There is no denying that home educating three children is the hardest thing I’ve ever done (and I’ve had a colourful, interesting past)

At this point in our lives though, I honestly would not have it any other way. I appreciate that this might sound like an oxymoron, so let me go back to the start and explain myself.

I didn’t set out with the intention of home educating three children. In Sept 2013 my husband and I sent our eldest daughter Polly (who had turned four in the July) to school with good intentions, but she was failed miserably. Sh*t happened, and we were left with no other choice but to remove her. You can read the full story here.

How did we end up home educating three children?

home educating three childrenOn the surface Polly was doing “just fine” when she was at school. She was an average student, who didn’t cause problems for the other kids. She didn’t raise any major red flags as far as her teachers were concerned, and largely went underneath the radar. The sad fact was that Polly was seriously overwhelmed by going to school. She would have two hour long meltdowns almost every evening, and it would be a major challenge getting her out the door in the morning.

I had been in touch with the family liaison officer for months. To be frank she was more interested in regaling stories of her successful older children than she was in properly listening to me about mine. She would bestow bog standard reward chart ‘wisdom’ thinking she was telling me something I didn’t know already. The word patronised doesn’t come close to how she made me feel. She pretty much laughed in my face when I said I was concerned that Polly might be autistic.

Turns out my gut feeling was spot on, but even after Polly’s diagnosis in 2015 we received no additional support for her. I had the carrot of ‘help’ dangled in my face, and was promised meetings with the ASD team to assess Polly’s needs. The meetings were cancelled at short notice, and it was very obvious that help wasn’t materialising any time soon. Even if it did, budget cuts meant the likelihood of ‘help’ being substantial enough to reverse the damage school had done to my girl being slim at best.

Left with no choice

I wrote a blog in October 2015 which went viral. My open letter to the mum of a highly functioning autistic child struck chords all over the world. It became apparent that I wasn’t alone in these feelings of utter despair. The perpetual cycle of Polly’s sleep and behaviour getting gradually worse as the school term ticked on. How soul destroying it was to see progress in the holidays only to watch it go out the window a week after going back.

The thing about high functioning autistic girls is they are often so good at masking their autism it goes unnoticed. Polly’s overwhelm and anxiety were being glossed over, because she was so well behaved at school. How on earth can a teacher quantify a child’s needs if they are presenting a different version of themselves inside the classroom? Fellow blogger Miriam wrote a fantastic piece on this subject.

home educating three childrenI’m sure we’ll all agree that an overworked teacher in an oversized classroom already has enough on their plate. It would be unreasonable of me to expect them to spend a large chunk of their day trying to unpick my high functioning autistic daughter’s complex issues. Getting to the root of why Polly was having such huge meltdowns at home was never going to happen, because the meltdowns were at home, not in school.

Hubby and I had two choices. Wait patiently, and watch our child drown. Or exercise our lawful right to educate her ourselves. We chose the latter. You can read more about our early journey here.

Home educating one child is all very well and good, home educating three children is another matter entirely 

We had a flying start to home education, and Polly’s meltdowns disappeared almost overnight. We went to great lengths to instil emotional intelligence into our daughter, and our decision to home educate paid off in those early days. Polly was still autistic though, and her autism did not ‘go away’ by home educating.

For the record and for those not in the know I’d like to state this. Autism is a neurological condition which means Polly’s brain is wired differently to her neuro typical peers. This doesn’t make her less of a person, it just makes her different. I feel those trying to ‘cure’ or ‘reverse’ their child’s autism are on a fools errand, but that is a whole series of blog posts in itself, and this one is almost a thousand words already, so I shall stick to the point.

In Sept 2016 we made the decision to send Clara to school     

Hubby and I figured that just because Polly had had a terrible experience it didn’t mean Clara would. So we made the rather controversial decision to send her to school. It all went well in the first few weeks, but the wheels started falling off as we headed towards Christmas.

The kicker for me was seeing my little ray of sunshine in pieces, dressed as an angel, in the nativity. Possibly the saddest hour of my life since becoming a parent.

Not wanting to make a knee jerk reaction, we left her in school until Easter. I tearfully met with the SENCO who promised meetings with the ASD team to see if there was anything else in play. These meetings didn’t materialise – sound familiar? We could not sit back and watch history repeat itself.

Potential reasons that had caused this problem  

home educating three childrenPerhaps it was our school that was the problem. However, when you don’t drive and have other children to consider, you don’t have much choice but to send your kids to the geographically closest school. We would have to properly move out of the area to change schools, and we didn’t have the means to do so.

