For some the idea of writing down a home education plan will feel uncomfortable and unnecessary, especially those who have a very clear idea of the direction their child will take over the year; they may have already considered the question at great length. For others a plan which provides an overview for the year is enough and this style of home-educator might list the subjects of importance for the year but not be detailed in terms of topics within subjects or the books which they will use because the child will work independently, exploring within this framework – the child will choose the areas which interest them within the subjects. The parents have recognised that certain subjects are suited to their child’s learning style and interests and should be made available to encourage talents. Then there are families that construct a detailed home-education plan annually and it is in to this latter group that our family falls.
Like any boy of his age he will happily lose himself in Minecraft for hours at a time, play out with his friends in the park or spend hours with his friend building sprawling LEGO fortresses…
Our first step was to sit down and discuss with Theo how he felt his education had gone last year. We wanted to know from his perspective whether he felt last years programme had achieved everything that we had all hoped it would. We had several conversations which delved in to this question in more detail until we were in a position to jot down the outcomes. It was clear that Theo was happy last year yet one thing was surprising – Theo requested that this year his home-education plan be more structured. He voiced very maturely that he prefers a time-tabled approach to learning where he knows in advance what subject will be covered each day, that he enjoys challenges (tests) which he felt were lacking last year and that he wanted to move away from the Galore Park range for core subjects. Theo is academically minded and this is becoming more apparent. Like any boy of his age he will happily lose himself in Minecraft for hours at a time, play out with his friends in the park or spend hours with his friend building sprawling LEGO fortresses however in equal measure he will be found writing the next part of an adventure story on the computer, reading yet another book, drawing blueprints for scientific apparatus or just writing a story with a biro on a scrap of paper. He is a wordsmith who becomes animated when his history lessons reveal a linguistic link to modern day English (the roots of words thrill him). He is a budding scientist whose mad-cap scientific inventions to negate radioactive fallout from nuclear power stations might have been laughed at in school but at home they show us that he is keenly interested in science. We plan to provide him with every opportunity we can to broaden his scientific understanding. This is why the question ”what do we want our child to achieve from their home-education?” is so important when developing a sound home-education plan.
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The second step was to decide on a type of curriculum. There are a variety of ready-made syllabuses available and whilst they remove the need to plan in detail yourself, for us they simply do not offer enough flexibility. There are text books like the Galore Park range we used last year where the child reads excerpts and answers questions in an exercise book and whilst this method worked well for us last year, we felt it was time for a change. As a family we decided that the workbook style was a good fit for Theo as they offer a focused approach to learning where topics can be clearly targeted. For 2014/15 Theo’s core curriculum is compiled of workbooks from the Schofield & Sims Key Stage 2 range. We looked at a number of workbook style ranges from well known large brands but none of them seemed to offer enough of a challenge. They were either trying to make up for a lack of good content with a selection of stickers or far too dry to inspire any enjoyment of the topic. Conversely Schofield & Sims workbooks are interesting, lively and content heavy plus they offer a variety of books for each core subject to ensure that the child covers every base. Most importantly of all Theo is delighted with the books and has told us that he is very happy to know that we listened to him and made educational product selections based on his wishes.
The home education plan for Theo (which can be viewed here) lists the resources that he will be using for each subject and topic. It provides a frame of reference for me to call upon during the year. I will be able to annotate my own hard copy of the plan as we progress through the topics taking special care to note down which books have been completed and any changes of direction that we take. We have a very in depth selection of resources from Schofield & Sims for English, Maths and Science and we are confident that these will provide a broad education for him in these subjects over the next 12 months. We will supplement the science series of books with practical lessons as well as studying specific areas of interest for him in more detail. This year he will also learn about the CERN large hydron collider, anatomy and continue his studies about the periodic table of the elements. We will continue to use the Galore Park History book for a short time but as a family we have decided to learn about world history in chronological order. This year our plan is to study ancient civilisations between 1000 BCE and 1000AD which will allow Theo to understand cause and effect – how the acts of one civilisation send ripples through time affecting civilisations hundreds of years later. In order to do this we will conduct our own research using the extraordinarily detailed ‘World History Timeline’ poster from Schofield & Sims which now adorns the chimney breast in the workroom.
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Art history will focus on a selection of famous artists and practical art will attempt to mimic the styles and methods used by the artists studied. Afternoons will often be spent undertaking creative activities such as painting, drawing and making but this is separate from the timetabled art sessions. Music theory will focus on famous composers with time allocated to listening to music and composing pieces in the the style of the composer being studied.
Even as the home education plan was being written down my husband and I were having conversations about the content and modifying it. Communication is very important as home-educating parents because we are both responsible for providing our children’s education. I may be the parent who is generally at the coal face but this does not give me dominion over what our children are taught. We discuss everything which in turn gives our children confidence as they know with out a doubt that we are a united front who are equally aware of what is being taught. The plan is very much a family plan which will always be the case.
This year we have also created a time-table for Theo at his request. It is a top line time-table which breaks down a typical week in to fifty five minute blocks which we have then allocated subjects to. For example each Monday morning at 10am until 10.55am Theo knows that he will have an English session which will then be followed by a maths session. Once I had compiled the information I ran it by Theo who was extremely happy and asked to have a copy printed out for his own reference. Timetables are certainly not for everyone as they are an extremely structured tool but they are very well suited to our sons learning style.
If we decide on any particular day that a particular thing we are learning is extremely fascinating, we have been known to abandon the remaining days timetabled sessions and focus on the thing that’s holding our interest. When used with flexibility in this way, timetables need not be restrictive and can simply act as a springboard to much greater things. Each little 50 minute chunk can be seen as lighting the fuse, sometimes it will go out but other times it will start a raging fire. On these occasions we can delve into one subject all day until Theo’s curiosity is satisfied. So even though we are quite structured, we also are not.
Home-education is not about making anyone other than your own children and family comfortable. There can be criticisms directed at all methods of home-education and sometimes sadly from the home-educating community itself. As structured home-educators the criticism can be that we are trying to mimic school which is somehow letting down the ‘home-educating side’, but the greatest weapon in the home-educators arsenal is to rise above criticism, have confidence in the path that you as a family have chosen and show stunning results by enabling intelligent people that are a credit to society. We should support each other and respect each others educational choices because the one thing we all have in common is the desire for our children to be happy while exploring their potential.
We want our child to be happy and in order to that we have each chosen to educate them according to the style of learning that suits them the best. For my family it involves writing a plan, time-tables, vast quantities of post-it notes and a willingness to explore wherever the subjects take us. What does it involve for you? Do you find an educational plan to be useful for your family? Do you follow your child’s lead and allow them the freedom to choose the topics they want to learn?