Taking risks

My 4-year-old (Amy) and I, are totally honoured to be mentioned in this brilliant article, which offers reassuring advice to any parents who feel nervous about their children’s risk-taking. Some really reassuring words here. In the author’s words… “Taking risks is fun and exciting and most of the time the worst thing that could happen, simply doesn’t…”

But what if you can’t stop wrapping your children up in cotton wool?


Why homeschoolers don’t need “qualified teachers” 

It’s one of the arguments I hear all the time; a reason for sending children to school…

“They need properly qualified teachers who are experts in their subject!”

“They need people who are qualified to teach them, and know how to make them remember it!”

Please let me put this myth to rest.

I am one of those “expert” qualified school teachers;  I also home educate my own children, and I absolutely do NOT believe that our children all need qualified teachers to teach them. Here’s why…

Firstly, what makes a “qualified teacher”?

Qualified Teacher Status is the certification given on completion of teacher training. It used to be the case that schools only appointed teachers who had QTS. Incidentally, this is not the case anymore (more about that later) but let’s just, for the sake of this argument, assume that all teachers in schools are properly “qualified”. What does that really mean?

It means they have trained (and been assessed) to have the competence and knowledge to enable them to teach schoolchildren in a school. However, teacher training courses, with their lectures on pedagogy, and classroom management, and their in-school placements, bear no relation at all to home education.

They are designed to train schoolteachers to teach schoolchildren, in schools – a very, VERY different scenario to home education.

In teacher training, for example:

Teachers are trained to deliver a set curriculum, to groups of (30 or so) learners, in 60 minute slots (give or take);

They are trained in how to deliver that content in a group setting (organising activities for whole groups rather than one-to-one; lesson set-up and organisation; planning differentiated activities for children learning at different levels);

They are trained to deliver the curriculum to groups of children with different learning styles or preferences (eg visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, learning by rote, learning by teaching others, learning in a group or individually). Each child in that group of 30 has a unique learning style, so teachers are trained in a few of them);

They may be trained in how to assess whether or not their students have learned what they taught them, either during lessons so they can make ongoing judgements about groups of students, or perhaps by setting a test, or assessment activity that will provide a picture of whether they’ve understood a whole topic or concept;

And they might be taught how to meaningfully feedback, to 30 learners at a time, whether or not they’ve been successful in that lesson (that’s marking books, because they can’t keep 30 children waiting, while they go round the class one by one, telling them).

These are all essential skills for a  school teacher; without them, the task would be impossible. But home educated children do not need teachers who are qualified in all these things, because none of these things are necessary in home education.

You know your child and how they learn (or, if you don’t when you start out, you will soon). This means you can plan (or even allow your child to plan) how and what to learn, to suit your child and your family. You aren’t catering for a whole group of children. You are not tasked with filling 30 differently-wired brains with the same facts or skills. Instead, you can focus on your one child. And when they’ve learned something, you can tell if they have understood it and can apply it, without having to test them, and you can feed back instantly and in person.

What’s more, you don’t have to “make them remember it”. There is a growing movement among home educators, towards autonomous learning and unschooling. This is a way of learning in which the child themself determines what to learn and when, often without even realising they are doing so. If they want to learn it, or they see a need for it (including their own desire to take exams later on, if they choose) you won’t need to “make them remember it”; they will find ways to do this themselves. It still strikes me as a bit crazy that we try to force irrelevant facts into children’s heads against their will, and then try to come up with more and more ingenious ways to “make them remember it”. It kind of goes against human nature, doesn’t it?

Being a qualified teacher is also not about being a subject-knowledge expert. School teachers are not, by any means, guaranteed experts in their subject. As a primary teacher, I have found myself teaching subjects I have not “studied” formally since I was in school. In teacher training, there is very little in the way of specific subject knowledge, especially if you take a postgraduate teaching qualification (1 year, often fully placement-based nowadays). Instead, we teachers have to learn the curriculum content for ourselves, before we go about our unit planning. We do not have a vast bank of knowledge in our heads of things like the Mayan civilisation, or the circulatory system, or how to multiply fractions. We learn it before we teach it, or we learn it alongside our students, just like home educating parents would. The library and the internet are both wonderful inventions. The subject knowledge is all out there, waiting to be discovered.

