Category Archives: reasons to home educate

Home Education: Learning independence through spontaneous activity

I am reading The Montessori Method (free ebook) by Maria Montessori.  At the root of her method is the idea that children will find things out for themselves and that they desire and need independence. By constantly doing things for the children the parent or teacher is undermining the child’s ability to learn those skills for himself.

She has an interesting view that those who require servants are lacking in ability. Her view that the person who needs help because he has a physical disability is no worse off than the prince who needs help dressing because of his social status.

We habitually serve children; an act of servility toward them, but it is dangerous, since it tends to suffocate their useful spontaneous activity.

She differentiates between true service of others, such has assisting them to reach the independence they need and servility which is unhelpful at best and demeaning at worst.

She decries the mother who feeds her child without ever attempting to model eating herself or to help the child learn to hold and co-ordinate the spoon.  I think there’s a couple of things that cause this problem – which still very much exists today – and one is fear of mess. I have seen mother’s who can’t abide the phase where the child is trying to self feed and makes a right mess of himself and anything within a few yards radius.  There’s an underlying fear of dirt, I think.

The other reason for insisting on feeding a child who wants to feed himself is that awful modern thing of being afraid the child is growing up and won’t be a baby much longer. I have seen mothers who, can’t stand the idea that their youngest child is no longer a baby and they have decided (often without a reason) that there can’t be another.

Montessori bluntly calls mothers who won’t allow independence “not a good mother.”continuing

She offends the fundamental human dignity of her son, – she treats him as if her were a doll…”

Ouch!

I have to say, however strongly Montessori words this, she isn’t wrong. I worked with a class of children aged 4 to 5 and then the next year up when they were aged 5 to 6 (just before I got ill) and was amazed that most of the children couldn’t dress themselves. I don’t mean difficult buttons or laces, I mean putting on underwear and pulling on a sweatshirt. They couldn’t do it. The post-PE shambles, of trying to get 30 kids dressed, was astonishing to me.

Montessori says;

Who does not know that to teach a child to feed himself, to wash and dress himself, is a much more tedious and difficult work, calling for infinitely  greater patience than feeding washing and dressing the child oneself?

This is true. I am much more able to get the children to do things themselves when I am more with-it than when I’m so tired it just seems quicker and easier to do it myself. But it’s a bad habit to get into and one that takes a great deal away from the child.

I remember my friend telling me how she had picked up her son’s friend from school one day (they were both 10 at the time) and on the way home in the car the friend announced proudly that at school that day they had learned to cut an apple with a proper knife. Her son was unimpressed as he made lunch most days, cutting and preparing fruit, bread and whatever else was required with the right knives for the job and had been doing so for some time.

Children who are allowed to be capable are capable. But it takes time and commitment from the parents – lots of time, lots of commitment, at least to begin with. But soon enough a five or six year old can do a lot for themselves and a ten year old can do a lot more.

If you take the time and teach your children to be independent in what they do, they will more quickly learn independent thought as well, finding things out for themselves and asking questions about what they find.

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Home education; freedom of the soul.

We know only too well the sorry spectacle of the teacher who, in the ordinary schoolroom must pour certain cut and dried facts into the heads of the scholars. In order to succeed in this barren task, she finds it necessary to discipline her pupils into immobility and to force their attention. Prizes and punishments are every ready and efficient aids to the master who must force into a given attitude of mind and body those who condemned to be his listeners.”

The Montessori Method, Dr Maria Montessori 1912

This paragraph follows an explanation of slavery. Montessori saw clearly that the school system in which a special bench that forced a child’s upright posture so they could sit all day and be talked at by a teacher, and go home saved from scoliosis, was all wrong. Of course, the doctor notices that children who are allowed to move around and find their own ways of learning are not in danger of twisted backs in the first place.

She finds the system of punishment and reward petty (red marks, detention and stickers are not designed for moral growth but merely conformity) and points out that without heroism – that is the will to do what is good because it is good – then corruption and cowardice are the results.

I think a brief look at our politicians clutching their Oxbridge degrees in one hand and what amounts to an allergy to telling the truth on the other, has to be a prime example of what Montessori warned us.

All parents have a right and duty to the education of our children, and we most definitely need to ensure they learn right from wrong. The tyranny of relativism was a mere yapping puppy in Montessori’s day. The Enlightenment had already brought some darkness in that area but it hadn’t grown to the proportions our poor children are faced with today.

Education is more than leading the child out. The child must grow and mature and as each child does this in his own way we can’t force understanding on them all at a certain age. Their age is mostly immaterial to their growth, maturity and ability to learn.

