Saturday, 17 August 2013

Bring on the dancing ponies

Or whatever else it is they have at a carnival. I think I always link carnivals and carousels in my head but anyway.

A good friend of mine Jax over at Live Otherwise is organisintg a blog carnival about Home Education. I've said before on here that this blog is not really about Home Education. Well no more than it is about off grid living, self sufficiency, island life, WWOOFing, family travel, livestock rearing or any of the other things we do which don't define us but do make up the component parts of who we are. But I've not posted much on here of late about Home Ed so when Jax mentioned a not back to school type of celebration during back to school time I thought I'd join in. It felt a little timely having had a few conversations of late about what we do and why we do it.

Jax has given some prompts so I'll run with them:
Why do you home educate?
Hmm, that can't be summed up quickly. If I have to do it in a soundbite I'll go with:
Before we even had children we said we would celebrate them as individuals. Allow them to follow their passions, interests and their dreams. We would not coerce or make decisions for them based on our ambitions or priorities, rather support them in what it was they wanted to spend their life doing and assist, facilitate and aid them in making that happen.We Home Educate because we don't believe that school offers the best possible childhood and that childhood is in part a preparation for life and in another part simply a period of your life. That education is not something that gets delivered to you, rather an array of opportunities, ideas, sparks and springboards, a collection of inspirations to set you off in a certain direction on a journey. We believe that a broad and balanced curriculum, a structured and formal education is narrowing and restrictive and one size fits all rarely suits anyone. That institutions are never a good place for anyone to be.
How do you home educate?
In the early years we home educated by following every single passion and interest the children showed. Aged 3 Davies was into dinosaurs, we got out every book the library had on dinosaurs, went to the Natural History museum in London, watched documentaries on dinosaurs, made models of them, trawled car boot sales for a bucket full of plastic ones, learnt about their habitat, their names, the periods they lived in. We visited Lyme Regis and went fossil hunting on beaches. We baked dinosaur shaped cookies, drew dinosaur pictures, compared everything we could think of to dinosaur sized, got a season ticket to a local museum attraction with a large interactive dinosaur exhibit and went fortnightly til we knew everything off by heart, spent hours categorising the toy dinosaurs into herbivores and carnivores. Within that we covered every subject on the curriculum - art, geography, history, science, maths, literature, field trips.... Davies is unlikely to be a palentologist when he grows up and actually while I can still identify most dinosaurs by name I don't think he can anymore but we certainly never missed an opportunity.
I spent a lot of time when the children were young networking with other home educators to ensure they had an active social life. They joined scouts, guides, st Johns Ambulance badgers, took swimming lessons, gymnastics, tumble tots, various sports groups, museum activities, school holiday events, RSPB wildlife explorers. We had membership at any given time to at least three places locally from wildlife reserves, zoo parks, museums, theme parks. We took advantage of theatre and cinema educational events, school rate visits to Legoland, National Trust properties and workshops. We visited London almost monthly, the library weekly. We were out and about in the community talking to our neighbours, people in shops, friends and family. In short we immerse Davies and Scarlett in life, talk to them constantly, always find the answers to their questions and listen to them.
Our life here on Rum may lack some of those opportunities we used to enjoy in many ways. We cannot access the cinema and theatre, art galleries and group activities are out of our reach but we have hit a new phase where the childrens' interests are more honed and specific now. Davies is still into his art, nature and storytelling. Scarlett is into her animals. It is now a case of finding opportunities here and making the most of contacts. Their week still includes the biggest part of their time spent with us, talking, learning together, listening to the radio, the news, but they also have their own responsibilities now. They are learning about business skills and how to make money, market things and develop a brand. They understand how the croft works financially and any decisions made are talked about between all four of us. They have close access to a wide range of people here they can spend time with and learn from with a huge scope of crafts. Davies is learning the guitar from one person, Scarlett has volunteered to do things with the ponies, the shearwaters and the bats monitoring. They do a regular art and film club with another resident and play board games with another. They spent time with the ranger regularly learning about bird ringing, wildlife here on Rum and have done a series of Junior Ranger workshops.
Is there anything you’d do differently if you did it all again?
Not at all, I consider us very fortunate to have never gone very far down a route that didn't suit us. I am so pleased we never headed off along a formal structured route as I don't think it would have worked for us at all and having never taken away the childrens' autonomy to be in charge of their own learning we didn't need to unpick any damage done.
What’s your favourite resource/book/website?
People. And our own ears. We will always learn far more from listening to others, to their lives, their experiences and their ideas than from any book, website or other resource. Actually getting on and doing things ourselves is the most powerful learning tool of all.

"Tell me, I'll forget. Show me, I'll remember. Involve me, I'll understand"

What’s the daftest question you’ve ever been asked about home education.
Hmmm. So many isn't there.  How will they learn anything? Don't you have to be checked up on? What if they hate you for not letting them go to school? I do think that Home Education is getting more and more known and accepted although our particular brand continues to be fairly misunderstood and lack confidence in it's efficiency and methods. The idea of not fretting about literacy and numeracy or any sort of measurement against what other people might be doing really pushes people's buttons. No one ever denies that our kids are not doing really well - even in our tiny little corner of the world with just 40 people I get told how awesome my kids are at least once a week by someone. They might argue that they'd still be just as happy, healthy, curious, interesting, interested people if I'd spent hours and hours with them at a desk enforcing reading, writing and arithmatic on them from aged 4 onwards but my guess is they would not. They would not have such unshakable confidence in their own ability to find something that interests them and make it their business to learn all they can about it if I'd taken away from them the responsibility for directing their own learning.
And anyone who has advice for the people who say I’d love to home educate but I don’t have the courage, I wouldn’t know where to start, we can’t afford it, I could never do maths, that would be particularly great. 
The best advice I ever heard in response to that is that Home Education is not for everyone but its not beyond anyone. If you want to do it, really want to do it  and it works for all of the people involved in it (in our case that's Davies, Scarlett, Ady and I, if any one of us was not happy with our situation then it would no longer work) then you can do it. It may mean life changes, it may mean heading off in a different direction altogether but it is doable. You start by answering the very first question your child asks and you head off, hand in hand learning the way together. You afford it by only ever spending what you have - libraries and museums are free, art materials and inspiration can be found just by walking around where you life, most people have a TV and internet access which offers you all the resources you could ever need for free.


  1. I think honed and specific interests are the real beauty of HEing older children - bugger Badman with his broad and balanced! Being able to freely pursue their passions is utterly liberating - I think it takes a lot of guts to "allow" this to take it's natural pace, but the rewards are priceless.

    1. eugh stray apostrophe, apologies!

  2. This is such a lovely post, I think it really manages to get the point across about it being such an adventure and always discovering new things. Incidental learning is such a beautiful thing.

  3. Great post which really sums up what a wonderful way of life it is - and also kind of makes me want to live on Rum :-)