Monday, 30 March 2015

What We Have Learned in Three Years of Home Education

Today we celebrate three years of home education - our last ever day of school was 30th March 2012.  At the end of the last day of Spring Term we left school (in Hertfordshire) and immediately drove north... a LONG way north... finally arriving in Aberdeenshire on 31st March for a week's holiday with some good friends.  The holiday had been planned for a lot longer than we had known we were going to home educate, and at the time we were just thinking about seeing our friends and having chance to relax... but with hindsight it has made me stop and think: although we were only temporarily in Scotland before returning home to Hertfordshire, that very long car journey was in a way symbolic of our journey into home education.  At the time we did not know that HE would be such a total change for us - we just knew it was something we had to try but were prepared to go back to school if we had made a mistake... but we have come so far in the last three years, I cannot imagine anything that would induce any of us to want to return to the school system now.  We are totally different people now: the journey has changed us.  Home education for us has not just been a break and a chance to relax and heal - it is now our way of life, and I have learned a lot in the past three years...

1/ Deschooling is a detox.
For the child to recover/ heal after their negative experiences of school, and for both child and parent to remove the old schoolish way of thinking about learning.  It is harder for the parent who has held the "learning = school" mindset for much longer, to let go and begin to nurture new, healthier and more natural ways of learning, so even though your child may be ready to embrace more learning opportunities, don't be suprised if you periodically "wobble" about how well they are doing, it just means you are doing your job well: assessing how you are ALL doing, and ridding yourself of some of the old, deeply held assumptions.

2/ Children learn best in their own time.
Watching baby lions play on TV, I had a random thought: the mother lion doesn't say "now you are going to have a lesson in pouncing" and line them up one at a time to learn, putting stickers on a chart when they do it well - the cubs just pounce, wrestle and play when the urge takes them (which is most of the time).  That is how they learn.  So it is with our children: they just do stuff when the urge takes them.  If they have showed no interest in writing it does not mean they will never write, it just means they are focused on other stuff for now. There are a few children who need extra help or intervention (eg where dyslexia is involved), but most children just pick things up when they are ready, and not according to an externally imposed schedule such as the National Curriculum that sets so many children up to fail at unrealistic expectations.  Give them time and space, and they will get it.

3/  Learning is not linear.
"Children are not railroad trains.  They don't learn at an even rate.  They learn in spurts.  Not only that, but they often don't learn in what seems to us a logical sequence" (John Holt)
Learning can feel like a roller-coaster, with patches of really slow "nothing-much-happening-here" uphill crawling progress, and times of almost free-falling, out-of-control rapid progress.  The point is, it's all progress.  If your child looks like they've stalled, remind yourself that they're just gearing up for another spectacular season of exhilarating advancement.  That's just how it goes, and it can feel intimidating when you have sole responsibility for their educational growth - but having done this for three years with three different children, I have seen it too many times for me to worry about their slow seasons any more.

4/  It is not supposed to hurt.
"Learning can only happen when a child is interested.  If he's not interested it's like throwing marshmallows at his head and calling it eating" (Katrina Gutleben)
If it hurts - if it is leading to stress and resistance, tears, threats and/ or bribes... we're doing it wrong.  Why kid ourselves?  We may have prepared the most awesome "lesson" ever, but if the recipients are not interested, they will not learn.  Simple as.  So there is no point trying to force it - it hurts them and us and achieves nothing.  Ditch the stress, and follow their interests.  Just because you find something interesting or important, if the children don't you could be setting yourself up for stressful and fruitless conflict.  It's not worth it.

5/ It's OK to structure our HE around the parent's needs as well as the child's.
Yes, we want to be child-led, as that is the most natual way for them to learn, and that is vital - but we also need to remember that we parents are the ones with the legal responsibility for ensuring they have an adequate education, so however we do this thing called Home Education it has to be in a way that satisfies us that they are learning.  It took us at least two-and-a-half years here to get a balance that really worked for us all, and it is still a work in progress: a good education has to be flexible and adapt to the whole family's developing needs.

6/  The "socialisation question" is completely back-to-front.
Society is so brain-washed into thinking that children need school to socialise, that only the bravest people who are willing to question their assumptions will ever learn that actually school's version of socialisation is counter-productive.  Yes, school children spend a lot of time with a large group of peers, but they are pretty much left to their own devices when it comes to working out how to get along.  This "throwing them it at the deep end" is a risky approach to socialisation, and leaves many struggling, which is why bullying, social isolation, cliques, pack mentality, peer pressure etc are so rife in school.  Home educated children are exposed to social situations with people of every age, including adults, peers and older and younger children.  Their groups are less intense, not being all day and every day, and are better supported, with adults on hand most of the time who they can go to if a tricky social situation arises that requires help negotiating.  When parents of schooled children ask me as a Home Ed parent, "but what about socialisation?", I could easily ask them the same thing.

I am immensely grateful for our freedom in this country to home educate our children.  It has brought us so much joy, lessened household stress considerably, and increased our ability to think and learn in meaningful ways.  I have every confidence that as we continue I will learn even more about how children actually learn, and the boys will continue to grow and flourish, socially, emotionally, academically etc - in fact, in every way, as true growth cannot be compartmentalised, it is just growth.

For today though, I have given the boys the day off: no maths or anything structured - just a request for them to make sure their jobs are done and rooms tidy, and then the day is theirs to play as they like.  The beauty of it is, they will still be learning anyway!  Happy 3rd HE anniversary to us!

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