Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Home Education and the dilemma of style

The longer I homeschool, the further I seem to stray from the mainstream ideas of education.  I have attempted to teach at home twice before (with my older children) and both times I panicked and sent my children back to mainstream government primary schools.  I was scared I wasn't doing it properly and that my children would fail to learn.

There are definitely difficulties when deciding on educating at home. You tend to think very deeply about what your children's needs are, what their futures might be, etc.  When children attend mainstream, parents often don't doubt their choices because that's just what everyone does and society views it as the 'best way' to educate our children.  So, without another thought,we send our children off in the mornings, relaxed in the knowledge that we are doing what we need to for them, and pick them up again in the afternoon.
We're actually not sure about what happened in their day and they are completely unwilling to relate it to us.  "What did you do at school today?"  "Nothing.", is the standard reply.  Then the busyness of afternoon tea, homework, dinner etc takes hold as we prepare to send them off again the next day.

It's amazing how we happily take part in this system with little thought, yet when keeping our children home we are assuaged with doubts and guilt because we are not educating them in the same way as everyone else.  When I originally took the kids out of school, I tried to emulate what happened in the conventional system.  My idea was that we would do formal lessons but for a shorter time than at school.  I figured it would be interesting for the children because they could help guide the topics we studied.  On top of this, I tried to immerse them in our lifestyle of being connected to our food, energy usage, skill learning and attempting to reduce our environmental impact. Ultimately, this would be perfect.  A conventional education as well as learning about their place in nature and our family values.
However, I think I was being unrealistic.  There aren't enough hours in a day.  I don't think this method of learning was good for me or the children.  I was trying to teach as expertly as an experienced, trained teacher and cope with the huge task load at home.  The children were great at sitting down to their lessons and accepted that was what was expected of them but were very obviously bored and uninspired.  They were also under a fair bit of pressure due to having to do lessons and participate so actively in daily life.  I'm going to try a new approach.

I have been alternating between ignoring, and actively arguing against, my gut instincts which were.... to let them play and follow their own interests.  I found myself wanting this more and more but kept thinking it was irresponsible, lazy, selfish  (and a thousand other negative self labels) of me.  I was plagued by questions like, "How will they learn anything?", "Will they resent me later for not having taught them in the same manner as their peers?", "What if they want to go to University but don't know enough?", "What if they can't get a job?"
After many conversations, Hubby and I have decided sit down learning is not right for us at this point and that there is heaps to be learnt by simply being.  And I think it's ok.  After all, how many parents of children at school never mentally torture themselves like this even though the reality is that their child may never achieve a high enough score to enter university, may resent attending school, be miserable or not be able to get a job at the end of it all?  School is perfect for many children but not for all.  Let's face it, I managed to NOT learn my times tables right into high school.  I hated maths, hated being forced to study, so didn't try.  Yet as a young adult I was able to go to university by sitting a mature entrance exam.  Not learning my maths was not the end of the world for me (though I now wish I'd listened at the time, of course).
Over the past year, I have missed out on so many opportunities for natural learning because I was being  'responsible' and stayed home to do lessons.  A lady at our local patchwork group offered to teach Belle embroidery and she was very excited at the prospect but we didn't get around to going down because the group is on a school day.  Another lady, whom I find very interesting and I believe my children would learn a lot from, asked me to visit about a year ago.  For the above reasons, I never made the time.  Also, Pumpkin has been asking repeatedly if I can teach her to knit and I haven't got around to it yet.

