Home education

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Despite it being the method by which we have educated our children for most of our time on the planet, a few centuries of classroom schooling have made home education an idea that seems radical to most people today. Indeed, people often need reassuring that the law is clear on this matter, which it is – while education is compulsory, attendance at a school is not. It was in response to the vulgarities and ineptitude of modern day education that home schooling experienced a rebirth in the 1960s, following the publication and popularisation of books such as John Holt’s How Children Fail(240) and subsequent How Children Learn,(241) along with others such as Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society.(242)

Ross Mountney,(243) author of Learning Without School: Home Education(244)

Of all the alternative choices there are in life, the choice of home schooling is probably one that worries people the most. But thousands of parents in the UK are dissatisfied with the way schools are educating their children and are now successfully home educating. Hopefully this will give a little insight into how, and alleviate some of those worries.

We decided to home educate ours for two basic reasons; our increasing distaste with a conveyor belt style of pushing children towards results with disregard for the development of the individual. And secondly, more importantly, because they were unhappy. They became unwell as a consequence and we were shocked to watch their pre-school desire to learn squeezed out of them by an over-prescriptive curriculum.

Now, they are launching into the world beyond their school years and they, and many others like them whom we home schooled with, are proof that home education works extremely well. You can provide a stimulating and individualised approach to learning that equips your child with what they need to live their lives productively. It can cost as much or as little as your budget allows yet still be a good education. Your children can build valuable social skills by mixing with a wide range of people and a high proportion of adults, in contrast to the inhibiting and sometimes questionable social climate found in schools. You can successfully enable your home schooled children to go onto higher education or into work as they desire without disproportionate pressure.

How does it work?
The approach to home educating you adopt can be completely up to you and the needs of your child and family. We are all very familiar with a school-style approach to education and many parents start out using that as a model. There are books with academic exercises in them which you can find in most libraries and online, and there are many, many learning websites, games and activities online (like BBC Learning). You can find out almost everything you need to know on the web including the National Curriculum.

But as your confidence grows you discover that there are many ways to learn other than by academic exercises and this familiar school approach. For example; you probably learnt to use your new mobile phone by exploring what it does and using it, not by reading about it. Children can learn in the same way. Education does not have to be complicated.

Many children learn to read just by being read to and enjoying books with their parents. Many children begin to understand number and maths in the same experiential way, just by using numbers and counting. Physical and practical everyday activities (shopping is a good example) that involve discussion, observation and explanation, can teach children enormous amounts. In fact many parents don’t realise that they have already taught their children so much before school just by incidental conversations, by engaging with them, by giving them time and attention. This style of learning can continue as you home educate.

All experiences teach your children something. By making those experiences varied, stimulating, proactive and relevant, your children will be learning. Sitting in a classroom at a desk, listening to a teacher and writing stuff down is no guarantee there is learning taking place and, despite what we’ve been conned to believe, it’s not the only way to learn either. If children are involved with what they’re doing, whether it’s enjoying Horrible Histories, creating, growing food, or visiting a nature reserve, they will be learning from it, even more so if there’s an engaged adult chatting with them about it.

Children learn best from practical involvement. The beauty of home educating is that you can make much of your child’s learning practical, from experimenting, making up stories, dissecting a chicken, to exploring materials or pairing the gloves (good start to times tables). Equally, children learn just as well lying on the floor, or lolling on the settee, out in the garden or even on the beach, as they do sitting at a desk. They can also be fiddling and not still, they can be noisy or use music if it helps, they can learn later in the afternoon not early in the morning (which is no good for teenagers). If it works, you can do it that way.

Just to give a typical day as an example; we may have started the morning by studying a book based in Victorian times, followed that up with a web search, discussion and a trip to our local museum where there was a Victorian classroom, researched a Victorian recipe to cook at a later date, had a swim for recreation and exercise usually with other home schoolers, visited the library. This gives you an idea of how you could vary the day and approach learning in a different way. You can have as much or as little structure as suits.

Thus, through home educating you can strip away many of the unnecessary school-style structures like tests, time and age limits, subject and timetable restrictions and learn in a way that truly suits your child’s needs, rather than the needs of an institution which requires to teach masses with as little teacher input as possible.

