Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Our Kind of Home Education

When people find out we home educate it often sparks off a lot of questions about how we do it. Is it like school? Are you the 'maitresse'? (french for primary school teacher). Do you cover all the subjects? 

It's hard to answer all those questions at once and it also made me think about how diverse home education is and how little most people know about what our kind of home education looks like. So I decided I'm going to write more about it here. I'll be posting once a week about a different aspect of our homeschooling life and hope that will be the best way to inform others about what our kind of home education is really like.

The first thing to explain is our educational philosophy. We believe in internal motivation, in learning things because you are interested in them, because you want to or need to know more about them. That's in contrast to external motivation - things we learn because we have to or to please someone else be it parents or teachers. Let me try and explain that a bit more. 

In most schools we learn what we are told to when we are told to do it, we have no control over the curriculum. We learn these things as best we can whether they interest us or not, whether they are useful to us or not because we are told we must. A large part of our learning is therefore externally motivated by this necessity. 

In our home, our children learn about the things that interest them be that ponies, space stations, trains or chess. They persue these interests with our help as fully as they can as long as they want to and in so doing often they find they need to learn other things to go further in their understanding. Those things might be maths or physics, writing or reading - all the classic subjects. However, we rarely sit down and try to learn those subjects independently of our children's need unless of course they want to which is true in the case of maths which the older two both love and at the moment Latin which is something I wanted to learn and asked them if they'd like to do that together. 

Other terms for this kind of approach are child-centred learning or autonomous learning. And for us it does not mean we never use any formal learning materials or techniques. And it does not mean our children sit around all day watching television and eating sweets as this article from the Independent implies and many people might imagine. 

Here it looks a lot like doing a puzzle. The children move through different passions or interests and slowly put together a big puzzle of the understanding they need to make sense of the world. I like this description from Alan Thomas and Harriet Patterson's great book How Children Learn at Home, a detailed study of homeschooling:

"Its products are often intangible, its processes obscure, its progress piecemeal," they say. "There are false starts, unrelated bits and pieces picked up, interests followed and discarded, sometimes to be taken up again, sometimes not... Yet the chaotic nature of the informal curriculum does not appear to be a barrier to children organising it into a coherent body of knowledge."

You can read more about their study and families working like this here in this fairly balanced article from The Guardian. I love this quote from a homeschooling mum

"I provide materials, resources, help with research, discuss what they are reading and what I am reading, watch documentaries with them, have stimulating conversations, listen a lot and answer questions."

This fairly sums up how we do things. Lots of questions, spurts of interest in things, passions for some, time spent on learning what interests each child when it interests them. It's an approach that demands two important things from us. Firstly that we share our passion for learning with them and give them opportunities to encounter many different things in order that their own interests be awakened. Secondly, that we take on the role of an educational facilitator or companion, helping our children to find the knowledge they need and also, and in my opinion very importantly, helping them to learn how to find that information for themselves. (See my post about Why I love Libraries).

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