Keeping the Big Picture in Mind: Part 2

Keeping the Big Picture in Mind: Part 2

In Part 1, I explored the importance of priorities and motivators in our home education approach, and cannot stress enough what a hugely positive impact it can have on you and your family if you take the time to work through these together.

Now we will look at other factors which are worth considering as part of your home education approach.

1. Emotional, physical, mental development
Every parent knows that children develop at different paces physically, emotionally and mentally. This is one of the main reasons why the “one-size-fits-all” approach of school will not work for many children. Physical size does not always relate to emotional age, or mental ability, and expecting all children of the same age to perform all tasks at the same level is unrealistic. I think it goes without too much explanation that we should take our own children’s unique individual needs and development into account in respect of our expectations of their abilities.
2. Readiness
Learning occurs most efficiently when a child is physically, emotionally and mentally “ready”. There is no magic age at which all children learn to read, or master specific skills. The wise parent waits until the child indicates that they have everything they need to want to move forward with learning a new thing (much like potty training). When the child is ready, learning happens naturally and without much fanfare. The child is given the tools they need, and off they go!
3. Learning Styles
While not everyone agrees on learning styles and whether they are a “thing” or not, in my experience some children learn more by doing, others by watching, or by reading, etc. As a parent it is useful to take time to observe what gets your child excited, or how they process new information, and factor this into how you facilitate their engagement in learning.
4. Motivation
As obvious as it might sound, it is pointless trying to force an unmotivated child to learn something they have no interest in, or no need to learn. Either you, or you and the child will invariably end up frustrated which tends to have the opposite effect to the one you were going for. On the other hand, a child who is excited and motivated to learn needs hardly any encouragement. Teachable moments can be grabbed and made much of while they last.
5. Positive experiences
Engaging with the world together, discovering and exploring in a happy and joyful way, creates many positive memories, which make the child eager to repeat the experience. The opposite of that is when outings and activities are associated with stress and unhappiness, which is counter-productive to learning.
6. Respectful relationships
Charlotte Mason famously said “Children are born persons”, challenging the idea that children are things to be controlled, possessions to own, or subservient, lesser beings. Maintaining an environment of respect encourages meaningful discussion between parent and child, and supports the child as they seek, within a climate of safety and security, to understand the world, nature, and society.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

As with most theoretical models, not all are in agreement as to the validity of the hierarchy of needs proposed by Abraham Maslow in 1943. However, I think we can all agree that a child’s ability to learn and engage in learning will be negatively impacted if their urgent physical needs are not being met, or if they are experiencing extreme anxiety, worry or fear.

The Wardrobe

This is a metaphor I like to use for understanding how children gather and retain information. Imagine your child’s brain as a wardrobe. If you simply throw information at the child, it is likely that much of it will end up in a muddle, much like a wardrobe where clothing has not been hung up properly. In order to find items in a wardrobe, we need a clothing rail, with hangers that the clothing can be hung onto so we can see everything. Your child’s brain is much the same. Their questions are like hangers, with their own frame of reference providing the rail for the hanger which holds the answers to their questions. If the child isn’t seeking the information for themselves, and is not curious about the subject matter, it is often unlikely that they will retain the knowledge at all!


Maria Montessori said: “Play is the work of the child.”

In this video Randa Grob-Zakhary, former CEO of the Lego Foundation, explains the benefits of play for children.
The importance of play for a child cannot be underestimated, and in the primary years, play is to be encouraged and facilitated as much as possible. Play is essential for:
1. Cognitive development: how children think, explore and figure things out. It is the development of knowledge, skills, problem-solving and dispositions, which help children to think about and understand the world around them
2. Socio-emotional development: the child’s experience, expression, and management of emotions and the ability to establish positive and rewarding relationships with others
3. Content knowledge and skills: The child’s play may involve gaining new knowledge, and practicing new skills, imitating adult interactions and conversation. For example, building with Lego blocks teaches the child basic engineering skills.
4. Physical Development: through play, a child improves both gross and fine motor skills
5. Whole-child development: A child who is completely immersed in games and play is having all their needs met, and will be 100% engaged physically, socially, emotionally, and mentally
6. Productivity: Children love play where they are able to make and create and be productive. This encourages feelings of success which builds up confidence.
7. Understanding cause and effect: Many games help children make the connection between action and reaction, consequences, and overcoming failure
8. Critical and creative thinking

Play and learning are not separate things.

