I recently asked a fellow home educator about their learning life and had this wonderful account sent to me. It’s quite long but incredibly uplifting, so when you have a moment grab a cuppa and have a read. I think you’ll come away inspired:
As the children and I settled on the train, a fellow passenger asks, ’Not in school today?’ On explaining that we home educate and we were on our way to the home education drama group, the typical queries began. ‘Are you a teacher? Do you follow the national curriculum? What about socialisation? But WHY do you do it…?
These questions can happen several times a week. I want to sit them down over a cuppa and explain our home education philosophy. But it is hard to explain this full-living (fulfilling) life in the time we have.
At its core, it is about a respectful and consensual education, one that fully supports their human rights. The children know they have a voice. They learn to trust themselves and are able to make decisions accordingly, giving them control over their bodies and thoughts. They decide when they need to eat, drink, rest, sleep, move and exercise, recover from illness and use the toilet. They are given the freedom to decide if they need quiet time in this busy world. We want our children to learn that human rights, respect, consent and empathy are important, and what better way to understand that than by living it, and talking about it?
The ‘socialisation’ issue is the one we are most questioned about. But who dictated what socialisation looks like, and that it should look like it does in school? Do they need to be with the same kids every day, in a system where playtimes and free time can be short and they’re often told; ‘sit down and shut up, you are not here to socialise!’ At this point I will say, it is not usually the fault of the teachers, but of the system that makes this the reality. And I am glad it is not our reality anymore. My children find plenty of time to socialise. Their social life has never been as rich since they began home educating.
There are plenty of groups they attend regularly; drama, Lego club, swim class, museum groups, board games club at the library, the science museum, the archaeology club at the local university, and archaeological digs. There are casual meet ups in parks, playgrounds, and homes. My children were socialising when they sat under sketches by Leonardo da Vinci, working in their own sketch books and talking to the museum curator. They’re socialising when getting tips for a new project from a cousin who is a wonderful silk artist and during more planned experiences such as getting to help operate the traffic control signals in the city centre, or learning how to paint with light and build shadow puppets in workshops, they answer questions put forth by the archaeology club, which is a mix of home educated and school children.
At times we find there is too much socialising and cut back for a time, spending more time in home and garden. And even then, they are still ‘socialising’ by talking to the postman, the milkman, the neighbours, the shopkeepers, family and friends. There is also the benefit of strong family and sibling relationships, and I am sure our home educated children would not play together as much if they attended school. They don’t accept that boys and girls don’t play with each other, and more specifically, brothers and sisters, as they are sometimes told by others at playgrounds. My children have a brilliant relationship with their siblings and family. And another point to consider, some people need less socialising in their lives, so why should people who don’t know my children get to decide what their ‘socialisation’ should look like?
In the book’ Hold On To Your Kids’ by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate, it says that ‘Peer orientation has become the norm, but is neither natural nor healthy. It is better to learn from those who have already learned than from those who are still learning.’ This book points out that socialising with people of all ages throughout the day is more indicative of the lives our children will experience as adults.
Then there’s the idea that children need to experience bullying in order to learn how to deal with it. But the idea that children need to experience this in school is more to do with making us feel better that it is happening, because often the adults are powerless to deal with it at the root. I do know this as a fact since my husband and I have six older children who are at varying stages of teen and adulthood and we have over 30 years experience parenting, over 25 years with the schooling experience. Sadly, our family has had to deal with this in schools.
However, our home educated children certainly do come across bullying as they are in the community every single day, but they have more freedom to remedy it. They may confront the situation directly or simply walk away, but they can also ask for advice or help, just as adults can access legal means to stop both mental and physical bullying because it is harmful to be subjected to it. If it isn’t good for the adults who have more experience, knowledge and power to confront the situation, it certainly isn’t good for our children, especially as their growing minds and bodies are at their most vulnerable. Scientific evidence shows how unhealthy this sort of stress is, and the real damage it can do physically and mentally. They don’t need to be immersed in an environment where bullying can be a part of every single day in order to know how to deal with it.
