A long time ago I wrote a post called What Does a Homeschool Day Look Like. It’s over on our other blog, World Travel Family, and is enormously popular. The homeschooling posts are always popular, so thank YOU for reading, liking and sharing. I thought it would be nice to share a homeschooling day, or lifestyle, in London to go with that.
Back in Australia we lived in tropical Far North Queensland in a large home with a garden and pool. We were a short drive from the beach or the rain forest and yet, we left, we wanted to share more of the world with the kids. Things have changed, after a year of nomadic travel, we’re now in London, a city dear to our hearts, homeschooling, worldschooling or maybe unschooling, from a lovely one bedroom flat not far from central London.
This morning I read a post by Lauren over at Sparkling Adventures, she lives and unschools on a bus in Australia with four little girls and a baby on the way. Our lives are totally different, and yet there are similarities. Her post prompted me to come back to this neglected blog and share our lives with you.
A few weeks ago we were in Italy, a couple of months before that in France and Spain, this post is just about our London learning.
Homeschooling or Home Educating Life in London
No Two Days Are Ever The Same
I can’t give you a typical day. One or two days a week we go into London and have big adventures. Sometimes we meet up with Granny or our new friends, sometimes we go to the farmers markets and pick up some amazing food to cook. We’ve been going to forest school once a week in term time and we’ve hooked up with the London homeschool community for play in various parks occasionally. I’ll give you a sample of the things that make up our life, and show you how the learning works, without school, without teachers, in total freedom.
Homeschool Regulations in London
In Australia we had to jump through hoops to get approval to homeschool. We had to write learning plans, submit reports and work samples. In the UK, none of that exists, we are free to deliver a full-time, alternate education, our way. We’re loving that freedom, the reporting process would take up a month of my time every year and I always had to have one eye on the regulations and be thinking about work samples. It’s lovely to be rid of those ties.
I do still keep records, in photographs and in my own notes. The kids are also making their own records, although they don’t realise it, their online exploits are a permanent reminder of their learning journey. Boo has been blogging since he was 6, his first 1 line blog post is still there for anyone to see. Now, at 8, his posts are longer, he researches them and enjoys photo editing, he’s a budding professional blogger. D, at 10, is using Pinterest to store his interests and experiences, while learning a valuable social media skill. I don’t think we’ll ever have any problems proving that a whole lot of education is going on around here.
The same as Lauren in her bus I wake up early, hours before the boys.
Dad is a chef, so his work hours are unpredictable and long. Sometimes, most of the time, he’s left for work before they wake. The boys sleep on and we try not to wake them. We have one bedroom with a double bed and a futon in our living room, we don’t care who sleeps where, the boys always end up with me if dad is working late. It may seem strange to “normal” people, but the boys co-slept from birth and have always come into our bed whenever they wanted to. After a year of shared hotel rooms, this is a huge amount of space that we enjoy.
I work in the early hours. My blogs are hugely labour intensive, I could spend every waking second on them and still not do enough.
One wakes, big morning greetings, cuddles and requests for shhh! It’s usually Boo, he heads for his computer and enjoys not having to share anything until his brother wakes up.
Child 2 wakes and goes for a book, 3DS, computer or phone. In the last couple of days he’s been enjoying sewing, creating sock monkey has been his activity of choice.
We keep a good supply of library books at home, D is a huge reader and if he’s caught up in a book it will take precedence over computers. I like that.
Time to feed them, I make something, what they ask for or whatever we have. D has started cooking simple things for himself, he’s now master of the fried egg sandwich and garlic mushrooms, but he rarely wants to prepare his own food first thing in the morning.
I try to persuade them to wash and get dressed after breakfast, but it’s quite usual for us all to be in our sleep clothes ( whatever they are ) for most of the day, we get caught up in what we’re doing.
Filling Our Days, Living Life.
At the moment I rarely regulate screen time, which for us means computers, phones and a newly acquired DS.
We bought a TV last week, the first time we’ve owned one in over a year. We can’t watch regular TV, we don’t have a TV license. We use it for reruns and online movies only. We can only use it if I plug my laptop in and I need my laptop for work, so TV time is very limited. They have dad’s laptop and can use that for Netflix or You Tube. Minecraft, Pokemon and animal science shows are top current favourites.
Why don’t I regulate? Because they’re happy, they are enjoying what they’re doing, why would I stop that?
My boys are unusual in that they’ve lived most of their lives without TV and spend huge chunks of time travelling and exploring new countries. At the moment they have the chance to use screens, in a few months we’ll be out of here, maybe in India or up a mountain in Nepal. They can knock themselves out with it now while they’ve got the chance.
At least 1 day a week we are out, all day, when we’re out we’re totally screen free.
Making and Creating
This is tricky with limited resources. We have a good stash of Lego but I don’t have the craft supplies we used to keep handy. I try to fit creative activities in by taking them to places offering classes ( ideally free) or by buying little kits online.If you like the look of Sock Monkey, you can buy the kit here. Granny is good at buying them things to make, too.
Hanging with Friends
I refuse to call this socialisation, as it’s not what the word means.
The homeschooling London network is vast. After a few days of searching I found a friendly parks group that meets once a week to play. There are endless homeschool and unschool groups, from choirs to football teams. We simply don’t have the time to take part.
Forest school brought us new local friends to hang out with and our weekly meet ups with Granny and missions into London make our time limited. My eldest is supremely social, wherever I take them he makes a new friend, we have lots of local playgrounds to visit, usually full of children. That was something I found hard back in Australia, we really struggled to find other kids, the playgrounds were mostly empty in our area.
Walking, Running, Playing
On the days we don’t go into London or have friends or relatives to meet, I try to get out for at least one big walk and play.
