Why and How we Home Educate

Jax has asked UK Home Educators to write a little bit about why and how they home educate. I don’t think I’ve ever blogged it really-but it’s been a fairly simple process for us: I told Michael that we were doing it before Hazel was born. Ok-it was that simple in some respects, but it’s something I knew I would do if I ever had children.

“Everything in life is an aspect of education, even if we don’t immediately grasp the lesson.” Author unknown

I read that quote over 30 years ago and I still have the original piece of paper I wrote it on. I don’t remember exactly what book it was-but my mom probably still has it. It was possibly an Irish author-the letter ‘M’ rings a bell-but it’s about someone learning to be a ‘wizard’ or some such thing. Anyway, when I read that, I knew that education took place everywhere and all the time, but education happened when ‘You’ were doing the living, the seeking of new information. You can’t ‘be educated’, you can only gain education and that the gaining of education was only possible through personal experience and exploration. A teacher standing in front of a room full of children spouting out facts wasn’t education, it was a mild form of brainwashing, as the only things you would be able to recall in the long-run were the bits you wanted to.

Yes-eleven years old may be young to be thinking about what kind of education any future children would have-but that’s when the idea was cemented in my mind. I’d also always loved the ‘old fashioned’ stories of the children who were educated at home, or those that had a private tutor or mentor, that just seemed the perfect way to learn. Everything would be centred on their interests and abilities. OK, maybe all the tutors in books weren’t ideal, but the idea was the ideal. It just always seemed, that those home educated in their youth seemed far brighter than we were.

I have always loved learning. I love the whole process of being challenged, finding some new tidbit of information that I never heard of before. I love it! School did not kill my enthusiasm for learning, but then again, I didn’t let it. I knew early enough that there were better ways to learn, more fascinating stories to read, and a zillion historical things to learn that the teachers would never cover in a 45 minutes a day history class. So I did what I was told, and I bided my time, just like any other prisoner.

The main things I dislike about school:
1. Group teaching: You cannot teach thirty children all at the same time-and keep it at a pace where everyone can thrive. You will either slow students up, or you will rush past them and leave them struggling in the dust. That is not conducive to learning, nor fair to any of the children involved.
2. Lack of personal tailoring: it is far easier to understand a topic if you have some personal interest in the topic. Yes, there are some things vital to learn to survive, but generally these types of skills have traditionally been taught by the families.
3. Rote memorization: Honestly, how brain numbing is that? I really don’t think any other method of teaching could sap the joy of learning any quicker than rote memorization. Memorization tasks are mundane-and teach children the wrong way to learn. They only teach one to cram for a test, and no more. My sister and I perfected the art of memorizing a monthly poem every month for 3 years-by starting 1st thing in the morning the day we had to recite it.
4. The loss of individuality: I can understand why they need to kill that as early on as they can, but as the end results are generally nothing but destructive, how can it be condoned?
5. Reading lists: I cannot bear anyone telling me what to read. I hated reading lists like the plaque! Reading has always been such a personal thing for me, and I have always balked at anyone telling me which book to read. (A minor point-but one that still irks me to no end!)
6. Waste of time: No one can possibly believe that ¼ of all school days aren’t wasted on waiting for the next lesson to start, for the teacher to re-explain things, and for the kids to get ready. All the lining up and waiting for people used to drive me nuts.
7. The enforced imprisonment: both physically and mentally. You had to sit, stand, move when and where you were told to. You were also told what you will learn, what you will think about at that moment and you were not even given the freedom of your thoughts.

I didn’t lose that freedom completely-for I retained my mental freedom. I would sit and stand when told-but I would think about what I wanted to. I learned to ‘turn-off’ to the teachers and would escape into my day-dream world. I would bring in my own books to read during other lessons, hiding them behind the text books. Trust me-I can day-dream away any discussion I want to. I still have a tendency to doing that if I’m not interested in a conversation. Even Albert Einstein raved about the wonders of an active imagination.

And no–I don’t think I’ve been robbed of my individuality. I’ve always known who I was and what I wanted to do. What I was robbed of was the chance to learn what would have really mattered to me. If my learning had been tailored to my needs/desires, I know I would have actually learned more. I would have spent much longer on the topics, and not just tried to touch on everything. I felt we came out of school as the ‘Students of all topics, the masters of none’.

And these are the main reasons why our children will not go to school. Hazel and Kieran will be given the freedom, yes with limits, to learn when, where and what they want to. Do they have the choice of school or home? No-as I see no benefits educationally for anyone to go to school. And as that is the supposed purpose of schools, and as I feel they fail in that at every step along the way-they do not have that choice. That is our decision, and as we are the parents-only we will make that decision. Especially as school would affect how we live as a family. I will not let school interfere with our home life.

This leads me to the second part of Jax’s question: How do we home educate?

As to ‘how we home educate’, there isn’t really a ‘how’ answer. We have handled this pretty much the same way we have handled the raising of our children. We are doing what feels right at the time for the children and us. I think parents in our society have lost the natural instinct to care for their children. I just do not understand these ‘how to raise/teach a child’ books-as it really should just come naturally. Can you imagine if all the other animals knew that we had to read books on how to take care of our young and how to teach them the things they need to learn to survive? We’d be the laughing-stock of the animal kingdom.

