Sunday, 18 February 2018

Meet our Newest Tutor and History Teacher

Welcome to our newest tutor at Dreaming Spires Home Learning: a specialist in modern history, Yvonne Mason is a well-known online tutor amongst home-educated high schoolers in the UK, and we are so pleased that she is able to join us next year for a fascinating course about World War 1 and World War 2.

Yvonne will teach Modern History

She took her undergraduate degree in English Language and Literature, then an MA in history from Royal Holloway in London while working as a costumed historical interpreter at the Tower of London. She has been working as an online tutor since 2001 in both English and history, home educates her own daughter, and in her spare time, is an avid embroiderer. She has plans to study for a PhD in Medieval Studies very soon.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

STOP PRESS! Timetable out now for 2018-2019 classes

The title says it all ... we are publishing our tentative timetable for the next academic year, unveiling our newest course offerings like chemistry, French, modern history, and creative writing.

The year that packs a punch!

Registrations will open for our Early Bird period over Easter weekend, when registration fees will hold your place for the course of your choice. Last year, most of our courses filled up by the middle of May, so put a reminder on your calendar so you don't miss out!

English Renaissance: KP  8 am  CST / 2 pm UK  English Middle Ages : JP      8 am  CST / 2 pm  UK  Ancient History Rome:  AS 8 am  CST / 2 pm  UK  English British Novel: KP      8 am  CST / 2 pm  UK 

Spanish 1 : JB will meet at   9 am  CST /3 pm  UK   Spanish 2:  JB will meet at  9 am  CST / 3 pm  UK  

History: 1914-1945: The Road to War: YM          10 am CST/4 pm UK  French 1: JB will meet at 10:30 am  CST / 4:30 pm  UK   French 2: JB will meet at 10:30 am CST / 4:30 pm UK   Biology KJ at 10 am CST/ 4 pm UK
General Science  KJ at 11 am CST/ 5 pm UK Creative Writing:  JP noon CST/6 pm UK English British Novel:  JP noon CST/6 pm UK

English Middle Ages KP    1 pm  CST / 7 pm  UK 
Ancient History Greek:  AS      1 pm  CST / 7 pm  UK 

Two courses, same time
Chemistry  KJ at 1 pm CST/    7 pm UK

English American Lit: KP          1 pm  CST / 7 pm  UK 

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Now Accepting Mid-Term Entries for January 2018

If you've got tired of your curriculum already, if you're new to home education and looking for something to inspire you, or you just think it's time your teen buckled down and started working harder, then Dreaming Spires Home Learning may be your answer.

Are your current studies leaving you cold???
Let Dreaming Spires warm you up!

We offer live and online courses and accept mid-term entries for January, so your child can jump into our New Year units with any of our subjects, whether Spanish or Biology, Ancient History or English Literature and Composition.

Jump into our courses at mid-term!
We've been allowing people to join us mid-year since we first began, and nearly 100% stay with our programme for two-, three-, or four-plus years, so we know it ends up being more of a long-term love affair with our approach to studying, than a short-term quick-fix.

Get in touch today about registering for courses - we'll kick off the new year during the week of 8th of January, 2018. All classes will take a couple of students so the timetable is completely open.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

To Coach to the Exam or not (hint: NOT!)

In the UK, students have just been receiving their GCSE grades over the past week or so. Judging from the comments on Facebook, the results have been mixed. Some really high highs, and some reporting ... bravely reporting, imo -- those that are not so great.

In England, taking GCSEs is a secondary-school milestone

I think we home-educators have advantages on the one hand when it comes to exams, and disadvantages on the other. On the one hand, we can choose only the ones we want to do, and we can take some a year or two early so to spread the load. On the other hand, we have to pay for them separately, find a centre that will take us as private candidates, and of course, there's a lot of re-inventing of the wheel whereas school teachers will generally have more experience in preparing students for the exams.

It may or may not mean home-educated students get better or worse exams than their schooled counterparts - many articles and postings online will trumpet success or broadcast poorer results for everyone who took the latest round of GCSE or IGCSEs.

So for those who are preparing for next year and perhaps worried about these results, I just want to say that I think there is only one way you can really screw this up, and that's by ...


I'm not saying you shouldn’t coach your child to take the exam, but I’m really unsupportive of teaching ONLY to the test. That is, for a year or two years, to drill and drill.

What am I basing this opinion on? I suppose it's related to the three hats I wear: that as a former teacher who taught up to A-level and even US university; as a home-educator of four children; and as a current examiner for CIE/OCR.

It seems to me there are three reasons that keeping those exams under the microscope is less than ideal.

The obvious reason is that, once the test is over, what have you got to show for it except that your child jumped through some hoops that are now irrelevant? Where do you go from there?

The other reason is that the hoops you jump may or may not be a real-work experience and translatable beyond that narrow exercise.

Another really important reason is that you run the risk of killing your child’s love for the subject, for exploration, and maybe even for learning anything at all.

Did you ever have a teacher say to you something like, “I know this is what we taught you about, say, Physics last year, but I want you to forget all that because that wasn’t really true - it was just a simplified version to make it easier to understand, but now we’re going to do the REAL stuff.”

You what???!!!!

Man, I hated that! You might has well have said, “Everything you’ve done up till now is a waste of time.”

