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, 28 October 2012

Bad Mummy Day

I was supposed to come and write about what we've been up to over the last few weeks, but I've not managed to get my thoughts together on it. It has been, as it always is, a bit of whirl. I spend way too much time driving them all where they need to go. And way too much money on the fuel to do it. How on earth people think home educated children are hidden from view is a mystery to me. We're barely in the house some days. And tied to the kitchen table 9am to 3pm? Managing it from 9am to 3 minutes past is a victory sometimes.

My fault in part, I suppose. Living in a small village stuck in the countryside was a fab idea when they were little. Now they're bigger it's rapidly losing its appeal. Especially since the shop has closed down and the bus service has been cut. Might seriously have to consider moving somewhere they can at least walk down the road and buy a pint of milk. Let alone get a part time job.

In between the driving there have been lots of activities though, either at the place we were driving to or back at home. Or even in the car sometimes. But you'll have to bear with me while I sort them out and find the photos I think I remembered to take. Instead I'll make you all feel better by confessing to being a bad parent today. Today I am letting them do whatever they like. Which means that one is still in bed and two have been playing the Xbox all morning. In their pyjamas. So there.

Well, really, it's exhausting being an inspirational educator all the time. At least, I assume it is. I don't think I manage it very often. When you have more than one child and they all like different things (very inconsiderate) and want to be inspired in different ways (downright rude) it's like spinning plates. It can look really impressive sometimes. Sometimes I can keep plates of many colours spinning for ages! But I can't keep it up forever. I'll lose concentration and they'll come crashing to the ground. Better that I pack them up from time to time and give them a rest.

And in the meantime they can inspire themselves. Even the Xbox can be a part of that. J was proudly showing me the World War I trench he's building on Minecraft.

So today I give myself permission to be a lazy parent!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Well, that was unexpected!

Just as you think you're getting used to the way it is, they go and move the goal posts don't they?

Last week the 'they' in question was A. Being the youngest, by the time she was 5 home education had become just a way of life for our family so sending her to school was not an option. Until she decided differently. Driven by curiosity she asked if she could go to the local village primary. Pros and cons were discussed, I tried not to take the request as a personal rejection of myself as a home educating mum (not easy I can tell you!) and A entered the school in Year 5. To those of you who have no idea what that means it's the penultimate year of primary school - so age 9!

She fitted in immediately and did really well. She's the most motivated, driven, self starter of a child, in fact she was a joy to home educate. She had taught herself to read and write and was highly literate. She is also very easy going, sociable and happy to go along with whatever activities are happening. All those skills and characteristics meant that school was a doddle.

Fast forward two years and after a very happy time at primary she was greatly looking forward to secondary school. We (including A herself) chose from the two that have a bus service from the village. Preparations were made, horrendously expensive school uniform purchased, bus pass applied for.

And all went well to start with. Lessons were fine, friends were being made, there was no trouble getting her up in the morning. A couple of minor hiccups - she got lost around the building a few times, missed the bus home once, but no major disasters.

And then the cracks started to show.

Right from the start the school had communicated its strict behaviour policy in no uncertain terms. No problem there, you think, it's unfortunately as it has to be. If you're going to choose to try and educate in bulk, hundreds of youths milling around the same institution for six hours a day, there has to be some crowd control. The thing was they just kept on and on about it - do this, don't do that, or this will happen. And A was really worried. Terrified that she'd forget her pencil case and get a detention. And detention these days, I have discovered, is immediate - 30 minutes after school on the same day. We were told that if that happened we'd be contacted during the day and - get this - we were not to make any family after school arrangements until after 3.00pm just in case!! Well, sod that!!

We brought this up in an early Parents' Evening. Well, A did in fact, so concerned was she. She asked her tutor what would happen if she genuinely forgot her pen. To give the tutors their due, they were very nice and tried to be reassuring. They said the rules were there so that pupils knew what was expected of them. That of course they understood that mistakes sometimes happen, that if a child who was normally well behaved just omitted to bring the right equipment one day they would loan them one.

It didn't help. The behaviour and punishment message was still being rammed home every day, in almost every lesson.

