Home Education – What? Why? How? Who? And is it a valuable option?
By Liliane Grace
There’s a bit of a conversation in the media at the moment about the benefits and drawbacks of home schooling. My three children were home educated – via a largely unstructured, secular approach. They are now 16 (almost 17; twins) and 20, and I’d definitely do it again.
Since this is such a minefield, I thought I’d share my thoughts and experiences. I wasn’t game to do so when the kids were younger because it was often a pretty confronting journey and people doing things the ‘mainstream way’ often wouldn’t understand or appreciate our choice, lifestyle or challenges. Now that my children have successfully completed the ‘experiment’, I can announce the results publicly.
Firstly, here’s a bit of background information for those readers who know nothing about this educational option or the issues surrounding it.
Why do parents choose to home educate and who can do it?
There are, of course, a variety of reasons. Some choose this path because their children are intellectually advanced and are bored or simply not adequately stimulated at school. Others do so because their children are struggling at school (perhaps due to learning challenges or other disabilities or for personal reasons), and the parents want to provide the one-on-one, personalised attention that their particular child requires. (It’s worth noting that some families home educate some of their children while other children go to school; in other words, the parents respond to the actual needs and personalities of their individual children rather than following a ‘one glove fits all’ approach.)
Many parents choose to home educate in response to seeing how school affects their children: a happy, creative, confident child who turns morose, loses confidence and begins to have stomach aches and other pains on school mornings becomes a warning that something is not right in the land of School. And while counseling or ignoring the symptoms might be an option for some, others prefer to simply trust their child’s desire to remain at home, strange as that may seem…
Philosophical reasons are the driver for many families, especially those that want to pass on their religious/theological values. Most families desire to communicate their values to their children, but this becomes particularly important to those in the social minority, especially when their belief system guides and directs their lifestyle and this is out of synch with the dominant system. Quite understandable if we put ourselves in their shoes.
Secular families often have educational philosophies that include giving their children the freedom to explore their own interests in their own time, rather than being forced through the ‘sausage machine’ of institutional schooling. There’s a pretty strong historical basis for home education – school is actually quite a modern development – and these parents often consider ‘real life education’ to be adequate. (This doesn’t mean no ‘book learning’ but wherever possible the academic stuff flows on as a natural consequence of curiosity and interest rather than being an imposed externally-set curriculum that one must abide by.)
My husband and I fitted into this latter category. We shared the conviction that life is about finding the work/occupation that you love, and when you love it, you will devote yourself to it. We felt that people don’t need to be motivated to do the things that are meaningful to them, and so we would not aim to ‘fill up’ our children with facts and figures that lacked meaning for them. (We were both keenly aware of how little ‘information’ we had retained from our own school years…)
You’ll notice that I alternate in this article between the phrases ‘home education’ and ‘home schooling’. I prefer the former since the root of ‘education’ is the Greek word ‘educare’, which means ‘to draw out’ (rather than stuff in). Being ‘schooled’ has, for me, less appealing associations. I use both terms simply to avoid repetition.
As for ‘Who can do it?’ it seems that almost anyone can. There are quite a number of teachers and ex-teachers who home school, which is an interesting statement in itself. But the range of people drawn to home education is quite broad and includes those with tertiary qualifications and those without, single parents and couples.
How do families go about it?
Home education exists on a continuum and each family tackles it in a different way, according to their philosophy, values, skills, etc.. At one end of the continuum parents literally operate ‘school at home’ – their children sit at the kitchen table from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. working through text books and a set curriculum. Some of these children even wear school uniforms.
At the other end of the continuum the children are completely free to follow their own interests; this is usually called ‘natural learning’ or ‘unschooling’ – I think of it as ‘free ranging’ the kids. Maths is discovered in the process of cooking, measuring, shopping and playing games… Writing skills are mastered through letter writing and reading, for instance. In some cases, ‘free ranged’ children might not even open a text book before becoming a teenager, and some of these children might not be reading fluently until they are age twelve… Whoah! Is that neglect or something else? Read on…