As a home-educating parent, I am sure it is normal to go through periods of frustration and disillusionment, when we wonder if what we are doing is alright, or if our children are achieving enough. In our achievement oriented culture, it can be difficult to redefine our priorities, to look at the positive gains in broader terms, character development, for example, or family relationships, rather than just a focus on academic success. There are days when the local primary school suddenly seems a very appealing option! These are usually times when I myself feel tired or overwhelmed, and as though I am not on top of things. It is in fact, at times like this, that I begin to realise what home education is really all about - and it is not about me being in control the whole time! The boys surprise me by doing things altogether unexpected, which actually tick the boxes in my head, though not in the way I might have planned it.
An example of this was when I recently decided to take them about 40 minutes drive (longer because we got lost!) to a drama workshop, which had been organised by a specialist drama teacher for home educated children of all ages. The boys didn't want to go, but I had booked and paid for it, so I pulled them away from a game with their friends, and off we went. Well, they didn't really engage with the activity very well, although what was on offer was fine, and it was a long way to go. I thought it would be a good idea to take the opportunity to try something new, but the boys just weren't up for it at all. When we got back, they were anxious to get back to their game with their friends, and I realised that what they were doing was making a spy movie, acting their own story out in costume, whilst my eldest son directed and filmed it. This was being done with great delight and enthusiasm, and all on their own initiative. What a lot of time and effort I had wasted getting them to go along with my agenda - what I thought best - to achieve no better objective than that which they were achieving themselves.
When I feel a little disillusioned, I find it helps enormously to revisit some of my books on Home Education, to find inspiration and encouragement, and to remind myself why we have made the decision to home educate. Thus week, I have been re-reading "For the Children's Sake" which focuses on the ideas of educationalist Charlotte Mason. In the first two chapters, two particularly important points are emphasized:
1) The importance for children of free play, without adult interference, and
2) The importance of exposing children to great story and literature.
Our boys seldom say, "I am bored". They do not look to be entertained, but are great at making their own games and playing together. Sure, they have their quarrels, but it is easy for children in our culture to lose their ability to play creatively. This is because so much of their time is adult directed - at school, and at after school clubs. We must remember to leave time for that most important of a child's learning activities - free, creative, uninterrupted, inventive play.
My reading also reminded me of the importance of reading to children ... Reading engaging, captivating, intelligent books; books which would perhaps be beyond their own reading ability but which, nevertheless, provide wonderful food for the imagination. So mush of what is on offer to the children of today is rubbish - what Charlotte Mason would call "Twaddle". It patronises children and fails to recognise their capabilities. Mason encourages the art of 'narration' in young children, that is encouraging them to retell the stories they hear in their own words.
I have one son who is very reluctant to narrate. Having redefined the objective of reading great literature, such as that outlined in the Ambleside Online curriculum, I read "The Story of Dick Whittington and his Cat" to him and his younger brother, then asked him to narrate it. I admit I was frustrated by his reluctance, then I had a bright idea. rather than getting annoyed, which is easy to do, believe me, I suggested they re-enact the story with some Lego men or soft toys. "Ooh, yes, can we get the puppet theatre out?" he asked. Well, an hour later, I was treated to a performance of Dick Whittington utilising a selection of puppets, soft toys and props found around the home. Two birds with one stone - free play and great story. Two things to remember.