Home education is by no means a new or strange concept. The institution of school, however, as a means for educating the majority, is more recent, with mass compulsory schooling only becoming popular in the last 150-200 years.
Prior to mass schooling, the vast majority of children were raised and trained by their parents, and equipped with the knowledge and skills needed for the life they would lead. Historically, formal education tended to be available mainly to those who could afford it, although there are a few instances of countries/states that educated poorer children as well.
Unfortunately, to cope with educating many children all at once, the education system has had to adapt its methodology and practice. In addition, in many countries, the education system is manipulated to fulfil political and social agendas, the best interests and needs of children secondary to the box-ticking of inspections and testing.
In the UK, children are required to start school at a very young age, despite research and evidence that this is of no long-term benefit to children, and places unnatural stress and constraints on them.
The curriculum is designed to teach only what is deemed necessary by the so-called “experts” – the aims of the system being to encourage unquestioning conformity, through the squashing of individuality and independent thought, preparing children for a life of tedious ritual and repetition. The natural love of learning is gradually lost as learning itself becomes associated with the tedium and scheduling of a one-size-fits-all approach.
Educating in larger numbers also means that schools can’t afford to teach subjects that would appeal to only a small number of students, so claims of offering a broad education are not really borne out in practice.
Most people, when you talk to them, agree that it’s important to learn life skills, and that many of us have learnt more since leaving school than we did AT school. We learn best through our own natural curiosity and pursuit of our interests, and when we are able to apply our learning as it happens. Yet, bizarrely, a misconception still exists that learning can only occur in a room with desks and a blackboard, while someone lectures a group of children all the same age! It is true that for some children this system works quite well, because it just happens to suit their temperament and learning style. But, for many, the experience of education in a formal institution is far from pleasant. Special educational needs, personality clashes with teachers, bullying (by students or staff), uninteresting learning material, are just a few reasons that children fall through the cracks. Active children are expected to sit still and listen, which goes contrary to everything they’re designed for; the tactile learner is expected to show evidence of learning through writing; children who, though the same chronological age, are not at the same level of emotional maturity, yet are expected to process information in the same way; children have to cover subject material that may be of no interest to them whatsoever, while being denied the opportunity to develop their real passions, simply to satisfy the arbitrary requirements of a curriculum written by a small group of people who decide what’s “in” and what’s “out”.
Teachers are under pressure to get children through tests, and inspections don’t always take the “big picture” into account. The grading system is not a true reflection of the natural gifting and abilities of a child- all it shows is how well content has been memorised, most of which is generally forgotten straight after the test. Children learn at different rates, so, in the classroom, some will be bored while others can’t keep up – teachers cannot cater effectively for the needs of individuals (they are just human after all!), yet are expected to.
While some people leave the education system feeling confident and successful, there are a large number who come away feeling like failures, believing themselves to be “not very smart” or “clever”, simply because they were unsuccessful in navigating a system in which they never stood a chance.
It’s also interesting to consider that, although the school takes responsibility for the education of the child, they relinquish all responsibility once the child has been through the system. If the child is ill-equipped for employment, and doesn’t have the necessary tools to become a contributing member of society, it is still the parents who will be left trying to pick up the pieces. There can be no real investment in the life of a child that you teach for a year, and then promote on, regardless of whether the child got 50% or 100%. A child may have only vaguely grasped certain concepts, and have insufficient foundations on which to build further learning, yet he/she is moved up to the next year/grade/level. Thus it is possible that children may leave school with huge deficiencies in their learning.
Where home educated children might also have deficiencies, the parent would be motivated to ensure that their child gets the opportunity, again and again, if needed, to gain mastery over subject matter. A parent is far more likely to be aware of where the child needs help, and is able to work with the child to find solutions. Unlike the education system, the parent is invested in seeing their child succeed and become a well-adjusted, contributing member of society.
It’s likely that parents who have chosen to home educate have encountered some of the issues already mentioned, although there may be other factors involved as well. As a parent, it is tough to watch your child, once bright, inquisitive, confident and thriving, become weighed down by the pressures of the system, unhappy, and disinterested in learning. As they take their first tentative foray into the exciting world of home education, the home educating family soon becomes aware of the wealth of opportunities and options that are now available to them, along with a flexible and liberating lifestyle
Advantages of Home Educating:
- Learning can occur naturally, and be directed by the child’s interests and passions. This means that there is a much greater chance of knowledge being retained, and full mastery of material being achieved.
- Children learn to work and think independently. They have an opportunity to develop their own unique style, and avoid “clonish” conformity.
- Parents can observe how their children learn, and facilitate their learning accordingly. The ability to learn comes to us all as naturally as breathing, and home educating allows the child to continue learning as readily as they did in infancy.