For Clara, having her brother (two at the time) and sister at home was a problem, because she felt we were sending her away. She would ask on a daily basis, some days multiple times, why Freddy and Polly got to stay at home and she didn’t.

Ultimately though, Clara often presents strong autism traits herself, and was very overwhelmed being in a class of thirty. I genuinely cannot fault her teacher, or the teaching assistant who were both amazing, but it wasn’t enough.

We decided to not even test the waters with Freddy. Being such a sensitive boy, we know already that he would absolutely hate school.

Owning your story 

I’ve been blogging for almost five years. From my very first post I have been explicitly honest and have continued to be throughout my online journey. I am very vocal on social media about both sides of parenting. I wrote this piece about home ed to highlight that it’s not for everyone.

Having suffered with debilitating mental health problems over the years, I’ve undergone numerous counselling sessions and read hundreds of self-help books to understand why I am the way I am. I will always change when necessary if it means becoming a better person.

I absolutely refuse point blank to only present the best parts of my life. I share everything. Warts and all. Always have and always will. Otherwise I might as well hang up my blogging boots forever!

home educating three children

Back to the point. After pulling Clara out of school last year, we have had plenty of downs on our little roller coaster. But we’ve also had the highest ups. Watching my children become emotionally intelligent people, who can have proper conversations with just about anyone always invokes proud mummy moments.

Seeing them become confident in their own skin. Ride their bikes like they were born attached to wheels. Bake like professionals. Between them they can recite all the times tables. They create LEGO master pieces that are awe inspiring. They write stories. They build robots. They make up songs and sing them in beautiful voices (!) They dance like no-one’s watching. Most important of all, is that along with the fighting, they love each other fiercely.

We must be doing something right  

Life is hard.

Often.

Grindingly so some days.

Every time I have a wobble, without fail, people will start asking if I’ve thought of putting them back into school. As if this has just been a little game we’ve been playing and hubby and I will come to our senses and be ‘normal’ like everyone else.

Yes, home educating three children almost broke me. No doubt I will have plenty of days where I feel broken. But such is life with kids on the spectrum, and right now, I would not have it any other way.

If being ‘normal’ means putting my children through serious distress and causing them major anxiety, then we’ll be the ‘weirdos’ thank you very much.

And just like that, I’m starting to feel much better about this thing called life. Parenting multiple challenging children will push the sanest of us to our very limits, trust me. ♥ Having been through two debilitating mental breakdowns in my 20’s and numerous boughts of depression throughout my life, I know when the dark clouds are going to pass quickly, or stick around for longer. ♥ And I refuse. Point. Blank. To put on a big fake smile and pretend I’m okay to make others feel less uncomfortable around me. If my authenticity makes you sad, then perhaps you need to take a long hard look in the mirror and ask yourself why. ♥ I’ve done many things over the last six months to help myself, so here’s the list, just in case they can help any of you. – squeaky clean diet, no refined sugar and very little natural sugar. – I took a break from alcohol, which was long overdue, you can take a look at that in detail if you so wish @mummysoffthebooze – I’ve got back to regular yoga 🧘‍♀️ – I’ve got back to editing the manuscript and am now looking at a pretty good seventh (!!) draft – I’ve upped my probiotic game, taking strong quality supplements as well as drinking on average 2L of water kefir a day and about 100ml of milk kefir – I started taking 5HTP, an old friend that has helped me in the past – I’ve stopped expecting anything from anyone else (this has by far been the hardest thing to achieve, but perhaps the most effective?) ♥ Let’s just hope this new and improved mood is here to stay!

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What is the EDF Energy Pretty Curious campaign, and why is it important?

When EDF Energy got in touch about their Pretty Curious campaign, which encourages girls to go into STEM related careers, I was naturally eager to learn more. As a home educating mama, I’m always on the lookout for ways to get the children interested in new and exciting things. It doesn’t get much more exciting than STEM – which stands for science, technology, engineering and maths. 

The hard core truth is that STEM related careers have been traditionally dominated by men. Which is why EDF Energy launched the Pretty Curious campaign in 2015, to try and bring some balance into the field. They set themselves a target for 30% of their STEM graduate and apprenticeship intake to be women by 2018, and in 2017 it was already at 35%.

As a large energy company EDF Energy are reliant on STEM skills, and put the utmost importance on recruiting from a diverse talent pool. Pretty Curious will be continuing its mission to encourage girls to pursue STEM based subjects at school, and hopefully go into STEM related careers. They even joined forces in 2017 with Star Wars: The Last Jedi to spread the word to even more girls and women. Take a look at the video below for more details.

