Tag Archive | unschooling

School-at-home, home schooling, home education – what’s in a label?

Whilst schools have been closed and everyone’s children learning at home during lockdown the term ‘home schooling’ has been commonly used to describe all children’s learning out of school.

But those who were ‘home schooling’ before ‘school-at-home’ came into being know that it is not the same thing. And most experienced home educating families prefer the title ‘home educating’ anyway.

But why are we getting up tight about labels?

The main reasons school-at-home, and home schooling or home education which parents were already doing, are different is that school-at-home parents have been thrust into it without choice, but generally with some guidance and practical lessons from schools.

With home schooling or home education, which families were already practising prior to lockdown, parents take full responsibility for their children’s education and deregister themselves from any school and consequently any support from them.

Many experienced home educating families prefer not to use the term home schooling because of the connotations of the words ‘schooling’ and ‘educating’.

Their use of the term ‘home education’ is based on the definition of education in its broadest sense as in bringing out, or developing of potential, rather than the drilling of facts and skills into the young as it has become through schooling. There is a very interesting article ‘What Is Education’ on the Infed.org site which gives a definition of education as ‘the wise, hopeful and respectful cultivation of learning’ which is how many home educating families interpret it and which you can’t help but feel is lacking in many school approaches.

Most definitions of schooling mean educating in school, which is why most experienced home educators like to shy away from using the term ‘schooling’. It suggests a training or drilling of children that can disregard their needs and learning preferences and is often the reason parents step away from mainstream school. Schooling tends to have the agenda of the school at its heart, rather than the needs of the individual.

Home educators generally see the education of their children as a much broader more balanced undertaking and use approaches in line with that, which put the interests, preferences and needs of the child at its heart.

So the difference in the terms is important to them.

However, ‘home education’ it’s more of a mouthful! And ‘home schooling’ has become the most popular term, especially in the media, used to refer to those families whose children do not go to school but do their learning independently of them. But it is not to be confused with school-at-home which no doubt will end.

As parents progress with home schooling, taking advantage of the choices and flexibility it offers, and see how children learn and become educated almost by themselves through the many diverse and varied approaches available, they begin to appreciate these subtle differences.

There are other labels and philosophies attached to home educating, like De-schooling and Un-schooling and World-schooling, which parents also use.

De-schooling usually refers to the time and process of recovery needed for those children who’ve been in school and switch to home educating. It takes a while for children and parents to adjust to learning in different ways, to release any damaging effects of school and get used to new routines, approaches and choices open to them.

Un-schooling is similar, except that it doesn’t necessarily refer to recovery from school, more an approach to learning and educating that doesn’t rely on familiar habits and traditions we associate with a school style approach to learning many of us have ingrained within us. As the saying goes; we can take the child (and ourselves) out of school but it’s more difficult to take the schooling out of us! (Excellent book on the subject which I blogged about recently here).

World-schooling generally refers to parents who facilitate their children’s learning out in the real world, often through travelling, away from the school world, or those who have alternative lifestyles different from the mainstream. They see the world outside of school as a way of making their educational provision.

But labels aside, what’s more important than what it’s called, is what parents do as home educators/home schoolers. That they are guided by the needs of their child within the context of them taking their place in the world, by finding approaches that work for their circumstances and that all are happy with it.

Many understand all the above as the same thing anyway – and that’s okay. It doesn’t matter to the kids what we call it. It’s what we do that counts. And there’s a huge diversity and flexibility in what you can do to make home educating a success!

To comfort and inspire

This time last year was so different! Who’d have predicted what we’re going through now!

I was looking back at some of last May’s posts and came across these points about home education that may offer some comfort to any existing home educators having a wobble right now, and inspiration to those who might be considering continuing with it after schools reopen again:

