rural areas as a result of school closures. Others just like the idea of the family spending more time together, having more free time, and being able to let each child explore and develop their own interests.
I think the most serious reason for home education though is bullying. A large number of home educated children are in home education because the school was unwilling or unable to cope with serious bullying issues. Yes, we all faced bullies growing up. Even with home education, my son is not immune to bullying, it is something children must learn to cope with. But when a child can not get away from it, day after day, and no one seems willing or able to help, it is certainly going to lead to some problems. Some children have their entire childhood blighted by bullying, living every day in dread. If a child is really miserable due to this type of treatment - home education can be a real life saver --- literally in some cases.
IS HOME EDUCATION RIGHT FOR YOUR CHILD?
I think the best person to answer this question is your child. If they are already in school, they will know very well if they are happy and thriving in that environment. If they haven't started school yet, you can still discuss with them the idea, perhaps plan a visit and look at several books on the subject. With a young child it easy to give home education a trial period, and see how it works for everyone. Even with an older child, you can discuss what would be expected and give it a trial period. They can always go back to school if it isn't working.
ARE YOU QUALIFIED TO TEACH YOUR CHILD?
If you are reading this review, then in most cases the answer is yes. Home education does require a literate parent, but if you can read, you can learn anything you need to know as you go along. There are exceptions. I certainly would not be able to teach a teenager studying for their A levels, but if you have time you can take adult classes, get books and learn as you teach if need be. Teaching a younger child is really not complicated. There are several excellent online resources, and plenty of books to help you get started, but it is far easier than most people think. If you spend enough time reading to a child, they can learn almost anything - throw in some maths workbooks and programmes, a few home made books, mad science experiments and plenty of trips out and about and you should do splendidly. In all honesty - I don't teach very much. We just read, explore and experiment together. Sometimes I learn as much as the children do.
The wording of the law varies for different parts of the UK, but in short all of the UK requires that a child shall "receive efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude, and to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise." It is the otherwise clause that home educators use. The law does state that children must receive an education ( although it is extremely vague on what constitutes a suitable education and I feel they are unlikely to clarify this as a great many schools would fail any realistic standards - such as learning to read). If your child has been previously attending school - you will need to submit a letter of reregistration.
Once we get beyond the basic premise that home education is legal though - it can all get very confusing. Just how much right the local education authority has to intervene is a matter of much debate and I have no intention of offering legal advise where I am clearly not qualified to do so. Personally, I chose to inform the local school board. I have a good relationship with them and welcome yearly visits and advice. Other parents refuse any contact. Many parents are already upset with the school board before pulling their child out of school, but if at all possible, try to stay calm, rational and as silly as this may sound - be nice. I've found most people are much more cooperative if approach them politely and in a friendly manner. I would advise parents very strongly - do not take one persons word for anything on legal issues . They may mean well, but they may also be mistaken. I would suggest contacting Education Otherwise for any clarification of legal issues.
There are several pre packaged curriculums that offer everything you need for each grade level. These are very expensive though. Most UK home educators create their own curriculum. We use a combination of a few educational computer programmes, various maths workbooks, primarily Kumon, a couple of phonics sets, a few reading and writing workbooks, home made books and lots and lots of books on everything else. I feel having a child help make their own books ( an idea stolen from Steiner schools) is very helpful, and we have many books we made ourselves using photo albums or document display folders a wonderful way for children to learn reading, writing and several other skills as well. Some of our home made books include alphabet books, a book on space, dinosaurs, the seasons, and a few fiction titles. We also keep a large variety of fiction and non fiction books, making sure both children always have plenty of reading material to choose from encompassing a wide variety of subjects and formats.
I have read several articles stating that you can home educate for free - all you need is a local library. I expect this is possible, assuming you have a decent library, but I also feel it is very unlikely. I spent £100 when I first started home educating for a lifetime membership to an excellent educational site. This would otherwise have cost me £8 a month. I also subscribe to National Geographic Kids and currently have a 2 year membership on another educational site - but I was able to get these free through Tesco clubcard points. I would also recommend home educators with children who are not reading yet invest in a really good phonics programme. This could easily cost £100, although you might try to make do with much cheaper versions, and some can be purchased a bit at a time. I would suggest a set of levelled readers as well, such as Oxford Reading Tree and this may cost you anywhere from £20 to a few hundred pounds. A few trips are really necessary too, but some, like the seaside, forest or museums can be very low cost. A computer is pretty high on my list of resources, but if you are reading this, I expect you have one. We also have a very good microscope, a telescope and several other gadgets, but you could make do without most of these.
