When people learn that we home educate, they display a range of reactions from “Is that legal?” to “What about socialization?” to “You must be incredibly patient. I could never do that.” It can be hard to know how to respond to people sometimes. Home education is incredibly different from classroom based, school education, but most people don’t really understand this. Most of us went to school and we are used to thinking that “education” is all about information and skills being transmitted to us in a specific way by trained professionals. It can be hard to break out of that box and see that learning is something we were made to do. It’s almost impossible to avoid learning from everything you do, every minute of your life. And home educators have the freedom to nourish this inbuilt desire to learn without following the model that is expedient for controlling 30 or so children in one room. You just have so much more flexibility with your own children, unconfined by time constraints and walls.
Home educating my kids is… a rewarding challenge, immensely difficult, loads of fun, a huge pain in the butt. This is all true. My answer would probably change depending on the moment in which I was responding. I don’t think that home educating is for everyone. You have to really want to do it as takes a lot of motivation to choose a lifestyle (and, yes, home educating is a life style decision – it cannot be confined to set hours and it affects your entire outlook on life) that is so very different from the norm. There are plenty of “perks” to home education – no school run, not tied to term times, clubs and lessons are easier to fit in, we don’t have to be early to bed, early to rise if we don’t want to be. But there is also the constant tension that arises from being different to most other families, the questions from perfect strangers when we’re out and about (which are sometimes fine and lovely, and sometimes harsh and accusatory), the doubts from friends and family members that can be very pressurising at times, not to mention the problems some HE families have with harassment from government officials who misunderstand their legal rights and obligations.
The highs and lows of the home educating parent’s life are myriad and personal. But here follows my own personal reasons for loving home ed and finding it an enormous challenge.
- I am with my children ALL THE TIME.
I am an introvert. I need time on my own, all by myself. This, however, is an exceptionally rare commodity in my life. I get one hour a week sitting outside the door of the gym where Pippi has gymnastics. That’s about it, unless I choose to stay up very late after everyone (even Mr Mallon) has gone to sleep so that I can revel in aloneness. Since time alone is in short supply, I’ve had to find other ways to meet my need to not be constantly engaged with the small people in order to preserve my sanity. For about an hour most afternoons, I ignore the children. They will watch tv or play. I will intervene if it seems like someone is going to get hurt. But other than that, I ignore them and do something for me… usual surfing the interweb and drinking a cup of tea. I look at Mr Mallon’s two-hour a day commute with longing and envy. So what if he spends it on a bus crowded with smelly strangers… it’s still two hours a day that he doesn’t have to interact with other people.
- Balancing the needs and demands of three very different people.
This is actually something that has only recently become difficult. There are only 18 months between Betsy and Pippi. Pippi has always been more advanced with her motor skills than Betsy. This has meant that they can happily do most things together. And up until now The Boy has always just been a tag along. Sitting and listening if a story or activity interests him, and happily going off for some private game if not. But just recently there has been a shift. As Betsy has become an independent reader, she is less inclined to sit and listen to me read. She wants to be hiding away in her bedroom reading to herself. Pippi, being of a totally competitive nature, is struggling with the fact that Betsy can read and she can’t yet (or not very well). They are even diverging in the sort of books they enjoy reading. And The Boy has all of a sudden developed to a point where he needs some work of his own. His own books that are on his level. He’s even showing an interest in learning maths and reading (neither of the girls were at all interested at his age). So it seems that suddenly, I have a lot more to juggle. I guess that’s just how it goes, but it’s certainly taking some adjustment.
- Probably my biggest struggle, has been reconciling my own ambitions and plans for our home educating lifestyle with the desires, needs and personalities of my kids.
Betsy’s private nature and strong will have meant that as we embarked on our home educating adventure, things did not go exactly to my plans. I had visions of an idyllic, Charlotte Mason inspired education. With mornings filled with read alouds, math and writing practice and narrations by Betsy. But if Betsy thinks you want her to do something, she will dig in her heels and utterly refuse to do it. Betsy WILL NOT narrate back to me a summary of what we have read. In fact, Betsy seems to believe that the information contained in her head is her private property and she does not willingly share it on anyone’s terms but her own. This quickly scuppered my plans for how we would conduct our home education. Instead, I have had to sail out into the uncertain waters of autonomous education. Autonomous education is based on the theory that we were designed to learn and will naturally do just that if left to our own devices in an atmosphere full of stimulating materials and opportunities. I find it quite easy to believe the method works when I read about it in a book, but it does very much go against the grain of traditional school-based education and the societal pressures of our day. So for me, educating Betsy has been a daily exercise of trusting that this will all work out ok in the end, and hoping that I’m not ruining her forever. The fact that she has become a fluent reader with no formal teaching from me, encourages me that maybe this thing really will work. And hopefully along the way, she will flourish from being allowed to be exactly who she is and developing in her own time even if that doesn’t fit the rigid guidelines suggested by the powers that be.
- Watching my kids build strong relationships with each other.
My kids get along really well. They have to as we are always together. Don’t get me wrong; they also fight quite a lot of the time. And I do sometimes wonder if we could all do with a break from each other sometimes. But for the most part, they really love each other and they play together wonderfully. Wanting my kids to have a really strong foundation of friendship with one another is one of my main reasons for wanting to home educate them. Friends come and go throughout our lives, but no matter how far away from them you end up living, your siblings are always a part of your life.
- Knowing that my kids can learn free from external pressures and expectations.
We are all unique individuals who grow and develop at our own pace. For the most part, we accept this when it comes to babies. Some people get their first teeth at 3 months, some at 18 months. There is a wide range of times when babies learn to crawl, walk and talk. Most parents understand this and don’t freak out if their baby develops at a slightly different pace from their peers. But once kids reach school age, we seem to expect them to all follow the same developmental time scale for skills like reading and writing. Also, schools have to measure students progress. There is no easy way to do this so we resort to testing and placing kids on a scale which judges children with earlier readiness for learning certain skills as “better” or “smarter”. I love that in our home, my kids don’t have to keep up with a time scale dictated by averages. They can learn and develop at their own pace. They are free to pursue topics and skills that interest them. And they don’t have to perform in order to prove that someone is doing their job well.
- Learning and exploring the world alongside my kids.
I love learning. According to one of those personality type test thingys, “Learner” is one of my key strengths. So it naturally appeals to me to learn along with my kids. You definitely don’t need to know all the answers in order to home educate your children, but you do need to be able to take their questions seriously and respond by seeking out the answers together. I love reading and discovering new worlds with my little people. There is nothing better than being all snuggled up on the couch together following the adventures of Dorothy and her friends in Oz or learning about the Vikings. I like to think that I set a good example to my kids of how we should always be learning as they observe my reading habits or see me sitting with my Welsh flashcards in the afternoon. When it comes down to it, this is why I home educate my kids. It seems such a shame to send them off and let someone else teach them about the world when we can have so much fun learning together. It’s an opportunity that, for me, is too good to pass up.