Home Education, a Guest Post by Louise Gibbens
Home Education - words and photography by Louise Gibbens
At first glance we’re a pretty typical family – my husband, our two sons, and I - but we're amongst a growing group who are choosing to educate our children at home.
Our eldest son, Archie, now 8, started school at 4. I had my concerns but he settled well in his first term at a small village school. But then things began to go wrong. He became increasingly anxious, his learning regressed and he was failing to meet targets. He was assessed by a Paediatrician, a Clinical Psychologist, and an Educational Psychologist. Constantly focussing on what might be wrong with Archie was soul destroying and made us lose sight of the things that were so right with our bright, charismatic little boy. I began to research how children learn, particularly children like Archie who are highly sensitive, bright and inquisitive. Everything I read led me to believe that schools favour how girls prefer to learn, play and socialise. Meanwhile, boys are often left floundering. I came to the conclusion that even the best school in the land still wouldn't be the right environment for Archie to reach his potential. We deregistered him from school at the end of Yr1. It felt wonderful to just roll with our summer, taking our family holiday in the first two weeks of September that year; so liberating and much cheaper.
Most people worry that they're not qualified to home educate. But we don't follow a specific curriculum or ‘teach’ at all. Instead we ‘Unschool’. This approach requires faith in the understanding that learning is natural and happening all the time. It doesn't require coercion and should be fun, interesting and meaningful. Our boys spend their time doing the things they love and are free to play. Much of their learning is incidental. Many home educating families we know prefer this unstructured approach but just as many follow a curriculum instead (Montessori, Steiner, etc). It's about finding your best fit.
The change we’ve seen in Archie since he left school has been incredible. He’s far more confident, relaxed and happy. The main thing is he's not being judged, or judging himself, anymore. Jody (4) is a very different child; he is far more resilient. But we've decided to home educate him, too.. I love the natural way in which he's gaining so much from being with his older brother. Their relationship is amazing even though they're chalk and cheese. The really wonderful thing about learning without school is that the boys don't have to fit into anyone else's boxes, only their own.
2-3 days a week we join others at organised groups or sessions. Our favourite is a weekly gymnastics class. Another is a social group at a nearby beach, a natural playground where the boys engage in imaginary play with friends. Sometimes we meet in a local orchard or woods instead, where tree climbing, fire lighting, and water-play are the main unstructured activities. If we're not attending a group we usually have an 'in day' to simply play and read. I'm there on hand to facilitate what they choose to do. Some days it's very obvious that learning is happening in abundance. On others it's less apparent. Often we'll go on our own field trips. The local library and museums get plenty of use, as well as the beaches, castles, and galleries we're lucky to live close to. Archie attends a youth theatre class and Jody spends a morning each week with grandma, baking or gardening. Our lives are rich and full. If there's too much going on, we can ease off and take things slowly. If they need extra sleep they can lay in (and so can I!). We take advantage of empty beaches, quiet museums, and cheaper holidays. Our relationships feel so much stronger than they did before and whilst it's true that I get less time for ‘me’ than I did before, I find I crave it less.
For those thinking of home educating, I encourage you wholeheartedly. Join local home ed Facebook groups and attend some meet ups so you can ask questions. Read something by John Holt (‘How Children Learn’ and ‘Teach Your Own’ are the best). Watch Sir Ken Robinson’s amazing TED talks online. Create a learning-rich environment for your children; have as many books, art and craft supplies, and games available. Above all else, trust in the process. Your child learnt to crawl, walk, talk, and question, simply by interacting, watching and trying. This doesn't suddenly stop when they reach school age. It never stops. Pressure, tests, and targets are not conducive to development. If your child is happy and spending their time doing what they love then they are learning.
You can also look at the website www.educationotherwise.net for detailed information on de-registering from school and other practicalities.