A while ago I posted on Instagram stories asking if anyone had any questions about home education. I didn’t expect the huge volume of responses I received! I have been through all of the questions – many were the same or similar, so I have done my best to answer them all below!
Why are you choosing to home educate?
This could be an entire blog post in itself so I will try and keep this answer as brief as I can. In short, we are choosing to home educate because:
- We absolutely agree with the 130 experts who have said that formal education in the UK starts too soon, and devalues the importance of play.
- We believe that children are learning all the time, day in day out, without the need to be taught. Rather than developing a love of learning, our own experience tells us that school often quashes this love, replacing it with a desire to pass exams. We believe that self-directed learning is far more powerful and meaningful than a curriculum set by someone else.
- We choose to reject control-based methods of parenting including punishments, praise, and rewards. Sadly these are still common in modern classrooms. We don’t feel comfortable with Frida’s intellect and abilities being labelled, graded, ranked, and compared to others – especially not before she has developed a strong sense of her own brilliant self worth.
- We think that Frida benefits from a slower, gentler pace of childhood, where we have time for art and conversations about words, mornings playing with blocks and chapter books on the sofa, afternoons spent baking and whole days in the park. We don’t think that something magic will happen to Frida age four to make her not need these things any more.
- We don’t think that schools honour children’s rights to autonomy or consent. We don’t believe Frida should need to ask permission to use the loo, or be told to sit still when her body is craving movement, or have no choice in what she learns or when she is allowed to eat or how she spends her time.
- Research shows unambiguously that children benefit from copious time outdoors in natural spaces each day, and that lack of time outdoors can have negative repercussions for mental health. Research also shows that school-age children are not physically active enough. We don’t think it’s healthy – physically or mentally – for young children to spend large parts of the day sitting at a desk indoors, doing what someone else has told them to do.
- We have heard too many stories – from teachers, other parents, and friends – of children as young as five, six and seven developing severe anxiety around school, and we find the amount of pressure and formal work given to children from Year 1 (age 5/6) alarming. The rise of school age children suffering poor mental health at increasingly younger ages is rising, and we want to do all we can to protect her from this.
- We believe there is more to education than what is taught in schools, and we want Frida to benefit from a deep and wide ranging education that stretches her intellect and ignites her curiosity and her passion for learning. Where she shows an aptitude for something, we want her to be able to run with it and see how far she can go; where she struggles with something, we want her to have the time and space to go at her own pace, safe in the knowledge that she can try and fail – but that she cannot fail us.
- We know that the world is changing, and that the jobs we know now will likely not be the jobs of the future. We don’t know what the future will bring, but we can guess that the best way of equipping Frida to thrive throughout her life is giving her the gift of a curious mind and a nourished intellect, a strong sense of internal motivation, and an ability to adapt and learn new skills.
- Home educating gives Frida – and our family – freedom. She can get up when her body is rested and not worry about being late for school. Mornings are peaceful. Illness can be recovered from gently without thought for attendance records. We can go on holiday when we want.
- Knowing her personality, her needs, her strengths, and her interests, we don’t think school would be a good fit for Frida at the moment, and we think she is happier at home than she would be in a pre-school or school. We know her better than any teacher could, and we love her more. And really, this is the most important reason of all.
If this all sounds terribly anti-schools, I’m not really. Yes, I am against our current school system that seems to have forgotten who it is there to serve (clue: the children!) and that underpays and disempowers the brilliant teachers who are working tirelessly to teach. But unless there is a radical shift in how families work and live, I don’t see an overhaul of the school system happening any time soon.
Schools are here to stay, and there’s no doubt that there have been many good things to come out of them, not least making education accessible to all, and it would by hypocritical of me to pretend that I haven’t benefited from the system.
How do you make it work financially? How and when do you work?
I am a parent educator and peaceful parenting coach, so pretty much all of my work is online which means I can work from home (or wherever I need to be). It also means that apart from client calls I can be really flexible about when I work. My work tends to be spread out throughout the week, but in terms of hours I probably do 2.5 days worth of work each week at the moment.
My husband recently quit his job as a social work manager (he was previously working full time hours compressed over four days) to study for a few months, which has given us some more flexibility. At the moment he studies from home for three days a week, whilst I get the other two. The idea is that weekends will be for us as a family, but in practice one or both of us sometimes ends up working for a bit at weekends too (I’m writing this on a Sunday, for example).
Our work life balance isn’t perfect, and I often feel like I’m running behind on work, but this is a busy season of our lives. It it definitely worth it for us to both be able to pursue the careers we want without compromising on how we raise our daughter.
How does home education work legally where you live?
We live in England. At the moment, is is completely legal to home educate your child for as long as you want. If you withdraw your child from school then you have to inform the headteacher, but if your child never attended school then there is no legal requirement to inform anyone (there are mixed opinions on this).
Do you use a curriculum?
No. There are some beautiful ones out there, and I’ll admit to having been tempted, but I just don’t think it would work for our family. Frida thrives on unstructured play time and mostly dislikes planned crafts and the like, and I think having a curriculum to follow would just put pressure on me to follow it rather than her. I have also done lots of reading and research into a number of education philosophies, and feel confident in being able to give Frida what she needs without a curriculum at the moment.