Of course there are many educational items you probabley already own. You may have a good collection of books already. You quite likely have scales, measuring jugs and baking supplies. You may have magnets, magnifying glasses, and all sorts of art materials. A jar of coins can be highly educational, as can a box of cars or lego. I think children can learn a lot from cooking, baking, and even shopping. Nothing teaches maths skills quite so easily as giving them x amount of money to spend! Board games, dominoes, blocks, cards etc.. can all be turned to educational purposes, and there really is a lot of material available free online as well.
That leaves us with art supplies, science kits, building kits and models, paper and pens, folders and most importantly books. I don't even want to think of what I spend on books. Of course I would buy a number of books anyway. I feel like having children without books is like keeping fish without water. But as a home educator, you really do need more books than the average family. You need a large variety of reading books, and preferably a set of graded readers as well. You will need books on history, science and whatever subjects your child takes a fancy too. Then you will need bookshelves too - lots of them :) I would strongly suggest combing car boot sales, charity shops, ebay and Amazon for real bargains on second hand books, but I would also be prepared to spend a very minimum of £15 - £20 a month on books. Of course if you have more than one child, most of the books will do for both. And while I am suggesting a minimum spend of £15 - £20 a month - in all honesty that is nowhere near what I have actually spent. I have a small fortune in books. I am just saying I can't see possibly getting by on less. I would expect either an initial outlay of £100 or more, or to double this amount for a child just learning to read as well.
Finally, when considering costs - one must take lost wages into account. One parent really does need to be at home for home education to be considered. On the plus side though, you will save on a few expenses - the school run, school uniforms, school lunches and such. You'll also be able to take family holidays at off peak times, saving a bundle on this, as well as various activities at discounted times - like early afternoon movies.
This is the biggest issue for non home educators, and a very minor one for any home educator I have spoken too. Of course children need to spend time with other children. But home educated children have more time for hobbies and clubs. My own son participates in karate, Boys Brigade and Sunday School. We spend a lot of time at a family caravan, and he has many friends there, as well as local neighbourhood children to play with. I can remember many teachers telling us we didn't go to school to socialise - yet many people seem to assume that is now the primary function of schools. Certainly some children will not want to leave school and miss seeing their friends everyday. Others are very involved in school activities like football, or other sports. I say if the child wants to go to school - by all means send them. But there are a great many opportunities to socialize without school, and as a parent, I like the fact that my son can choose whom to socialise with, and can avoid children who are excessively violent or disturbed. I do feel home educated children really benefit from having some regular activity away from home though. I feel children need to learn to work with other adults, and participate in some structured activity where things might be run a bit differently than at home.
Many parents worry what to do with younger siblings while busy teaching an older one. Of course there have been times my oldest has had to wait while I took care of his brother - but for the most part - my youngest child joins in. I will try to simplify some things for him - but I think he has learned an incredible amount while his brother is being taught. Also as Montessori taught, there are 3 steps to learning : watching, doing and teaching. Being able to teach a younger sibling a new skill is a wonderful way to cement that skill for the older child as well. One of my great joys in life is watching my oldest read to his little brother now - it's definitely one of the "oohhh" moments.
I'd like to say home education is all sunshine and light. It isn't. There are times when it can cause conflict between my son and I. The biggest issue is if he takes it easy all day and then wants to go out and play as soon his friends are out. Then I have to be the bad guy and insist he finish his work before running out to play, but I expect this happens with ordinary families and home work as well. I could see this becoming enough of an issue with older children though, that it might make home education too difficult. I feel that if we ever reach the point that it is a constant argument over schoolwork, then it will be time to call it quits. Home education is a privilege in my opinion. Children need to hold up their part of the bargain to keep that privilege. But we are human, and at times we can both get frustrated. If I find a subject is really getting on our nerves, I may scrap it for a day or two and try to come at the problem from a different angle, or even just with fresh attitudes.
There are also several issues where my sons ask questions I can not answer. Thank the Good Lord for Google. I often tell him a subject will have to wait while Mommy finds out more about this, selecting appropriate websites and ordering books where needed.
There are also just those days where nothing seems to go right. I do have medical issues, and pf course other things crop up with a family. Some days it is hard to get anything done at all. When we had major work done on the house, I just took a few days off school, but I have resorted to educational videos and computer programmes or just a stack of books on the sofa from time to time. Board games, science kits and various projects can also lighten things up when we feel bogged down with academics.