This is why I make my own children, and all my online students, learn the REAL thing from the beginning. This is particularly true in English, my subject, but equally true in other subjects when it comes to exploring the subject and not drilling to the exam paper.

We don’t read abridged books. We don’t use Cliffs Notes or other summaries. We don't drown under twenty-five past papers and just work and re-work them for a year or two. If it’s writing, we learn the real-world skill of revising essays. We learn how newspapers differ from speeches. We learn how to explain ourselves and our thoughts so that the books come alive and we remember them.

Reading the real thing helps it all sink in.

Sometimes, the topic or approach is over their heads, but sometimes, it’s exactly that stretching approach that brings them to a higher level - a level they would not have reached if we didn’t try in the first place.

Am I saying you should never do a past paper or coach to an exam? Of course not. The exam that I mark is, in my opinion, notoriously counter-intuitive, so you do need to go over some past papers and learn its idiosyncracies, but to do ONLY that for a year or more, I don't think a student will be best served by not gaining any higher literacy skills during that time.

So if you have a big exam coming up in the future, I urge you to study subjects in a solid and true way as the majority of your learning. You can then practice the hoops either little and often (key word: “little”), or in a more focused, short-term way such as in the month before the exam.

This way, you don’t lose sight of the reason you’re probably educating your children at home in the first place: to create life-long learners who can think outside the box.

Loving to read hard books is rarely normal!

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The Reviews are Coming In!

I just received a student's review about the Ancient History course she took with Mrs Samuels at Dreaming Spires Home Learning last year. 

You'll probably not be surprised to learn she was the first one on the list to sign up for the follow-up course about Greek that's starting in September!

It's a unique course because it made me obsessed with Rome afterwards. I got a good understanding of society, the class system, the family, and the military, plus a lot of the Roman literature. I took the extension to learn how to write essays about ancient objects, and that was useful because it helped me understanding how archaeologists date objects, and what they say about the culture they come from. Mrs Samuels has a quirky teaching style that adds interest to the subject - she'll frame a subject like Octavian's exile in such a way to make it seem humorous/ridiculous, and that helps you remember it really well.

If your teen wants a detailed look into all-things-ancient-history, then join us on Tuesdays or Wednesdays this next year: "carpe diem" and sign up now!

The "naughty" Greek bowl at the Ashmolean, Oxford.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Calendar of Dates

This is an updated calendar of dates after we decided to break earlier for Christmas and return earlier in January. The changes are highlighted in blue.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

The Summer 2017 Mountain Series Episode 2: Take Time to Acclimatise

This summer series about homeschooling was inspired by my recent family trip to the mountains, and will be added to weekly. Be sure to subscribe by leaving your email in the right-hand menu bar, or “like” our Facebook page to get updates posted directly to your timeline.

Whether you're brand new to educating your children at home, or finding yourself at a transition phase such as secondary school, there is a period where you'll be tempted to rush when actually you need to take it slowly and ease into it

I think this period is like our mountain trip when we arrived at our condo and found that it was over 10,000 feet.

High Condo - Waiting for Adventure

For native Texans who live at at 496 feet above sea level, this was a real challenge to our systems. We felt like all the descriptions of acclimatising for Everest - sinuses dry out, tummies get rumbly, headaches abound, breathless, listless.

These are warning signs that we were now in a place that are bodies were struggling to maintain normal function.

After a terrible night's sleep (another effect of altitude), we decided to see how far we could climb up the mountain in view of our balcony - Kuchina Peak.

Kuchina in our sights

Long story short, we ran into two problems: first was our unfamiliarity with the terrain (this will be the subject of the next blog post!), and the other was, no matter how fit and experienced we were with hill-climbing at sea level, we just weren't ready to tackle the exertion at 12,000 feet higher.

Some of us had headaches, malaise, nausea: all symptoms of altitude sickness! They told us that we needed to get back down a little lower and wait till our bodies were more accustomed to the thinner air.

Not ready for prime-time mountain climbing!

However, by the end of the week, we were able to climb not only it but its higher valley-mate, Wheeler Peak: New Mexico's highest mountain at over 13,000 feet. That was because we waited to get used to the elevation, and meanwhile, made sure we prepared a little at a time.

So as you're hitting transition periods in your home-educating journey, just keep in mind that rushing it is probably a poor idea. You'll find yourself ill-prepared and perhaps even in danger - if not in terms of your health, then probably in terms of your purse!

What am I suggesting instead? Take your time. Research. Read through Rainbow Resources detailed catalogue with lots of reviews by homeschoolers for any curriculum you're thinking of buying. Have a look at last year's Series 1  about starting out home-ed where I encourage you to take a look at your values and your aims, and above all remember this: if you are starting home-ed from scratch and have removed a child from school, you both need to deschool first.

The reason you deschool is this: going to school is putting yourself under an institution and there are rules and requirements and expectations that have become second-nature to you, most of which have nothing to do with one's real desire and aptitude for learning. Motivation often needs rediscovering; self-directed exploration of interests has almost certainly been dampened down; realising that one can find curiosity and something intriguing to delve into further 24/7, 365, and yet, it rarely requires 6 hours a day of sitting at a desk.

There is a big world out there, but if you're transitioning, then I would suggest putting your feet up and getting used to the new, rarefied air.

Take Time to Contemplate the View