Then there was the grading. From the word go, the children were assessed and graded in every subject. And told what grade they should be aiming for. 'You're a 4b in English, we expect you to be a 5a by the end of this year'. She was even told what GCSE results she could expect based on her current grades!! Seriously, that's five years away! What did it for me especially was the Art grading. A was furnished with a list of achievements that would help her move up the grades, including such words of wisdom as 'colour within the lines'. I was dumbfounded. One trip around the Tate Modern shows that to be ridiculous. How can the children be creative with that kind of prescriptive attitude? Picasso wouldn't have done very well would he? 'Pablo, you really must try harder'!

While I was incensed at the box ticking mentality, I wasn't that surprised that it existed. What I was surprised at was the way it was so transparent to the children. So not only are they being taught to the test, they know it's happening. They are not encouraged to experiment or to express themselves, they are encouraged to comply with a set of conditions in order to receive praise and the reward of a nice healthy GCSE pass. And this environment is supposed to breed artists? And scientists? And entrepreneurs?

Of course that wasn't what A was thinking, but she was feeling the pressure. So she made a 'pros and cons' list (wonder where she got that from!). There were a couple of pros - one or two teachers were interesting, one or two lessons were enjoyable, one or two friends had been made. Tellingly, her cons list was longer. Many more of the teachers were grumpy or shouty, many more of the lessons were boring. Science in particular apparently, although she was interested in the kind of science we were doing at home.

I did persuade her to try school for a bit longer. With all my reservations about the system, it was such a quick change of heart for her I wanted her to be sure she was making the right decision. It might have been that she just needed to spend a bit longer getting used to the new environment. She only stayed another week, though, by which time she was adamant. We deregistered her last Monday.

And so my goal posts have moved. I am faced with a new challenge. Because A is going to be very different to educate. Her motivation is still there, she is still that driven self-starter she always was. In fact she educates herself really. But she requires, almost demands to be inspired and challenged. I'm going to need to be on my toes. So far, though, so good. Last week she raided the bookshelves for the (pretty small) collection of text books we have acquired over the years. They're in almost perfect condition really, since they have largely been rejected by all three older children. And finally I am justified in keeping them! My hoarding mentality has a use!! She's working through the English exercises, asking for algebra and talking about Latin. And Polish. Hmmmm..........I can envisage a request for 13 GCSEs including Ancient Greek!

Yesterday afternoon we had a go at some monoprinting - a first for both of use. A said it was 'the best art lesson ever'. Not sure that 'lesson' was quite the word, since the afternoon consisted of watching a quick tutorial followed by an hour or so of experimenting, but I was happy nonetheless!

And it feels so right. It feels like the natural order has been restored. I don't know if it's because we've been home educating for so long, but the concept of school just seems so alien to me now. In fact, the last four and a bit weeks have given me a newfound respect for all you parents supporting your children at school. How you put up with that daily grind, and keep your sanity, is beyond me. And for the schooled students. How you manage to get an education with all those obstacles deserves a round of applause at the very least. 

Next time someone discovers that we home educate and asks me 'I don't know how you do it!' I shall be asking the question right back!

Friday, 5 October 2012

Letting sleeping teens lie

It's the usual morning dilemma. Shall I, or shall I not, go and wake the teens?!

Yesterday was an especially busy one. Thursdays always are. We have recently joined a home ed multi-sports group which B and J are really enjoying. The opportunity for some regular team sport couldn't be ignored, but it's an hour's drive from us. So that's a two hour round trip for me for two hours of sport for them. It's well worth it though, for me also as I get to chat with some home educating parents AND the chance to play with the SatNav facility on my new mobile phone in order to find the place! Just as well it's only every fortnight though as I wince to see the petrol gauge head downwards so quickly!

Thursday mornings start as normal - I'm up with A before she heads off to catch the school bus. I then get B and J up so there's time for them to fit something in before we leave for the sport session - yesterday I managed to persuade them to write up an experiment on yeast they'd done a few days ago, while I finished off some work for a client, started the online Tesco order, paid the mobile phone bill and so on. We head off at around 11.00.

SatNav cool, sports enjoyed, chats agreeable!

Since I usually shop on a Friday, by Thursday we've normally run out of basics so it's a quick dash to pick up milk on the way home,which means we roll in at about 4.00. Chat with A who's just in from school, listen to her news, check if she has homework, try not to get annoyed with tales of the narrow minded educational demands she is subjected to on a daily basis ;)

Then it really gets busy!