In spite of the money I spend, and the time it takes, I'm really happy to have been able to teach my son at home, and look forward to doing so as long as he chooses to continue with home ed. I like the fact that we spend so much time as a family. I love reading to my sons, and listening to my son read as well. I really enjoy all of our projects as well, and we have lots of fun memories and keepsakes. I especially like the fact that my son reads well, and reads for pleasure, a rarity where we live. I like that he can pursue his own interests and learn about anything that catches his fancy. I did consider school as a prison sentence when I was young, and I love the fact that my son can look forward to discovery instead of drudgery.
My son says the best things about home education are: Not having to go to school - having more free time - getting to go to the caravan when everyone else is in school, art and science, getting to choose things to learn about, getting to pick lots of good books to read, reading wherever you want ( like in a ball pit, in bed, or in the garden). He especially loves things like museums, working on things with Dad - like fixing a motorbike and science experiments. The absolute top of the list is anything with explosions, with our quest for the perfect stink bomb a close second.
He says the worst thing about home education is having to finish your work before playing video games or with friends, workbooks and writing.
SO - DO YOU WANT TO GIVE A TRY?
If you are considering home education with a child who is not yet school age, I would say, start early. Find a local home ed group, get a few books and learn all you can about it before hand. Then if you want to give it a try - go for it. You'll find it so much easier than you might expect, and much of home education is just spending time doing things together. I don't believe in formal curriculum for very young children, but it is never too early to start reading. Read to your children as often as possible and explore the world around, making learning fun from an early age.
If your child is older, and already at school, they really need to be involved in this decision. Sit down and work out what you both expect from home education, even draw up a contract if you wish. Set a trial period and conditions which will allow for home education to continue - or under which it must be scrapped. Ask your child what they want to do when they grow up ( so what if it changes 100 times before then) and let them choose some subjects too. I think unit studies are a great place to start with older children. Pick there favourite subject and let them learn everything about it. I still like the idea of creating your own books, but an older child might also do a video production, a you tube series, or web page on their favourite subject.
WHAT IF IT DOESN'T WORK - WILL MY CHILD FALL BEHIND?
This was my biggest fear starting out - what if home ed didn't work, and my son ended up far behind his peers starting school? I did my research, including a chat with a local headmaster. When I realised how little would put him ahead of his peers, I had no worries, but in a better area, things might be different. If this is worrying you consider this:
Most of what is taught over 12 years of full time education was once taught in 2 years of part time education - missing a few months - or even a year won't make much difference. The average home educated child starting school with their peers will be 2 years ahead of their friends. For those few starting behind on some subjects - usually with unschooling, where there has been no formal education at all - most will catch up completely within a couple of months. You really have very little to lose other than the costs of books to start out, and a whole world to gain. If you feel able to devote the time and resources to home educating, and your child wishes to try it - I say give it a go.
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Breastfeeding in General
Before I start this review I would just like to state that this is not going to be a balanced debate of whether it is better to breast feed or formula feed babies as I am certainly pro breast feeding. However, I strongly believe that women should not be pressured one way or another and that they are the only ones to decide what is ... appropriate for them and their baby. This is simply an account of my personal experiences of breast feeding and hopefully this will be of use to someone.
- Ideas of Breast Feeding From My Own Childhood -
My younger brother and sister and I were breast fed until we were about 10 months old. My mother was a midwife so she was definitely pro breast feeding. When I was six I remember my brother breast feeding and me asking my mother if it hurt. I couldn't quite understand that the baby wouldn't just chew on the nipple like I chewed my food. When I played dolls with my cousin I remember pretending to breast feed by holding the doll to my chest and I distinctly recall thinking it would be lovely to do this for real with my own baby, I was only about seven at the time!
- Pregnancy -
As soon as I told people I was pregnant breast feeding became a topic of discussion, particularly with my own family as it was expected I would opt for breast feeding over formula. My husband and his family were also pro breast feeding. It wasn't really something I had to think about, I knew I wanted to breast feed and it was one of the aspects of being a mother that I was really looking forward to. I bought a book on the subject, attended an antenatal breast feeding class and I purchased various items I thought would come in handy for the task. For example I bought nursing bras, breast pads, nipple protectors, nipple cream, breast cooling pads and a nursing pillow. I wanted to be prepared for any discomfort I might experience so that these issues wouldn't result in me giving up breast feeding. I was also keen to express milk for the rare occasions I might want to go out without the baby so I also bought an electric breast pump and a small selection of bottles. I stated my wish to breast feed on my birth plan and that I would like a prolonged period of "skin to skin contact" with my baby when he was first born so that we could attempt latching on and feeding.
