The freedom that I hope they will always have…

Tonight, as I lay beside my daughters and watch them peacefully fall asleep, I think about the freedom that I hope they will always have:


The freedom to stay up that little bit later, playing, or reading that extra story that they ask for, before they fall asleep;


The freedom to sleep late in the morning if they need to, because there is nowhere that we absolutely must be by a certain time;


The freedom to play whatever – and whenever – they want;


The freedom to spend their time as they wish;


The freedom to be whomever they choose to be, on any given day;


The freedom to think and learn for themselves, and not be forced to fit somebody else’s vision of what they should be;


The freedom to grow up knowing their true self and what is in their hearts and their minds, and to follow that;


Freedom to choose, freedom to explore and learn in their own way, and freedom to be themselves, to pursue their own individuality.


I hope they will always be free spirits.


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Life Learning: how education happens in our family

In England, education is compulsory for all children from the age of 5. Many people assume ‘education’ means ‘school’, but thankfully we still have the choice (unlike some other countries) to educate our children ourselves. And it doesn’t have to mimic school. In fact studies such as this one, although only small in scale, have shown that non-school-like learning is actually incredibly effective.


So here’s how it looks for the children (aged 5 and 6) in our family.


Please note: I speak only for our family, and only for this moment in time. All families are different, and have their own priorities, philosophy and methods. I am not speaking for the home educating community in general. Only for us. It’s also possible that in the future, our circumstances may change, in which case we’ll adapt if we need to.

1) They learn about things as they arise


We don’t plan ‘topics’ or ‘themes’ or units of work. There is so much inspiration that arises naturally from our everyday lives, that it doesn’t seem necessary to plan things out in blocks. If something in particular sparks an interest, we talk about it, ask questions, find answers, go and visit somewhere that’s related to it. But it’s usually all quite spur of the moment. And often, the interest is fleeting, with them moving pretty quickly onto an interest in something else. It’s natural, it’s fluid and it’s personal to them.


This is also true for reading, writing and maths. We don’t sit down and ‘do lessons’. Our children have learnt to read through normal, natural, everyday experiences – signposts, cards in games, computer games. Our board games and family games often involve some reading or writing or maths. But we play them for fun, usually at their suggestion, not in order to teach them something.


Sometimes they decide to draw pictures with speech bubbles or labels on them, or they write messages on little cards or notelets they’ve made. Sometimes Jess, 6, will write a whole letter or story, without being asked. Sometimes they ask how to spell words, or how to form specific letters, but it’s on their terms. If they don’t want to, they won’t.


Often, mostly before bed, they ask for us to read books together. They sometimes decide to follow the words with their fingers or their eyes as I read to them. Sometimes they ask to read. Sometimes Amy (who’s 5 and not a competent reader just yet) “reads” the story by telling it from memory or from the illustrations, and feels dead proud of herself for it. They stay there as long as they want to, and they ask questions about the words or the story whenever they think of them. It’s in their hands.


More recently, Jess has been learning LOTS of writing skills on social online games. The in-game chat features (with appropriate supervision and internet safety education, of course) and writing opportunities on games like Minecraft and Roblox, have been a massive motivation for her.



2) They mostly learn through play
My two girls will play for hours, on their own, with each other, with friends, or with us. Role play, board games, fantasy games, computer games, guessing games, pretending-to-be-daft games, tickling, play fighting, trampolining, drawing games, tree-climbing…


Natural learning opportunities arise all the time during proper, self-directed, free play. As well as the obvious ones, like co-operation, friendship and turn-taking, there are more subtle or incidental learning experiences involving sciences (like hunting for woodlice, balancing the seesaw and exploring how liquids behave with water play), maths (like keeping score, sharing out cards, estimating time, budgeting in-game finances in computer games), writing (like letters or notes in role play, score-keeping, in-game online chat), and loads more.



The things that are important to them as children, the necessary elements they need for their lives in that moment, occur spontaneously and naturally. If they, at this time, have no necessity for – or interest in – learning about a particular historical time period, or a particular region of the world, or a particular abstract mathematical idea, then I see no point in pursuing it right now. We’ll wait until the need arises, or until their natural curiosity leads them down those particular routes. But for now, they’re happy to play.