Now I want to change the way the children spend their days and immerse them in play and following their interests.  I believe they will learn so much by thinking for themselves, problem solving during play, work and craft and by meeting a diverse range of people.  Today I have watched them playing and they are not idle!  They are incredibly animated as they go about their chosen activity with no adult input.  Buddy and Pumpkin have created a water slide for toys with a puddle at the bottom.  They have also experimented with rolling a barrel down a hill.  That looked like fun! At only seven and eight years they can move a heavy hay bale through a tight space with no adult help.  It took them ages to work it out but, through experimentation and co-operation, they have learnt to work together to move the bail and guide it in the direction they want it to go.  No one showed them but they figured it out.
This week, Belle has learned to pearl and is knitting a very simple pattern for the first time.  And this morning, as if to demonstrate my point about problem solving, I found her in the dairy using a new method to fill the hay bags.  It's hard to keep them open while filling them with bulky armfuls of hay.  I've previously encouraged her to hook one end over a post to help hold the bag, which helps, but it's still difficult.  This morning she came up with a much better method.  She organised herself two posts to hold it open.  She filled it in no time!  I've watched her today and she skips along rather than walking.  I don't think she's even aware she's doing it.  Since educating at home, I have watched her mature past her eleven years in her dealings with the world while simultaneously watching her learn to play like a much younger child at times.  I think it is very healthy for her.
Now I'm not saying there will be no academic learning in this house.  Of course there will.  But I am not going to value it over natural learning.  This afternoon I will finally teach Pumpkin to knit!  Belle is still outside at the moment but I imagine she will choose to continue with her knitting later.  Or maybe write.  She has begun writing her own blog and is very enthusiastic about it.

I know some people will read this post and doubt the sensibility of our choices around our children's education and future.  All I ask is that you take into account that no education style is perfect for all children, that we are not doing this without thought and, just like everyone else, we are doing what we feel is best for our children.  I'm happy for you to watch with interest but I hope that you won't be quick to judge.  We will continue to assess their progress and can change our minds if we feel we need to.


Sharon said...

I take my hat of to you. Good on you I'm struggling at the moment with my children in year 7 and 8 especially my year 7 as he has learning difficulties and he hates school and I don't think he has learnt a single thing this year in main stream school. I would love to do what you are doing . Xx love this post

Barb said...

Congratulations to you both as parents having the courage to make the best life possible for your kids. This, as in so many other things, will find its own level when let be.

kathrynmarks@bigpond.com said...

I love reading your blog - we have much in common. I chose to home educate my children over 10 years ago, when they were 6 and 10. Being a primary trained teacher, we started with Distance Ed workbooks (we were in Qld then). Oh my goodness were they time consuming and DULL! So being a teacher we moved onto me planning work units for the boys - the first ones were Chocolate for the 6 year old and Sea Monkeys for the 10 year old. That was their focus at the time and I included every subject in those topics. The now almost 17 year old still remembers the Maths lesson on value for money because he got to buy at least 10 different chocolate bars! This idea was fine until I realised that although the topic was fun the schoolwork was just the same - ick! And I had to plan it all - hours of work.
We moved interstate and while moving I had no time for school, so they were completely free range and so happy (except for leaving friends behind)
So natural learners we became. There were many varied excursions with other homeschool people, the most fun is a homeschool camp - for parents and children! Oh the memories we have of them.
The boys always followed their passions. The eldest now 20, went to Uni on the day he turned 17 and is now doing Honours in English and will probably go on to PhD, as he is still following his passion to read good books.
The younger son turning 17 next week is an artist, ceramicist and photographer. He has completed 2 Open Uni subjects on art and photography, go to adults classes for pottery and art, and is now going to Drama group with other teens.
Natural learning does work.
Good luck and enjoy the fun times.
Cheers Kathryn ( near Bendigo)

Caro said...

I think you're doing a wonderful job Linda and that your decision is a great one. I have no doubt your kids will learn what they need to :)

purplepear said...

Far from judging you i applaud you. if I had young children now I would be doing exactly what you are doing. I don't know why I ever thought it was okay to give my children to someone else to bring up and educate.I wish you all the best in your endeavours with your children's education.

Jenna said...

I loved reading this, as I've also been moving away from the stress about "outcomes" that I'd put on myself with relation to the homeschooling. I'd always valued our ability to learn cooking, animal care and business activities that we couldn't fit in with conventional schooling, but still struggled with the amount of formal education. Another homeschooling friend who's done it for years and has kids at uni had broken her day with the kids down to a page of maths, a page of writing and LOADS of reading with the kids and doing things together. I feel so much better now :) Am thrilled that you've resolved your inner torment too xx

Cheryl said...

