There’s no Place like Home | Anna Wren Kelly | The Alternative Education Chapters

‘There’s no place like home.’
Everything in life is just a story, our education included. I truly believe this – all learning can be approached as a story.  It’s simple, all we need are life and books, to light the flame of learning. Let me tell you our story.  The tale of how we came to be home educating, told with a little help and a few quotes from that very well-known story “The Wizard of Oz” by Frank L. Baum.

Once upon a time…

I lived a life that went against every scrap of intuition I had.  I took my children to school every day and I believed the lie that it would be selfish of me to educate my children at home. No one did that. 

My children went to school without protest and did well academically.  It was true then?  I was in the wrong for yearning with all my heart to home educate (and we so very nearly took them out of school several times over the years).  Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, I accepted my fate and “…could see nothing but the great grey prairie” in front of me.  But the weekends were different.  On the weekends we were like Dorothy’s little dog Toto and we “played all day long”.  We spent loads of time in nature, climbed trees, made scrapbooks, read books and baked cakes and covered all the floors in Playmobil…  Oh, how I wished every day could be like that.

In time…

Fate brought me friends who actually home educated.  Wow. There was another world out there somewhere? a choice?… an Oz, and often times I wished we could go there too… but I need not have worried; a storm was coming that would take us there.  A cyclone.  It built over several years.  There we were, spiralling round and round in an environment neither I nor my children belonged in, or could thrive in.  When the storm reached its peak, it felt like bliss to allow the cyclone to pull us up, toss us around a bit and then set us back down – at home, but in a new world.  We had made it over the rainbow, we had decided to home educate!

Of course, you can’t be “awakened by a shock, so sudden and severe…” without some wounds.  It took time to recover from school.  It’s called ‘the school wound’ and it’s real.  Many will not question what goes on in schools and how it affects them until they are adults. My children are lucky that they can work through all that early, recover and move on.

And move on we have.

If school was the wicked witch of the east, we had killed her dead and begun our new adventure.

I was excited and curious to discover what type of home educators we would become.  First of all, I paid attention to my children.  It turned out they like to learn in different ways.  They also learn best at different times of day.  There are so many ways to home educate and we had to choose the right path.  Full of excitement we “…started along the road of yellow brick.”

Like Dorothy…

…we found ourselves navigating a new world.  We made some wonderful, supportive friends along the way – other Home Ed families with brains, heart and courage.  We trusted in ourselves.  But it turned out there was still an enemy to defeat.  There was another witch. Not school, she was gone, but her sister who was so full of comparison and expectation – the wicked witch of the west.  She ruled over us with her hourglass.  We’d never get to where we wanted to unless we did it before the time ran out.

I spent a long time reading books and asking the wise old wizard on the web for help.  I really thought I could find the answer somewhere.  Then one day I looked down at my own feet.  It just so happens that when I got married, I wore silver shoes (true story) and I thought about those shoes and who I was, what I love, who I love and then I realised something. I didn’t need a definitive answer on how to proceed, or a guarantee of success, or reassurance from someone else or a solid curriculum to follow.  Our household, our interests, those days in nature, the books we love, our curiosity.  Who we are.  It wasn’t just for the weekend.

I realised we weren’t home education beginners at all, we’d been home educating all along!

We’d always had the power, we just had to learn it for ourselves.  We had “…come by the chance of a cyclone into a strange land” but it was familiar and we belonged here.  All those days as a school run Mum I’d rushed past a framed quote in my hallway.  It had been there since my first born was a baby and it’s still there now. It reads, “There’s no place like home”.  If only I had known the answer was right in front of me all along!

At home, the hourglass is meaningless.

Time never runs out.  We learn FOREVER.  Once I realised this truth, I could chuck a bucket of cold water on the wicked witch of comparison and expectation.  I’m wearing the silver shoes and its down to me, down to us, to create the life story and the learning story that we deserve.  Now we can, as Frank L. Baum wrote at the start of his book, aspire to a life and a learning experience where “the wonderment and joy are retained”.

Learning is joyful.

My husband and I learn along with our children. We all love learning over here! We share our interests, swap books with each other.  We talk, ask questions, discuss, we play, we meet, we visit, we explore.  We do life.  We don’t teach – we guide, most importantly we facilitate… and we all learn.  Together.

I’ve often been asked; how does this actually work?

Often times when starting to develop our rhythm, our style of home educating, I thought back to that cyclone.  The storm that had brought us here.  In the end it was the shape of that cyclone that I modelled our learning style on.  A spiral.  Because although life is a story, it’s not just a beginning, middle and end. To me life is a spiral.  We slide up and down this spiral, we progress, regress, we revisit our learning, our feelings, we repeat experiences then move onward.  Learning too is continuous like a spiral, it never ends, its lifelong.  

My children’s education and learning are a microcosm of this spiral.