As Catholics we have a theology of the person that is deep and well considered. We know that the Sacraments give grace and so we get our children baptised but we also know that while the missing grace of Original Sin is mended by the graces that come with baptism, there is still the scar – the concupiscence – that we must all deal with. We tend to bend towards sin. But spend any length of time with children and you’ll notice that while they might need good guidance, boundaries and sensible discipline, they do have a strong sense of justice, if not mercy. Young children, particularly those under 7 or 8 – the age of reason, need close adult supervision to help form their conscience and curb tendencies to cruelty or meanness. We teach them to share, be gentle with others, and how to listen and basic safety.

Without this early formation children often lack social skills, basic kindness and even language. A classroom with at most two adults to thirty 4 year olds is not the place to do this basic learning; and that’s before you factor in the bizarre targets of the National Curriculum!

There is a cultural view that targets, exams and state provision are the be all and end all of education. I’ve even heard of parents who refuse to work with their OWN children when they can’t get the school placement they want, because they insist the state should provide.

Then there are parents who brag about how their child got A*s or whatever, in exams, but seem to have missed that their child is miserable, angry, incapable in social settings and lacking basic morals.

It’s well past time to change all this. When we consider that Montessori (and Mason) were writing over 100 years ago we look pretty dumb that we still haven’t set about changing things so that our children get a genuine education.

I was so wrapped up in the school model of education when I first began home education that when my children began to read books as Charlotte Mason would have them do, I got restless thinking that just sitting there reading wasn’t “doing” anything. How could I possibly know that my daughter was learning anything while she sat with a cup of tea in one hand and Notes From the Underground in the other?

But then I think it was C.S.Lewis who said that his best education came from being left to read the books in his uncle’s library. It took me a while to realise that when the children were “just reading” that they were learning. They expanded their reading and vocabulary. For Iona it helped her writing fluency and did more to stop her reversing letters and built up her general knowledge better than all those worksheets put together.

Home education; is there another method that genuinely works?

I know this isn’t true across the board in home ed circles. I am quite sure there are the cliques of home ed parents competing over Primula’s grade or some such thing. Thankfully, I haven’t been at the receiving end of that.

When I have a worry about how one of my children is learning or even a new discovery that works well, I can ask and share it with other mums who home educate and we’ll throw out ideas or straight forward reassurance.

So home ed mums are saints then? Sadly not, we’re all just human like everyone else. What I think helps us as a group is our education system is so different from the school system, and that’s because, as a group, we don’t have a system. There is no box we have to fit into or fail. There are no tests, no competitions or standards written and ticked. We have our children and they are all so very different, learn differently, have different needs and skills, that there isn’t a box to push them into.

There’s also a very high proportion of children with  “special needs” ranging from simply developing a little slower than average through dyslexia to autism and physical illnesses of various types. And there’s also the gifted children who usually have an area of learning where they outstrip others, but might be less gifted in other areas.

The nature of home education tends to mean that a lot of parents (not all) have an inherent respect for children, where they don’t need reminding of Charlotte Mason’s maxim that children are persons. We spend a lot of time together as families and we learn to adapt around babies, tantrums, learning approaches and mums needing a cuppa and a chat.

We work as a community with all it’s diversity and colour. Some of us have been doing it for years and others are just starting out.

I haven’t been told how brave I am for quite a while but new families often face this sort of back handed compliment. But I don’t think those of us who home educate are brave. I do see parents taking the first steps with trepidation and some fear, and I suppose it does take some courage, but when I see schooled children I think it’s their parents who are brave.

Since “official” kinds of education were invented by the ancient Greeks, Spartans and Rome children didn’t go to school until they were at least 7 to 8 years old and often went even later. It was understood that the foundational part of a child’s education was in a rounded upbringing with social skills and practical skills before the academic side was handled.

Within family and community children learned and grew before attending a more institutionalised system.

This was the system from ancient times until the end of the nineteenth century and it worked well.  Figures show that literacy levels in both Britain and America were as high as 95% before the Education Acts brought about mass schooling. Now they are nearer 60%.

I was told recently by someone who knows that many parents who find their 4 or 5 year old can’t get a school placement refuse to do any work with their own child because they have decided it’s the job of the state! That’s a shocking sign of how upturned our culture’s thinking is!

I think we actually need more families to avoid schools. The standards of education are having serious knock on effects among adults and our culture as a whole as we see not only the rise in illiteracy, ignorance and lack of ethical thought, but the sinking of science and medicine. There are studies and even pieces of research that are being published in what once were respected journals that surely would never have seen the light of day 100 years ago, simply because they are so badly designed and written.

