Why on earth would you educate your children
at home, when there are perfectly good,
well equipped schools available, staffed with
properly trained teachers? How can a parent,
who isn’t a teacher, provide a level of education
that is in any way comparable?
My very favourite answer to these questions comes from my friend Jeannie, from Victoria:
“The part I like best is when I talk to them, and can see that they know they have power over which direction their lives are taking.
It’s harder with the older ones because they’ve been in the system longer,
and are used to being told what to do, and be interested in.
….. More English NOW.
….. Now stop.
….. Be interested in Maths NOW.
….. Now stop.
….. Think clearly for Science.
….. Get creative, it’s Art!
As I watch their lights turn on, that they don’t need to wait till 18 to start uni,
that they can go out and find job placements, or can develop a passion,
that their essence is valued by us … it’s exciting!”
Jeannie is home educating quite a few children, so of course she has many stories from their home education journey. The following story emphasises so many of the reasons parents choose to home educate their children:
“[My 15yo son] is reading chapter books now. This is the same boy who couldn’t even read one sentence without a mistake when [we started home educating him]. He was so traumatised by his school experience that anything that hinted of ‘education’ (books, etc.), repelled him. The beauty of this development is that I did virtually nothing. The first few weeks of home educating, we tried the formal approach, and then dropped it in frustration because he refused to do anything. So I left it. He wasn’t used to this, and viewed all of it with suspicion, wondering when I was going to start pressuring him, but it never happened. After a number of months of de-schooling, he started seeking my attention to listen to him read – in front of the whole family, unselfconsciously. It was a miracle. The only negative was his timing – frequently it was when I was distracted, or at 11pm at night or whatnot. But I’d drop it all to listen. The reading is great, but the shift in confidence is greater. We so love watching that light glowing brighter and brighter in them, don’t we?”
These musings highlight what I consider to be pretty much all the key reasons to home educate.
When you educate your children at home, one of the most precious gifts available to them is time.
- If the child struggles with a concept, they have time to leave it for a little bit and come back to it later, when things may fall into place more easily, or they have more maturity to want to learn that thing for themselves.
- If the child wants to concentrate on one particular area of study, there is time for them to indulge and explore to their heart’s content. There is no compulsion to stop an investigation just because the class is finished and it’s the scheduled time to move on.
- There’s time to laugh and explore and pursue and rest and ignore and wrestle and discuss and enjoy and investigate and on and on and on.
Several articles of recent times have caught my attention, where journalists or child psychologists have mused that perhaps the seeming epidemic of childhood disorders do not always have their source in the child. The suggestion is that instead of a child having Attention Deficit Disorder, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, it might be that many children are actually suffering from Parental Attention Deficit Disorder. The inference is obvious: that children are actually suffering from a lack of attention from their parents.
On a very general level, we can all understand how this happens: two incomes are needed to pay the mortgage, so children are in before-school and/or after-school care. There are sporting activities and music lessons and weekend birthday parties which have to be shopped for or cooked for or dressed up for. There’s the shopping and the cooking and the cleaning and the gardening and the ironing and the laundry that all have to happen so that the household keeps functioning. And all that’s before homework or X-box or anything else specifically child-related.
On a personal level, each child will cope in their own unique way with the sort of stresses I’ve just described. Some will thrive on the busyness and be quite self-sufficient in getting on with their own activities and responsibilities. Others, however, will shrink and fade, or begin to act out, expressing that the situation just isn’t working for them in the distinctly unsophisticated manner of a child. They don’t have the communication skills or awareness of their own processes to calmly explain to their parents in a rational manner that they need something different – indeed many adults don’t. As parents, we have to learn how to get inside their processes somehow, and home education can certainly facilitate that.
When you have time to work alongside your child on a daily basis, you do get to know them in a very different way. You get to observe and consider possibilities, and respond to them in a very personal way, just as Jeannie did with her teenage son in the story above. As she said, children don’t always seek you at convenient times, but the fact that you make them the priority when they do, rather than the ironing or the computer or the television show, sends them the most valuable message any child can hear: you matter.
Appropriate personal attention is a wonderful gift to any child, regardless of how you choose to educate them. Home education, however, makes provision for it in a unique way, as you observe, listen to and work with your child for their good.
This was a wonderful tip I read way back when Hayley was just a toddler. As my child grew and began to exert their independence and will in specific ways, I found it frighteningly easy to fall into the habit of just yelling instructions when requests weren’t responded to in the manner I desired.
As my frustration grew with my little darling’s emphatic nature, I recognised that coming from two strong-willed parents, it would be quite an anomaly if our daughter was anything else. I realised, too, that I didn’t want to cast myself as the shrew, constantly screaming her into compliance. I had to learn a different way, so that our home could be the peaceful place we wanted it to be.
