conservation · Home Education · Plastic Free Living

30 Days Wild!

Yesterday was Day 1 of our 30 Days Wild challenge organised by The Wildlife Trust. It’s not too late to sign up online and download a pack if you want to get involved. We’ve been doing this for a few years now, although I’m not sure the kids think it’s that different to normal because by this time of year we tend to be outdoors a lot anyway.

This year we thought it would be fun to sprinkle in a few acts of random wildness that would make the challenge a little more memorable. During the course of this month I will be documenting our wild days here on the blog in weekly updates.

So yesterday, the 1st of June, L spent all day at her riding stables from 9-5pm, which is fast becoming a real passion for her, leaving myself and T to mark Day 1 together. We decided on one of our favourite walks with Legend around some nearby lakes; we call it our ‘cake walk’ because we start with a visit to the on-site café to refill my travel cup with tea (tea is essential to life y’know) and for T to find the biggest, most chocolaty piece of cake to fuel our walk.


We don’t rush so the walk around the lake takes us about 1.5 hours and the views are beautiful all the way around. Mostly we love this walk though because we get to have a good old chat, with lots of little stop-offs to sit and let time pass, whilst eating cake of course!

Hmmm looks quite inviting!

We always meet lots of interesting people on our walks and yesterday was no exception. We met this lovely lady with her two rescue Lurchers whom we chatted to for a long while. T was asked the usual school question to which he quite happily stated that he’s home educated. At this point we usually face a rather strained conversation, which has most people politely moving on.

This lady was like a breath of fresh air! Her reply, after the tiniest pause, was: ‘Well of course not everything can be learned from a book, in fact I do believe nature is the greatest teacher of all’. I could see T kind of straighten himself up, tall and proud and I inwardly thanked the lady for understanding rather than subjecting my son to an awkward silence or questions about how he would ever get any GCSE’s (he’s 10………but incase you’re wondering yourself, home educators can still take any qualification they want, it’s just they have choice and freedom about what, when, how and even if they need them for what they want to pursue).

And so our conversation continued about nature and conservation. We talked about plastic and it’s use by big supermarket chains; we talked about getting involved in beach cleans. This lady said two things that struck me: she wondered whether my being involved in beach cleans really had any genuine impact; and she said, at age 71, she was too old to change the world. Aren’t these exactly the kind of negative things we all tell ourselves? That we cannot make a difference on our own? That we are too young, too old, too busy, too unknowledgeable, too unfit, too broke to make a difference? I know I have used many of those exact excuses myself. I know I don’t always walk the talk.

I told her that her time was right now. That she wasn’t too old to save the world. That her actions alone could make a difference. ‘Do you know what?’ she stated boldly. ‘I am going to talk to Sainsbury’s today about how they wrap single vegetables in plastic, it’s been bugging me for ages!’

One person, whoever you are, can make all the difference.

I’ll just pretend I didn’t see that No Swimming sign.
Home Education

A World Class Education

The government has recently published new draft guidance for local authorities concerning Elective Home Education. Much of it is a total reinterpretation of current guidance and law regarding home education. Before I fill in the consultation at the end of June, I want to take the time to dissect and understand all of the issues properly.

The introductory paragraph of the draft guidance is as follows:

The government’s aim is to ensure all young people receive a world-class education which allows them to realise their full potential, regardless of background, in a safe environment.

Now to be honest I find this entire paragraph very troubling, almost every word bugs me. It starts by asserting the government’s aims for our children’s education. The law actually states that education is the responsibility of the parent, not the government.
Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 states that:
The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable—
(1) to his age, ability and aptitude, and
(2) to any special educational needs he may have,
either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.

It then goes on to say that the government wants to ensure all young people receive a world-class education (bit pushy I think…..provide access to a world-class education would be better wording). How they will do this with home educated children makes up the rest of the guidance, or at least sets the tone, which is why I think a careful scrutiny of the wording and the meaning behind it is important.

