Home education diary, April 1999

I like being able to adjust our schedule - such as it is - to take account both of visitors and the local holidays. We ended up taking about three weeks 'off' over Easter. But although we didn't open any text books or sit down at the table together, and I didn't wake the boys up to start early, they still did a great deal of reading, music, programming and web page design. They played Civilization II (a strategic computer game which seems to teach a great deal about geography and history, as well as culture in general as a by-product of the game), played basketball, and we also measured, planned and made some curtains. 

Some visitors came for a week during this period, and we visited some places of interest around Cyprus including Lefkara, where we learned about lace-making, and also the not-so-noble art of manipulative salesmanship!

We then got back to a very informal schedule.  My feeling is that home educating is working very well in between our guests. Mostly I'm comfortable with the flexiblity of informal, interest-based learning.  Yet there's a part of me which still worries that they need to cover 'subjects' as they would have done in school.  Since the legality in Cyprus is dubious (it would not be legal at all if either Richard or I were Cypriots) I still feel the need to do some fairly formal academic work for at least an hour or two most mornings when the schools are running. 

Still, making notes, I'm encouraged overall.  I've realised that Tim, despite struggling with some concepts, is now doing maths about a year ahead of average for his age.  Daniel has almost finished the maths work that, in school, would have taken him until he was 14 - also a year ahead of his chronological age.  They’ve both nearly completed a Linguaphone French course, which apparently is considerably more French than Daniel would have done by now in secondary school (and Tim wouldn’t have started at all, of course) and they’re both reading and writing a great deal - Daniel’s spelling improving enormously now he no longer has the pressure of spelling tests. 

For history they’re doing most of their own research and reading based on topics they’d be doing in school - Tim’s is about Britain since the 1930s, and Daniel’s about Medieval England. They’ve not done much formal geography; but just living in another culture teaches them more about life elsewhere than any amount of classroom work, and they’re both competent at reading maps. When they hear about places in the news they look them up on the Internet and read about them in the atlases, and that’s all more practical geography. 

For science we’re still using Daniel’s chemistry kit and some guided experiments, and a biology course we bought; also they ask questions about physics every so often and then we research them together. I was just browsing through the ‘key stage 3’ science book we have (supposed to cover all work done in schools from ages 11-14) and it seems that just by working in this relaxed manner they’ve both covered over half the topics in the book already. 

So since they’re doing art, music and basketball in afternoons it seems that we’ve just about covered everything they’d be doing in school, at least a year ahead of where they would be - and a great deal more, such as Daniel’s programming and Tim learning to cook. All in about half the hours they would spend in school too, although that’s hard to estimate because sometimes Daniel asks a heavy question that starts a complex conversation and research at 10pm. 

More and more families in the UK are home educating, and finding it works extremely well. In the USA apparently some universities actually PREFER home educated children to those who have been through the schools, since they’re often better able to think for themselves and work independently.  

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