Time to Talk about Home Schooling.

I guess I’ve always thought I would start here with a big overview of my take on Home Ed- what I understand about it legally, about its strengths and weaknesses, how I intend (ha!) it to happen around here.

But, my thoughts are not that coherent or organised yet, and probably never will be. So let’s just ramble, shall we?

My dear, dear friend Meg is visiting at the moment, on her long service leave from the Northern Territory, where we met a whole long time ago. (1996. Milingimbi. Gosh, was that even me?) She has taught in remote Aboriginal Australian and First Nations Canadian communities, and remains one of the most fascinating people to sit and talk to that I am lucky enough to know.

Anyway, mutual interest in education, mutual interest in my kids, we are chatting a lot about home ed. (I’m just going to carry right on inconsistently capitalising that, and sometimes calling it HE and sometimes home schooling, and let’s just get the apology out of the way right now-sorry if it bugs you.) And have introduced her to a few others in our HE circle. And, Meg’s nephew was home schooled, very successfully.

It’s such a joy to talk about things you’re really interested in, isn’t it? And it all helps me get my thoughts straight. Or, straighter.

Anyway, she’s blogging about her trip over here, and I’m just going to copy her thoughts and my responses:

 

So my queries of Sue and the ‘system’ as a whole have been based on the concerns I would have if I was home schooling are as follows:

  • How will Henry learn to socialise and interact appropriately with his peers, if he is being educated at home with mum and no-one else? (As much as schooling can be brutal, I wonder about the importance of providing children a starting point for resilience by having to deal with your peers, and the practical strategies you learn to deal with it)
  • How can you avoid passing on the weaknesses you have as a learner to your child? (I think I could provide a pretty good all round education, after all I was trained to do it, but I would struggle with poetry and be limited with sport. I’m sure you would all be pleased to know I could keep the dreaded recorder tradition going).
  • How can you ensure that the education you provide is going to provide Henry with all the options he may want to choose from or head towards as an adult? (I know my limits, and if my child wanted to be a mechanic, I would have to learn as well, no chance of providing any guidance. Still, if I teach the tools to learn independently, it may work. Teaching a child how to learn is not the easiest of things, and I wonder how non-teachers go about it.
  • Will you as a mum and educator get what you need by doing this on your own? (I keep reflecting on my mushy brain syndrome when I was nannying all day with no adult or nothing stimulating my intellect).

I’m sure there are more than these, but I guess the key questions are, What will Henry miss out on through home schooling, and what will he gain?

Sue here, just want to fire off a few thoughts. This is not a comprehensive response, and certainly doesn’t represent what Home Edders in general think or do, or probably even what I/we will think or do in another year! Been meaning to blog about this for ages, and this is a great place to start getting my thoughts in order. Thanks, Meg. Your first concern, re socialisation. Henry won’t be “educated at home with mum and no-one else.” It’s rotten that we call it home ed, because it puts that picture in your mind. In fact my understanding is that most home schooling families struggle to find a day to stay home and do a bit of serious book-work, in whatever form that might take- writing letters or a blog to keep grandparents informed of learning, making scrapbooks of interesting topics, traditional schoolish “workbooks” to practise numbers, handwriting, phonics, etc, etc. Instead, home edders are far too busy with activities, almost all of a social nature and with much more diverse groups of people than you get day after day in the same classroom. For example, weekly sports activities in our area at the moment include horseriding, tai kwon do, fencing, archery and tennis, among others. As well, there are weekly get-togethers for various social groups, and the last local yahoo summary thingy also included astronomy classes, a Big Bang Fair in London, a Planetarium thing called meet the neighbours, an opportunity to participate in online children’s magazine, a Bird Walk and Educational Farm Tours. As well, volunteer work will be a significant part of Henry’s experience- we’re already befriending 2 elderly local ladies and intend to give perhaps one day a month of gardening at a National Trust property. Any other good ideas for us? I did an occasional shift for the food bank in San Francisco, but haven’t found something like that here in London yet. Anyway, I’m sure you can see that he will be mixing and playing and working with and for a wide variety of people. Interesting idea that children need to experience brutality to learn how to deal with brutality. I hope it’s not true. I think resilience comes from internalising the love and faith that people who are important to you have for you, rather than by being badly treated by your peers. Posting this, as weird laptop issues- more soon.

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  • The second point, about passing on weaknesses. Hmmm, well Henry will have some weaknesses, and some of them may be inherited. (In fact, the possibilty of him having inherited his Dad’s dyslexia is part of the reason I want to keep him out of school- if he learns early (to mistakenly believe) that he’s less smart than others, that low self-esteem is very likely to stay with him his whole life.) One thing I hated the most about my teacher training in mainstream was hearing kids say their parents had told them, “I hated maths, I was never any good at it, sorry Honey, you probably will too.” And my little sister had a teacher, year 5 I think, who did Maths for the first hour every morning, and told the class that was to get the horrible stuff out of the way so they could enjoy the rest of the day. Yikes. Within home ed, there are plenty of people teaching other people’s kids, both professional teachers/tutors hired for individuals or groups, and parents with particular skills or interests who are happy to share them in exchange for other things. I am definitely not intending Henry to spend all his time with me, so if he goes with a friend whose Mum does some poetry with them each week, perhaps that kid comes to me another time each week, for some gardening. (Or drumming, and maths. Or anything.) More balanced education, more socialising, more down time and also satisfaction for me as parent/ home edder.

