Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Why I home educate

One of my readers asked me recently why I chose to home school, and I must say it's a question I get asked quite often - usually by two groups of people.  The first group are the ones who are genuinely curious, the ones who didn't know it was a legal option but for whom, for whatever reason, home education isn't an option.  Then there's the second group.   The ones who look at me with abject horror that I couldn't wait to get rid of Small and pack him off to school like they've done with their kids.

I totally understand that not everyone is in a position to home educate, even if they'd like to.  But I don't understand the second group.  I can't imagine anyone not wanting to grow and learn with their child, given the opportunity to do so.  I truly don't understand why anyone would have a child, only to be counting down the days until the child starts school, and once he has, counting down the days until the school holidays are over.  I know so many parents who can't seem to stand being with their kids.  Children are a joy, a precious gift to be cherished and nurtured, not a burden or a parcel to be passed around to whoever will have them for a few hours.

I should add that the dear reader who asked the question doesn't fall into either of the two groups outlined above.  She was herself a home educator, and like most of us are, was curious to know why another home schooler chose to do it.  We all have our own, often deeply personal, reasons for ending up on the home education path, and unfortunately the answer to the question "why" can never really be answered in a few words.  I wish it could.  This post is about my path.

I always knew I wanted to home educate any children I was fortunate enough to have, and even before he was born, I knew Small would be home schooled.   In the UK at least, education law makes it quite clear that it's the responsibility of the parent to ensure a child receives a suitable education, and it's a responsibility I take very seriously.  It's certainly not one I would entrust to an instrument of the state.   I believe education should be worthwhile, meaningful, enriching and fulfilling, not simply an exercise in ticking off the parts of the curriculum that have been dished out.  This, in my opinion, leads to a well rounded, mature individual capable of dealing with the real world.

Ask any home educator why they home school and you will likely get as many different answers as there are differing styles of home education.  And that's one of the wonderful things about it.  The education is individually tailored to the individual child.  It's not a one-size fits all approach, where the system tries to force square pegs into round holes, wants everybody to be the same, to follow the same mantra and lose any real sense of individuality.

I've watched my housemate's son change from a bright, curious little boy who wanted to learn about everything before he started school and in his reception year, into a child who couldn't care less about anything relating to knowledge, wants nothing whatsoever to do with school, has the most horrendous tantrums over homework, is bullied, lacks self esteem, feels he's worthless, hasn't got a clue what he's done during the day, is well behind the level "expected" for his age group, etc etc.

I'm sick of people telling him he won't amount to anything.  He's a very artistic child, but pursuing art is seen as frivolous.  It's got to be math, literacy and "topic".  What the bloody hell is "topic" I asked him.  All sorts of stuff he's not remotely interested in, apparently.

Each summer, when school's out for 6 weeks and he stays with housemate, by week 4/5 he's happy, confident and wanting to join in and learn with Small.  Then he goes back to school and within a week, things are back to square one.  It's soul destroying to see a child who's just regained an interest and enthusiasm for learning turned, once more, into an 'I don't give a stuff' zombie.

And it's not just him.  The vast majority of my friends' kids are pretty much the same.  The bright ones are even more jaded.  An account I hear on a regular basis from parents and children who are above average is that the child feels abandoned and neglected at school because they have to sit around waiting for everyone else to catch up to their level.  They become bored, disillusioned and turned off learning.

Why would I want my son to become like that?  Obviously I wouldn't.  Plus, the schools in this district are amongst the worst in the country for achievement.  So much so, the LA has been slapped by Ofsted for its poor performance.  Home schooling is the right decision for us.

In some aspects - the academic ones - Small's well ahead of where he would be were he at school.  Several years ahead in some things.  His education is designed to suit him, nobody is trying to force him to fit the education.

Outside of academia however, there are a great many things Small can't do that a child of his age would be expected to be able to do at school.  I'm not going into details, but the difficulties he has coupled with Aspergers would make him a prime target for bullies and ridicule, probably from some of the teachers as well, especially given the very precise way he speaks, the fact that he can't sit still, flaps his hands around, and generally exhibits behaviours that would earn him the label "disruptive".

As a home educator, I can accommodate all those needs and adjust our daily schedule to suit.  When he's having a bad day, we can spend the day playing educational games, go out for a nature walk and discuss scientific things, go to a museum as and when we want to, go for a bike ride, do PE in the park or whatever else is required.  If he finds it easier to stand up to do his work, that's fine.  It gets done, he's learning, he's happy.  At school, he would be made to sit down, shut up, not ask questions, and do whatever is on the agenda for the day rather than pursuing interests he wants to learn about.

