Of course you know that your child
is awesomely and wonderfully unique.
Sometimes that might translate as
awfully and woefully individual,
but other times it will be completely
amazingly and wondrously incomparable.
The individuality of our children, of course, has many components. This page contains some general thoughts that are good to pay attention to, and not let ourselves fall into bad habits about. Other articles in this section look at some aspects of individuality – there are a great many others of course, but you should have some fun and begin to learn about your child and yourself with these, to get you started. Research, for yourself, to your heart’s content! 🙂
Articles in this section:
Please use these links, or the tabs along the top of the page
and the drop-down menus to navigate your way around.
Watching our children can be endlessly fascinating, in any phase of their development. We see snippets of ourselves developing in our children’s mannerisms, we spy glimpses of our partner, we even see more alarming echoes of Grandad or Great Auntie Florence. What we must resist is pigeonholing our children based on those fleeting, or not so fleeting, observations.
It can also be tempting to respond to our child, based on the behaviours of their older siblings, or even someone else’s child. Certainly, little Jimmy might be every bit as adventurous as Johnny was at the same age. He might have Jenny’s exceptional patience and a sense of humour like Uncle Jacob, or even Grandma Joan’s inexplicable flashes of temper. But mostly, little Jimmy will be completely unlike anyone else at all.
Our darling daughter, who gets oh so weary of people exclaiming, “Oh, aren’t you just like your mother!” gets very frustrated with the assumption that she is a clone of me. In fact, she is very like her father, too – but mostly, and very deeply, she is completely herself.
What has Uniqueness got to do with home education? In this form of education more than any other, I think it is essential for us to acknowledge and have regard for our children’s individuality – their uniqueness. Everything is usually conducted at very close quarters in home education, and our attention to that detail of Uniqueness greases a lot of very practical wheels.
How often have you heard a parent say, “Why can’t you just sit still, Billy? Look how well behaved Bobby is!” or “You got an D in that project, Suzie? Sally always got A’s in everything she did!”
Of course what the parent means is, “Here is an example it would be good for you to follow,” but I’ve read many articles in magazines and newspapers over the years which indicate that children invariably hear “You’re not good enough,” or “You’ve disappointed me, and I can’t love you as much now,” or similar negative words. Of course that’s not what we meant at all!
We cringe when we hear such words spoken by someone else, but how readily they fly into our own mouths when we’re faced with a result or a behaviour that we didn’t expect, or don’t want to have to deal with.
Perhaps the most helpful thing I ever heard in this regard (and I wish now that I knew who to credit it to) was, “Love limits itself.” We know it’s true – we readily limit our own prowess as we encourage our children with artwork or games, and we can learn how to do the same thing by not allowing critical words to escape our mouths. Not every word that is thought is worthy of being spoken.
According to the Book
Another influence that can detrimentally affect what we expect from our children comes from books. Most of us, especially at the outset of a journey, whether that’s parenthood or home education, like to read and learn about the road ahead. That’s a good thing. The downside is that it can cause us to develop expectations of our children that are not real.
I’ve known some parents who have sprouted a particular ‘method’ of child raising or home education, and they are smugly satisfied with the results of their efforts in practicing these methods. Some self-satisfied mothers will even say, “Well, I’ve practiced this with all my children, and it’s worked with all of them.” The inference is that she’s ‘got it right’ and if somebody else’s child isn’t responding in the same way as her angels, then that other mother, either by implication or actual statement, must be ‘doing it wrong’. If you have fewer or younger children than that smug mum, then the further inference is that you have too little experience to be worthy of influencing her view.
When you’re not feeling confident in what you’re doing, it’s very easy to hear those negative messages from anyone who sounds confident, whether they themselves feel smug or not. I didn’t even begin feeling confident, consistently, in our home education journey until we’d been at it for almost seven years! That’s why I want to encourage you. You have the freedom to find your own way.
If your child behaves ‘according to the book’, God bless you! I’m genuinely pleased for you, because that will make your job so much easier. For many of us though, our darlings haven’t read the book, and wouldn’t conform with it anyway, even if they had! It can be horribly demoralising when Child A simply refuses to leap co-operatively through Hoop B. But in reality, why should they? Who is Hoop B important to, anyway? Probably not Child A.
My mother, who was mother of five very individual offspring, used to chuckle when I’d share my woes about smug mothers with her. “Ah, my darling,” she’d say. “That smug mother just needs to have another child or two. They’ll eventually end up with at least one who breaks the mould.” I suspect that I was that mould-breaking child for my genteel mother. I was her last – a change-of-life package – and I know I was quite unlike all my siblings. Still am.
As we’ve travelled along in our family life and in home education, we’ve tended to take a step, pause, learn, then take another step. It’s been faltering and often hesitant, but our steps have been solid. We tend to pause a lot, breathe a lot, and hopefully learn enough to keep enjoying each other as we take the next step.
No Two Exactly Alike
Home educating one child can often be incredibly intense, and home educating a dozen can, believe it or not, sometimes be a doddle – it all depends on the family dynamic, the individuals involved, and how things are done. Many families with multiple children home educate, and they do effectively meet the unique needs of all their children.
