As you know I’ve been trialling home education for my daughter. Initially I was very hesitant about doing this on top of looking after my son and running a home. However, with all the difficulties we’ve been having with my daughter’s schooling I decided I had no choice but to give it a go.
I started off gently, doing a couple of hours a week recapping some of the primary curriculum in literacy and numeracy. I tried a combination of resources, the exercise books you get in W H Smith and the like, the KS2/KS3 bitesize website and some of my own lessons. (PS I always plan my lessons even if I use other resources.) Overall my daughter engaged quite well though it was quite apparent that after 30-45 minutes of what I call pen and paper work she was too tired to continue and we would often have to end the session. In contrast when we did more hands on work she was much more alert and I could often extend the session beyond an hour without her realising it! As a result the emphasis of our lessons has now become much more practical and I’ve now included cookery into our weekly timetable. It is obvious to all how much pleasure she is getting from this and I was really pleased to hear her excitedly tell her nan about a stir fry she cooked the other week (see my wordless Wednesday picture)! This is just what I wanted to happen; my daughter feeling good about something because for so long school was too hard for her and she lost confidence.
Building on the cooking success we’ve now including craft lessons which I’ve based on a DK Craft Book which I was lucky enough to find marked down in a local book store. It is a lovely book which covers textile crafts, papercrafts, jewellery, ceramics and glass, candles and soap and eco crafts. Each section describes and illustrates the tools and materials needed for a particular craft followed by step by step techniques and a project. Each section is well illustrated which makes it easier for my daughter (who is a visual learner) to choose her favourite project and to follow the written instructions. Indeed so successful is this book in engaging my daughter that she has chosen about 20 projects!! This week my daughter has started her first project: glass painting which she has enjoyed so much that she has asked to do ceramic painting next month.
Besides craft and cookery I am still working with her on her literacy and numeracy every week and am very slowly introducing slightly more challenging work particularly in maths where she shows some aptitude. Indeed we’re having particular success with shapes at the moment mainly because it involves more hands-on work. It is interesting that while she struggles with number work she can grasp other mathematical concepts much more easily which shows how we can’t rule out someone’s mathematical abilities based on number work alone. As for literacy, this is more challenging mainly because of her difficulties with language which makes reading and writing stories difficult. In view of that, I’m using facts and information as the basis for her literacy work with pleasing results. Indeed it is interesting that once I removed stories and poems (they make no sense to her) she started to relax and engage much more easily with the written word.
Aside from that I’ve also adopted a ‘learning by stealth’ method as my husband calls it. We have been using this approach for a number of years now but essentially it means not forcing learning on our children but embracing their curiosity. I guess many parents do this naturally but with my children it can be harder to engage with them particularly on subjects outside their special interests. A lot also depends on how they feel which means that opportunities to engage with them can be a bit unpredictable. This is why when they do show an interest in something we run with it. To give you an example, my daughter became very curious about sink holes the other day and so I encouraged her to find out more about sink holes on the ipad. As a result she found examples of sink holes across the world which she was able to tell me about. I didn’t formalise this into anything written as I didn’t want to make it a chore for her and put her off. I also think that with her aspergers mind she will learn about something if she is interested in it, which is what happens with my son. In fact he has acquired the most incredible knowledge about military stuff which he has amassed from watching old black and white war films. (Never dispute the value of the television; it is an amazing resource for some of our SEN children.)
However, I would be lying if I said that home education was easy. I still worry whether I’m doing the right thing. I worry about whether I should be following the curriculum or not (though I’m finding that my daughter’s interests and abilities are leading us away from that.) Then there are the anti home educators who dismiss what people like me are doing and try to discredit our work with whatever spurious evidence they can find. I try not to worry about this but the pressure is there nonetheless. On the other hand home education is the only option available to us at the moment. My daughter is still struggling to leave the house and help is not easy to get. At a recent CAMHS appointment I was told that there is a four month waiting list for talking therapy so the question is what do I do in the meantime? I suppose I could continue to fight the system but for what? I know from my son’s experiences that there is no school in my area that can meet the needs of an autistic child with anxiety problems so why bother fighting for something that doesn’t exist. I’d much rather use my time and energy helping my daughter which I hope is what I’m doing.