Our developing philosophy has, over the course
of our home education journey (13 years so far),
led us from obvious structure and confirm-able
learning, on through the unknown to a place of
apparent chaos which has an inherent structure
and purpose not always discernible to the
critical eye. Despite appearances, this
wayward venture has released learning beyond
measure, and joy beyond understanding.
Our Philosophy Development
Below, I share some aspects of our family’s philosophy of home education. This is to give you an idea of the evolution of it, and expose some of the factors that have influence our decisions. Our overall philosophy of home education developed over a period of time. Although the contributing factors existed, we may not have been able to articulate them with any clarity as we began the journey.
With hindsight, when we started, I think we were just looking for someone to tell us what to do. These days, I consider it far more empowering to tell others that it’s okay to figure it out in a way that supports your own family’s unique personalities and circumstances, and that you should expect support from other home educators as you journey with them.
Behind Our Philosophy
This is a brief outline of our views in terms of the influencing factors mentioned on this section’s parent-page. We’ve done this just so you can see how such factors may influence your philosophy, without necessarily being a whole focus all on their own.
- Politics: We’re not particularly savvy in this regard, but we do want to impart a respect for and appreciation of democracy and the system of government we live under.
- Legacy: Our child is for this era, we have learned, but we still endeavour to impart the pioneering spirit of her known forebears, and encourage in her a desire to live a life worth living
- Organisation: Our over-riding view here is one of integrity, respect for others, regard for times (appointments) and an appreciation of structure as an aid to freedom
- World: Ours is a christian world-view, which we endeavour to live, while teaching facts and providing a thinking environment
- Education: Early on, the one thing we knew about education was that it was to be purposeful. This has been tried and tested in many contexts, and it is a belief which has not weakened at all, despite the changing contexts of the years. This is the only influence which is articulated specifically in our philosophy.
- Religion: We have mostly eschewed resources with an overtly christian bias. The reason for this is that we prefer to work with the facts and provide our own context. It’s almost impossible to find curriculum that accurately reflects the whole of what we believe.
… We are not of the opinion that we must indoctrinate our child – we must train and raise her, but she will learn far more by seeing how we live our lives than by all the indoctrination under the sun. Our approach with this has been to ‘take her with us through our lives’. She sees when we fail or succeed, how we cope with criticism, attack, flattery, genuine praise etc. In many ways, this has been a harder route because personally, we have to deal with our own issues without burdening our child, while still being open hearted and honest with her, and this only gets trickier the older they get.
… Allowing this view to impact our home education is also pretty scary. We taught creationism, but we also taught evolution and asked the question, ‘What do you think?’ Warning: encouraging free will in developing humans can lead to immoderate outbursts in inappropriate social situations. Our goal, however, is that our daughter believes what she believes for herself, not just because we, or someone else, or some textbook said it.
- Self: We want our daughter to have confidence in her own abilities, to know how to lead a balanced life, to appreciate both industry and rest, and to know constructively what to do with boredom.
I must also point out that some of these things are harder to remain consistent with than others. We certainly haven’t attained perfection in any of the areas we’ve been working on, even over a lo-o-ong period of time. We do regularly remind ourselves, however, that “It takes a long time to become a person” (Candice Bergen), and that we too are far from perfect. Still. 😛
Generally speaking, the following characteristics provide the framework for our home education experience. We’ve always endeavoured to keep our base philosophies as simple as possible in our own minds, as (particularly) I have a tendency to over-think things.
With all that I’ve read over the years, from my early reading of Ivan Illich and John Holt, to more recent reading of more writers than I can possible mention, and through all my numerous studies on the subject of education, there is one belief that remains constant: Education is purposeful.
Many writers on the subject of home education protest that to children, learning is so natural that it’s really incidental. I beg to differ. Education is purposeful, whether the purpose originates with the parent or the child.
When teaching diction to a toddler, we get them to watch our mouths while we say the soft ‘th-th-th’ sound to help them say ‘nothing’ rather than ’nuffing’.
A child may naturally pick up a crayon and delight in the effect over walls and furniture, but a parent usually feels the need to educate them in the proper places for the execution of such delightful artwork.
Some children pick up books and read very naturally, almost innately – while for others, delaying reading instruction until the child is ready is a far wiser, purposeful decision on behalf of the parent.
Teenagers who want to learn to drive could just take the car keys and go teach themselves. For those of us who live in suburbia, however, such an action has numerous problems, including insurance issues. Patient, purposeful, legal instruction is the option which most parents seem to deem preferable, for the safety of their own child as well as the general well-being of the population at large.
However that purpose manifests, we understand that it is right for us to deliberately instruct our child in the things which will aid her life, and to encourage her to purposefully seek input for herself, beyond what we can provide.
Our daughter was only little when a friend arrived unexpectedly, just as I finished washing our kitchen floor. In her excitement, Hayley kept running onto the floor, which meant that I had to re-mop where she’d been to preserve the shine (it was a particularly awful floor). I picker her up, looked her in the eyes and said, “I know you’re excited to see Debbie, but I’ve told you not to run over the floor while it’s wet. It’s slippery and you could get hurt, so I’m telling you, ‘Don’t do it again.’ If you do, I will smack you.” (Yes, I do believe in wisely using smacks to reinforce obedience in small children.)
