Blog Archive

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Summer is for playing out

I have realised that I do not seem to be writing much content at the moment.  There is a very good is summer time and I am spending lots of time time outside.

When the sun is shining (and even when it isn't) there is sooooo much to do that takes me away from the infernal computer:

  • Walking
  • Cycling
  • Gardening
  • Reading in the sun
  • Dozing in the sun (rare occurrence!)
  • Painting hutches
  • Travelling in the motorhome to do more...walking, cycling...

Next job of the day?  Vacuuming out the car after its latest run to the local tip with a load of garden waste!

See you after the IGCSE results on Thursday 221st August!

Thanks to GeniusQuotes for the pics and words

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Home education and a career in drama

The blog has been a bit quiet as we have been off travelling in the trusty motorhome.  It has been a while since we made a trip and it was great to bring the family closer together again.

One leg of the trip was to see Leo (now 22 years old) perform in an adaptation of "Great Expectations" in Bath.  He has been studying Performing Arts - Acting for three years and this was his final performance piece. It was a brilliant production and I felt all those lovely maternal feelings of pride and amazement of how the little boy has become the young man.

Consequently, I thought it may be helpful to others to chart Leo's education/home education path and a few of the issues we have dealt with along the way.  In HE, you just want your children to be happy and to do what makes them happy.  If they can find a career in those fields when they are older, you feel that is where they are more likely to find contentment in life.

Leo went to school until he was 10 years old and we made the decision to jump ship.  We were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with schools' striving for league table positions skewing the whole notion of an education.  Leo had always been an extrovert and a showman.  He had always exuded a strong presence in any situation.  When he started attending a drama outreach group run by a local theatre, he came into his own.

Our then extensive travels meant that he could rarely be part of any production but he always loved drama club.  After attaining seven IGCSEs and at age 16, we tried to direct him away from drama toward something "sensible that he could always fall back on" and to leave the drama as a hobby.  He went to Sixth Form College and did his AS year studying Maths, Further Maths, Psychology and Performance studies.  He also joined the college's own theatre company.  It became very apparent where his interests lay and this showed in his AS results.

At this point, we agreed that he could switch course to the BTEC Diploma in Performing Arts - Acting.  It was a two year course that was the equivalent of three A levels and was purely assessment based - written and performed.  He thrived on it although it also presented challenges by way of the fact that he was always with the same people in class.

The next stage was to apply to drama colleges.  These are notoriously difficult to get in to if you want to study acting.  He had three interviews and two call-backs but unfortunately did not make the cut.  However, he applied to universities where the courses more or less matched the content of the drama colleges and accepted a place at Bath Spa University.  Uni life has occasionally been pretty tough on him and has presented financial challenges he did not foresee. But it has also been fun and he has made good friends.

In 2011 he auditioned for the National Youth Theatre and succeeded in gaining a place on one of their summer schools.  He has subsequently auditioned for other NYT productions and projects and was part of the show to welcome athletes to the Olympic Village in London 2012.  He has been to Saudi Arabia on a special project and is going to be assisting in running one of the summer schools like the one he originally attended.  He also has a call-back for a production.

In addition to innumerable productions on his course, he worked with the RSC production of "Dunsinane" where he played Lady Macbeth's son.
He came close to getting a role in a film being shot in Jordan recently but had to decline it as he had not yet finished his uni course.  His aim for the next year is to build up some funds through casual/retail jobs and then to put his energies into finding roles in London and further afield.

Though I will always be concerned that a job in the arts does not bring in a regular and secure income (very familiar with that one personally!) I feel that he should follow his heart and use the skills he has been blessed with.  Who knows where the journey will take him.

I may well ask him to write a guest post...

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

HE Parents:Education for yourself...perhaps family history?

At this time when there is a large elephant in the room all the time with a certain tattoo...
Original image by Leah Saulnier

I find that I am thinking about the example I may be setting to my children.  I LOVE learning - I can't stop myself from getting enthusiastic and excited about subjects that interest me.  I hope that they also pick up on the fact that I try to engage with subjects that don't interest me as much.  For example, some aspects of Maths are wonderful (geometry, algebra) and others just leave me cold (nth term).

So, leaving the last week of IGCSE Geography and Paper 1 of IGCSE Physics behind, I have hurled myself into a project of my own.  Dave and the children can certainly see I am dedicating a whole heap of time to it and that I am using many resources.

So, what can this project be?  A family history project!

Yes - I have discovered the allure of  It is free at local libraries and they have the full version. Last night I succumbed to a 14 day free trial of the home premium version but I don't think I will continue with it as the library is always there.

It was the mention of a couple of family mysteries on the Mason side that led me to start.  So much is known about my side (my parents having spent a lot of time on it) and personally I think it is very important to know about your forebears.

The big dark secret on the Mason side is the true identity of Dave's grandfather on his mother's side.  The tale goes (and it could well be a tale based on some truth) that grandfather Frank Maidment was actually born in India to an English army officer and a local Indian woman.  He was brought back to the UK and educated in an orphanage, sponsored by an officer called Maidment.

