Last year I started a writing project that has now totally changed direction. However, part of the original was the below. I had been musing on the difficulty of finding good, local school places and had wondered about alternatives. One of these was home schooling. I knew nothing about it other than I had some prejudices that I felt needed challenging. Luckily, one of my favourite tweeps, Edd from @eddsnotdead home schools and also writes intelligently and humanely. I sent him some questions, wanting my ignorance challenged and he certainly came through.
I thought the least I could do was reproduce it here which Edd was happy for me to do. My questions are in bold and his answers in regular font.
You can read more of Edd at http://eddsnotdead.blogspot.co.uk/
Why did you first decide to home school? Was it something you always intended on or did something happen to make your mind up?
It was a joint decision (as all our decisions are) but my wife was the driving force behind it. I had reservations as to how effective we could be at meeting the education level I felt the kids needed to be at and I voiced them. She showed me websites, gave me print outs and in time convinced me that it was an option. Once I considered it a possibility it came down to the question of should we?
Well, my wife is a smart lady, qualified to degree level in research and Library studies and has vocational teaching experience to back that up. I looked at that and I knew she could get the job done, but should we remove them from school and the ‘normal’ environment for one that’s certainly sitting in the ‘alternative’ section of society?
She had always wanted to have a go at teaching our own kids, wasn’t overly happy with the official provision being offered and didn’t like where some of the current teaching trends were heading. She wanted to make it work and so we agreed to review it in a year’s time and see what happened.
We’re still going five years later and though it’s not getting significantly easier it is something that is beneficial to our family and the development of our children.
Is there a typical day? Or is that the point?
There is a certain amount of work that needs to be done a day. Diaries, handwriting practice, mathematics, English, reading and work recognition. It depends on the child as to how much they have to do and at what level.
Once the small amount of basic ‘table time’ is completed we have a more fluid approach. Obviously we need to get out and about to the park or Library, sports clubs and various tutors we sometimes use for the older children but that’s all the standard stuff really. The exciting things we find ourselves doing like getting involved in filming projects, visiting places that are quite when everyone else is at school and following personal projects and interests make the day’s fun, unpredictable and exciting.
How are you monitored?
The local education authority has a representative that is sent out once a year to check on us and make sure we haven’t eaten any of the kids. I think it’s fair to say that some people are very wary of these visits and see them as an intrusion by the very authority they have escaped from; we see them as an ally.
A month before the visit we try to send the L.E.A a document that details everything that we’ve been up to, what the kids are reaching for, how they are developing and whether we have any concerns or questions. Each child has a dedicated section and our aspirations for the child and the coming year’s education is detailed there-in. The document is over sixty pages long normally and we try to make sure it gives a fair, honest and clear picture as to where we stand since last we saw the L.E.A and where we hope to be by the time the next visit is due.
The document helps to cut away any time the L.E.A representative would waste asking us about what we do so giving them more time to talk to the kids, the people they are really there to see! In the five years we have been going we’ve always gotten on with the rep, found them to be open and helpful and welcomed them in with open arms. We tell the kids they don’t have to show the person their work if they don’t want to but to be honest we find they do want to share and interact with the strange adult that we have sitting at the table.
I gather that some L.E.A representatives are not as open and as relaxed as the ones in our area and I have read some stories of nice people being made to feel like criminals for taking an extra interest in their kids by pushy, judgmental officials. In our corner of the country I have been struck by how genuine, open and supportive the reps have been.
Do you need any qualifications to home school?
Anyone can home-school if they want to. You don’t need to be a mad scientist or rich ex civil servant to do what we do; you just have to want and need to put the work in. It’s not easy, sometimes it’s not fun and almost certainly there are days when it’s not rewarding, but hopefully those days are fewer than the fun ones.
If you have a thirst for knowledge, are enthusiastic about learning and are willing to read up on not just the subjects but on various techniques (both main stream and alternative) of teaching then I think you have a good chance of seeing results.
I’m guessing that with such a large family your children are not missing out on social interaction but would you recommend home schooling for parents with one or two children? How do you make sure they meet other kids?
This is one I hadn’t really anticipated at all; the question of ‘Socialisation’. How often in your life have you been in a work environment which is only populated by people your age? I’m betting it’s probably never. School is an odd place because even in just one class you have kids at very different stages of development because people develop psychologically at different times. Of course you have the common sorts of things like the chemical soups which are going to be roughly swimming around their systems at the same time but surely that is one of the reasons why some people find their time at school to be so negative? You’re all trapped in the same areas, have the same heightened chemical processes going on but varying abilities to control how those reactions affect your behaviour.
In the area we live in we have a large homeschooling community (is it because of the supportive L.E.A office in the area or the general affluence? I don’t know), clubs and support groups and a sports infer-structure that’s of the highest quality. Our kids have friends their own age or comparable ages to play and study with, several sporting groups that they are involved in, their old school mates and a large extended family.
All that is fantastic but it’s also the chances the kids have to connect with the local community that are so beneficial. The staff at the Library, shop workers, museum experts, work men going about their business, all of these people are there to see us and for the kids to interact with. We stop and watch them put the telephone wiring hubs back together in the streets, ask the guy checking the pipes in the hole what he’s doing, reserve books and get recommendations from the Library staff when its quiet, ask release dates for products we are looking forward to and generally encourage the kids to engage people in polite conversation with-in a controlled structure of rules (obviously we are still careful about strangers, talking to people on our own, going near cars, all the simple safety stuff).
This means the kids see the world a bit more, know people are working and get to interact with life perhaps slightly more than the school goers. Yes, they miss out on some large team games on a daily basis but due to our insistence that they all do at least one sport (normally two) they still get their team and individual interactions with their peers as well as other people.
What is the most positive thing about home schooling – the one thing that would sell it to parents?
It’s a lifestyle choice. You have to be totally committed to the idea and actuality of your goal or it’s not going to go well, that’s what I think.
We decided when we got married that we would try whenever possible to have one of us working and one of us at home for the children. I was a ‘house husband’ for five years and it was an amazing time that I wish I could repeat, but currently I work in construction. My wife stays home and educates the children and obviously there is a lot to do with our six excellent kids, so you have to be prepared to put in a shift at home as well as at work. The tidying, the cooking, the bath run, the cleaning and evening lessons all have to be pitched into. If I’m honest it is a very busy, tiring way to live, but it’s also great to know your kids are safe, well and flourishing in a loving, supportive atmosphere.
The days are not always wonderful and it’s not easy but the reward when you hear your child reading clearly and fluently, when they crack the maths problems that has been stumping them, when they make those big developmental jumps and you are there to share in their achievement, support them through the tough times and know that you did it together? Well that is one huge grin you find yourself wearing.
What’s your opinion of the school application and selection process?
I remember getting into the local Catholic school and it was for the most part lovely there. My wife was a practicing Catholic at that time but when she stepped away from the church we still sent the kids to the religious school.
I suppose it’s one of those things that people get very uptight about, getting into the ‘right’ school? Personally I think there are good and bad schools and good and bad ways to get into them. In the end if you are in a supportive atmosphere then you are much more likely to be happy and so do better at whatever it is that you decide to do.
Should people be moving to get into catchment areas or falsifying information to get there? No. Be honest. As it is the system has to process so many kids each year that it’s bound to have some frayed edges, dog-eared corners and exploitable loopholes, but I never had any problems with the system.