We have a beautiful grassy park and playground right opposite our flat, lots of Frisbee and cricket has been going on. We walk a lot too, we don’t have a car. The Thames walk is behind the park ( Marble Hill House). We’re all pretty fit.
Our friends have bikes and scooters that the boys have shared but there’s no real emphasis on new physical skills at the moment. Things come in seasons, sometimes, as on Ko Phangan, we spend weeks doing a particular activity, in that case kayaking, sometimes we don’t.
Our walk to the shops or to the tube station in Richmond always becomes a nature walk. There are new and fascinating things to see for my tropical kids, an urban fox, white swans and their cygnets, conkers, changing autumn leaves and blackberries to pick, even the spiders are interesting. Science is my subject, particularly Biology, I talk it up big time. D thinks he might want to be an entomologist, there’s not much he doesn’t know about bugs. His learning comes from me, books, life, museums, videos, I have a degree in this stuff, he knows almost as much as me.
Chores and the “have-to-s”
I have to shop, do laundry, cook, clean, all the boring stuff that we left behind when we left Australia. It takes up more time than I’d like, but it has to be done. We try to get the boys as involved with food as we can, we love visiting markets, tasting new foods and buying special things that take their fancy.
If you’d like to see London’s Borough Market, have a look here, we love visiting to shop and eat.
They listen to music whenever they like, D has been experimenting with some cool musical manipulation tools on his new DS and he’s recently taught himself more piano from You Tube ( we house sat for a piano-owning household for a week or so). I need to buy that boy a keyboard as we had back home, he enjoys music.
It takes us 45 mins to get into central London on the tube. I really enjoy this time with the kids, D normally reads, Boo and I can chat. It’s great to have no distractions and focus on the kids with no computer calling me. We have a no computers or gizmos outside the home rule that applies to all of us.
Boo practices reading station names and tube maps, the maps fascinate him, he always has to work out the exact number of stops.
The “BIG” learning
Most of our big, solid, get-your-teeth-into-it learning has centered around London’s museums and exploring the city. We’ve covered huge chunks of history, events such as the great fire of London, individuals like Florence Nightingale and Samuel Pepys and historic places like the original Clink prison. Whatever crops up in conversation or in our wanderings, we come home and explore further, usually through the internet. Videos are particularly great. D pins his favourites to his Pinterest boards.
I’ve mentally checked off what little was left of the science curriculum through mum-guided explorations of the Science Museum and Natural History Museum. All these amazing places are free in London, we go time after time and the kids ask to go.
If we weren’t already travellers we could see the world, ancient and modern, through the incredible British Museum. We recently had a great morning learning more about African culture, the boys haven’t been there, yet.
They found the current Ancient Lives exhibition absolutely fascinating, it was hands on, visually stunning and gave them a real peek into the past. This is the sort of learning that schools try, and mostly fail, to achieve because they just can’t access these resources and give the children one on one attention as they learn and explore. We see the school groups as they pass though the museums and see that their attention is mostly on anything but the museum.
Add to the museums the pay-to-visit attractions, London Zoo, The Aquarium and all the London sight-seeing activities to get a really rich learning environment.
We still do some. I need to reassure myself that they can write and do maths on paper, they can, although Boo has a mental block with subtraction that we’re working on, and are at the required level. I worry that if anything happened to me, they’d have to go back into the school system ( heaven forbid). They would hate that, they are totally against going and I don’t want them to be out of their depth should the unthinkable happen. Both of them have picked up most things naturally, one is a mathematician, the other a reader, no two children are ever the same. My kids perfectly illustrate the failings of the standardised learning in schools in their staggered learning patterns and at the same time, show how unnecessary school can be.
Dinner, Evening and Bed
I really, really don’t enjoy cooking and we don’t have a car so shopping tends to be daily, I take a backpack and carry what I can from our nearest small supermarket. Our daily hikes also give us some exercise if we’ve been home all day. I try to avoid staying in, but sometimes it happens.
I cook pasta with various sauces, heavy on the vegetables, the occasional roast, but nothing more exciting at the moment. We love to make Thai soups and curries at home, but getting fresh ingredients in this climate is very expensive, it can wait for now. Sometimes we just make pancakes, but our usual choice is whatever is heavily reduced in the supermarket, be it salads, fruit, breads, hummus, anything. We don’t have the money to eat out much at the moment.
I’m trying to make a point of watching something on TV together in the evening. It forces me to stop work and be more present with the kids. Sometimes we play chess. The long summer evenings mean we can stay out late and enjoy the last of summer, we walk, sometimes play or watch cricket, maybe go to our local pub for a cider and a board game. We’ve got a beautiful pub right next door that encourages families, the kids have another opportunity to make new pals.
We don’t have fixed bedtime, but we all tend to go to bed simultaneously, usually as soon as someone is tired. D can stay awake reading for hours, I just wish he’d turn the light off, I’m asleep long before him.
Am I Happy With How Their Education is Going?
The boys are happy, which is probably more important.
It’s only when I sit and write posts like this, as I did with One Year of Travel and Homeschooling, that I really see just how much we’re covering. I always tend to think we should be doing more.
I have one child who refuses to write, he hates it, that worries me, but it’s just the way he is. The other is maybe not where he should be with reading, he just doesn’t want to yet, but his maths is incredible.
We do a little written work in books and I have Study Ladder, an online Australian learning programme which we love and recommend. According to that, they’ve both done pretty much what their peers would be doing. They’ve done way more in science and covered far more topics that the Australian curriculum requires. I still have that curriculum in my head as a mental minimum check-list.
So yes, I’m pretty happy.
I still suffer from the self-doubts as most homeschooling parents do, none of us is perfect and the responsibility we’ve opted to carry is a heavy one. But I wouldn’t have our lives any other way.