Home Educating Children: A Bristol Mum’s Experience

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If you are a regular reader of Bristol Mum, you will know that articles on education are often featured.

One aspect of education not yet featured on Bristol Mum, however, is Home Education. While I don’t home educate myself, home education has always interested me and I do believe that it has certain advantages over the more traditional routes of education.

Today on Bristol Mum, one reader kindly shares her personal experiences of home educating her two children. I hope you enjoy reading this article.

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Q. How many children do you home educate and how old are they?

A. Two children: Nearly 7 and nearly 3.

Q. Why did you decide to home educate?

A. It was always something on my radar even before I had children. The school system didn’t particularly work for me or for many people I knew so I was looking for something different for my children even before I had them.

We looked into Steiner and thought that would be the happy compromise for us and attended the parent and toddler group for a couple of years. My eldest then started the playgroup at 3.5yrs and it became very obvious how unhappy he was.

I did not like the way the school wanted us to deal with this upset and also I saw with my own eyes what they did in class and I realised how controlling it was and felt this was not the way to go. So it became an easy decision, he was unhappy and we realised it didn’t quite have the ethos we thought it did.

Q. What method of home schooling do you use?

A. We are an unschooling or autonomous home educating family. Which means it is totally child-led and we facilitate the learning rather than guide it or test it.

Q. What is a typical day and week of home education like?

A. There is no typical day for us as it depends on how we are all feeling and if we have booked to do something. However, there are many things we can dip in and out of in Bristol, groups, classes, meet-ups, playdates etc. We also spend time at home playing, watching things, baking, etc.

Q. What are the advantages & disadvantages of home education?

A. You can go at the child’s pace and nothing is forced. The love of learning is kept alive and so the motivation to learn comes from within and then learning is easy. Our days are not rushed and we get to spend so much time together. I can watch them grow.

I believe siblings tend to get on really well as a result of being around each other so much too. They get to socialize with all different age groups so it is a more natural socialization as in the ‘real’ world, they are therefore not intimidated by adults.

Bullying rarely occurs. Sometimes kids don’t get on but it doesn’t happen in a sustained and sometimes unsupported way as it can do in schools, rather it is dealt with much more promptly and friendships ebb and flow much more fluidly as there is more choice of who to hang out with on a daily basis.

They can choose their ‘curriculum’ in fact their curriculum tends to be that of life rather than ‘subjects.’

The disadvantages are mainly walking the road less travelled and all the issues encountered with that. Going against the mainstream it can be hard to keep the faith and to answer the constant questions/worry which come from well-meaning friends, relatives and even strangers, though I’m often surprised by the praise I also get from people I don’t know.

It can be lonely for the main carer and it is important to build up a support network and community, luckily Bristol has a thriving Home Ed scene. Getting a break from the kids as the main carer is important for a lot of home educators as it is a lot of time to be with their children constantly, but there are lots of ways this can be done.

Q. Do you plan to home educate long-term?

A. Yes, for as long as we are all happy to do it and as long as the education system in this country remains unchanged.

Q. What support for home educators is available in Bristol?

A. Lots! There is a thriving home education scene in Bristol. There are home ed drop-in groups both in and around Bristol. Classes and meet-ups are being planned all the time as are play-dates. There is a website, facebook page and yahoo groups.

Q. Where do you access your materials for home education?

A. The internet holds a wealth of information! There are many websites/companies out there who give away free resources to schools and this is often available to home educators too. When we find out about such websites/companies we share the info via facebook and the yahoo groups.

I have a growing library of information at home ready for when/if my children become interested in those things. In the meantime should they ask a question we use the internet and the library as our first ports of call.

Q. What are the myths of home education?

A. That children are not able to socialize and miss out. As mentioned above, I actually think (having now seen both) that the socialization at school is unnatural as we are placed with our own age group and then we see that as the norm and socializing with people of different ages/generations becomes abnormal (it took me a long time to unlearn that thinking!)

That home educating is like school at home. For some families that is what it looks like. i.e. Lessons, workbooks, tests etc. But for many and increasingly, families are leaning to more autonomous learning.

That you have to be qualified enough/good enough to ‘teach’ your children at home. Again this is similar to the myth that you have to teach your children in the same way as school. Ironically it is a fact that it is much easier for our children to learn if they are not taught!

Q. Anything else that you would like to add?

A. I came to home education by default having had it in the back of my mind for years, but having had the experience I see more and more how our school system in its current guise is failing our children and I find it so sad. It is not necessarily that I am pro home educating, more that with the schools as they are I feel they will be better off at home.

The hard thing about home educating is what is also lovely about it…spending so much time with your children! This is especially hard in the early years when they need so much of your time. It can feel isolating. However, I love the freedom that it brings to our lives, I love the surprises and I love watching them grow.

It takes faith to autonomously educate as it goes against what society in the western world believes i.e. children have to be taught to learn and they have to be tested to prove the learning. In actual fact they learn when they are motivated to learn and that comes from within and when they are ready and what none of us realize is that we have all been (mostly autonomously) home educating our children from the moment they are born.

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I hope you enjoyed reading this interview on Bristol Mum. If you have an experience or story that you think might be helpful for Bristol mums, please do contact me bristol_mum@hotmail.com

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