Home Education, a Guest Post by Louise Gibbens

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.

 

apron

 

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.

 

flower

 

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.

 

woods

 

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.

 

Louise Gibbens

Instagram: @loopygibbens

You can also look at the website www.educationotherwise.net  for detailed information on de-registering from school and other practicalities.

Comments
  • My children go to a main stream school and I also feel that they are individuals because of how we spend our quality time together. This may include culture on many levels, reading and visiting new places. I think home schooling is great for some things but really can you expect your child to fit into the world around them when they are older if they don't follow some rules that are set within a group environment. Also, my children, as most others, are learning constantly. It doesn't stop when they leave the school gates. School vs homelife complement each other.
    Anon •
    12th April 2015
  • Thank you for taking the time to read and leave a comment, Anon. It's good to hear you and your children are having such a positive experience with school. Sadly, our time with school was less than ideal and we know many others in the same boat. Whenever I speak to people whose children love school and a classroom approach to learning, I'm heartened that the system works for some people, at least. After all, schools are necessary for those who are unable to home educate (for a variety of reasons) or who choose not to. I agree with you that all children are little individuals, regardless of where or how they are schooled. My concern for my boys is that they both have characteristics that might be seen as 'difficult' or too 'spirited' in the classroom. They're not at all wild or naughty, but they question everything, they're opinionated, they're very physical but also sensitive. I celebrate these traits - they are wonderful individuals. But in a room with 30 others these positive personality traits might be considered a pain. Archie used to really let off steam at home after school in a pretty negative way; a result, we think, of having to tone himself down in class. Being a sensitive child he was desperate not to get into trouble or be perceived as 'naughty'. Certain personalities suit the classroom better than others. And of course, one size doesn't and never could fit all despite a school's best intentions. Even the most skilled and dedicated teacher in the land cannot differentiate their teaching to suit every individual. I was absolutely adamant that my son was not going to be let down or left behind because of his preferred style of learning.

    Your concern that home educated children will find it hard to fit into the world around them later because of being free of group rules and structure did make me smile, I must confess. I now have a (wonderful) mental image of feral children with wild, untamed hair which I kind of like! But in reality, I would say your concern is common but unfounded. In my experience, home educated children socialise in a very natural way with all sorts of people of all different ages (as opposed to spending the majority of their time with their peers plus one or two adults who are always the ones in charge). So fitting in with the wider world is often an early strength of home educated children. With regards to group rules, my children attend weekly structured gymnastics classes and youth theatre. They are engaged, well behaved, and attentive. I am proud of my children's behaviour wherever we go. They are unschooled but they are not unruled or without discipline. It's true that some families follow a radical unschooling approach where the children are fully autonomous. This includes choosing their bedtimes, mealtimes, and all activities, as well as what they learn and how. It's not a path I would choose to follow personally as I believe my children do need and prefer guidance and boundaries.

    It's great that your family is finding school complementary to your home life and that your children are thriving. Ours wasn't and so we made a change that would work for us. No one route is better than another, just different. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on here.
    Louise Gibbens •
    13th April 2015
  • Many thanks really valuable. Will certainly share site with my friends.

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    Molinarothup •
    17th January 2017
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