When most of us think about learning we think about the approach we’re most familiar with; a formal school approach with children at desks, in a classroom, receiving lessons from a teacher, studying or doing research through the printed word either online or in books, practising academic exercises that are continually measured, tested at certain ages.
However, although this is a tried and tested approach which works very well for some, other approaches, which home educating families adopt that include very few of these formal elements, work equally successfully.
To understand how, you have to also understand that learning can take place in a diverse range of circumstances other than school, through different approaches, and without the restrictions on age, subject matter or testing which we normally associate with it.
Home educated children learn through the experiences and activities provided by their parents and sometimes others. These may be quite structured formalised academic activities at home, on line, or in home educating groups. Or they may be less formal activities chosen by the child from their own interests, or play, experimentation, or perhaps outings to museums or field trips, social events, arts and crafts, or everyday activities.
All stimulating experiences provoke learning and through these experiences and discussions children build the skills and knowledge they need.
A good example is reading. Children do not necessarily need a reading scheme in order to learn to read. Some home educating families have never used one, instead they enjoy books together in a natural way, parents read to them as long as they want it, they encourage reading of a variety of written material online, texts, notices, comics, wherever they naturally come across it. And these children become competent readers from these experiences and encouragement. There is no pressure to read by a certain age; some acquire the skill quickly and easily at an early age, others much older, but by the time they’re teens no one could tell the difference.
Home education gives the opportunity to cater for these learning differences without judgemental labels being attached and the danger of putting a child off learning forever.
It also gives families a range of approaches to choose from, many which suit them better than a narrow academic approach. For example a child who has had the chance to experience weight or distance for themselves, has a much better understanding and therefore competence when it comes to formalising it with symbols. A teenager who’s seen a Shakespeare play performed, watched a film, looked at Youtube clips, is more able to tackle the complexities of the written version than one who’s only ever been presented with the difficult language of it.
Different learning experiences provide for differing learning needs. Home educators can use a range of approaches to cater for their child’s learning.
One parent told me:
We started formally doing ‘school at home’ when our child first came out of school. When we realised how quickly we covered work we became more relaxed, seeing there was no need for this kind of intensive structure. All our children just seemed to learn anyway, even when we’re not looking and we were sometimes astonished by what they knew! Our younger children have learned naturally by us creating an atmosphere of interest and questioning. We filled in any shortfalls with more directed learning, dipping into formal text books or sites to develop skills or knowledge for specific outcomes like GCSEs for example.
All went on to achieve good grades through this fairly non-structured approach.
It can sometimes be difficult for parents new to home education to visualise this less formal approach to children’s learning, but for thousands it works very well.
To understand it better it’s best to talk to as many parents as possible, listen to the range of approaches, get together with others, and try out what works for you.
One of the biggest advantages of home schooling is that you can be flexible with your approach, changing when necessary, thus accommodating the individual needs of your learner and giving them a good shot at success.