Maybe you had a rough time at school so feel anxious about whether your children would have the best learning experience in a school setting or at home. Maybe you are aware of how much your children have learnt from you so far, and you can’t imagine how a school teacher would achieve the same learning outcomes. Perhaps you are a passionate attachment parent and are aware that young children are not likely to be ready for school at such a young age. Whatever your consideration for whether to homeschool or not, this blog post has some points to consider.
What Aims Do You Have for your Child’s Education?
Considering aims for your child’s education will help you decide whether to homeschool or send your kids to public school. My goals for my children’s education come from my experiences in school, my husband’s experiences in school, and academic qualifications and achievements gained through school. I reflect on my main goals for my children in the short and longterm – see my blog post about gentle parenting goals. My main aim is for my children to grow up happy, which includes them feeling comfortable enough to be themselves, only remain in healthy relationships and bring happiness to their loved ones.
When I reflect back to my school days, I can split the memories between happy ones and sad ones. The best memories tended to be school trips, where you had some freedom to pursue an interest and usually involved being outdoors and exercising. The less fond memories were being bullied, having no friends at one stage in secondary school, feeling anxious about getting things wrong or not understanding and not wanting to answer questions for fear of being judged. Would the same happen to my children at school? Maybe, even if not to the extent that it happened to me because of the attachment I have with my children, which I did not have with my childhood family.
Academically I achieved good grades for all of my subjects, following on to A-levels where I also gained sufficient grades to get into the University of my choice. I did not achieve my potential though, always knowing deep down that the effort I was putting into the studies were not achieving the grades I was capable of. I lacked confidence and was incapable of understanding the subjects taught, instead spending excessive hours trying to desperately memorise everything the teachers taught me.
I finally started achieving my potential at University. I studied Geography which involved a lot of fieldwork. I thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of my degree, but especially the fieldwork. During the second year, a lecturer I had connected with on one field trip, spent one-on-one time with me explaining how first grade my ideas were but unfortunately the written side of it was lacking. He then offered me the advice I could have used 10 years earlier in how to present my ideas more effectively. My grades went from average to 1st class overnight. Every single subject studied from that interaction onwards was first class and I gained a University award for my consistently high performance. I found it a breeze compared to the strenuous efforts I was putting in at school. So much so I had plenty of time to throw myself into all aspects of University life – sports, music, socialising and volunteering.
What was the difference between these two learning environments? I have compared in the following table the two styles of learning and why the outcome of one was for me to achieve my potential and the other was more challenging with feeling like a failure.
|Achieving Potential||Not Achieving Potential|
|Me and my teacher could ‘be ourselves’.||Forced to be like everyone else.|
|Able to follow projects of interest.||Forced to follow a strict timetable. Some element of choice in broad subjects, but not individual choice within a subject area.|
|Outdoors based learning.||Indoors based learning.|
|Constructive feedback given e.g. ‘first class ideas but need help with the written side’.||Unconstructive exam and test gradings. Exams often sent off to an external body and no feedback given other than a grade.|
|Effort based gradings mainly in the form of coursework.||Memory based assessments mainly in the form of exams.|
|Classes were small and allowed one-to-one attention.||Classes large without much attention unless you were naughty or not achieving.|
|Guidance on experts who could help with specific matters e.g. I was referred to a writing team.||One teacher each year who was meant to be an expert in most subject areas.|
Will You Need to be Academic or Clever to Teach Your Children?
If you consider the above reasons that help someone achieve their potential, it makes sense to me that education in the home environment will be more successful. Having one teacher, a parent, consistently over the teaching years will help in knowing areas that the child is interested in or needs more support with. With less teaching expertise and more of a goal to guide their child towards experts or tools, rather than reeling out specific knowledge, will help the child be able to express their knowledge more easily.
There are not many studies focusing on homeschooled children and outcomes. Sandra Martin-Chang is one of the few academics who has focused on homeschooling. In 2018 she concluded that kindergarten and grade 1 reading ability in a child was linked with the parents’ reading abilities. However this does not consider how these children compare at an older age. I was a great reader at a young age, and both my parents were academics, so Martin-Chang’s theory does match up to my childhood gradings too. However, I do not enjoy reading to this day. I am aware of the benefits of reading, and the thrill from picking up a story and wondering where it may take you, however I simply do not choose to read now.
My 3 year old did not want to read books when a baby. I felt pressure from society that I should be reading to her regularly as that would help her learn to talk. Books would be grabbed off me, eaten, torn, thrown. It felt pointless. I stopped trying. Then one day, once she had been talking for a few months, she was begging me to read stories to her.
I am now unable to read to her as much as she would want me to, just because I have her brother and sister to care for too. She is obsessed with stories. This desire to hear stories came from her own internal wants and not from me forcing her to read. Perhaps that is a key difference between school educated children and home educated children. With home ed kids there is no pressure to achieve certain things at certain times, and instead allow the child to learn something when they are genuinely interested.