There appears to be some truth in it but many unanswered questions (why are exam papers creeping back into my head...BE GONE!)

So far, I have discovered the name listed on his birth certificate for his mother is Annie Maidment, domestic servant (I ordered a copy of the original).  No father is listed.  The birth date and registration date are months apart and the area he was registered is far from where she grew up (in Tisbury Union Workhouse in 1871) and from where she had been living in 1881(Islington as a domestic servant). They then both disappear from all records until 1901 when George Francis Bailey Maidment (Frank) turns up in the census of an orphanage/children's home in Shefford, Bedfordshire.

When the home burns down in 1908 he joins the army.  Fascinating physical description of him that matches the photo we have of him at about that age.  He was only 5'4" with black hair and "sallow".  He is then deployed to South Africa and Hong Kong by way of Bodmin (Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry).
Frank in 1908, possibly
Dave and Rory bear a strong resemblance

Is that Frank extreme left in the back row?
Picture is of his regiment in Hong Kong 1913

1915 - buys his way out of the army and seems to have gone to Hong Kong where he became a police officer.  He returned to the UK in 1917 and then I lose him again until he marries in Peterborough in 1924 to a girl from Shefford.  He moved to Norwich at some point and used to drive the local children around in his car (presumably in the 1930s) - he was always known as "The Indian".

There is more but that would be boring.  Suffice it to say that it has taken me days and days to find out all the pieces of the jigsaw that is the Mason-Maidment side of the family.

No sign of any Indian connections on the face of it - the facts are as they appear but then the fun bit is what the imagination does with them!  Was he brought back and Annie paid handsomely by a high ranking officer to register as his mother?  Who is the mysterious lodger Henry Quinn, commission agent, who lives in Islington at the house where she works?  What happened to Annie that meant Frank went to an orphanage?  Is that him in the second picture?  Your opinions, please!

I feel a novel coming on....!

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

The Importance of Art in Home Education

Just a quick post about the importance of art in our home education journey.  It was the forerunner to reading and writing for all of our children, teaching them to handle pencils and paper and to actively express what they wanted to.  As time has passed, it is still part of each of their lives but has become more personal to each, manifesting itself either in production or appreciation of works of drawing, sewing, sculpture, drama and photography.

Each child has their strengths and it is one of the luxuries of home education that you can indulge them in what they love doing.  Though I sometimes wish my youngest daughter's enthusiasm for sitting down and doing maths was as great as her love of arts and crafts, I just have to keep telling myself that this is home education and you play to your children's strengths for them to develop their individual personality and self confidence.  Her maths is fine but her art is wonderful - and that should be good enough for me.

Yesterday she (aged 10), who has always seemed to be the most inclined to draw/paint/mould/sculpt/sew, produced a simple but striking piece of work.  She uses several different styles depending on the subject matter but this was her very first using acrylics on canvas.  I have to add that it was because I stumbled across a super cheap source of prepared canvases in our local B&M Bargain store so if you live in the north west of England - make a beeline for it and buy some!  Four small squares for £2.99.

There is something about the style of this piece that just really appeals to me.  I love the character and pose of the lion - he has a lovely face.  Her choice of colours (she had to mix from primary colour tubes) is bright and cheerful.  She mixed and layered the paint as she learned how it behaved on the canvas.

Anyway, I just felt I had to share this on my blog.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Home education and career paths

Though I read quite a few home education blogs, I haven't read any posts recently about what happens as home-educated children progress to young adults.  I love reading the blogs of people with younger children as it takes me back to the days spent doing similar pursuits with my gang.  Now, it may just be that I haven't come across many posts to do with older children yet but there is only so long I can sit on my backside in front of a screen for!  After all, the home education (and housework etc) demands my time and attention too.

For this post, I will dedicate my next few posts to brief profiles of our six children.  If you wish to ask any questions about exams or anything else, please do so via Comments.  Let me start with the eldest and work down...

Daughter aged 24 in July 2014 (attended school until aged 12/Year 7)

Personality traits - studious and self-disciplined but a self-confessed perfectionist who continues to put pressure upon herself.  Loves singing and receives professional voice training
Favourite academic subjects - music, history, maths but jack of all trades, loves reading historical fiction
IGCSEs obtained prior to age 16 - English, Maths, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, History, Geography
Further Education - at Sixth Form college:  AS History, AS Critical Thinking, AS/A2 Maths, AS/A2 Further Maths, BTEC certificate Drama
Higher Education - University of York studying Maths but dropped out during first year as the university lifestyle did not suit her despite doing well in her subject (verified by my speaking to her tutor!).
Progression thereafter - found job training as an accounts clerk and moved a long away from home.  Completed two years of Open University degree course in Maths (statistics) before the OU dropped the February start time forcing all units to be completed between October and February instead of being spread throughout the year.  She could not sustain full-time employment and the study hours necessary (dreadful shame and I wonder how many other students dropped out).  She is now running the accounts department and is second in command to the boss.  She has just bought her own flat through a shared ownership scheme.  Still singing and studying with a professional singer for Musical Theatre exams. New interests developed since leaving home: sailing, volleyball.
Future possibilities - possibly studying for CIMA exams.  More Musical Theatre exams

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Striking the right balance with technology

Let's face it, technology plays a huge part in modern life.  When it comes to home education, it would be much more difficult without the resources available via the internet.  I have also seen much more happening via social networking in recent years.  However, it is all to easy to let it run away with you until suddenly you look around and wonder how it came to be that you are spending too much time sitting on your backside in front of a screen and not enough time at a table (or elsewhere) with your children.

