Why home education?- facilitating a learning environment

I am frequently asked what home education entails and when thinking on your feet it can be very difficult to find the words that truly convey our home ed journey as a family and home education itself. There are many different paths a family can take when embarking on a home ed journey, think of home education as being an umbrella term with different ribs branching off. The terms Home Education and Home Schooling can be used interchangeably, however, there are still fundamental differences especially if you home educate in the UK when compared to the USA.

The perception people have of home education can go from one extreme to the other, such as children sitting at the dining table all day whilst being locked away from the world, and that tends to be one of the more positive assumptions about educating at home. Other people can wrongly assume that no learning at all takes place due to parents being inadequate as they do not hold teaching qualifications. The irony is that a lot of home educating parents, like myself, do have teaching qualifications and the hypocrisy is astounding. My father and my uncle took my children out this weekend for a day out on the ferry, whilst on the ferry my uncle starts firing questions at the children, who immediately feel put on the spot and very nervous. When I was actually employed as a teacher that would never have occurred, he just accepted that my students were learning successfully because it was a classroom environment. You do not need to be a qualified teacher in order to educate your children, look at how much they have already learned from you? Walking, talking, using a toilet and everything in between they learned because you, their parent facilitated it. In fact being a teacher can actually be a hinderance at times as you can become stuck in your ways, sometimes that period spent deschooling can be for us just as much as it is for our children.

We are actually semi structured home educators which means we do spend time sitting down and completing worksheets and power point slides, we also follow a few curriculum’s. We recently started incorporating Charlotte Masons ‘Exploring Nature with children’ for the younger two, Anthony 8 and Nimueh 2, whilst the older two have recently started a triple award science G.C.S.E. course under AQA guidelines through ‘AWE Home Education Waltham abbey Essex’ a Facebook group that negotiates deals at group prices for the home ed community. The course is provided by http://www.my-gcsescience.com and there are various options for all age groups, so far we are enjoying the course modules. Now, like any curriculum, you can not cover an entire syllabus in a matter of weeks, so asking any child whether they know certain topics that have not been delivered yet is basically judging a fish by its ability to climb and may even affect some children’s confidence. We don’t follow a particular curriculum instead I draw on a variety of approaches and create one that is bespoke to each child and as a result we have developed our own philosophies/ principles for our family education, which keep evolving the more we learn together. The overall aim is not just to get clever and retain knowledge to pass an exam but to develop a well rounded education that provides a life long love of learning and an innate connection to the world around us.

“Education is the power to think clearly, the power to act well in the world’s work and the power to appreciate life” Brigham Young.

All children have a natural yearning to learn and when a child is in an environment that is conducive to learning (schools are sadly not conducive to learning for many children and for a variety of reasons), supportive and dedicated to their development and needs, then learning happens naturally and is a constant process not solely reserved for the hours of 9-3. Children are known to learn better through a method known as Experiential Learning, basically hands on practical experiences and activities. Home education is geared around providing an experiential learning environment that meets the needs of each unique child. No educational method, whether in school or an alternative route is entirely made up of one learning style, we all tend to mix and match, taking the bits that work for us and leaving the bits that do not. That is the beauty of home education, it is 100% bespoke to your child/ren. Schools can be a great choice for some children who truly enjoy the environment, theoretical learning and being confined to a desk the majority of the day (with aspects of experiential thrown in) however it is impossible to ensure every child (considering most classes are sizes of approx 30 children) has fully absorbed a lesson before you have to move on to another topic. Children therefore do end up straggling and those are the children who could have achieved so much more from a nurturing autonomic environment. Hundreds of children each year leave school failed by the system, no qualifications, some with mental health needs, others failed due to their SEN, and many will have lost their enthusiasm for learning. There is no rushing with home ed, you can go entirely at the child’s pace ensuring they have fully absorbed the topic, you can also follow their thought processes as they delve into certain aspects in more detail and then link that to something else they want to find out more about. When your a home educator you don’t necessarily teach your children instead you facilitate their learning and in the process learn so much yourself.You literally sit back and watch the magic happen. They always know that at any point along the way they have that one to one support.

