There, that caught your attention, didn’t it? If only there was a nice, one size fits all, instruction manual for home educating. Of course, there are plenty of people happy to sell you books, boxes and curricula that profess to be the ultimate success, but if i’ve learned anything in 9 years of home educating, the one nugget of information i can pass on confidently to others is that purveyors of such things are definitely best ignored or at the very least treated as bit part actors in how you HE. I just don’t believe there is a sure fire way to educate, far less home educate.
There is a reason for this, one spelt out (irritatingly!) by an NHS baby care website i happened to find myself at the other week. This bit of government regurgitated pap stated as it’s opening line “Babies are all different. This is because we are all born individuals.” Well thank you for that. The Government Education Machine is currently busy churning out the concept of personalised, more individual education, greater autonomy of subject for teachers and less testing to promote more learning, purely because their latest think tank has come up with something that home educators have known forever. That children and what each child needs to learn, is highly specific to that individual. Odd then really, in the light of that, that they choose to begin hounding home educators into a system of scrutiny, assessment and prescriptive planning at the same time as they choose to begin removing that from schools. But that is another blog post all together.
There are an awful lot of ways to home educate. I know people who follow very classical and school like time tables and i know people who use no formal educational materials at all. I know people who HE as a reaction to awful school experience, where anything is better than what has happened before and people who home educate because it fits with a very autonomous style of parenting. I know people who use Montessori methods, people who follow Charlotte Mason principles, people who use workbooks, people who approach 95% of projects through craft. I know people who work predominantly alone with their child and people who spend most of their days in groups or at events. I know flexi-schoolers, unschoolers and curriculum users.
What i don’t know are any children who appear unhappy or uneducated, no matter what the method of home educating.
I also know an awful lot of people who started, with the best intentions in the world, to use any one of these methods and have changed dramatically as they have reacted to their own and their children’s needs through the years. I know ex-teachers who would never expect their child to put pen to paper unless it was their choice, i know Montessori teachers who have sent their children to mainstream school when the time was right or accepted that hands on materials will not suit their child. I know autonomous households with text books and classical households where the second child along simply doesn’t feel ready for reading or Latin at 6 and has been able to move differently through their journey. I know roving, event driven home educators who discuss a need as it arises and sift through resources for a suitable tool to achieve that goal.
The most important thing about home educating a child, in my opinion, is that it needs to work for all the parties involved. And that can be a very moving goalpost. Both the child and the parent need to be motivated by what is happening and happy with the process, whether the process is monitored by happiness, general fulfilment, academic progression or whatever else. There doesn’t seem to me to be much benefit for anyone if the parent feels they have to sacrifice their comfort zones or happiness for the sake of the process, nor if the child gets sacrificed for some inner goal the parent feels the need to achieve. For example, when we started to HE Fran, i felt compelled to organise and plan and build and progress and alter – i felt the need to be in control of the process in order to be sure i was giving it my all. Some of that, if i feel generous, i will attribute to the fact that i recognised her needs and learning style even though i didn’t know i had, but most of it came from a need to control and succeed and be proved right. And to bring myself some control over her.
It’s okay to start with one idea of how it will be and evolve as you go along. Evolution happens as need and environment brings requirement for change and in some respects, that is exactly what SHOULD happen. It would be highly surprising to know at the beginning of a long exploration every single thing you will need or meet along the way, or who you will be at the end of it. If you accept that you will grow and change and mutate as you go along, that cuts down on a lot of the stress. Another of my small nuggets of wisdom would be not to plan more than a couple of days ahead. Another thing HEers face being curtailed 🙁
So, how do WE home educate? How we STARTED was as a fairly formal, fairly structured, fairly rigid fashion which, although not in fact a million miles away from what suits my eldest the best, i approached in a way that caused a lot of stress and a good few battles. It would have suited my second child even less, though i was wiser by then fortunately. It might have suited my younger two well enough, but they would not be the people they are. As we struggled with it, i wrestled away with the idea of autonomous education but i just couldn’t see how to make it work with the child i seemed to have. She simply, no matter how often i experimented, didn’t seem to have the inner patience, reserves or natural curiosities to motivate herself. Left to her own devices, she made mess, lolled and complained, disrupted the others or got hugely frustrated. She didn’t come up with plans she wanted me to facilitate, she wanted to be taught things – but she only wanted to learn about what she was interested in. And as my other three began to grow up, i could see this really was something that seemed quite unique to her among them.
And so we abandoned the idea of autonomy as not having a great deal of meaning for us as a family. In some respects i think it comes with a parenting essence that i wasn’t ready for back then but what suited us best was “child led”. For us, this meant trying to attune what we spent our days doing to what had piqued their interests; we worked mainly around projects that rolled lots of skill building together and we read lots, watched things and generally tried to be as varied and expansive as possible within their preparedness to investigate. None of them are exploring the world or building their skills in the same way at all and we adapt everything to suit the individual child.
One thing that came from our earliest days, which i have never regretted, is something that became known as “normals”. For the most part, they were mostly things like reading, maths, writing practise – things suitable to the level of the child which either they were motivated to do or i felt were currently fairly essential skills they needed. Latterly these have grown to include music practise, gym stretches, drawing or using things like Education City online. Generally the girls can see the benefit of all these things, quite like the brain-stretch they get from them and are happy to spend 90 minutes or so most days doing them. They fill time between getting more individual time from me, or while someone else has a music lesson or as a pass for getting to then spend the afternoon on Club Penguin. And as they are often quick, painless and self checking, i don’t spend any time marking or correcting or setting work. We have a system of places these things come from and it all just happens.
Hand in hand with that, goes another family ethos. EVERYTHING stops for a good day out, we never faff about doing literacy hour (!) before we go off to have fun or do something more real. Equally, there is only one strict family rule and that is that people should be gainfully employed doing something. I don’t care what it is – reading, making, doing, watching, playing, being, seeing, climbing. I can’t bear “I’m bored!” and if anyone says it, i’ll find them something to do. A brilliant game is a better thing to be doing than maths, while it lasts and a sunny day should always be spent in the garden or somewhere nice. I’m even fairly laid back about tv, or at least i used to be in the days when they really bothered to watch it (it has rarely been restricted). I draw the line at too much Basil Brush or Tracy flipping Beaker but otherwise i enjoy seeing them enjoy things for its own sake.
And so that is how we do it. Be busy, gather skills according to need and make the most of every opportunity offered. So far, it seems to have worked out pretty well but it has been a 9 year exploration making it so. And i’m pretty sure that another 9 years down the line, we’ll be different again. And that is great.
If i had one thing that i thought might be a useful thing that all home educators should have, it would be this…
I might start a shop to sell them. Mrs Puddle… Purveyor of Panic 😉
Written for the Why and How Home Education Blog Round Up at Making it Up