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Five things I’ve learned since starting to Home Educate.

By Kathryn Smutek 

I’ve been home educating since October 2011. I have 4 children, two of compulsory school age (CSA) , one who would be going to Reception but wouldn’t be CSA for another year and a toddler. My life is pretty hectic and people often question why I do what I do. For the first year, I’m not sure I answered this query very well. I would say things like, “I get cheaper holidays” and “my son was really unhappy at school”. Both good reasons, but not really why I chose to home educate or why I continue to do so. I think I’m conscious of the fact that not everyone wants to know the REAL reason that I home educate, but I’m going to put it out there anyway.

I home educate because I feel it’s the best thing for my children and our family right now.

There, I said it. I just FEEL that it’s what’s best for us and we love it. We love the freedom it brings. We love the variety of opportunities, we love being together (most of the time!)

However, along the way I’ve learned some really important things and I wanted to share those here:

Education doesn’t have to happen in a classroom

Education takes place in the most unlikely of places. One morning before breakfast, we watched a documentary on YouTube about the gold rush. It happened because the older children play Minecraft and wanted to know about mining. We have learned most of the times tables in the car. The children have learned to read by reading Harry Potter and Beast Quest. Don’t get me wrong, Biff and Chip has its place but not for long I have found. We’ve learned about tides through sitting on the beach and watching it come in and out. We’ve learned about time through studying the works of Brunel. I can’t even cover a tenth of what we’ve learned and yet virtually none of it has taken place whilst sitting around a table.

Wobbles can be great

I’m going to go out on a limb now and guarantee that 99% of home educating parents have at some point woken up in a cold sweat screaming “WHAT AM I DOING??” It’s ok though. I do it less frequently than I did at the start, but I still wobble. What those wobbles often lead to, is the production of some workbook or another that I have bought along the way. I insist that my children sit down and complete page 4 & 5 of said workbook. I then realise that even though it is ‘age appropriate’ and we have never actually sat down at a table to learn about the thing on pages 4 & 5, that somehow, my children have learned it anyway through living life. And there it is, wobble over, I’m in fact doing a great job and we can all get back to peaceful living. It happens often enough that the children just humour me for a day or two, but not often enough that we have ever got past page 10 in any workbook!

I amaze myself at what I Know – and what I don’t

I am remembering all sorts of things that I learned when I was younger. I’m also remembering many more things that I have learned since being an adult. I’m also realising how much I don’t know, but how none of that really matters too much. We learn together so often. I have also been taught plenty by my children who seem so often to know more than me!

So, how do I get around the problem of being asked something that I don’t know? Well, with two other adults in the house there’s a high chance that someone else might know. There’s Google, YouTube, Wiki, Facebook, a bookshelf full of books. The other day my 9 year olds asks, “Why did we end up fighting during WW1?” I’ve always known that a prince was shot and then we were at war with Germany but I don’t believe I’d ever fully understood why. So, out came a history book and the RISK! board and we managed to recreate the series of events that let to the wold being at war. It was fascinating and so much more exciting than I remember it being in school.

I’m always happy to use others to help teach my children too. Museums, home ed groups, old men at the beach. I’m pretty happy for almost anyone to teach my children when it’s appropriate to do so. Somehow, we muddle through and occasionally we have to admit defeat and accept that we just to know the answer – for now.

Standardised testing is not a marker of how much someone knows

Standardised testing is one of my pet peeves. It shows nothing of any importance, particularly when carried out on 5/6/7 year olds. It is not an indication of how much a child knows, or even how good a teacher is. It’s a way of showing parents that their children are progressing and that school is an expensive but cost effective use of public money. One of the problems I had with school, was that like a lot of parents, I would eagerly anticipate parent’s evening. I wanted to be shown work they had done, be told that they were doing what was ‘expected’. I’ve learned since home educating, that I simply don’t have a need for anyone else to judge my child and tell me how they’re doing.  I now have the enormous privilege of witnessing first hand all those little eureka moments. Of being there to capture the random questions and run with them. Of being with a child while they learn to read. It is the most beautiful part of home educating and is pretty much my sole reason for continuing.

Freedom is the key

Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of movement, freedom from persecution and freedom of education are all privileges that we take for granted yet seldom really think about too deeply. Within the freedom of education also comes some additional freedoms not afforded to those who attend state schools. Freedom to travel at a reduced cost, freedom to have a huge variety of learning experiences, freedom to learn moral values that are right for us, freedom to interact with anyone we choose, freedom to lie in, or get up early, freedom to learn what is interesting right then and there freedom to read books that are considered too old or too young, freedom to focus on nothing and everything.

Freedom is the key that unlocks the door to home education and all its privileges. It’s the key that enables us to take back the responsibility that we are given the moment our babies draw their first breaths. It’s the key to a whole new exciting world of discovery and adventure!

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