  • Home educated children can go on to achieve good grades just like other children do. They go to university, college, or into work or businesses like other young people. Their academic, social and personal skills are reputed to be in front of those of their school peers. Education is a long term process with no guarantees – none with school either – but there are thousands of home schooled youngsters who’ve already proved the above to be true.
  • Home educated children are not isolated or invisible as has been suggested. Most interact with a wide range of people, in a wide range of places, doing a broad range of activities. Some have far more life experience than those children who just have school experience. Most have mature social skills, often exceeding some of the adults you meet!
  • Thousands of families turn to home education because schools fail to provide for their children’s needs, both academic and personal. In some cases this has been a life line for children who’ve suffered in school the kind of abuse that just would not be tolerated by adults in a workplace. Home educators are the parents who take initiative to do something about their children’s suffering rather than just ignoring it. And most of these children become as competent, intelligent and educated as their peers in school.
  • Children who have been written off by the educational system or labelled as having ‘learning difficulties’ or ‘special needs’, for example, have gone on to achieve a good academic standard through home education.
  • Home educating families are as ordinary as any other families who have the same ordinary aspirations for their children to achieve and be happy. They come from all ranges of the social, educational, financial and cultural backgrounds that make up our society.
  • Home educators may not do mainstream school, but they do all other aspects of mainstream life – sports, clubs, extra-curricular lessons and activities etc – interact in mainstream community and ‘fit in’ just the same.
  • Home educated children go on to achieve the same successful outcomes, if not better, than children in schools.
  • Contrary to what most parents think, children learn in a multitude of different ways, not just in the conveyor belt style of the educational system. Home educating gives children the opportunity to learn in the way that suits them best, increasing their chances of success. This doesn’t necessarily mean academic cramming. It means acknowledgement of the myriad of alternative approaches there are to learning, to opportunities, to qualifications, to being educated, and making best use of them.
  • In my experience as a home educator within a wide network of other home educators, and whilst researching for my books, I have never come across an incidence of abuse or neglect, which has been cited as a risk home educated children are under. However I saw plenty of cases of abuse and neglect when I worked in schools.

Lots more in my home education notebook – from which this is taken – also to comfort and inspire!

Ask of schools what you ask of Home Ed!

I find it slightly bizarre that the questions people generally ask of home educating parents are not questions they’ve asked about schools, yet they happily send their children there! I know some who never give it a second thought, let alone question it.

Have you noticed the same?

For example, take the socialisation issue which is always raised. Namely the question; how will my children become used to a social world without going to school? That’s a common one. (Article on socialisation here)

But why is no one asking of schools; how will my children become used to a social world, used to mixing with all sorts of people of all ages, and form appropriate relationships with adults who are not only teachers and do not have a sole agenda obsessed with grades, if they’re confined with a bunch of kids all their own age who have no social skills themselves and when they sometimes have to endure some adults who are little better?

Makes you think when it’s put that way round!

Another question always asked of home educators; how will the children become educated if they’re not in school? I would ask; how do school children become properly educated about this wide, diverse world whilst shut away from its myriad of subject matter – social, scientific, geographical, philosophical, humanitarian, creative and sustainable – how will they develop all those personal aspects needed for empathy, inclusiveness etc – when they’re confined to an academically discriminative strait-jacket of a curriculum solely designed for fact-stacking for exams?

And the question that really makes me incredulous is this one; how will they be prepared for the real world if they don’t go to school?

In answer I repeat something I regularly say; school in no way replicates the real world I’ve experienced – I don’t know about you?

In the real world we are not restricted as to whom we mix and learn with (unless you’re racist, ageist, sexist or in some other way discriminative). You mix with a wide range of people who show you respect and probably move away from those who don’t, which you cannot do in school, and you mix with those whom you respect in return. You have choice – that makes a difference. You have opportunities to make informed and relevant choices – relevant to your real world that is, rather than choices made for you to suit an institutional agenda. And the real world I’ve inhabited over the years has enabled me to develop the skills to think for myself, not discouraged independent thinking in favour of training for mass obedience to establishment and corporate ideas alone.

I don’t want to persuade everyone to home educate. Of course not. It isn’t suitable for all and is not the answer.

But I would like to encourage people to ask the same questions of schooling that they ask of home schooling. Because we need something different now.

We should all be questioning an outdated institution – just like we’re questioning our outdated use of plastic now we know better. Questioning an institution that in many instances fails to equip children with the skills they need for the contemporary world, and support those with specific needs so all can have equal access to an equal education, and learn how to fit into and engage with a real world much changed from what it was when compulsory education began.

A very independent questioner!