Polly, 8 and Clara, 6 were Pretty Curious when they were told they’d get to build a robot which they could then control with an app  

To whet our appetite for STEM, EDF Energy sent us a droid inventor kit to create. Being the main home educator, I like to give my husband the fun jobs. Plus he’s a huge Star Wars fan, and was probably as excited as the girls were about building an actual R2D2. 

I loved watching the looks of deep concentration on their faces when they were working on this task. To be honest, we don’t have a huge amount of situations where we have to follow instructions to the letter, but it’s great for us to all do from time to time. Myself included. I find it therapeutic to tune out absolutely everything else, and focus my attention fully on one thing.

They all had a great time putting the droid together, and controlling his movements through the app. We’ve done a few of the challenges now, and the kit has been a brilliant addition to our learning schedule.

Activities you can do with your own girls

The campaign has given girls a real sense of what it might be like to work in STEM careers by providing realistic experiences and digital content. You can take part in a number of activities on the Pretty Curious section of the EDF Energy website.

You’ll be asked a series of questions when taking the Future Me Quiz and get to create a shareable, personalised avatar who has a STEM-related career.  The idea is for your kids to picture themselves in potential future roles, ranging from a biologist to an electrical engineer. Taking the personality quiz could help them see what careers they might be suited to later on down the road.

The hard core truth is that STEM related careers have been traditionally dominated by men. Which is why EDF Energy launched the Pretty Curious campaign in 2015, to try and bring some balance into the field. They set themselves a target for 30% of their STEM graduate and apprenticeship intake to be women by 2018, and in 2017 it was already at 35%. Read this blog to learn more. You can watch 360º virtual reality videos like Clara is doing here. In the videos you get to experience what life would really be like as the architect of the Shard. Or what it would be like to work on a wind farm. Or you can explore the offices of a software developer. There are plenty to choose from starring everyday amazing women.

Be the first to take the new parents quiz to see what STEM related career would best suit your child(ren). Identify their strengths to discover information and guidance on pursuing roles based on their results.

To learn more head over to the EDF Energy website, or follow #PrettyCurious on social media

**Disclaimer: this is a collaborative post, please click here for my full disclosure policy.**

I’m a little obsessed with sneaking facts into my children, and think there’s a lot to be said for stealth learning. As a home educator I’m always on the lookout for books and resources to help with this.

My favourite type of factual information is the bite sized variety, because at 8, 5 and 3 my children are too young to absorb massive chunks of information. Which is why I adore this book from Bloomsbury – Facts! One for every day of the year by Tracey Turner.

What’s the book about?

Essentially this is a book of 365 exceptionally interesting facts, aimed at children my kids’ ages. Some correlate to the day of the year (i.e. such and such happened on this day), whilst others are completely random. Alongside each fact are gorgeous, eye catching illustrations.

The book bestows snippets of wisdom about anything and everything you’d want to know. From when Mozart wrote his first symphony (eight years old), to how many species of animal live on the island of Madagascar (250,000).

I love how digestible the book is, and can see us using it as an everyday education tool. I enjoy planting seeds and letting my kids direct their own learning, and this book will really help with that. I can already envisage them starting mini projects off the back of some of these fascinating facts.

Here a few of our favourites

    • Flamingos pee down their legs as a way of cooling down.
    • To compliment someone’s cooking in Portugal you should kiss your index finger, then squeeze your ear.
    • During an average lifetime, your heart will beat about 2.21 billion times, and you’ll take around 672 million breaths.
    • The most expensive jewel ever sold was the rare Graff Pink diamond, which was bought for US$46 million.
    • The world’s smallest insect is the fairy wasp, an adult is only 0.44 millimetres long.
    • An octopus has three hearts, nine brains and blue blood.

Overall thoughts on the book

I’d highly recommend this book to parents and grandparents of young children. It’s engaging, fun and super interesting. Fairly priced at £12.99, this book would make an ideal Christmas or birthday present. I’m confident that most kids would relish bamboozling their friends with their newly learnt facts after reading this book.

Facts! One for every day of the year was published today, and is available on Amazon and in book shops.

Freddy reading the Facts book

**Disclaimer: this is a collaborative piece, for my full disclosure policy, please click here.

Smartick: Tailored Maths Lessons that Your Children will Love!In light of recent events in our house, it’ll come as no surprise to hear that we’ve been struggling with Polly’s learning. To be honest, it’s been up and down since the Christmas holidays. Which is why I was delighted when the lovely folks at Smartick got in touch, and asked us to review their tutoring site.

