This is another question that people ask when finding out about home education or starting for themselves. So as part of this series of Monday posts for newbies I thought I’d try and answer it.
Most people accept that children go to school to learn.
And one of the ideas that people with no experience of home education find hard to grasp is that children who do not go to school also learn.
So how does that take place?
With schooling and teaching entrenched in our thinking as the mainstream way to learn we tend to forget all the other learning that goes on without it. Just think for a moment; firstly, of all the things your child learnt before they ever went to school – all without teachers or tests or curriculum or strategies.
And secondly, think all of the things that you’ve learned since you left school, like driving for example or cooking or using your latest gadget or new job skills.
You learnt them through:
- First hand experience
- Researching and finding out for yourself
- Building understanding
- Asking others and using others’ support when needed
- Having a go and practising
This is the way children who are home educated learn too and you can facilitate your child’s learning in much the same way through those approaches.
You can provide stimuli and activities, guidance, encouragement and first hand experiences, sometimes even keeping out of it and allowing them to find things out and practice for themselves, other times finding others to experience it with if required.
This is how you will have enabled your child to walk, talk, dress themselves, use tools and technology, develop various physical and practical skills up till now. And this approach works just as well when you’re home educating – it’s almost an extension of your parenting and need be nothing more than that.
Some parents like to use an approach similar to a school day with structured periods of academic work and activities initiated by them as per a schedule.
Other parents like to use a more autonomous approach allowing the child to pursue activities of their own choice and interest, using opportunities to develop more specific skills and knowledge as they arise.
Some like to stick with a curriculum – which is merely a plan of activities – that takes a learner through a sequence of learning activities towards specific objectives, like the National curriculum does, which sets out what the government thinks all children should know.
Others feel this is too prescriptive and inhibits spontaneous learning opportunities that arise naturally throughout living on a day to day basis. And they also question for themselves what it is that children should know and why.
(There’s a section in my book ‘Learning Without School’ which explains autonomous and structured approaches to learning and how children learn in more detail).
We all probably feel that we want our children to know certain things, be able to do certain things, and be able to progress in life. But when you start home educating you can also question what the really important things are; not only educationally but personally too.
For example, is it imperative that kids know facts to be tested, or more important that they have the skills needed to find out facts?
Schooling is very much geared to learning stuff that can be tested and examined. And in the pursuit of those goals many of the more personal attributes a young person needs in today’s world (and work) are neglected. Things like confidence, self-esteem, common sense, initiative, decision making skills, adaptability, imagination (to solve problems and think outside the box) to be articulate and social – all of which come from a broad experience of the real world and people in the real world, not just the school world.
And these attributes are developed more through how you learn – through diversity and experiences, rather than what you learn.
A positive and uplifting experience with learning is what to aim for. Then young people will want to learn for themselves, an attribute that will stand them in good stead for the rest of their life.
Even very young children learn for themselves, if you just watch. Sometimes we inhibit that by attaching all sorts of adult structures to the learning process – more often than not for our own comfort!
The question ‘how can children learn at home?’ tends to suggest that children do not want to learn and have to be made to go to school to do so. But actually the opposite is true; children love to learn – that’s why they investigate everything and ask endless questions when they’re little – it’s just schooling puts many off.
Children will learn at home. You just need to trust and make sure you approach your learning – your home educating life – in a way which will not put them off like school so often does!