I wanted to find out exactly what they mean by ‘world-class‘ and in reading through the DfE’s Strategy 2015-2020 the picture became predictably clear.

Here are the headlines:

‘Supporting all children to reach their potential brings economic prosperity for individuals and the whole country. Those with five or more good GCSEs (including English and maths) or a Level 3 apprenticeship earn more than their counterparts with lower level qualifications. And, the better-educated a society, the more productive, dynamic and innovative it can be.’

‘As well as mastering the fundamentals – literacy and numeracy – and studying an academic core, all young people also need the skills and character to succeed academically, have a fulfilling career, and make a positive contribution to British society.’

‘There will always be core knowledge and skills our young people need to have mastered to get on in life. But the workplaces they are entering continue to change rapidly. Whilst globalisation offers vast opportunity for those positioned to grasp it, it’s threatening for those without the education to compete effectively in an ever-hungrier global market. Automation and consequent shifts in the labour market mean the number of routine, middle-skilled jobs is likely to decline. Every young Briton unable to compete with their international peers represents a huge waste of potential, on both a personal and national level.’

‘Education should prepare children for adult life, giving them the skills and character traits they need to succeed academically, have a fulfilling career, and make a positive contribution to British society. There is a strong correlation between character traits like self-control and social skills, and a wide range of positive life outcomes, including higher wages.’

Very clearly what the government means by ‘world-class education which allows (children) to reach their full potential’, is primarily education which is academic in nature and which considers the potential usefulness of the future adult in supporting British economic growth.

Of course I understand that money is what makes the world go round, and we all need a portion of it to live happy and free lives. I also passionately believe in making contributions to the communities in which we live. No man is an island after all and supporting our fellow humans to make all of our lives better is a positive way to live.

However I don’t subscribe to equating a child’s full potential with their academic success. If of course they want to strive for academic excellence then that should be possible, and their social-economic background should never preclude them from reaching their personal ambitions. But to me, full potential has to do with so much more than academia and a bunch of GCSE’s or even a degree. Reaching one’s full potential is about humanity itself. Reaching the heights of creativity. Striving for healthy emotional and mental health. And what about spiritual full potential? Very few of us ever reach a spiritual nirvana……….but of course, sitting around meditating isn’t going to support Britain’s economic growth; it’s not going to make you or your country rich.

I know exactly which children get left out of the governments ambitions for world-class education though. The neuro-diverse children. The one’s who most likely make up the percentage of every classroom who suffer with mental illness due to a system which does not accommodate their needs, nor play to their strengths.

Ironically it’s likely that these children will have the kind of creative problem solving skills that Britain will need in the future, so let’s not allow the government to tarnish home education with these narrow views of what a child’s full potential is.

Unschooling, which would be particularly threatened by this new government guidance, is the kind of education most suited to neuro-diverse children, who through delving deep into their interests can find their niche in the world and thus make the positive contribution that the DfE keeps talking about in its strategy.







Home Education

Why you don’t need to worry if your home educated child isn’t reading yet

It’s a familiar concern of a parent of a child 5 years plus, that their child isn’t reading yet. In the unschooled community, reading at 5 would be mostly unheard of. Those parents have made a commitment to go at their child’s pace, but it is hard. Their friends children are all learning to read at school and family and friends are often starting to make negative comments.

Firstly it’s important to understand that mainstream UK schools did not pick age 5 for any reasons relating to a child’s actual development.

Professor Lilian Katz, Professor of Education, University of Illinois who was addressing an international conference on foundation-stage learning at the University of Oxford, said there was a danger that the British model could put children off reading for life if pupils were forced to learn before they were ready.

She said: “The evidence we have so far is that if you start formal teaching of reading very early the children do well in tests but when you follow them up to the age of 11 or 12 they don’t do better than those who have had a more informal approach.”

