“Your amazing , special , imaginative, talented , brilliant children are a gift , first and foremost. If you can remember to enjoy them ( more than worry about them) , and keep reflecting back to them how much you value all those little traits that other people don’t see, together you will create a magical ( real) life and education. Here’s to children! Aren’t they grand? “ Julie Bogart
Today’s homeschool chat is with Rowan from @invitationstoplay.uk , who is an early years consultant, specialising in child led learning and play. She works part time as a childminder, and part time running a small business from home called Invitations to Play, creating seasonal and topic based play guides, plastic free play dough kits and loose parts collections. She’s recently launched her first online course for parents, called The Simple Art of Toy Rotation. The aim is to teach parents how to reduce, refine, organise and present their child’s toys to promote creative and independent play.
1Tell us a bit about your family and your child/ children
Hello! My name is Rowan. I live in Bristol in the South West of England, with my 8 year old daughter Elsie Bean and our beloved cat, Lily. It has been just the three of us since Elsie was 12 months old. We might be the smallest of families, but we have a wonderfully close relationship and are happy as we are.
2. What was your main reason for choosing to home educate your children ?
To begin with, it was because I wanted to delay formal schooling. Elsie is a summer born child (born in June) and she simply wasn’t ready to start school at just turned 4 years old. As an ex-primary school teacher, with experience predominantly in the Reception year, I knew what would be expected of her in that first year of school, and I wanted to protect her right to pursue her own interests through play. As time has passed, we’ve come to realise that there is a lot that we love about home education, and we can’t imagine making what we see as huge sacrifices for her to go to full time, mainstream school.
3. What does a “typical” u home school day look like for your family ?
There’s no typical day in our home! Our days vary greatly, through the week and through the year, with our scheduled classes and commitments continually evolving. I work as a childminder one day a week, and Elsie spends a day a week with a childminder friend, so that I can work on my other business. The other three days of the week we are free to work on projects, play, see friends and family, go to the library, cook together, work in the garden etc. At the moment, Elsie goes to a weekly gymnastics class and a fortnightly cookery class, and spends alternate weekends with her father.
4. What type of a home educator are you ( structured , semi structured , unschooling , classical , Charlotte Mason , Steiner , Montessori etc ) ?
I would describe our home education style as eclectic. In the early years I was heavily inspired by Montessori, and very much focused my attention on nurturing a respectful relationship with my daughter and supporting her with practical life skills. When Elsie was 2 years old I completed my Level 3 Forest School Leadership training, and ran a weekly session with a fellow childminder in nearby woodland. This influenced my general attitude to learning in terms of respecting a child’s innate ability to learn, the importance of stepping back and allowing children to take risks.
For the first couple of ‘school’ years (5-7 years) we loosely followed the Exploring Nature With Children Curriculum, while also being heavily influenced by the Steiner Waldorf movement in terms of seasonal rhythms, celebrating seasonal festivals and exploring art and handcrafts.
In more recent years we have found ourselves naturally drawn to project based learning, delving into topics of interest for weeks at a time. I’ve found that my daughter doesn’t like too much structure, and switches off if I try to push my own agenda. In the summer months we pretty much unschool.
5. What do you love the most about home schooling ?
The freedom! Freedom to follow our own interests. Freedom to eat, to drink, to move, to rest (even to go to the toilet!)whenever we need or want to. Freedom to visit places out of season, when they are more affordable and less busy. Freedom to drop it all if we’re not feeling it, or because it’s snowing and we want to go sledging, or because a new baby cousin has been born and we want to go and meet him!
6. Do you do morning time/ symposium / circle time ?
We do a morning time of sorts. We have a morning time basket, which I stock with topic related books and materials, but I’m not very consistent with doing anything on a daily basis. If we are having a home day or morning, then settling together on the sofa or at the dining table with our morning basket is how we usually start our day. Elsie is usually keen to drop what she is doing to join me if I am offering to read her a story.
7. What is your favourite subject to teach and what is your least one ?
I love teaching art and crafts, because I am naturally creative and so is my daughter. We both really enjoy these sessions. In contrast, neither of us has particularly enjoyed any of our attempts at more formal reading and writing lessons. Every so often, I give in to the pressure I feel to have her reading and writing fluently, and we attempt some form of formal instruction, and every time I regret it, as it isn’t coming from her and she resists. She reads and writes every day, without the need for me to set an agenda, and I have come to trust that she is making her own steady progress. I remind myself daily that children in many European countries do not start to learn to read and write until they start school at age 7, and that all the evidence suggests that there is no benefit to starting to learn to read and write at age 4. If I let go of comparison, then I am able to appreciate that she is exactly where she ‘should’ be.
