What it’s like to… homeschool your kids

“Our approach to home education is very relaxed whereas some of our friends follow a more formal approach,” says Francesca. She talks us through their decision to homeschool, how they make it work and what friends and family think…

Francesca, 36, lives in Berkshire with her husband Ami, their two boys: Noa, nine and Zac, six, and their daughter Ember, four. Together, they made the decision to homeschool their three children. We hear about Francesca’s upbringing – and schooling – why they came to this decision, and how they make it work….

I was an only child and had a great childhood with lots of friends and plenty of time by myself for imaginative play. I did well at school and made some amazing friends that I’m still close to today.

I have always been a daydreamer, all of my school reports mentioned this and looking back I do sometimes feel like I wasn’t fully present at school, that I was going through the motions but never quite understanding the reason I was there or why I was expected to learn certain things.

My parents never put me under any pressure to achieve at school and I’m so grateful for that because it has allowed me to always follow my interests rather than take the ‘safe’ or mainstream options in life.

After school I took a gap year, working full time with adults with learning disabilities and then went to university to study Art History. I graduated from the Courtauld Institute of Art with a BA and MA, specialising in seventeenth-century Dutch painting and self-portraiture.

I also completed some post graduate training in integrative arts psychotherapy with Dr Margot Sunderland (author of ‘What Every Parent Needs to Know’) and she became one of the main inspirations for the kind of parent I wanted to be.

I’m a full time mum and a full-time student at the moment

After my MA, I worked as a researcher and art historian and then joined the National Portrait Gallery where I remained until I had my second child. I worked as part of the Access and Outreach team creating accessible resources for visitors with additional needs and organising outreach workshops for all sorts of community groups across London. It was an amazing job and such a lovely place to work in, however I was excited to be able to spend more time with my children and not have to commute to London so much.

At the moment I am a full-time mum but I also volunteer in breastfeeding support and have nearly completed my Breastfeeding Counsellor training. This autumn I have also gone back to university to train as an NCT antenatal teacher – so I’m a full time mum and a full-time student at the moment.

What's it like to homeschool your kids? theearlyhour.com

Why homeschool?

My husband did not enjoy school and so we had often joked about home educating our children, never taking it seriously. When my oldest was about three, we discovered that it was all perfectly legal, thought ‘let’s do this’ and began to research home education seriously. Our decision was never made from an ‘anti-school’ position though, more from a ‘let’s have as much fun as possible with our children’ position – and for us that meant homeschooling.

I couldn’t do any of this without the support of my partner. We homeschool the children together and he loves it as much as I do. We also have full support from both our mums, which is totally invaluable when it comes to childcare.

I have worked in education but always as a facilitator and never a teacher. I do not want to be or need to be my children’s teacher – I want them to discover and learn for themselves and I see my role as being there to facilitate this and provide the environment, opportunities and resources they need to do so.

Making it work

We try to make sure that each child is able to follow their own interests and although we do most learning together, we also spend individual time with each child when needed to help them with age specific skills such as reading or maths.

No two homeschool families have the same routine. Our approach to home education is very relaxed whereas some of our friends follow a more formal approach, covering lots of different subjects in a day. There is no right and wrong approach, simply what works best for each individual family.

What's it like to homeschool your kids? theearlyhour.com

My children wake up quite early and we take our mornings as slowly as possible – they may watch some cartoons, play Lego, read some books or play in the back garden until breakfast. After breakfast we get ready for whatever activity we have for the day.

At the moment we attend homeschool activity days with other families: football training, ballet and art class, as well as at least two or three playdates each week, regular trips to museums and galleries, swimming and at least one day a week spent in the woods or parks doing nature based learning.

We also attend one-off events organised by other parents in the community such as architecture, art, science and maths workshops and classes. These are mostly run by outside professionals or by parents that have qualifications, skills and knowledge in those areas. Some of the classes we attend are run specifically for homeschoolers and others are after-school classes attended by local children.

My daughter will usually want to do an arts and crafts project and play with her toys, whilst my older boys like to play all sorts of strategy board games like chess

When we are at home we do lots of reading with the children, answer about a million questions each day and sometimes do some maths or science work. This will usually involve someone asking a question, for example ‘where water does come from?”, and all of us discussing it as well as looking up information from all available sources – books, internet, documentaries, friends and family.

My daughter will usually want to do an arts and crafts project and play with her toys, whilst my older boys like to play all sorts of strategy board games like chess and draughts and play football together in the garden. All of the children enjoy some screen time on their iPad or Playstation where they play educational games, as well as games like Minecraft, Lego based superhero games and platform games.

