Recently, I have been working with a family who are homeschooling their nearly-8 year old because he is on the autistic spectrum and has dyslexia, and they feel that 1:1 education, for a year or two, will be most suited to his learning needs.
His teacher and I have worked closely on making the homeschooling programme truly exciting for him, and this has involved plotting a special excursion every week. This is one of the great values of homeschooling: you can get out of the classroom easily and make trips that compliment learning goals. It has been a fun process for me, too, to discover how many amazing, immersive experiences London has to offer for children. And it has made me think that parents, also, should think about planning excursions on evenings and weekends that will enhance what's being taught within school.
Here are a few ideas...
For Harry Potter lovers (just about every Y4 and Y5 pupil I meet!) the History of Magic exhibition at the British Library sounds wonderful. It's not just about Harry himself; it draws in 16th century scrolls about the philosopher's stone, representations of unicorns and dragons from the medieval era, and investigations of how ancient folklore relates to JK Rowling's boy-wizard's adventures. An event like this will support learning in History, Art and English and what I love best about the concept is that it encourages a fascination with artefacts and archival documents, even among young children.
A less advertised exhibition that appeals to me is 'The Museum of Ordinary Animals' at The Grant Museum of Zoology, part of UCL. This exhibition tells the story of the boring beasts that have changed the world: the mundane creatures in our everyday lives including dogs, pigeons, cats, cows, chickens and mice. These animals are rarely represented in natural history museum displays. They are not special enough. People would rather see dinosaurs, dodos and giant whales. Again, it's an exhibition that can provoke the imagination in all kinds of ways. Think about how ordinary animals have featured in famous stories, in the bible, in history... and of course, any exhibit that includes lots of skeletons and mummified creatures is usually a hit with youngsters.
It's worth knowing that the big museums often have interactive group sessions which may prove more enthralling than simply visiting individually at the weekend. The Natural History Museum has 'Investigate' sessions every afternoon with educators on hand to help you look closely at real objects and nature specimens. These drop ins occur from 3.40 every Monday throughout November and December. The Science Museum's new 'Wonderlab' sounds awesome: it explores the beauty of Science and Maths in influencing our everyday lives. They have daily shows led by scientists, with exciting topics like 'The Chemistry of Explosions' and 'How Newton's Laws Get Rockets Into Space' - sounds fun, right?
There are smaller gems in London, too: Little Angel Puppet Theatre runs puppet-making workshops (inspired by characters from folklore and history) as well as their wonderful theatre productions. The Wallace Collection hosts drop-in art workshops for families, as well as special art classes on weekdays for homeschool pupils. The Museum of Childhood (an extension of the V&A in Bethnal Green) currently holds an exhibition about Michael Morpurgo's storytelling, which is a superb way to encourage reading and writing, especially for kids who enjoyed 'War Horse'.
The great thing about day-trips or after-school visits is that they take learning outside the classroom and help children to see knowledge as something bigger - more important, even - than homework assignments and exam results. For our lovely homeschool pupil, every aspect of the trip is a learning experience, from calculating journey times and train schedules, to learning about the light system which guides tube drivers, to working on road safety as a pedestrian in London.
If you live in London and find yourself lamenting that the city is hectic or lacks open spaces for kids to play in (and I already find myself doing this as mother of a just-one-year-old!) then at least you can redress the balance by making the most of the extraordinary opportunities that this city can offer for kids who love to learn.