Smartick is a new maths program that uses the latest artificial intelligence technology to tailor lessons based on the student’s abilities

The daily lessons last for around fifteen minutes, which are perfect. Just the right amount of time to hold Polly’s attention, and keep her engaged. Each one starts by asking her how she’s feeling, and giving her five faces to choose from – ranging from very sad to very happy. This in itself gives the lesson a personalised touch from the beginning. Then at the end she gets asked how she found the lesson. She gets the same five faces to choose from, with options ranging from very easy to very difficult.

The program is incredibly intuitive, which means it keeps Polly on her toes. Like many children I imagine, Polly loses interest fast once she thinks she is out of her depth. She needs to be challenged, but she also needs to feel that she’s in control and winning. Smartick allows the student to revisit the questions they got wrong at the end of the lesson, and have another go at answering them. I think this is great for self-confidence.  

Smartick: Tailored Maths Lessons that Your Children will Love!Polly was thrilled to discover that there is a reward system attached to Smartick, and loves earning ticks (stars). The stars can be spent in the shop, which is only available to access directly after lessons. The children can decorate their playhouses, jazz up their avatars, or save for a few days to buy something bigger – such a pet. They also have a wishing well, so the kids can suggest things they would like to see in the shop, and Polly asked for a swimming pool the other day. It’s a lovely way to end the lesson.    

Although I sit with Polly during most of her lessons, Smartick send me an email afterwards with an update on how she did. The parent’s dashboard section of the site is just fantastic for keeping up to speed with your child’s learning. I often send the emails to my husband when he’s in the office, and he and Polly chat about her lessons over email. It’s a great way to ensure that he’s as involved with her learning as possible, even if he isn’t physically around. 

Why Polly loves Smartick (in her own words)

“I like that it asks me how I feel before my lessons.”

“Smartick is more fun than workbooks, because I like to do my lessons on the laptop.”

“I like getting another chance to put the right answer in.” 

“I like earning rewards to spend at the shop at the end of my lesson.”    

Smartick: Tailored Maths Lessons that Your Children will Love!Things to know about Smartick 

  • Smartick currently counts with more than 10,000 students in 52 countries worldwide. 
  • Designed for children 4 to 14 years old.
  • Smartick is powered by the latest Artificial Intelligence technology. It’s ability based which means your child progresses at his or her own pace. It helps to build self-confidence, avoid frustration, and develop a positive attitude towards maths.
  • 15 minutes a day approach: short daily sessions at maximum concentration. This helps create a study habit and routine, it avoids burnout and keeps children motivated and coming back for more. Smartick recommends that children do their session at least five days a week to truly experience the benefits of the program.
  • No commuting time or schedules. Access Smartick from your PC or tablet. Anytime, anywhere.
  • Students work on mental calculation and algebra while also developing problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Smartick includes logic exercises that help children improve both in logical reasoning and reading comprehension.
  • Smartick does not follow an official curriculum. 
  • Smartick prepares your child to advance faster than in school and beyond what’s taught in the classroom. 94% of children improve their grades in school after approx. two months.
  • Gamification elements keep children engaged and helps to improve concentration levels. All games in Smartick are scientifically designed to reinforce cognitive skills: perception, attention, memory and logical reasoning.
  • Parent’s dashboard: parents receive an email as soon as their child completes the daily lesson with a summary of that day’s performance. If they want to know more, they can log into the dashboard and see study plans, questions and units their child has answered, speed of resolution of each question and much more.
  • Smartick is an online learning method but there is a team of educators behind to answer any question parents or children may have. Families can reach out via phone, email or chat.
  • Referral program: parents can benefit from a £20 discount if they recommend a friend. And the new friend that subscribes will receive a 25% off the first subscription they buy.
  • Sign up for your FREE 15 day trial here. 
  • Click here for a 25% discount off your first paid subscription.  

Our verdict?

Overall it’s a resounding thumbs up for Smartick! In the eighteen months that we’ve been home educating, I’ve never see Polly as eager to do her maths lessons. I’m looking forward to seeing her progress, and also seeing what Clara thinks of Smartick. Stay tuned for further updates.

Check Smartick out on social media

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**Disclosure: Smartick have given me a one year subscription for the children in exchange for me writing about their lessons on this blog. Click here for my full disclosure policy.**