Sunday, 19 February 2017

Busting 8 Home Education Myths

Currently, in the UK, the law regarding the education of your child states you must make a provision for the full time education of your child.  There is a great deal of freedom (hurrah!) in how you choose to do this. Unless your child has an EHCP/ Statement of Educational Needs - in which case you will need to prove you are fulfilling this statement.

But other than that - No, 'they' do not give us a curriculum.

No, 'they' do not monitor & test us - though we can chose to work with the Elective Home Education department if we wish to.

So, given I made a series of Tweets yesterday on #HomeEducation Questions I Have Enjoyed Fielding This Week 😁 I thought I would write a post about Popular Myths & Questions people (sometimes aggressively!) have about Home Education.

Firstly, here in the UK there is a difference in the community between Home Education and Home Schooling.  In the UK it is recognized that if you are Home Schooling, then you are formally teaching your children at home - with a curriculum (of your own design) and lessons and so forth.  Home Educating families however are educating, as opposed to teaching - so this is more about facilitating your child's learning through a variety of mediums and can include self led learning and elements of more formal learning.  Unschooling is child-centered learning - entirely child led, without structure or constraints.

I tend to use a combination of Home Education & Home Schooling, so I will use both terms.

So here are some of the questions I/ we are FREQUENTLY asked -

#1  Is it legal? 

Yes, see above legal definition.

#2  But they give you a curriculum to follow right? What about The Curriculum??

Ok, brace yourselves - the curriculum is not A Thing. It's not the law. It has no scientific foundation. It is not a formula for a 'correct' human being.

The curriculum changes frequently - usually as frequently as the Education Secretary (who often has no training or formal experience in Education....) - and often more frequently than that.

The curriculum varies regionally and often from school to school. There is huge scope within the curriculum - it is not a checklist.  So the school next to your school may be interpreting the curriculum vastly differently to your child's school.  And when your child reaches senior school, what they learn for their GCSEs will depend upon which Exam Board your chosen school is using.  What your child can take as GCSE subjects will also vary according to the individual school's timetabling policy.

The curriculum has a hugely political agenda.  I want my children to learn, freely.  I want them to make their own judgements and nurture their own interests and work ethics.  I do not want them to attend Citizenship classes (shudder!) or have Religious Education forced upon them.  I also don't want them to sit in endless, mind-numbing assemblies, watching the clock and longing to be doing something more constructive with their time.

Finally, when I served as a Parent Governor at my children's former school, I attended a day long meeting (on a Saturday!) about the 'new' curriculum.  Highlights included that foreign languages had been removed from the curriculum (at the time) for Early Years (so ages 4-7).  And the entire continent of Asia had been removed from the curriculum (I kid you not!)  - Geography was to include Europe & Africa only.  Hmmmmmmm! Helpful.  These were just a couple of 'highlights' that stood out to me - along with the aforementioned (shudder again) Citizenship Classes.

So, in conclusion, don't set your store in 'The Curriculum' - it's like a wave. Teach your children to ride it, surf it, navigate their way around it but it is a transient thing, not a concrete foundation.  Knowledge is power, not 'the curriculum'.

#3 (Usually in response to my answers to #2)  So you're a teacher then are you?

Sigh!  No, I am not a teacher.  I do have 9 GCSEs, 3 A levels & a BA Hons degree in English Literature & Theology if that makes you feel better.  But similarly I know fantastic Home Ed parents with no 'school' qualifications at all.  Qualifications simply reflect your opportunities, not your intelligence.

As an aside, I originally went to University to do a teaching degree. My whole life I had wanted to be a primary school teacher (insert here 'narrow world view').   Almost as soon as I arrived and begun my teaching practice my heart broke in two - as I realized so very many people are in it for the wrong, wrong reasons. It's not about the child. It's not even about facilitating their learning.  It's about stats. It's about League Tables. It's about bums on seats and conformity at all costs. I realized quickly it was not for me. I would be in for a lifetime of fighting battles & injustices and having no life of my own raging against a system that was fundamentally wrong.  So I swapped to an academic degree instead.

However, back to the issue of teaching.  What makes you think you need to be a qualified teacher to teach your own child?  Did a health visitor potty train them for you? Did you need a host of 'professionals' to teach you how to feed, clothe and care for your child thus far?  No, you taught them.  Sure there are 'experts' - there are forums, books, lectures you can go to.  Same in Home Ed - there's an enormous community out there and a wealth of resources. You are not on your own just because you are not in school.  We use a lot of the exact same resources your teachers are using in the classroom. We're allowed to you know 😏

We are also in the BEST POSSIBLE POSITION to discipline our children - as we are there 24/7.  We get a consistent picture of our children's behavior, their issues, their struggles & challenges.  Who can say that when they are away from their child 6-8 hours, often more, a day?   Many parents report their child acting completely differently at school versus at home.  As Home Educators we see all our children's behavior - and can intervene fairly and frequently, giving them the consistency they need to form healthy attachments, confidence and self esteem.

#4  Do you get them tested?

For what?  Diseases?? 

Do I measure their academic progress?  Not any more.  I did at the beginning, but then I realized how futile and counterproductive that is. 

