Basics

 

 

 

The First Basic: Love

This might seem obvious, but I might as well state it: we want the foundation of our family life including our home education to be love!

We want the kids to feel saturated in love. Loving words, loving actions, loving attention. The first thing we do in the morning is attempt to give each child a cuddle, preferably altogether in bed. Night time snuggles are filled with love and words of affirmation. 

We want our marriage to show love and respect that we can be proud for them to copy. We aim for the way we speak to our children is worthy of copying too (sometimes a challenge for Mummy!)​

Ideally, we'd like the children to witness Mummy and Daddy's love spill out to the World around us. If it is possible in our jobs, in acts of kindness in the way we treat our friends, family and those who are different to us, we are happy!

Work out your Relationship

Every home educating family has a different parent-child dynamic. It's worth spending some time working this out before leaping into home education. How does everyone show each other respect? What are your boundaries going to be? What are everyone's responsibilities? Who is in charge of learning direction - everyone as a group? Parents? Children? Parent-led with significant child input?

Why is academic and skill-learning going to happen in the home? Because children want to learn something and have spontaneously asked? Because parents have shared the importance of skills for future life? Because of an infectious love of knowledge? 

Things You Might Have Missed From School

School is a convenient place for governments to administer all sorts of child services. Here are a few to help check if you have any gaps:

  • Eye tests

  • Ear tests

  • Vaccinations

  • Cycle testing

  • Anti-racism training (with a little research, you can do better than the schools, especially as you will have the time to do a racially inclusive history or go deeper into a foreign language if you choose to)

  • Mental health

  • English as a second language for those who are not native English speakers

  • Ofsted (you are going to have to monitor your own learning provision. The home education environment is very defensive and therefore not super-open to being honestly self-reflective)

  • Exercise and time outdoors (I give myself a goal of three hours outside a day which really helps us prioritise getting outside!)

  • Swimming lessons (many home educators use subsidised home ed classes)

  • School trips (yours will be better quality as your kids will have more freedom to explore and more adult support when asking questions)

  • Team sports and ball skills

  • Group project work

  • Drama (half term and summer groups are a great resource)

  • Choir or group music making (we use church for this)

  • Public speaking (again, church has been a useful place for us to let our kids speak on a microphone in front of a crowd)

It hasn't been hard for me to tick these things off, there are plenty of opportunities once you know where you need to look.

Physical Learning Environment

After some trial and error, here's what we're looking for in a good home education set up:

  • One main learning and living room. The kids quickly learn the skills they need not to be distracted by each other. The benefits are that we spend a lot of time bonding as a family, we learn more from each other, discussions can spring up from each other's work and if we are speaking in a foreign language the others benefit a little too.

  • A decent-sized table with comfortable chairs for the children to work together​. Especially important if you need a safe-zone from a baby (until they climb the table!). Table will get stained, cover it if you care about this.

  • Potential distractions removed from the room, or removed from the house. We have no iPad, TV or electronic toys except for the ones that make realistic bird song.

  • Educational materials that you'll need easily accessible. If there's a toddler on the prowl, materials need to be at the height that only the relevant siblings can get them. This will save you so much stress.

  • Materials that you want the children to access themselves, e.g. stationary, science equipment, paper, relevant books, are easy to reach and visible. Materials that you don't want to be accessed without your supervision are in another room and/or out of sight.

  • Loads of books on display, if you can find a way to accomplish this. Charity book shops often get rich/well-stocked families donating their entire book stock of one age range as their kids grow older, you can pick up some incredible stuff.

  • A soft chair or sofa for snuggle reading.

  • We like to have an open piano in our main room. It really encourages them to want to play.​

Family Expectations and Habits

These are some of our family expectations and habits. We feel comfortable with them and they work for us. What will you choose? How will you choose them?

  •  We got the idea of aiming for a parenting style of high love combined with high expectations from a book called Brain Rules For Baby. It's basically quite a high-effort way of parenting, but we're enjoying it so far. 

  • We expect the kids to helps with some real jobs.

