Learning

New to home education : Your first week.

A plan for your first week of home education.

It’s back to school time around here. But for some families it’s the beginning of a whole new adventure. Their children won’t be going back to school, instead they’ve chosen to start home education.

This week I met one of those families at a local home ed meet. They told me they were new to the group and new to home education. In fact it was their very first day. Full of enthusiasm and excitement, along with a healthy dose of apprehension and trepidation, they had many questions

What subjects should we concentrate on first?

How do you teach maths?

Where do we find out about the national curriculum?

What resources should we buy?

When should we start preparing for exams?

The family had been thinking about home education for some time, gathering ideas and making plans for future projects. But as we chatted more and they learnt that we’d been home educating for the last nine years, they revealed their biggest concern was where to start. They wanted a plan for the first week. Some specific ideas on what they should do to lay good foundations for the future. Rather than attempting to relay our entire rambling conversation, here’s a short summary of my suggestions.

Grab a cuppa and relax

Likely my first port of call in most situations 🙂 Put the kettle on, grab a cuppa and relax. It’s natural to feel excited and keen to throw ourselves full speed into a new venture.

But try to resist the temptation to go too fast. Avoid rushing out and stocking up on workbooks, curriculum and educational gadgets. Or cramming the calendar full of events and activities.

You may have people around insisting you produce some epic evidence in the first five minutes of how and why this is the right choice for your child. If this is the case, tell them politely and calmly that you’re taking some time to consider the options and the possibilities.

Whatever the age of your child, there really is no hurry. No magical age that all children must learn to read, take exams or get a job. The point at which the school system would like these things to happen, no longer matters. You and your children are free to set your own agenda and pace.

Listen to your children

Whether your child is just turning 5 and never been to school. Or you’ve turned to home education because your teenager is no longer happy there. Whatever your reasons, the best chance for success, however that might look for your family, is for you and your children to work as a team.

One of the joys of home education is the time we have to nurture supportive and close relationships with our children. And that starts with listening to them. Making sure that our children know their opinions and ideas matter to us is important. They may not have experienced much of this at school and felt unable to speak up, or that their views were disregarded, even when they did.  

It’s understandable that children might worry about how much of life at school will now be transferred to home. But whatever style of home education we choose and whether we see ourselves as teacher, facilitator or mentor, we are parents first, foremost and forever. And we can help our children feel confident in our loyalty and our love by making time to connect and listen to them, encouraging them to express their thoughts and respecting their opinions.

If it feels right, you could hold a family meeting. This can be a great forum to share ideas and make plans for the future. Our children enjoyed the process of agreeing an agenda, writing up minutes and taking turns as chair. But it doesn’t have to be that formal, just as long as everyone feels heard and respected.

Make a menu plan

If you can, write a menu plan for the next month. But if that seems too hard, then a week is a good place to start. For me, this frees up masses of time and much-needed mental energy. But maybe you’ve never found yourself staring into the fridge at 4pm wondering what on earth to make for tea?

Menu plans are wonderful tools for helping us get ahead with our day, and even our week. Perhaps you enjoy a meal with mashed potatoes on Monday, making sure to prepare lots of extra mash. Then on Tuesday you get the joy of finding leftover mash ready and waiting for potato topped pie. And maybe that mash even stretches for lentil patties another night, imagine 🙂 Bliss!

We can use gaps in our day to start preparing for tea time, well before it happens. But only if we have a plan. Getting our children involved with meal planning and the prep can be lots of fun. And they might just be inspired to take over completely. One night, when we were new to home education, our two eldest daughters decided they would each cook the family a three course meal. Both on the same day – it was an absolute feast!

It can be fun to switch up your habits. Eat together at the table if this is something you rarely do, have music and candles, and lay the table. This is a special occasion, after all. Dine out or get a take away if that appeals. Or maybe try a picnic on the floor or dinner on trays while you watch a favourite show.

Plan some fun things to do together

After a difficult time at school, our children and our relationships can benefit from lots of love and attention. Whether they have survived relatively intact or taken a lot of damage, it may take time for hurts to heal and for trust and confidence to return.

Make this time with your children a celebration of the time you get to spend together. Plan some outings you’ll all enjoy. Maybe there are places locally you’ve been meaning to visit but never seem to have the time.

