Home education diary, February 1999

Just as Tim got over the flu, around the end of January, Daniel caught it. So for the first week of February, Dan did nothing much other than read, and Tim did some web page design, and wrote some book reviews.

Fors the rest of the month, we settled down to a reasonably regular routine. My feeling is that home education is still going very well, and Daniel in particular seems to be thriving on it. Tim still isn’t sure whether he would like to go to secondary school when he’s old enough - if we’re still here - but agrees that he’s learning a lot! They both like the flexibility of learning at home without a timetable or scheduled times for different subjects. 

I don’t know that I’m ‘teaching’ much, it’s more a case of motivating, encouraging and helping out. We use Linguaphone tapes for Greek and French and although I’m still a couple of steps ahead of the boys I’m learning too. I’m all right in maths since that’s ‘my’ subject, and English isn’t a problem since both boys read and write to a high standard anyway. 

Daniel’s spelling has even improved - amazingly - through extensive use of the word processor with spelling-check on automatic. For other subjects we follow topics as their interest arises, though I do have some ‘text books’ as well as encyclopedias, general reference guides, and a good many computer resources!

Music continues to occupy them both, in and out of the home. A colleague is teaching them the piano. Timothy has opted for the Michael Aaron series - something I used when I started to learn the piano for one year in my teens. It’s full of folk songs and chord techniques, which is what he enjoys. He’s just about finished book one in the series (he started about 2/3 of the way through the book in September) and we have book 2. He also plays duets and various things from other books, and spends a lot of time learning to play hymns that we sing in Church - on his own, not in lessons.

A musician friend told him about ‘cheating’ by playing the guitar chords on the piano with the left hand if it was difficult, so he now harmonises other songs and has even started composing his own hymns! His sense of timing is still rather strange, but when he knows a song or hymn he sings along and then the timing seems to come out right. We’ve borrowed a midi keyboard which fits into our computer and he enjoys making multiple tracks for songs on that too.

Science is the one thing that really concerned me the most when thinking about home education in secondary years. Primary school science doesn't pose much problem, since it's little more than planting and observing seeds under controlled environment, learning a little about the digestive system, making colour wheels and learning about 'fair tests' by timing different fats melting, and similar things that can be done in an ordinary classroom, and therefore in an ordinary kitchen! 

However, when we went to look at the secondary schools around Bournville, most of them had rather poorly equipped science labs, and the teenagers who were demonstrating them didn't seem to have any idea what they were doing. One grammar school did have superb facilities - and interested pupils - but most of the 'experiments' demonstrated in the various Bournville/Kings Norton schools were things Daniel had done when he was about 8 or 9 anyway. 

At the moment the boys make use of a chemistry kit which Daniel was given some years ago, as well as an old electronics kit they were given by one of Richard's colleagues colleagues.  We also use some 'key stage 3' science books which have some ideas for experiments. 

Daniel's questions go way beyond even GCSE science - about atomic structure and explosions, black holes and the like - but we've been able to find some excellent web sites on the Internet which explain some of these things to his satisfaction. I think he would have found early science at secondary school extremely frustrating, as he did with primary school science. I don't think Daniel will be a scientist, although he'll always be interested in these things. But he'd rather learn under his own steam in his own way. 

I gather that GCSE science courses can easily be taken by correspondence with little or no lab equipment, but don't think he'll want to go further than that. He has already said he wants to take lots of computer languages, music, art, maths, English and history at university....! With the intention of being a graphic designer (Richard reckons he easily has the talent for that) who designs and writes computer programs, does art as a hobby, writes books, and teaches clarinet as an extra private thing. 

Timothy doesn't have such good general knowledge or understanding, and quite liked the 'science' they did at St Francis' School, but then Tim probably wants to go to secondary school when he's old enough so, if we're still here, we'll see what's available. I don't think he'll want to specialise in sciences either although he does seem very interested in biology. Tim's ambition is - and has been for at least 3 years - to be a primary school teacher, although he also intends to write books and to conduct a choir, and play the piano in church! He has started composing songs already.

One of the best things about home eduction is the immense flexibility to learn as seems appropriate for each child, following their interests and abilities. I like the way it's almost become a lifestyle, too. Richard isn't doing any formal teaching of science (as we had planned, at one point) - but he does get involved in other ways. He is helping Daniel with his programming and web-site design, for instance, and frequently answers questions about geography or culture or politics that are rather beyond me, but which interest the boys - particularly Daniel - after hearing something on the news.

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