Parents up and down the country will now be much more familiar with the concept of home education than they were two years ago.
However, for many the idea conjures images of endless, stressful lockdown months parking six year olds in front of Zoom calls with exhausted teachers, while desperately trying to get some work done at the kitchen table that was now the office.
For home-educating parents like Gina Theo, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
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Gina, 25, grew up in London and left for Hertfordshire to give her two girls Mia, 6, and Laila, 5, the chance to grow up surrounded by nature.
After the disruption of Covid saw her eldest, Mia, lose her spark and trademark bubbly personality when returning to school, Gina decided she’d teach her girls herself with a curriculum focused on intuition, pursuing hobbies and interests, and being outdoors.
“It started in the first lockdown, and obviously we were all homeschooling then – or isolation schooling, as I call it, because it’s quite a stark contrast to real home education, which I didn’t know at the time,” Gina explained.
‘Her whole persona was different at school’
Mia had only been in reception class at school for six months before the first lockdown, while Laila, who has autism, had been at nursery.
Gina said that the school environment on return after the first lockdown was very stressful for Mia who, like children across the country, had to eat lunch at her desk, wasn’t able to mix with other children outside her class, and only had 40 minutes a day to play outside.
“Even though my eldest really enjoyed school and she’s very much a social butterfly, I still noticed a big difference in her general wellbeing and happiness being at home,” Gina said.
“When she did go back to school and start year one, it was only for about a week, and her whole persona, her happiness and how she was in herself was completely different, just from being back at school.
“My youngest is autistic, so she she really thrived at home: she was practically nonverbal at the start of lockdown, and coming out of it she was speaking so much more.
“It’s like she felt safe at home enough to express herself, whereas I don’t really think she felt that [way] in nursery.”
‘It’s a tailor-made education for each child’
Gina’s job as a nutritionist allows her the flexibility to work in the evenings once her daughters are in bed, giving her plenty of time in the day to spend teaching her children in a way that works for them.
After she made the decision to take Mia and Laila out of school she “hasn’t looked back since”.
Following the girls’ lead, Gina teaches them the core subjects of English, maths and science followed by a topic based on their interests. At the moment they’re learning about space, because Mia has been “obsessed with space” for the last few years.
They will then revisit these topics as they get older, allowing the opportunity to go into more depth with the subjects and enjoy a “natural progression”.
“It doesn’t have to be about sitting down at a desk, finishing this worksheet by this time and then we’ve got to move on to the next topic – they can really take their time, and it’s like a tailor-made education for each child, for each individual’s needs,” Gina said.
This works especially well for Gina’s youngest daughter Laila, as she can “provide activities and fun things for her to do, very tactile things, like learning spelling with little letter pebbles, or writing in the mud or in the sand, instead of just going straight to pen and paper.
“Building those skills up in other ways, not just the typical way.”
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Gina and her children spend the majority of the time outdoors, learning about natural sciences in the real world on their allotment and at forest school where the girls can plant seeds, learn about edible plants and mushrooms, and see animals in their natural habitat.
After lunch they’ll get on with some indoor learning in maths and literacy, and engage in sensory activities which are very beneficial to Laila in particular.
To ensure her kids don’t miss out on a rounded social life as they’re not at a traditional school, they regularly go to clubs and forest school to interact with other children, and Gina arranges playdates with other home-schooled kids.
A happy side effect of this is that they make friends of all ages, which Gina points out is more like how people have relationships in the real world, rather than just mixing with 30 people of the same age.
‘They’re happy and thriving, so why not?’
While Gina’s children are still very young and only at the start of their educational journey, she says she would happily continue home-schooling them into their teens and even through exams.
“I will do it for as long as they are happy to,” she said.
“If they get to the age of secondary education and said they wanted to go to secondary school, I’d say yes. I wouldn’t force them to stay home.
“I personally would say that I’ll home educate them as long as possible, but that’s completely up to them. At the minute, they’re happy and thriving, so I say: why not?”
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