So you want to home school your children!
Article by John Hodgson 10/06/2020
Homeschooling has become quite a popular method of educating children in the U.K. and other parts of the world. There are many reasons why parents consider this as an option, from educational achievement to just being able to spend more time as a family together. Nevertheless, no matter what the reasons are why you want to homeschool, the vital thing to remember is that you must make it enjoyable for your children. This means they will look back on their time of homeschooling with pleasure rather than resentment or bitterness.
What and How do I teach?
Once you have made the decision to home school, the next considerations are usually not only, What do I teach my children? But also, How do I teach my children? These are genuine and daunting questions for those new to homeschooling. They can even trouble the more experienced homeschooler at different periods of their children’s education. It must be noted at the outset that homeschooling cannot be compared to a classroom education in schools. Home education is an entirely different system and lifestyle. Therefore, if you come from a school or college background, you need to rewrite the manual because you have to start with a blank canvas!
As home educating parents, it is essential to realise that you do not have to be a qualified teacher. Do not panic and bemoan the fact that you do not know everything. Some of the most enjoyable and beneficial times you will have with your children are when you learn with them. Dr Ruth Beechick (2009) said, “You parents naturally know how to relate to each of your children and help them learn. Your biggest problem is that so many of you are afraid that teachers or society or somebody out there will frown on your way of teaching.”
Children are individuals
An important thing to consider when starting to home educate is that your children are individuals. Homeschooling your children is just an extension of family life. You can cater to each child’s individual needs and interests because nobody knows them better than you do. Nevertheless, before considering the ‘what to do list’ of home education, we need to tackle the ‘what not to do list’ first! Many home educators make the mistake of trying to be too rigid in their format and lesson structure.
Avoid the temptation to stereotype yourself as a teacher during the day and then become Mother of Father at night. Otherwise, you will be like a Jekyll and Hyde character: be yourself – your children like you better that way. Secondly, do not try to be a school; by this I mean: the development of lesson plans; schemes of work; student profiles; strict timetables and lessons starting at 9 and finishing at 3.30 come what may! Most people do not run their home like this, so don’t run your schooling this way either. By avoiding this rigidity at the beginning, you will help yourself avoid the mental, emotional or physical stress and burnout that can come from educational fatigue. This does not mean that you should not make timetables or plans as to how the days should be spent, as this is good practice, but that you should not become their servant.
You set the mood
Now let’s move onto how to home educate. Before I discuss the logistics of the educational process, let’s look at something more fundamental for a moment – you. As the teacher sets the mood for the classroom, as he or she is a facilitator, the same is true in home education. The students will generally move in the direction in which they are directed, this is especially true when the children are younger. It is crucial to fix your own frame of mind as to how you want your children’s learning to progress. This needs to come first before you consider what programmes they are going to study or for how long.
Fix it in your mind that learning is not all about study sat at a desk reading, writing and answering multi-choice questions out of the back of a book! Education is a life issue – even the greatest teacher is a learner. Generally, we learn best if we enjoy and have an interest in what we are learning. It is your responsibility to create a wholesome atmosphere in your house where your children can have a rounded educational experience. One that is studious, but also mixed up with other interests and fun times: Plato said, “The most effective kind of education is that a child should play amongst lovely things.”
So getting down to brass tacks – what programme should you use? There are many to choose from, and if you want the stability of a fixed curriculum, you need to shop around to see what you would be comfortable with. The fact is that not every curriculum suits every family. One of the best ways to find out what is useful for you is to consult other homeschooling families and discuss with them what they use. Think about the pros and cons of each curriculum and how they would affect your family and lifestyle. After gathering this information, you may feel more comfortable with a system for learning and so give it a try. If it doesn’t work for you, don’t be afraid to kick it into touch and try a new system. Eventually, you will settle into your own routine, and things will chug along smoothly. As for us, we developed our own system. When our children were younger, we used books which we bought new or sometimes acquired from a charity shop and majored in reading, writing and arithmetic.
Mix up your interests
We often mixed up mental study with other interests. We enjoyed walks in the countryside. Craft work took many forms, such as painting, moulding salt dough, and pyrography. We knew a friend who owned a farm, so sometimes we volunteered a helping hand. We arranged visits to interesting places, booked dancing classes and music lessons. My son sometimes recounts how he remembers a trip to the bus station when he was only seven or eight years old. I remember planning to take him to this because we always travelled in the car and I thought that the experience would be of interest to him. I explained to him how the bus station was the largest in Europe (at the time). We caught a bus to the train station, boarded a train for a short journey and then made the return trip via the bus station to home. Spending simple time like this with each child is extremely important and helps to develop the child’s character.
When the children grew older, we then studied towards criteria set by an examination board. We set our own pace as we worked through the learning outcomes as we progressed towards the standards required to pass the exams.
The important thing is that you should not be a slave to the curriculum: use it for your benefit: when it doesn’t suit you don’t use it. Obviously, you need to be disciplined and sensible, but you also need to be bendable and flexible. Only experience can teach you this, and the best way to learn is just to start.
The final thing to consider when starting to home school is that you may receive a visit from the authorities to check that you are actually educating your child at home. Then they may periodically visit you from time to time, usually once a year, to gauge how your child is progressing. Many parents can get quite stressed about these visits, but to be quite honest, there is no real reason to be so if home education is still legal in your country. Doing some simple things over the year will make this visit a lot quicker and more relaxed; so for instance: make sure you keep a record of your child’s work; keep a brief diary of the things you do daily, especially recording days out to events or socialisation with others; if you change your timetable, keep the old one as evidence of what you did in the past.
Remember, homeschooling is a way of life; as such, make it work for you rather than being a servant to any regime you may set up. Try and learn from other families and put into practice what works best for you, but most importantly, make homeschooling enjoyable and memorable for all the right reasons.