The evidence also suggests starting formal instruction early is more damaging for boys than girls.”

During my teaching days I saw many more boys than girls damaged by early formal reading instruction. These boys suffer huge dents to their self-esteem, and often behaviour difficulties follow. They decide early on that reading, then writing is just not for them and it impacts on all future learning.

Some home educators also follow curriculums and encourage early reading, though they have the luxury of teaching one child at a time. This is often a more gentle child-centred approach, but can still result in abnormal development of brain pathways. If your child is not actively consenting to your help, it is very likely they are not ready either developmentally or motivationally. Either way, your encouragement and support will most probably backfire.

According to Jane Healy, a well-respected educational psychologist:

Early childhood programs that implement a directed academic curriculum often replace essential, hands-on learning activities with skill-based performance and rote-learning tasks. In doing so, they risk the developmental growth necessary for children’s future academic success. Experts believe that when rote-learning tasks are used extensively in an early childhood classroom or other setting, normal growth and development of the brain can become distorted.”

(Healy, J.M. 2004. Your child’s growing mind. New York: Broadway Books)

If you are trying to formally teach your young child (under age 7) to read, you need to consider what they could be doing instead! Playing! Playing is vital to brain growth and future learning. By investing time teaching them to do things they are not ready to do, you are actually depriving them of time spent doing exactly what they need to be doing.

Anecdotally I can tell you that when my daughter learned to read at 8, she swapped play for books overnight. I am glad she did not learn earlier and thus stop hours of imaginative play earlier. She could also suddenly read everything everywhere, every headline, every billboard, every protest banner, things I am glad she could not read at 5 quite frankly! Literature is everywhere, but our society can be pretty inappropriate for 5 year olds and trying to explain our world to an 8 year old was tricky enough.


Lego makes a great case for play-based learning up to age 8. Of course, they have Lego to sell, but the actual research they base their theories on comes from the most esteemed universities in the world. You can read Lego’s research and theories here.

You can also read my own personal thoughts and experience with play here.

Many more home educators do in fact take a much more unstructured and relaxed approach to reading. However, many of those parents, who have been schooled themselves, do find they worry about their child’s apparent lateness to reading.

Let’s define late. Most people are reasonably comfortable with their child not being able to read up to 7 years old. Pretty much everyone understands that in many European countries children are not taught to read until 7.

Beyond 7 however, the fear factor really starts to ramp up, but in actual fact, most home educated children learn to read somewhere between 4 and 14. Many I know personally learned between the ages of 8 and 12. I don’t adhere to the concept of ‘lateness’ to reading. A child will learn the skill when they are ready and motivated to do so.

Many parents I have spoken to want to know how best to support their home educated child’s ability to learn to read when the time is right for them.

Dr Katz suggests the following:

For children’s brains to become highly developed for learning, repeated experiences are essential. Connections become stronger and more efficient through repeated use. Reading to children every day, for example, helps strengthen essential connections. Connections are also made stronger when children have daily opportunities to develop both large- and small-muscle skills, have the chance to practice developing social skills, and interact directly with their environment. It is vital to incorporate rich language into all of these activities, since exposure to rich language creates the foundation for a child’s use and understanding of words, and increases the likelihood of reading success at a later age.

In short, your child simply needs access to books and people to model the skill, plus a variety of people to talk to and extend their language with.


I would also be wary of young children appearing to want to learn to read. Often they have simply soaked up society’s expectations, or maybe even your expectations. Development is never really linear either; a child might make some progress with reading and then want to leave it for a while, or progress might happen very suddenly and all in one go. Always be respectful of your own child’s learning journey; there are no rules!

This is a good link with more ideas and information from the unschooling advocate, Dr Peter Gray: ‘Children Teach Themselves to Read’.

