Choosing the best education for your child.
It’s one of the biggest decisions you’ll make as a parent, but is traditional schooling the right choice for you and your child?
Primary school applications are due in mid-January, which means many parents are doing the rounds at their local primary school open days and considering their options. But the traditional schooling route doesn’t suit everyone and more parents than ever are turning to alternative education for their children.
What alternatives are there to traditional school education?
In recent years Forest, Montessori, Steiner and home education have all become more popular, but unless you’ve grown up within them, they can seem a bit of a closed group. We thought we’d lift the lid and take a closer look at the alternative education options available, starting with home education.
And if you’re curious about home education but not sure how to integrate it into yours (and your child’s) already busy lifestyle, then rest assured. We have the solution. Get in touch to discuss how a governess service could align your efforts, and support you with home education for your child.
Whether you’re opting against conventional schooling, or simply adding greater value to your child’s existing education system, there’s no better case for the need to make individualised learning a reality!
So, let’s talk about home education.
There’s been a lot of interest in the media recently, but what does home education actually involve? And why is it becoming more popular?
Aren’t we all handing our children over on the first day of term? Exhausted and eternally grateful that while they’re at school we can get six glorious hours to earn a crust, clean, tidy and, if you’re lucky enough, drink a hot cup of coffee (remember what that’s like? Me neither!)? Apparently not, because as I discovered, there’s a huge community of home educating parents out there, if you know where to look.
What is home education and why are more parents choosing it?
Like many parents, I’ve been interested in home ed, but there was a lot I didn’t understand. Like, what do you do all day? Do you have to have some sort of teacher training? Are you not constantly terrified of ruining their young minds?
So these were just some of the questions I put to Jemma – a former Social Worker, Health Visitor and Community Nurse who left her career in the NHS to home educate her 7 year old son, Jake. She’s a member of my local home ed community and she’s a wealth of knowledge. On your behalf, I asked her many annoying questions. And she was a total sport about it (thanks Jemma!).
We talked about what home education involves and what your average day, week and year might look like. And I have to admit, despite my skepticism about having the stamina to be a full-time teacher to my children – my talk with Jemma left me feeling awed, inspired and a teeny bit jealous of home-ed life.
Jemma, why did you choose home education?
When Jake was two, like many people we started thinking about primary school and catchment areas. We were living in London, so you have to start early!
He was a really active toddler who never stopped moving. And the more I thought about it, the more it felt that sending such an active child into the school system would be going against his biology. Talking with friends who’ve got similar children only confirmed my fears that children like Jake can struggle in school.
A friend who was a teacher mentioned she was going to home-ed and that’s how it all began.
What did you know about home-ed before you started?
Nothing – I mean, why wouldn’t you just send your kid to school, right? My husband didn’t either. My friend offered me a few books and I started researching academic achievement and health and happiness of children around the world.
Studies showed that children in countries that started education later were happier and more successful academically. I was intrigued but still concerned about limiting his options in the future, so I did a bit more digging.
How do you find out more about home education?
We went along to quite a few home-ed meet-ups. I also joined some national groups and discovered that there were thousands and thousands of people doing it across the country.
We met up with a few people already home educating. Some had started their children at school and then left and some had always home-educated. I was blown away by how happy and well-adjusted the children were. I was convinced, now I just had to work on my husband Lee!
What’s the evidence to support home education?
Lee is very academically minded. He came to some of the meet-ups and immediately appreciated the social benefits, but was concerned about academic achievement. So he wrote to the two universities he’d attended and one wrote back a really helpful letter. It said that in their experience home educated children were well-rounded, self regulating, analytical and positive.
That was a good start, but not quite enough for Lee. He spent a year reading academic research. It’s relatively new in the UK which makes analysing the long-term benefits tricky, but there is plenty of evidence from other countries out there.
In the end he was convinced – and we agreed to try it until Jake was seven, in-line with evidence from other countries where they start formal education much later than the UK. At seven we’d see if it was still working for us as a family and if Jake wanted to continue and keep reviewing it each year.