And perhaps the only way that can happen is to change the corporate model of education we now have, to develop diverse and indie thinkers and questioners, who will think up solutions and act out solutions (think Greta Thunberg) far better than those trained simply for mass institutional obedience!

Which raises another question; is that what schooling does?

Read an article about ‘intelligent disobedience’ from the book ‘Unsafe Thinking’ here It certainly looks like it does at times!

Weather for the brain!

What a tough challenge of weather! Storms Ciara and Dennis have made it grim to be out and this coming from someone who generally walks all weathers. It’s even been too much for me sometimes, let alone rather unsafe. But I get damn twitchy in body and mind shut inside for too long.

Just like the kids do.

I remember those twitchy little bodies on home educating days when it somehow happened that we didn’t get out under the sky – even if sky between buildings and not the usual green space we preferred. It made such a difference to moods when we got out, despite challenging weather. And made a huge difference to the atmosphere in the house when we got back. It was like a miracle. (There’s a little story about it in my book ‘A Home Education Notebook’ called The Outdoor Miracle which shows how this happened, even to the teenager!)

whatever the weather…

As modern day life and the constant prod of technology place ever more demands upon us, and create ever more stress, the need to get kids outside especially in green spaces is often in the media. And ever more urgent. How they need this for their health; physical and mental. How we all need it for our health, physical and mental; parents too.

We need to pay it attention. It’s crucial we set the example, even when it’s tough.

Research into our brain health and development constantly updates our understanding of our brains and the need for physical activity to promote brain and body health and well-being. They are all connected. And just like a healthy muscle needs the action of blood rushing round it to keep it fit, so too do our brains. And active body has a direct impact on the way the brain functions.

There’s an interesting article here which talks about that impact along with some ideas about getting them moving. Thought provoking, but like with everything on the net; be discerning! It isn’t all about raising smart kids as in the title, it’s about raising happy, well balanced kids and time outdoors, moving about, contributes to that. And is all part of their education.

So whatever the weather (as long as it’s safe) get outside for an active blast. Most kids find rain, winds, storms quite exhilarating if we promote them as such. And you’ll be ever so relieved you did when you get back. You too will experience the outdoor miracle!

Meanwhile I hope you haven’t suffered too much, my thoughts are with those of you who have!

What happens after home education?

Author and home educator Susan Walklate and her son Simon

When Susan Walklate first came across home education she thought it was “an odd thing to do” believing that school was a natural course of events.

But when her son became introverted and stressed at school, and discovering that his needs were not going to be met, it became the right thing to do for them. Fast forward twenty odd years and she decided to write a book about their pathway, along with four other families doing the same, so people had a better understanding of this successful alternative to school and more importantly what followed.

I posted a blog about her book ‘Radical home Education’ a little while ago. Now I’ve asked Susan to talk about it personally and this is what she told me:

Tell us a little about you and your son.

My school experience was okay and I was reasonably successful. I went to teacher training college, then worked in chemistry laboratories. When I was 23 I decided to work with horses. This evolved over time to running a livery yard and riding school; I then bought my own land and set up Gable End Farm which developed into various businesses. Simon is my only child and was brought up with animals, at home and at the stables.

What drove you to home educate?

From being a happy baby and contented toddler, Simon became quiet and increasingly introverted after starting school. It wasn’t immediately obvious, as it happens over time and the changes are not noticeable on a daily basis. When he was 6 a friend commented on how clingy he had become. The school system was failing him as he wasn’t learning to read and write as quickly as they thought he should. He was on the special needs register, but the SENCO suggested that it wasn’t because he couldn’t do it, but that he couldn’t see the point; which ultimately proved to be the truth. By the time he was 8/9 he was stressy at home and quiet at school. He was being picked on by the class teacher and bullied by the other children. He had shut down and just got on with it as he didn’t think he had a choice. I spent about one year proactively trying to work with the school. Just before his 10th birthday we watched a programme on Channel 4 about home education. The next day Simon came to me and said that he didn’t want to go to school anymore. From the TV programme he had realised that he did have a choice. He never went to school again.

What kind of responses did you have from those around you?