You can read about my own children’s unschooled reading journey here. For us, you will notice that technology did not play much of a part in my children learning to read because for many of their formative years we lived in Ireland and it just wasn’t a big part of everyone’s daily lives. There was certainly no broadband on their grandparents farm and access to technology was not something I deliberately went out of my way to provide for them. I didn’t believe it was needed and they certainly weren’t asking. It was more cows than computers in that period of our lives!


Although technology wasn’t a resource we used in our children’s early reading journey, it has become an important element in their learning more recently. Most unschoolers I know where we now live in England use technology and find it can be an excellent tool for supporting literacy skills (I intend to write a lot more about this soon!)

Whatever path your child takes on their learning journey, I hope it’s enjoyable and that they love books regardless of the age they learn the skill. At the end of the day you can quash your fears with unschooling articles and blog posts, but the real guide should always be your own child.

Children know exactly what support they need and when they need it.

Home Education

A Glimmer of Magic

Unschoolers are not immune from bad days. Today started off as a bit of a non-event. I got out the wrong side of the bed (or more specifically, sofa……..hard bed=bad back). It doesn’t help that I’m not getting my full quota of sleep, since being downstairs means the dog wants to play with me at 2am and the light streams in the bay window at 5am and there’s a really big spider on the loose somewhere.

The day began with everyone reading and then I encouraged a get-together about 11am to discuss any plans for the day, but nobody seemed to want to do anything. I went into ‘suggestion overload’ and babbled on about our home ed science show, the upcoming voting, maybe a dog walk in the rain? ‘Remember those days’, I enthused, ‘when we’d dance in the puddles!’ All this over-enthusiasm with a constant background whirr of fidget spinners.

I wanted adventures in the rain, and they wanted to spin bits of plastic around on their fingertips.

I went to the kitchen to make lunch and sulked. They went back to reading their books, checking their emails and googling playstation joy sticks.

We ate lunch around the table together. I still hadn’t got the hint to just be quiet.

‘So the dog walk….I was thinking the woods, it might be fun?’ I said hopefully.

‘Well that sounds great Mum, but it’s going to be muddy.’

‘I know but we can put our wellies on’.

‘Hmmmm, well actually I can’t really because I’ve just put my trainers on and tied the laces up 3 times really, really tight and it would take ages to take them off now’.

I got the hint. Looks like it was going to be a simple dog walk round the block, in the rain, on my own.

After lunch they resumed reading their books and I made the decision to just get on with my own thing, so I made banana cake and washed the dog and cleaned the floor.

At about 4pm the sun came out and they decided to go out and play with their friends around the corner, but by 4:10pm they had returned soaking wet and shrieking. There were huge thunder claps and lightening, the sky was dark and dramatic as the rain pelted down. They were upset they couldn’t play out, so I tentively suggested getting the paints out.

‘We haven’t done painting for ages, yes I really want to paint together Mum!’ We got the paints and paper ready and sat and stared at the empty page. I had no idea what to paint, but T knew immediately he wanted to paint the storm.

We started to paint, but T wasn’t sure how to paint lightning, so we looked through our science encyclopedia’s and found some great photos of lightning. We took turns reading out passages about thunder and lightening. T was very thoughtful, he knew a lot about storms already. He knew it was unsafe to shelter under a tree but didn’t know that it was because lightning will find the fastest route to the ground. He was excited to tell me all about the man he’d read about who’d been struck by lightning 8 times and survived.

His painting was beautiful, the way he uses paint so thoughtfully and in an abstract way but with such precision. He needed an exact shade of purple and remembered a few months back that he had spent half a day with L mixing paints and creating their own colours. The pot of purple had been waiting all these months for this moment. It was the exact shade he needed for his painting. Two magical unschooled moments coliding, when a lost afternoon of paint mixing gave precision to the electrical pulse of lightning being painted months later. How perfect. I couldn’t have planned it better.


And so, they will remember the storm today. T will remember the lightning and the way you can find safety inside a car not under a tree. He will likely remember the electrical impulses which create lightning and the thunderous sounds they make from the sudden expansion of air, a sonic shockwave.