My goal is not to achieve anything specific.  I want happy, healthy, mentally strong kids who will become well rounded, happy, responsible, considerate, motivated adults.  I teach them to learn.  To like themselves. To pursue their passions and interests.  I facilitate their learning by teaching them the tools to study - how to use the dictionary, the thesaurus, reference books, indexes.  How to cross reference to ensure the information they find is accurate.  We use computers (less than we use books) but they know how to search, word process and programme on Scratch.  Some subjects we cover are my choice, some theirs.  Their natural direction will, and is, emerging as they have the space and time to explore and spread their wings.

#5  How do you meet both their needs appropriately?

Erm...... you know there's WAY more than 2 kids in a classroom right?????

And you know that because they are of similar age (12 month range) they are by no means at the same level - you probably have an academic ability range of at least 2-3 years in any one 12 month age range classroom.

So, yeah, I'll just leave that there. It's a no-brainer.

#6  But what about socialization?


Ok, serious hat back on.  I'll be honest. DS has struggled more with this.  He had 3 really super best friends at school (whom he still considers to be his best friends, and whom we continue to keep up with and see).  He has plenty of friends in the HE community but, thus far, he hasn't gelled with any one in particular.  Although, recently, it is starting to come as the realization finally sinks in that his friends do not have to be boys, and they do not have to be the same age as him.  He really gets on with one particular boy in our Learning Cooperative, who is 5 years old.  They are great buds.  And the friendship between him and the younger brother of DD's bestie is also flourishing.  It just wasn't as instant as these 3 boys at school (although to be honest, that was only after he'd been moved classes as he simply wasn't settling in the class they originally put him in - so school didn't have a magic formula either).

DD, however, has blossomed friendship wise.  She has come to really know herself and be comfortable in her own skin rather than seeking the approval of peers.  Naturally, this means she forms better, closer, more meaningful friendships.  She no longer feels the need to be one of the crowd, to wear what she's wearing, do what she does.  She is her own person, and socializes as she feels the desire - rather than being trapped in a cacophony of noise, chaos and confusion and calling it socialization.

And my own personal bug bear - as I've said, I want my kids to learn to be happy, healthy, motivated, emotionally and mentally strong adults. They are not, and never were, going to learn this at the mercy of 29 inadequately supervised 6 year olds. Just aaaaaargh!

My kids both do gymnastics weekly with a huge Home Ed class, and we usually hang around for lunch and games with various friends after. 

We run a monthly Geography Club, with about 18 other kids, and a monthly Learning Cooperative with 3 other families (7 kids in total).  So they do regular learning alongside other children and the ages range from 5-12 with all the children working at their own level.

In addition to this, we go to Home Ed Sports Club, had a Sport Relief day, are attending a World Book Day party, done Creative Writing workshops, Cake Decorating, Horse Riding - all with groups of other Home Educated children.

My DD recently decided she wanted to audition for a show!  Completely off her own back she learnt a written piece, a song & a dance and auditioned.  I thought she would have no chance - not having come from a dance school or drama group - but she got in!  So she'll be attending weekly rehearsals for that now and make lots of new friends doing so. 

She's also doing a PGL adventure holiday this year with a Home Ed group.  So she's having all the same social opportunities as her peers.  She simply gets to be more selective, which is a truer reflection of real life I think.

Which leads me on to -

#7  What about bullying?  How are you teaching them to stand up for themselves in the real world?

Hmmmm, firstly, what a lovely accolade for school that is!  What aren't you sending them in to the lions den??

Erm.... because we would rather walk around the lions den thanks!  We see it. We're not sheltered from it. We simply choose not to tolerate it.  

I absolutely do teach my children about bullying, they know how to appropriately stand up for themselves, how to deal with problems that escalate, peer pressure etc  But they have Real Life choices.  They do not have to spend 6 1/2 hours a day in a room with their bully. (Would we, as adults?  No, we'd go to HR or look for another job - we have CHOICES).  Similarly, they don't have to spend 6 1/2 hours a day playing second fiddle to the teachers favourite (and there nearly always is one).  They can be who they are and they have confidence in that and in their decisions and choices, therefore they are less concerned with bullying as they are not trying to fit in and be accepted by their peers. Hurrah!  How many of us wish we'd learnt that lesson and been that self-assured at their age?  I wish I had!

#8  Well, that's all fine for now isn't it, but what about their futures?

Oh my God - really????

Have you seen the stats on school leavers achieving gainful employment or further education??  It's not the gateway you seem to think it is.

Home Educated children can still sit all the same exams your schooled children can.  In fact probably more, because they have the flexibility to genuinely choose their options, without limitations.

Is it expensive?  Yes, but so is school and uniforms, and equipment, and travel, and residential and day trips, and activities and so on, and so on.  You budget and plan accordingly.

And yes, Home Educated children can still go to college or university. And honestly, are often better placed to cope with it, as they are already successful self-motivated learners - something which school leavers aren't necessarily.

They can also seek employment. Most employers will do aptitude tests or similar.  It really does become a level playing field again after school.  Home Educated children are not disadvantaged in any way.  In fact they probably already have a better idea of what they want to do with their lives and are someway towards achieving that goal already - simply because of the flexibility they have with their learning.

For far too long I've used my children's Special Needs as an 'excuse' for Home Educating (it certainly was a big part of the reason for making the jump) but truthfully we would be on this path regardless as I love the children I am raising. I love their individuality. I love that they are wholly confident in who they are.  I love that they have freedom, and confidence, and a real zest for life.  They are never bored - because they are not relying on a system to spoon feed and institutionalize them.  They have so many life skills, and so many friends.   This simply would not have happened for us in school. 

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