Ken Robinson, John Holt, John Taylor Gatto and others including Dr Temple Grandin had spoken over and over about the state of education and they are being ignored. It’s up to us, as parents, to listen and be willing to bypass the shoddy standards and search for the best education we can offer our children. The more I look, the more I am convinced that home education is becoming the only answer, or one answer among very few others indeed.

While the mainstream media like ITV are asking whether home education can make the grade – surely they should be asking why school education is failing so very many children.

Home Education; Study looks at why people choose to do it.

Over the years there have been a number of studies asking home educators/homeschoolers why they do it. In the past the American results have had religion either number 1 or 2 but over here it comes much lower down the list.

A recent study reported HERE shows that reasons are shifting in the USA as well. Now school environment is the number one reason to homeschool and standard of academic instruction comes in at number 2. That matches up closer with UK studies.

ITV Wales recently produced a fairly long report (not sure how long this link will be live) about families choosing to home educate. The title question “Can home education ever make the grade?” made me laugh.  Studies have shown over and over again that homeschooled/home educated children do better across the board than their schooled peers. When you consider that the HE community has a much higher number of children with learning problems (who have often had to be pulled from school) then I don’t think we do too badly.  In fact when Ed Balls came after us, his side kick Badman had to make up statistics to try and make us look bad.

For me, I think the biggest advantage home education has over schools is that our children get to read whole books and are encouraged to read every day. In teaching them to read I listened to them one to one every day. No school can do that unless they a) have hardly any children or b) have an army of volunteers.

The other massive advantage we have is not being tied to a curricula or methodology or philosophy of education. We are free to adjust to the child’s learning rather than forcing the child into a pre-packaged box.

Most importantly of all, many home educated children are taught how to think and how to learn, not what to think and what to learn. Schools are far too prescriptive and narrow.

And finally, socialisation. Yup. It’s much easier to get your child properly socialised in the natural community of home education than in a classroom with one or two adults and 29+ other children, all the same age.

What about religion? Doesn’t it count? Well, for a lot of home educators it probably doesn’t. For us it does, of course. Having the freedom to choose an orthodox and well written religious curriculum has been very good.  I want them to have access to their Faith, history and heritage that sadly even Catholic schools don’t seem able to offer.

The bottom line is that parents have an intrinsic right and deep responsibility to the proper education of our children. Our children do not belong to the state or to teacher’s unions. They are free persons belonging to a family. If, as a parent, you choose to delegate some of that responsibility to a school, then you are still the primary educator and are obliged to ensure the education is best for your child. Overall, although home ed is very hard work at times, I think it’s easier than trying to keep on top of what happens in school.

Will there ever be TV news stories questioning whether schools are good for our children? Why is Ken Robinson so roundly ignored?

The idea that home educators should be monitored by the people who can’t provide a decent education in schools is never going to wash.

Home education; Avoiding the do do – go go – get get approach.

victor-hugo-author-doing-nothing-is-happiness-for-children-and-misery-for-oldThere are a great many teachers out there who are fed up with the notion that their job is not so much to offer an education to children, but to offer to entertain them. They will be bored, rude and badly behaved, goes the mantra, unless the teacher performs some kind of circus act before the white board. To this end a number of bright and loud edutainments are sold to schools to keep the children interested, even as their attention spans diminish.

I think this strange cultural virus has infected some home education families as well. Partly because home educators get accused of all sorts of strange behaviour, including keeping our children locked indoors, tied to the kitchen table, some home educators feel the need to be out of the house at all hours, providing lots of stimulating edutainment,  just to prove the opposite. There are even families on a very tight budget who feel, somehow pressured, to go charging off to every home ed event and outing they can possibly squeeze into a week.

It’s an easy temptation to fall into. Those of us who are tied by both financial considerations and, like me, being too ill, are actually let off the hook a bit. Even so, I did go through a silly guilt trip that I wasn’t dashing off to all the outings and that my children were actually at home doing a lot of their learning.  As it happens they do have activities outside the home and home ed activities with other families, some here, some elsewhere. The way their activities work means they have both schooled and home educated friends. I quite like that.

It is the psychologist Dr. Ray Guarendi who coined the phrase “do, do, go, go, get, get” to describe the way some parents insist their children are at every and any event, after school club and organised meeting and have every gadget, latest this and that; whatever pours out of the dodgy factories of China.

One of the reasons I don’t like this approach, (and I don’t think I’ve ever heard Dr. Ray pick up on this particular bug bear of mine) is that I think it’s bad for children to be perpetually organised. The idea that if their time isn’t coordinated by an adult they will get up to no good is at the root of this I think. The importance of free time and quiet time and simply play time has been subsumed into all day timetables for children as young as 3. It’s inhuman (imho). Some of it seems to be more about adults being afraid of free time with their own children, than about ensuring a child receives all the opportunities that are for their benefit.