And I will try hard to remember that sometimes the best moments come from keeping quiet and letting life evolve, and that even on grumpy days, good things happen.

Home Education

Unschooling Our Way

I’ve always shied away from using any terminology to label the kind of home educators we are. Home educators, especially on the net, are very vocal and protective of the varying labels.

We have always simply called ourselves ‘home educators’ because it left most room for the kind of learning we did with no-body but ourselves to judge it. On the other hand, it makes it sound like we are actually ‘at home’, which for large chunks of the week, we’re not!


We have experimented with elements of a Steiner curriculum and group learning projects, but in our hearts we identified more closely with unschooling, we were about 95% there in our understanding.

Recently though, something big clicked in my brain. Maybe the mind-shift happened because my daughter tried school and everyday she downloaded her experience to me. It certainly pushed me to 100%, but I had also begun seriously thinking about the idea of consent in education.

I began to reflect on my experiences as a teacher, the aspects of the schooling system I didn’t feel comfortable with and the many children I avocated for in my role as SEN co-ordinator.

Whilst googling the idea of educational consent and children’s rights, I came across Sophie Christophy’s blog and her posts about Consent based Education.  Finally I felt a deep connection to a label! Consent based education is actually the key principle of unschooling; it’s respectfully educating and on a wider note, respectfully living and parenting.

Respectfully educating, yes, that is what I strive towards.

I don’t think it means it must always be child-led either. It is not about sitting around, waiting for your child to come up with questions or great ideas about what they want to learn and do, it takes way more involvement than that. On the other hand, I recognise that I have been guilty at times of making too many suggestions and overwhelming everyone. I guess I get excited about the possibilities of life! The ideal I strive for is far more like an intricate dance between parent and child, where you cannot tell who is leading and who is being led because neither is, or perhaps both are!

Quite simply, for us, unschooling is a deep connection with each other, a partnership born out of spending quality time together living our lives. From this, interests arise and can be explored and questions are asked and investigated. When at home, we kind of just hang out together and stuff just evolves.  


This week I really tried to break it down, this daily ‘what we do’ and it includes all of this:

