Chai Chat!............with theimaginarymenagerie
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*When and why did you decide to Home Educate?*
Our reasons were varied. I’d always wanted to home educate but was repeatedly told it wasn’t a serious option. We’re both extremely hands on parents who enjoy spending time with our children and we were resigned to school, rather than looking forward to it, and in retrospect he wasn’t ready either. I also think there are a great deal of issues within the school system that need addressing- the model of school itself is inherently flawed and is based on an outdated concept, the undue pressure of SAT’s which are of no benefit to the child, the curriculum itself, the entirely unnecessary introduction of homework at primary level without letting parents know that it’s not actually compulsory, and the one-size fits all approach to education which doesn’t seem to allow for questioning, creativity, individual needs or learning styles, to name just a few. I found myself increasingly questioning why I would turn my child over to a system I didn’t believe worked.
At a personal level, it felt a little odd to me that as soon as a child reaches the age of 4 in this country it’s considered normal to send them away for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, into the care of complete strangers, when no parent would dream of doing that in any other situation. I agreed to give school a chance despite my reservations, but it turned out to be a miserable experience and I wish I’d followed my instincts. It saddened us to watch him slowly disappear, some of the conversations we had with him were heartbreaking and it was inconceivable that we could continue putting him through it in the hopes he’d eventually just get used to it.
It was actually his dad who told me one night that he’d been doing some research, and he felt that if I was willing to do it (being the main caregiver) we should de-register. He felt that as it was me who helped our son to read, walk, talk, dress, read stories too him, took him to museums, showed him trees, birds and clouds, baked with him, taught him to swim and countless other things, why not continue? When I looked at it like that it didn’t seem like such a strange idea. If anything the idea of outsourcing something as important as my child’s education, mental and physical health and wellbeing, and his future success to people who didn’t know or care about him like I do, or have the drive to see him succeed the way that I do, seemed strange by comparison.
*What kind of approach do you take?*
I almost exclusively unschool, having started out in the early days as very structured- a style which didn’t work for my eldest child who turned out to be very much a Kinesthetic learner. Unschooling has led to some really fun experiences which wouldn’t have happened if we’d stuck with my lesson plans, and it really challenges my early pre-conceived notion that education was all books, worksheets and blackboards- true education is in everything they do.
Watching him be guided by his curiosity, imagination and own drive to learn is such an incredible thing, though I’ve found it challenges my patience- it would be so much easier sometimes to intervene, to say “that won’t work” or attempt to take over, but unschooling and allowing him to be self-guided has given him greater confidence, problem solving skills and the freedom to try new things.
We learned about butterfly life cycles because he was trying to figure out if caterpillars feel their metamorphosis, we ended up keeping caterpillars to observe until they transformed. He once built a working radio because he was bored, and gave it a lightbulb instead of a volume button in the hopes that it would be controlled by the sound, rather than controlling the sound. I simply facilitate his learning when he shows interest in something, googling resources, places to visit etc though sometimes I do lay out books or activities that may interest him, but he’s under no obligation to do them. My younger son is only 20 months old, though has some very definite interests- animals, books and drawing, which I encourage.
*Where do the children do most of their work? and do they distract each other?*
They both have “learning” areas in the house- though my eldest mostly uses his desk to store the things he’s made or is working on without his brother getting hold of them! Their learning takes place on fossil digs, in museums, galleries, in the woods or the garden, in pottery and archery classes, through cooking, watching documentaries, reading books curled up in a favourite chair, or in my eldest’s case- on Minecraft (I always know when something has made an impression on him as he recreates it in his world) or in his room where he’s apparently conducting ongoing research into whether you could create a unicorn by mixing horse and narwhal DNA. On occasions where sit down work occurs, my youngest son is of the age where he wants to join in- he wants to do everything his brother does.
*What is your favourite thing about Home Education?*
So many things! HE means freedom, in all aspects of our lives. There’s the freedom to allow your children to be themselves, to learn in a way that suits them, at a pace that suits them, to keep their spirit, be curious and ask questions. They can learn at whatever time of day or night suits them best, and they have the freedom to develop varied interests beyond the scope of the curriculum, and devote themselves fully and completely to whatever it is they’re passionate about, without interruption.
They’re not bound by arbitrary rules, they’re not told when they’re allowed to eat and don’t have to ask for permission for basic things like using the toilet or having a drink. We can allow our children to sleep when they’re tired, get up when they’re ready and eat when they’re hungry. We’ve found it has helped our eldest’s sleep issues immeasurably, there’s no more worrying about him not getting enough rest to function, but it wouldn’t be possible without HE.