- Parents can expose their child to a much wider range of learning material than a school can, and can tailor learning experiences to the child’s interests and desires.
- The child can pursue learning in specialised, powerful and interesting subjects that are not offered in schools. The child can also learn at their own rate, which can be accelerated if the child engages whole-heartedly with subject matter.
- Life skills can be taught as a natural progression from learning to walk, talk, dress etc., as part of the everyday routine of home life. Useful skills for managing life and home are not regarded as “adult” skills, or something to be taught as a subject in a classroom, but are simply just things you need to learn to do to function well, and are part of training as you grow up.
- Instead of focusing on filling the child’s head with content, the child learns how to learn, and how to make use of resources to find the answers to his/her questions. Learning can keep pace with technological developments and other tools, as parents can adapt with the times more readily than an institution.
- Because learning is allowed to happen more naturally, it is not limited to specific times or physical environments. Questions at breakfast can lead to watching informative Youtube videos, locating places on a globe, and pulling books off the bookshelves to satisfy the desire for knowledge. The learning continues as you travel in your car, and conversations can be ongoing. In school, the child may go from one teacher to another, and there is no link between the subject matter because they are regarded as being separate subjects. The home educating parent, who is part of the child’s learning journey, is able to help their child make connections, to understand how different information relates and ties in. There are also no interruptions in learning from one year to the next, as natural learning is not confined to the academic calendar!
- The home educated child is never “behind” in class! In fact, one might say they are the top student in their year! Meaningless testing becomes a thing of the past, and the child is not being “taught to the test”, but is learning just for the love and enjoyment of it. Some parents feel a little lost without a test to tell them how their child is doing, but there are other, gentler, ways of determining whether your child is performing roughly at the right level for their age or not. It’s also really important to realise that there is more to education than academics. Academics can be picked up if needed, when the time is right, but good character is harder to achieve, and, I would argue, far more important.
- The child educated at home does not have to adapt their learning style to that of their teacher and classmates. Some might see this as a negative thing, but for many children, the classroom environment sets them up for failure.
- Children have far more time for free play. Free play is something that children in school get very little of. Playtimes are limited to specific time slots, and are sometimes orchestrated by adults. There is a lot of research showing the importance of free play for developing independence, creativity, negotiating skills, interpersonal skills, as well as having fun. Children also often just need time alone, just to be, and to think – in the noisy classroom environment this is unlikely to happen. The key here is that the play is uninterrupted and unscheduled. Organised sports and activities are not free play, although they do have their place.
- Home educating provides the opportunity for a lot of conversation around politics, world events, and different worldviews. Children are inclined to be more aware of current events, as parents engage them in discussion – simply because they have the time to.
- Home educated children are able to interact socially with those older and younger than themselves, as they have more exposure to different age groups than children in age-segregated classes.
- Home educating families get to enjoy lots of family time together. Home educated children are able to have better relationships with their siblings because they are not separated during the day. They are able to help with care of younger children, which teaches them patience and kindness.
- Home educating families can travel flexibly as they are not limited by the academic calendar. Travel is regarded as part of the child’s educational upbringing! This flexibility also allows for educational, recreational, and social outings on any given day in term-time when there are less crowds.
- Children who can learn freely, are able to develop creativity, imagination, independence, and innovation, which are qualities that are found in entrepreneurs and leaders. Children learn problem-solving and self-reliance through their hands-on learning experiences.
- The home educated child can take control of their learning, and can dictate the pace at which they learn. This, in turn, can open up opportunities for them to advance beyond their peers if they wish. They have a lot of time in which to develop and hone skills, while their school-going friends are time-restricted.
- Children educated at home are generally happier than children in school. They have less anxiety and fear, and can engage freely and willingly in a life of learning.
- Time can be used more efficiently by home educators. Schools typically lose a lot of time through the logistics of crowd control, and utilise just a fraction of the day on actual learning time. When the child learns at home, they can get through more content, more efficiently.
- The family schedule is more flexible when you don’t need to do school runs, bake cupcakes, and return forms and payments. The family gets to dictate which activities they participate in, what time they get up in the morning, what time they eat lunch, etc.
- Children are spared the negative aspects of peer pressure, and can choose who they interact with and when. The anxiety that a bullied child would experience in the schoolyard, feeling helpless and alone, are not issues for a child who has been empowered under the watchful eye of a parent. Home educated parents are more aware of the child’s interactions, and can intervene if needed, while coaching and equipping the child to handle situations themselves.
If you were to ask home educating families about the advantages, no doubt this list would be even longer. Home Education, essentially, is about parents assuming full responsibility for how their children are raised and educated, and partnering with their children to help them on a path of life-long learning. The decision to home educate is merely the start of an amazing journey for the entire family, opening up unique potential and possibilities, and celebrating the wonderful ability we are all born with – LEARNING!