Lesley Currie is mum to five-year-old Leon and two-year-old Liberty. Neither child has ever been to school and Lesley plans to keep it that way. In this guest blog, she tells Still You why home educating is the right choice for her family.
When Liberty was born Leon attended preschool five mornings a week. He was due to start school the following year but we were dissatisfied with the system. Schools are scored based on performance and teachers’ salaries are also performance related. Because of this the UK education system often treats children as statistics rather than individuals. Teachers are very restricted as to what they’re allowed to teach and this leaves little room for spontaneity. Also I feel that too much is expected of children in the early years. Finland is way ahead of UK in academic performance but children don’t start school there until they’re seven. In Finland there’s no Ofsted, no uniform, no league tables, and no homework until secondary school. Meanwhile British schools are places of conformity: if a child talks too much or can’t sit still they’re seen as disruptive. I just don’t trust our education system to provide the best opportunities for my children.
I first came across the term “home education” in a parenting book. I had no idea people educated their children at home and that it was a perfectly legal thing to do. I started research into home education. I read blogs and books and also joined a couple of online groups. At first, thinking that home educating families must be few and far between, I was concerned that my kids wouldn’t get enough social opportunities, but after attending a few groups I realised how many people are doing it. We soon decided that this was the path for us.
I began researching different methods of home schooling, from ‘autonomous’ – which is allowing children to take full charge of their own education: learning what they’re interested in, when they’re ready, at whatever pace they wish – to ‘structured’ home education, often following the national curriculum and creating a ‘school at home’ environment. We’ve decided to settle in between for now.
I feel much more comfortable having a plan and writing things down (admittedly, I’m a bit of a sucker for a highlighter pen and a colour coded chart) but I also feel it’s important for our children to have freedom of choice. So I do the planning, but Leon chooses his own topics – such as Dinosaurs, Space, The Body or Flags. Then I find activities, opportunities and experiences to enable him to learn about what he’s interested in. Home educated children become very good at independent study. I see my role as a resource rather than a teacher. I get a lot of ideas from Pinterest, YouTube, books and parenting magazines. We learn in so many different ways, from Sudoku to rock climbing, by visiting museums and galleries, and playing board games and with Lego.
We love the freedom of going where we like and choosing what we want to learn. Children blossom when they are given choices; and when they experience the world in a fresh, natural and open way, without the pressure of homework, early mornings and SATs. We can go on holiday whenever we like without permission or fines. If the children are struggling with any work they always have one-to-one support.
It is a myth that home educated kids aren’t well socialised. The opposite is true: we can’t fit in all the social opportunities open to us. Leon always finds kids to play with in parks and he has a wide social circle. He knows home-schooled children ranging from babies to teenagers and they all play together regardless of age. Leon interacts with other children every day.
Home education allows you to really focus on your children’s passions. Not everybody can know everything about the world, so we enjoy picking and choosing the best bits. Everything else just follows, like reading, writing and maths. But Leon develops these skills through everyday life situations like buying things on the market with his own money or reading menus in a café.
What about exams? Home educated children often opt to do iGCSE courses, which do not require attending a classroom-based course. These are available online with tutor support and usually cost around £200-300 per subject. I look forward to learning alongside my children in their preferred subjects if qualifications are the route they choose. Universities are known to accept home educated children without qualifications because of their mature attitude to learning.
No minimum level of education is required of parents who want to home educate their children: a passion for learning is far more important. I left school with just two GCSEs (though I later did a diploma in Childcare and Education and went on to become a preschool manager). As an adult I recognise that I’m not particularly academic, although I’ve always been creative. But at school I was led to believe I wasn’t clever. I now see that I just wasn’t taught in a way I understood. I feel I was let down by the school system.
Home education itself doesn’t have to be costly: we get workbooks from bargain bookstores and often make games and activities from things we’ve collected outdoors. But the lack of a second income can be a challenge.
Home education is all consuming. It’s like a full time job. You have to make sure you’re providing enough opportunities for socialisation and education. It helps to be creative and be able to think on your feet but it can be hard at times. You spend all your time with your children and you don’t really get a break. My husband works full time so the majority of the home educating lands on me.
There are a lot of myths surrounding home education and a lot of people will express uninformed opinions about your choices. You get some criticism and rudeness, but you have to learn to brush it off and have confidence in your choices. The majority of responses are positive and genuinely interested.
Tips I would give to people thinking about home education would be to get out there and meet people. Our local home educating network has over 100 families. Facebook and Yahoo are great for networking with other home educating families. Just search for local groups and you’ll be surprised what’s out there. Home educating families are very welcoming and, in my experience, always willing to answer questions. If you need to de-register your child who is already in school the process is simple: just write a letter to the head asking for your child’s name to be removed from the register. You don’t need to give notice. It will take time for you and your child to adjust to the new lifestyle. Take it easy and don’t go out rushing to buy workbooks and resources. You may not choose that direction and it’s best not to waste your money unless you know it’s what you want. If, like mine, your child has never been to school there is nothing you need to do. You don’t need to inform anyone of your choice, you just carry on as you are.
I really do believe home education is suitable for everyone who wants it. Children thrive on learning. If the environment is stimulating and resourceful, I believe any child can excel.
Lesley documents her home educating life here.
Do you home educate your child? Would you consider it? Or do you put your trust in the professionals?