However, I know many families who use them and get a lot from them, especially in terms of ideas for themes and crafts and stories. I think it just depends on the child!
What does your day look like? How is it structured?
Our daily rhythm is simple, with a lot of time for free play at home and space for time spent outdoors or out on adventures. The constants are our meals and the activities anchored to these; morning time, lunch, tea time and supper.
I get up first, then Frida will usually wake between 06:30-7:00. At the moment as Sam is studying we often eat breakfast all together, then whichever parent is working that day will disappear up to the study whilst the other lingers around the dining table with Frida and a pile of books. Our days vary : during the week we might attend forest school, go swimming, meet up with friends for play dates, or go on trips (usually to museums, parks, galleries, or playgrounds), and we always have at least one slow day in and around the home. My husband likes to take Frida for day trips to fun places in London, whereas I tend to favour slower days at home with outings to local green spaces and playdates. Whatever we do during the day and whichever parent is in charge, we end up back together around the dining table at about 17:30/18:00 to eat supper together. Although this is earlier than I’d ideally like, it’s important to us that we eat as a family and earlier is better for Frida as she currently goes to sleep between 19:00-19:30.
Do you do lessons?
Very, very rarely. I might do a super short lesson (c.10 minutes) if Frida has a desire to learn something – for example, I might write some CVC words for her to read out loud, or we might work on some addition or subtraction together. But this is really led by Frida, and I never push it once she is done.
How did you start?
We didn’t really! Although Frida is not yet school age (she is three; children usually start formal schooling aged four in the UK, although most three year olds go to pre-school), I think we started home educating the moment we decided to go down that road, especially because we have a relaxed and unstructured approach to learning in these early years.
Are there any approaches you are influenced by?
Many! I truly believe in an eclectic approach to raising children; in picking and choosing different ideas and methods to fit our own family values and Frida’s needs, and in being inspired by different styles and trying things out to see what works best.
I am mostly inspired by Montessori’s writings, the unschooling / autonomous learning philosophy (the writings of John Holt, Peter Gray and Carol Black), Charlotte Mason’s writings, elements of the Steiner-Waldorf school of thought, the Forest School movement, the Scandinavian approach to education and parenting, project-based learning, and the Reggio Emilia philosophy. I can also see us drawing more on the classical approach as Frida gets older, and though it’s not a great fit for her right now I still draw on elements of it. The more I read, the more convinced I am that I want Frida to learn at her own pace, following her own needs, and the more confident I am that I don’t need to be actively teaching her right now.
Whilst I enjoy reading home education blogs for inspiration, my books are absolutely my most valuable resource. I love following other home educating families on Instagram and the community they provide, but I’ve found that when it comes to how we educate Frida I want to make those choices based on information and research – and crucially, her needs and personality – rather than what is working well for other families.
I know that not everyone with young children has the time or energy to read books about every approach they come across, which is why I have taken my research and experience and created my course A Beautiful Childhood. I want to give other parents a good understanding of a wide range of educational and parenting approaches for young children, as well as practical and achievable ideas based on these philosophies for them to try out at home and see what works for them.
How much time do you spend planning and preparing resources?
Practically none! I do put time aside each season to review how things are going and check in with our rhythms, but I do very little day to day. I do spend time researching books for Frida, and reading about education, parenting, and child development (but that is also my job!), and I spend time regularly considering our home environment and tweaking it to fit Frida’s changing needs, but in terms of planning activities? I just don’t do much at all. I might suggest a simple craft I think Frida will like or ensure we have the correct ingredients to bake a cake, but it’s rare that I do more than that.
Have you encountered any negativity? What do you say to well-meaning family and friends who believe she should be conventionally schooled?
Not very much, actually. Perhaps surprise more than negativity. My husband and I both did conventionally “well” in the education system, both getting top grades at school and going to a top University, so I think there was a sense of “why would you opt out of something that worked for you?” But I don’t think many people realise how much education has changed since we were at school, or how different the job landscape will look by the time Frida is an adult.
There have been moments where people have said something to us, but by and large I think our family and friends understand why we want to home educate and see the benefits to Frida already: she’s clearly a happy, curious, engaged, bright child. Even though it may not be the path that they themselves would take with their own children, I think that they know we are making what we believe to be the best decision for our daughter. I have also read a lot about home education and education styles, so I’m pretty skilled now at defending our choices with research and evidence!
Is there anything you think Frida is missing out on by not attending school?
In terms of resources, not really. I don’t think young children need much more than great books, open ended toys for imaginative and creative play, abundant time to move indoors and out, and a caregiver who loves them and is invested in them – our adult:child ratio of 1:1 is surely better than even the smallest private school classroom!
In terms of opportunities for social interaction, she hasn’t had to learn how to navigate being in a big group of children for a length of time yet, and she doesn’t enjoy sitting in a group waiting for instruction, but that doesn’t overly concern me – it’s very normal behaviour for a three year old, and she is very confident and curious when talking to adults, something they often remark upon. But I do wonder if she will get the chance to make deep friendships as a young child; there’s something about the intensity of school and the long hours together which of course make it easier than just having playdates or attending groups.
