Life lessons for home-educated kids

From left: Joshua, Nicholas and Alana Gray, of Hemel Hempstead, who are home educated by their mum Katie

From left: Joshua, Nicholas and Alana Gray, of Hemel Hempstead, who are home educated by their mum Katie

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Thousands of parents across the county are slaves to the school run, but one mother-of-three who took the plunge and began home-educating her children says it has changed her family’s life.

After discussing the idea with her daughter Alana, now 14, she decided to take on full responsibility for educating her two eldest children alongside caring for baby Nicholas, who is now 20 months old.

The 31-year-old, who is married to IT manager husband Ryan, 33, said: “It always felt alien to me, sending my children to school when they turned four.

“I gave birth to them and raised them, so it felt wrong for me to send them off to learn from someone else.

“I’ve never been one of these parents who can’t wait for their kids to go back after the summer holidays – I always think, ‘Oh, do you have to go back already?’.”

Katie says that as soon as she and Ryan had made the decision to switch to learning at home, Joshua’s anxiety around schooling vanished overnight.

She said: “Without the stress of having to be in bed early before school, and the morning rush of having breakfast, getting dressed and getting out the door, everything calmed down and became a lot more peaceful.

“We’re nocturnal in this house, and Joshua’s brain doesn’t engage until a bit later in the day.

“We’ve been able to take him up to Ashridge after dark to see the deer and the other wildlife like badgers, bats and owls, and we don’t have to worry about getting him home to go to bed.”

Katie – who also works as a Slimming World consultant – plans a range of engaging activities to get her brood learning outside of the classroom. And as a result, no two days are the same.

She said: “We do a lot of cooking, so I get them to measure the ingredients out for a meal for four and then ask them to double it, or I ask them to make the recipe for six people.

“When I go to the bank, I take them with me so they can help me pay in cheques and count out the money.

“And we often go out to museums, workshops and parks where we do things like wood whittling, trampolining and looking for certain species of trees and plants.

“They have been able to have so many different experiences.”

Parents who educate their children at home are under no obligation to follow a curriculum, but Katie says she often downloads online exercises for Alana and Joshua to work through.

She said: “I also set Joshua challenges on Minecraft (a popular block-building computer game for children) which he has to think about.

“And if he gets really engrossed in something, I can let him enjoy it. But children at school are often interrupted by a bell and then they’re on to the next lesson.”

The family meet up with other parents and youngsters from the local home-education community every week, often at adventure playgrounds, which Katie says gives everyone a chance to socialise and let off some steam.

Katie said: “But it’s not brilliant all the time – we do have our moments! The other day, Alana was really struggling with a piece of work, so we took a walk together and by the time we got back, she said ‘Thanks mum, I understand it now.’ All she needed was to take a step back and look at it in a different way.”

Alana will take her GCSE exams just like her peers, but her parents will be able to choose the exam board they feel suits their daughter best – as well as pick up the financial cost.

Talking about the decision to take Alana and Joshua out of school, the mum said: “It felt like a big step and a bit nerve-wracking, but I just wrote to both schools and told them I was taking my children out – it was that straight forward.

“It’s the school’s responsibility to inform the local authority.”

Talking about others’ reactions to her decision to home-educate, Katie said: “I get asked a lot of questions, and I do get people saying ‘I could never have my kids at home with me all day!’.

“But the way I look at it, I’m learning new things every day, so why can’t my children learn with me too?”

Around 650 children across Herts are believed to be educated at home, but a county council spokesman said that figure was an estimate as parents who home-educate are not obliged to tell the authority.

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