Home education diary, June 2000

June 15th

I find that how the day starts tends to lead to how it will continue. If everyone is up and eating breakfast by 8.30am then we talk about what we want to do, and something constructive usually emerges. If I start the day with email and the boys stay asleep till 10am or so then they're tired all morning, I feel a bit guilty, we snap somewhat, and nothing much gets done.

But the motivation has to start with me. Sometimes I wake up at 6, do whatever housework is necessary, briefly skim email (but don't reply to anything) for ten minutes and then leave the computer alone. I wake the boys around 8am - Daniel usually needs coffee before he'll get up now - and try to be enthusiastic.

Usually they come up with something they want to do that we all feel is constructive, or else ask to read some of our subject-related textbooks together. It took us a long time to feel comfortable with bedtimes, but once I stopped hassling, the boys gradually developed their own rhythms. Tim needs a lot of sleep and knows that he does, so he usually gets ready for bed about 8.30pm, asks for their night-time chapter which I read aloud, and is then tucked in with his lights off by about 9.15. He is still only 11, after all, though he'll be twelve in a couple of months.

Daniel, on the other hand, needs hardly any sleep and is at his most wide-awake after about 8pm.  Typical of a teenager, I suppose, so he is usually now up later than Richard and me. He's pretty sensible, likes the time to himself, and generally goes to bed around midnight. It can be a struggle waking him, but if he goes to bed any earlier he just lies awake for hours and feels even worse next day. 

One of the other home educating families we know here talked with their children, who wanted to stay up later. The parents explained that they needed time to unwind by themselves in the evening, and some peace and quiet. They all agreed that the two children (a girl of 13 and boy of 5) would be in their rooms by 8.30pm, ready for bed. Then they have their night-time stories and say goodnight. After that they can stay up as late as they like, so long as they don't make any noise, and don't leave the room except to go to the bathroom if necessary. The parents go to bed about 10pm. 

The mother said that the first night the children apparently stayed up till about 11pm, then the following day they still woke at six in the morning. They squabbled and were generally unpleasant, and had an awful day. She didn't complain, just said gently that perhaps they were tired. Then for a few days the children experimented with various times, and eventually decided that 9.30pm was the right time to turn off their lights.

Because they had the responsibility (within the guidelines of not running around or making a noise, for the sake of the parents) they came up with a good solution that works for everyone. For me this kind of discussion and 'discovering a mutually satisfactory answer' is the heart of taking children seriously in the real sense. I don't think it's at all realistic to say that there should be no boundaries or guidelines within which the family work. The children need to be aware of the parents' needs, as well as the parents listening to the children

June 29th 

The 'training material' for School of Tomorrow arrived, and the diagnostic tests for the boys. The training material was a bit dull, very American, too right wing for my tastes, and also extremely easy to fill in the blanks, which were basically comprehension questions about the information, slanted towards right-wing Christian thinking. 

The boys did the tests, which took a bit longer than they were supposed to, but then it's all new to us. They did pretty well; I was particularly pleased that Daniel scored at the '9th grade' level for spelling, since his spelling was so poor when we started home educating, and I've done nothing much to help him improve. It's happened naturally, as he's used the word processor with automatic spell-check. Tim also scored at that level, but that was no surprise. He could spell well from the time he was about four. 

They will both have a few 'fill-in' workbooks to do for maths and English grammar, and Tim will do an extra year of maths before starting on the certificate programme.

Having sent it all back and paid our fees, we were hoping to get the ACE materials to start on during July. We will want to be in the air-conditioned living room for most of the day, so might as well do some academic work - but they still haven't arrived. We've done nothing structured for about a fortnight now. Currently Tim is on the piano playing his way through the hymn book, and Daniel is figuring out some plug-ins (whatever those might be) for his 3D 'blender' program on the computer. 

Neither is doing anything remotely related to the National Curriculum, but I've stopped worrying. The less I pressurise, the more they seem to do their own thing. And when I stop feeling as if we ought to be doing 'something constructive', they get along much better. Moreover, they keep busy with things that appear far more constructive than maths text books, or discussions about climates and work practices of countries we're unlikely ever to visit!

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