Interview: Homeschooling families – Wild Wood Childhood.

I am delighted to be sharing with you a series of interview about Montessori Families and Homeschooling families from all around the world.

This week, I introduce you to Ashleigh and Quinn who live by the sea. Quinn is 3 years old and Ashleigh is homeschooling her. They enjoy the great outdoors not matter the weather.

Follow Ashleigh and Quinn on Instagram at Wild wood Childhood

1) Could you introduce yourself and your family?

I'm Ashleigh, I'm 31, a writer, infant massage consultant and Mother of Two. My eldest, Sebastian, is 8 and attends a local mainstream school, but we've chosen to home educate his younger sister, Quinn, who'd be due to start school in September. We live by the sea with my partner (and Quinn's Daddy), Brad, who works full time as a carpenter/builder, and our three cats. 

2)    What makes you decide to homeschool your child?

When I was applying for Seb's school place 5 years ago, I had no idea of our alternative options. I can't say for certain that I'd have made a different decision, of course, but I certainly wish I'd researched and been properly informed before making a choice. 

As it was, the staff at Seb's pre-school handed me a leaflet, explaining how to apply for school online, and that's what I did.

I knew that there were families who chose to home educate, but as I had never met any such family, I remained under the impression that they taught the National Curriculum from text books at home. That certainly didn't appeal! 

Gradually, after Seb started school, my social circle widened and I met several home educators who truly opened my eyes to what home ed could look like, and my curiosity spiked. I began to read, research, follow blogs and make friends, until I was utterly enamoured with the potential that home education offered. By now I was pregnant with Quinn, and the possibility of sending her to a school at 4 was never even a consideration. 

3) how would you describe your homeschooling style? what are your influences?

At the moment Quinn is still a pre schooler, but she has never attended a nursery, kindergarten or similar, so I tend to say we're 'doing preschool at home'. I'm very much driven by Quinn's own interests though, when it comes to what that looks like. 

We adopt a pre-school version of project based learning I suppose. I identify strong interests that she's communicating through play and/or conversation, and I then make sure that her environment is full of opportunities to dive deeper into that interest. This tends to naturally achieve progression in all 'school' subjects such as literacy, numeracy, art, science and so on without much deliberate effort to do so. I also make sure that we get out into the world and experience these interests in action. We aren't a Montessori family but I certainly do draw inspiration from how I see Montessori philosophy shared online, and the way that I parent and home educate probably doesn't clash with the Montessori pedagogy very much at all.

At the moment Quinn is really interested in building sites and construction vehicles. I've made sure to increase the number of books we have on offer that cover construction and building, adjusted the toys that are about, so that she can explore her ideas through play, and we've also been out in our local area, observing activities on real working sites. 

I am a firm believer that the best (and arguably the only REAL) learning happens through play. Quinn has begun to show an interest in letter sounds, but rather than reach for a phonics programme, we've been playing Bananagrams and observing where we see these letters used in the world around us. 'Gameschooling' as it's commonly known (learning core school subjects through table top gaming) is likely to be a big thing for us as Quinn grows.

Really, I'd describe our home school style as thoroughly eclectic. I find inspiration in Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Reggio, Unschooling... the lot! 

What perhaps stands out to many people, is our huge emphasis on nature study, outdoor learning and unstructured outdoor play (which aligns us very closely with the Charlotte Mason community, though I'm by no means a Mason purist.) The lack of outdoor time and true connection with the natural world is one of my biggest objections to mainstream school. 

4) Was it an easy decision to homeschool? Did you have to convince your partner?

For Quinn, no other options were considered. I don't think we discussed it. We had already had conversations about what a fantastic privilege it would be to be able to home educate. When Quinn was very young and I said I had no plans to send her to school, Brad agreed that home education would be the best education we could offer her.

5) Many parents I work with, myself included, find that they cannot afford to homeschool. What would be your tips to be able to afford to homeschool?

You're right! I honestly think it would be totally inappropriate of me to suggest tips to be able to afford home schooling though. The option to home educate is one only available to a highly privileged minority, and for members of that minority to dish out budgeting advice wouldn't be reasonable. That's not to say that we are a well off family. On the contrary, it isn't uncommon for us to borrow money from family to make sure the council tax or car insurance is paid, and I'm certainly not buying bubble bath in the last week of the month! However, we do have certain lifestyle privileges that mean we can live on a very small income without being uncomfortable or unsafe.

Unfortunately I often see home educating parents speaking of the superiority of this form of education, with no acknowledgement of their privilege, or the fact that most families have no such option. That leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Me saying 'don't buy books, just borrow them from your local library!' isn't going to drastically change anyone's financial health.

6) As it's a Montessori blog, are you influenced by Montessori? What do you like in the Montessori method?

I am! We aren't a Montessori homeschool, and when you visit our home you won't find an abundance of Montessori materials. However, whilst we may have no experience of the pink tower, I have read a reasonable amount on Montessori, and certainly incorporate the parts I find most inspiring. I made a number of adjustments at home to make our space more accessible to Quinn after reading about Montessori philosophy: purchasing real child-sized tools, providing more true-to-life toys, making sure she could reach almost anything she might need as she went about her day with confident independence. I already believed very strongly in following her lead, meeting her needs through observation and allowing her ample opportunity to be in nature - intrinsic points of Montessori education as I later discovered!

7) Your Instagram feed is all about promoting going outdoor in any kind of weather. How do you incorporate outdoor learning in your daily life?

