When we were home educating I often got asked the question, by people unfamiliar with home schooling and the variety of approaches to learning; ‘Do you sit the children down at the table at nine in the morning until three in the afternoon?’
That is the only vision some have about the way education and learning works, so it was a common one.
The trouble with this, if you’re asked it regularly, is it makes you think that perhaps you should be!
Doing ‘school at home’ or an impression of it, is something that many home educating parents can become anxious about. The system leads us to think that children have to be coerced to learn, that they’ll only learn if sitting still at a desk, that they have to learn certain things at certain times in order to succeed, that they have to be in a ‘classroom’ environment or similar, that they need teachers to learn, that there is no other way of learning except this schoolised way.
In reality none of this is true. And in most schools that’s not the reality either but some people are stuck with that age-old vision of classroom learning.
Neither is it the reality of home educating, as many experienced parents will tell you.
Children do not need to be coerced – they’re actually fascinated to learn – if they haven’t been put off as schooling sometimes does. They don’t have to be sitting, still, indoors, or be taught, learning can happen naturally without any of these structures, with encouragement and support from an engaged adult, and sometimes even without that.
So don’t fret about doing ‘school at home’. Instead place your focus on your children and how they learn best, what you feel they should achieve both in skills and knowledge, and then think about the multitude of ways there are to accomplish that – the more pro active the better.
For example, take reading. Schools tend to practice a very structured approach to reading, using a graded scheme of books, that children are meant to stick to. But this isn’t the only way to learn to read. Children can learn to read just as effectively through incidental reading, through being read to and enjoying books, through picking up on the reading that others are doing, by deciphering the reading all around them, through all sorts of materials; comics, posters, online, gaming, etc, even by attempting much more difficult texts than we’d probably recommend. This incidental and unstructured approach can be just as effective as a schemed approach which risks taking away the children’s enjoyment of books. The most important aspect of learning to read is to keep the children’s love of books alive along with their desire to interpret them.
Using workbooks is another example. Workbooks can be a useful tool to help you keep to a certain pathway of subject matter and skills practice. They can also be extremely dull in that they are second hand, academic practice rather than a first hand stimulating experience. For example it’s much more exciting for a child to be cutting up the pizza, cake, sharing stuff out, as first-hand fraction practice before they get to the computation of it in a workbook. Far more exciting to be experiencing science than filling in sentences about it. Finding interesting ways to tackle subjects and skills practice keeps the learner engaged – keeps the learning going. And is far more effective in that it’s more likely to be retained.
Using a curriculum is another aspect of ‘school at home’ that some parents worry about. Whether they should be following one or not.
Any curriculum is simple a tool, a tool to support learners in reaching certain subject objectives and it is simply that. It is not a guarantee of an education. It can be useful; it’s a useful way of covering subject matter, particularly if you want to stick to that which is covered in schools and use the National Curriculum. But it is not essential. It’s not an education in itself. You cannot follow a curriculum right through and then proclaim the child is educated. For if you think about it, that’s what schools do and there are far too many children come out of school with an uneducated mind. And lacking personal skills. But then you have to think about what an educated mind is! (An interesting view on that here)
Education is far more than a course, although a course helps you reach certain objectives and can be useful as such. But it’s important to think out for yourself what education is, (some thoughts here) and what schooling does, and most important of all what you want for your child and what approach will mean that they reach those objectives – many of which may be personal as much as academic, like confidence for instance. Keeping them engaged with learning by providing varied, stimulating experiences is probably more likely to do so than doing ‘school at home’.
There’s a detailed chapter on how home educated children learn in my book ‘Learning Without School’ (See the My Books page for more) But one of the best ways to find confidence and develop your own approaches is to be in contact with the home educating community, either online or through meet ups, listen to the experiences around you and do what works for you, ‘school at home’ or not!