- Peer Pressure -
My mother was concerned that giving the baby a bottle with expressed milk would cause confusion and then he wouldn't latch on. On quite a few occasions she made comments about this and expressed concern about how I might give up quickly. My mother in law was also opinionated on the subject, commenting in a slightly negative way that a relative had only breastfed her baby for six weeks. I was keen to breast feed so this didn't really bother me too much but I certainly would have felt pressured had I not wanted to breast feed. At the other end of the spectrum I had a friend who I would describe as having a slightly negative attitude towards breast feeding, her reason being that so many women feel pressured to do it and it quite simply isn't for everyone. This is fair enough and probably true in many cases. However, I don't think this should make someone anti breast feeding. She told me that it was unnecessary and even weird to breast feed past six months and she bought me a pot to keep formula powder in!
- First Experiences of Breast Feeding -
Due to a complicated labour and my baby starting to get distressed, I had to have an emergency caesarean and my son was born around 10pm. There were a few concerns about my baby boy when he was first delivered but he soon recovered and within an hour I was able to have skin to skin time with him and attempt feeding. This was lovely but I was absolutely knackered! One thing I hadn't appreciated was that not only was I learning the ropes of breast feeding but my little boy was too and he didn't have a clue what he was doing! I found it hard to get him to latch on or even get his mouth to my nipple. He was so small and delicate it was quite hard to move him around and I didn't want to hurt him. I think eventually he did a little bit of sucking but by this time it was midnight, my husband had to leave the ward and it was time for me and the baby to get some rest. During the night the midwives told me my son's blood sugar levels were a bit low so they thought they should give him some formula until he got the hang of breast feeding. Although this wasn't what I wanted I agreed that it was best for my baby. I was very concerned that giving him formula would hinder his progress with the breast and that it would also affect my milk supply.
The next few days in hospital were exhausting and I struggled to get my son to properly latch on rather than just sucking my nipple. This was very painful and my nipples were red and cracked. He had to have formula to top up some of his feeds as he wasn't getting enough from the breast to maintain good blood sugar levels. After two days of this an amazing midwife gave me some tips about the way I was positioning my baby, my breasts and my hands and gave me signs to look out for that showed my son had latched on properly. This made a world of difference and by the time we left hospital we seemed to have the hang of it. I felt like had I not had the determination to persevere I would have given up at this first hurdle which would have been a shame.
- A Mother's Worst Nightmare -
We happily continued a three hourly breast feeding routine and this was going really well. My baby was satisfied and I wasn't suffering too much with sore nipples. I really loved the special bond this gave us as it was something no one else could do for him. It was exhausting at times but that is to be expected with a new baby! However, when my son was about five weeks old he became critically ill and was admitted to a special care baby unit for two weeks, even needing to be resuscitated at one point. This was the hardest time in my life by far. I wasn't able to breast feed him until the end of our stay in hospital as he had to be fed through a tube. But the nurses did feed him breast milk that I would express for him every few hours. There was a room on the ward especially for expressing milk and I spent a lot of time in there pumping away. What kept me going through this stressful and emotional time was the thought of breast feeding my baby again. There was a poster on the wall of a mother happily breast feeding her content little baby and I would stare at that longing for my son to better so we could be like that.
- Low Milk Supply -
Unfortunately my milk supply started to decrease and when I pumped I kept expressing less and less each time. I'm sure the stress and me not eating and drinking properly contributed to this but I also think pumping doesn't have the emotional connection which can also have an impact on the flow of milk. My baby had to have some formula as my supply was so low. When he had fully recovered we were allowed to take him home which was absolutely amazing but I had the new stress of trying to breast feed him when I knew my milk supply was low. He would get very agitated as he wasn't getting enough milk from me and this made it very hard to settle him. We were giving him some formula but I was very aware that this was going to make my milk supply worse so I tried to limit this as much as possible without depriving him. I was feeding him on demand every two hour as well as expressing in between which was so exhausting. I did some research online and came across a herbal remedy called Fenugreek which is supposed to increase milk supply. You have to take four tablets three times a day and the tablets are quite large to swallow but I figured it was worth a try as the only side effect seemed to be that you smell of maple syrup! After taking these for three days and continuing to feed on demand and express I noticed a difference. For the first time since we had left the hospital I had the feeling of my breasts being full and my son fell asleep on the breast, one very satisfied customer! My supply seemed to pretty much return to normal after this, although since then I have found that my left breast always has more milk than the right resulting in my son having a favourite side!