What was the response from your friends and family?
Probably a 50/50 split. Obviously everyone wanted what was best for Jake, but they hadn’t read the research or been to the meet-ups. So there were understandable concerns about opportunities for socialisation and his academic future.
The rest were really supportive and open to hearing what we’d researched. Some even wished that they’d had the same opportunity.
What about the social side? Doesn’t it get lonely? How do you encourage social skills outside of the instant community of a school?
Home education is actually a really social community. We go to annual camps in Dorset and other places where you get to meet other home-ed families . Some have older children including teenagers, so you can ask questions and share advice and find out what older children think about their own education. Closer to home, we also connect with lots of other people at group outings and learning sessions every week.
One of the things I love about home-ed is that you end up socialising with all ages and your child can mix freely. At school you have forced association, which is not the same as socialisation. Just because kids are born in the same year doesn’t mean they will get on.
With home education your children can pick who they want to play with based on shared interests or energy. Friendships aren’t dictated by age, gender or postcode. My son’s friendships and birthday parties are a real mix of girls, boys, younger children and teenagers.
What does your average home education week look like?
We have different classes, groups and activities that run daily, weekly or monthly so every week is different, but to give you an idea:
- Yesterday (Monday) we did athletics at a sports village.
Today (Tuesday) a big group of us are going to the farm.
Tomorrow (Wednesday) we have a weekly group, which is a group of friends who’ve hired a church hall. When the children were small we met in each other’s houses but now we use various venues and have become a learning co-op.
- Thursday we’re at Belchamps Scout Camp, which is an amazing activity centre. It’s the last class of the term so we’re having an inflatable session, but usually we’d be climbing walls, crate stacking, or making fires and playing in the woods.
- Friday we have an art class at Create98, which is a wonderful creative space in Leigh-on-sea running all kinds of art and craft workshops for children and adults.
But next week will look completely different. Some families have tutor groups working on Maths, English and Science. Essex Wildlife Trust run beach and forest school groups for home-ed groups. And then we do all the other trips that schools do too – to the Tower of London or museums and galleries. They nearly all have group discounts and we usually have the place to ourselves because we’re visiting during school hours.
How do you plan and manage what you’re going to do?
You do have to be organised. We mostly arrange things via Facebook. It’s easy to find out what’s running and tap into what you think will suit your child. We also regularly get together and run groups, or buy a licence for some of the school subscriptions for things like Times Table Rockstars. If we’re organising a group activity that has a cost attached, those that are interested pay into Paypal Pools and then we get the group rate.
Then there are local and national groups you can join and they have various meet-ups, events and sessions running. Or set up your own. When we first moved here there wasn’t much for younger children so I started a couple of groups.
How do you choose what activities to do?
Jake’s only 7 so we can be quite flexible at the moment. If you have older children perhaps studying for exams, you might attend regular book groups or tutoring groups to look at particular subjects.
But home education is about using your child’s interests and the world around them to help them learn. If they’re into trains – learn about trains and at the same time teach maths by talking about speed and distance. Whatever your child’s interests, tap into it. There are the same words in Harry Potter as there are in Biff, Chip and Kipper, but Harry Potter is much more interesting and inspiring (I can’t argue with that!) so why not?
How do you make sure you’re covering all the bases in terms of curriculum?
You don’t have to follow the national curriculum. Some follow it to the letter, particularly if perhaps they want their children to re-join mainstream school at a later time. Some do half-and-half and follow some of the curriculum and add their own education ideas. It’s all about taking what works best in schools, understanding what works best for you and your child and creating the best combination.
For instance, phonics is a system of learning that works for teaching large groups of children, but it’s not necessarily the best system of learning to read and write. Jake learnt his numbers and letters whilst bouncing on the trampoline. Being able to be in charge of what his body is doing whilst he’s learning really focuses his mind. That’s another thing I love about home education. I can pick and choose what works for my child and there’s much more flexibility about how to teach them and fit it in with my child’s individual needs.
