The Physical Structure of Home Ed
The question of structure in Home Education is as wide and varied as the families who do it. There are three styles that are often referred to – Structured, Semi-Structured, and Unstructured – but there are also different ways of doing things within each of those styles, and different levels of each. The reality is that, when Home Educating, each family can determine what works best for them, either by thought and discussion, or often just trial and error.
Some people take a fully structured approach, with timetables, textbooks and even lunch breaks 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 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 them then go on to develop a more individual 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 (for example music). 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 work on it.
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 being unstructured. Some families have an outline or monthly plans of what they want to cover, while 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’ break 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, and 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. Ultimately the only real way to know what will work for 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, if you decide they aren’t really for you to move 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.