Home School Education: Deschooling
Begin As You Mean to Go On – Home School is Fun
We have been home schooling, or home-educating as it known in the UK, for eight years. It's our chosen way of life. However, in the beginning we were filled with anxiety about how it was going to work for our children and us, as parents. Our son, Alexander was six when we decided to take him out of school, and the one piece of advice that was like gold to us was, 'Don't do school.' In other words, don't try to turn home into school.
We'd read about 'deschooling', i.e. a period of time that allows the child to rest from all things schooly, and decided this was the best approach in the beginning. In fact, as time went on, it became our only approach and it is only now that Alex is almost 14 and Tegan almost 11, that we are attempting a slightly more structured strategy.
One thing that became clear is that, with almost no actual teaching going on, after all these years of 'deschooling', our children are at the same level, if not more advanced than their peers. Education happens–and it happens in a natural way.
Here then, are some unstructured, deschooling, unschooling tips to make the early days easier and fun for kids and relaxing for parents.
**Note: I have updated this article as time progressed. Our children have now moved on from home schooling to college and beyond. See updates at the bottom.
Go Commando (be Curriculum-Free)
Don't purchase any commercial curriculum right away. It is tempting to dive straight in so that you have a structure in place and ready to go... and those curricula websites are very tempting. However, it is much better to wait and see how your days evolve before committing to any one program of work. So many parents find that their very expensive curriculum is abandoned after a few months because it simply does not fit in with the way their children learn. Yes, I realize you may feel 'all at sea', but that's perfectly normal. Don't panic, you have all the time in the world.
Spend a minimum of one month, and preferably longer, allowing the child to dictate the pace. Think of a few age-appropriate activities or trips and slot them into the month as treats. The rest of the time pay attention to your child and go along with his or her interests. Children learn at an optimal level if they are having fun. Restrict 'teaching' to interesting conversations in the car, baking a cake, stories, and outings. Answer all questions and if you don't know the answers, look them up together.
My 13 year old says that his friends are always asking him how come he knows so much. He replies that if he has a question, or hears something on TV, or reads a reference to something he doesn't know about, he simply goes online and looks it up. This is something we have encouraged since the beginning. It has become a natural habit for him.
How to Teach Your Child to Read
Don't. Unless they are absolutely ready and asking to learn to read don't do any formal reading lessons. Read to, and with, your child for the sheer pleasure of the activity. Read, using funny voices for each character, make faces and encourage the child to repeat phrases. Discuss the pictures and point at repeating sounds as you read. It is also helpful to run your finger under the text as you read. Have story-time be an essential part of your day. Tell your child how much you enjoy it and that you can't go a day without story-time. In this way, the child learns that books are wholly enjoyable and much more fun than TV. Soon they will want to be able to reproduce the experience for themselves, at which time you can embark on a reading program.
Ensure you surround your child with books. Place a collection of interesting books in every room. Let your child observe you reading – you can smile and laugh out loud as you read so the child sees that reading alone is also a pleasure. Read snippets to the family, whether it be a book or newspaper or back of the cereal packet. Create a reading corner with cushions, blankets and comfortable seating.
Reading together is a cozy, intimate activity that will be remembered by both parent and child with love and appreciation.
Tegan's Reading Journey
My daughter Tegan has never been to school, yet like any parent, I was anxious for her to learn to read. So when she was four years old, I gathered together some suitable books and games and away we went. Except we didn't. She hated it. She didn't like the level of story; she thought they were too babyish but, of course anything aimed at older children was too difficult for her to grasp. Reading lessons became stressful for both of us. Even reading aloud together was overshadowed by the 'need to read'. So one day I gave up. I made a conscious decision to stop the lessons and to work out a better approach.
