The Physical Structure of Home Ed
The question of structure in Home Education is as wide and varied as the families who do it. Some people try to categorise into Structured, Semi Structured and Unstructured but that can often end up making people feel they have to try ‘fit into’ one of those groups. The reality is that, when Home Educating, each family can determine, either by thought and discussion, or often just trial and error, what works best for them.
Some people take a fully structured approach, with timetables, textbooks and even lunchbreaks and playtime … much as you would find in a formal school setting. However, although this may look very like ‘school’ there will probably be some key differences.
Teaching children in a one-to-one (or maybe one –to –two or three) is very different to teaching 25 or 30 children. For this reason subjects can be often be covered in less time or in more depth than in a traditional classroom setting.
With this in mind it is hardly surprising then that whilst many families start their Home Ed journey by trying to re-create the classroom in their dining room, lots of those then go on to develop a more individual, ‘suited to them’ approach.
Some families retain ‘formal’ lessons for some subjects, some choosing to do this for the ‘core’ subjects of English, Maths and sometimes Science, others retaining formal ‘lessons’ for subjects where outside tutors are used …music for example. Again the type and range of styles employing this approach is wide and varied. Some families chose to do ‘lessons’ in the morning and leave the afternoons free, some turn the day upside down and take advantage of going out and about in the daytime, saving their ‘lessons’ for the evenings. Another option is to set the children ‘work’ that needs to be completed by a set date but leave them to determine when they will ‘fit it in’.
This spirit of leaving the children to determine when they do their work themselves however is perhaps the first step on the road to being ‘unstructured’. This is where the children are not exactly ‘in charge’ of their own learning but are certainly the directors of it.
Again there are varying degrees of unstructured, some families have vague ‘monthly plans’ of what they want to cover, others have no plans at all, choosing to go where their interests take them. This can at first seem very scary to people new to the ideas of Home Education. They think of children on holiday from school who spend their days watching endless TV or playing computer games, but the reality is that a whole life devoted to unstructured learning is very different to a few weeks ‘respite’ from school.
A good example of unstructured learning is learning to talk. No one sits down and makes lesson plans, goals and tests for teaching their child to speak, it just happens naturally. You teach a few words, your child engages, and before you know it they are chattering away to you, perhaps making you wish you hadn’t taught them the word ‘why?’. Those same children will, if given the chance, keep asking ‘Why?’ endlessly, all you have to do is answer them, or as their questions get more complex, help them find the answers. This can be as enjoyable experience for the parents as the children. I certainly have done things in the past seven years I never imagined I would, from spending a week living like Jane Austen to building a tennis ball cannon (the things you can do with a Pringles tube or two!!)
So, whilst most families identify themselves as one of the three main groups …Structured, Semi Structured or Unstructured the reality is that they are all spread out at varying points along a line. There are no ‘rules’ about what you have to ‘do’ to be Structured or Unstructured, and whilst it may be true that different levels of ‘Structuredness’ fit more naturally with some of the philosophies/method explained below, it is ultimately up to each family to decide which works best for them, or even for each child individually. Ultimately the only real way to know what will work from you and your children is to choose a starting point and see how it goes. Very few families hit on the perfect style in the first week, so the key is not to be afraid to try things and then decide they aren’t really for you and then ‘move along the line’ in whatever direction you feel is best (either towards more structure or away from it). A good time to be thinking about styles, and eventually trying things out, is during the deschooling period.