While Simon was still at school I asked numerous people/friends about their school experience and, if it was bad, would they have preferred not to go to school, be home educated. The overwhelming answer was that children should go to school regardless. I think I might have home educated sooner if I’d had a more positive response. Once we decided to home educate and I told my parents, they were very supportive and offered help. Simon’s other grandparents thought that Simon would only end up on the dole. Simon’s father was concerned that Simon would not get any qualifications if he didn’t go to school. My response was that Simon would not get any qualifications if he did go to school.

How did you approach your education at home?

I knew that if I had sat Simon at a table with a piece of paper and a pencil he might have well been at school, as that was his stress. We took each day as it came and did child-led activities. I followed a child-centred autonomous learning process, which basically means that if he showed an interest in something we pursued it, if he didn’t we didn’t. I bought box games from charity shops that involved words and strategy. He helped with the animals and we discussed lots of things that involved language, arithmetic and lots of other things. We joined up with other home educating families for activities like swimming, ice skating, etc. Each family brought their interests to the group. The main activity that took over a lot of Simon’s time was the Robotics team that entered the First Lego League International competitions. He was part of this team for 3 years, from about 14 to 16. Simon did no formal work toward any qualifications while being home educated. He went to college at 16 and did all of his formal qualifications in the following 3 years. English and maths Skills for Life (GCSE equivalent); GCSE photography; A level fashion design and textiles; BTech in software development and web design (2 A Level equivalent); business studies course. Our home education life worked well for us. Each day was different. I think my self employed life enabled us to embrace the unstructured form of it.

What is your son is doing now?

Simon has helped with the animals all his life. He now takes a part share in the responsibility of running the farm. He has set up his own business as a freelance gardener and plans to expand it into employing others. He also aims to set up a portfolio of property.

What drove you to write the book?

I wrote ‘Radical Home Education’ because home education has a bad image and attracts bad press. Both Simon and I find it frustrating that no-one is telling the stories about the now-grown-up, successful home educated people. It was not something I had planned to do until we watched the Channel 4 programme in early 2019, which was very negative. I decided it was time to tell the true stories of home education through to successful adulthood, with four other families. My aim is to give encouragement and support to other would-be home educators.

What are you up to post-home educating?

My life has always been about taking each day as it comes and living the way I want to, which is how home education fitted into our lives and my life has just continued on.

Simon has always said that he would home educate his own children when he has some.

Since writing the book I have become more thoughtful about HE and I am considering being more proactive to promote HE.

What are your thoughts on the current education system?

It is broken, too prescriptive, too rigid. It does not allow for the differences in learning styles and development. I am increasingly concerned by the number of people asking for help and advice re school. I feel overwhelmed by the number of children being failed by the system; being bullied; demonstrating stress and depression; developing ADHD, etc. Parents appear to be very concerned about how their child will learn; be taught the ‘appropriate’ work; take exams; where can they find tutors; afford it. This I find sad, as society has been indoctrinated into believing that formal education is the only route to a successful education and a successful life. I do not know the answer, but I feel that the increase in knife crime, suicide, truancy, depression is in part due to the pressure our education system and society puts on children and families to succeed.

What would you say to other families wanting to home educate?

Do it! It is the best thing that we did. (Simon said don’t send them to school!)

I have a close relationship and understanding with my son. I believe that I, as his mother, am responsible for him and his well-being. I grew up with a good relationship with my parents and feel that it is important to support ones children as much as possible. I hope that I am his role model. I believe the best learning is through example.

Radical Home Education

There’s a splendid new book on home education by home educator Susan Walklate to add to your library! I read it at the end of last year, shortly after it was published, and am hoping to post an interview with the author here soon. Meanwhile, let me tell you a little about it.

Titled ‘Radical Home Education – discover home education through the true accounts of five families’, it’s the personal stories of a group of home educating families, including words from the young people, now grown.

It is compelling reading; I was fascinated by the stories of the home school lives and how they progressed. Most particularly because most blogs and forums tend to feature families who are currently home educating rather than those who have been through it and are ‘coming out the other side’ for want of a better phrase. So it’s always reassuring and uplifting to read about the lives of older children who were home educated and what they move on to. This book illustrates just that and how it happens.

The second part of it looks more closely at details like; how to work it out at home or out and about, places to go and use, the diversity of activities it’s possible to get involved in, how academic pursuits are integrated into it all and how the incidental is just as valid as the planned. It moves on through various approaches and includes the subject of exams, finally looking at interesting learning styles and tools.

