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So how do I get started?

One of the range of questions that I am always finding in my email box is “But, just how do I do it? I mean, how do I get started? What do I do??”

The very first thing you should do is to ensure that you have followed the correct de-registration process for your area. Here in England that is by sending in a letter stating your wish that your child’s name is removed from the register. There are examples of such letters available on the internet for you to base yours on, such as this one here.

When faced with the “But how do I do it?” question, I always start by saying that there is no right or wrong way to home-educate. The beauty of home-education is that you find a way of doing things that suits you and your family. What works for one family may well not work for you.  Children are all different, their learning styles are different, every family’s lifestyle is different, so every family needs to find their own routine and method that fits with them.

There is a definitive trail of thought that an adjustment period, or ‘de-schooling’ is necessary for those coming out of the school system. The timescale for this is generally suggested as one month for each year of schooling that the child has completed, and it is thought of as greatly beneficial for both parent and child. The idea behind de-schooling is that time is needed to free the mind from the structure and pressure of the school system, and for parent and child to reconnect and start to repair any possible damage caused. Basically, de-schooling transfers into the real world as steering away from academic study – workbooks and the like – and enjoying life, baking, spending time in nature, following interests, etc – also known as completely chilling out!

When it comes to doing actual work – some families find that they need the structure of a timetable and planned lessons. Some families are completely at the other end of the scale and are entirely autonomous preferring to relax and go with the flow. Either is ok. Both methods have been proven to get results. Of course there are many families that are in-betweeners – eclectic of sorts, mixing and matching – with some structured time (often with regards to Numeracy and Literacy lessons), and some autonomous time. The beauty of home-education is that you can adapt your days to suit your child and your family. You can jiggle things around, you can change direction, and you can start one way and end up doing something completely different – there is no right or wrong way!

You are free to adapt, make changes, and admit it’s not working at any time. 

As a home-educating family in England, you do not have to follow the National Curriculum. You have the freedom to choose what you feel is necessary to teach your child, and you can take into account your child’s interests and future aspirations. Sometimes people like the security given by following the National Curriculum, and of course that’s ok. This is particularly so for those that want their child to return to school in the future for whatever the reason, or for those unsure about what they should be teaching and any given time. But if you don’t want to be tied to the curriculum taught in schools, what can you do instead?

I totally understand that any sort of planning and preparation can feel daunting and overwhelming. There are so many resources out there, so many workbooks, subscription websites, and tools for learning. There are oodles of reading schemes, not to mention the thousands of history, geography and other non-fiction books and materials. Each one screams out as being the best and absolutely necessary – but what is the truth?

DO NOT buy anything. Not just yet.

I know from personal experience that it is so easy to fall into the ‘need this to be a good home-educator’ trap. Before you know it, your home is filled with workbooks covering all subjects and stages, along with numerous text books and learning equipment that would rival any prestigious academy. A whole new world is opening up to you and enthusiasm is oozing. I totally get that. I was totally in that place. Sadly though, both personal experience and that of others suggests that many of these things will sit gathering dust whilst you look at a flailing bank account wishing you had the money for something that would actually be genuinely useful.

I suggest that time is taken to consider all options. That you meet with other home-educators, either online or in-real, and you ask for their opinions on what resources they have used and loved over the years. You may well be surprised at the results. Workbooks for example vary greatly in content and layout. Some are colourful and rather cartoon-like, whereas others are more no-nonsense, no frills, just facts. Some offer explanations and reasoning, whilst others assume knowledge of the topic is already in place and are used as more of a revision like tool. I have a huge pile of books bought on a whim which my children have absolutely no interest in writing in because the style either bores them or the real content just isn’t there. I wish I had had someone with me to tell me to stop opening my purse when seeing the workbook ‘bargains’.

Remember: Bargains are only a true bargain if the purchase is actually used or liked!

There are a few buy and sell groups aimed at home-educators on Facebook where people can pass off their outgrown or unwanted resources, it’s well worth joining them and keeping an eye out on what becomes available.

If I had to make a list off the top of my head of our ‘go-to’ resources, it would look something like this:

  • Paper (white – plain, lined and squared, and coloured). Pens and various art mediums – paints, crayons, pencils, watercolours etc. Baker Ross is a rather awesome resource for all things child and craftsy.
  • The internet. One mahoosive resource in itself. One day I will get around to writing up my go-to internet sites list.
  • A printer.
  • Libraries – I often borrow a book and then find out I would like to buy it anyway.

Although a rather short and succinct list, genuinely it’s enough to get started. The internet has pretty much everything you need, both free and paid for. If I were to add a few other things that we often use these would include:

  • A Microscope (and a telescope to a lesser degree).
  • A Laminator.
  • Nature identification books (and hundreds of other non-fiction books bought via Amazon, charity shops and the Book People in the main.
  • Chemistry sets and various science kits.
  • An Electricity circuit set.
  • Various Math manipulatives that range from buttons and beads through to sets of Cuisenaire rods.
  • Cheap wooden letters (which I use alongside flash cards which are homemade and laminated).

These resources are added to throughout the year with things to match the topic we are studying. This way I know that things bought are more likely to be beneficial and actually used instead of pre-buying in the hope that one day it will get a look in.

