A while ago, I was asked if I would write a piece for Bella Magazine about home education and our reasons for choosing this alternative lifestyle. As I am keen advocate for home education, I agreed. I think it is important that parents know there are options about the way children are educated. School is one of those options, but parents do have a choice. Whilst school may suit some, there will be others who struggle in the system, and some for whom school is difficult, even damaging.
Below is the piece I wrote for Bella magazine. Perhaps inevitably, it was edited following a number of telephone conversations between myself and the writers at Bella. Upon seeing the article, my second son looked at the picture at the top, which shows a boy sitting at a school desk with his books and equipment and said incredulously, "We don't learn like that!" Maybe the image was intended as an image of school to contrast with the article's title, "We Unschool our Kids!" I found the strap line quote, which was supposed to have come from me, a bit misleading also ... "I teach all 4 of my boys!" ... because what I do isn't what most people would call 'teaching' at all. Rather I facilitate, guide and try to strew their paths with interesting experiences. It is difficult for anyone who is new to the concept of home ed to think outside the institutional box inside which most of us have been raised, and begin to grasp that things can be done very differently, that home education doesn't necessarily look like school at all, that home educating parents do not 'teach' in the way that people might imagine. This is why I don't like the label "home-schooling".
(I also wanted to point out here that I did not comment on the role of the state and the local authority, apart from to briefly describe my own experience which followed the deregistration of my boys from school, and has thankfully been fairly positive. Any reference to the law and the obligations of the local authorities were added by Bella Magazine's own researchers.)
Original Piece for Bella Magazine
We lived abroad for some years and decisions about our boys’ education were difficult. I used to imagine how easy it would be back in the UK with a primary school – like the one I attended as a child - conveniently nearby. When we did return, we put our elder boys into school without question but, after four terms, we were disappointed. The curriculum was so narrow – mainly English and Maths. I was concerned about the testing regime, and the pressure upon schools to perform. This seemed to me the wrong emphasis. When our eldest son began to lose his confidence and love of learning, we decided to take drastic action. We didn’t feel a change of school would address the problems we saw in the system so began looking for alternatives. We had seen others home educating overseas, but didn’t realise it was possible in this country. However, after reading a lot and considering whether we could make the commitment, we deregistered the boys from school in January 2010 by writing a letter to the Head Teacher communicating our intention, and began our journey into autonomous learning. For us this means taking the children out of the box, making the whole world our classroom, utilising resources available in our locality as well as online, involving other members of our community. It has been a liberating decision, though not without its challenges. Home educators do not need to work to a curriculum, though we need to ensure a suitable education is provided for our children. This requires some reflection. For us it is important that education is broad and balanced, that each child has a chance to discover where their gifts and talents lie. We have one son who loves engineering projects, another who is a talented musician and a third who loves best to tell stories. We have an annual visit from our local authority and the boys love talking about all they have been doing with an interested visitor. They play with neighbourhood friends after school, and attend clubs and activities to mix with other children. We are part of a local home education group where children of all ages meet together to share activities and participate in educational trips and workshops. The freedom to go on visits – off-peak and when the weather is fine - is one of the top things about home educating. There are so many opportunities out there and many resources available online. Our best learning happens spontaneously, springing from our daily lives and the things we encounter together. For example, we saw a swarm of bees in a tree and went on to learn a lot about these fascinating creatures, including talking to beekeepers and helping spin some honey. The boys learn a lot through conversation with the adults around them. I am amazed at where their interest takes them, how much they retain and the way they piece their knowledge together. They do not see divisions between subjects and my third son, who hasn’t been to school, doesn’t distinguish between ‘work’ and ‘play’. I read to the boys a lot and give them time to imagine and play creatively. It is a different way of living and has led to us thinking differently too, about working more flexibly and being more family centred. We try to enjoy our life together and allow our work and learning to flow from that. We have been working at establishing home based businesses, and the boys are a part of that too. Our eldest son had his own little business making and selling soap. We share our challenges and the ups and downs of life. I think their relationships with each other are stronger because they have to sort things out and get along with each other. It is challenging to have responsibility for their learning, but just as a baby learns to toddle and talk, so children continue learning as they walk beside us and acquire the skills they need to live in the world. The boys love technology and all enjoy working on the computer. They also get to spend a lot of time outdoors, and do woodwork with their Grandpa. My parents were concerned initially, but have become great advocates for home education as we’ve gone along. People do misunderstand what we are doing. I think this is because they don’t know much about it. School is the norm and it is difficult to think of a radically different way of doing things. Our goal is that the boys are happy in their own skins, know themselves, their own talents and learning styles and grow to be independent, lifelong learners. I think then they’ll be adaptable, able to tackle anything and acquire the skills they need as they go through life.
“At home, we can arrange what we do ourselves and we get more free time. I like it because it’s not crowded and I don’t like crowds.” (N, aged 7)
“You can learn to your own learning style instead of that the teacher sets for you, and you’re not restricted to the classroom, you’ve got the whole world!” (E, aged 11)
“You do more of the stuff you want to do and you get to go on more trips.” (J, aged 10)
Organic Ed once trained as a teacher and is now a home educating mother of 4 boys and a Barefoot Books Ambassador who blogs at www.organiced.blogspot.co.uk
Do your research. There are lots of books, blogs and websites to help you.
Take time to ‘deschool’ and discover the right way for you and your child to learn together.
Relax, enjoy your child’s company and see where their interests take you.
Make the most of local resources: libraries, museums, clubs and groups.
Don’t think you have to know everything. You are your child’s facilitator and you can learn together.
The edited article appears in this week's Bella magazine (17/09/2013)