Thoreau Quote

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."
Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, 17 June 2012

And back to normality.....sort of

It has been so long since my last post. We've had a few months of rather dramatic change in the family which have been distracting and taken most of my attention; in addition there were the dreaded IGCSEs which B sat during May! But things have calmed down a bit now and I hope to be able to drop in more often!

When I started this blog I intended to give some idea of what it's like to home educate. To go someway to answering the questions 'What do you do all day?' or 'How on earth do you get teenagers to do anything?' So I'll try and post more regularly about our everyday activities and hopefully you'll be able to build up a picture.

Since the IGCSEs exams were in May, they were the primary focus of our day for a good couple of months before that. B sat two - History and English Literature. This might not seem much, especially when you consider that in school children often sit many more than that, but it's a different ball game when you're going it alone. For a start, we began these in September, so only 8 months to cover the whole course instead of two years. It's perfectly do-able, but it does mean the workload for each subject is double that of a schooled child. Also, we found these two subjects to be particularly heavy in terms of the material that had to be covered. To top it all, we did these completely alone - no distance learning course, no tutors. So as well as learning the material we had to trawl through books, websites and past papers to work out how to answer the questions in the exam!

And that was the only bit we didn't like really. B did enjoy studying the material, largely because as a home educated student you get to pick the topics you actually want to do, instead of being restricted to the ones the teacher has chosen. So for English she chose Romeo & Juliet and Pride & Prejudice, partly because she was already familiar with both and had acted in a version of Romeo & Juliet a couple of years ago. There was also an Anthology of poems. It's been a while since I had to consider iambic pentameter, personification and dramatic irony and I have to admit it took a while to get the old cogs going!

For History she chose The First World War; Development of a Dictatorship: Germany Between the Wars; Civil Rights in the USA; and Changes in Medicine. Again, being able to choose your topics was a big bonus.

So, interesting stuff. Not so interesting, though, was having to learn how to regurgitate it in just the right way to pass the exam and it was very hard to get B motivated and working in that way. So much so that she took a lot longer than she should have done covering the material and we were left with very little time to revise and do practice papers. So, for the weeks up to May our days were pretty much like this:

Poor old J was left to his devices a lot of the time! He quite enjoyed this period of autonomy though. We recently invested in a subscription to Conquer Maths, an online course, and both B and J are enjoying taking themselves through it. So each day J would do a couple of topics of his Maths, followed by a page or two of his English workbook (amazing how happy he is to continue getting to grips with spelling and grammar now - and how pleased I am that leaving it until he was ready, no matter how late that seemed, was the right approach). Then he'd get on with whatever took his fancy - reading his book (currently 'I Am Number Four' by Pittacus Lore - a huge change from last Autumn when I blogged about his learning to read); working on his project (a book about the guns that appear in an Xbox game! Ah well, it was his project, not mine, and did after all involve research, history and writing!); baking (such as testing several different recipes for brownies to see how they differed and why - and which were the nicest!); or whatever else he felt like.

At the same time I found myself without a car for three months, living as we do in a village with a pitiful bus service. We did use the buses though and they brought lots of new experiences, such as listening to the chatter of the regulars going to town on market day; catching the connecting train to Peterborough on a Saturday; trawling through timetables finding out where we could actually get to without a car. Hardly anywhere it turns out, or at least not if we wanted to get back home the same day! Cue discussion about the pros and cons of cars versus public transport and whether the government should perhaps do more to provide a viable alternative for those of us in the countryside!

Then there were all the 'normal' activities, such as caring for the animals, chores, television, football matches for J and drama classes (and a production) for B, all of which enrich us in many ways.

All in all this period of relative inactivity hasn't been as sparse in the educational department as I thought it would be. J has benefited from the downtime and is ready to forge ahead with some new projects. After a couple of weeks to recover from exams, Beth is also much more receptive to the idea of some forward thinking and planning. And I feel I've recharged my batteries and am ready to go :)


  1. Lovely to read someone else's exam tales. We have just finished our batch of IGCSE's for this year, I am pleased to say because my girls, like your daughter find them tedious and rigid to study for. It is a whole new method of 'learning' for them to absorb, one which upon discussion they feel "Sucks all the joy out of the subject" (their words not mine).