In the midst of my processing, I read the phrase, ‘eye contact is key’. I’ve long forgotten the source, but from the first time I tried it with Hayley, it’s been like a magic key.
I’ve learned since that in some cultures, eye contact is considered an invasion of privacy, or an affront. If you come from such a culture, I trust you will understand the point I’m making, and be able to translate it into a mannerism or a contact point that is respectful and meaningful for you.
For us, as white Australians with English history back as far as we’ve been able to trace on both sides, eye contact is a mark of integrity. If someone can look you in the eyes, you expect a trustworthy character, etc.
The Wikipedia article on this subject is quite interesting, and from it comes this quote:
“In humans, eye contact can show personal involvement and create intimate bonds. Mutual gaze narrows the physical gap between humans.”
I don’t know who said it, other than the unnamed writer of the article, but that’s exactly the point that I’m trying to make here. When home educating your child, you have the opportunity to show them, often, your personal interest and care of them. Any time tension arises, you can purposefully look into your child’s eyes, automatically narrowing the gap that the misunderstanding or misalignment of views creates, and you can reaffirm your genuine love and regard for them.
There is a huge difference between hearing the words a child speaks and hearing the heart a child speaks. It requires a bigness on the inside of us, as parents, that forces us to mature, sometimes uncomfortably.
We experienced something quite extraordinary during the year Hayley attended regular school for one day a week. I’d collect her from school in the afternoon, and naturally I’d ask her about her day. She might tell me bits and pieces, but she was tired and needed some down time once we were home. When her dad asked her about her day after his return from work, she was happily engrossed in ‘home stuff’ and just not interested in talking about school. We were genuinely interested in hearing about her experiences, thoughts and observations, but she wasn’t particularly interested in telling us about them.
After that year, Hayley returned to full-time home education, and we’d been back into it for a full three terms before she began to talk about school. She would often start talking about it at inconvenient times – like in the middle of a maths lesson, or after lights-out at night – but we let her talk, and we did our best to listen.
It wasn’t that school had been horrible – of course not everything was fabulous, but a lot about it was positive. It wasn’t that she was traumatised. But there were certainly things that began to bubble to the surface that surprised us in terms of their urgency.
With time, I came to consider that during the season of her school attendance, so much happened in any one day that she’d just had to keep ‘moving’. If she’d wanted to talk at the time something affected her, there was no time, or the teacher had 20+ other students clamouring for something, and Hayley’s ‘little thing’ wouldn’t have even been a blip on the radar of school life.
And yet, some of those things genuinely needed to be discussed. There were assumptions Hayley had made, as a result of not talking about it at the time, that weren’t correct. There were things that had impacted her self-belief; things that had caused her to doubt the integrity of people around her. Certainly, as we discussed things, every point was something she could grow from, but without her parents genuinely listening and being interested in what she was saying, she would likely have developed very differently.
In 2009, we had the privilege of attending a Diana Waring conference here in Canberra. Diana produces a history curriculum than a number of local families use (although we haven’t), but her conference was just a wonderful help, reinforcing home education principles from the perspective of a long-time home educator. In one session, on home educating teens, Diana stated:
“Ask questions, and be genuinely interested in the answers.”
We had been in that habit before, but I renewed the practice purposefully after Diana’s timely reminder. When our children feel like they are being heard, it makes them bolder, and helps them take responsibility for their own destiny.
As we home educate, if we learn to listen to our children we will make better decisions about:
- the resources we provide for them
- the opportunities we make available to them
- the situations we expose them to or protect them from
- the relationships we encourage them to foster
- the decisions we support them in making
… etc., etc., as we work with who they actually are, rather than who we might presume them to be.
One thing (of many) that a school can never do, is shape everything for the good of your child. There are too many children from too many different families, cultures, financial backgrounds, etc., involved at a school. You won’t be able to either, but you’ve got a way better shot at it than any school.
Please don’t misunderstand me – I’m not suggesting that at home you make everything work to the liking of your child, but rather for the good of your child. Families have to function as a whole, and should not, in my opinion, revolve around any one person, especially a child.
Educationally, and in terms of the development of your child, however, you are well placed to make choices and take directions that are for the good of the individual without being to the detriment of the family.