At the expense of almost any other area of daily life to be quite honest. Spending at least an hour every day engrossed in unstructured outdoor play is a priority, as is nature study and care for our outdoor environment. These things are prioritised over looking at books and indoor play, housework, cooking, laundry... everything else can be delayed, delegated or dropped altogether, but time spent outdoors is simply not up for compromise. That's the theory. Of course there are days when whilst it may be the most important thing to us, we have to let it go until tomorrow, because we're waiting on a parcel, have doctors appointments, or have invited friends over to play and they don't want to go outdoors. Generally speaking though it isn't about fitting some time outdoors into our other commitments, it's organising our other commitments around essential time outdoors.

8) They say "there is no bad weather, only bad clothing". So on a practical level, what are your tips to go out whatever the weather?

Layers! There is absolutely no point in buying a child one of those big puffy snow suit things if you don't have a decent set of thermals to go against their skin. We don't use wool but merino is a popular option. Otherwise hemp (which is actually a lot warmer than any wool, including alpaca!) is an amazing option. But to be quite honest, I've used the cotton thermals from Tesco for Quinn in the past and they've been fantastic. Waterproof dungarees with a jacket over the top is my favourite wet weather option. Use dungarees with an elasticated stirrup that can go over welly boots and you're puddle-ready! 

I also can't stress enough how important it is to dress appropriately for the weather as a parent. I'm forever seeing children kitted out in all of the outdoor gear, whilst their Mum rocks up to the woods in skinny jeans and a pair of suede boots. You'll freeze. You'll have a miserable time. You'll resent your child's enjoyment of the outdoors and wish it was time to go home. Buy yourself proper outdoor footwear, thermals (long-john leggings and vest), waterproof trousers and a decent hat and gloves, at the very least. If money is a barrier, by second hand, EBay is awash with bargains.

9) Your situation is particular in the sense that your eldest son is in school. If you can, Would you like to explain how you keep offering him amazing at home experience along with his mainstream education?

Our home set up is peculiar in that I have one child at home full time, and then, not only is Seb in mainstream school Monday-Friday, he also divides his time between me and my ex husband. He spends a lot more time at our house than he does his Dad's, but still, it's makes our time together that bit more precious. 

It's important to me that home is a safe, relaxed environment where he doesn't have too many expectations placed upon him. He is expected to meet other's agenda enough at school, at home I allow him the space and freedom to be himself and live at his own pace.

10)What is a typical day in your family? Do you have a specific routine?

We have a rough, flexible rhythm.

Brad, Quinn and I get up at roughly the same time (6.30am ish) which gives me 2 hours in which to get Seb up, ensure both children are dressed, and eat breakfast. Sometimes Seb will have school spellings to run through. Brad and I will chat, drink tea, get ourselves dressed, and he's out the door for work before 8am. The children and I leave for the school run at 8.30am. 

Once Seb is dropped at school, Quinn and I will head off to whatever outdoor activity we're doing that day. Monday we go to Farm School, Wednesday Forest School, Thursday we go to a group at a local allotment, and Friday we have Beach School. Sounds like a lot of school - but they're actually all outdoor, child-led groups with minimal structure. Tuesdays are our only free day when we'll go to the library, the beach, do a bit of shopping, swimming, or go to the cinema/theatre/a child friendly classical concert - whatever we fancy! Our afternoons are usually spent at home, playing, reading, having an afternoon bath or doing some work in the garden. We then pick Seb up at 3.15 and often pop to the park before dinner. The children have their evening meal together during the week, then baths, and Seb might have some homework but otherwise their time is their own. Brad and I will often eat our dinner together before I put Quinn to bed. Quinn goes to bed at 7 and Seb around 8. Once they are asleep I do any housework that's outstanding so that the house is clean and tidy for the morning, I make tomorrow's packed lunches, and get the next day's clothes ready.

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11)What are, for you, the main benefits of Homeschooling?

Oh gosh, there are too many to list! My top benefits though would be:

Allowing Quinn to grow and become the unique individual she's destined to be, without the expectation to fit a school model and follow a pre-decided (by adults) set of learning objectives that don't matter to her.

The opportunity to spend lots of time outdoors.

The opportunity to spend more time together as parent and child. 

Quinn having access to an education that actually prepares her for adulthood through the acquisition of real life skills and understanding of our world.

12) What would be the cons of homeschooling? What do you find difficult?

The limitations that are currently placed on my ability to work and earn money, I guess. Sort of. 

13) Would you like to recommend any books to help parents on their homeschooling journey?

I honestly believe that reading too many books on how to homeschool is the WORST thing you can do. Find, or build, a community. Be inspired by people who are playing an active role in your life and who you can learn from in person - even if it's online. If you're keen on a particular philosophy, be in Montessori or Classical, and want to learn more - do a course, where you can ask questions, challenge ideas, and make friends.

If I HAD to recommend a book, I've just finished Brave Learner: Finding Everyday Magic in Homeschool, Learning and Life by Julie Bogart and it's a brilliant pat-on-the-back kind of book that will make you feel confident and positive about your unique home school approach. 

14) Maybe you have a quote to share with us about parenting, outdoor learning or something that inspires you as a parent?

I live by the well known, borderline cliche quote from Charlotte Mason:

"Never be within doors, when you can rightfully be without."

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About the Author Carine Robin

Carine Robin is a a mother of 2 children. She raises them the Montessori way. Originally from Belgium where she worked as a child psychologist for several years, Carine spent 6 years in Ireland before settling in in the UK. She qualified as a Montessori teacher 10 years ago and has since worked as Montessori teacher and preschool manager. She founded Montessori-family in 2011 to provide opportunities for parents to discover Montessori. She believes that it’s truly possible to implement the Montessori ideas at home to make your house and family life welcoming to your child, her needs and her thrive for independence. She offers parents & babies classes, toddlers playgroups; Montessori home designs, one to one support, parenting classes and online courses.