Although I’m not a home educator myself, I am very interested in the subject of home education, in dispelling myths, and in raising awareness of home education as an option. So I was very pleased when Jane Levicki agreed to write a guest post for me.
Just over eleven years ago I took my children out of school to home educate them. My son, then aged 8, had never been happy. While he was fine with the social aspect, he often found school boring and frustrating; he had no desire to read, fill in worksheets, or sit still for more than 30 seconds! We struggled through, because I knew no different, but when his sister started showing signs of stress in Year 1 (free play and the dressing up corner is left behind in Reception – Year 1 is serious school!) I knew I had to do something.
I had growing reservations about the school system anyway. I always expected to have to cope with stress in the GCSE years, but I was astounded and disappointed to find I had to do that when they were five! From baseline testing through to SATS it really did seem to be all about box ticking and conforming to the mould.
So I took them out of school and we entered the wonderful world of home education. And I found a new community of people who agreed with me and didn’t think I was mad!
I discovered that disillusion with the education system and unhappy children are a common reason for people to turn to home education and I met former teachers who had come out of the system along with their children! Some had coped with years of bullying. Others had realised that their child’s needs were just not being met, maybe they had Special Educational Needs, ADD, were Gifted, or simply needed to learn differently. The occasional family were home educating for religious reasons. One thing we all had in common was the desire to give back to our children the love of learning they were born with.
I imagine that most people think either that I stand over my children from 9 to 3 each weekday as they sit obediently at the kitchen table filling in workbooks, or that I let them run feral, rolling in the mud, or watching TV all day, while literacy is ignored and career prospects disappear.
Neither of those is true. People do ask me how I get my children to ‘sit down and do their lessons’, but home education doesn’t really work like that. Although some people do create a sort of ‘school at home’ environment if it suits them, that’s not very typical.
Much of their learning has been autonomous. This is an approach where the child directs his own learning, following his own interests while you support him. They learn what they need to when they need to. Some families are totally autonomous and never introduce any structure at all, unless their child asks for it. Many families opt for a blend of autonomy and some direction. This approach works well for us – I encourage as much autonomy as possible, but I also initiate projects and suggest activities.
And even when I do, I am able to tailor those to the children. Learning can happen in all kinds of ways. Instead of getting the biology books out, you can go to the zoo or keep animals yourself, take walks and observe nature. Instead of printing out worksheets about money, you can pay your children a weekly allowance, take them shopping and help them open a bank account. Instead of boring reading schemes, you can just enjoy books together. Home education works best when you tap into your children’s aptitudes. I remember great fun pacing out the relative size of the solar system, cooking typical World War II dishes and trying out hieroglyphics!
Even as they enter teenage years, the choice is still there. They can do GCSEs or equivalents or focus more on their practical skills. They can enter sixth form or college or university. But they are not sitting on a conveyor belt, churned out at the end.
The Big Question – Socialisation!
Unless you’re going to keep your child locked in the house forever, they will socialise! Home education is a bit of a misnomer really because usually not much of the education happens at home. They are out and about in the real world – in libraries, shops, cafés, on public transport, in museums, the park; socialising all the time with children, adults and the elderly, shopkeepers, policemen, bus drivers. Sounds a lot more like good preparation for life than years spent with 30 children your own age, plus one adult who must always be obeyed, doesn’t it?
And as for making friends, well of course they do. They make friends with the children in their street and with the guys in their football team, drama club or Scout group. Plus there is a network of home educating communities all across the country organising group trips, activities and social events. In fact, some weeks you’ll have trouble finding them at home at all!
Perhaps best of all, they get to socialise in the way that suits them. My eldest son, now 19, has always been very much a social person. During the summer I would barely see him, he’d be out all day playing football with the other boys in the village. He made friends at his football team, basketball club and Scout group. When he went to college at 18, socialising was never going to be an issue! These days it can take us ages to get around the shops because he keeps bumping into people he knows!
My youngest child is also a social animal. She requires lots of contact with people and sleepovers when possible! My two middle children are much shyer but they have the opportunity to develop their social skills at their own pace. It hasn’t stopped them making friends, communicating with shop keepers, their drama teacher and football manager, or being offered babysitting jobs. In fact, being home educated has enabled them to develop their self-confidence and self-esteem from a secure base, which will see them very well for the future.
You sometimes hear the argument that children need to experience the harshness of life and learn to deal with bullies. Ridiculous! Anyone that has been even slightly bullied will tell you that it doesn’t make you stronger – it grinds you down. In addition, just because a child doesn’t go to school, that doesn’t mean he isn’t facing the ordinary disappointments and difficulties of life. I’ve seen my son cope with spending the entire match on the subs bench at the age of 12, my daughter not win the poetry competition. I’ve witnessed them not get the part they wanted in the play but take it like a professional and give it their best anyway.
I’m not saying that home educating has been a walk in the park. There have been difficult times, as with any aspect of parenting, but even through those I have not regretted it for a minute!
In the UK, education is compulsory, school isn’t. You don’t have to be a teacher or follow the National Curriculum. You don’t need to observe school terms, days or hours. You are not required to be monitored and your children aren’t tested. For more information on the legalities see www.education-otherwise.net
There are many great books about home education, but the one I would recommend as a great introduction is ‘Learning Without School’ by Ross Mountney.