Following on from yesterday's post on Why We Home Educate, I decided to write a post on how we home educate, or at least how we home educate at the moment.
We started home education with few preconceived notions about the best way to home educate our children. We broadly adhered to the idea of a child-centred approach to learning, and a fundamental belief in the potential of the vast majority of children to excel academically in the right learning environment, but we had no idea how that would be put into practice on a daily basis. We read Understanding & Using Educational Theories which gave us an overview of all the major theorists, and like many home educators, picked and chose the bits that we thought would best fit in with our children, our circumstances, and our values.
Unlike most home educators, who will tell you "there's no typical day" and "every day is different", we have a broad structure within which the children work. We are a long way from the anarchic unschoolers beloved by the media, we like to give the kids room to express what they want to do, but within boundaries that will help them thrive. All children need plenty of sleep, exercise, and a balanced diet; left to his own devices our eldest would undoubtedly sit on the sofa, day and night, playing computer games.
There are three typical parts of the day, each of which can be moved or dropped according to other commitments such as trips out, home education groups, or other social engagements.
'Jobs' is the regular maths and writing Solomon has to do every day, and which he usually starts after breakfast. This consists of writing in his diary what he did the day before, and a couple of pages from his maths workbook. We use the Schofield & Sims workbooks, and Solomon is currently halfway through Times Tables Practice 2. Because we don't enforce a Monday to Friday, 9 to 3 schedule there is an expectation that maths and writing are done every day, and if he doesn't write in his diary one day he has to write two entries the next. On a good day his jobs are done in 40 minutes, on a bad day it stretches out to an hour and a half.
Most days we also try to do something on the week's project, which we describe each week in this blog. Sometimes Solomon will suggest a project, sometimes we will, and sometimes it is prompted by external events (e.g., Christmas, a visit, or a local event). Once a theme has been agreed we come up with a variety of resources and pieces of work to help us explore the topic more fully, this may include trips out, watching a film, a science experiment, or creating a piece of artwork. As Solomon is only five most of the resources and trips are suggested by his parents, but as Solomon gets bigger, and is more aware of the opportunities that are available, we will expect him to suggest more of the activities himself. The main problem we have with the project/theme approach is that there is so much we want to explore that the list of potential projects is always growing faster than we can do them!
We've also been lucky in that as our children have grown bigger we have managed to keep the afternoon nap time they had as small children, although over time this has transformed into a rest time. Each afternoon they'll go up to their rooms and (mostly) read quietly for an hour. We've found that on those days they don't have this rest period there is a tendency for them to get a bit overtired, and it raises the chance of there being tears before bedtime. Teach a child to read as early as possible and the parent can have peace and quiet every day!
In addition we ensure there is a trip out for some fresh air each day (we are lucky to have numerous local parks and a nature reserve within 5 minutes walk), there's no computer games until after lunch (and no more than one hour a day!), and TV is generally restricted to a short programme before bed unless it is associated with a particular project. The key with all these things is routine: because computer games are never allowed before lunch and the TV is never 'just on', we are spared the screen time requests that can plague some households.
As the children get bigger we will inevitably have to revisit how we home educate: GCSEs will require greater structure if we are to get through set curricula, and when all three require compulsory full time education we will need to find a balance for the children's different interests. For now, however, we've found a rhythm that works for us, and can't imagine doing it any other way.
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