Home Education, a positive choice by Katherine Wilkinson, mum of twins
Katherine is a Mum of twin girls who are seven. She is also a chartered civil engineer and sustainability consultant who works one day a week in the construction industry. She lives with her family in Buckinghamshire
People usually stare at me after I tell them I home educate my children. Fortunately this is usually followed by questions which allow me to dispel some myths about home education (“HE”). The main questions people tend to ask are:
1. Why did you start home educating?
2. How do your children socialise?
3. Are you a teacher or trained to teach?
So as an introduction to HE please find my answers to these below.
Why did you start home educating?
i. Primarily I wanted the girls to learn because they loved to learn. I wanted them to be curious and to find learning interesting and fun. I believe that children do this naturally, you only have to leave them alone with some books, lego or bubble mix to see them explore and investigate. If you talk to them about interesting things like nature, cars, dinosaurs or history they will ask you question upon question. By the end of Year 1 at school I wondered if school might be taking the fun out of learning with the focus increasingly on writing and tests.
ii. I want them to have a growth mindset (as opposed to a fixed one)1. This has two key benefits. Firstly they know if they ‘can’t do something’ they just can’t do it YET. It doesn’t mean they can’t ever do it. Secondly, if they are good at something, e.g. labelled ‘bright’, they feel safe to try something more challenging without worrying about getting it wrong and losing the ‘bright’ status. I want them to know, in practice, that getting it wrong is a crucial part of learning. I salute the teachers that work hard at encouraging a growth mindset within schools , they must see how important it is when the system tests children at a very young age and either ‘passes’ or ‘fails’ them or puts them in a ‘top’ or ‘bottom’ set. In this environment children are often afraid to make mistakes and that can hinder their learning.
iii. I want them to be able to go at their own pace and really understand and master, what they are studying before moving on. There are such pressures on schools and teachers to get through a full curriculum and achieve certain test results that an average pace must be maintained to meet the criteria expected. Children are required to do things earlier and earlier. I guess some students keep up and others don’t. I wanted my children to have less pressure on speed and more attention on firm foundations. At home I can more easily identify strengths and weaknesses, so we can adjust our focus accordingly2.
How do your children socialise?
Home education is like a parallel universe to school. I was surprised to find a whole community of people home educating, with more people like me (i.e. quite mainstream) than I had expected.
In addition to our ‘after school’ Beavers, drama and ballet classes, we attend a HE group that meets weekly (conveniently a ten minute walk from my house). Here, eighteen families come together to sing, dance, eat and play. Activities are often brought for the children to do and this community is a springboard for people to organise other group activities, have play dates and spend time together. We have had a Christmas concert, an Easter egg hunt and a sports day to celebrate the end of each ‘term’.
My children also attend a home education Spanish group, nature group, book club, dance class, choir and a sports group. We have been on home education trips camping and to museums. We have participated in a theatre workshop and a Roman day, organised a junior discussion group, played tennis, been pond dipping and taken part in a parkour session, to mention just a few group activities. We see the same people regularly because people come to organised events and, as everyone wants their children to socialise, we all make an effort to meet up. Ironically our difficulty is not how to socialise more but how to socialise less with so much on offer. We could be out with a group every day if we wanted to, so much for ‘home’ education!
Are you a teacher or trained to teach?
I am not a trained teacher however I have been helping my children to learn since they were born. They talked, walked, climbed, ran, questioned, created and investigated all before they had a lesson. I didn’t teach them these things, they taught themselves. All I did was provide the environment for them to do so. Learning is innate in children. You just have to observe them for a while to see this. They are curious and interested. They pick things up, study them and experiment. They discover by fiddling with things from playdoh to the internet3.
So what do I need regarding my qualifications to teach these creative curious beings? Do I need to know everything about everything? I don’t think any trained teacher knows that. Do I need to support my children to live in and contribute to society? Yes. Do I need to encourage them to find their passions? Yes. Do I need to facilitate their learning so they can reach their potential? Yes. I think I need to do all that and for that I feel I am the most qualified person as no one knows my children better than I do and, I would suggest, no one is more interested in their education. This intimate knowledge of my children allows me to seek out learning opportunities that suit them, provide an environment where they learn best, focus on subjects that interest them and know their pace and stamina.
Before embarking on my HE journey I asked a lady, who home educated her four children up to GCSE level, what she had found to be most challenging about HE4. She said the hardest thing was constantly wondering if you are doing the right thing. By that she didn’t mean should they be at school or at home, she meant within HE, was she doing the right thing. This is because there are as many ways to home educate as there are people doing it. Children are different and constantly changing. What suits one child might not suit another and what suits one child now, might not suit them in a month. Whilst it can be frustrating not to have a handbook or set of rules on what to do or how to do it, it is also exciting and empowering to find what works best for one’s children. It has been eye opening for me to see that, even as twins, mine prefer to work in different ways, one more autonomously and one more collaboratively. I am therefore learning to observe, listen and adapt to keep up with them.
I have found many benefits of HE and whilst I am aware that HE is not perfect, I am confident it is the right choice for my children at the moment. Perhaps there is no perfect solution. There will be things children get from being in school that they won’t get by being educated at home and vice versa. What I am keen to stress here is that HE is legal5, viable and, in some cases, a preferable alternative to school. Our children are individuals who learn at different paces and who are interested in different things. If your child isn’t flourishing in school, or school doesn’t seem to be the right place for them, or you just want a different route, this is an alternative worth considering.
For further information about HE
References and footnotes
1. Carol Dweck – How to help every child fulfil their potential – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yl9TVbAal5s
2. Sal Khan – Lets teach for master not test scores https://www.ted.com/talks/sal_khan_let_s_teach_for_mastery_not_test_scores
3. Sugata Mitra – The child driven education https://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_the_child_driven_education
4. This lady’s children had gone onto further education, three had done degrees and all had jobs suited to their passion and skills.
5. According to the 1996 education act in England and Wales, it is parents (not the state) who are responsible for providing their children’s education ‘at school or otherwise’. Their education must be suitable for the age, ability and aptitude of each child.