Now, back to that point I mentioned earlier, about schools having (or not having) qualified teachers… As this recent article explains, schools are increasingly recruiting unqualified teachers. And even in my own experience, unqualified teaching assistants are often elevated to class teacher level, in light of teacher shortages (teaching assistants are invaluable, I’m sure any teacher would agree, but they have not undergone training in classroom management, teaching en masse, differentiation, assessment etc). And in many secondary schools, teachers now find themselves teaching subjects way beyond their specialism due to funding/timetabling constraints and certain subject specialist shortages. It’s becoming the norm now, to have unqualified school teachers teaching in schools. Despite my insistence that home educators don’t need qualified teachers, I do find it worrying that schools are increasingly appointing unqualified teachers; teacher training and qualification does equip teachers with essential class management strategies (as described above) without which, teaching and making judgments about whole classes of students, for whole programs of study, would be very difficult.

So does the argument that all children need to be taught by qualified teachers, really stand up to scrutiny? Honestly? No.

Children in schools, should definitely be taught by qualified school teachers; it’s a job that definitely requires a whole lot of training and competence.

But for children learning at home or out in the real world, parents do the job perfectly. I am both a teacher and a home educator, but I do not use the same skills for both. The skills I use to support my own children’s learning, are the same skills that I’m pretty sure most parents would be able to learn or muster if it came to it. They are skills that are concerned with supporting and allowing our children to learn things as our family chooses. Qualified teachers are not the experts when it comes to our children: we parents are.

And we can educate our own children.


Today’s milestone: feeling free

Today felt like a milestone for me. It’s so weird that it was just an ordinary day for everyone else. But for me, it was an achievement.

For the last two years (more, even), I’ve felt frustrated. There’s a massive home-educating community in our part of the country, with things going on every day of the week. Things that I know my kids will love doing. Things that I will love doing with them, or knowing that they are doing. But until now, my job has always got in the way. The week days – when the majority of the groups and workshops and meets are held – have always been off-limits for me, due to my teaching job. It has always felt like the very time of day when I feel like I most want to be with my own children, I am without them, and with other people’s instead. And it has felt increasingly wrong. And incredibly frustrating.

Just under two weeks ago, I worked my last day. And I walked away from my teaching career. That day was also a milestone.

Last week, we headed off for some time away, staying in a caravan on a holiday park just far enough away from home to be a holiday, but not too far away to cost the Earth or have hours of travelling. And we all loved it. But the real magic is happening now we are home…

Today, after two years of missing it, we were finally able to go to one of the home-ed meets that I’ve been wanting to get to. Don’t get me wrong, we have been to home-ed meets and classes before, but it’s been hit and miss finding ones that my kids would enjoy that didn’t clash with my work timetable. And this was one that I had been really really wanting. And so had the kids. It’s a weekly swimming pool session, followed by picnic lunch and play at the park. It doesn’t even sound spectacular in any way. But to me, it is. My Tuesday – previously a workday sandwiched uncomfortably between other work days – suddenly feels free, and fun, and full of friends.

The kids didn’t stop all day. Any of them. They played in the pool, and they learned swimming and water skills from each other as they played. Then they played at the playground, obstacle courses, races, swinging on the swings together, chatting endlessly. Then, wanting some space from the mums and dads, they raced off over the field to the other side of the park, the ball courts, the trees that were waiting to be climbed. And they played for hours. I have no idea what they played. At times, they looked like they were hiding and seeking; at times, big sticks were brandished; at times they looked like they were racing, then wrestling, then tree-climbing. My children were free.


And for the first time in a long time (although often I was doing little more than sitting nearby, deep in conversations with other mums and dads, or providing a lap to sit on if the kids needed some comfort, or opening and closing lunchboxes), I felt free too. Free to do what I had hoped to be able to do when we first made the decision to home-educate two or three years ago. Free to educate my own children, not everyone else’s. And free to enjoy it.



Look at me, I am five!

Look at me, I am five,
Energetic and alive!
I love to learn, I love to play,
I’m making sure I stay that way!
I can’t sit still, can’t miss a trick,
My body’s growing, double quick.
My muscles love to stretch and play,
I like to run and jump all day.
My brain is bursting with ideas,
It’s full of wishes, dreams and fears,
I talk, I chatter, drive you nuts,
I shout, I cry, all ifs and buts,
I’m stubborn, and determined see?
To make things work my way, for me!
When problems come, I find a way,
It’s how I learn, when left to play!
If I am free, then you will find,
So full of fire, my body and mind,
Are not content to sit and wait
(“Sit cross legged; sit up straight”),
Don’t try to tell me what to learn,
And when, and how, so strict and stern.
If I’m ready, I will read,
When I really see the need;
I’ll read, I’ll write, because I choose,
Not because they force me to,
Till then, I’ll live my life my way,
Full of laughter, full of play;
But worry not, don’t be afraid,
I’m learning things they cannot grade;
I learn these things for fun, for pleasure,
Things curriculum tests can’t measure,
Logic, nature, friendship, grace,
Life and love, earth and space;
I love to learn, I’ll stay that way,
I’m five, the perfect age to play.