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  • “Teaching a child how to learn is not the easiest of things,” what a frightening sentence! Children are born desperate to learn- they can’t help it, they will fight you tooth and nail if you try and prevent it. How desperate are little kids to have a go at things the adults or bigger kids do, how passionately does my 18-month-old, Lauren, want to hold the damn scissors?! Children know how to learn. How else do they go from newborns to functional little kids, with incredible language and social skills and the craziest of questions about the world? So what goes wrong? Maybe we damage that desire by trying to teach them things they are not interested in, at times when they may not be at their best, in artificial ways and socially and emotionally difficult situations, and the wrong pace, and with enthusiasm-crushing systems of rewards and reports, etc, etc. (And I’m not actually anti-school!) But as for the beginning of your point, well, if Henry was in school and wanted to be a mechanic, what would he do? There was no mechanics class in my high school. Home ed doesn’t mean never accessing any education- there are all sorts of options, including university and vocational courses all over the place. He will have access to those, possibly with different entry criteria, possibly at an earlier age than school-leavers, and almost certainly because (when) he has decided he is interested in learning whatever it is, not just because he got too old for school and couldn’t think of anything else to do next. Besides, how many of the jobs coming in his lifetime haven’t even been invented yet? How else can you prepare someone for those? I guess either by helping him become a confident, motivated independent learner, or by training him to do as he’s taught/told. I know which one I prefer the sound of. (Am I going to reread this tomorrow and regret that I sound harsh? Sorry if I do. I’m so excited by it all, and never at my best when trying to write my thoughts down.)

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  • Mushy Brain Syndrome- ha, that’s awesome! Yep, this is my biggest worry. What if I don’t cope? (Well, I was not sure we’d get this far, even!) So, if I don’t cope, we pack it in. That’s always been the deal- if there’s anyone it isn’t working for, we go to real school. Home edders do it all the time, for loads of reasons. Some times home ed kids struggle a bit to get used to having to raise a hand to speak, or having to ask to go to the toilet, or find they are way ahead in some areas and way behind in others, but they are generally able to settle in without much trouble at all. So I read. Don’t forget that I am surrounded by a big community of people doing the same sort of thing, and have the wonderful internets as well, to keep me supported and intellectually stimulated. And I’ll call in all sorts of support and help. My Dad loves chess. Awesome. Henry’s other Grandad cant wait to get him golfing. We have a dear friend who is in the early stages of a wonderful organic farm adventure- I cant wait to get out there for that WWOOFER thing, or whatever it is, volunteering and learning on farms. One funny thing is, some of the people who have been the most concerned about this plan have then been the ones who pull Henry onto their knee with a storybook and become the most teacherish- pointing out letters, asking him questions about what they read, etc, etc. Demonstrates to me exactly how instinctively we all as human adults want to teach. We love sharing our hobbies and all sorts of stuff. It’s sad there’s not another word for what teachers do, because it takes away from all the other adults the belief that they have something to contribute. “Here’s another one! H for Henry again! This word is Hot, see, H H Hot sounds like H H Henry…” It’s gorgeous.

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  • Oh, and the thing I forgot to say in that last point was that the thing that I need most of all as a Mum is to think that I’m doing what I honestly think is best for them. And I honestly think, after much research, reading, meeting people, going to Home Ed open days, etc, that this is it.

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  • Dont read that last comment out loud, too fast- the words thing and think will tie your tongue in knots!

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  • So, yeah, the bottom line, what will he miss out on, and what will he gain? A few people I know are focussing on the first half, remembering the good times they had at school, and the lasting friendships, and feeling sad that he won’t have those. It’s so easy to think about what I’m taking away from him, and forget that I am actually going to replace it with something, and it’ll be something wonderful! It will involve many fun times, and wonderful, lasting friendships. They may not be based as much on an “us and them” mentality, as in, bonding over our shared enemy- the adults, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing to lose. It will involve plenty of academic learning, I promise you all. There’s enough concerned adults looking out for these kids, me included, to make sure of that. It will also include a lot of freedom to decide what he wants to learn about. (So we write a blog post about a character he created for a video game, instead of for an English homework assignment, who cares? He’ll be writing!) We will have regular commitments, and will have to be places on time, sometimes getting out of bed to an alarm clock. (Amazing the things people think of to worry about. He’s going to have to pay taxes as an adult, too, but I do not think he needs to start practising that with his pocket money!) He will have art, and music, and literature, sport, science, maths, history, etc, but he will also have travel, (think what it costs to fly during school holidays! We can go anytime!) and quality bonding time with his grandparents, and aunties and uncles, and responsibilities, (he helps me cook the kids’ dinner on Monday nights, now. It’s screamingly funny, at times,) and an awareness of what happens during the day in various places, what people outside school actually do… Okay, I might be ranting. Gee, it’s fun, though. Going to bed. Hope this is interesting! I love talking about it. Bye!

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