Why should someone be forced to learn about A, when he wants to learn all about B?  On the very rare occasion when housemate's son has shown an interest in something, school railroads him along onto the next item on the agenda, leaving him disillusioned and frustrated that he can't take time to find out more.  Just as a spark of interest gets ignited, it's just as quickly snuffed out again because the timetable's moved on.  Is it any wonder then that his attitude is "why bother".   With homeschooling, we often go off on tangents and end up learning about a whole different topic just because an initial question has been asked.

Home education is an extremely efficient way of learning.  When you've got a classroom of 30+ kids, you have to wait for them all to complete an assigned task before moving on.  Those who finish fast are frustrated at having to wait; those who don't finish are left frustrated and made to feel like failures because they can't keep up.  We can achieve in a few hours what it would take a class of kids a week or more to complete.  I was totally gobsmacked recently when a product I downloaded for Small (prepared for a classroom environment) came with the recommendation that it should be sufficient to last for at least two 60-minute lessons.  Really?  Small completed the 8 questions in ten minutes.

Small has already learned that by working well, he has more free time to pursue his own interests.  He's worked out how and where to find out information for himself.  One of his favourite books is his dictionary.  Not only does he know how to find words he doesn't know (with a bit of help, he is only 5), he finds new words and learns their meaning too.  By contrast, housemate's son, who is 10, hasn't got a clue how to use a dictionary despite many attempts to explain how one works, thinks it's far too hard anyway because the words are all jumbled up (his words!) and doesn't care whether the work he produces (homework) is right, wrong or indifferent. He can't (won't) find things out for himself, wants (metaphorically) his hand held through each and every step, thinks he's incapable of doing anything and appears to have little in the way of independent thought.

Home educated children tend, on the whole, to be self-reliant, turning to Mum only when they need to.  Schooled kids have to follow the herd, aren't allowed to do things independently - it disrupts the class don't you know - and they become so dependent upon being told what they need to know, they end up losing the ability to teach themselves or find out for themselves something they want to know more about.  It's almost like they're frightened to step outside the comfort zone of having the 'teacher' put the information in front of them, and if the information isn't there, it must be something they oughtn't to know.

I do not believe school prepares kids for real life, nor does it teach them a responsible attitude to life.  Real life happens outside of school in communities of people from all walks of life and all different ages.  Home education prepares individuals who are much better adapted to reality.   While I've no idea whether Small will want to pursue a university education, I do know that many universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, actually prefer home educated children because they know how to study independently.  The university doesn't have to waste spend the first year deschooling home educated children like they do schooled children.  Home educated kids are already 'university ready'.

Another plus of home educating is the ability to do things at times that suit us.  We can arrange private tuition inside school hours - something tutors relish because they're so used to having to do everything after 3.30, so they tend to have free slots in the day time that they're all too willing to fill.  We can take a day off when we want, and often do 'work' at weekends because we've done something else mid-week.  We can take holidays during term time which suits our frugality, as we can take advantage of reduced prices.  We can go to museums, the park or on other outings when places are much quieter.  We can meet up with other home educators and friends any time.  We can go to the dentists, the doctor's, to hospital appointments as and when, rather than getting told off for attending them between 9 and 3.30.

I want my child to learn because he wants to.  I want him to love learning.  I want that love of learning to be a lifelong one.  I want him to be able to become anything and anyone he wants to become.  I don't want him to be stripped of his childhood, to grow up hating anything to do with learning and the pursuit of knowledge.  I don't want him to be taught to the test, to be constantly evaluated, compared or graded.

Home educating isn't hard and anyone can do it.  You don't have to be Einstein, you don't need lots of money and you don't need limitless resources.  All you need is to have faith in yourself and your child(ren), and the desire to grow and learn together.  I want my son to be the person he is meant to be, not the one the system wants him to be.

Until next time. x


  1. Thank you for sharing. I love the idea of EO as it was called back then and was able to do 6 months when we moved house twice.The children wanted to go back to school once we were settled but at least I knew that they knew they had a choice. In the late 1980s and early 1990s it was before the internet really got going, it was difficult to source materials and information. Now I think it's so much easier.
    I got to know one family where the oldest son went right through from 5 to Open university degree.
    Enjoy every moment, they grow so quickly.

  2. I would have loved to Home educate, but 40 to 50 years ago you were either a hippie or well off with tutors. There certainly weren't the materials and help in those days. I have two daughters. One loved school the other didn't and I will never know if home schooling would have been a better option.
    Re Aspergers. My grandson, who has Aspergers, now 22, had many years, before diagnosis at 11, when he struggled with school (and they with him). Once we had a diagnosis, we were able to choose a more appropriate main stream school and insist on strategies to support him. He is very bright but we are only concerned for his happiness not his academic achievement (still the case). I am convinced that HS would have helped him as a primary school child, but am not so sure that as he grew older it would have helped him with the social interaction/ growth that he finally achieved in his late teens.
    What a great post ! Thanks!


Comments welcomed. Your words and encouragement make it all worthwhile.