My friend astonished me by saying, “I’ve never seen a parent show respect for their child in that way before! You were respectful of her will, even though you instructing her in a different way!” I’d never seen it like that before.
My propensity to see an argument from both sides, especially with my daughter, is sometimes a downfall. It is indicative of our parenting style though, in that we believe respect is a two-way street.
Positional and Personal Respect
Sometimes (especially legally) we are required to respect someone simply because of the position they hold. If that person is to also earn genuine personal respect, as well as positional respect, they must conduct themselves with integrity and fair judgement.
When our children are small, it is that positional respect that we largely rely on. However if we do not also build personal respect into our developing relationship with them, by the time our children are teens, that positional authority will be despised.
In our home education environment, we show our daughter respect by taking into consideration her preferences to our approach, curriculum choices and progress. We talk through what’s working and what isn’t, and make adjustments as necessary. Ours isn’t an ‘it’s my way or the highway, kid!’ kind of approach. We do insist on certain things, especially if it’s to do with honouring a commitment or seeing something through, but even in that, we always endeavour to consider her input.
As far as possible, we try to deal with issues that may arise privately, so that our daughter is free to express herself completely and in a safe environment. While this is more noticeably pertinent to us in this phase of our home education experience, one friend always removed even her toddlers from public view before dealing with an issue, and it was a remarkably effective tool.
Reciprocally, our daughter shows respect for us in her co-operation with directions we choose, the tones of voice she addresses us with, her readiness to apologise when things don’t go so well, in her requests for our input, and her desire to discuss her own processes with us.
In my view, as our children age, reciprocal personal respect should take more and more precedence, even though as their parents, that positional respect will remain in place until our dying day.
We do hit tough times as a family, and in our home education – of course we do! We endeavour to cultivate an open, honest, safe and mutually respectful environment, regardless of circumstances, however, and consider our long-term, healthy inter-relationships as paramount in every context.
This is my very favourite aspect of home education, and this part of our philosophy might seem obvious within the home education context, given how I harp on about it on this website. I’ve talked with enough parents, however, to know that not all parenting styles, let alone home education styles, share this view. Home education is as much (if more more) about relationship as it is about practical skills or academia, and it really must be about what’s best for the child.
There are parents (not necessarily in the local home education community) who home educate because they have nothing better to do with their time, or because they would be nothing apart from the role of parent-educator, or because they as parents would suffer separation anxiety if they were parted from their children.
I don’t mean to sound disparaging here – I’m talking about our own philosophy, after all. There is a big difference between keeping your children at home because you enjoy them, and keeping them with you because you’d fall apart without them. We see that as the parents, we are the adults in the relationship. As such, we are the ones who are required to be mature and work through our own issues, not use our child to hide behind.
Having tackled our own motivations for home educating, we genuinely believe that having home as the ‘base station’ for our daughter’s education is what will best equip her for life as it unfolds, from every angle. Her mind is challenged, her character is shaped, her emotions are fortified, her will is respected, and her spirit is nurtured. Real life still happens – this isn’t an isolated environment – but by dealing with things as they happen, she is best equipped to take the next steps on her forward trajectory through life.
Does that take sacrifice? You betcha! Is it worth it? Oh yeah. (For a little more input on this aspect, you might like to read: What Teachers Wish They Could Give.)
The Natural Learning approach to home education is sometimes referred to as Child-Led or Child-Directed Learning. For us, I think our style is better considered “Child-Led and Parent-Directed”. In some ways, this may well be a better description of how Natural Learning works for many families.
We most certainly observe Hayley’s interests and do our best to cater to her preferences in our home education, but we don’t expect her to be the adult. We are the ones with the maturity, life experience, (hopefully) wisdom, the financial resources, and the responsibility to help and guide her choices. As she matures, the gains greater freedoms and responsibilities, and we endeavour to learn how to support without interfering.
At the beginning of 2010, Hayley was keen to commence a Certificate IV in her chosen field of study (music) through a TAFE level institution. She was quite gung-ho in wanting to take on a full course load. As her parents, Brad and I were not only concerned with what our family budget would allow. Our primary consideration was whether a full course load would actually be the best thing for her. We had two hesitations: one was whether she would have the stamina for a full course load; the other was whether a full course load would aid her love of music or whether the strictures would quench her passion. The outcome was that she took two subjects only, completing them in the semester, and passing both with satisfaction. Doing it this way allowed Hayley to maintain her interest in various other things, and provided her with a foundation for her next emerging steps. She is grateful not to have been burdened with a full course load, as she can now see that it would have burned her out, physically and emotionally. As her parents, still with the responsibility for her education, it was our job to ensure that what she undertook would best facilitate her chosen direction, and we did, in fact, have more insight than she did in the beginning.
Our education continues.
“The child must know that he is a miracle, that since the beginning
of the world there hasn’t been, and until the end of the world
there will not be, another child like him.”
~ Pablo Casals