Some new home educating friends of ours who use much more 'schooly' methods of educating were recently asking what we actually did
in our home education. I don't think they meant the question as a criticism - I think they were genuinely curious to find out how it happens when you don't impose a learning regime or stick rigidly to prescribed curricula in sets of workbooks.
Sensing that a wiffly: "Oh, I just follow their interests.." wasn't going to suffice for a reply on this occasion, I tried to answer in a way that would make sense to someone for whom academic learning (the three Rs) was the most important sort.
Here's roughly what I said: "Someone gave her an old Letterland
machine and some books last year and she loved them. She learned the alphabet that way, by bringing me the book to read to her hundreds of times, and playing with the machine almost non-stop for weeks.
"Then she dropped Letterland, but remembered the letter sounds. Now she wants to 'learn to read' when I'm reading to myself - newspapers, books, anything. She comes and asks to practice trying to read it and we choose a headline, a chapter title or something else that stands out from the rest of the text and she reads it. Every time she asks, she needs less input from me, depending on the complexity of the word."
[I never expected her to learn to read like that. All the other autonomously educated children we know learned to read almost by osmosis as older children and I thought Lyddie would be the same. But she's a child who likes order and structure, and she wanted to learn phonetically, so I couldn't exactly have stopped her, even though it seems preposterous to many unschoolers.]
"She writes a lot. She can write her own name, and the names of everyone who lives here. She will have a go at writing lots of other words and if they sound like they are spelled, she gets them right, otherwise she spells them as they sound, so I can read what she's writing. She'll write whole sentences sometimes, in notes to people for example. She just forgets to put spaces between the words sometimes.
"In number work, she goes in phases. Three months ago, she was crazy for 'adds', and now it's 'takeaways'. She wants to do them on the blackboard, on whiteboards, on paper and in books. And she plays with the abacus too, making number patterns."
It's not like she just plays on her computer all the time, though when she does she's reading the screen, typing and working out money too. It's enough, isn't it? She really does seem to be learning all the time, as the saying goes.
The older end of our home ed is less easy to quantify, these days. Everyone invariably wants to know about qualifications. Everyone except the young people in question, that is, who aren't remotely interested in taking any exams. And I will not, after years of facilitating their interests, suddenly start laying the law down about GCSEs, A levels or degree courses. Apart from the fact that it's obviously their decision, not mine, I wouldn't want to channel them into the kinds of careers that might result from those qualifications, in case it wasn't right for them.
They knew when they were children what they wanted to do, and they know now they're young adults and nearly-adults.
Of course they're still learning. It never stops, does it? Tom's teaching himself how to wire circuit boards and he and I are trying to work out why the earth's gravity varies
, depending on where you happen to be on it, amongst a lot of other things. I know less about what the other two are learning, but I know from what they say in conversation that they are doing.
There's a thing, in the teenage years, about being intrinsically ok
, that's very important. Far more important than schoolwork, exams and qualifications. When I was a teenager I didn't fit that category of being intrinsically ok
and nor did most of my peers. We were lost souls - drifting, harrassed, hounded through our days by 'must do this's and 'got to do that's. The pressure was immense, and none of the adults seemed to be interested in us as people.
But one or two of my acquaintances stood out from the crowd as being ok. Mentally healthy. Happy in their skin. I made it my business, planning my future family as I was even then, to find out why. What was different about them? So I got myself invited to their houses for tea and was amazed at what I witnessed. Their parents liked them!
And trusted them! They seemed pleased to see them when they walked in the door and didn't ignore them, or sneer or snarl or present them with a list of jobs to do or pressures to pile on. This was most unusual - I'd been to everyone's houses for tea and most did not get a happy parental greeting like this.
The 'ok' people in our crowd were popular, didn't get addicted to things and didn't need to do anything extreme - or anything at all - to get noticed. They didn't even have to cultivate a certain image: they were just themselves. I quickly worked out that this was what I wanted for my children more than anything else and have worked towards it since the day they were born. It means accepting them for who they are, being happy with their decisions and trusting them to make good ones, or at least to learn from their own mistakes.
As a plan, it seems to have worked and I'm pretty sure my teenaged children are all 'ok' people. One of them went to look at university
and decided against it in the end. He says he doesn't want the debt and he certainly doesn't want to spend four years with staff and students as unenthusiastic as the ones he met there. Another went to look at college
, which experience put him off institutionalised learning even if his early years at school hadn't already.
So no, they're not working towards exams at the moment. And no, I'm not worried about that. They'll do whatever they need to do, whenever they need to do it.