  • Books: We usually start and end everyday with reading, either together or on our own. We swap our library books most weeks. L and T choose their own books but I often add a few to the pile that I think they will enjoy based on a current interest or conversation. The books are a collection of both fiction and non-fiction. We keep our library books in a basket downstairs for easy access and so they do not get mixed up with our own books and incur huge fines!
  • Chatting: we spend a lot of time chatting as a family, so much natural learning opportunities come from our chats. Take this week as an example; one of us mentioned that a watermelon was a vegetable, not a fruit, according to one of the weird fact books from the library. This led on to T wanting to know what the differences between fruits and vegetables were. Somehow this led on to nuts (which are fruits), and lastly the problem of peanuts which are legumes, which we assume is a vegetable, right? It was a bloody confusing conversation and I’m not sure the original watermelon question was completely solved……but I’m sure they learnt something, even if it was just that Mum is clueless about fruit and vegetables, she isn’t even sure what a legume is, she had to google it, DUH!
  • Random resources and suggestions: Someone will have an awesome idea of something to do or somewhere to go, which might be L or T or me. I don’t always wait for the kids to come up with the ideas, sometimes I make suggestions, but mine aren’t that random really, I know my children pretty well by now. We then try out the awesome idea because it’s fun and we want to! Yesterday the awesome idea came from L and was a card game which no-one knows the name of but which we named ‘Target’. It involved picking up groups of cards, figuring out the values using multiplication, then adding it to your total score. Closest to 100 wins. This led on to games of ‘Go Fish’, ‘Top Trumps’ and ‘Mancala’.
  • Pinterest boards/real-life ‘project’ boards/ideas box: Both L and T have a folder on my pinterest board which they add ideas of things they’d like to make, do, learn about etc. They also have a project board on the wall, where they stick their real-life pins of inspiring pictures, ideas, works in progress and so forth. L has recently made an ‘idea’s box’ and asked us to post suggestions to be emptied every Monday morning and then decide together which ones to do during the week ahead.
  • Structured Learning: Most unschooled kids go to some structured classes in something they love to do. Currently L has dance, horse-riding and multi-sports and T has tennis and multi-sports. Unschooling is not about never doing structured classes, it’s about choice and freedom. Sometimes my kids also love me to help them with ideas and ways to structure their academic learning too. At times that has meant setting up a group to work on a specific skill or subject area. Occasionally that will require me finding a suitable adult to share a skill, but sometimes that adult is me! For example, L has asked me to help her with her writing, for now we are doing that in 2 ways: working with her and her friend on creative writing and also supporting her to plan, write and edit her own stories. Just today T told me he wants to ‘do more science because he loves it’. We discussed ways he would like that to happen. He wants to do ‘fun’ experiments and so we sat and looked through our resources together to select ideas he would like to try and then we planned to do one straight away because wherever possible I try to make the learning  they have asked for happen before life takes over again and we all forget our goals. I have learnt that capturing the moment in this way helps my children to feel supported.
  • Home Ed Groups: We have a few regular groups we attend so that L and T see their friends often. Home ed groups have been trial and error for us, and we are picky about the ones we invest our time in these days. The group has to fit with our ethos and values.
  • Experiences: I love this part:) The trips, the hands-on activities, the chunks of real-life action. T picks up leaflets from everywhere we go with ideas of places or museums he wants to visit. He pins them on his ‘project board’ as a reminder or carries them around for days. Sometimes L wants to come too and we do it together or occasionally she would rather not and so we organise it at a weekend when she can stay at home.
  • Play: Play has always been a huge part of our week. It takes many forms: playing with the pets, with toys (a favoured pastime currently is playing with their shared doll collection, they do this sometimes for hours at a time), shooting hoops at the park, loads of board games and playing with friends both home ed and local. Playing on their tablets or gaming on the PC.
  • Modelling a life:  I try to be conscious of how I spend my time, and make room for things which are important to me. I want my children to see me do more than washing dishes and taxi’ing them around. I want to find my passions and I want to keep learning too! I try not to have a huge agenda for my children’s learning and lives, but if I want to encourage any particular habit (such as keeping their space tidy), I start with myself. Children are big imitators, they will learn from us whether we are aware of it or not. With this in mind, I have a ‘project’ board too. It keeps my own personal goals in mind and I share with my children my plans to achieve them. They see me make mistakes, learn new things, take risks and work hard to achieve what I set out to do. Most of the time they join in!
  • Nature:  Time outside has always been important to us as a family. We try to make room for this everyday, whether it’s a simple dog walk or a big adventure.


Here’s a list of things we did on a day at home this week to show how the above kind of melts together into a day of learning and life: discussed the news; discussed how media can influence you; drew our yearly self-portraits (which also involved a lot of measuring of faces and eyes, which led on to measuring bottom widths, I have the biggest bum in the family apparently); played with dolls; read from the new science encyclopedia; read fiction; cooked lunch together (L learnt how to make a cheese sauce); went swimming; played with friends and learnt to roller-blade.

Some of those things were planned (using L’s idea box), such as the swimming and the self-portraits, everything else was spontaneous.

Is our life perfect? No.

Does it challenge my parenting skills? Yes, often.

Have I got this unschooling malarkey down to a fine art? Nope.

Do my kids like being unschooled? Definitely.

Do I love it? Yes!

I can honestly, hand on heart say I never wish my kids went to school. Sometimes it’s exhausting, sometimes I’d love a little more time to myself, sometimes I’d quite like to earn a bit of money and sometimes I dream of having less responsibilities and running away with the circus (true)

…………………………. but only if my kids can come too!