3) We don’t do tests, mark work or keep records of attainment


All those tests that schools are subject to – the ones that you hear of in the news, as children’s-rights groups and teaching unions oppose them – are totally unnecessary for home educated children. Formal school tests, ie the national curriculum (sats) tests, are designed to measure a school’s success, not to give useful information about the student. Baseline tests and phonics tests are also for the benefit of the school, not the child. But even informal tests and worksheets – for us – are not necessary. While they may be invaluable in giving a class teacher an impression of their students’ learning, in the one-to-one learning environment outside of school, we can see, directly and on a daily basis, what our children can and can’t do. Likewise, marking and record-keeping may help a class teacher to keep track, but with just our own children to educate, there really is no need for it. Instead, we do stuff, we enjoy it, and we move on.


4) Learning happens anywhere, any time


For all the reasons I’ve explained above, there’s no such thing in our household, as ‘school time’ or ‘learning time’. Instead, it happens any time of day (and yes, often late at night), any day of the year, at home or out and about. So don’t be surprised to see home educating families out shopping, playing, running errands, visiting theme parks or play centres, or anywhere else, during conventional school hours. School time and term time mean nothing to us (except the opportunity for visiting quieter, less crowded places, and more affordable holidays, of course).



5) They have ownership of it


Because we don’t force any school-type learning on them, our children have real ownership over the things they do choose to do. They come up with ideas and put them into action. An everyday occurrence or a random question, can spark a journey to discover more, or a desire to create, or the curiosity to delve deeper. And it’s their ideas, their creations, driven by their curiosity or imagination. And when they’ve had enough, or satisfied their curiosity, or lost interest, they are free to let it go.


6) Sometimes we have to say no


From the outside, looking in, it may look like we let our children do whatever they want, all the time. And while there may be some home educators that work this way, where the child’s autonomy and freedom extend to all areas of everyday life (sometimes known as radical unschooling), we are not in that place.


As a family, we do our best to live in a way that is respectful – to all of us. Although we try to take the children’s ideas and inspiration and run with them, sometimes it’s just not possible. When the kids genuinely want to do something, or go somewhere, or purchase something, we try to be open-minded and say yes. But sometimes we have to say no.


Money is one reason. For example, both of our children want their own computer. And while, in a radical unschooling family, the response might be an enthusiastic yes, and while I can see the endless educational value in it, the truth is we just couldn’t afford it; we are already tightly budgeting. Instead we have to make do with what we’ve got, taking turns. Which of course, sometimes causes frustration.


Also, with two young children, neither of whom are old enough to be left alone at home, it’s impossible at times, to agree on activities. Sometimes we have to say no, and one or other -or both- has to concede.


And sometimes, simply for the sake of my own sanity, I have to say no. When the thought of doing whatever they are asking fills me with dread, through my own exhaustion or stress, out of respect for myself, I say no.





Education in our family is rooted in respect: respect for our children’s autonomy and freedom, and equal respect for all members of the family. In my title, I called it “life learning”, but some may call it autonomous learning or unschooling.


In the most recent edition of John Holt’s book, Teach Your Own, co-author Pat Farenga says:

“When pressed, I define unschooling as allowing children as much freedom to learn in the world as their parents can comfortably bear.”


I feel like that sums us up perfectly. Our family certainly feels full of freedom – and trust – for our children to be in charge of their own learning.


A quick note about the future


Sometimes I’m asked about what we’ll do when the kids are older, when it comes to secondary school age… exams… qualifications… higher education…


At the moment, if I’m honest, I don’t know. Things may change. But I’m hoping they’ll stay as they are. I’m pretty sure, by the time they are teenagers, my children won’t still want to be playing doctors or barbies or orchard board games. They will find other interests and pastimes, and maybe even find something they are passionate about that will lead them down a path to a career. They will learn what they need to learn to get there, just as they are doing now, and just as we adults do. Maybe that will mean exams and qualifications; maybe it won’t. Maybe it will mean hours of study; maybe it will mean hours of doing whatever they are passionate about.


The beauty of this kind of education, is that it’s not mapped out. It can go in any direction at all.


And THAT is exciting!


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Unlearning what I’ve learnt: why my teaching qualification doesn’t help me home educate

When I tell people I home educate, I can often predict how the conversation will go. When I also tell them I’m a school teacher, it’s even more predictable. A typical conversation goes something like this:


“So what do you do for a living?”
“I’m a primary school teacher…”
“Ah, I guess that’s a big help then!”

Actually, it’s not.

In fact, if I’m 100% honest, I’d say it’s been more of a hindrance, than a help. There’s a widely held misconception that qualification or experience as a school teacher, would make the job of home educating easier. I’ve even seen parents asking if they ought to train as a teacher before they home educate, believing it might help.

It won’t.