I know the idea of ‘radical’ home education seems a daunting to prospect to some families, particularly those new to home schooling, but don’t be put off by that. This is an inspiring read which, although short, will be very reassuring to those families who are still on their home educating journey, whatever approach you’re taking.

An inspiring take on learning

Most of us have been deeply schooled! And that’s not just through being at school. We are schooled by our parents, by communities, culture, social media. Schooled to think, feel, act in certain ways and it’s very hard not to stick to these default biases (see this post), even when they don’t work terribly well. Consequently we obediently accept the school model of learning.

And for some, even those who are familiar with home education, it can be hard to get our heads round the idea that children can learn and become educated adults without this schoolish approach, or fully understand the concept of unschooling. This is an approach to parenting and raising youngsters in a way that allows them to engage with purposeful educational activities without being ‘schooled’ at all.

Unschooled’, is a book about that very concept.

The author, Kerry McDonald presents fresh and inspiring ideas about the way we see education and learning, how if we look beyond our traditional schooled biases and trust the learner, we can let go of the idea that they have to be schooled in order to learn and embrace the concept that learning is something that children naturally do. Like many of us, she questions how the one-size-fits-all style of schooling could possibly accommodate the diversity of the human experience, or work for all. And how, through looking at the way childhood and ‘schoolhood’ has changed, she has been led towards embracing an unschooling approach to learning and how this succeeds.

It is an inspiring and thought provoking book which will make you look at how the freedoms of past childhoods have been eroded and how this has impacted on children’s health, development, imagination and creativity – and learning abilities. And how schooling and adult-controlled learning environments have destroyed children’s natural and effective capacity for learning, creating learning and health issues in our teens – the group she believes is most let down by conventional schooling.

There are many first-hand examples of learning in the book, across subjects like literacy and numeracy, which are fascinating; eye-opening accounts of why and how unschooling works and why school-at-home doesn’t! And plenty of research and samples of other ‘non-school’ models and learning centres to be inspired by.

It also talks about how children are treated in coercive ways in our attempt ‘to educate’ them, which has always sat uneasily with me. Coercive practices destroy independence. The author shows how we build independent adults through self-directed education, in fact, we don’t need to educate young people at all – in the schooled sense of the word, they are completely able with our support to do that for themselves. If you’ve ever doubted that this is possible, this book may change your mind!

Although based in America, we can take much from it to apply to home education in the UK. It’s easy to read and each chapter is followed by a helpful summary of tips. If ever you’ve wanted to fully engage in child-directed learning, but never had the courage to go for it, this book will help you do it.

It’s an inspiring take on learning and education with thought provoking ideas on how we can rebuild a learning world for the future which abandons the out-of-date schooling system we have now.

Well worth a read!

Helping to increase understanding…

I’ve had another request from a researcher, this time from Optomen Television Productions.

They’re looking to do a programme on alternative learning approaches, especially unschooling and autonomous home educating and parenting.

I always waver about this, like others do – the more we’re ‘out there’ the more likely we are to draw unwelcome attention to ourselves from power mad politicians! But the other side of it is the more we’re ‘out there’ the more opportunity there is to further understanding of other educational approaches, help those suffering in schools to find out about a workable alternative, and maybe even change what goes on in them perhaps.

Matilda and the Ramsay bunch - one of their programmes

Matilda and the Ramsay bunch – one of their programmes

This request seemed sensitive to heralding home educators’ alternative approaches, rather than criticising them, so I’m sharing the researchers request here in the hope that some of you might like to get involved.

Here’s her message;

Calling all Unschoolers, Radical Unschoolers and Worldschoolers!

Optomen, one of the UK’s leading independent television production companies, are looking for families who are unschooling, radically unschooling or worldschooling their children to take part in a warm and celebratory documentary series. We want to talk to families who are giving their children freedom over their lives and education, those who are nurturing a love for learning outside of mainstream school, those who are travelling or living off-grid with their kids and those who have an active partnership with their children rather than the traditional authoritarian method of parenting.

If you would be happy to chat about your experiences, and interested in finding out more, please email stefanie.jones@optomen.com