Help, I’m scared of ruining my child!

It’s quite common to hear an anxious plea like this from a home educating parent.

It’s a widely felt concern and a familiar sensation to all who’ve home schooled, once you’re into the reality of home educating day to day. In particular, those days the kids seem to have spent much of the day gaming or doing what appears to be very little!

Firstly, in response to that, I’d like to reassure you that I know home educated youngsters who spent days gaming or doing nothing and they weren’t ruined. Their learning lives were just led differently; they got their act together when required and went on to lead productive happy working lives, some studied for exams and got good grades, others launched themselves into work via other routes and opportunities. We’re conned into the idea (by those who want to keep us obedient to the system) that the sytematic approach to learning offered in schools is the only way to a worthy life. It isn’t.

Whatever they’re doing will have a value strange though it may seem to you!

Secondly, doing nothing isn’t really doing nothing. It may be doing little that you recognise (from that system) as education. But that doesn’t mean that it is nothing of value. Children learn, progress, develop skills, increase their knowledge from all sorts of incidental activities that might look like nothing. For example; gaming; they’re increasing many skills, mental and motor. Chatting with mates, exploring websites, playing and playing around, are all activities which contribute to their development in some way. Just because it isn’t recognisable (by the system’s terms) or measurable (again by the system’s standards) does NOT mean it’s worthless.  Conversations, especially with other adults, are not measurable by the system’s terms but are priceless in developing language, confidence, social skills, understanding, knowledge etc etc.

Thirdly, you are very unlikely to be ruining your child. How come? Look at the logic of it; if you’re a parent who’s reading this, who’s chosen to home educate probably as a result of a lot of long, hard thinking and research, then it’s fair to assume you’re a conscientious parent. And conscientious parents don’t ruin their kids. They learn, adapt, flex, review, research, and keep on learning. That’s what you’re doing.

Take a look at what ruins kids anyway. I assume that to be abuse or neglect, neither of which you’re likely to be doing.

Some days you will be ignoring them. It’s good for them. It develops independence, thinking skills, space to mature as they need to, make decisions, take charge – they never get the chance to take charge in schooling so they never find out how to take charge of life. But for the most part you will be engaging with them, even if just through conversation or idea sharing, showing, demonstrating, or prompting, all of which are valid. Mostly you’ll be encouraging, stimulating, facilitating experiences and opportunities, organising activities. But that won’t be all the time. They’ll soon take over organising themselves if you’ve demonstrated the skills needed to do that and nurtured space for them to do so.

I’ve said many times that kids spend hours and hours in school wasting time, switched off, passively receiving stuff they’re not interested in and which doesn’t inspire them. At home they learn things so quickly so they have hours to game, play, whatever, which stimulates them in valuable ways and increases their motivation. Every minute home schooling need not be (should not be) filled with ‘doing’ education. It certainly isn’t in school. They need stimulating – not coercing.

Finally, isn’t it ironic that rarely would anyone say that a child is being ruined by school! Why make such a blanket statement about home education? Reserve judgement. Do what you feel is right for your child.

Home educating does not ruin children. I don’t know of any ruined home schoolers. All of them are different. All of them have follwed different pathways, some conventional, some not so. But all are intelligent, vibrant, busy, switched on people who have built the necessary skills to move forward towards the life they want….and anyway….like us parents; they’re still not finished yet!

My latest book ‘A Home Education Notebook to encourage and inspire’ (see the panel right) is there to help you deal with these kinds of concerns. Find it at Bird’s Nest Books or on Amazon.

12 thoughts on “Help, I’m scared of ruining my child!

  1. I’ve worked with children who’ve been neglected and abused and I wouldn’t call them “ruined”, although abuse certainly can cause deep traumas that make life harder – but children are resilient and soak up knowledge like sponges, they will learn no matter how hard you try to stop them! Look at the children who have been raised by wild animals (few but they are out there); they are able to learn to communicate with the animals they live with, move around their habitat and survive in the environment they find themselves in. Children who are living in a more conventional society will learn what they need to know to survive, even without parents who love and care for them and try to support them.

    I’m absolutely not arguing in favour of neglecting children because they can just fend for themselves, but just using the example of extreme neglect to put into perspective the idea that children can be ruined. In my experience it’s really, really hard to prevent children from learning! As you say, no parent who has made the considered decision to home educate are likely to be anywhere near neglecting their children enough to damage their natural thirst for knowledge.

  2. I certainly switched of at school for most of the school day if truth be told, it took many years to interest me in attending mentally again – with the help of my father, and an inspiring nun! not being religious i still have to say i owe her a lot – my father put aside hours of his evenings , and conversations with him when not ‘learning’ re-ignited my natural curiosity – from both of them I learnt to enjoy ‘learning’ for the sake of it and also at the last minute to get enough passes to eventually, in my late 40s, to get to uni to indulge this curiosity further, but poor teachers when i was five deprived me of 10 years of knowledge (maths, grammar and othe ‘subjects’ – what I learned while switched off was from books, wandering around parks, outings, the seaside, even playing on the building sites ( this was early 50s) cooking with my mother, spending time chatting with my grandmothers.

    as always I am envious of the home schooled children and their chance of enjoying their childhood.

  3. Thank you Ross, I needed that today! So warm and sunny, a day on the beach was called for but after a very early start and a flurry of activity we were all done in by lunch and dvd’s were calling. I was just reflecting on my day thinking it started so well then descended into a few hours of nothingness, i was feeling that pang of failure that my girls chose ‘Ballerina’ and vegging out over further fun with mum… I must get the mantra – quality over quantity tattooed somewhere useful and of course keep reading your fantastic emails.

    • Thank you so much for your comment Elisabeth. I’m really glad it’s helped. Yes – keep on with the mantra! And keep thinking about the ‘quality’ of some schooling!

  4. Thank you so much for this post Ross. I’ve been feeling this way (I’ve home educated my 13 yo son since taking him out of school a year ago), and this reassurance that the time he/we spend doing things other than traditional ‘education’ is not wasted but valuable has really helped me to get my concerns in perspective. Thank you

    • A real pleasue to have helped reassure Amy! The youngsters learn so much from so many of their day to day experiences and spending time with others, which is immeasurable and even though they’re never associated with ‘education’ they are vital for rounded development. It’s only a rounded young person who is truly ‘educated’!

  5. Thank you once again Ross for your encouraging and supportive words, they are so needed by us and I am grateful that you share your experience with us all. On my good days I feel all that you say myself but on my darker days it all goes out of the window and panic sets in which takes alot of energy to hold! So reading your words always helps me get back to my instincts and carry on following them – so to me they are energy savers! Once again I will post this on our home ed facebook page for others to benefit from.

    • Hi Frances, lovely to hear from you and thank you for taking the time to say. So glad to have helped. It also helps to remember that there would be dark days if the kids were in school too, but ‘dark days’ at home are far better for them!! 🙂 All the best. And do share – that’s what it’s here for! Thank you again. x

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