Home education is more than just book learning and being able to recite whats needed for your exams, it’s learning life skills, effective interpersonal communication skills from mixing with all age groups. It is the freedom to take a break instead of pushing through a lesson, when it’s obvious the child needs it and is overwhelmed. It’s regrouping as a family to assess your future goals and plans. There isn’t forced socialization where they only get to mix with their age groups during break times but there is the ability to learn from a diverse group of people of all ages. Each week there is a list of workshops as long as my arm that they want to attend, these workshops tend to be run by professionals/experts in the area of study, it could be the museum, or we may have a workshop with an artist whose work is at a local exhibition, visit a blacksmith and have a practical lesson, living history camps and events, visiting laboratories and speaking to the scientists. Its rare for home educators to not be out and about learning from direct sources. Physical Education happens naturally whether its bike rides, the weekly trampolining group or playing in streams when we are out and about exploring nature. We also camp quite regularly which provides a lot of scope for the children to have a break from technology and connect with the earth. We do include technology into our studies as it is an aspect of life the children will need to be confident with however we also recognize the importance of time away from screens out in the natural world exploring their environment and enjoying the sense of freedom that nature provides. Nature is a great teaching tool and resource for any home educator as there are so many lessons we can learn such as life cycles (a natural way to introduce death if needed to little ones), weather, seasons, foraging and even topics such as math, English, history and art can be incorporated into family time outdoors.

Home education is based on what is best for the learner not the school district. Home educated children tend to surpass their public school counterparts on testing, working independently and by their own initiative and generally thinking for themselves with the ability to analyse and think critically. Its one of the main flaws within mainstream education as on the whole children are taught to accept what their teachers and books say as fact, they are not allowed to question the teacher, disagree or debate the evidence, they are expected to accept it and memorize it for recall during exams. Obviously that wont apply to all children within mainstream education as you will always get some who will push those boundaries, question their teachers and refuse to blindly follow; they tend to be the students that end up considered trouble makers which then impacts their enthusiasm for learning. We want children to ask why, why is an amazing question, yes it can get repetitive but that is a child demonstrating their natural innate drive for learning. Colleges, universities and employers all accept home educated children due to the skills they possess. We are facilitating education; not teaching to pass an exam and we aim for long term retention.

Education is interlinked and interconnected, we spend too much time seeing aspects of life as separate and sticking this in that box and that in this box. A real education is well rounded and understands the connection between all things, for example, when we studied Volcanoes with Anthony recently we incorporated science, geography, history, math, English and art into that one topic and that was just scratching the surface.

As with any decision you make in life you have to weigh up the pro’s and con’s for your child, and your family, what works for one wont work for the other. I just want to clarify it is not my intention to appear as if I am against mainstream education, because I am not, I would also love to go back to teaching in a College environment. These are the benefits of home education when compared to mainstream and there is no way to fully explain the wonder of home education without also mentioning the reasons why it is such a wonderful journey. Education is everywhere whether your out shopping or having a picnic in the park and regardless of how you choose to educate your child, mainstream or not, the majority of their crucial life learning happens within the home environment naturally. There are so many reasons behind a parents choice to home educate that its impossible to list them all.

I wrestled a lot initially with my decision to home educate. I had a million questions going round my head. At first I was considering on removing my eldest son and leaving my others in mainstream school however life had other plans. William was being bullied dreadfully and the school was lacking in empathy and support whilst failing to meet their own bullying charter. I felt like I spent just as much time sat behind a desk begging the teacher’s to help as he did. It also seemed to make matters worse as they started to see him as the problem because his mother kept coming in and requesting meetings, whereas if they had even attempted to tackle the bullying before it got to the stage of illegal weapons on school premises I would not now be writing this blog post. once I pulled him and we fell into our routine I started to notice more and more stark differences in the quality of education. William had more enthusiasm than his siblings and was also able to retain the learning long term whereas my youngest son could not recall the morning lessons by the time lunch came around (SEN). One of the main questions I asked myself was whether public education inspired a desire for learning within my children? does it fire up that spark within? Or did my children spend most of their time isolated, wrestling with their identity, responding to labels, trying to fit in, withdrawing from their true selves and experiencing uncertain interactions with peers when they’re at school? When my son first started Year 7 he would come home asking questions about certain atrocious phrases no 11 year old should be hearing and wanting to know the meaning because he was being laughed at school for being rather innocent. Now you may say that is my fault for raising such an innocent child, however, I say my child is a child and has every right to be innocent, all children should be innocent and I should not have to toughen them up, desensitize them and allow access to unsuitable materials (TV or games etc) in order for him to fit in at school, avoid bullying and be able to receive an education. It is not my child that needs to change. I am raising beautiful, loving, kind, considerate children who I will be proud to turn out into the world, the phrase be the change you want to see comes to mind. I had to genuinely consider what experiences the public school system was providing for my children and whether the long term aspects of that will be positive or negative. Its not about removing them and sheltering them from all forms of dispute and confrontation, its about creating an environment where they learn those skills naturally whilst being safeguarded. One teacher informed me that my child just needed a tougher skin and it would prepare them for the work place, yet when I look around I do not see children with tougher skins, I see children fighting mental health conditions with a lack of services and atrocious waiting times within the NHS, I see story after story of teenagers committing suicide, so I ask how is that helping them lead a positive future?

