Monday, 16 November 2020

Why Do We Home School?

This has to be hands-down the question that I have been asked most often over the last few years.

It's one that's been directed to me from so many different people in so many different situations - strangers in theme parks, checkout staff in supermarkets, friends, family members. But most of the time, it comes from strangers online.

Whenever I mention home education in passing on my blog social media accounts, I can always guarantee that I'll get at least one response asking "Why do you home school?"

Now don't get me's not that I mind people asking this question. I don't take offense to it, I understand the curiosity...Home education is not the norm in the society we live in, and anything outside of the norm is bound to make people curious and elicit some well-meaning questions.

It's just that I've started to find it a bit tiresome to answer the same question over and over again. So, I thought why not just answer it here...once and for all. Perhaps it will satisfy some people's curiosity, and if nothing else - at least I can direct enquirers to this post from now on instead of having to rehash the same answer time and time again ;)

So why DO we home educate? ......Why does anyone home educate? What even IS home education?! Is it legal? Do you have to teach the National curriculum? How do you ensure they're doing the right amount and type of work for their ages? Is it expensive? What about when they're high school age? Will you ever let them go to school? What if they resent it and wish they'd gone to school? HOW WILL THEY LEARN HOW TO SOCIALISE?!!!!!

Yes...this is the usual flow of the questions, in my experience. So let's dive right in shall we?!

First of all....what IS home education?

It might surprise you to know (it surprises most people, it certainly surprised me!) that home education is actually currently the default in the UK. You can choose to register your child for a school place - which of course is what most people do, but if you choose not to do that then you revert to the default - home education. 

You might get a reminder to register a few months before school starts, but other than that - if you don't respond to those "choose your school place" letters, then that's that - decision made, you're home educating now.

If your child is already enrolled in a mainstream school, you can remove them at any time by simply writing to the head teacher and requesting that they be removed from the register. That's it. The school then have a duty to inform the local authority, who will probably contact you to ask you to provide an annual report on the education you're providing.

Your only obligation is to provide an education that is suitable for your child's age and ability. There are no stipulations about how many hours this needs to take place over or when it should happen, and there are no rules around what your child should learn. You are free to follow the national curriculum or opt not to - it is entirely your decision.

What Does Home Education Look Like?

Well that would depend entirely on who you're asking. I know rather a lot of home educating families these days, and I can honestly say that no two families are the same in their approach to home ed life.

There are many different theories and approaches to home education - some people like to recreate a full time school environment at home with timetables and structured school-style workbooks and assignments, while some choose to "unschool" completely - which means to allow the child complete autonomy over their learning, following their natural interests and usually choosing to learn through life experiences and nature rather than undertaking any formal structured school work. Then there's the Charlotte Mason method, semi-structured, world schooling - the list goes on and on.

I usually find that most home educating families float around between a few of these styles - we certainly do. We fall somewhere between semi-structured and unschooling. We choose not to follow the National curriculum and prefer to take a child-led approach to the topics we cover, but I do still incorporate some light Maths, English, Science and Phonics as well as reading and writing practice because it feels more comfortable for me. However, we don't take any notice of "recommended ages" for various learning goals and our timetable is not daily and is not strict. My children are very young and I firmly believe that most of their learning at this age should be through play and exploration of the world around them. 

Now for the big question...WHY choose home education?

Firstly, I think it's important to point out that this is not a question with a one-size-fits-all answer. Every home educating family will have a different and valid reason for choosing home education for their children ( and if you're going to ask the question, you have to be prepared to accept their answer without taking it personally.)

To demonstrate that point, I asked some of my home educating friends to share their reasons for choosing home education. Here are their responses:

"We started as a way to safeguard our children from the treatment they were enduring in school. Then it just blossomed into something completely beautiful, and we've never looked back" - Kelly, Wales

"I home ed because I know that one type of teaching doesn’t suit all. School caused major mental distress to my son and home ed allows us the freedom for him to learn in a way that fits him without making him ill" - Jo, Devon

"After over a decade teaching I became completely disillusioned with the way the Tory party were dragging schools back in time - I couldn’t see a place for me working within the system any more, and neither could I imagine subjecting my son to it. At the time I imagined we might home educate for the first couple of years. This year he would have been entering year 3 - but he is thriving through the self-directed learning approach we have worked our way into, as is his 3 yo brother. Unless things change drastically within the school system I cannot imagine any of us having a place inside it - and the more I learn the more I am convinced that we need to radically rethink our approach to education if our society is going to have any hope of a sustainable future." - Sophie, Devon

"I started home educating because the school system failed Jacob at 4 years of age. I  like home educating because Jacob can enjoy learning based on his own interests as well as having the freedom of going out in the community more often which i feel has helped him to learn a lot more. As well as not wearing a school uniform which has meant that Jacob has been able to express his own individuality" - Gemma, Devon

"We like the freedom to go at our own pace and live our best life. We like to be able to take the opportunity to enjoy adventures without getting permission from a school to be absent for any extended period of time. We like to be able to spend extra time on topics that we find extremely interesting or challenging, and breeze through the things that would be boring if we had to do them for a prescribed duration.
We like to incorporate academics into day-to-day life to demonstrate relevance, and learn practical skills and how to apply academic concepts in a practical way. We like to spend a lot of extra time on extracurricular activities, because the kids don’t spend six hours a day in school.
Also, school shootings are a terrifying factor in US."  - Myra, USA

So as you can see - the answer to this question is so very different depending on which home educating parent you ask.