Our home education journey has come a long way since the early days.  Back then, we were concentrating on teaching the children to read, hold a pencil, draw and do maths verbally.  Progress led to workbooks and writing LOADS of stories.  Diaries also worked very well.  However, the majority of the days were spent playing with friends and going out en famille.

Time passed and workbooks became textbooks for the older ones whilst the early years projects started with the younger ones.  More time passed and the phases shifted again.  Exams: did we need or want to do them early?  Yes, we did.  Only at this point did the use of computers become more significant.

Now I look around me and see that too much time is spent in front of screens.  Personally, I have to spend more and more time here than previously in order to run our business and earn the money to pay the bills, to fund the trips, to pay for the books de-da-de-da-de-da... this is increasingly the modern way. However, the example I set in doing so then seems to have given the rest of the family the idea that this is the example to follow.

I do not believe it is right and so I am going to re-structure our home education to return to our core values with selective and judicious use of technology.

Watch this space!

P.S.  This means I may be writing shorter blog entries and automating the other "stuff".  Here is a list of all my digital presences so you can see how it has taken over.

P.P.S.  Whoever said that computers "save time"?

Inspire To Write main website

Full publication list on our website

Music CDs on our website and links to digital downloads

Listmania link to all the ebooks available on Amazon

Our experiences of self-publishing/epublishing:

Our home education blog:

Mr Smile's Happy Blog:

YouTube Channel

David (not that he ever logs on!):

Business @mason_creative-
Helen @MrsSelfPub -

David (not that he ever logs on!):

Friday, 4 April 2014

The solution for over-tested school children?

With all the current press coverage about the government's plans to start testing pre-school children, it takes me back to the reason we started home education in the first place.  I feel fully justified in sporting a slightly smug expression now that, nearly 12 years on, I am very happy we did so.  Could this latest threat to childhood lead to many more people jumping the same way?

Our story in brief

Our eldest daughter was 12 and elder son was 10 back in 2002.  We had three younger ones of 4, 2 and a few months.  Our daughter was always top or thereabouts in school, our son was also pretty well up in the rankings.  However, 2001-2002 saw a big change in their respective school experiences.

I remember that, one week into high school, our daughter told us how the teachers turned from "nice" to "nasty".  One week to integrate and then the testing began.  I recall her revising for test after test after test.  I am not sure how many lessons involved teaching as most seem to be used for testing.  She was still doing well but in the course of the year, she became more and more tired and very disillusioned.

At the same time, our son's class at junior school seemed to go into behavioural meltdown coinciding with the retirement of a senior member of staff who seemed to be the glue holding the class together in the previous year.  I remember tales of fights and furniture being thrown around by a small group of unruly pupils.  I remember the cover teachers walking out and no effective teaching taking place.  In all, his class saw nine different teachers before the arrival of an inspirational male teacher in the final term who pulled things back together but by that time, we had decided to jump ship and home educate.

Waiting in the wings was our next daughter, aged 4, and due to start school in September 2002.  We had put her name down at the infant school the previous year.  She had been attending a wonderful Montessori nursery and we loved the ethos and methods - so child-centred!  However, my husband still recalls the moment as if it was yesterday, that he stood in our house and suddenly realised that we were about to "lose" her to the school system.  It didn't take long before we decided it was to be home education all the way.

Our brush with testing

Currently we are back in exam season when we come up against the hurdles our children need to jump if they want to move smoothly on to higher education.  It is always stressful but it will be OK.  It will not matter what marks they get, I know they can keep their positive outlook.  They have learned there is more than one way to do things and that you don't need to be conventional and, for example, go to sixth form at 16 because that is what everybody else does.  There is such a thing as an early gap year that still satisfies the powers that be regarding the new legislation e.g. full-time work, distance learning courses.

I wonder...

I look at our family now and wonder to what extent they would have been afflicted by the unhappiness that is blighting the lives of too many British children.  Ours are a pretty bright lot though not without their eccentricities and teenage strop-outs but on the whole, they are happy and they realise it too.

I wonder if more parents are likely to vote with their feet if the proposals to test two year olds become reality.  I also wonder how best to help the disadvantaged children in deprived areas who are the ones who would most benefit from intervention of some sort.  Perhaps it is their parents who need the teaching and guidance in how to nurture their children and not the children themselves who need testing. Who wants to be branded a "failure" at the grand old age of two!

You may like to read the following blog posts by other bloggers whose articles particularly touched me before I wrote this post:
Ross Mountney: "Forget testing - start trusting"
Leoarna:  "What I know about British kids"
Michael Rosen: "Why Wilshaw is wrong"

Mr Smile also has something to say on the matter on his Happy blog