How do they learn? It starts by having a culture of learning in our home. As parents, we are facilitators who guide our children on their learning journey. They learn how to learn – how to question, seek, research, and develop critical thinking skills, and how to communicate through reading, writing, conversations, film making, or any other form. It can be formal, but it doesn’t have to be, it can be through deep conversation over making dinner or taking a walk, through parents, children, teens and young adults, sharing knowledge and skills in areas of expertise that we all have. No one knows everything, not even schools. If we don’t know it, we are certainly capable of learning it, or know how to look further through books, the internet, or through experts in groups, classes, businesses, or museums. If we want, we can outsource like a school does. There is almost always a club or group for whatever we need. And if we don’t follow the national curriculum, that is not an issue or a ‘failure’ in our education. Curriculums are specific to schools, for comparing schools, but they certainly don’t give everything kids need. We work at developing the skills our children need and desire, ones that are relevant to them, ones that are important for them as they grow. If children learn through their passions and interests, using skills and knowledge, this learning cannot be forgotten. That is authentic learning. Through following their interests, reading, writing and maths develop, because nothing is learned in isolation.
Our children are learning real skills in the real world, from coding, making animations, doing creative writing, film making, nature observations and recording seasonal changes, local flora and fauna in their journals, creating with textiles and crafting, to making their own homemade yogurts and sourdough breads (and the science behind it), to soups and meals. We have economy, science, reading, maths, art, life skills and nutrition right there! They know how the home runs and can contribute to it. And they have direct experience of what skills their father uses running his business. This is real life learning, it’s active and hands-on, and definitely not as sedentary as a typical school day.
Our school experience was brief play at break and lunch time, and P.E. once or twice a week. And sometimes that was lost as a class punishment which meant less physical activity and fresh air. We probably spend on average around 5 hours a day exploring and playing outdoors (a little less in winter). This is different day to day, it might mean outdoor play in the garden, or walks, bug and bird watching, gardening, or getting up early and walking up the hills to watch the sunrise. We don’t often get snow, so when it happens, whole days are spent playing, sledding, walking, examining snow and ice, only coming in for meals and warming up. We spend hours exploring rock pools, shells, seaweed, pebbles, sea glass, and even the occasional fossil. Science first hand is alive and exciting! To learn through nature and play as biologically designed is amazing, and to do it as a family is even better. The outdoors also gives you space to be on your own when you want. Many creative ideas are born and put into action outside. The children recently built their’ time machine’ which needed the full space of the garden to be played out. You could hear them talking about the preparations needed if they were to land in the Tudor times or in the time of dinosaurs, and the various dangers they had to confront. You know the learning is rich when this happens. In the children’s tree fort/potion kitchen/veggie patch (also known as the mud patch), they find their own quiet space, observe nature’s creatures, climb trees, set up a tent, or even dig for treasure. And they can get as dirty and noisy as they like! It is the happiest and healthiest of lifestyles.
One question I was recently asked was, ‘Is there ever time for negativity to fit into this beautiful space they live in?’
I loved this question, and I took it a step further: Is there a place for all those bumps in the road that challenge us and help us to grow? Yes, there is! But it doesn’t need to crush the joy out of them. Struggles over personal projects and goals, developing a growth mindset, and failure, are all part of the learning process. But it does not mean they are ridiculed, humiliated, or kept in at playtime to redo it. We are open to the idea of failure as a stepping stone to further learning. As Einstein said, ‘Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new’. I remember watching a teacher from Finland say, ‘…education is anything that makes the brain work.’ Simple words, but powerful, we don’t need to overcomplicate it.
One of my children has dyslexia and dyscalculia and works very hard to overcome the challenges. As she is developing skills she needs in the world, she is also developing her own unique engineering and artistic skills that are her personal strengths. She couldn’t nourish these strengths while in the school system because everything was about ‘fixing’ her weaknesses, there was no focus on her strengths. By time she got home, she was tired from the extraordinary amount of energy used to overcome her challenges. Even weekends were too short to truly grow her gifts, and self-confidence was most definitively chipped away. Since beginning home educating we have met an experienced educator who says this same child demonstrates a true entrepreneurial spirit of exploration, risk and creativity, and she is excited to see where the learning takes her.
Home educating is such a wonderful endeavour and rich part of our lives. We are experts when it comes to our children’s learning; we know what they need, and how they learn best.
So, why do we home educate?
It’s for the personalised education, and wherever the adventure might take us!
(If anyone else would like to talk about their home educating days here, do let me know in the comments below and I’ll get back to you. If we can spread our positive stories around it might help counterbalance some of the negative we receive!)