Ask your children what they would like to do and make fun suggestions of your own. There are many lists online of places to visit and things to do, explore a few and see where they take you.

Hang out together lots

And in between the outings and days out, spend lots of time together at home. If you have younger children, get on the floor and play with them. Colour and draw, build with Legos and make cookies together. If they’re older, maybe watch a movie or two that’s been on your someday list. 

Enjoy each others company and let the conversations flow. Be open and interested in their ideas and appreciate the chance to slow down and learn more about each other. Spend an afternoon making joy lists together, this will give you lots of ideas for how to spend the coming weeks and months.

Have a family games afternoon with yummy treats or take away pizza. Dust off some old board games you haven’t played in ages or join them in the games they love to play. If they prefer computer or console games, maybe there are some you enjoy together. And if you’ve never played before, ask to join in a game with them. Or ask for suggestions of a cool game you could play together.

If they’re reluctant for you to join in or immersed in a single player game, prepare some tasty snacks and drinks and hang out with them. Let them tell you about the game they’re playing and spend some time observing what they love about it without passing judgement.

Read aloud with them

Not like school where they have to read aloud to the teacher or the class, where they must sit still and look like they’re listening. Don’t test them to check levels of attention or comprehension. Instead, purely for the fun of it, choose a book that you know and love, or you think they’ll enjoy and offer to read to them.

Maybe it’ll be a chance to snuggle on the sofa looking at the pictures while you read. Or they might choose to read along with you, perhaps you’ll alternate pages or chapters. Try reading while they draw, or play, or even at mealtimes. But don’t force it. Listen to their views on the choice of book or timing and look for cues on whether they’re enjoying it. Whether or not they pay close attention to the story, the sound of your voice and presence may be calming and ensures you’re available for connection and conversation.

Give them lots of space

Along with all the fun outings, the hanging out and the reading together, let them have time and space to play on their own or spend time alone in their room. Quiet time to relax and to think is important for us all.

And while they’re busy doing their own thing, get researching and learning more about home education. Read about deschooling and consider what education means to you. What would you like your children to learn? What experiences and knowledge could be interesting and useful for them? And what qualities do you value and want to encourage? Forget what school teaches at their age and look at them as people, with their own particular needs, personality, aptitudes and interests.

Think ahead to how you would like them to look back on home education. Allow your mind to wander and open up to the infinite possibilities. But avoid getting swept along by romantic notions of creating the perfect education experience, we don’t want to feel overwhelmed.

Have a rummage through the house, or visit charity shops. Re-discover old games, books and toys, and leave them out for your children to find, without pressure or expectation.

Get outside

New to home education, or not, we all benefit from time outside. Get plenty of fresh air and exercise. Take local walks and longer ones if that’s something your family enjoys. Visit local shops and parks and allow your children the chance to experience the peace and quiet of play-spaces during school times.

It can be reassuring to remember that while you’ve taken this amazing leap into a new world of home education, the old familiar world is still out there, unchanged and turning just as before. This can be comforting, grounding and help us to keep things in perspective if fear and doubt begin to rear their ugly heads. A chance to say hi or pass the time of day with friends and neighbours can make sure we feel connected to our local area and less alone in our lives.

Fresh air and natural light is refreshing and energising. It’s good for our organs, our digestive and immune systems, and even our eyesight, as well as providing a much-needed boost of vitamin D. Time outside can clear our minds, free us from worry and anxiety and unleash our creativity. There is something beautifully calming about the rhythmic activity of walking and the lack of eye contact can make it a good time for conversations to flow.

Attend a local home education group

You may have already done this before deciding to home educate. But the more groups and local connections you can make, the more you’ll begin to appreciate the diversity of approaches to home education.

These early days of home education offer a wonderful opportunity to slow down and assess our priorities. Enjoying quality time with our children and strengthening our relationships will provide a positive platform from which to travel forward into the exciting adventure of home education.

Don’t be seduced by the myth of one right and perfect place to start, or to go on. Be flexible in your thinking, open to new ideas and willing to adapt to the changing needs and preferences of your children. Let me know which of these suggestions you’ve found most useful and share your own experiences of being new to home education, we’d love to hear them.

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