8. What do you find challenging when it comes to home schooling your children ?
I’d love to be able to dedicate myself completely to her home education, but as a lone parent, I have to work, and it’s a constant juggle. I make a lot of sacrifices to home educate her, both financially and in terms of time for myself. In the past I have felt very overwhelmed by choice when it comes to curriculum and learning materials, and felt like I needed all the things to do be able to offer her a rounded education. I’ve since scaled back enormously, as I find that my daughter learns best through her own, self-directed projects, and I’m working hard not to give in to the temptation to buy things that we don’t/won’t need.
9. How do you find time for yourself/ self care etc ?
Phew, this is a tough one! My work has become my self care, as it is the only time I get to do something for myself that is creative and that I feel passionately about. I prioritise good sleep. Now that my daughter sleeps through the night, I’m quite strict about bedtime, so that I have an hour in the evening to unwind. I like to read, listen to podcasts, declutter and clean. Taking the time to meal plan, order groceries online for delivery and keep on top of the laundry and cleaning, helps to ease my stress and anxiety. I’ve massively simplified our home and lives in recent years, and I’m definitely feeling the benefit.
10. What are some of your favourite homeschooling related books?
In the early years, before I made the decision to home educate, I watched a lot of Ken Robinson lectures on YouTube, and they really helped to cement my decision. I love Peter Grey’s Free to Learn. Everything he writes resonates with me. Project Based Homeschooling by Lori Pickert was very inspiring, and anything by John Holt. More recently I’ve been binge listening to Julie Bogart’s Brave Writer podcast.
11. How do you deal with unsupportive family , relatives and friends ?
I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t had to deal with much direct criticism of my decision to home educate. Most of my close friends have opted to send their children to school, and so we simply avoid the subject. I’ve had to seek support from those within the home education community instead, who share my values and reassure me when I am feeling anxious and full of self doubt. I’ve found so much comfort in the friends I have made through my own social media platforms, sharing my work and our home education journey.
My biggest challenge has been convincing my daughters father and my own mother. I love and respect my family, and want their approval, so it has been hard for me at times. I’ve had to be very firm, and come across as more confident than I feel at times. It is tough, because I know that the concern is coming from a place of love. That their worries are genuine, and that they want the best for the both of us. The concept of a child being able to learn without force, and in any way that is different to how society has us believe is best, i.e. sitting at a table, daily practice, recording findings etc. is quite alien. It’s also really difficult for them not to compare my daughter to other children.
12. Where do you see your home schooling journey in 5 years’ time ?
I really have no idea! I find it so hard to imagine the future, and rarely plan more than a few months ahead. I hope that my daughter has strong and supportive friendships, and develops a healthy attitude to learning. I feel a certain amount of dread about the next phase, as my daughter enters the ‘tween’ years and seeks out more independence. I can’t imagine it, but I feel confident that we will find our way together, as our relationship has such a firm foundation of trust and respect for one another.
13. What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start home educating their children ?
To know that, here in the UK, it is your legal right. If you are planning to home educate from the start, then nothing really needs to change once your child reaches compulsory school age. You do not need to replicate school at home. You can trust in your child’s innate ability to learn, providing that you are offering a rich and stimulating environment. School is actually the experimental route, and I personally believe that it is raising an unhealthy society. A society that is driven to produce and consume, compare and compete. If you are planning to deregister your child from school, remember to factor in the time needed for your child to deschool. The common advice is ‘one month for every year your child has been at school’. During this time, simply allow your child to recover, in whichever way is meaningful for them, and slowly but surely, a routine will begin to evolve.
14. Imagine your children 20 years into the future , what do you want them to say about their homeschool experience ?
I would like her to know, deep down in her being, that her needs and interests were always my top priority. I want her to feel that she was always heard and respected and valued, and to come to expect that from others, and to call them out when they don’t show her the respect that she deserves. I want her to know that she was offered something very special and unique. A childhood protected from the modern day pressures, with the most dedicated and loving guide. A first class private education!