If you have come to read this blog post as a result of the headline then you probably fall into one of two groups of people – the first ‘group’ is pretty much pro-home education – you may actually be a home educator or you may know somebody who is learning with their children in this way, (and you are very impressed with how they are doing) or you may be an old-time home educator whose children have now grown up; the second group is made up of hard-core home education bashers, who are likely to think of home education as the ultimate act of self-indulgent parenting and quite possibly consider parents teaching their own children as the most weird and disturbing thing that you have ever heard of. Despite the weaknesses and failures of the current education system, your opinion is that school is best and anywhere else is likely to set children and young people up for life-long failure.
Let me make it clear from the outset that this blog post is aimed at the first group and not the second. At the outset though, I will say a couple of things to those in the second group, however – you are wrong! Home education has a long history – some of the greatest minds in just about any field that you care to think about were home educated for at least part of their formal education. In addition, research over the last 30 years has shown time and time again that educational outcomes with home educated children are generally excellent across a whole battery of areas and are certainly on a par with (if not superior to) those of schooled young people.
So, why the headline? I promise it is not to simply provoke a response! Although I admit that it is to make you think – particularly if you are a home educating parent. As I said in a recent blog post, words matter, they shape our thinking and our imagination. And the word ‘homeschooling’ is no different; it conjures up a picture in your mind of what teaching children at home should look like. Even the phrase that I just used ‘teaching children at home’ is a product of the term homeschooling!
Children learn intuitively and naturally – when what they are learning matters to them. Often as adults, we have lost this ability, but children haven’t unless their experience of formal education (i.e. schooling) was so traumatising that they regard learning as painful. Even then, however, they are likely to still acquire knowledge and skills when something comes along that interests them. The most powerful learning takes place when it is personal to the individual – it might be hard work, and it might involve a lot of steps over a fair amount of time, but because it matters to the learner, they are more likely to get to the place of mastery.
Children in school generally do not learn like that. They have very little say over what they are taught, when they are taught it or how learning is delivered to them. Indeed, by and large, education in schools, especially in secondary schools is something that children and young people have done to them – it is not personal, active or immediately relevant. Education in school is teacher-led and teacher-directed. This is not a criticism of teachers, by the way, I have been there and done it. Working with thirty or more young people under enormous pressure to deliver results and with some children who are, at best, challenging is not an easy task.
And this is my point – why would we, as home educators want to mimic that way of doing things? Why would we want to adopt the same approach to learning as schools do? The term ‘homeschooling’ suggests the idea of school at home. This works for some families – and if this is a deliberate choice that a family makes, then this is great. However, for many, this is an approach that they may feel driven to, perhaps because they have come to home education only after a traumatic experience with schools. My advice is simple – go with a formal approach if this gets you started and you feel comfortable with it. However, you don’t need to do it that way – you can be more informal, you can learn whilst driving in the car or when you are out for a walk; in addition, all learning does not need to be written down in an exercise book. Find ways to build learning into your lifestyle. I am not advocating this because I am some trendy (geriatric) hippy from the 1960s – I suggest this as an approach to learning because in reality, apart from the formal learning of the school years, this is how most of us learn the majority of what we learn in our lives. It is also the approach that delivers success in terms of mastery and, dare I say it, it is the approach that is most likely to restore fun back into learning. Now that is a novel idea, is it not!