January 2012

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Dear Mr. EHE Person,

Thank you for your letter dated ’last week’ concerning the Elective Home Education of my daughter Astra Milne, d.o.b. ‘six years ago’.

I do not see a need for a visit at this time. As you will see from the enclosed details, Astra and I are very busy and as you may remember, you visited us at our home 6 months ago, on 19/7/2011. I am happy, however, to reassure you that Astra’s education continues apace!

Our Educational Philosophy is very simple and is essentially, ‘All of life is learning, and happy children will learn all they need to learn’. I believe our current approach is known as ‘Autonomous Education’. For our family this essentially means that my husband and I follow Astra’s lead with regard to where her interests lie, and we support her in the avenues she chooses to explore. We believe that children naturally have an innate curiosity, and also a strong desire to learn. This is certainly true in Astra’s case – she has an insatiable curiosity and we talk constantly. She is always keen to learn more about those things which interest her. Our main job is to nurture those qualities, capitalise on them if you will, and by no means do anything that would quash them. We provide a rich environment full of learning opportunities, so that a broad education is available – and we provide whatever resources we can to support Astra in pursuing her interests.

Providing a rich environment means that we live in a house filled with resources, toys, craft materials, art supplies, books, board games, musical instruments, dressing up clothes. The walls are covered in educational posters, art that Astra has created, certificates she has earned in various activities, timelines, maps. Astra has her own computer and two bookcases filled with her own books. She has turned part of one room into her ‘Lifetime Museum’, complete with signs and exhibits of her bug collection, small skeletons she has found, precious stones, fossils and shells.

We go to many organised activities, we visit museums and sites of interest. We talk endlessly, we research the answers to the many questions Astra has. She is interested in almost everything, so no stone is left unturned in her quest for knowledge. She has not been interested in learning to read until just recently, but has now asked me to help her learn and so of course I am doing that. It is hard work for her but she is making great progress. She enjoys writing much more than reading and so we currently spend more time writing. In contrast, she has been keen on numbers for some time, and has taught herself a lot of the simple addition and subtraction sums using the digits from 1 to 10. She likes the patterns made in the times tables poster I put up, and so I have started to introduce the 2 times table.

All this is to say that although we are educating autonomously, and following Astra’s lead, this does not mean that I sit back and wait for her to ask for help. It is more a case of putting many opportunities in her path, being alert to what she enjoys and then facilitating her learning. The things I ‘put in her path’ are a mixture of things which I think she might enjoy, and things which I think she might benefit from learning.

It is perhaps worth pointing out that I make no attempt day to day to break down our life into distinct subject areas. Most things we do span several subjects, as that is just how life is. In terms of progress, I measure this by looking at Astra. Is she progressing, is she growing and moving forwards? Provided she is, then I know we are on the right track.

I have enclosed some information about a typical week for us. I have also described a typical day (today!) so as to give a little more detail. You will understand, however, that every day is different, and whilst we may spend a lot of time learning to read on one day, on another we may spend the entire day making a papier mache lighthouse. One of the wonderful things about home education is that it is not 6 hours a day, five days a week, but every hour of the waking day, seven days a week.

I hope I have provided all the information you need. It is hard to categorise Astra’s education in the way you have done so in your form, but reading through it certainly I was in no doubt that we are adequately addresing each area.

Yours sincerely

Christine Milne

French class this morning. Why French, I ask myself periodically? The teacher, Caroline, initially approached me to ask if she could hand out cards at our Storytime session. We got chatting, and she offered to do a ‘French’ storytime for us. She was lovely. The children thoroughly enjoyed the session, and Astra took a liking to her. Wanted to see her again. A couple of others were interested in their children learning French, and the idea of learning in a group was mooted. I asked around, thought about how this could fit into our busy lives, and that was that. French class at my house, Thursday mornings.

They play a lot of games. Astra sometimes has a game that she wants to share, such as ’Tummyache’ (Caroline enjoys this one as she can expand their food vocabulary), or ‘Crazy Chefs’. Today they were playing with lego. They sing songs, they make collages, they do picture puzzles, they play with animal puppets. They learn little things about French culture, Caroline loves to share about French festivals and holidays. And they mess about, and they play with the other toys we have lying about, and they tickle each other, and chatter…. But Caroline takes it all in her stride, is not phased even when Astra decides that one of her guinea pigs must learn French too. A formidable lady.

I don’t know how much French Astra is learning but on our last holiday she was very pleased to be able to say ‘bonjour’ to our neighbours, and to have some phrases that she could use with her temporary holiday friends. So that’s why we’re learning French. It came our way, it’s fun, we’ve made new friends through it, and it’s a gentle introduction to another culture and language.

After French, lunch and then off to the library for Storytime. Today we had to visit the craft shop on the way, this was our fastest trip to the craft shop ever. Everyone loves Hobbycraft! We ran up the aisle edges calling to each other, ‘it’s okay, I’ve found the card’, ‘I’ve found some buttons’. Hurry or not, I still had to go back into the shop to listen to the music Astra could make with some candle holders she’d found while I was queuing to pay. Hurrying is only fun when it’s fun!

Storytime’s theme was ‘Birthdays’, as one of our group had her birthday today, and lots of them have January birthdays. I was disappointed because I had ordered a couple of great books about birthdays but they hadn’t arrived in time. I read Moomins Birthday Button, which is a lovely book and the children enjoyed it. Then, because I have a cold and my voice was beginning to crack, another mum read, ‘In which Eeyore has a Birthday…’. Such a lovely story and so beautifully written. It was too long for some of the children but a small group stayed the course and I certainly enjoyed it! The craft was to make a greetings card, using only glue, wool, yarn and buttons. Astra made a card for the birthday girl, with a woollen number 5 and lots of decorative buttons.

After storytime, we headed to the park. Picnic of shared snacks, climbing, running, playing on the adult exercise equipment, sharing of scooters, then finally home. I sat down and let my cold have it’s turn at taking centre stage. Andy took over marvellously. The guinea pigs got treats, on top of the treats and cuddles they’d already had at lunchtime. Astra cleaned out our new fish tank, and Andy cooked the hunk of meat we had gratefully accepted from the friend we visited last weekend. Astra built a marble run, and played with Daddy for a while. And watched the Pokemon film she’d borrowed from the library. Twice.

We’d thought the meat we had was a leg of lamb, although we weren’t certain. Our friend had just said ‘help yourself’ – and confronted with a freezer full of indiscrimnate cuts of meat, and knowing he had kept both lambs and pigs….well, it’s not so clear what it is when it isn’t labelled! It was lamb right up until the carving when we both started to suspect it was pork. I have no sense of smell at the moment so that wasn’t helping, but on eating it really did seem to be pork. We looked at the cut, the bones, and agreed. But I had to be certain! I got out my ‘Good Housekeeping’ cookery book and looked at the various cuts of lamb and pork, it was none of those! So Andy googled and found some excellent pictures of pig and lamb skeletons. We picked all the meat off and compared. It was a shoulder of pork that we had, complete with the whole leg. Of course I then had to explore the bones with Astra. We played with the joints, the trotter, the cartilege, we picked out some of the marrow. I told Astra I had never realised how much fun bones could be until she came along. And we still have the skull she collected at the weekend to play with!