The problem with the do-do-go-go-get-get approach is that it is self perpetuating. The children, including home educated children, can become institutionalised in that they can’t be bored. They can’t do nothing for while, and they can’t make their own activities. Someone must give them something to do. The game must be pre-organised.

They become used to never having to just be.

None of our greatest thinkers learned like that. C.S.Lewis talks of having hours P1000113with books in a library. Charlotte Mason walked the moors and woodlands around Ambleside and so on. Even in fiction, such as Sherlock Holmes, there are times of complete inaction where the only thing happening is thought.

While I am sure the children are looking forward to the return to cubs and beavers and ballet, and the coninuation of swimming; And while they have seen friends and will have the weekly small home ed group and monthly big one, I think the holidays have been good for them (and me). They have played, made things, sat around reading, sat around not doing anything at all.

Having organised time, clubs and outings aren’t bad in themselves of course. Children do very well in them, but they shouldn’t take up every hour of a child’s waking life. We know very well that this approach isn’t doing schooled children any favours at all. We know they go to school, go to the afterschool activity, go home and bolt down their tea before homework and screen and bed. That’s a bad way to live. There’s no time for family life or even friends, just doing and doing and then sleeping.

So as we gallop towards term I must remember, they need time to be, and I don’t need to timetable them to within an inch of their lives.

Reasons to home educate

P1010037A friend posted a link to THIS ARTICLE which notes the massive rise in homeschooling families across the states of America. The article suggest the 75% rise is due, largely, to dissatisfaction with the school system there.

I don’t know what the figures are like this side of the pond (I think we learned in the Badman Balls days that statistics were completely arbitrary and meaningless, because they weren’t accurate) but I do remember that reports went out a few months after the election when Badman and Balls were no longer able to come after us, saying, registered home ed families in Oxford and someplace else had risen by 50%. It was almost as if the negative publicity the media had tried to give us had backfired and simply made more people aware that home education was a good choice for their children. The 50% had to be children taken from school and therefore registered with the LA and didn’t include those families who had never sent their children to school.

If you want to home educate in England and Wales you do not need to be registered with the Local Authority. However, if you have removed your child from school you will need to write to the head and s/he will pass this information onto the LA who will automatically register your child. So, as we pulled two children from school we are registered, whereas many of our friends are not. On an even weirder note, in some families one child could be registered and LA loose the paperwork so that other children aren’t. It happens.

A family can choose to register with the LA if they want to, but as there is little to no support from the LA there doesn’t seem much point, and therefore very few families bother.  Nevertheless, despite all the information and legal niceties, far too many HE families report threatening behaviour from the LA person- usually a welfare officer. We have been very lucky in that the LA people with whom I have dealt have been respectful and made the effort to get to understand what HE is. For friends who come under a different authority that has not been the case. There’s been some rumblings that the Local Authority people want to “build bridges” with home educators and in some areas those bridges could be built. Sadly, when yet another family is door-stepped by a Welfare Officer and where “safeguarding” gets bandied about for no reason, those bridges soon tumble. (Part of this, it seems to me, is rooted in the ignorance of the EWOs involved who must think the propaganda about “isolation” is true and come a cropper when some new and apparently green home educator gets help because she knows other more experienced families).

One of the major reasons home educators get cross with poor behaviour from the LA is because so many of us saw our children failed miserably in school – which is under the remit of the LA.

I know many home educators who have chosen this route for very positive reasons. They love the way they can tailor the work to the child and the choices of method, philosophy and resources that are available to home edders that aren’t available in schools. We see our children grow and explore and have time to just be. We see them learn to be with their siblings, setting up close relationships for life. We see their enthusiasm for learning and we can prioritise things properly, adjusting them as necessary.

We are also home educating at a time where resources are abundantly available online or via the post and many of those resources are free. I think many of us who have been doing this for some time have made free resources available and have benefited from other families’ freebies.

Unfortunately there are many negative reasons for home education. Children who are bullied, ignored, too sick, and/or where the school won’t or can’t handle basic medication, or with shamefully unmet learning needs, are removed by parents and successfully home educated. The question that some of us are asked “Do you think you can do it better than school?” has to be answered with a resounding “Yes!” In my case it was more “I couldn’t make it worse…” but now I just know I am offering the children something positive that isn’t available in school. When you look around nearly all of us have at least one child with a “special educational need” (SEN) and yet studies show that home educated children generally out perform schooled children in educational and social testing.

