Its back to school time. Once again, as happens several times a year, my social media is lit up with opinions and thoughts about back to school. Once again there are questions about home education being asked.
“I have seen such a change in X over the past couple of weeks, I don’t think school is the best place for him any more.” “I would just choose not to send her back, but what about her social skills?” “How will my child get the qualifications that they need to get a job?” “I could never teach them everything that they need to know?”
These worries are not new, the people asking me these things are not alone. There are answers to these questions all over the internet and if you join one of the home ed facebook pages you will get any number of answers that all seem to echo the same thing, “it will be fine! and if it really isn’t, well nothing has to be forever!” So very quickly, my answers to the above are.
- You know your child better than anyone else, communication is key, but that isn’t always verbal. Check that body language and behaviour and follow your instincts.
- Forced association in schoool is not real socialisation and there are enough meet ups, events, clubs, after school activities to enable children to meet new people and make friends. Don’t be under the illusion that all friends have to be the same age, this is again a false school made idea and it isnt natural. Look at the friends you have and their varying ages as an adult. And be open to the idea that you will also make friends and form bonds throughout your home ed journey.
- Home educated children can and do get qualifications. They may not sit 9 GCSEs in a year, but they are able to work towards their own goals as and when they are ready. There is no legal age a child must sit exams, they aren’t even compulsory at all. Alongside GCSEs there are iGCSEs, Functional skills, Arts Awards, Crest Awards, AQA, Open University, Duke of Edinburgh and work experience to name just a few. All of these are recognised and appreciated when it comes to applying for jobs etc. The route that you take will vary hugely depending on your child, but there is never only one route to an end goal.
- Here is a game changer, YOU DON’T EVEN NEED TO TEACH THEM! Really! Children will naturally learn, you may not see it because learning isn’t always books and pencils. It comes in many many forms. Your role as a home educating parent is to facilitate their learning. Allow them opportunities and access to different resources and experiences. What is stopping you from learning alongside them if they are learning something that you don’t know? I have a degree, and I have learnt loads since home educating. I never even knew how mistletoe grew until a few weeks ago! And I certainly never knew what a tadpole looked like up really close until just last week!
Which leads me on to our recent goings on. With the teenagers who came out of school coming up 5 years ago now, I was at times fairly structured. I directed them towards projects, I spent so long researching things, finding work sheets and jotting down ideas. They covered things, but never really sparked anything. They are all fairly independent with their study now, and work hard. What triggered the change? me! I stepped back. That was it. They decide their courses, they set time aside to work on them. I do need to nudge them sometimes as they do get engrossed in one things and a deadline may be looming else where but once reminded they get on with it. I am now working on a different idea of right at the start encouraging them to set reminders on their phones and in their calendars. I am hoping that this will help to develop a greater level of independence.
Most importantly, they are brilliant people. They are kind and focussed. They enjoy walks along the river and sit out in the garden together. They share a group of friends and maintain those freindships with no worries about how old everyone is, yet they are able to be compassionate towards their younger friends and understand emotional maturity varies. They enjoy doing things together while being happy to also go off and do their own thing. They don’t sit at the park or in a bus stop drinking, they don’t smoke and they aren’t rude to people. They all have work experience, can all cook and work the washing machine etc…. I love spending time with all of them, and I am proud of them all.
With a 4 nearly 5 yr old I have continued the step back approach and seen how fantastically it really is working. So I guess this is the life they call unschooling? People are often amazed when they see how the 4 yr old can make a cup of tea, or peel and chop potatoes, or pick the rhubarb for example. There is this general opinion that young children shouldn’t handle hot water, or sharp objects. But he has learnt this, he has been supervised and has been safe, he now makes himself a sandwich or a bowl of cereal or a slice of toast, or a drink when he wants too. This has allowed him autonomy over his body. He knows when he feels hungry or thirsty and he is able to independently rectify this and give his body what it needs. I obviously make the main meals (though he also loves to help with this) and him being able to snack during the day does not stop him eating his meals, in fact, the opposite. I am finding that he mostly completely finishes his plate, but is also happy and able to leave something and say if he doesn’t like it. He is not forced to eat anything. He is a pretty good shot with a bow and arrow and his archery instructor is amazed at his strength, he is quick, and a good climber, and holds brilliant conversation with adults as well as children, unlike some children of a similar age he doesn’t baulk when someone a different age strikes up conversation. He made a friend at a play ground because of a common interest in dinosaurs. He spotted a slightly older boy playing with toy dinosaurs, walked up to him and asked him what his favourite dinosaur is, then asked who he thought would win out of three different species, and they were off.
He has his own interests, and learns deeply about them. His latest fascination was life cycles. It has helped that we have a pond and he has been able to see frogspawn turn into tadpoles and he is watching the tadpoles grow. He has done planting and watched his plants spring roots and grow, he also sadly saw some die in the late frosts. We talked about different flowers and pollination and from that led on to a greater interest, bees. He doesn’t run shrieking from bees, instead he has been interested in spotting the different species, identifying them and learning all about how they live. The bulk of this has been honey bees, how do they make honey, how do we get the honey, why is honey different colours etc… He has spent hours over the past few weeks watching various youtube programs, visiting bee exhibitions and looking at hives.
I have learnt a very important lesson in the years that I have been home educating. How important it is to trust our children. They won’t let themselves down! In school there are boxes to tick and requirements set by government, these are the same across the board, they are not in relation to your individual child. Yet the children are the ones at the bottom of the pressure pyramid, and so springs this concept of “failure” “letdown” “disappointment” Who is really being let down and disappointed if a child doesn’t tick all of those specific boxes at that specific time? As adults we seem to want to project those feelings on to the children, but take away those boxes, take away those constraints, let the children be free and to learn their own way and at their own pace, they won’t let themselves down!
Remember that knowledge is not the key to the world, passion and knowing how to gain knowledge when you need to opens far more doors. Let learning be fun, let it be for life, let it have its own natural rewards. Raise life long learners.