What Type of Homeschooling Options Do I Have?
There are three main types of homeschooling options: unschooling / unstructured, structured / following a syllabus, or a mix of both.
Unschooling your children involves no formal structure to the day or plans for their learning. You may follow your child’s interests to learn but not have a set plan for them to achieve certain outcomes at certain stages. Children in this type of homeschooling environment tend to perform least well academically when compared to children in public schools.
Children taught in a structured homeschooled environment perform the best standardised scores out of all children in public and home schools. Structured lesson plans include following the school curriculum and ensuring certain outcomes are achieved by certain ages. I have only skim read The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home book so far as it is 16 months until our eldest would be of the minimum school age. However it is written by teachers with homeschooling in mind. It covers all child ages from preschool through to College applications. The National Curriculum of children has been considered throughout the book to help as a starting point if you plan to use the structured approach to homeschooling.
It is, of course, possible to mix the types of homeschooling to achieve the best of both worlds. Assuming nothing changes our decision within the next year, we plan to start the morning with a structured lesson plan and in the afternoon allow a less structured approach. Children are driven by nature to learn, so even if you are not officially following a curriculum your children will find learning opportunities in every activity.
Will My Children Hold Each Other Back?
What you need to remember about life is that we are all able to learn things from anybody else in our environment. At the moment my eldest is learning how to be considerate, patient, caring and sharing towards two younger siblings. She may not be learning academic multiples and algorithms from them, but she is certainly learning brilliant life qualities. In 2017 Martin-Chang found that siblings do learn language and literacy from each other in the natural home environment.
How Will I Find the Time to Teach and Carry Out Other Duties?
If you grew up in the school system, you may be worried about how you are going to make enough time available to compare to a school day. Bear in mind that in school there is a class of 30 children to teach at once. Preparing 30 children to get ready for an activity alone will take significantly longer than it would take a parent to get their few children prepared. The Mum / Dad will also be with the child for a longer number of hours and days than a teacher at school is. Therefore any learning started one morning may overlap that evening or the next day more freely than a teacher would be able to in a classroom.
Benefits to Family of Homeschooling?
There appear to be a huge range of benefits for choosing to homeschool over public schooling.
- More options for outdoors activities which improve health outcomes and care for the environment.
- Improved connections with other family members as you are free to visit older relatives throughout the year.
- Less commuting which has positive effects on the environment.
- Option for working from home – see my blog post about working from home with young children.
- Children and parents are likely to feel less anxious about separation, bullying, poor quality of teaching, and many more aspects that schooled children and parents may face.
- Longer time to attach and connect with your children. Right now our children are 3 years and under but we absolutely adore our time together. Why would we want this to end quicker than it has to?
- You can continue to ensure that your children are responded to through your gentle parenting approach than whatever method their school teacher would use. Remember that teachers are also humans with their own childhood traumas to deal with. Whilst many are passionate and wonderful teachers, some may be triggered by your child but not respond as lovingly as you aim to. I remember cutting my leg in the first year in primary school and the teacher made me feel shame for even wasting her time asking for help. This would not be the response I would offer my own children had they hurt themselves and come to me for help.
- Gordon Neufeld, a psychologist whose works I highly recommend (including ‘Hold Onto Your Kids’), discusses in great depth the way a child’s brain develops. He advises that children are not ready to be separated from us at a young age, and that the recommended school age is too young. Our children need to be able to ‘hold onto us while apart’ to be ready to cope with the separation from us that school requires.
What About Socialising My Children Without School?
It is good to start trying to create homeschool connections already. The sooner you can familiarise yourself with others going through the same thing, the more you can build a support network to help you with any worries you may have. There are many local homeschool forums on Facebook for example, where you can have regular meet ups (when Coronavirus COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed anyway). This will help you have faith that your children will grow up with plenty of healthy socialisation.
The reason I mention gaining a homeschool support group already is because as soon as you announce your homeschooling plans, the majority of our society will state socialisation as a concern for your children. There is such a vast array of social networks you can gain for your children without school that you will soon be able to laugh off these uninformed worries. Homeschool meet ups, visiting family members, social lives with their Mum / Dad / siblings, general clubs and activities all offer enormous social benefits to home ed kids.
I’m Considering Homeschool, so What Next?
It is still worth going to view the primary school your preschooler would go to. If nothing else this will confirm for certain that your gut says you are doing the right thing. I have already read the prospectus for our local school and noticed that it is proud of its ‘Rewards and Punishments’ chart for ensuring all children behave appropriately. This is enough to make my gut already tell me that this is not the place for our gently raised children. Gentle parents do not use rewards and punishments to raise their children, instead relying on the expression of emotions and communication to help them learn. I do look forward to meeting the teachers though to see whether that is merely a written policy for the authorities or one which they do enforce.