Home education can give your children a thoroughly enjoyable experience of learning. If they’re enjoying it, they will learn. In fact, one of the things that moved our children on the most was the discovery that, rather than something being done to them by other people, often in uncaring ways, learning was actually something that they could have some charge of and enjoy. That feeling remains with them in their older lives now.

How do your children mix and make friends?
There are many home educators’ blogs on the web and organisations to support and help home educating families; the community grows daily. So there is no need for anyone to home school in isolation – kids or parents. Networking on the web and joining organisations will soon find you other home schoolers.

We joined several home educating groups. These varied in what they provided. Some were for social purposes; meeting for sport or at play centres where parents could swap concerns, ideas and get support whilst the children were active. Some were for educational outings, perhaps a field trip, visit to a gallery or site of specific interest. Or sometimes for an organised activity or learning session.

Through these groups both parents and children form relationships and make friends. The children also make friends in the same way all children make friends, through clubs, sports and social activities. Schools do not have exclusivity on friendships. In fact some of the relationships there are formed under threat and anxiety, not through care, mutual interest and respect.

Within the home educating groups there is usually a high proportion of adults to children. So children have an adult example on which to base their own behaviour. This makes them far more skilled in their interaction, conversation, compassion and care for others. It also makes them far more employable.

Far from being ‘weird’, which is a myth about home schooled children, they are in many ways much more able to fit into society than school children. The social setting in school, where you rarely interact with anyone outside your age group, is highly unnatural and forced. Home schooled children are socially skilled because they have learned in more natural social groupings, mixing with people of all ages, who wear normal shoes not just designer ones, who interact out of friendship and support rather than one-upmanship, bullying and tension and who don’t have to fight to get their needs met.

What about cost?
Schools try to impress us with their glittering resources. But it’s not resources that educate the children, it is the people with whom they learn and the experiences they have.

Many children sit in schools surrounded by the latest technology, books and qualified teachers but remain totally switched off. Because it’s not the gadgets or the teacher status that get children learning, it is encouragement, stimulation, care and attention; not always in abundance within schools.

We, and many others, home educated on a very tight budget. But we were able to give our children a rich educative experience by using the resources that were around us and the experiences in our everyday lives. For example, we didn’t need costly equipment, we could improvise with what we had. We didn’t need expensive workbooks to learn about history, we visited local places of historic interest, mostly for free, museums included. We have a home full of things to use in mathematical calculations. We used recycling centres. We extended language and vocabulary by talking, reading and writing. The world around them became the children’s biggest learning resource, particularly for science. A caring, interested adult, the best resource of all. These are free. You can’t really buy education; you have to nurture it.

What happens as they get older?
Parents tend to think it gets more serious as they get older. In actual fact the foundation years of a child’s education are the most important. As they get older their education develops naturally outside school.

Through discussion with them about what they might like to do in the world, ours made their own choices and with our guidance worked towards finding the right path for them. Our children decided to go to college to gain qualifications for university. Some of our friends studied for GCSEs and A Levels at home using study packs. Some did neither and went straight into work. You can choose the route you want. You can take it in any direction you want, any time scale you want, according to your child’s needs and preferences.

A different understanding
When you home educate you begin to develop a different under-standing about what education is, far removed from the the grade-greedy culture of schools. Education is to help equip children for life in the world outside school, not to force them to gain grades just to push schools up League Tables.

Education is not only about knowledge, it’s about what you do with that knowledge in the light of being a caring, responsible, respectful human being. Kids learn about that in an atmosphere of being cared for and respected themselves, not in a place where they have no choice and no voice. Education is a personal and individual journey, not a by-product of politicians trying to win votes.

Home educating allows you to turn the education of your children from a political, conveyor-belt process into a personalised journey of self discovery and growth. It gives you the opportunity to demonstrate the importance of care, responsibility and respect. And it gives you the chance to make love and fulfilment an important part of that journey. For it is loving and fulfilled citizens, not necessarily qualified ones, who make a loving and fulfilled society. Which is ultimately what education is for.