She did nothing much reading-wise for over a year. I continued to read to her, and bought her a read-along Leapfrog. We turned reading into an entertainment rather than a learning experience. Then one day we were in a large book store where she spotted some books related to TV shows and enthusiastically seized a pile of Bratz books. Way too old for her as she was only six at the time. She asked me to read them to her. I glanced at them and they were pretty awful, it has to be said. So I told her, no, but I would buy one or two for her if she wanted. So I did and, because I refused to read them to her, she taught herself to read in about two weeks. I have never taught her spelling, grammar or punctuation yet, at 10 years old, she writes stories, plays, scripts and even 'books'. Her level of English language is amazing and she has easily outstripped her brother.
Chores as Learning Opportunities
Home schooling is about learning through living and you don't need a classroom for that. Doing the chores is usually an essential part of most people's lives, so use housework as a way to teach without teaching, so to speak. Give your kid his own set of cleaning tools. Make up silly songs or rhymes as you sweep the floor or dust. Sorting laundry is a good activity for learning the basics of classification. Why not turn it into an impromptu art lesson by making a miniature (insert your child's name here) out of their own clothes. I remember we made a life-size Dad on the living room floor. One of them drew a face to top the laundry figure and both kids rushed around gathering up shoes and reading glasses to complete him. They spent about an hour putting him into crazy postures while they shrieked with laughter.
Painting on Windows
Kids love to paint on big surfaces so if you have a large, easy-to-get-to window, protect the floor with a plastic sheet, provide some non-spill containers of cheap ready-mixed watercolor paint and let them have at it. We have a large glass door that opens right onto the garden, so I encouraged the children to paint scenes relating to the season. We would leave the painted window for weeks and then simply wash it off when it was time for a new scene. Take photos of your child in front of his work.
We had 'messy' sessions several times a week – paint, cornstarch, playdoh... all those lovely squidgy things that kids adore. You will need to create a corner of your home where these activities can take place. Join in – you will love it and so will they!
Math is all around us and it is difficult to get through a day without encountering it in one way or another. Exploit this by involving your child as much as possible. Show them how to set the oven timer for a cake, explain why it is important that a cake bakes for a set length of time. If the child is old enough get them to weigh ingredients or plan a shopping list. If they are older, how about them doing the grocery shopping? It takes a bit of courage, for sure. My friend has each of her children do the week's shopping in turn. They plan the menus, make a list, work to a budget, add up items as they go round the store and pay the bill.
One of my children's favorite games was playing shop. We had a jar where we collected coins and they would use it as their currency. They would gather up various toys and 'sell' them to each other. They learned how to count out money and give change by using subtraction. Other things that teach math without pain are board games, Legos and other construction toys.
Deschooling – The Boredom Issue
If you have taken your older child out of school, the best plan is to leave them alone. There will probably be a good reason why you have chosen to take them out and it is very important that no pressure is put on them in the early days. Yes, they will sit around watching TV, playing on the games console and generally moaning that they are bored. This is okay. Research has shown that boredom can precipitate learning – as long as you are ready to cooperate with the child when he or she expresses an interest in something. Our son loves to deconstruct things and put them back together, so try to get hold of an old computer that they can work on. If your daughter loves clothes then why not learn to sew together?
You will find as time goes along that moans about being bored decrease to almost nothing. I think I can count on one hand the occasions that either of my kids has complained of boredom.
Home School Groups
Join a home school social group in your area. They will have lots of activities scheduled. We have several in our locality and they arrange talks, workshops, trips, courses and all kinds of other things.
The children (and parents) who take part are of all ages and abilities and this is a far more natural environment than a classroom of 30 children all the same age, learning all the same things at one time. Ideas are sparked and the older kids teach the younger ones. We found that our group sessions were a good way to extend the deschooling process. Our son, who had just been deregistered from school was able to observe the difference between formal teaching and a more relaxed approach, not only to education but to life in general.
Another positive is that there are several parents who are able to share their own skills with the group, thus widening the children's experience even more. Recently we have had a beach safari, model aircraft making, textile art, lessons on managing finances - and many other valuable sessions.