I do love seeing my children enjoy learning and not being ashamed of wanting to learn. I also love that they can have difficulties in certain areas and not have to be ashamed about that either. I love the different things we can go off and study as we aren’t tied into a curriculum. If they struggle with something we have the time and the genuine love to work with it until they are over the obstacles.  

I can tell when one of them is too tired or has simply lost that concentration and can send them to do something else, take a break or just make a cuppa while they recharge and then they can come back to it fresh. Sometimes we decide today isn’t going to work so we can put the lesson off until another time.

I love the way the children at Home Ed Group work together. Ages and special needs of all kinds are unimportant – everyone chips in. If problems occur the mums can deal with it straight away, nipping things in the bud and helping the children remember how to behave properly. We aren’t saints, and neither are our children – all the more reason to be there to deal with bad behaviour straight away.

One of the other major advantages in home education – at least for us – has been helping the children to learn independently.  It’s something I remember someone from the Open University saying about home educated youngsters who took on OU causes under the age of 18. They could already work independently and so could get on with things without the tutor having to say when to open the book and how many pages to read.

Home Education isn’t for everyone. It’s not a panacea against all educational and family problems; but the fact is, it is good for many families and I suspect would be better for a lot of children who are currently being failed in school.

Studies that have been done make interesting reading in that they show children from poorer backgrounds who are home educated do as well as children from so-called “middle class” families.  Schools can’t make this claim sadly.

Home educating is hard work, and there are times when I wish I wasn’t doing it; but overall I think it’s working well for us and most importantly, it’s working very well for the children.

Further reading

The Pagans Are Happy to Socialize Your Children

Confessions of a home educator

P1020692Like most home edders I get the usual reactions from strangers who ask why the children aren’t in school. “We home educate,” I say and one of the set questions that comes back is ,”Are you a teacher?” And I always answer “No,” because strictly speaking I am not a teacher. I never did a PGCE or achieved QTS, so I’m not a teacher. However, just between you and me, I must confess I did teach.

I worked in a primary school Reception to year 1 (that’s pre-k to K for American equivalency). I was taken on to support one child for five mornings a week, but in fact had 8 children with quite significant “special needs” each morning, leaving them with no extra support in the afternoons.

I taught teens who had been expelled from school, or had been in YOIs or prison; many of whom had genuinely been missing education, some since primary school. At the same college I taught adults and supported adults who were deaf, blind, lacking limbs etc.

I also taught at the University.

So, yes, I’ve done a bit of teaching and so I am sure some people will believe that’s the experience I rely on when home educating the children. Well, it isn’t. In fact it has been more of a hindrance than a help as we set out to home ed. I had to unlearn quite a bit.

The first lesson I had to learn was school standards are meaningless.  The huge temptation to wonder if my children were at the “standard” or “level” of other children their age became rather silly when I realised that each child was a mix of “average” and advanced or behind, depending on the subject and that they studied so much stuff that wasn’t part of school life that they couldn’t be measured against the school standard. It’s not easy to let go of these deeply rooted ideas about what constitutes a standard of education, but honestly, it needs to be done.

You may object. “Surely,” you might say,  “Refusing to bear in mine standards and targets, can lead to allowing the children to slide into ignorance and never learn anything.”

I suppose it’s possible that someone would decide to home educate and then simply not bother to do so. But that’s not me. There may be occasions where home ed families are keeping up with the Joneses on grade books and whatever, but most of us are using so many different  curricula, methods and resources that it isn’t possible, and that’s before you add in the gifted and SEN kids that are part of the groups.

I have had to learn that it’s no good trying to make a child fit a method, I need to make the method fit the child. This is how I’ve ended up with such an eclectic approach to educating the children. Each child is different and each child is, as Charlotte Mason reminds us, born a person. As soon as you respect the personhood of your child, you ditch all the extraneous things that treat your child as a cog. It’s not as easy as you might think. I’d spent a long time learning to teach to the crowd and stick to the formula. Now I had to work alongside, rather than teach at a person and quite often learn from them.

I love the way the children will go off and learn something completely independently and then come and tell me about it later. I love that their learning is so mixed, and I especially love that they are not embarrassed to be enthusiastic about what they learn.

There are times when I think we aren’t getting very far and they give the impression they aren’t learning anything. But just as I am thinking, “It’s all a waste of time, they aren’t learning anything!” one of them will come out with something I was sure s/he hadn’t remembered or understood.

Of course that’s the other confession; I so still sometimes think home education is about filling my children with knowledge about stuff, when in fact, home education is about teaching my children how to learn, so they can learn for the rest of their lives.

So many ways to learn, like this very funny Three Little Pigs with some Classical pronunciation Latin words…enjoy.