In terms of friends, my children have friends that are homeschooled as well as friends that go to school and they enjoy spending time with them during the week, as well as weekends, birthday parties and school holiday times.

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We do not follow the National Curriculum although I am aware of it and it does inform some of the work that we do. It may be that one day my children wish to go to school and I would not like them to be a disadvantage if that should ever happen.

We do ask our children if they are enjoying learning this way and they have always said yes. They feel sorry for their school friends who have lots of homework and even though they are curious about school they hear all about it from their friends that go and have not yet asked to join them. If at any point home education is not working for the children or for us then we would definitely consider the alternatives available, including school.

Exams…

My children are still young but when they are older there are plenty of opportunities to work towards exams, as well as the possibility of not taking any exams at all. Home-educated students can follow an exam syllabus at home by themselves, with a local tutor group or through online tuition and then take the exams at an exam centre like school students. They can also take exams or an access course at a local college if they wish.

Many home-educated students do not take any exams and successfully enter the world of work or go to university based upon the strength of relevant experience or portfolios of work they have created. Universities are actually very keen to accept home educated students because they can prove they are able to work well independently, using their own initiative.

What's it like to homeschool your kids? theearlyhour.com

I honestly can’t think of anything they are missing out on at the moment. They have a great group of homeschool friends and school friends who they see regularly each week. They socialise with their peers and others of all ages every day and they frequently get to experience different adults teaching them or showing them a wide variety of skills and activities. They are learning and progressing all the time, as well as having lots of fun along the way!

Advantages to homeschooling

The advantages of homeschooling for us include the freedom to follow the children’s interests and allow them to learn at their own pace and in their own styles. For example, my eldest son Noa is a very visual learner who enjoys building things and can pick up patterns and abstract concepts quite quickly, whereas my other son enjoys learning from a teacher and likes more structure and formality in his learning.

It is a real pleasure to be able to spend time with my children whilst they are young

My daughter has only just turned four but loves expressing herself through art, music and dance – so they are all quite different and we can adapt what we do for each of them when learning at home. Learning to read is another very good example of this because my eldest son did not learn to read until he was eight but within a few weeks he was reading at average peer level. He loves reading now and thinks it’s a really fun thing to do and is very proud of the fact that he taught himself to do it.

It is also a real pleasure to be able to spend time with my children whilst they are young and to enjoy their company. I imagine that my children will not fully appreciate the impact of homeschooling until they are older but I hope that it shapes them to live their lives with freedom and gives them a confidence and joy in learning .

The challenges with homeschooling

I should also say that there are challenges involved in homeschooling. We have accepted that our income will be very low whilst we are spending so much time with the children and have to make financial choices accordingly. Also, it can be very difficult to remain present with your children when you are with them all the time and not be thinking of all the other things you need to do.

It is also very important for homeschool parents to feel supported and have the opportunities to follow their own interests, see their own friends and have time away from their children when needed, otherwise it is very easy to burnout with homeschooling.

Home educating is not the right choice for every family and I would always suggest that they look into it and see if it is a lifestyle that is suitable for them

Home education is one of those things where you may never meet a homeschooling family in your everyday life but when you start to look for local groups and activities to take part in you realise that hundreds of parents locally have made the same choice and are successfully homeschooling. We have made friends with some lovely families and it is wonderful to see our children growing up together, learning together and playing together.

Our friends and family have all supported us and have never judged us for deciding to homeschool. They may not all understand or agree with our motivations and the thinking behind it but they have been there for us completely.

My advice for other parents thinking of homeschooling

Home educating is not the right choice for every family and I would always suggest that they look into it and see if it is a lifestyle that is suitable for them. If it’s something a family is thinking about then it’s a good idea to connect online, and meet those in your local community who are already homeschooling and ask them all the questions you have. People are usually more than happy to share their stories and can offer different perspectives on how they make it work.

Support from your partner, family and friends is also vital, however I think the most important thing is that families know that homeschooling is a real (and perfectly legal) option, and that school is not the only place a child can be educated.

In the end, no one else can love and understand your children as much as their parents and if home education is a possibility for you then I would highly recommend it.

Useful links:

UK Government position on Home Education: https://www.gov.uk/home-education
Home Education Advisory Service: https://www.heas.org.uk
Education Otherwise: http://www.educationotherwise.net
A Home Education: http://www.ahomeeducation.co.uk