We have heard of the different ‘educational methods and philosophies’, but we haven’t looked into any of them. It goes back to my hatred of being told what to think-I do not want some face-less author telling me how to teach/raise my children. I don’t even want to be ‘influenced’ by their words-so will not read them. I like my thoughts to be my own!

Michael and I don’t even really have a philosophy of our own other than to respond to the children’s needs, interests and desires. I refuse to put a ‘label’ to what we do-as it is such an integral part of our family life, that it isn’t really a ‘separate compartment’. It’s just what we do.

But I know people want to know the ‘how did you teach them to read, write, etc’… Writing came when they were both about 4-when they came to me to show them how to write something. I would only show them what they asked-but did over the course of time make sure they were doing it correctly by giving them practice sheets to do. Their styles and ‘standards’ are different-which is to be expected as they are different people.

Reading also came as and when each child asked. We would read out what ever word they were interested in, and after they’d really showed a serious interest in the words around them I showed them a fairly simply example of how words were a group of letters connected to make a new sound. I wrote out a list of about 60 3-letter short vowel words like this: m-a-t; j-u-g. I had taught the kids the letter names, not sounds as is common practice today. I figured it worked for us, so would work for them! Then with the list I explained the sounds the letters make-and it just clicked with them. Within a few weeks of that ‘click’-both were well on their way to becoming serious readers. Hazel devours books, mostly fiction, while Kieran loves to study encyclopaedia style books, as well as fiction. I refuse to ‘test’ them on their reading comprehension with anything they’ve read, I do that occasionally with worksheets on topics they are interested in.

Maths has really been a case of real life experience, aided by the help of workbooks. I have never ‘tested’ their knowledge on this; we have never quizzed them to make sure they know the ‘fact families’. But I do know they comprehend how to work out the problems and that they will know which function to use to work out a problem.

And all other ‘topics’ such as history, cultural, geography and science, they just happen as and when the topics come up. A discussion on history can be started by almost any conversation, or book they read. We were driving to a farm on my birthday, and Michael and I were talking about some politics when Hazel asked if we were ‘nationalists’. Had no clue she knew the word-but she learned it by reading an American Girl book about the American Revolutionary war. This obviously lead us to discuss that war and the difference between the ‘loyalists’ and ‘nationalist’. And as this is a ‘family’ discussion, we are all involved, so both children are participating and learning.

Michael is mathematical and loves the scientific world, where as I love literature, history and social studies-and neither of us turn down an opportunity to expand our knowledge. I love to visit historical places, and he likes scientific lectures, etc… So we don’t ‘teach’ these to our children, we bring them along so they can experience the same things we are. I’ll bring them on a geological outing with my class, we take them to historical places that I want to see, and we take them to scientific lectures for adults. Do they understand it all? Of course not! I don’t even understand it all-but we are learning bits at a time, and enjoying the process. Are we dragging our children-no. They love it and know no other life. As it’s just what we do! I would visit museums and places of historical interest before I had children, and Michael wouldn’t know what to do with himself if he couldn’t learn something new every week.

Will we get more ‘structured’ as the kids get older? Possibly, but I have no idea what the future holds. For now-we do a mix of math workbooks; a few special topics they are interested in to work on sentence structure & comprehension; and hand-writing practice when we get round to it-but mostly we are trying to instil in them: the joy of learning, to seek out answers to their questions, to question what they’ve learned and hoping they will realize that learning is a part of everything they do. Because:

“Everything in life is an aspect of education, even if we don’t immediately grasp the lesson.” Author unknown

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7 Responses to Why and How we Home Educate

  1. Sarah says:

    Really enjoyed reading that; great post 🙂

  2. Jax says:

    yes, it’s great. Off to link it in 🙂

  3. Maire says:

    Lovely post, I too was noting how I would or probably more likely how I wouldn’t treat my children at 11.

  4. Alison says:

    Glad you got the bit about the reading lists in 😉

    I enjoyed that – your enthusiasm shines through, as it does IRL 🙂

    • Elizabeth says:

      Alison–I had a light-bulb moment today regarding the reading lists! I think I can’t do menu planning, because even though it’s my own list–I won’t want to eat chicken on Thursday, just because a list says I have to!

  5. Alison says:

    Lol! I like menu planning because then I don’t have to think about it. But not thinking about what book to read would be odd!

  6. Susan says:

    We are autonomous educators and now have a 13 year old. We have got more structured as time has gone on in some ways but only because she tends to be be. She likes to have her own timetable (that she devises herself), her own areas of study (she plays recorder and guitar and sings so decided she wanted to learn about music theory so she downloaded herself a course from the internet) and her own life development (she wanted to increase her ability to exercise (she gets out of breath too quickly for her liking) so downloaded a running program from the internet). It has been really interesting seeing how it has changed over time, particularly as we also have a 7 year old who is completely unstructured still so it’s an interesting comparison for us.

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