I get you!
I get it!
I've been a bit frustrated with the education system at the moment, it appears to me there is so much emphasis on physical activity in the curriculum that it's swallowing up time for the basics, don't get me wrong PE is important, but as usual I see the pendulum swinging way too far.
You'll never get criticism from me. If the simple basics are down pat, reading, writing, and arithmetic, and if a child learns how to learn, as yours are obviously doing by exploring their own interests, then everything else will just fall into place.

Tracey said...

Yay! Well done for being brave enough to decide to embrace natural learning. I too keep feeling like we're being very lazy on days when we do little "school work", and while I wouldn't give it away completely (we love us some maths and science!), I'd like to get brave enough to ease back and go more down the unschooling path.... I feel that's where we're heading, but we're not quite there yet.

Anonymous said...

Congrat's, from one home schooling Mum to another. We h/s our 11 yr old daughter in a very similar way.Those doubts I have (similar to what you talk of) all seem to be proven wrong time and time again as I stand back and watch all that is unfolding before me, a wise young soul who is learning to navigate her way in the world with beauty, grace and good old fashioned problem solving.
Sound familiar ? Keep trusting the process and enjoy creating your days, Jude

Meg said...

I can really relate to your post! Except I'm still at the point of trying to fit it all in. In NSW we have to show that we've covered the subjects they do in school, and I find myself increasingly resentful of feeling like we are doing some things to satisfy that requirement. Would you mind if I shared your post with our local homeschool Facebook group?

Linda said...

Thanks Sharon, It's tough when our kids aren't happy at school. I hope you can find a resolution. Most schools try hard but, you're right, learning difficulties make it hard for a child to feel confident.

Hi Barb, thanks for your encouragement!

Oh wow Kathryn! That's the sort of story I want to hear! Thank you. I imagine I could talk to you for hours about your homeschooling experience!!

Thank you Caro. I love your support!

Thank you Kate for boosting me yet again! Yes, it makes sense to teach our own kids.

Jenna, I thought of you as I wrote this post. I know you struggled with similar decisions. I think we need to keep reminding ourselves that no outcome is assured but our children are busy and happy.

Cheryl, I must admit it's lovely to have control over our schooling choices. I didn't picture it like this when I began the process but feel very comfortable with where we are at!

Oh Tracey, it's taken me a long time to start to feel at ease. I was impressed by how relaxed you have been right from the start of your decision.

Thank you for sharing Jude! Yes it sounds familiar and I love the way you describe it. With beauty, grace and problem solving... Yep, I think we're doing ok!

Meg, it's tough that you're under the NSW system. We also have criteria to adhere by, but we don't have to report to anyone. It must place so much added pressure on already busy families! I'd like to think it works both ways and that they would offer you support if you needed it, but somehow I doubt it!

Of course you can share. I appreciate you asking!

Anonymous said...

We are also home educators and have opted to keep our kids home from the start. I've spent this year justifying it to the naysayers with "this year is an experiment" but to be honest, with 2 boys whom I believe might be on the edge of the autism spectrum disorders, mainstream schooling for them worries me. I know what a terrible time I had at school too, being bullied throughout.
My kids are not the sort to sit down and do bookwork for long although we are getting there with some of it slowly but addition and now subtraction have been done with pegs or verbally and watching my kids build duplo or digging in their mudpit shows me that kids can be natural engineers if left to discover the laws of construction naturally.
You're doing a great job and one of the reasons I follow your blog (there are several) is because you are so inspirational with your home education. Keep it up and no need to doubt. :)

Linda said...

Hi Rabidlittlehippy, It sounds like you know your kids so well and therefore know how they learn. They are all so different, aren't they? Good on you! And please, I'm not inspirational with the homeschooling, we've been up down and all over the place trying to get it right but I'm very comfortable with where we are right now.