In which I offer a little peek into what kind of homeschoolers we are. Although that’s slightly misleading, as we don’t really think of ourselves as homeschoolers at all. Firstly, we live in the UK and here we tend to talk about home education and not homeschooling. And secondly, what we do on a daily basis looks a lot different to school and doesn’t just happen at home.
But it’s a question we’ve been asked, more than once over the last 9 years.
And so, the answer…
The kind kind I hope 🙂
But along with that, my quick response goes a bit like this … we’re pretty relaxed, dauntlessly enthusiastic and irrepressibly eclectic – we can’t resist us some shiny new ideas round here.
We all love a good project, enjoy playing lots of games and get through truckloads of books. But mostly we’re just living our life.
I know, for some of you that’s not enough, is it? You want to get specific and detailed. What home education philosophy and methods do we love and how do we define ourselves?
First up, let me say, I’ve got some reservations about declaring us one thing or another. Labels can be super useful, no doubt about that. They make life a whole lot easier when identifying different birds and flowers. But when it comes to describing people and their lives, it’s tricky to know if we’re on the same page about what we really mean. Clear and fixed definitions help, but who wants life to be fixed? We want to keep growing, evolving and adapting. Keep learning more about ourselves, each other and the joy of learning.
So setting aside any one home ed philosophy or method for now, we will get to that shortly 🙂 Here’s a little taster of what we believe, how we try to organise our lives and the principles that guide us. The lowdown on what kind of homeschoolers we are, here we go…
We believe that learning happens all the time
From the day we’re born, and maybe even a bit before. Learning happens. An inevitable consequence of life. As natural as breathing, we don’t go a day without it. And so we see no distinction in our lives between learning and living. No home ed terms, no breaks, no holidays. Life and learning flowing all the time.
We see our children as whole and capable people from birth. We’re not preparing them for life, they’re living it right now. And we respect that each of them has their own personal learning journey, unique, special and individual, just like them.
Learning happens within. We all respond to the events of our lives in our own ways. We’ve all got our own lens through which we see the world, some days brighter and shinier than others 🙂 And we all make sense of our experiences in different ways, depending on many factors – not just our mood, but our past experiences, our points of interest and so on. What we learn now, others may learn later or never at all. And there are some things we hope that none of us ever have to learn (how it feels to be mauled by a lion perhaps, I’m sure we can all give that one a miss).
Our relationships come first
We value our relationships with our children. A lot. They are our first priority. And if we’re unsure how to respond, what course of action to take or whether something’s a good idea, we wonder – is this likely to strengthen or damage our relationship? And that helps guide us, affecting our interactions, our decision-making and our problem-solving. Our relationships are way more important than any subject, skill or societal expectation.
We want our children to know that they can trust us and that we trust them. We value and respect them as capable, complex, and human. Of course, they’ll face challenges, make mistakes and mess up, just like us 🙂 But we believe in them and in ourselves, to do the best we can with where we are and what we have.
Meeting our children’s needs is central to our role as loving and responsible parents. And we want to respond to those needs in the best way we can, with an open mind, aware they can change in an instant or stick around forever. That we don’t always know best, but that we’re willing to keep trying, keep listening and keep meeting our children wherever they need us to.
We’re in this together.
We know that as parents, we have power and responsibilities that our children don’t. And that we get many choices about how we use these. Choices that will impact the future lives of our children and if we’re lucky, our grandchildren too, in ways we’ll never know. The model we provide matters. We don’t want to abuse our power or neglect our responsibilities.
We’re also acutely aware of our children’s rights. Yep, as those capable, complex and human people right from birth. Sure, their capabilities as babies may be limited, but they expand pretty darn rapidly 🙂 And that’s no excuse or defence for treating them badly. Recognising that they have such limited avenues for protest makes us all the more determined to respect their rights.
We see our role much more about facilitating learning, than directing it. Harnessing the benefits of our own experience and knowledge to work in partnership with our children. Supporting them to negotiate life, not to control, to manipulate or restrict them.
But ultimately it is their journey.