Thursdays is the night that T, B and J all have various activities. In different towns. So the evening is pretty much a whirl of drop offs and pick ups for me, at the same time trying to work in things like dinner for everyone at different times to suit their schedule! Fortunately A is now old enough to be left at home so she enjoys a lovely evening in complete control of the TV remote and sitting in the comfy chair, chilling out while the rest of us whirl in and out of the house at speed! 

Their Dad comes over and takes care of J's football training transportation, which is a lifesaver really. I take B to her drama class, shoot back to sort out dinner for A and me. Keep an eye on the clock as I then have to leave to take T to football, straight to collect B and drop her back home. It's about 8.30 now so quick check that An is OK and back to collect T. Home at last by 9.30, another quick chat with A before I chivvy her off to bed as it's school tomorrow.

Sit down while T and B sort their own food out. They're plenty big enough for that! J is staying with Dad tonight so he's taken care of. Remember to finish off Tesco order otherwise I'd be looking forward to a delivery of four pints of milk tomorrow - not for the first time I'm ashamed to say!

Relax in front of telly with a glass of wine :) 

While finishing the Tesco order on my mobile (boy I do love that piece of technology!) I find a link to an article about Seth MacFarlane's forthcoming hosting of the Oscars and, more specifically, about the objections to this choice by a group in America called the PTC (Parents Televsion Council). MacFarlane, if you're not aware, is the creator of such shows as Family Guy and American Dad, renowned for being graphic and choosing controversial topics of humour! Knowing that they'll take an interest in this, I wave the article at Tom and Beth for a brief opportunity to raise the subjects of censorship, freedom of speech, personal and parental responsibility and so on. I decide not to start a 'conversation' though - this time it's enough just to leave it with them. Plus I'm tired and I'm not sure my brain would work very well!

B and I catch up with something on the Sky planner and when it's finished I'm about to suggest bedtime when we notice that the next programme - 'The Boy Who Can't Forget'. Intrigued we keep the telly on and it is indeed a very interesting look at a young man who has the ability to recall a vast amount of his life, being able to tell you what he was doing on whatever day in the past you care to choose. This is right up our street, especially since I did my degree in Psychology and B took the same subject for GCSE last year. But it turned out to be educational for us in other ways too. I comment on the boy's unusual name, Aurelien, and B reminds me that it was the name of one of the sons in the French family she stayed with on an exchange trip with her drama group last year. The mother then appears on the screen and appears to have a French accent - that probably explains the choice of name then! A little later on B comments 'I think he's gay', at which point, right on cue, the programme introduces a new person as 'his boyfriend' and continues with the investigation. We were very impressed by the way his sexuality was not swept under the carpet with vague allusions to 'his friend', but neither was it  given any disproportionate attention. It was just a fact, in the same way his having a sister, or a cat might have been. We applauded the production team!

The next programme which managed to catch our attention before we could get to the off switch was 'Embarrassing Bodies' which seemed to be largely about penises which bend. Well OK then! T appeared just at the right time (wrong time?!) to watch aswell. I'd not seen the programme before but it treated all the subjects in a professional, medical fashion so was pretty educational really. Although we couldn't quite work out what motivates people to actually be featured on the show!

When we finally fell into bed sometime past midnight our minds were well and truly full thanks to the impromptu learning opportunities that had been thrown our way by means of the box in the corner. There are many times that I feel like throwing it out of the window, such is the addictive nature of some of the tat that appears, but every now and then it does something to redeem itself. On reflection, last night turned into hours of learning which, in a school curriculum, might be planned and delivered as part of PHSE, but which I find just happens naturally in the course of our lives, unplanned and unforeseen and probably taken in a lot better as a result. We'd just stuffed a lot of it into a short space of time!

So yesterday turned out to be pretty full on as far as education is concerned. I'm not surprised the teens are tired! In which case I think a lie in is appropriate this morning. There's nothing magical about the hours between 9 and 3 which make them most appropriate for learning as I think yesterday demonstrates. It was also as good an example as I can think of recently of education being 'full time' and 'efficient'!

Letting them sleep also benefits me. Getting sufficient 'me time' can be one of the biggest challenges of home education and a couple of hours peace and quiet is not to be sniffed  at.

Having said that, B could sleep for England if left alone so I'll go and shake her in a bit. As flexible as home education is, you do actually have to be awake for some of it to happen!

But, maybe, just one more cup of tea first??