What do you expect of home education?

Broadly, your answer will be facilitated by
your philosophy and your approach.

What do you expect of your children in the home education environment? Taking a closer look, we often find smaller expectations within ourselves that, unless we are aware of them, can erode the joy of home education entirely.

  • Do you expect your child to give you their absolute, undivided attention at all times?
  • Do you expect clear focus for lesson times and then have complete flexibility for the rest of the day?
  • Do you expect a certain amount of measurable work to be completed in a day?
  • Do you expect your child to be fully dressed, breakfasted and with teeth and face cleaned by a certain time, ready to start lessons?

Any and all of those expectations might be entirely valid in the context of your family life.

  • Does your child know what is required of them?
  • Are they old enough to understand?
  • Do they have the capabilities to comply?

The reason I ask is that I’ve fallen into those traps myself.

Your Own Expectations

It is important that you recognise and understand your own expectations.

  • Discuss them with yourself.
    Are they realistic?
    Are they helpful?
  • Then discuss them with your child.
    Does the child see the importance of the expectation?
    Is the child able to work with the expectation, physically, emotionally, mentally, etc.

It’s important to work with who your child actually is, as well as their capabilities.

When we began home educating, Hayley was only 4yo. She was hungry to learn, but as time went on, I expected her to be able to do some tasks unaided. When we encountered a problem with that, I quickly saw that the difficulty didn’t like with the expectation, but in Hayley’s understanding of it. She was more than capable of carrying out a task without my direct supervision, but it was in complete contradiction to her character to want to do it alone. She wanted to work with me. Even as a toddler, she would bring her toys right into the centre of the walkway between our kitchen and dining area, because there she was safe but still right in the thick of what was happening in the house. So, I restructured my own workload so that I could just be with her while she did what she was doing – it was more companionable, and she didn’t feel deserted. As time went by, her willingness for me to leave her working unattended increased, very naturally.

Your Partner’s Expectations

This is actually quite a tricky area, and one that I know can be very difficult to work through.

We have of situations where the mother and children were quite happy in the home education experience, and registration was being granted without difficulty, but the dad of the family continued to fret because there was no schoolish testing going on.

We have also known of situations where the dad of the family has agreed to home education, but only if a very schoolish model was being followed.

I will just say that it can be very difficult for fathers (in particular), out in the workplace, having colleagues constantly questioning them in schoolish terms. The answers just don’t come packaged anything like school. The only real answer I can suggest is that the two of you, as the adults in the family, continue to talk about things, so that both of you understand the real answers and can become comfortable responding to people in terms they may not be familiar with.

  • Seek unity between the two of you, for the sake of your own relationship, and the emotional security of your children.
  • Remember that the priority is what is going to release your child into loving learning for themselves.
  • Any approach has to be practical for the primary home educator – what’s the point of following rigid guidelines if they cause anyone to have a nervous breakdown?
  • It may be encouraging to note that worldwide, even mainstream educators are acknowledging the failure of ‘the system’ (including standardised testing) to prepare students for real adult life. Home education does work.
  • Read books like Real Life Homeschooling, Real Lives, or Home Educated and Now Adults , and look at websites such as NHERI (National Home Education Research Institute – a US based group focused research associated with home education. There is currently no Australian equivalent.)
  • Do your best to help your partner be equipped to answer those who still think ‘inside the box’.

Your Child’s Expectations

It is important to recognise and understand your child’s expectations.

Your child won’t have your adult ability to articulate their expectations, so for the most part you will need to observe and discern those for yourself before you can address them with your child.

  • Ask questions to explore what you’ve observed: “When we do this, do you feel like that? How could we make that work better for both of us?” Of course discussion will play a greater role the older your children are. With younger children it might better to work with gentler guiding or trial and error.
  • Talk with the child, at their level, with lots of eye contact, while you’re having such discussions. If they’re an affectionate child, cuddle while you talk, otherwise playing a game together can provide a good environment for discussion.

The priority is to work through these expectations, however reasonable or otherwise they seem to be. You and your child are in this together, and being on the same page as much as possible will help both of you.

Other People’s Expectations

Some people will impose expectations on your home education and you won’t care a scrap. So what if the woman at the take-away shop thinks you should be doing more history, right? Sometimes, mostly on days when you’re feeling a bit fragile yourself, even throwaway comments from the least relevant of commentators can undermine your confidence.

Other people, family members and friends, may have expectations that you consider more valid, however. Those are the external expectations that are harder to deal with, regardless of how you’re personally feeling at the moment.

There really aren’t any pat answers for dealing with other people’s expectations. These are some ideas, but as always, you’ll need to test their relevance to your own home education circumstances.

  • If it’s not their business, don’t let it be.
  • If they’re genuinely expressing love and concern, attempt to answer them respectfully.
  • While you’re sorting things out for yourself, try to protect your processes from too much antagonistic scrutiny.
  • Sometimes you just have to thank people for their concern, but point out that you’re the parent and you’ll figure it out, thank you very much.
  • Care less. Someone gave me that advice some years ago, and it sounded laughably over-simplistic. Wildly effective, however. 🙂

Some years ago, after Brad’s mum came to stay with us for a holiday, she got it into her head that I was ‘too sick’ to home educate Hayley, and that if Hayley went to school, I wouldn’t be under ‘so much pressure’. Brad and I didn’t consider that her view had any basis in reality at all, but we did appreciate that she was expressing her love for us in her concern. For several months, we took turns at fielding her comments, which ranged from polite suggestions to outraged insistences. It got to the point where the only real stress I felt was talking to her on the phone! Finally, Brad explained to her that the topic was now closed, that it had never been open from our perspective anyway, and her insistence was detrimentally affecting our relationship with her. Even though he was kind and respectful in what he said, it still needed to be said, for all our sakes. Brad was respectful, Nana was apologetic, and we all got on with relating more normally again.

Of course, along with every other home educator on the planet, I could regale you with countless stories of people who have been forceful in expressing their expectations of our home education process. Sometimes I’ve felt mindlessly undermined and affronted, sometimes I’ve simply avoided the conversation to the best of my ability, and very occasionally I’ve even felt like I’ve answered well and in a way that satisfied the antagonist.

Adjusting Expectations

You will gain confidence in handing all sorts of expectations as you go along – whether they originate in yourself, your child, or other people. In time, you’ll develop a sense of whether an expressed expectation is even worth your time and energy.

Some expectations you’ll dispense with readily:

  • It’s not worth having an hour long row to get an extra maths problem done.
  • Your child is able to read a page of a book while you change the baby’s nappy.
  • “Well, we’re happy with what we’re doing, thank you Nosy Check-out Lady.”

Some expectations you’ll address directly:

  • “Yes, we will clean up the paints from the table before we start baking cookies.”
  • “No, you can’t pull apart our new vacuum cleaner. You’ll have to make do with the old one.”
  • Your friend’s horror that your child hasn’t ‘done school today’ is answered easily with, “Oh well, research shows that …”

Some expectations will simply take time, effort and considerable consideration to work through. They may take adjustment in your own thinking, reformation in your child, or finding a workable truce with extended family or friends.

Be flexible, open-hearted and willing to learn for yourself – you will figure out whether to dispense with, work with or stand against the expectations you encounter along the road of your own home education journey.

Part of the issue of achievement is to be able to set realistic goals,
but that’s one of the hardest things to do because you don’t
always know exactly where you’re going, and you shouldn’t.

~ George Lucas