I worked as a teacher long before I even thought about home educating; long before I had children of my own. And it wasn’t until I had my own and watched them grow from babies into young children, that I began to realise how contrived and unnatural school education is. Now that my two are both compulsory school age, the difference between how children naturally learn, and how children learn in school, is even more obvious; it became so glaring in fact, that it made continuing in my job as a school teacher, increasingly difficult.  In truth, teacher training and classroom experience, give us very little understanding of the way children learn if they’re not in school.

I wrote recently, about why home educated children get along just fine without needing qualified teachers, and really, the reason that home educating is no easier as a teacher, is just an extension of that. School experience taught me how to help children learn in a school setting, under specific school conditions, with a specific curriculum and resources. But it is no help at all in understanding how my own free children learn, which is totally different.

Some people assume it would help with specific subject knowledge, that you could then teach your child. It won’t. You can’t learn every subject in detail. Even primary school teachers don’t do this, despite having to teach the whole lot. They often teach outside of their knowledge comfort zone. Teaching isn’t about knowing all the facts.


Some people think it helps you understand how children learn. Again, it doesn’t because, as I mentioned earlier, learning in school is nothing like autonomous learning at home. Admittedly, some home educators follow very ‘school-like” plans and procedures, and I would guess that maybe, in this case, teaching experience might be of value. I suppose if you’re choosing to run your home like a mini school, it could be useful to know how schools operate – how they get children to learn. But for unschoolers (or autonomous home educators) like us, who use a totally different approach to learning, school procedures and institutional pedagogy are pretty much redundant.


Maybe it gives me more inspiration or more ideas – more exciting ways to help my kids learn?  No.  Because a lot of school learning (not all, of course) is actually pretty dull. Classrooms, unit plans, textbooks, worksheets, PowerPoints, partner-talk, chalk and talk, extended writing, guided reading…. Compare this with the freedom of taking the learning anywhere, anytime, going off on tangents, following a dream, meeting new people, seeing and experiencing things in real life rather than on an interactive whiteboard screen or on a handout. Compared with the opportunities that home education offers, the classroom experience is really quite uninspiring.


Or maybe it helps to have worked with lots of different children? Still no. The only children you really need to know in depth, in order to home educate, are your own. The experience of having taught other people’s children is of no value whatsoever. Why would you need to know in-depth how other children learn? It might be useful to look into alternative learning styles if you really can’t find things that work for your own child, but there’s plenty of reading material freely available that will help with this. You certainly don’t need to have been there and done that.

Some people think it might make it easier to find (or make) resources… no. I use Google and YouTube, mainly.


It isn’t just me saying this. I see, all the time online, home educators who are NOT school teachers reassuring others that they manage fine, that teaching experience or qualifications are unnecessary, that you can learn alongside your child. I’m not saying everybody would feel confident or able to educate their own children: it’s a big and scary step away from the norm. But being a teacher doesn’t suddenly somehow fill you with confidence. In fact, I suspect in a lot of cases it does the opposite, leaving teachers stressed and anxious.


Teaching provides skills in classroom management, crowd-teaching, curriculum planning, lesson planning, scrutinising data and results, behaviour management and report writing. But these aren’t helpful in the slightest for unschooling. And even if we were using a more structured approach, I’m pretty sure we would get by without a certificate or a whole load of school experience. It’s just too different.


But here’s what it HAS helped with…
It has shown me how not to do it. I’ve seen too many 10- and 11-year-olds (as well as plenty older and some younger), totally disillusioned by school, reluctant to learn and reluctant to behave. Years of having curriculum forced on them, and erosion of their opportunity to play and develop naturally, has taken its toll. I looked at them and the environment they were coming into every day, and thought, “There has to be a better way…”


Thankfully, I found it.


More valuable than any previous teaching experience or qualification, is the time spent watching and working with your own kids; following their lead, their interests, their dreams; the freedom (and unpressured and space) to respond to their needs; and a few books about how children truly learn if they’re not tied to school.

It is true that a lot of home educators are, or have been, teachers, but it’s not because being a teacher makes it any easier. There are thousands of home educators who are not teachers, who do an amazing job.


Has my teaching qualification and experience been useful in home ed? No. In fact, I’ve had to consciously unlearn everything I learned about… well, learning.


Children leaving the school system for home education are encouraged to “deschool”. We home educating teachers need that just as much, to unlearn everything we learnt about learning.

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here  Hope to see you there!


