It is often said that there are as many methods of home educating as there are home educators. The methodologies utilised in home education are notably varied. While these methodologies can be grouped together into categories, these categorisations are general at best. They vary from a highly structured, formal, parent driven process to highly independent, informal, apparently unstructured, child-led process. The various approaches all seem to work. Possibly this is because they have in common individual attention by the parent.
Structured would include a simulation of school within the home complete with desks, school text books, class times, curriculum and even bells! This type of formalised teaching method appears to be relatively rare within home education. There are a variety of reasons for this, primarily that parents/home educators do not need to deal with the problems associated with mass-schooling and can consequently bypass much of the structure found in schools to address these problems. However, parents often take comfort from these structures so they can be retained for lengthy periods.
Many families start off with a little structure and curriculum, for example reading, writing and maths for an hour or two in the mornings. Sometimes this continues into teen years and sometimes it does not.
Some families are at the other end of the formality spectrum, where education is fully child-centred and apparently completely unstructured, with little or no teaching or class structure, no curriculum or text books etc.
Most home education is characterised by an element of informality both in organisation and methodology. Key elements of home education are individual attention and conversational learning. Another point is flexibility. Different structures can be tried out and adjusted, or indeed replaced. Structures can change over time with children’s ages and interests. The key point is that no structure needs to be rigidly adhered to if it is obvious that it isn’t working well. Structures that are centred around a child’s interests tend to work the best.
Some people can be uncomfortable with the idea that children do not need to be formally taught to achieve learning. In contrast some home educators would say that their child is learning all the time whilst they are awake. Every experience is a learning experience, time doesn’t need to be split up between ‘learning’ and ‘not learning’. A small example might be an entertainment video. Such videos show a wide range of human behaviour that can be rich ground for discussions of ethics and morality. Others might kick off discussions concerning the various branches of science. If parents and children look at all their activities as an opportunity for learning, ‘education’ becomes a very wide ranging affair.
The concept of failure need not exist. If, for example, a child drops something and it breaks, this doesn’t need to be cause for annoyance. Both parent and child could look at why the item was dropped (too heavy, ineffective hold, etc.) with a view to improving the chances of not being dropped next time. This is also a chance to explore gravity and the properties of materials. Items made of other materials could be experimented with to see what happens when they are dropped (such as plastic and wood). The parent can create a ‘safe place’ where the child feels comfortable experimenting.
Not all children learn in the same way and an approach that might suit one child, may not suit another, even within the same family. Some children do not like to be formally taught but prefer to find things out for themselves and ask for help or information, when they want it. Their path through learning may zig zag all over the place as they come across matters that interest them. They may study one thing for an extended period or several things all at once. Other children may feel more comfortable with a more obvious structure. Some children are less independent than others and would prefer the parent to structure their day.
As children grow and develop they may begin to want to change their learning structure. Sometimes as children move into the teenage years they may want more obvious structure. Some informally educated children may impose a more formal structure on their learning.
The important thing to remember is that any structure needs to primarily suit the child but also the parent. If one party is very unhappy then the learning process can run into difficulties. Sometimes this just needs a period of exploration, trying out various methods, not feeling that any one method needs to be adopted. Different approaches can be used for different activities. Parents should be aware that they may need to compromise on any approach, if it is obviously not working well.
It has to be said that children learn most effectively when they are interested. Lack of interest leads to boredom and resistance, with an ‘in one ear and out the other’ feeling. If your child is obviously uninterested in an activity, there is little point in pursuing it. Children are naturally interested in all sorts of things, they don’t need to be forced to learn. Even in a formal structure, activities can centre around the child’s interests.
Adults tend to see learning as coming in neat packages with a beginning and an end. In fact the learning process can look much more messy with children picking up bits of information about their world in lots of different ways. It pays to remember that they way we (the parents) learnt things in school (as the vast majority of current home educating parents went to school) will not necessarily be right for our children.
Depending on the parent’s own philosophy, the child will be given a greater or lesser choice in what they do. Probably the best indicator of whether the whole process is working well, is the happiness of the child. Happy children are creative, interested and learn effectively.
Many thanks to Nick Gudge for sharing his own writings.