We start at the centre of the spiral with a core interest and we create a story around the centre of the spiral.   The spiral keeps growing and sometimes we slide back down the spiral and revisit our favourite topics to add to our learning.  Here’s an example of how this works for us.

One of my children might come to me and say they would like to learn more about dragons.  So, we put ‘dragons’ at the centre of the spiral and we end up reading some dragon fiction and land up eventually on dragons in the Arthurian legends.  We then look at some pre-Raphaelite art of the Arthurian myths and some poetry.  The pre-Raphaelites also painted many Shakespeare tales and that captures our interest, so we move on to reading and studying a few Shakespeare plays and reading about his life, which takes us to Tudor times and the history, we learn Greensleeves on piano. Then we read about Elizabeth I, and her advisor John Dee the alchemist, so then alchemy, leads to chemistry and the periodic table, we draw some characters based on elements and write a story about them … and so it goes on…  A swirling spiral full of the love of learning.  

Traditional separated subjects are not often present in our learning, mostly all the ‘subjects’ merge together in the current spiral of interest and learning.  One of the children for example keeps a journal/scrapbook and everything goes in, nature, art, science, maths, creative writing, lists, and ideas!  Creativity always takes the forefront.

Another simple way we learn in this style…

…is by following the seasons and following along with Exploring Nature with Children .  We are all nature and animal lovers and I’m certain we could learn everything we would ever need to know just from the natural world! 

But the children regularly request to learn more about the things they find in books, on television, or in a video game too.  Last year my eldest followed a learning spiral about wolves, US national parks… and more – following an interest sparked by a Roblox roleplay game!

One of my children loves historical fiction.

Our read aloud was set in the regency period so around this we did some Georgian history.  The main character in the book is a dairy maid so we decided to make homemade butter.  The fiction book mentioned Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice so we read this too and then study Jane Austen’s life.  Jane Austen is on a £10 note so we then incorporate some KS3 level maths on money, budgeting, what is interest and so on… 

The spiral is building and will continue to build.  Equally though, at some point we will likely slide back down the spiral and draw some art related to the first book or start over and reread the historical novel again, or choose another in a different era by the same author.  As we revisit the learning, we will ask more questions, find more books to read and more learning spirals to follow. It’s So. Much. Fun!

Every piece of learning we do is introduced by some sort of story.

Often a good book. (As someone who used to work in the book trade, I find this to be a glorious discovery!)   Even maths or science for example, can be studied from the starting point of a fictional book.  Fiction can lead to multiplication.  Biography can lead to chemistry experiments. But as well as books there are also stories from life and nature.  A story from Grandad’s childhood for example, can lead to an epic woodwork project.  I’m constantly looking for connections between the things that interest them and in this way the spiral of learning goes on and on and incorporates a little bit of everything.

One last thing.

Whereas one child does a reasonable amount of written work, journals, stories and the like.  The other does virtually no written work and records learning mainly through art.

Both of my children enjoy sharing learning verbally.  Written work and worksheets can sometimes snuff out that flame of interest in a subject and desire to learn more, so we don’t use them often.  Don’t be afraid to just let the learning take its course without a trail of evidence.  Don’t worry about the future or what other ‘whatever-year-olds’ are doing or achieving.   New learning spirals can begin at any age.  Examinations can be taken at any age. Better to do so through passion and choice rather than through coercion!  Your story and your children’s stories will play out naturally exactly as they are supposed to. Smash the hourglass! 

Oh, and the Wizard of the web does have his uses too!

As Glinda the good witch says, “tell your story and ask him to help you”.  We created a home ed diary on Instagram not long after we embarked upon this journey and in the process, we found an amazing community of supportive families online.  Some sharing wonderful books or resources and all sharing their stories and a love of this amazing lifestyle.   We all do it differently! 

My children are engaged with the task of learning and following their interests always, every day.  As a home educating parent this means I get up with the early bird child to do a science experiment and I stay up late with the night owl child to read history.

I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s part of my own spiral of learning after all. We don’t do school holidays or even weekends off.  When learning is part of life it’s so fun that it never stops.  Learning this way is not a pressure like school was.  It just happens.  As the Wizard says to Scarecrow, “Experience is the only thing that brings knowledge, and the longer you are on the earth the more experience you are sure to get”.  

Over time I’ve learned to love the terrible storm that first brought us here, shaped as it was like a spiral, one of nature’s beautiful patterns.  A spiral; as natural as a snail shell or the centre of a daisy, as natural as a fern unfurling.  Perhaps that’s why educating my children at home, living life as it unfolds and allowing their learning to unfurl, feels so very, very natural. 

 “And oh, I’m so glad to (have them) home again!”

by Anna Wren Kelly

You can find Anna over on instagram @anna_wrens_nest

For more stories from the Alternative Education Chapters, click here.
For our own story about our journey to home education, click here,
For our favourite Home Education Resources, click here.

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