The things I will be

I will be your courage,
standing tall and stepping forward,
when your world seems suddenly filled with fear.

I will be your voice,
when you cannot find it,
because it has hidden somewhere deep inside,
unable to find the courage to come out and speak.

I will be your eyes,
as you wander blindly along the path of your life,
unable to see what is around the next corner.

I will be your support,
when you falter or stumble,
on your journey to that place you so desperately want to reach.

I will be your caution,
when you run without thinking,
headlong into a storm that could harm you.

I will be your legs,
when your body is too tired to walk,
but your journey must continue.

I will be your ears,
when your attention is fixed on something else,
but you are missing something that needs to be heard.

I will be your nurse,
helping you back to health when you are sick.

I will be your audience;
I will listen while you talk and while you ask questions.
I will listen to all your thoughts that find a voice.
I will watch as you grow, and as you play, and as you learn about your world.
I will watch while you dance.

I will be your reason,
which your young mind and inexperience has yet to discover,
because in your world so far,
there has been no need for it.

I will be your advocate,
when something needs to be said,
and sadly society may not recognise someone so young,
as the wonderful citizen that you are.

I will be your compass,
to alert you and redirect you when you lose your way,image
when you wander into paths that will lead you to dark places.

I will be your ears,
listening for opportunities that I may direct you to,
to experience the most wonderful parts of life.

I will be your conscience,
here to remind you when something needs putting right,
or to show you the choices you have before you.

I will be your teacher;
my experience and understanding of the world is a gift I have the privilege of passing on to you.
What you do with that gift, is your choice.
But it is mine to offer you, and yours to take.

I will be your guide;
I will steer you as best I can (and provided you allow me),
to do good things;
to succeed in your adventure;
to be happy and healthy.

I will be your truth;
I will not lie to you.
I will tell it like it is.
And I will be there to pick up the pieces when you discover that the world is not what you once thought.

I will be your justice,
showing you the effects of your actions on the people you meet – and the people you don’t.
Not with fear, but with compassion.

I will be your calm,
when you feel rage that overwhelms you and you feel like your body will explode.
I will be the calm that holds all your pieces together.

I will be your friend,
and I will hope that nothing will ever be too big, or too bad, or too secret to tell me,
especially if it is something that causes you pain.

I will be your constant;
Your world will change.
You will change.
But I will not.

All the things that I am right now, I will always be.

I will love you always.


Bedtime can wait


A strange thing happens in our house, at about 8pm, every night.

As soon as we tell the girls it’s getting towards bedtime, suddenly all sorts of stuff starts happening:

– Cities start to be built out of megablocks…
– Colouring, drawing, writing suddenly becomes urgent…
– Workbooks suddenly become the most exciting books in the house…
– Jigsaws suddenly have to be completed…
– Elaborate structures have to be constructed from connecting cubes or magformers…

It’s almost as if, when that 10 minute warning signal is given, it’s all hands to the deck – no time to waste.

OK, I know in reality it’s my kids trying to pull a fast one: they get busy doing something, we let them carry on, they get to stay up a bit later than we’d planned…

But is that really a bad thing?

Well actually, I don’t think it is… And that’s why I find myself telling my husband, every evening, “Let’s just give them a little bit longer…”

They’ve learned to play the game – oh yes, they’re smart! They are only 3 and 4 years old, but they’ve learned that getting certain activities out, right before bedtime, buys them a few minutes of extra time. And in doing so, they think they have got one over on us…(!!)

Drawing, writing, counting, building, imaginative play, puzzles, jigsaws… you name it: they’ve tried it.

And they know it works.

In the teaching profession, after years of living by the bell and having to drop whatever we were doing when the bell rang for playtime or lunchtime or assembly time, one of the things that drew me towards home educating, was the freedom to learn whenever and wherever suited the child. And if that is at 8 o’clock at night, in the short time before bed, well… so be it.

If this is the way to achieve a child-directed education, we’ll do it.

If the best and most valuable learning takes place in the half hour before bed, then d’you know what? I’m happy with that!

Because we don’t live by the bell. Or the timetable. Or the curriculum.

We live our lives by the things our brains and our hearts are telling us. We live and we learn. And when the kids want to learn (even if they don’t realise they are learning), I’m going to let them learn.

Bedtime can wait.