When it comes to studying a topic, we choose to do cross-curricular projects. Others I know study individual subjects, categorising individual time for Literacy, Numeracy, Science, Geography, History, etc. I tried that. It didn’t work for us as we would get waylaid and cover other subjects as we went along. Now we choose a topic and I incorporate many subjects into that one project.

Topics get chosen by the children themselves. We hold regular discussions to review how everyone feels things are going and what sort of things the children would like to learn about. I input what I feel about our routine, and everyone has a voice regarding what they feel is working or otherwise. We make a list which continuously gets added to as interests develop, but I find it is important for me to have an idea pool from which to work from or else I feel overwhelmed with choices.

As an example of our cross-curricular study, if we were going to do a project on Ancient Egypt, we could…

  • Look at the location, noting river areas and landscape (Geography).
  • Measure the distance from our location and figure out scaling (Numeracy).
  • Discuss what life was like, kings and queens, imports and exports, food and clothing. (History).
  • Find out about religious beliefs, gods, and customs and rituals. (Religious Education and History).
  • Make costumes and try to recreate recipes. (Art and Crafts, Numeracy, Cooking, History).
  • Build a pyramid, make a sarcophagus. (Arts and Crafts, Numeracy).
  • Look at writing – hieroglyphics. Create messages using picture code. (Literacy, Arts and Crafts, History).
  • Examine mummification, the beliefs and science behind it. Mummify a chicken! (Science, History).
  • Case study the life of a child, or the life of a wealthy family in comparison to the poorer. Write a diary like entry about what life is like and the expectations put upon a child during the time. (Literacy, History, Social Studies).
  • Write a newspaper style report about an event that occurred. (Literacy, History).
  • Make a poster advertising a special day or event. (Literacy, History, Art and Crafts).
  • Write a poem. (Literacy).

The list goes on and on, but I’m sure you get the idea. Remember throughout that all discussions held will also include using verbal and listening skills.

This basic framework can be used over and over for a wide variety of topics. Examples of projects which allow for easy cross-curricular study include:

  • Ancient Greece
  • The Romans
  • Tudors
  • Victorians
  • The Weather
  • The Water Cycle
  • Life Cycles (Butterflies is a great one for this, and easy to offer ‘hands on’ experiences – as are frogs or chickens).
  • Animal Habitats and Eco Systems
  • Nocturnal Animals
  • Life in the forests, rainforest, or oceans.
  • Electricity.
  • Crystals.
  • Growth – Flowers, Vegetables, Animals.
  • The Human Body.
  • Religions and Festivals.
  • Various Countries – studying population, landscape, size, customs, food, etc.
  • Pond Life.
  • Animal Studies or Pet Care routines.
  • Self Sufficiency.

I could list hundreds of ideas, but I will stop there. I usually type in the topic name followed by ‘for kids’ on google and that often comes up with a wealth of easy to understand websites. I’ll then start collating the resources that I feel are useful, typing and printing either as a Io or at a time when the smallest of people are sleeping. I’ll have a notebook at my side (I’m still very much an old fashioned paper and pen kinda gal), and will make a note of websites that I really like, ideas for study and things to do, and places to visit. Pinterest is also a great place to start looking for ideas – although beware – it is a real time sucker! I will also check out Amazon for craft packs, books or activities that relate to the topic, and look through Ebay, the Bookpeople and charity shops for the same.

This is my way of doing through and this is what works for me and mine. I’m sure others have different methods that work well for them.

My younger children are calling out for a little bit of nudging and direction from me at this time. They want ‘work’ to do – which is what they describe as ‘school work’. Of course I facilitate this request. Some families do school-like style work with worksheets, projects, and written ramblings, whilst other families will have very little written work to show. As a parent we don’t need to see oodles of handwriting and pages of study to know that learning is occurring and progress is being made. We can discuss facts, figures, locations etc and hundreds of questions can be asked and a reply verbally given. Things don’t have to be written down as proof that a child has listened and understood. We do not have to prove to the powers that be that learning is taking place in the way that a school teacher must with their record keeping and box ticking. We don’t have to discuss a child’s progress with an anxious mother or a keen for high marks father during parents evening. We witness progression first hand as the parent. We are aware that clearly learning is happening every day. We can celebrate those light bulb oh-I-get it now moments and help with the struggles as they occur. We are in the very privileged position of being there, sharing that learning experience and able to see the growth and development in all areas over time – far easier than a teacher is able with a classroom full of students could ever manage.

Over time I assure you that you will find your own direction. You will find your routine and your own way of doing things. The true beauty of home-education is the way that you can mix it up, try things out, and adjust as necessary. You can be structured one week and unschoolers the next. You can be structures for Maths and English lessons, and relaxed about the rest. You can set aside study time in the morning, afternoon, or evening – or have no set aside time at all! Whatever works best for you and your kids. You can have late bedtimes and late rising – some of our best, most fruitful discussions have come about at midnight and beyond. There are no rules for getting it right.

You will find your own path and travel along it your own distinct way. That’s what make home-education work for so many. It is completely tailor-made to suit you and your family, with each being unique.

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