Updated: Aug 28, 2020
When our local schools didn't seem the right fit, and we weren't able to afford London's insanely overpriced private schools, my husband and I researched the options for home education. We soon realised that we felt confident to offer a better education to our son by incorporating travel, fitness, mindfulness and a lot more nurturing family time into his upbringing. It certainly didn't feel right for us to send our little boy away for the majority of his week to be with people we didn't know or necessarily like.
I threw myself into researching the best education systems worldwide and read countless articles on parenting and child psychology. I discovered Ken Robinson, a highly regarded and knighted British author, speaker and international education advisor. In one of his talks, he spoke about a number of big stateside companies that had been asked what they look for when taking on new employees. Funny enough, the two most important aspects were things not often nurtured or supported in school: adaptability and creativity. Kids can often lose themselves once out of school because it can be a shock to the system after years of being in the protective school and home bubble- they find it challenging to adapt into adulthood. Creativity in school is usually restricted to a couple regimented art or drama hours a week, unless they are in a specific art program or school. I think any artist would agree, you cannot stifle artistic outlets. Creativity in itself must be adaptable.
I found the scandinavian approach of mainly a learn-through-play method until the age of 7 had really great results, so our learning journey started loosely based around this concept, when my son was about 2. In middle school or high school, scandinavian students are given very little homework and are not subject to stressful standardised testing. In some cases, primary age schools had no subjects at all, and instead simply applied language, mathematics and science to all aspects of everyday experiences. In theory, learning-through-life. I believe it is this approach of truly letting children be children for as long as possible that results in scandinavians being at the top of most worldwide education systems in the modern world. No pressure to do well in tests, and instead nurturing a healthy relationship with learning.
As a parent I was able to reflect upon my childhood and with my new found knowledge of home education I put together our families teaching philosophy about a year before my eldest would have started school. We decided on the learn through play method as well as autonomous teaching, also known as child led learning. It seemed the best fit for us. Autonomous learning is basically expanding on any subject the child shows an interest in. You make it fun. You ask questions. Encourage creativity. Dissect. Expand. Explore. I soon began to realise where my lack of enthusiasm came from when I had gone to school. I finally understood that learning could be interesting or rewarding, if you were learning about something you were passionate about. This fun aspect of education had been for the most part missing in my childhood and early adolescence. Yet, at the same time, I am able to look back and truly appreciate the teachers whose methods enticed me in subjects i was interested in: Drama, English, Science, Art… I enjoyed those subjects, had great teachers and with that, had better grades in those subjects. I came to understand that as long as I nurtured my son's passion, he would enjoy the journey. That's where my focus had to lie, nurturing the joy of his education.
We decided on four key subjects that my son had shown a big interest in, and then applied the language, mathematics and science to those subjects. My son had a fascination with dinosaurs, so that became our first subject. Space was the second, and we covered the planet and overall geography. We chose London as our third subject and and included days out at the Natural History Museum, West End Theatre shows, and concerts and events at the O2 and and and… London has so much to offer and it's an endless adventure of learning that we are so lucky to have. Our final topic was the body. It just seemed to be the natural choice considering both myself and my husband were fitness enthusiasts.
We’re now coming up to almost two years of home education, and I can say with much pride and relief it's been the biggest gift for our family. We love the freedom to change up our routine, we love the extra family time, and so far so good as our son is currently working almost two years ahead of what he would have been, had we sent him to school. The choice has also been the beginning of my reintroduction to education. Only through learning about how to nurture a child's love of learning, have I unexpectedly opened the door to my new found passion. It was only after discovering how incredibly the minds of children are, that I discovered my thirst for knowledge in the areas of the mind, overall self development and wellbeing.
Many people comment on our choice to home educate by saying that they couldn't do it, but to them I always highlight that just like anything else, unless you research your options, you simply don't know what you are capable of. Our support system for our son's education includes two present parents, a grandmother who reads to them in French and German, a part time housekeeper and teachers at various learning centres and activity groups. I admire the mummies who manage to home educate solo with a brood of children. To me, they truly are the superhero mummies. Although, the reality is that we should all be able to have our superhero mummy moments, no matter what our surrounding situation is. Which leads me to my favorite aspect of home education: The flexibility. You can make it whatever you want it to be, whatever is right for your family, and you can change and adapt that as you see fit.
Home education has been around for years, but now its numbers are growing year upon year. This is down to a number of reasons, but most commonly in the UK from what i have seen, it is the lack of faith in the national educational system and a lack of support within that system for kids with disabilities or learning difficulties. How can our vulnerable kids learn in an environment where they aren't happy or in some cases not even feeling safe? Passion drives action, and a one size fits all system isn't going to fuel that spark in our kids.