We’ve been on this crazy home educating journey now for four years and let me tell you it’s a rabbit hole! What looks to be a simple premise on the outside; you educate your kids, at home, suddenly opens up into a whole new world of possibilities and choices and I’ll be honest it can be mind blowing.
Just a little background, we started out home educating after I stumbled across an inspiring blog post and hesitantly sent it to my husband saying, “I know what you’re thinking but read the article first, give it a chance then let’s chat about it.” To his credit and despite his initial reaction of ‘no way’ he gave it a proper read and was totally on board. First off, I understand we’re very lucky that we ended up on the same page here, I’ve read many a story where one parent wants to HE and the other is very resistant and it results in every choice being questioned and that seems exhausting so I think it’s hugely important here to have both parents fully accepting of the choice to HE in order for it to really work. One parent resisting and constantly questioning the other without being supportive is going to drive the main educator down and honestly, it’s already a tough enough job, trust me.
So, after happily embracing the idea of home education, the deadline for school registration came and went and we breathed a sigh of relief that we’d taken the leap. I followed a ton of home educating pages, including our local one which I’d highly recommend finding as a first step. They are great to find friends, get inspiration, find local meet ups, and just get support from others in the same boat as you in your area. Whilst you’re discovering various groups I’d also recommend joining the main HE groups, you’ll start to find your favourites and will find that some are more radical than others but you’ll be able to easily find a page or two that make you feel comfortable and supported in your choices.
Then we started our home educating, but if you even read a snippet into the world of HE you’ll realise that there are countless variations; Flexi-schooling, Home schooling, Home education, Unschooling, Self-Directed Education and, probably many more that I’ve not stumbled across yet. I’ve found that most people really aren’t stuck in one way but move fluidly from one discipline to another depending on their family dynamic, moods, what’s working at the time and children’s preferences. There are some purists but, I think, as with many things, they are fewer of these people that are just highly vocal on the topic – choose your own path.
After a few years of trying many things I’d say we’ve become pretty eclectic. I’ve tried a more disciplined approach with set topics, I’ve tried completely child led unschooling where they are in control of everything (save bedtimes and screen limits for us which some will argue isn’t pure Unschooling but I’m not a purist so…whatever!) We’re now on a self-directed path with my daughter attending GalileoXP online education which is working great for us right now.
I won’t sugar coat it and say it’s been amazing at every step, easy and perfect. It’s been difficult, stressful, hard work and sometimes, yes, I have thought school would be the easier option – it would remove my responsibility and sometimes that would be nice as a breather as home educating and having your children with you a lot can be intense at times. This is where that support comes in though, when I’m doubting myself my husband steps in and boosts me up, the kids tell me they love being home educated and so I know I need to push on regardless, if any of these other things didn’t fall into place then it makes sense that I would be considering other options. And on that note, that’s totally fine to! Many people continue things they shouldn’t through pressure, perceived moral high ground or fear of it being seen as a failure. School, in itself, is not an enemy it’s a resource and should be treated as one. If you need your children to attend a school or they really want to go then do it, you can always pick up HE again another time when it’s better suited. Any decent home educator will agree that whilst they disagree with schools in principle, they are an option and HE isn’t for everyone, some people learn much better in a school environment. The beautiful thing to discover is that we have the choice. As parents we can choose who educates our children and that is an amazing power to have.
So how did we come to move to Self-Directed? Well last year there was an amazing home schooling summit online right around the start of the first lockdown. I sat and absorbed many of these inspiring talks and for the first time in a while felt fired up. It made me realise I’d lost some of my energy and enthusiasm and was wandering down an overgrown path which wasn’t feeling quite right, but I wasn’t sure why. We were in a rut and one thing that kept jumping out at me was the talks on self-directed education. How you act as a mentor to your children and facilitate them in learning exactly what they’re interested in. No purchased curriculums or making them be interested in the topics you’re wanting to present on that day, it’s like a lovely blend between child led and scaffolding. Again, it’s not a ray of sunshine, it can be difficult to ‘let go’ of what they’re learning all the time in terms of English and Maths and accept that they will learn in their own time, and it’s mind blowing in a way to discover that they are learning, that’s the magical thing, it’s just not in the way we’ve been trained to see education.
As a real life example, I’ve watched my 7 year old son go from hating the idea of reading to now suddenly and surprisingly being able to read early reader books. Yes, he’s later than other kids that are in school, but now he loves reading, I haven’t forced or coerced him into it and he’s done it for his reasons not mine. My ‘scaffolding’ has been the strewing of resources – BBC’s Alphablocks being a superb one, along with comics and I have to say Dog Man by Dav Pilkey was a great starter for him. Along with listening to him read, reading to him and sounding out words.
My daughter was very similar although she has always had a love for books which helped. At age 5 she started with Alphablocks, and admittedly I was a bit more ‘on it’ with her so she’d read a phonics book to me every night which lasted a few weeks, but then she just ran with it and 6 months in was easily reading chapter books, she can now read the likes of Harry Potter at age 9 with ease and just absorbs books for fun. It’s interesting seeing the different personalities, whilst my son was resistant to reading, the same can be said of my daughter when it comes to numbers. What I’ve realised from the self direction and the learning in their own time is that sometimes the kids need to be ‘ready’ for the concepts to stick, they also need some intrinsic motivation – being told you have to do something without full internal awareness of why is not a good motivator! Allowing them to have the time and space coupled with a loving environment and some carefully strewn resources is, for me, a great recipe for success.
So, when you’re starting out my recommendations are:
· Go slow, take your time and let the concepts and ideas have the time to be absorbed.
· Read lots, you can never have too many books! (Use the library too it’ll save a fortune.)
· Pick ‘n’ mix the bits you like and ignore the stuff that doesn’t fit your family ethos.
· Be true to yourself and your children’s needs not to the strict ‘criteria’ of certain disciplines.
· Be flexible, If you keep flexing when things aren’t working you’ll find things run a lot smoother, rigidly hammering away with one method is a sure fire way of causing meltdowns and resistance, whereas rolling with the natural rhythm of your family and their interests makes it a more enjoyable journey for everyone. Trust me, fighting disinterested kids with resources you’ve spent hours curating or worse making, is soul destroying (been there, tried it!).
· Relax! The biggest piece of advice I can give is this, if HE is something you really want to do and you’re ready for the wild ride, then relax! You’ve got this, you’ll do great as long as you’re trying and doing the best for your family (and yourself!) so enjoy the journey, you’ll be learning right alongside your kids and yes, it’s tough at times but also amazing and you’ll come out the other side stronger for the challenge.