The very first home education seminar I ever went to was run by a Terry Harding of what is now Australian Christian Home Schooling. He spoke about the importance of meeting the individual needs of each child, and cited an example of a family of his acquaintance with four boys. (That conference was in 1997, so this is my recollection of the gist of the story, not a word for word account.) One was easily distracted and was fully home educated; the second was completely gregarious and robust in his character, and thrived in the local public school; the third was gifted musically but quite sensitive, and divided his time between a small independent school and home education; the fourth was completely academic in his focus and was blooming at a private school.
This example has always stuck in my mind, of parents who assessed their children’s needs individually and worked with each child to find an educational solution that was personally appropriate for that child.
Hayley was thankfully still quite young when I had my eyes opened about her uniqueness, and how that influenced our home education.
I happened to be discussing my difficulties in finding the right learning strategies for her with an older, wiser mother. At the time, I was struggling to find the right approach to teaching her to read – she just wasn’t interested! (These days, I’d heed the advice of Delayed Academics and leave her alone, but back then I didn’t have the confidence.) I had personally been an early reader, and Brad, although able, didn’t really enjoy reading until after we were married. This wise lady listened to my woes and nodded sagely as I waffled on. “You’ve got to remember,” she said after a while, “that Hayley isn’t either you or Brad, she’s her.”
Now that might sound like a totally obvious statement, but it was one of those defining moments that hit me straight between the eyes. Hayley is her. She’s herself. A unique mixy-blob of genetics, environment, experiences and self.
If I meet someone for the first time, I try not to make assumptions about them, their beliefs or their behaviours. If I find them likeable, I endeavour to learn about them as the person they are, asking their opinions and giving respect to their processes.
After my friend’s insightful comment, I realised that I wasn’t actually doing that with Hayley. Instead, I was looking for patterns of behaviour, or boxes to put her in, so that I had some concept of how to behave and respond myself. I had, in my efforts to understand how to educate her, stopped respecting her individuality and begun trying to box her for the convenience of my own understanding. Not good. Not good at all.
Unbox That Child
I have a suspicion that this habit of wanting to put things into boxes for the convenience of understanding is rather more wide-spread than just little old me. I even suspect that it is a trait of humanity as a whole. If we can categorise or simplify a person, circumstance or concept, we feel personally less challenged and thus more in charge of the situation (or person). We are more able to march our preconceived ideas out and deal with that issue on auto-pilot. It’s less taxing.
On a more insidious level, I see that tendency to box things pervading the entire education system in ever increasing dimensions. It is, in my humble opinion, one of the system’s greatest downfalls and one of the biggest reasons to home educate our children. Within the system, it is increasingly accepted that unless any given topic is taught according to the criteria out of the associated box, then it is impossible for the topic to have been adequately learned by the student. An administrator needs boxes to tick, so within the system, everything must be made into box-shapes and box-sizes so they can be easily ticked. To quote an old family friend, Wally, “it’s time to kick the ar** out of the box!”
It’s wonderful to have tools at our disposal that show us patterns to behaviour and learning. Hence, this website has information about learning styles, pre-defined approaches, philosophies, etc. Such insights can help us to make sense of what can seem cumbersome, unwieldy, and even overwhelming. These tools are not intended to be used to shape iron-clad immovable boxes, however. Rather, they are intended to equip you, as the parent, with knowledge that might open doors of understanding and extend boundaries of reason into fresh fields and wider places for you and your child.
What we must guard against, at all costs, is that our increased understanding does not create for us a box that we feel compelled to shove our child into. Understanding is supposed to lead to freedom. If it doesn’t … remember Fagin, from the musical Oliver? “I think I’d better think it out again.”
No matter how much I learn about people in general, or my child in particular, there is one understanding I can never escape. Humans are all unique beings who always retain the potential for surprise. We all deserve to be discovered on our own terms, free of boxes.
- Expect to need to educate, and regularly re-educate yourself – you simply won’t know it all, either instinctively or from other training you’ve had (in education or any other field)
- Children don’t know that they’re supposed to behave according to any book or theory, and they need the freedom to discover themselves
- Expect your child to learn the way they learn – not how their older sibling learned, how you learned, how you were taught children should learn, or how some home education magazine says they would learn
- Just because your child doesn’t understand something you’ve taught doesn’t mean they’ve failed, or that they’re backward in some way – they just haven’t understood, and they may well understand beautifully if the concept is expressed in a different way, or the timing is delayed for a while
- Allow your child to surprise you
- And, just for the fun of it, allow yourself to be surprised by you, too – you are a unique and wonderful human being too, so who knows what you’ll come up with?
As you’re learning, about home education, about yourself, about your child, you’re looking for those moments where the light goes on, the fragrance of the atmosphere becomes sweet, and your heart lifts. If what you’re learning or teaching feels oppressive, don’t go that way. There will be a different way to discover, that brings joy to the learning experience for both of you. Sometimes those different ways take some sniffing out, but they are there to be found, and they are well worth the find. 🙂
“As we grow as unique persons, we learn
to respect the uniqueness of others.”
~ Robert Schuller