One of the key issues most home educators hear, almost daily, is socialization. There is a huge misinformed opinion that home educated children do not socialize. My children, personally and purely anecdotal, socialize more now than they ever did whilst in the school system. On top of that school provides forced socialization with your own age group, I know I don’t pick my friends based on their age, and I certainly don’t restrict my friendships to people the same age, that isn’t socialization. I look at my own circle of friends, and I am 33, they all range from mid twenties all the way up to friends who are OAPs. That is true socialization and demonstrates interpersonal communication skills. How can we expect our children to grow up with communication skills if they have only ever mixed with their peers, we all know children learn from their friends, therefore they need friends across various age groups (obviously age appropriate friendships- we always have to safeguard).

Naturally, like many parents, I felt mainstream education was the best way and just assumed that they would receive a well rounded education. We were always a very involved family and we have always taken education day trips as a family, played educational games, watched documentaries and enjoyed blowing things up in the kitchen through STEM activities, even so, when I removed my children I was shocked to discover how much of the fundamental elements they hadn’t retained within their core subjects. I have had to go right back to basics in order to move forward with each of them and my children are intelligent and capable, William was in the top sets and Tyler should have been, so its not that they were not capable its because the teacher had had to move on before they had fully absorbed the lesson which then had a knock on effect for a lot of lessons that followed. It just makes it more insulting when people then quiz my children with the assumption they would do better in school because no they wouldn’t and no they did not. Parents are naturally too trusting and assume that their teacher is qualified enough and able to deliver a well rounded education that meets the needs of every child, and sadly, it couldn’t be further from the truth in our experience.

From a mental health point of view, William who now has PTSD and anxiety as a result of the severity he was bullied, is thriving and going strength to strength. He still has days he finds difficult but his enthusiasm for learning has grown tremendously. This week alone he has been researching things he can make from household items, taking himself off in his free time and appearing with a fully made prototype. Although we did have to gently explain we are not sticking duck taped plastic bottles to the dining room wall. When he first came out we spent a few weeks deschooling as he was still too emotionally raw to consider learning and needed a safe space to express his needs. We are also working with CAMHS and they are really pleased with how well he is doing now he is home educated and agree it was the best move we could have made. When he gets overwhelmed he can take a break, do a meditation for example, and come back to it when he is calmer and his work is fabulous. William, and his sister Tyler, have recently started up their own home ed newsletter and combined forces with several other home educated teens. This time 13 months ago, when I first took him out, he would never have had the initiative or even the drive to take on such a task and responsibility. After seeing the benefits first hand of educating at home the other two children were also deregistered. Tyler, 15, was being let down by the school who despite her abilities insisted on keeping her in lower sets and limiting her G.C.S.E. choices because she had not sat her SAT exams; she was actually having surgery for appendicitis. Anthony was removed as he requires more one to one assistance, he has ASD and was becoming more anxious about returning to school each September. I briefly discussed this in my first blog. We learn together as a family and everyday is considered an adventure. It isn’t always easy but the memories of watching them grow and learn together will stay with me forever. They have become so much closer, yes they fight like all siblings, but they have a unique bond that will hopefully last a lifetime. It is a family journey and we are paving the way together. Its impossible to fully explain our home education philosophy in a single blog post and if anyone has any further questions about our journey I would be happy to answer them. Every home educator came to the decision for different reasons, whether its due to SEN not being met, bullying, mental health, physical health or parents choosing not to ever enter their children in the first place as they don’t like the education system or curriculum in their country of origin. Whatever the reason you can guarantee that it was not a decision made lightly and we are well aware of the responsibilities it entails, in the majority of circumstances no one is more dedicated to your children’s success than you their parent. If my children ever decide they would like to return to school then they will be given my full support.

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all” Aristotle

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