Let’s take the subject of Maths as an example. Any one (or combination) of the following may be needed by an individual child. The child may need to:
- to have lengthy time working with manipulatives in order to understand a concept
- discuss the concept inside out and back to front before they can begin to implement it
- practice working something out over and over again before the penny drops
- be convinced of the need for the concept before they can even engage
- understand the history of the branch of mathematics in order to engage
With home education, you have the time to discover that Calculus is the study of change, and that it can be traced back to the Eleventh Dynasty of Egypt, roughly 1850BC. You can explore the fields where calculus is genuinely useful. Or you can figure out what this means:
When you’re educating your child from home, you are able to take into consideration all the many facets of who he/she is, as you shape their educational opportunities and devise strategies for helping them learn.
preference (noun): the act of setting or holding before or above other
things in estimation; liking better; choosing rather than; a favoured option
Truthfully, I’m yet to figure out why every child has to learn trigonometry, or about Hadrian’s Wall or how to conjugate a verb. Purists will have a fit, but even as much as I love words, I’d still have to go look something up if I wanted to conjugate a verb. I’ve never once used trigonometry since leaving high school, and … who was Hadrian and why did he have a wall?
Why not allow your child to pursue the things that interest them? Life is full of fascinating things to explore! Just what is the purpose of stopping a child’s investigation of how to graft an apricot twig to a peach tree so they can read Wuthering Heights?
aptitude (noun): capability; ability; innate or acquired
capacity for something; talent. Readiness or quickness in learning
There is a thought within education circles that all fields must be made even – that perhaps a child is better if the areas where they have no aptitude are developed while the areas where they have natural ability are left to their own devices.
Another line of thinking gives special place to those who are exceptional in one area – perhaps sports or the arts – and their giftings are allowed to shine while the areas they are deficient in are allowed to languish without complaint.
Maths has never been my forte, yet I am grateful for the basic functionality I was made to develop. Beyond that, I still consider was an abject waste of my time, and my teachers’. Conversely, I used to know a footballer who was so lauded for his goal-kicking ability he could barely string a coherent sentence together. I’d like to suggest that neither extreme is useful in the development of a well-rounded human being.
Every human being is served well, in my opinion, when they are equipped with at least reasonable communication and calculation skills. General knowledge of history, geography and a slew of other subjects is handy, but who is to say precisely what, of all the squillions of pieces of knowledge available across such a dearth of topics, is essential to any one human being? Why not allow natural giftings and fascinations to be explored? Life is best pursued with passion, after all.
character (noun): the aggregate of features and
traits that form the individual nature of a person
This is an area where many home educating families find great satisfaction. At home, you are best equipped to observe your child’s character development, see where adjustment would serve them better long-term, and work with the child to change habits and attitudes.
maturity (noun): full development, ripeness
Children all develop at an individual rate, and while charts and statistics are helpful in showing averages and generic outcomes, as Chris Davis wrote in I Saw The Angel in the Marble, none of us has generic children.
Something struck me some years ago, as I was trying to communicate something to Hayley in a manner favoured by more experienced parents around me: it wasn’t that she couldn’t understand what I was saying, it was that she didn’t yet have the maturity for it to make sense to her.
The issue at the time was about completing set tests, which Hayley has always hated. I was trying to help her be a little more open to the notion. When I realised that it was simply an issue of maturity, we left the whole formal assessment thing alone for several years. In 2010, she has needed to sit tests in order to gain entry to a particular course and progress through it. Now, with maturity on her side as well as ability, there is no issue.
Maturity, or the lack of it, does play a part in what our children are able to learn, and even the ease with which they are able to grasp things. Sometimes we expect an awful lot of our children, when a little gracious allowance would let them catch up with our expectations and ease the way through the situation for all of us.
stamina (n): strength of physical constitution;
power to endure disease, fatigue, privation, etc.
All children have varying degrees of stamina, and times of day that work best for them. I’ve said elsewhere on this site that Hayley’s energy when she was younger was all in the morning. As she became a teenager, however, it’s late at night.
As I’ve read about teenagers and stamina, I’ve learned that many are affected by a drop in energy levels and an increased need for sleep.
Home education allows us to work with these natural changes in our children’s beings, rather than constantly fighting them. In my view, it’s wise to work with the natural flow of our bodies, to teach our children to discern for themselves whether they actually feel sick, or whether the weariness is something to be yielded to so that refreshment can be enjoyed later.
Certainly when you’re an adult you do have to do a lot of things you don’t feel like doing – but raising workaholics who have no sensitivity to their own bodies or processes isn’t a good recipe for longevity or health and happiness.
Teaching our children to be able to read their own warning signs, and what practical steps to take in response, is equipping them with excellent skills for life.
Perhaps the greatest joy we have as home educators is the fact that we’re there for our children’s Moments. And I do mean Moments with a capital M, because it is precious indeed when we are present for all the milestones along the way in our child’s overall development.
It really is an extraordinary feeling when you’ve watched your child struggling with something, and suddenly the lights go on inside their head and they’ve got it! And their eyes light up, and they look up at you, and you’re right there in the moment, sharing their joy with them.
All these reasons, and so many more, are the real reasons you choose to home educate your child. It takes sacrifice and dedication, but the rewards cannot be quantified.
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable
one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.
Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
~ George Bernard Shaw