It’s so exciting to find researchers who acknowledge that home educators’ approaches make a valuable contribution to ideas about education. Harriet Pattison is one such person.
She describes herself as an erstwhile home educator still puzzling over the meanings of education, childhood and learning. She continues to fly the flag for the alternative as a lecturer in Early Childhood at Liverpool Hope University.
But all the while she’s been researching the way in which home educated children learn to read and from those examples considers how all educators could do with rethinking, and perhaps deformalising, their approach to it.
She told me how her research for her new book ‘Rethinking Learning to Read’ came about:
Education is supposedly about opening up children’s minds. I think those of us who home educate might say actually it is about opening up adult’s minds. Certainly home educating made a great start on opening up mine. It’s amazing watching children; just watching them – not watching them learn or watching them develop but just watching them live. Therein for me has lain an on-going puzzle. The living is crowded in with an adult agenda and what was just being becomes doing and doing becomes learning. But learning is what the adult sees because that’s what we are looking for; what the child does is be. The puzzle reached its crescendo over learning to read. How can children just live their way into reading?
Stories about children who ‘just started to read’ always fascinated me. I wasn’t prepared to find it going on in my own house though. I wasn’t prepared for the different ways in which it manifested itself. The more I saw and the more I thought about it, the less I seemed to understand what it was all about. When I couldn’t get out of the dead end of my own thinking, I started asking everyone else. All home educators it seems have a tale about reading and I was lucky enough to share some really mind-blowing ones; ones that really rattle the cage of educational convention and demand some heavy re-thinking.
311 families with 400 children contributed to the research, answered my questions and shared their stories and insights. What emerged was a kaleidoscope of experiences, shimmers of similarity that turned away from each other, reflected but unsettled each other. Beautiful, certainly but also unknown and, maybe even for that dangerous. This was a rough ground of real life; tangled and complicated and wild – not something over which a neat frame of ready to hand theory could be tidily laid. The stories, the wilderness, the puzzles demand that reading be re-thought because, somehow, our children have lived their way into a new territory of meaning.
‘Re-thinking learning to read’ is my foray into that wilderness. I take with me a back pack of questions from the old world – all the things we worry about, the educational cares but also a strong desire to take nothing for granted, to begin again, to rethink.
I’m reading the book at the moment and shall do a longer post about it soon.
Harriet is also co-author of the book ‘How children Learn at Home’ with Alan Thomas which researched the way in which children who are home educated learn through their experiences outside school.