We don’t believe in forcing our children to do anything. But we also don’t abandon them to their own devices, leaving them alone to do whatever the hell they like. Although we are all for following the joy 🙂 While you won’t find anyone made to sit at a desk and practice their penmanship (though we do have some lovely shared table time). Neither will you find me lazing around eating grapes and watching daytime tv while they run around naked scoffing ice cream – well, okay my six-year-old might be, but only occasionally 🙂
Just like in any supportive and respectful relationship, if we’ve had a stroke of genius, seen something we just know they’ll love, or we really want to share our ideas, that’s what we do. With our partners, our best friends and so with our children. And the same goes for them. We don’t always agree. And we won’t always take each other’s perspective on board the instant it’s raised. But we’re willing to bet that the effort and attention we’ve given our relationships, and the trust and respect we’ve nurtured between us, gives us a much better chance of being heard than if we’re locked in a power struggle.
We want our children to know they always have a choice, and they can always say no. As parents, we’ve got both a responsibility and a wonderful privilege of introducing them to all sorts of exciting possibilities. Freedom to choose is all very well but it’s got to be helpful to have at least some idea of the options available 🙂 But whatever our suggestions, our children have the right to accept or decline. Not only because of that capable, complex and human-ness*, but also because it’s eminently sensible to give our children choices sooner rather than later. That is, if we want them to be experienced, confident, and considered decision makers as adults?
*Yep I’ve said it again, children are capable, complex and human people, whole people. And I’ll keep on saying it while there’s any danger that some people might not have got the memo 🙂
And that journey may take many twists and turns.
Each of our learning journeys will go on and on. Not in a straight line or curve, but in a far more unpredictable and jumbled fashion. As Joyce Fetteroll puts it, rather like doing a billion piece jigsaw. Some of us start with the edges, or the corners, or that cute bunny we can’t resist. Filling in different sections as they catch our eye or seem useful or relevant. We’re never going to get it all done and none of us will tackle it in quite the same way.
Gaps in our knowledge are inevitable, none of us can learn everything. We don’t accept the idea of ‘behind’ in learning. And neither do we believe in magical moments, that once past, forever doom us to miss out on certain skills and knowledge. Our experience shows us that the best time to learn anything is when we’re interested and it matters to us.
The world is changing rapidly and we can’t know what skills and knowledge our children will need in the future. But we can nurture their love and passion for learning so that when a need arises, they’ll be ready and up to filling it. Allowing them the chance to learn unhindered and unharmed by external expectations and pressure (as much as we can) means they get to experience the thrill, the wonder and the satisfaction of learning for themselves, confident in their potential to learn whatever they need.
Unschooling and natural learning
So, is there a home ed philosophy that most matches our approach? Well, some of you might already be thinking this looks a lot like unschooling, or natural learning. And yes, if I had to choose, that’s got to be the closest fit – just the kind of home ed life we want for our children. In fact hearing about unschooling was the first real introduction we had to the idea of home ed at all (in the form of the Humans Being podcast by Sarah Parent, sadly long disappeared now).
Unschooling blogs and community groups are where I’m most likely to turn for reassurance, inspiration and the most insightful responses to questions I’m pondering. They’ll be the ones to rock me out of a home ed or parenting wobble and send me on my way, usually with that bit more confidence, clarity and conviction than before.
But unschooling is described as many things by many people. Some of it nothing like our lives at all, and some of it not very nice. So if you’d like to learn more about the kind of homeschoolers, home edders, or unschoolers we are, then check out these links, all of them pretty spot on in summing up our philosophy to life and learning.
- From Pam Sorooshian – Unschooling is not ‘Child-Led Learning’.
- From Joyce Fetteroll – What is the role of the unschooling parent?
- From Sue Elvis and Pam Laricchia – an interview on Pam’s podcast ‘Exploring Unschooling’
- From Jennifer McGrail – a post about unschooling and her FAQ page is great too.
- From Sandra Dodd – grab some daily inspiration or take a meander round her wonderful website, you can’t go far wrong there 🙂
And if you’d like to know more about supporting your children with natural learning, check out my post here.
Now it’s your turn. What kind of homeschoolers or aspiring homeschoolers are you?