So why do WE home educate?

Well...the simple answer is, because it suits us. 

It's something I'd always been interested in - I feel that children start school far too young in this country, childhood is such a fleeting moment in our lives and I believe it should be full of happy memories in order to give children the very best chance of growing in to a confident, self assured and happy person. My own personal experiences of school did not reflect this at all, and I personally feel that a lot of school-related experiences can negatively impact upon children. I have always felt that too much of our childhoods is spent in school, and I feel very uncomfortable with the levels of control that the government now has over the lives of school-attending children - from issuing fines for term-time family holidays to banning discussions that showcase capitalism in a negative light...I feel that school has become too much about control and keeping people in their place, preparing them for a lifetime of compliance than anything else. 

Of course I understand that these are my personal beliefs and others will disagree - that is the beauty of having freedom to choose what we each believe to be right for our children. I would never inform a school-parent of these opinions I have unless they asked (and even then I would probably only touch on it) - because their choices are their own and are nothing to do with me. 
However, I do wish that people would afford the same courtesy to home-educating parents...sadly, in my experience they tend not to hold back in airing their conflicting opinions.

I initially lacked the courage to choose a lifestyle for my own children that was so far removed from the one I'd grown up in...I didn't know any other home educators at the time, and so I enrolled my first child into school as I was expected to. 

But it didn't work out. He hated it from the start, and cried his heart out every single morning. Some believe that to be normal and a necessary thing, but I personally didn't - it felt unnatural and unnecessary given that he was still 3 months away from being compulsory school age. I was going against my instincts every single day that I allowed him to be physically torn away from me, and I wasn't comfortable with continuing to do that.

When he became more unhappy, I made the decision to remove him from school temporarily with the intention of returning to a new school after a few months. But when we did so we found a large and thriving community of home educators locally - my son made friends, he was learning well at home and he grew massively in confidence.

So we thought "If it's not broken, why fix it?" and we stuck with home ed.

We then discovered so many beautiful aspects to the home ed lifestyle that just work for our family - total freedom, nobody to answer to, no permission needed or fines to pay for family adventures, freedom to enjoy more travel as a family due to the lower term-time costs, the beauty of seeing the children learn - witnessing every milestone first hand and helping them to foster a love of learning, experiencing new things and expanding our knowledge together as a family. The freedom of allowing them to explore who they are and what they enjoy, without so much peer pressure or pressure to conform. 

I also like the fact that they are free of the national curriculum, which I personally find to be restrictive and lacking. I believe the current school model is outdated - I believe it was designed to create a production line of factory and office workers, I believe it seeks to make children compliant and encourages them to focus on things which I consider unimportant such as learning to pass a test rather than for a genuine understanding and interest in a subject. 

I don't like the concept of school uniforms, I don't like the levels of forced conformity and authoritarianism in many schools.  I want my children to be free thinkers, to challenge things, not to automatically bow to authority in every single circumstance. I want them to understand that sometimes adults are wrong, that their own opinions and feelings are valid and deserve to be heard and respected.

The more reading I have done about the positives of home education, the more convinced I am that this is the right path for us. School in its current form has only existed for little more than 100 years...a lot of the practises within schools go directly against what we understand about how children best learn from research. For example, homework has been proven to have little to no positive effect on learning...yet it's used in most schools and further eats in to children's free time.
Research also shows that spending lots of extra time on subjects that children struggle with actually has a NEGATIVE effect - yet this is what most schools do. I would prefer to spend that time on their passions and interests.

These are just my own thoughts and opinions - just as I would never try to force any other parent to hold the same opinions and beliefs as me, or force home education onto them I also expect school-going parents to allow me to have my thoughts and make my own choices for my children without seeing them as an attack on their own choices.

No two people are the same, and that is the beauty of the freedom to choose what is right for our children based on our own beliefs.

Home educating parents are regularly asked "But what if the children resent your choices?" but nobody asks this of school-families - I personally do resent being sent to school. I was diagnosed with PTSD as an adult, as a direct result of my experiences at school, something I'm still suffering the effects of 23 years later.  I wish my parents had home educated me,and I think often about how different my life might have been if they had. 
Every parent has to make the decision they feel is the right one at the time and that could always turn out to be the wrong decision...there are never any guarantees.

People have asked me if I feel it's unfair to choose home education based on my own negative experiences of school when my children might experience something much more positive - as it happens this is not my sole reason for home educating (As I've explained above), but even if it was...if you'd suffered lasting trauma which seriously impacts your quality of life as a result of a particular experience, would you take the chance of allowing your child to go through the same...or, if there was another option available, would you try that instead? 

We chose home education for a myriad of reasons, and our reasons for continuing with it grow and evolve daily.

Home education is not always easy, and it's not suitable for every parent or indeed for every child - but it works well for us, my children are happy and thriving, and I feel much more confident about the effects on their mental health and education without school than I would with it...So that's why we choose to continue.

To each their own.

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