Re: Home education

**A friend, who wishes to remain anonymous, has asked me to share this publicly, so others can also share it with their own friends and family. Please feel free 💜**

Dear all,

Re. Home education

Many of you will start to see articles/hear radio progs/watch tv series’ showing home education in a negative light. This is going to be ramped up quite a bit at the moment due to a Private Member’s Bill, started in the Lords, that’s going for its second hearing in Parliament. A Bill that wants to introduce Ofsted-style regulation to those that choose to HE (which is often one of the many reasons we choose NOT to send our children into the state school system). Aside from the fact that there is nowhere near enough money in the government’s pot (Brexit, anyone?) to start regulation, home ed will, for the next few months, take a battering in the press in an attempt to get the public angry and on board.

To my friends and family that don’t wholly approve of our choice, this coverage is designed to encourage those negative feelings you have. To make you feel angry about how unfair it is that you get fined for taking your child on holiday in term time and we don’t; that your children are subjected to tests and ours are not; that we can choose how our children learn – in fact, our CHILDREN can choose how they learn – while those in school have no choice but to learn the national curriculum. The list is endless. Obviously, as we all know, different horses for different courses. School and home education are different and each works well for different children. But lots of people don’t like that there is a choice and don’t like that many people choose to opt out of state education (this also includes those who choose private education, by the way). 

Those of us who home educate are actually saving the state around £5000 per year, per child. That’s the average amount a school place costs annually. We get no funding – it is entirely self-financed – and that’s a choice we make. So, while many people often mistakenly believe they are financing this way of life for those that choose it, they couldn’t be more wrong: By our children NOT attending school, we are actually saving the state thousands of pounds and not costing YOU a penny. 

If you know my husband and me, and if you know our son, you’ll know we’re just a regular family. And you may then be able to appreciate that the overwhelming majority of home ed families are not like the ones portrayed in the media. In fact, those being portrayed negatively are, in reality, probably not like that either! These people have no media-training and don’t understand how context and words can be easily twisted and edited. In the same way that most schooled families are not like those featured on programmes that show school-kids in a negative light. An illusion designed to get a reaction.

Don’t fall for it! It’s a ploy to get a Private Member’s Bill through government. This is how the wicked web of deceit works. 

Thanks for reading 😉




History repeats itself

I was looking through my old photos and came across this one… 

The day Jess and Amy met

This was the moment, just over 5 years ago, that my two girls, Amy and Jess, first met. The day Amy was born. Jess was 1 and a half. 


An amazing, and beautiful, relationship has followed. It is true, of course, that not every moment is as lovely as this one – there are days when the two of them fight like cat and dog – but all the beautiful moments… they make up for the bad days.


They say that history repeats itself, and it’s very true in my family. My younger sister and I were born just 15 months apart, and we were just as close – best friends and worst enemies. 


My sister and me

There were times when we fought or bickered or fell out, of course, but now, as adults, I couldn’t imagine my life without her. Or my older sister or brother.  I was blessed with an amazing family: my mum, my dad, my sisters and brother have always been there, with unwavering support. So it’s no surprise really that we were over the moon to have two children so close together.

My sisters, my brother and me

And they aren’t just close in birthdays. They know each other inside out. They will play for hours, sometimes harmoniously, sometimes not. They love each other’s company. They often sleep side by side. And they know what to do to cheer each other up. 


Today, as we walked past the penny-pusher machines at the arcade, Amy spotted a shiny 10p that had dropped into one of the trays. This, by the way, is a BIG thing. Just like my siblings and I would do when WE were kids, these two always check the trays for coins as they walk past. But the best they’ve found up until now is a few 2p pieces. A shiny silver 10p… that’s like the jackpot for 5-year-old Amy! 


I watched as her face lit up with joy. Then she beckoned me closer and whispered secretively in my ear, “I’m going to give this one to Jess!” And her smile widened. Oh my goodness! Even better than this silver-treasure jackpot, was her delight in giving it as a surprise gift to her best friend. Her sister. 


For a moment, I couldn’t tell if my heart was breaking or singing. But it definitely gave me a lump in my throat. Much like that first day in the hospital when Jess gently pressed her hand to Amy’s tummy, and said, “Hello, Baby”.


I’m not naive enough to expect that every moment of their lives will be perfectly in harmony. But my own relationships, with my own sisters and brother, have taught me a lot. They will fall out. Sometimes it will be little things, sometimes it will be big things. They will argue and disagree, bicker and bear grudges. 


But after all that is done, when it really matters, when they really need each other, they will be there. Bonded. Attached. United.


History really does repeat itself.

Don’t forget, I’m now on Facebook too! Find me here. Hope to see you over there!