Home education diary, March 1999

The early part of March was enlivened by the addition of three kittens to our household, and the amazing way Cleo - only about nine months old herself! - looked after them. Our home education routine was frequently disrupted by her forgetting where she had left the kittens, or needing to be let out for a while.  Still, observing the early stages in a kitten's life must surely be a wonderful lesson in biology, or life sciences, or whatever it's called these days. 

In between cat-watching, we managed to finish French Linguaphone lesson 16, and Greek Linguaphone lesson 17. I'm not sure how far we will progress with them, as the content is increasingly irrelevant, but at least the boys have a little understanding of both languages now, and I'm managing to stay a step or two ahead.  So that's modern languages covered. 

Daniel has re-designed and re-written his web pages, and done some programming related to ratios; he's also completed a chapter on fractions in his Key Stage 3 maths book, and Tim has done another couple of chapters in his Key Stage 2 book. They've both written several emails; both of them also entered a competition in an American magazine to finish a story, and Daniel won in his age-group.  And of course they both read a great deal, both fiction and non-fiction. That covers maths and English. 

I've read aloud the whole of Rosemary Sutcliffe's historical novel 'The Shining Company', which we enjoyed, and the boys have done a lot of research into the Wars of the Roses. I guess that covers history.  They do art and music with outside teachers, as usual, and have helped in the garden (PE?).  Tim has spent time sorting out his extensive stamp collection, too, gathered from various sources.

I was most reassured to read about a home educating family who started in the 1970s when home education wasn’t so popular, and went for entirely autonomous style of learning, with no curriculum or workbooks at all. When each of their three children was 14, they decided to go to a local school for a couple of years to take GCSE exams. 

All three of them, despite having had no formal education or teaching at all until they were 14, gained more than 7 GCSEs, all at grades A or B. They went on to various colleges and now have extremely fulfilling careers. The key, their parents think, is that they were motivated in everything they decided to do, so they put enormous effort into it and learned a great deal faster than people do who aren’t really interested.

Of course the boys don’t have such an unstructured education as that, although Daniel really thrives on flexibility and no timetable. We’ve also heard of many home educating families whose children start GCSE courses, just one or two at a time, when they are about 12 or 13. They can be taken by correspondence and of course the children can put much more effort and interest into a subject if they take just one exam at a time rather than several. 

We’re going to find out about IT (information technology - ie computer skills) GCSE since Richard thinks probably both boys could take that already, and Daniel will probably be ready for maths GCSE in a year or so. He may also be ready for English, as his spelling has improved enormously now he is no longer having spelling tests. He may want to take Art GCSE which he could do easily - if he does, we’ll talk to his Art class teacher, who is also a teacher in an English-speaking private school here, and is extremely impressed with Daniel’s talent.

Anyway, we don’t want to start on any formal courses just yet - we’ll be back in the UK for December this year and January 2000, and maybe longer. Tim will go to St Francis School while we’re home, but Daniel will probably continue learning at home as he enjoys it so much. It doesn’t sound as if his friends in Birmingham are particularly enjoying secondary school - apparently the first year was mainly just a repeat of Year 6 primary school work, for the sake of children who had not been to such good schools. They don’t start ‘streaming’ until the second year at secondary school, and then they have to spend a lot of time ensuring the children are able to pass these SATS tests.

Daniel is so sensitive - and disorganised! - that I think he would have had a difficult time settling in to a secondary school, so I’m glad we have had the opportunity to find out about home education. I don’t think I would have got around to trying it out if we’d stayed in the UK, although it’s increasing in popularity and many people think it’s going to be the ‘norm’ within the next 10-20 years. I keep reading about more and more families deciding to educate their children at home in the secondary years, even if they have enjoyed primary school, because of the increasing problems of bullying and peer pressure, and low morale amongst teachers.

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