Learning happens best when we:
• Do it for ourselves
• Involve the whole personality
• WANT to learn
• meet some personal need
• want to make sense of a subject
• build or make things
• think things
• want to survive and thrive

Checklist for parents:

 Know your child’s character/temperament/ability/gifting
 Know your own strengths and weaknesses
 Know your priorities
 Understand what influences you and why
 Understand how learning happens and the role of productivity in learning
 Understand how learning happens best for your child
 Live life, and let your children live it with you, witness your learning, and be released to learn for themselves.
 Expose children to the world they live in through dialogue, where they can engage in discussion in a safe environment
 Be ready to support and facilitate when needed
 Create an environment that is supportive of learning, and stimulates it
 Practice faith/beliefs in a meaningful way with children
 Don’t be afraid of the hard questions, but seek to find the answers together

Deschooling myself

Deschooling myself

“Do you remember when we learned all about the Sumerians when you were younger?” I asked my 18 year old daughter. “We dressed up, made different foods, and even did a puppet show?”

Looking at me blankly, she responded “No, I don’t remember doing that!”

We used to get together with a couple of other home ed families every week to cover different civilizations from history. The mums went to a great deal of trouble to prepare activities, and engage the children in a fun and positive way. But years later, I was to realise that even when a parent manages their child’s learning activities in what appears to be a meaningful way, if a child is not particularly interested in the topic, and their own curiosity is not driving their learning, it can have the same result as if the child had sat through a dry and boring classroom session. This was somewhat of an epiphany for me!

Further proof came during another conversation with the same daughter. We were talking about Ancient Egypt, and she made an offhand comment about Cleopatra being Greek. I didn’t recall us ever covering Cleopatra in any detail in our history sessions, so I asked her where she had come across that knowledge. “Oh, Horrible Histories!” was her answer.

One of my tactics to encourage the children to read was to leave a variety of different books in baskets around the house, hoping that they might pick one up occasionally when bored. This was how she had come to read about Cleopatra’s Greek heritage. This random bit of reading had stuck with her, whilst our very engaging and fun history session had not!

This is why as I have continued with my home educating journey (now in our 23rd year), I have become more and more “hands-off”. The non-negotiables remain “Please make sure you do some maths and some english every day”, but pretty much everything else is about noting the child’s interests, doing what I can to feed it (and fund it, in some cases!). We have attended home ed groups over the years, and the children have still participated in whatever activities were on offer, sometimes exploring more on those subjects after. We still have many educational chats, encourage our children to expand their horizons, and “go and look it up!”, but have abandoned most of what would be considered traditional schooling, particularly in the primary years.

Based on my years of home educating 7 children, my approach now is so very relaxed that I am barely involved, unless the children have asked me to be. During the primary years, I encouraged my children to learn to read and write by reading to them, and as they got older, giving them workbooks to do so that we knew we had covered the “need to know” stuff. We did the same with maths. I view these subjects as needing to be a steady building of a wall, row by row, making sure the foundations are solid. I didn’t tend to get too formal until they were around 8 years of age, and then we eased into it. Most of them were already reading by that age, learning fairly painlessly and as they were ready. But most of all, I wanted them to PLAY!

I believe that our society today vastly underestimates the great value of play for a child. Maria Montessori said “Play is the work of a child”, and it is how children learn and make sense of the world. For many home educated children, play eventually leads to interests, and developing of those interests can lead to a vocation. I would let my son have 3 day Lego or Duplo building marathons, watching as his building and thinking skills developed in huge leaps as he figured out better ways to build things.

Through play, a child figures out problems, comes up with creative and imaginative ways of filling in gaps, practices relationship skills through roleplay, comes to terms with feelings and emotions, and so much more that might seem intangible, yet lays the foundations for who that child will become as they grow older. And then of course there are other benefits like improving eye-hand co-ordination, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, etc.

Former CEO of the LEGO Foundation, Randa Grob-Zakhary, states in this presentation that play is essential for “whole child development”, and that some of the things which are developed through play in the preschool age are “more predictive of life success than your ability to read when you’re four”.

Through my now many years of home educating, my approach has gradually shifted from a more formal, planned format for my children’s education to a model that encourages my children to take ownership for their own lives and their own learning. My role as a parent is to keep them safe, guide them when necessary, but otherwise to not restrict their natural ability to learn, their natural curiosity. As a result, my younger children have benefited from my more relaxed but supportive approach, pursuing subjects they are excited about and planning their own route to chosen careers.

I sometimes wish I’d had someone to talk to back in those early years when I was starting out: someone who might’ve helped me to take a step back and consider learning as a far broader concept than “schooly” subjects. Home education offers so many amazing opportunities for giving our children freedom to just “be”, to discover the joy of mastery, and to have the thrill of heart, mind and body fully engaged in learning curves. If you haven’t taken that step back – I hope this story will encourage you to do just that!