What is home education?
There are numerous different terms to refer to what happens when children gain an education outside of school: home schooling, unschooling, world schooling, home education (home edding), learning through life, deschooling. Families tend to gravitate to one phrase or another to describe what they are doing.
Currently, the UK law states that children must receive a ‘suitable education’, either in school or ‘otherwise’. Different local authorities have varying ideas about what this means, as do parents. That there is no defined or consistent approach is one of the reasons the UK government recently consulted on greater regulation.
Some parents attempt to follow the school-based curriculum at home, using text books and online materials with a structured day and learning schedule based on traditional subjects, others enable, facilitate and encourage their child’s self-education and take a less structured approach.
In practice, families usually start out with particular ideas about how their children will best learn outside of school and refine their approach over time, according to the needs of their child. They may at first feel more secure structuring their child’s day as a school would, with subjects organised into time slots spread throughout the week, but then find a different rhythm as they see their child following their own interests and passions. This is often the case with ‘deschoolers’, or those who have taken their children out of school.
Why is my son not in school?
We are not deschoolers. My son has never been to school. When it came to the time to register him it barely crossed my mind.
For me, the biggest decision was whether to send him to nursery and return to my job when he was one year old. Despite this being the conventional practice in 21st century Britain, and despite the supportive workplace, boss and colleagues that I had at the time, the burden of stress that I felt at the prospect of our ‘detachment’ was almost too much to bear. It is a very personal choice and everyone has their own reasons, but for me this did not feel at all like the right decision.
The moment I decided not to put my son in nursery was, I suppose, the moment I decided to become a ‘home educator’, because it was the point at which I realised that I wanted to have as little as possible of his care professionalised. I didn’t want to pay someone else, directly or indirectly, for his upkeep.
I was very lucky, in that Tom understood how I felt and was supportive in every way. He was initially concerned about our son missing out on the social aspects of primary school, but once we had begun to engage with the home education community in our local area, his mind was put to rest. That there were so many other parents who had, in different ways and for differing reasons, come to the same conclusions about their own children’s education, was encouraging.
A real eye-opener came after our move to Sheffield where there is an incredibly active and well organised community. The ability to plan events, activities and meet-ups through social media, has encouraged so many more parents to realise that taking their children out of school, or not putting them in, will not lead to their social isolation.
What does home education look like for us?
The term home education seems, to me, to refer to something slightly more structured than our days currently appear. At six and a half, my son’s passions for the natural world, technology and ancient history, mean that we are rarely learning ‘at home’. Answers to many of his questions already far exceed my own knowledge and experience and come from books (The Planets* is his absolute favourite), selected websites, museums, specialists we meet when out and about, documentaries, family members with particular areas of expertise, staff at historical sites, or just from being outdoors and experiencing the world.
Getting out and about, meeting new people from various backgrounds, and seeing new things is inspiring and my son learns constantly. He soaks it all up, and his brain, at six, is far more ‘sponge-like’ than mine. I often have to ask him for clarification or reminders about things we have learned and this serves to aid his own understanding. There is nothing quite like attempting to explain a concept or how something works to someone else to cement the notion in your own mind. Often the explanation he gives throws up issues and points that need clarification, that leads to further research.
Is all this home education?
I believe that ‘home’ is a relative concept and does not necessarily correlate with the building in which you spend the most time. Home can be where ever my son and I feel most comfortable on any given day. In that way, we are learning while ‘at home’. I do, however, struggle to define his learning in this way as there is so little structure to our days.
Unschooling refers to the kind of child-led approach that we seem to be taking but I find that this term almost sets itself at odds with school, as though it is in some way in opposition to classroom-based learning. I believe every type of educational method has its place and we have certainly found ourselves in more structured classroom-style settings at times.
World schooling is a term used mainly by full-time travelling families, which we are currently not, although there is a hefty focus on other countries and cultures in our days.
Other terms, such as life-long learning, feel too woolly to be meaningful as a way to describe something that many people need some sort of justification for. Saying my son is just ‘learning through life’ does nothing to quell the fears of many when asked why he isn’t in school outside of the school holidays. People often require reassurance that I am in some way invested in my child’s education and not a mere bystander.
Do I see myself as a teacher?
In truth, I am something of a bystander. We cannot force another person to retain information if they are not a self-motivated learner.
I see my role far more as a protector. It is essential for me to protect my son’s love of learning, of gaining a greater understanding of the world and his place in it, his joy at gaining new insights, his appetite for information. After all, everything is out there. In our time, it is easy to gain knowledge about anything one is minded to.
Despite negative terms such as helicopter parenting, co-dependence and extreme attachment, my son and I are together every day. For me, this just feels natural and intuitive. He has friends. Sometimes we see them a lot, sometimes less. We see our close family regularly.
I am not a teacher and I find this term loaded with connotations of authority, dominance and control which feel unnecessary to our situation. We don’t work to any curriculum. I don’t instil discipline and I certainly never punish.
My son is keen to learn, and so am I. We treat each other with respect.
At most, I aid his research, but he instigates and drives it.
I don’t know how his ‘development’ compares to others. It’s not important.
I do know that he is happy, thoughtful, caring, responsible, respectful, engaging, quick-witted, creative, inspired and inspiring, and he amazes me every day. At this moment, I wouldn’t change a thing.
*With its incredible images of our solar system, and fascinating graphics, The Planets, published by DK, has been my son’s favourite since we bought it for him over a year ago when he was five. He particularly loves the graphs showing the different space missions, their names, dates and destinations and it is always his book of choice at bedtime (he has never been one for a story!).