Where did this paper mountain come from?

having a clear out

There’s a little known fact about home education; it doesn’t have to be on paper to make it valuable.

But the way home educating parents can worry about providing evidence for the Local Authority – or even proof we’ve actually done something – it soon becomes a bit of a mad rush to collate bits of paper with ‘proper’ educational activities on them just to have something tangible to ‘show’ what’s been done.

But having something to show doesn’t prove the learner has learnt. And what’s a ‘proper’ educational activity anyway?

I fought against falling into this trap of thinking that education isn’t happening if it’s not written down, although I didn’t always succeed. I sometimes fell for a nice little record sheet I found on the Internet, suggesting the kids used it and often thereby ruining what had been an exciting learning activity. Sometimes the kids were seduced by the glossy workbooks in W H Smiths but didn’t use them for long. Some kids really like doing these sorts of academic exercises. Mine weren’t any of those!

So we rarely used worksheets/books of any kind – used them more in terms of reference for me to see what other kids were covering, and sometimes for maths when it just became too challenging to continually think up interesting mathematical activities to cover concepts the kids needed to learn. But I firmly believe that becoming educated does not necessarily involve writing about what we’d learnt all the time.

The writing bit is nearly always about recording (not counting creative writing here) – which was more for my benefit than for the learner. The children learnt mostly through their everyday activities, our conversations, through reading and discussion, observation and questioning, programmes on TV and computer. Always having our learning on paper just wasn’t relevant and we didn’t do it much.


The other day my teen was having a clear out. We were going through the old bookcase where we’d shoved all our ‘home school stuff’, now needing to sort and throw some of it away. And suddenly we found ourselves under a paper mountain.

“Did we really do all this?” I exclaimed as I surveyed the damage. It seemed we did.

What a waste, for if I’d known at the time I wouldn’t have worried, like I gather many of you newer home schooling families are worrying, that we ‘weren’t doing anything’.

But, actually, just like us I bet you will be doing plenty. And I bet one day you’ll have to sort it all out as we have – or move to a bigger house!

But please don’t be hoodwinked into thinking that a paper mountain is necessary for learning to be taking place. Some of our most engaged learning days – maybe like visits to museums or practical activities – had no paper involved at all. And sometimes we can be so busy trying to make sure we have these bits of paper as proof, we can totally neglect or trash the really enjoyable learning experience.

And it’s the experience that counts to the child. Not the bit of paper to prove you did it!

(I’m going to write a bit more on collating evidence for your peace of mind – or the LA – next time).


12 thoughts on “Where did this paper mountain come from?

  1. I guess we live in a physical world where everything has to be seen to believed and when we have the opportunity to just ‘be’ with your children we acknowledge other ways of learning.

  2. Hello. Happy Monday morning. I totally agree with this – I remember at school we would have treats like a travelling theatre would come and perform – we always had to write about it afterwards. In those days, a sort of travelling film company also came and showed documentaries etc on a large movie screen – we always had to write about it. School trips out – fantastic days but we always had to write about it afterwards. Every darned special treat was spoiled by having to write about it afterwards – even what we got for Christmas. I don’t HE like that. There is no way I am going to ruin a trip to the theatre or any where else for that matter by having to write about it afterwards. I much prefer other methods and they work. For instance, studying a James Joyce short story. We will sit in comfy chairs and I will read it out loud and stop to discuss characterisation, setting, plot or writing devices. This might mean a two hour session which is full of discussion. Will can interrupt at any point to say something. It is exciting and inspiring. For any critics who might want to question whether he could write about it – he is a regular reviewer for a popular website and also writes articles for on line magazines. In other words, he is writing because he wants to. I think that when we force constant recording on our children, it turns them off writing – if we inspire them enough, they will want to write of their own accord.

  3. Oh, thank you so much for writing this! We have been homeschooling our 9yr old son a little over 3 months – he has Aspergers and, like many kids on the spectrum, struggles with writing, in fact he actively avoids it. I have tried not to put any pressure on him to write so most of our learning has been done with books, computer, hands on activities etc. But still there is that little bit at the back of my mind that worries that he has not produced much in the way of written “work” so it is so reassuring to be told that this is ok,

    • It’s so nice to know it helps Rachel, so thank you for commenting. I think probably writing was one of the things we did least of all, but when the time came in later life at college the children still had no trouble with those thousand word essays! So keep faith! x

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