    My older two recently sat Environmental management Igcse which took them 6 months of study, whilst we hope to sit the Pride and Prejudice & Importance of being Ernest - English Lit exam after a years study in Jan 2013.

    This is one of the things we do like about the home ed Igcse exam way - that they can study as long or as little as they like and sit the exam when they're ready, not when someone tells them they have to.

    Our youngest also has to do a lot of self learning whilst I go through the Igcse bits and bobs, sometimes this brings immense guilt on my shoulders when she needs help and I am spilt between them all, other times she loves the independence of self learning. I have no doubt all will come right in the end though and balance out equally.

    Wish you all bundles of luck with all your exams and do enjoy your summer. xXx

  2. Ah, thank-you for you comments! Yes, we've pretty much decided that GCSEs are a necessary evil. Well, not necessary perhaps, depending on your ambitions, but you know what I mean. There's no doubt that Beth has benefited from studying the course - she commented only the other day that she is picking up a lot more references from television and so on that she would not have understood before, particularly the historical ones.

    And I suppose accepting the fact that there will be some bits of whatever you choose to do that are tedious and boring is worth learning in itself!

    Fingers crossed for all our results now! And you enjoy your summer too :)

  3. Lovely to read of your doings Jane. I always think that a period like this when you think you're doing nothing educationally should be considered as fallow time as it is always beneficial to future fertile production!! Thinking of you. x

  4. Hi Ross! That's a good way to think of it. It's also clear to me that even though we're not necessarily forging ahead with anything in particular, there's still a lot of learning going on.

    I know that when I'm overly busy with work, projects, chores etc, I don't feel I have any 'brain space' left. All I'm able to do at the end of the day is flop in front of the TV. Even reading can seem like hard work.

    When it goes a little quieter, my brain kicks into action and I find I'm able to reflect on things I've read, heard on the radio, seen out and about and so on. It's easier to think some things through to a conclusion, or become quite the philosopher about others! I imagine the children feel much the same and it's very worthwhile :)

  5. The brain learns best when it is at rest!
    Pat Quinn

    1. I'm a bit late replying to you Pat, sorry, but just wanted to say, "I agree!" Hope you are all well :)

  6. Found your blog via your reply to me in yahoo exam group regarding centres. So lovely to read as we're just starting out on our home-ed journey (daughter age 13 and son age 8)so it's nice to know how successful it can be for the children. My daughter would be interested in the IGCSE history and English, and coincidentally is reading Pride and Prejudice :) If you don't mind me asking how old is your daughter? Just wondering the earliest my daughter could start taking exams?

  7. Hi! Thanks for dropping by :) Beth is 16. If she'd been at school she'd be in Year 11.

    Beth took her first one (Biology) at 14, which was really a bit of a practice run for us both. She then took two last year (Biology again, to improve the grade, and Psychology). Then History and English Lit this year. Then she's doing Maths and English Lang next year. The jury is still out on whether we'll tackle any more qualifications over the next 12 months! She plans then to go to college, but hasn't decided what to study yet.

    So she will finish a year 'later' than her schooled peers. This was a conscious decision by both of us though, partly due to finances (I can't afford many all at once!) and partly so that she would actually get the chance to enjoy and appreciate each subject.

    Your daughter could take exams as early as she likes really, or leave it till later. I have heard of home educated 12 year olds sitting GCSEs, but also many that wait until they're older. If she has a particular ambition it might be worth looking into it to find out whether future colleges, Universities etc have specific criteria, such as GCSEs taken in one sitting.

    Other than that, it's up to you and her. Subjects like Maths and Science are often considered to be more easily tackled at a younger age, while English and History are often left for a couple of years as they tend to require a certain maturity. It totally depends on your daughter though! We left Maths to last because Beth thought she couldn't do it. In the last year something has clicked and she's forging ahead!

    If you're on the HEExams list there will be plenty of experienced and helpful people there! :)


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