Deschooling is essential for any child and their parents. It is a period of time where the child adjusts to not being in school, not having a rigid routine and simply learning to be. For the parent, deschooling can take a lot longer. You have to get used to the idea that learning takes place all the time the child is awake. You need to know that you are not the source of all knowledge for the child and do not have to take the role of 'teacher'. You and your child take the journey together.
Education – Further Down the Road
You may decide that a structured approach will work better for your family and that is fine. The very fact that the child is at home and feeling safe will go a long way to making his or her learning experience a joy. If you choose this way, your path will unfold naturally and will very likely mirror school without the downsides.
We experienced a period of panic a few months ago when we felt pressured into enrolling our son into some formal classes. It felt as though 'he should be doing something'. The first class he tried was an outdoor one in Forestry Management. He loved it and gaining his first educational credits was a great experience. Since then he has done an art class, computers and basic science. In the UK, children gain their first major qualifications (GCSEs) at 16, so we are working toward getting a few of them done before he is 16.
Update: Alex decided that he wanted to continue with science, so at present he is working through the GCSE course round a friend's kitchen table with three other children. The atmosphere is relaxed and the children are enthusiastic - they *want* to learn for the experience of learning.
Another update: Bearing in mind that neither of my children have been formally taught any English language skills, they were both assessed to see if they were at sufficient level to undertake GCSE English. The children tested were between 11 (Tegan) and 18 years of age. Alex achieved 69/70 with a single spelling error. Tegan managed 70/70. So far neither of them can be bothered with the GCSE :-)
Yet Another update: I managed to persuade our local college to take Alex before his 16th birthday. He started on 1st September 2014 - three days a week doing the things he loves - Land-based studies. It's a basic foundation course but that's fine. From there he will have access to higher level courses.
On Fridays (for the last year) he spends the day volunteering at a nature reserve where they teach him everything from fence building to servicing vehicles.
Tegan, now 13, taught herself to play guitar and ukelele. We've bought her a fancy-dancy music keyboard so she's busy teaching herself on that now. She's already scanning the college prospectus for suitable courses.
One thing we have learned is that there are many paths to gaining an education and it is good to be open to all options and opportunities. Try things out but never be afraid of saying, “Sorry, this isn't for us.” Education is a life-long experience and should be undertaken with love, enthusiasm and a willingness to learn. If you can encourage your children in those three things, then you have succeeded far beyond anything a school could do.
Home-schooling in the UK: Outcomes
Final update: 2017
Alex is now 19. He finished his Level 1 at college,skipped Level 2, and completed a year of Conservation and Woodland Management at Level 3, as well as gaining the Welsh Baccalaureate (communication, numeracy, digital literacy, planning and organisation, creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, and personal effectiveness). He's now doing his final (2nd) year of an HND. He has been provisionally offered a job at the Wildlife Trust, subject to obtaining a full driving licence. He's taking his test in January 2018. He could also change his mind and go on to University for a year to complete a full degree.
You may have noted that Alex did a Forestry Management course at the age of 14. That was, excuse the pun, the seed of his current educational focus. His love of nature, conservation and managing resources may have begun on our many woodland walks, but that single opportunity was where his journey formally started.
Tegan also started college just before her 16th birthday. We enrolled her on a Level 1 introductory course, but she was immediately (on enrolment day) moved to Level 2 Music. After two weeks, she was moved up to Level 3 (A-Level). She had done a couple of courses during the previous spring and summer at Cardiff University. She has no GCSEs, but is currently taking English GCSE alongside her music course. Her confidence has increased tremendously, and she has already represented the college, performing one of her own songs at a charity event, with more to come.
I hope this reassures anyone who is considering home-education in the UK. As long as you are willing to facilitate and encourage your child, you don't have to 'teach' them anything. Look for opportunities and learn-as-you-go. Above all, have fun, learning never has to be hard work.
Questions & Answers
If you were starting home schooling again now, would you do it differently?
Yes, I probably would. I spent so much time agonising over whether my kids were doing too much/not enough schoolwork. Now, I would not give it a second's thought - unschooling/automous/child-led all the way.
© 2012 Bev G