A class act

Dorothy Walker on how a PC can boost home schooling
Computers are a valuable help in schools, but for parents who have chosen the alternative way of educating their children - at home - they are a godsend. Sue Hutchin, of Bethersden, Kent, who is teaching seven-year-old Scarlett and 12-year-old Alex at home, says: "If I had no computer, my job would be much more difficult. I'm so impressed by it."

Sue and her husband, Mark, an osteopath, live in a rambling cottage down a quiet Kentish lane; they use their computer as "a library, a games room and a social focus". They bought the PC last year because they felt they might be missing out on the technological back-up in schools. Sue also wanted it to produce newsletters for Education Otherwise, the home schooling support group.

Sue's farmhouse kitchen-table tuition doesn't work to an overall plan or curriculum, but picks up on the children's enthusiasm to learn. Scarlett, say her parents, taught herself to read. She loves Creative Writer, a children's word processor software, although when she started to write, her spelling was so phonetic that the spell-checker couldn't recognise any words. She now produces fluent prose for family projects. She is keen on archaeology, and recently gave her family a complete guided tour of the British Museum's Egyptian rooms thanks to the knowledge she had picked up from the Ancient Lands CD-Rom.

"We have loads of books, too," says her mother. "The computer isn't the only resource, but it is compact and cheaper than print. Something like Encarta World Atlas is phenomenal. Our pounds 30 paper atlas hasn't got 1 per cent of the information."

Money is an important factor, she says. "We're doing this on one income. The computer took two years of saving, and a lot of thought.

"Alex has taught himself computer skills. He would like to program, but we are still looking for a cheap way of doing this - a copy of Pascal costs pounds 130."

Alex loves maths, and his parents are now preparing him for GCSE. This is being done entirely from books, because Sue can't find any software that she feels will help.

She shuns traditional children's "edutainment" titles. "I'm not very keen on disguising things to make them fun. Maths is exciting for Alex because he loves solving the problems, and Scarlett wants to do arithmetic so she can add up her pocket money. We are in the real world here."

The family now plans to have a look at the Internet. They decided it would be a good idea after reading about newly discovered French cave paintings in Current Archaeology magazine. "It gave a Web address where you could see them," says Sue.

Sue will educate the children up to GCSE level, and expects them to want to move on to sixth-form college after that.

She says: "There is so much to learn, and we have no time to waste"n

Education Otherwise (0891 518303)