As a family we have so much more time together than we would have had if we had stuck with mainstream education. We can go wherever we want whenever we want, no worrying about homework, school runs, or term time holidays. Everywhere becomes their classroom, If they want to be outside they can be outside, if they want to paint, stand up to their knees in water looking for tadpoles, hunt for snails or read a book by torch light under a duvet, there’s no reason why they can’t, and they can do it all dressed however they like. I feel much more confident second time around, to say that my youngest won’t be attending any form of mainstream schooling. It’s enormously freeing to not have to worry about finding the right school, the right teachers or worrying if he’ll adapt or if it will squash his spirit.
*What subjects do you teach and do you stick to a timetable?*
We don’t have a timetable- I think one of the issues we faced early on was that having one felt a little too much like replicating school at home- had that worked for him to start with he wouldn’t be HE. I cover a broad range of subjects, though some I’m more knowledgeable about than others. I’m largely guided by the children, which in many ways is an education for me too- I’ve spent many nights researching whatever new thing L has decided he’s learning about and looking at new ways to approach certain subjects- we once did a maths project on flatulence because he wanted to know how many times the average adult breaks wind in their lifetime. I did my degree in fine art, with an elective course in astronomy, I think creativity is as important as numeracy and literacy, and I love having the opportunity to share what I know with my boys wherever possible. I also love literature and he’s developed an interest in linguistics which is fun. I actively encourage my youngest in his love of books- I created a story basket and I come up with learning experiences based on the theme of whichever book has been chosen.
*What do you find most difficult and why?*
I’m not great at time management. I worked as a freelance artist and illustrator and had just set up an Etsy shop when I started HE, between HE and having a baby it’s been a juggling act. I also had to adjust to the fact that we don’t really follow the same sort of schedule as other people- the children naturally go to bed and get up late, I’m rarely free in the mornings and my days end pretty late!
*How do you react to people asking about socialisation, do your children easily socialise and work well with others?*
Like a lot of home educators I’m of the opinion that sitting in a classroom for the majority of the day, surrounded by the same 30 or so people who were born in the same school year and live in the same catchment area, while being led by an adult who at least once in their career has probably used the phrase “you’re here to learn, not to socialise!”-all while receiving very little time to actually play, isn’t true socialisation. Socialisation happens when you go outside, when people speak to you in the street, the shops, on the bus, in the restaurant, or in the park, with people of a wide range of ages, backgrounds and experiences. HE children can form friendships organically and have time to develop them. We attend HE groups, we go out regularly and one of my children is very talkative, while the other will try and hug or shake hands with everyone he meets, so I have no concerns about socialisation, in fact sometimes I’d like to make it from A ti B without stopping!
*How do you incorporate Physical Education into your Home Ed days?**
We go out a lot, walking round the woods, trying new play spaces, or even just Pokemon hunting on Pokemon Go. We like cosmic kids yoga and also have a “Wobbel” board, which they both enjoy using. It’s a sneaky way to get exercise without them realising it!
*Do you plan and how far in advance?*
I actually have a file full of ideas for activities, projects and places to visit, left over from our very early structured HE days, which I do occasionally dip into as a starting point for suggestions, but mostly our learning is flexible and pretty impromptu. I do have a few secret Pinterest boards for future dates- I hope to spend October doing Autumn themed activities, culminating in a Halloween party, for example, but I won’t be disappointed if the children find other things they prefer to do.
*What’s a typical Home Ed day like?*
We don’t have typical days, the children get up when they’re ready, we may go out, we may stay home and work on a project- every day is different!
*Do you spend a lot of money on resources?*
There’s an enormous wealth of free resources online, (I’m addicted to Pinterest) so my biggest expenses are books- I can’t pass a bookshop without going in- and the cost of day-trips in terms of fuel, parking costs, meals out and entry fees. Recently however we’ve began having picnics, visiting places where you can get a year pass, and a lot of galleries and museums are still free.
*How do you make time for yourself?*
Still working on that one!
*What advice would you give to someone just starting their Home Ed journey?*
If you’ve just left the school system, de-school. Relax, take time to get to know what interests your child, how they learn, research learning styles and let go of the idea that learning takes place at a desk, surrounded by the same people and the same 4 walls. There is education in everything, even if it doesn’t seem it, they’re learning. Don’t discount the incredible importance of play.
Also don’t worry about failing, or that you may not be qualified to HE- there’s no one more qualified than you. There’s no one else better suited to educating your child than you, no-one else knows them as well, knows their strengths, weaknesses, and no-one is as invested in their happiness and future success as you.