And if I think we’re missing something, there are loads of local groups and a big local community we can tap into. We do home ed athletics, science lessons and gardening, pond-dipping and outdoor learning. It’s all out there if you know where to look.
What are the biggest benefits of home education?
- The flexibility, variety and choice of learning methods and tools. And being able to centre learning around your child’s individual needs and interests.
- Being able to mix age groups, developing essential social skills and allowing a wide group of friends.
- Being able to access subjects when your child is ready – not because it’s dictated by the school calendar.
- Not being constrained by the limits of curriculum – the curriculum can be a starting point for adventuring much further into subjects than you would be able to at school.
- The individual focus – obviously one-to-one and small group learning allows more focus on your child.
- No school run – this morning, instead of the school run we had dippy eggs and a great chat about different types of police officers. Looking up facts, watching videos. Lovely happenstance.
- You’re not tied by time. Some people follow the school day, but you can work at the best times to suit your child and the activity.
- We get to go to places in term-time when they are quiet.
- We get good discounts at venues because they’re empty during school hours.
- We get to book holidays and breaks in term time.
What are the down-sides?
If you’re electively home-educating then you’re not eligible for any funding. So there’s no support for materials or trips. But then there’s also no strings attached for constraining what you can do either. And the community supports each other.
Sometimes if we get a learning group together at one person’s house, while one person leads the group the rest batch-cook together and make lots of meals for the freezer. It saves money and time and takes the pressure off a bit.
The hardest thing is finding time for you. You don’t get to change gear and obviously the children are with you the majority of the time. But we have a great group of close friends and we look out for each other. We do a lot of looking after each other’s kids, so it is possible to still create time for yourself.
What about some of the negativity towards home education?
Some of the negativity towards home-education also lies with it being conflated with off-rolling. For us as a family and for most home educating families, teaching your child at home is a positive choice we’re making based on what we feel is best for our child and a world away from off-rolling.
Off-rolling is when a school actively ‘encourages’ parents to home educate, but there isn’t usually much choice involved. School budgets have been cut so much that a school may feel it doesn’t have the resources to meet the needs of children who require additional help. But it’s also sometimes about protecting exam results and Ofsted ratings. Unfortunately it quite often disproportionately affects children with SEND.
So for parents of children affected by off-rolling, home education is not a positive choice like it is for us. It could be the lesser of two evils between home education or expulsion. It’s horrendous and against Ofsted rules, and obviously in no-one’s – child or parent’s – best interests, but it still happens.
For people reading the negative stories, what would you like to tell them about home education?
For the vast majority of people school works for their children and that’s fine. I don’t feel negatively towards schools and it may be that Jake chooses to go to school at some point. But every child is different and parental choice is really important. Every parent makes choices, every day, about what’s best for their child and this is just another one of those choices.
Finally – what would be your advice to people considering home education?
Join some of the national Facebook groups and find your local groups. Make sure you understand the law and read the evidence. Go along to a meet-up and talk it through in person with some of the people doing it and take some time to find out what your child is interested in.
Find out what’s going on locally to suit them and if there isn’t anything happening, don’t be afraid to set something up yourself. There’s a whole community out there who can give you help and advice, so just find them and ask.
Thank you and further reading
Thanks so much to Jemma for talking to me about her family. It was a real pleasure and gave me so much more insight into home education. (Plus I got to hang out with her awesome family.) Hopefully it did the same for you, but if we’ve left any question unanswered feel free to ask and we’ll try to point you in the right direction. And if you’re interested in further reading, check out Jemma’s ‘Essential Home Education Reading List’ below.
Good luck making the best choice for you and your tribe.
All the best,
The Happy Nest Team x
Jemma’s Essential Home Education Reading List
- How Children Learn at Home, by Alan Thomas
- A Funny Kind of Education, by Ross Mountney
- Learning without School: Home Education, by Ross Mountney
- Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life, by Peter O. Gray