  • We praise kindness, helpfulness, encouragement of peers, effort and perseverance rather than achievement. We have a family breakdown of growth mindset which says, "you only become as good as the number of good quality mistakes you have made". In our family, a good quality mistake has 4 parts:

    1. Make an honest mistake (not on purpose or through having a sulk, but a mistake you made while you were trying)​

    2. Notice your mistake

    3. Work at trying to rectify your mistake

    4. Repeat that same action again but well

  • When we discuss possible ideas for their future lives, we plant seeds of how they might use what they have to help other people.

  • Healthy eating, veg boxes, minimum 5-a-day fruit and veg, limiting processed food, salt and sugar etc. Meat and fish limited to weekends and special occasions.

  • Very limited screen use, no TV. 

There are a huge range of different home education styles. What do you think will work for you?

An Evolving Timetable

 

Our timetable has been in constant flux based on the needs of our children. When our first child was 2, this was our timetable:

  • Wake up, feed and cuddle

  • Go downstairs and look at the beautiful activity that Mummy and Daddy had prepared the night before on the coffee table (a daily feat never managed for any of her later siblings).

  • Breakfast

  • Walk Daddy to the station

  • Some combination of social activities, playdates, outside time, nature play, lunch and naps. Outside aim - at least 3 hours a day

  • Dinner

  • Hygiene

  • Read an English book, Chinese book and Christian book

  • Sing lots of songs

  • Breastfeed to sleep

Our subsequent children have been much more rushed as we cave in to squeezing more and more things into our timetable. Depending on how you count it, we were doing 12 different regular gatherings (including classes, clubs, gatherings and playdates) a week just before lockdown in addition to our daily home learning and time outside. Covid-19, in the midst of its pain, has helped both Mummy and the kids realise that going forward we are going to bravely axe most of our regular gatherings that we normally couldn't let go.

So, this is where we are at now, with 3 children aged 7, 4 and 1. The basic pattern is schoolwork in the morning (5 subjects) and outdoor play/socialisation in the afternoons:

MORNING BASICS TICK-LIST: Achieved any time between 06:00-11:00

  • 6:00 - children pile into bed, waking co-sleeping baby.

  • Morning family cuddles in the big bed. Essential for reminding each child they are loved and not just my student.

  • Teeth

  • Wash

  • Clothes

  • Breakfast

THE FIVE "THINGS": Finished BEFORE 12:00. 

(See subject pages if you're interested in subject content)

  1. Maths​

  2. English​

  3. "World" (Science, Computing, History, Geography, R.E., Current Affairs, etc.)​

  4. Chinese

  5. Piano

OUTSIDE: Any time

  • Aim - 3 hours a day outside.

  • Aim - at least once a week in nature e.g. woods.

Can be walking to something, playing, exploring, studying in the garden, picnic lunch, an outdoor playdate etc. We live by a river, so we spend a lot of our summer here catching fish and floating umbrellas.

SOCIALISATION: Any time after "The Five Things"

  • Aim - at least 2 hours uninterrupted, unguided free play with kids from another family. Currently (in lockdown) minimum twice a week if not in quarantine!

BEDTIME ROUTINE: End of the day

  • Dinner

  • Family God Time

  • Eldest - personal God Time and personal reading

  • Parents reading to kids (based on book listening level of Child No. 2)

  • Teeth, bath, clothes, bed.

A weekly tick-list:

Some things aren't in our daily timetable but I still want to include:

MAGICAL FREE TIME!

  • Aim - one afternoon a week completely free for trips or unplanned time. During lockdown, we have much more of this!

  • Weekends completely free except for church

  • We observe school holidays, even if the dates might not be synchronised.

I find that the kids get good at what they do every day. On the other hand, they process information quickest when they are in free, child-led, joyous exploration. In our structured time, we lay our foundations, in our free time we get our Eureka moments.

SPORT:

  • Pre-lockdown aim - enough swimming for each child to be progressing. In reality, we are not doing more than splashing in the river in lockdown!

  • Pre-lockdown aim - at least 2 other sports skills a week. During lockdown - we're spending loads of time outside, I don't feel like we're missing too much.

