Thursday, 2 April 2015

How to Find your Home Ed Style

A throwaway comment of mine the other day led to a couple of deeper conversations with new home educating friends on this theme, and they reminded me of how confused I felt when we were novice home educators, having to choose between "unschooling" and "structure", both of which had their appeal, but neither of which really met all of our needs. I was actually pretty confident that the semi-structured route would work for us, but beyond that we were really stumbling along, forging our own path (as indeed, every new home educator has to do).  I think it might have helped somewhat to have a kind of guide to help us find our way, so I thought I'd jot down a few ideas here, but it has turned into a rather lengthy post - oops! Well, I don't mind so much, as long as - I hope - some may find it helpful.  So here are my thoughts on finding your own Home Ed style...

Most importantly, take your time.  Your Home Ed style cannot be decided upon in a single day (or by a single questionnaire - sorry if that is what you were hoping for: it would be a lovely idea but utterly superficial and unhelpful in every practical way).  I would suggest it takes at least 6 months after leaving school to develop a good idea about how your own child(ren) learns best.  In practice it actually took my family about 2 1/2 years to really get comfortable in our 'style' (gently structured and seasonal, according to the children's - and my - interests) but that may be because I was well entrenched in the education system and it took a long time to deschool myself (ie rid myself of my preconceptions on learning).  So the following is a list of tips that we stumbled our way into along the way of finding our groove.

1) Get a better idea of what sort of learner your child is.  Repeat for each child you are home educating.  Reading around on visual, kinesthetic and auditory styles will help, as will experimenting with what works and what doesn't (workbooks/ TV programmes/ board games/ google-hopping/ quizzes/ read aloud stories etc).  A warning though: do not expect this to be easy nor for them to be clearly defined.  It takes time and cannot be rushed - not least because your child will most likely take a while to outgrow the old schoolish ways of learning.  Some ditch school methods immediately - others find them reassuring while they adjust to HE - and some actually enjoy learning that way (though I've not met many home educators that applies to)!  Your child will most likely not fit into any one learning style, but if you focus specifically on learning more about your child, it is an investment of time that will repay you greatly and you will not regret.

2) Read HE blogs and books.  A lot.  Preferably covering a wide range of HE styles: unschooling, structured, full curriculum, Charlotte Mason, semi-structured, autonomous, tidal/ seasonal etc.  Chances are you won't fit clearly into any one of these, but reading around will give you a better idea of what you like, dislike, and most identify with.  Beware though, the temptation will be to choose one and stick with it.  Some other HE families may even ask you what style you use.  You don't have to commit, and it's really better if you don't because the probability is that you will change as you go along and learn more about your child or just the season and/ or your family's needs change.
PS Personally I delayed this stage until we had experienced several months of experimenting, because I felt it would confuse me to read too much, too soon.  I read one simple, brilliant overview before we started (Learning without School, by Ross Mountney), and that was all I needed until we had found our feet somewhat.  Many people find it helpful to read loads of books & blogs from the beginning - you decide for yourself what is helpful.  Ross Mountney's blog hosts a list of LOTS of helpful HE blogs etc, if you don't know where to start.

3) Ask yourself what you WANT Home Ed to look like in your family.  But remember, this is entirely different from what you think it SHOULD look like.  If you can't tell the difference, you might need to deschool yourelf some more.  "Shoulds" can range widely, from subconscious school-based ideals of contented children sat quietly at their ikea desks neatly filling in their workbooks, to passionate unschoolers painting a vision of rosy-cheeked children gathering eggs from their free-range chickens and selling them locally to raise funds for their latest project.  Personally, both of these appeal to me, but neither are likely given the blend of personalities in this family. What I really wanted from Home Ed was enthusiastic learners being encouraged to follow their interests, while maintaining a decent standard of Maths and English (those being the mainstays of most successful careers)  Such a vague ideal was hard to pin down but also gave us lots of space to work out the specifics.

