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Should I home educate? 1: The open-minded home educator

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Home education often gets a bad press in the media, so when Desertmum reader Emma suggested a blog on the subject, I jumped at the chance to put forward its advantages – as well as to be realistic about the challenges.

Not being a home educator myself, I’ve enlisted the help of five wonderful women who home educate their children in a wide variety of circumstances. Please read their stories (one per day, March 17th-21st) as well as my thoughts on the 22nd – and be prepared to have your preconceptions challenged!

Over to my first contributor, Lizzie…

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I have three boys, aged five, three and one. My husband works full-time for a church, and I stay at home to educate our boys.

Prior to having children I studied Early Childhood studies, worked in schools and nurseries, and trained as a Play Therapist. Having spent a lot of time working in schools, I’d always assumed that was where our children would go!

A new option for education

However, after we had our second child we decided that, at least for the time being, I would be a stay-at-home mum. As a result of my professional experience, I had lots of ideas and wanted to develop what I did with the boys and how I encouraged their play. Our eldest attended a local nursery for a couple of mornings a week but other than that they were with me.

I’d never previously considered home education, but began seeing it as an option the year before we needed to apply for school places. My brother-in-law had been home educated up until secondary school and he and my sister-in-law had decided to do the same with their children.

Home education suddenly became a possibility for us, and the more I thought about it, talked with my husband and explored what it could look like, the more I became excited!

Finding a weekly pattern

We are now several months in to what would have been my eldest son’s Reception year, so are still in the early stages of our journey, working out what a weekly pattern could look like. (Last term we spent a lot of time out and about, getting to know Home Ed families to build up a community around us.)

This term we spend Monday, Tuesday and Thursdays as a family (sometimes with other friends) based at home. After breakfast the older two play and do independent activities while I catch up with jobs and have some time playing and reading with our youngest.

Then I read with my eldest – we’re working through a phonics scheme, and I read to him as well. At the moment, we’re learning a sound a week, so each week we’ll find out about an animal beginning with that sound, research an artist whose name begins with that sound (doing some artwork in their style), and bake/cook something.

We also do basic maths through fun activities and play.

In the afternoons we tend to go to the park for a walk or cycle ride. On a couple of days the boys have swimming and football club.

Wednesdays tend to be the day we get together with a couple of other Home Ed families. We eat together, do different age-specific activities and generally have a lot of fun!

Fridays are our day with friends; we tend to go out for the whole day and, more recently, we’ve started meeting with a wider group of Home Ed families at a large park with a wooded area and a lake. The children enjoy making dens and playing together outdoors.

As a way of recording what we get up to, I write a blog: Life with Little Ones.

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Time and flexibility

There are so many wonderful things about home education. I love that the boys have a strong relationship because of so much quality time together. This doesn’t mean they always get on, but we have time to work through the challenges. Generally they play wonderfully well together.

There is a lot of flexibility to our days. We can learn outdoors, explore in greater depth the things they enjoy, and do more focused activities at times of day when they’re most engaged.

I love that I know what they’re learning about and what they’re enjoying. I also appreciate knowing what they’re finding more challenging as I can tailor our plans for them.

We benefit from cheaper holidays and special offers at places of interest. We recently went to a home education day at our nearest zoo and this would have cost us £50 more if we hadn’t gone on that day.

Friends of different ages

One of my concerns was whether our boys would have opportunities to make friends. But not only have they made many friends through our Home Ed community, these friends are of different ages – a huge benefit to home education. They’ve also made friends through our church, their football club and the street where we live.

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Challenges

At the moment, my main challenge is juggling the needs of our different-aged children. As our littlest is transitioning from two naps to one, I have less time with the older two, so I’m having to adapt things, which I don’t always find easy. This will change again once he isn’t napping at all!

The challenge for me is to remain flexible, making plans I can change, and not putting too much pressure on myself.

Another challenge is finding time for me. On good days I can genuinely say I enjoy spending time with the boys, playing with them, learning with them and watching them learn. But I know I need to get better at planning in time for myself.

I’ve recently started running, when my husband comes in from work, giving me time to process the day and let go of any stresses.

Every other morning I get up before Dave for a cup of tea and to read a book and my Bible by myself. Dave gets the boys ready and gets everything set for breakfast. The other days he does this and I get the boys ready.

When our eldest stopped napping I introduced a ‘quiet time’. This is a time when I get to do a few jobs, read a book or get the dinner ready in peace! It doesn’t always look like this, in fact today I spent most of “quiet time” with a screaming baby who didn’t want to nap. But most days I get 30- 45 minutes of time to myself when the boys are playing happily by themselves in different rooms.

Impact on family life

Because my husband works outside the home, the responsibility for education is largely mine. However, we recognise that we both have a role to play in nurturing our boys, so we take every opportunity to do this. The planning is generally down to me, but we discuss it together and share the decisions about what we would like them to learn.

We have different skills too. Dave is musical, so the boys love playing “Band” with him and he is teaching our eldest to drum. They also play lots of football with him which isn’t really my thing!

Home education has given us more quality time together. As Dave’s job often requires him to work weekends and evenings, we get to have our family time in the week when we need to.

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A flexible future

When we made the decision to home educate we didn’t rule out school completely. We agreed to give it a go and see how it went, regularly reviewing whether it was still the best thing for everyone. Currently, we’ve decided to keep home educating for the next year or so, but we don’t have any firms plans after that.

There are lots of benefits of school too which, one day, our boys might want to engage in. But for now, while they’re young, we’re enjoying this extra time with them.

Resources

We’ve found our local Home Ed Facebook group a really useful way of discovering local activities and making connections with other families.

There are costs involved in buying resources, but these vary and can be as cheap or expensive as you want.

We’ve subscribed to Reading Eggs which my eldest uses regularly, but I spend a lot of time getting free/cheap ideas from Pinterest – I don’t know where I’d be without it! Other than that we enjoy books a lot, with lots of trips to the library as well as growing our own library of great books.

Considering it?

If you’re wondering about home education, I’d recommend connecting with others who are already doing it.

Remember that your decision doesn’t have to be forever. If you decide to do it for a year, then decide your children would benefit from being in school, this isn’t a negative outcome! If in the next year or two we decide to send our children to school, I will always be thankful for this extra time I’ve had with them.

Don’t forget to check out Lizzie’s blog here!

Do you have questions or encouragements for Lizzie? Share them in the comments!

Read story no.2 “The converted home educator” here.

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