CREATIVE:

I usually don't schedule gardening, cooking, crafts and computing because the children ask for these enough that they happen naturally. Crafts tend to appear in different subjects (our History curriculum in particular has loads of amazing craft and cooking activities) or in different groups. For example our Chinese teacher is fantastic at sitting and doing a complicated craft that the children love only using Chinese for communication. I try and make sure they have opportunities over the months to perform in and see productions, live events and go on trips to a wide variety of places.

KINDNESS:

As well as general social skills with other adults and children, I try and make space for the children to exercise kindness. On Sundays we used to wheel an old lady to church as a family (she sadly passed away). We let them choose an item for the food bank every supermarket shop, write letters to MPs about climate change, take part in School Strikes for Fridays, encourage them to help with chores around the house and try to facilitate as much as possible when they have any ideas of kind actions.

Costs of My Timetable

Below are the real costs of my crazy, pre-lockdown timetable. It got out of hand because our kids never wanted to quit more than one thing at the end of each term, then we kept adding two new things in their place. I haven't included sibling discounts. I've starred the activities that we've agreed to KEEP after lockdown, next year is going to be so much cheaper!

Activity                                                        Cost per session

  • Rainbows (Girlguiding) 60 mins           £3

  • Floor Gymnastics 30 mins                    £3.50

  • *Contemporary Dance 30 mins            £4

  • Home Ed Ballet 45 mins                       £4.50

  • Home Ed Tap 45 mins                          £4.50

  • *1-2-1 Chinese immersion 90 mins      £40 (much cheaper if you live                                                                       near a university)

  • COVID-19 Zoom Chinese 30 mins       £11

  • *French with native speaker 35 mins   £5

  • Hiring a hall for rollerskating                £2.50

  • *Home Ed Hub                                     £3.50 + £5 events

  • *Home Ed Swimming, inc. free swim   £1.70

  • *Playdates, going to the woods etc.    Free

My pre-lockdown family total for 3 kids (without Chinese): £145 a month. I spend around £200 a year on textbooks and educational toys.

Before lockdown, I tried to work out what our extra-curricular spending would have been if I was a school Mum. My guess is that we would be going to most of the extra-curricular activities anyway because we're just that kind of family. I see the same collection of Mums from school at many of our after-school activities. And we would be doing normal price swimming. So we would be spending £147 a month to do the after-school clubs anyway, since the reduced cost of home educators' swimming for 2 kids is more than enough to cover the 3 classes that are exclusively for home educators.

I already had a gut feeling we were doing waaaay too much. Lockdown has been a huge blessing in our lives, forcing us to slow down and enjoy long afternoons at the river, in the woods, and as lockdown eases, having really good quality, outdoor playdates with families we love.

HOME EDUCATION SAVINGS

 

Holidays and Trips

Off-season prices help us out soooo much! Last year's holidays included a week in a static caravan on a National Trust beach on the Isle of Wight for £150 in early July. We had another week on a Norfolk beach for £50 in late May. We enjoy cheap, little-and-often holidaying with lots of educational visits at home education prices during term time.

Home Education Discounts

Home education discounts are often available if you request them. Even if a company didn't have a discount policy before you asked, they might offer one on the spot. If a company is unsure of what home education discount to offer you, they often already have a school or educational discount agreed which the salesperson is relieved to be able to offer you without having to see their manager. Personally, I keep forgetting to ask for a home education discount and then discover my friends entered the same place for a smidgeon of the full price.

 

In addition, often a Mum will organise a group trip to a place at a reduced price. Increasingly, businesses are offering these deals without any prompting from a parent or guardian, the home education scene is getting big enough that businesses are wanting to cash in.

Clothes

Hand-me-downs in home education land aren't just acceptable, they're kinda a social status symbol. If you get given a hand-me-down bag of clothes, there's a bond between you and that person, who is probably older and therefore cooler than you.

The Best Mum Tutors

High demand tutors like swimming teachers and language teachers are much easier and cheaper to book during midweek school hours. Many of these school-hours-only tutors are Mums themselves.

© 2020 by FRANCES MATTHEWS