4) Take your lead from your child(ren), but don't ignore your own needs.  There's no point imposing your wants on your children if they can't work 'your' way, but similarly it is equally unfruitful for you to run yourself ragged trying to meet all of their needs without paying attention to your own.  Even for autonomous education, there has to be an element of respect for the parent's needs.  Eg I need to be satisfied that my children are learning as I am legally responsible for their education, (this satisfaction will look very different from parent to parent).  Personally I also need to have an idea of what we are doing next.  The boys can choose the subject and activities if they want (they don't always) but I need an idea of what will be coming up, so I know what preparation is required.  There is a risk that some planned activities will be rejected, and other things will spring up that I am not prepared for - but I'm fine with that; I can do flexibility.  I just need a simple structure to be flexible around, and that is all it takes to keep me happily ticking along.

5/  Build around the most obvious needs.  This is especially important if you have multiple children.
If you have a baby or toddler, there is no point committing to regular trips out right when they need their nap (unless they are happy sleeping on the move).  Maybe you could structure in some snuggly story-time for your older one(s) during nap-time instead.
If you have a particularly energetic child (like mine) who can't sit still, consider factoring in some outside time before sitting down to more structured work.  Even a walk to the postbox and back can be all it takes to help them let off steam and be better able to focus.
If your child is a night-owl, think about maybe relaxing the bedtime rules so that they can do some writing or whatever their penchant is when inspiration strikes.
If your child is studying for iGCSEs, build your plans around making sure they have enough time to study as best works for them.
If your child wants to stay home all the time but you or another child need/ want to get out and socailise, perhaps you could agree a compromise where they get enough home time but will also come out to a low-key group with you from time to time. Playdates at home or small informal groups can really help here.
If you have a child who resists structure of any kind, how about putting together a "treasure box" full of goodies that might just happen to be educational and then giving them access to the box at whatever 'special' time works for you?  Also deploy liberal use of "strewing" (leaving books, kits, Reggio-style invitations etc out for them to discover)
If you have an autonomous learner and you are a lover of structure, it might help to keep a diary so you can write down what your child has done each day.  This is what we have done, and it helps me hugely when I need to reassure myself that they are actually learning, as well as planning what to strew next!
If you have one of each of the above then you will most likely need to become a master-planner of military precision!  Planning does not need to be rigid or obvious to all, but the more family members are involved in your Home Ed life, the more likely you will need an element of planning, just to ensure that everyone's needs are being balanced.

You can see why my advice is to take your time!  This kind of investment into your children can not be an immediate fix - but it is truly the best thing I ever did as a parent, and totally worth all the time exploring and learning along the way.  So finally - and again, just in case it helps... these are some of the things we have learned about ourselves, mostly through trial and error, that have helped us to pin down our own HE style: we need Mondays at home (pyjamas optional) to recover from busy weekends, so we just don't sign up to regular Monday groups no matter how tempting; we need a small degree of structure that is highly adapatable (hence my 6-week and weekly planners that the boys are barely aware of); we are mostly morning people (I am thankful that that applies to us all) so we do our structured work in the mornings and arrange groups and socialising for afternoons - we NEVER do Maths or English work in an afternoon); we need plenty of outdoor time and exercise; more than three days of HE/ social groups in a week leaves some of us tired and grumpy; star charts are highly discouraging to those of us who may be slower than others or are having a bad day (small informal personal goals work much better); I have one very visual learner, one very kinesthetic learner and one combination of the two; writing needs to be kept to a minimum, unless it is spontaneous and comes from them; all of the boys enjoy listening to stories about famous people... and so much more besides - clearly it all doesn't fit into a nice neat label, but the more we learn about the way we fit together, the easier this Home Ed lark becomes!


  1. Such a helpful post and thank you very much for the mention. You're so right in saying that families need to take their time - you just cannot rush education, anyway, there is absolutely no need to! :) x

    1. Thank you Ross! Your input is always so valuable :)