- Breast Feeding in Public -
This seems to be an issue for a lot of people. I have breast fed in restaurants, shopping centres, train stations and on a park bench. There often isn't a designated breast feeding room in public places so I don't have much choice, all I can do is cover up the best I can. You get the occasional stare if people work out what you are doing but I have never had a nasty comment. In fact on one occasion when I was breast feeding in a shopping centre a lovely young woman came up to me and said she thought I was amazing for breast feeding in public. It has got harder as my son has got bigger and at 11 months he does have a habit of ripping off the blanket and exposing us!
- Advantages and Disadvantages -
I will keep this brief as I'm sure most people know about the health benefits for both mother and baby. For me the advantages of breast feeding have been that it is free, I think it helped me lose weight quicker, it is special between me and my son, I personally find it easier than preparing bottles of formula (especially at night and when out and about), and it is my opinion that it is the best I can give my baby in terms of vitamins and nutrients.
Disadvantages for me have been as my son has grown he has pinched, scratched, punched and bitten my breasts and nipples. I don't think my breasts look as good as they used to and I haven't been able to wear many of my tops and dresses as I always have to think about quick access to my breasts! I think the other disadvantage is that it took my son a little longer to get to the point of sleeping through the night. If you formula feed your baby you can increase the amount you give during day time feeds so that they get enough to see them through the night, but this is much harder when you are breast feeding and you don't know how much they have had. In my group of mummy friends the two breast fed babies took longer to sleep through compared to the four formula fed babies, obviously this isn't a scientific study and babies do have very different sleep routines generally. My son started sleeping through the night when he started on food and got the extra calories from this.
- Stopping Breast Feeding -
I have enjoyed my experience of breast feeding so much and I think I will actually be quite sad when I stop. I plan to wean my baby onto cow's milk when he is between one year and 18 months.
- Summary -
I have definitely experienced some ups and downs with breast feeding but the positives outweigh any negatives by a long way. I think you need to be quite determined to continue if you face issues such as peer pressure, difficulty latching on, painful nipples or even infection, or low milk supply. I can see why people give up but I am so glad I have stuck with it and I will certainly plan to breast feed any future children.
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Family Night In
We have a family night in most nights unless our eldest sleeps out or has friends to stay. This doesn't mean we do something everynight though as like most people during the week we just don't have the time to do anything great. Life and dancing get in the way - come home make dinners for next day run children dancing or something make ... tea wash clothes etc etc. Although we try to have tea together most nights.
So a family night to us is to do something nice that isn't just sitting in front of the television, although sometimes we do watch a family film and eat chocolate but then the girls become more interested in the chocolate than the film!
So a nice family night to us (other than watch a film) is a party tea in the room where there is no television, wine for the adults and soft drinks for the girls with chocolates for afters. It would be quite boring for some, we have the food then we just go with whatever takes our mood, sometimes the girls play nicely together and we chat and watch them play. We always have the music on in the background; for us this is a nice chilled out evening with no pressure.
Sometimes we plan more and say we will have a games night (this usually turns stressful but is getting better) which is difficult because of the age gap with 2 girls one aged just 13 the and other just 5. Recently we had a fun night playing 'Pop N Hop' which is a cheap version of frustration - we all got quite competitive about sending someone home etc. We are in the process of teaching the youngest our favourite card game too so once she fully masters it that will a card night fully sorted rather than just the odd game.
The girls favourite family night is coming up to mummy and daddy's bedroom (don't ask me why) so every now and again we try to make this a bit special by having some candles on (out of reach of course) and we connect the play station (yes there is a wii in the eldests bedroom but it wouldn't be the same, if we all went in her room!) I might read a bit, the youngest might play but we will all have a go on the playstation and depending what game we put on it can get a bit rowdy. As it starts to get late my husband might play his guitar to calm things down. If we don't get the playstation out the keyboard might come out and the bongo drums for a bit of music. To us its about being together and sometimes turning the television off.
A family night is about being together and having fun; adults need to forget any problems and just chill and go with the enjoyment of being together
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