However, I think there’s also a lot of negatives she gets to miss out on too. The early morning starts. And with the chance for more intense friendships of course comes the flip side of feeling bullied, teased, or excluded. Government figures show that 40 per cent of children have experienced bullying in the last 12 months; that feels like a huge risk to take.
There will always be positives and negatives to every choice, but we feel that Frida gains far more from being home educated than she loses out on. So I don’t think she’s really missing out but of course I do get pangs of worry sometimes that we are making the right choices for her, I’m sure every parent does!
What are your most used resources at the moment?
To be honest, we don’t use all that many “resources” for Frida. All she needs at the moment is: toys for imaginative play (you can see most of what Frida is currently using here); great fiction, non-fiction, and poetry books; some postcards of famous art works; some art materials like paints and crayons, and; a few mindfully selected learning materials as and when I spot a need for them (I love Montessori resources but I have found that with Frida they can be hit and miss, which is why I always observe her carefully to ensure that they are really fulfilling a need she has). The less I have provided her with ready-made materials, the more I have observed her using what she has creatively.
I also love Exploring Nature With Children which is a fantastic resource. We don’t use it as a curriculum, choosing instead to dip in and out of it, but I can see us using it year after year as Frida grows.
I guess I should also check in with my privilege here and say that one of our most used resources is… money. We do not live a lavish lifestyle at all, we have enough money in the bank to get the train or the tube to visit a museum or gallery, the disposable income to go for lunch in a cafe or buy a coffee when we’re out, the ability to buy a couple of books about a new interest. We don’t need to do these things of course, and many home educating families manage on much tighter budgets than us, but not having to worry about every small expense does add ease to our home education journey and I’m not sure that gets spoken about enough.
What are the most challenging aspects of home educating?
I think these will be different for each family. For me personally, I find it challenging to run a business alongside home educating; not so much the day-to-day running and managing workload, but the simple fact that if I feel a burst of creativity or I get an idea on a day that I don’t have time to work, it can feel very frustrating (you can hear me talk more about this here).
I also find it really hard not to have a community yet; if your child goes to nursery or school you’re likely to have a ready-made community of other parents. I have found it harder than I expected not having this community, and it is still something that I am trying to find and do a lot of soul-searching about.
How do you make time for yourself?
I am very intentional about making time for self-care. I think it’s one of the most important things to prioritise as a parent whether you are home educating or not, but it’s really crucial when you’re spending so much time in close proximity to your child. I get up before Frida wakes up most mornings to write in my journal, meditate, and catch up on a few emails; this means that when she wakes I’m already feeling relaxed and I can give her my full attention as we start our day together.
I also take pockets of time to myself throughout the day, even if it’s just a ten minute cup of tea to read an article whilst Frida watches a bit of a dinosaur documentary or a quick bath whilst she plays in another room. Because I run my own business I do get regular time alone, and I’m lucky that I love my work and find it fulfilling. But I also make time to go for dinner with friends regularly, hang out with my husband, and read both for work and for pleasure. It would be much harder for me to stimulate Frida’s curiosity and intellect if I was not looking after my own!
Something that I have had to work on is communicating my needs effectively with my husband. I have found that looking at things like self-care as a partnership and working to find ways for us to both get our needs met has meant that we’re both happier and have more time for what fills us up.
How do you feel about home schooling an only child?
So far, so good! It’s not really something we have had a choice in – had life panned out differently Frida may have had a sibling this year. But if having a child teaches you anything it’s that you can’t control everything! In many ways, home educating one child is a dream. We can totally go at her pace and organise our lives to fit her needs, and she has a very close and connected relationship with both myself and my husband. There is a lot of spontaneity in our days, and I get a good amount of time to rest, read, and relax.
I do worry sometimes about the future or that she will be lonely, and of course I look at these gorgeous blogs and Instagram accounts of home educating families with three or four children who are all playing together and feel a bit of a pang that Frida only has a cat to play with (and us, of course!). But social media often just shows the highlights, and the work I do provides regular reminders that even the closest of sibling relationships are often fraught and challenging.
I don’t know if Frida will end up having a sibling or how that would affect the dynamic in our home. It would certainly be an interesting shift if we had two children with a sizeable age gap at home, and I’m sure it would bring positive and negatives and a whole new set of challenged! But for now, our home school class of one is pretty perfect.
How long do you plan on home educating for?
We don’t have an end date in mind. Certainly until she is seven. As I see it, every year we can give her at home is a gift. I feel pretty relaxed and open minded about where our home educating journey will take us, and if it stops working for our family then I’m sure we can make the school system work for Frida and advocate for her as we help her navigate it.
A Beautiful Childhood is opening for booking again next week. This unique and information-rich course will give you a solid understanding of a wide range of educational and parenting approaches for young children, as well as practical and achievable ideas based on these philosophies for you to try out at home. It’s suitable whether you are home educating or not, and you can read what other parents thought of it here.