The other day on the Sheffield Slings facebook group, there was a conversation about Steiner schools and other approaches to education we’ve been making as families. My two daughters are below ‘school age’ but from not long after the birth of my elder daughter we decided to home educate, and I’d like to share this with you. Although it’s still not a common choice (exact numbers are unknown, but estimates put it at about 1%) it is increasingly on people’s radars and people are shedding misconceptions they may have had, which is great. It’s been our intention to HE (home educate) since pretty much when C (3.5) was born, and one we remain very happy with. When my wife was pregnant, she was close friends with a lady who had similar views on birth and parenting, and was also home educating (home medicating, as her daughter termed it). We thought the children were great, but we didn’t get it at first. Gradually we realised it was ideal for her children, and we were set along that route ourselves. I find it hard to say a little about it (easy to say a lot!) but will try to be succinct and feel free to throw any questions my way via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or the facebook group if you’re interested to know more about home education, the various approaches to learning, and the many exciting things going on around Sheffield! There’s no one way to HE and I don’t want to portray our ideas as common to all, but with that in mind a few initial thoughts…
What is home education? Basically, providing your child’s education outside of a school setting. Some people do so from the start, some withdraw children from school for various reasons, some do so for only a period of time. Legally speaking, the responsibility for education lies with the parents to provide an education suitable for your children’s age, aptitudes and abilities, and this continues through their childhood whether you do so through regular attendance at school, or otherwise. School is not compulsory, education is.
How to do it? People follow all manner of different approaches – some follow the National Curriculum or other structured syllabus, some do an amount of structured stuff, some follow more autonomous approaches by facilitating children’s interests and helping them widen their exposure to ideas, skills, information, activities, social situations etc etc. The latter is, roughly speaking, our approach; we are also interested in models such as the trivium of classical education, but recognise our interests may not be shared by our children! Children are born with a natural fascination in the world around them and this need not end at age 5. Our role is to continue to explore areas of interest together, and expose our children to people with skills and interests they want to further. It’s worth clarifying, as it is a common misconception, that an autonomous approach to education does not mean a lack of structure – structure may or may not appear depending on the child’s interests and learning style, and the topic at hand. A child may find a written project an interesting way of exploring an interest in castles, for example. Or an older child may want driving lessons to learn to drive. Much learning, however, can happen through day-to-day experiences and through purposive conversation.
What about socialisation? Really a red herring this one. A typical week could see our 3.5 year old going to three different groups with activities or freely playing and interacting with people ranging from babies to adults, plus one or two dance classes, trips into town, meet-ups in parks, and family trips away at weekends. There’s several home ed groups meeting weekly in Sheffield, there’s also numerous email and facebook groups for different areas, different learning styles, specific interests, home educated young children, teenagers, and so on. Next week is the annual Hesfes camping trip which will see home educating families from around the UK and beyond gathering for a week of fun and the opportunity to make yet more friends. Never a dull moment!
Do you get funding? No. The actual learning need cost next to nothing, but juggling of household income takes imagination. The need to live on one main income pushed us out of London, and towards Sheffield, and we love it here and have more space than we ever did on two wages in London!
Do you sit at a desk all day doing lessons? No! It’s worth bearing in mind (and I’m not looking to make qualitative comparisons here) that schools are teaching 25-30 kids at a time. If you HE you’re teaching your 1 or 2 or 3 (etc!) children, so much of the school set-up isn’t applicable. Much (most?) learning can happen through purposive discussion. Or through cooking food. Or through making a friend who speaks another language. Or visiting places. Or being able to focus obsessively on one thing for a bit if the mood takes you. You don’t need to do a little bit of everything as you would in school. Also, the line between ‘subjects’ blurs. Some people do some amount of structured ‘lessons’, but even those who do find a small amount is all that is needed, as it is one on one.
And do I need to be a teacher? Nope. You need to know your own kids, how they learn, how to help them, how to respond to their developing hobbies and interests. It’s an adventure, but hey, that’s parenting for you!
If you’d like to know more feel free to ask, I’m happy to recommend groups and get-togethers going on around Sheffield and beyond!