One of the surprise blessings from our decision to home educate has been the abundance of simply lovely people out there who I have been privileged to meet. I have made some really good friends through connecting on the internet (and then in person) over our shared commitment to educating our children. We're not all the same: we have different backgrounds and different approaches to home education, but we know how to celebrate the differences and positively delight in the similarities.
I was chatting again to one of my awesome and inspiring friends this morning. She has been following a mostly autonomous route and has, I think, been slightly surprised to find themselves heading into an area of some structure as her gifted eldest son has taken on a university-level course at home. It is a subject that he absolutely loves, but is not so much in my friend's area of expertise, and we were chatting about how it's OK for home educators to not know and understand every subject to the highest level. One of the most common questions fired at home educators is the one asking "how can you teach them everything they need to know, especially at secondary/ GCSE level?". The simple answer is that we can only take them as far as our ability allows. Most of the time this means learning alongside them (or just staying one step ahead for a time, until they find their own feet), but at some point it is inevitable that their interests and gifts will overtake us in areas, as they are not - and were never meant to be - mini versions of ourselves. HOWEVER if we have done our jobs well, we will have instilled in them a love of learning, a confidence in themselves to be able to find out the answers to what they want to know.
At present there is very little that my boys want to know that I cannot easily find out, digest and pass on to them. Their interest has not yet reached much further than mine. But one day it will. For Eldest, I can tell that day is only just around the corner in some areas, and I am learning to not be bothered about whether I can find out enough to be able to carry on teaching him. I am more bothered with the concern of whether I have instilled in him enough confidence that he can find out his own answers - that if he hits a complicated patch he will have the strength within to hold on to his desire to learn and find his own motivation to work through the parts he doesn't understand until he has conquered and understood whatever it is that he wants to understand. I will do my best to learn alongside him for as long as I can, but when he reaches a level that is beyond my ability and/ or interest, I'm not going to just leave him to it, or try to steer him towards an area that I am better acquainted with, I am just going to do my best to encourage him, support him and boost his morale. I do not have to have all the answers, and I would be essentially limiting him if I led him to believe otherwise.
It is only in school where the focus is on increasing information: where it is the teacher's job to inform and the student's job to listen and memorise. In home education the focus is on building the whole individual. It is our role to stand alongside and encourage each individual to fulfil their potential, in whatever form that takes. We are not teachers; we are cheerleaders. My boys have their own lives to lead, their own destinies to fulfil, their own races to run - and those races are almost guaranteed to look very different to mine, their Dad's or each other's, but each of them still is not running a solitary race. Hubby and I are there every step of the way, chief cheerleaders for all our boys. We are the ones bursting with pride to see their abilities outstrip our own, the ones yelling at the top of our voices every step of the way, "you can do this!".
Why did team GB do so well in the 2012 Olympics? Training of course (we are our children's personal trainers, helping them to reach further in their chosen area than we ever could), plus they all acknowledged the enormous benefit of being on home ground where they experienced the tangible support of all the crowds cheering them on, boosting their energy when they needed it most. I love that we can be personal trainer and cheerleader for our kids.
And so today I want to acknowledge all you other cheerleaders out there. I want to tell you that "you can do this too", especially those of you who are just starting out, or those of you who may have hit a hurdle. You are doing an awesome job, cheering on a new generation of children who will grow up to believe in themselves, who will not be limited by what you don't know, but rather empowered to go further than you or they could have imagined. And even more than that, by acknowledging and supporting each other in our common role as home educator regardless of individual style, we are all cheering each other on, and each others' children too - it's like a great Home Ed stadium, filled with an enormous roar of overwhelming support.
Good job, cheerleaders!