Like Joseph’s coat, home education is many-coloured. Understandably, then, there is plenty of overlap between the different hues. A couple of facets stand out. First is the tailoring of learning to the individual child, to a greater or lesser extent. Second is the vast scope provided in the home for conversational learning, a powerful and effective method for developing skills in listening, explaining, questioning, reasoning, describing, discussing, imagining and understanding.
In a research paper on home education presented to the British Psychological Society in 1994, Dr Alan Thomas referred to the sheer amount of one-to-one adult contact which enables quality education to take place, contrasted with the many hours spent in large-group settings at school.
In his study of 40 home-educated children he concluded that the style of education is probably unimportant, and noted that:
“Some children flourished intellectually with little or no formal input. Their parents had moved completely away from conventional pedagogy, allowing their children to learn when and what they pleased in an apparently haphazard fashion, simply by going living as they had in infancy. This contravenes the most fundamental pedagogical wisdom that learning for older children has to be carefully graded and sequenced. Clearly it does not. At home the emphasis is on the child rather than on the curriculum.”
Deschooling is used to describe the process of getting out of the school system – or, perhaps, getting school out of your system. Some suggest one month per year of school, but in reality you should just take as long as you need, and depending on the reasons for withdrawing your children from school. A 7-year-old might need 6 months to deschool, and a 14-year-old might only need a couple of weeks, or vice versa. It might be helpful to view it as a breathing space. It’s a chance to discover a family life without school, and an opportunity to re-discover old ways of learning. De-schooling is sometimes as much for parents as for the children involved.
Parents take their children outdoors to the beach or the woods, or wherever they feel like going, for as long as they want. They talk about what they would like to learn. Parents often read and research approaches to home education, or just take a break for while (especially if they’ve had a tough time supporting their child at school). They get in contact with other families in their area with experience of homeschooling.
Autonomous & Unschooling
Autonomous education involves parents allowing their children freedom to control the direction their education takes. Unschooling is probably the other most widely-used name for it but, if this style suits you, you might not be keen to include any reference to school! Alternatives in use are: interest-driven, child-led, natural, organic, eclectic, self-directed, or free-range (like the chickens you’ll probably end up keeping). Parents respond, or facilitate learning, when called upon to do so. Clearly, there are as many shades of unschooling as there are home educated children.
Here’s how a friend of mine does it:
“Generally the girls will spend a lot of time playing in the morning. Then we might play an educational game if they fancy it. For example an orchard toys maths game, or something similar. The girls will play for ages in the garden with the chickens. We spend a lot of time out of doors. At some point in the day my 5-year-old and I will inevitably chat about something that she wants to know about. Mainly history, evolution, reproduction/fetal development or something to do with space. Sometimes this might just be a long conversation, but often it will lead us to looking something up in a book, doing an experiment, a picture or looking something up on the Internet. We will generally do some drawing or painting or something creative inside or out. We will on most days meet up with some friends for a play, at a group, someone’s house, or maybe at a National Trust property. At dinner she has taken to asking for maths questions. So we’ll do that with dinner. If we drive anywhere she will request ‘Cinderella Maths’ where we pretend to dress Cinderella, adding up and taking things away as she chooses from a selection in her wardrobe. After her bath we have our reading snuggle where she will read me some of her book. She loves this.”
Structured & Semi-structured
As with autonomous learning, structured and semi-structured styles encompass a great variety of approaches. The key difference here is that parents choose to be involved in the direction and detail (to varying degrees) of their children’s education. In addition to facilitation in response to a child’s instinctive learning, parents initiate (or even insist) on certain paths of learning. Here are a few different examples of what structured home education looks like:
“My 11-year-old does about 3 hours, 4 days a week, of structured learning. This includes maths, English and spelling each day, and Irish 3 times a week. Music is once a week and science twice a week. History, geography, biography and RE are once a week each and are mostly reading. I see education as having 3 main parts; skills (maths and languages), critical thinking, and knowledge. Most of the written activities I set are based on developing skills, so I don’t do lots of activities for history, geography, biography, and RE. Many weeks for these subjects he just reads some books and I figure he will take in what he’s interested in, but sometimes we will do essays based on the books he’s read, or draw graphs, look at maps etc to develop skills. I aim to expose them to a range of subjects and knowledge, so they know some of the breadth of human knowledge available, and so they can follow up what they are interested in.”
“For the first part of the morning I read to them and that includes Bible time, History/Geography and their story books, and sometimes we do science then if there are no experiments. After snack time we do handwriting, phonics, copy work, Language Arts, Maths and spellings. Somewhere in the day, either on the sofa in the morning, or in bed at night, I ask them to read to me. Then after lunch we either play with friends, go to a park, paint, or they have their gymnastics and ballet lessons.”
“Most evenings I check my rota/programme. I then fill their 8 work-boxes with the relevant things and all the equipment needed for them. We wake up in the morning and have breakfast then start the drawers. Finished by lunch for free time/socialising. Or vice versa if we are meeting friends in the morning. I then keep a note of what was done that day in a diary and check it once a month against the targets I have set.”
Classical & Charlotte Mason
A British Christian schoolteacher working across the late 19th century and turn of the 20th, Charlotte Mason had an exceptional ability to understand and respect children and their needs. She emphasised lots of fresh air, reading real books (as opposed to textbooks), and forming good habits. Her recommended curriculum included substantial attention to language arts, in addition to the Arts, Maths, Nature study, the Social Sciences and Bible study. Since the mid-1980s her work and writings have enjoyed a revival in homeschool communities, especially in America. The approach can be followed without the need to purchase any particular curriculum.
“We use the Charlotte Mason method, and I teach my four children (age 8 to 14) all together in the mornings from 10 to 12:30. As I prepare lunch, my oldest continues with her own studies while the others do a bit of a break (tidying room, taking dog for walk). After lunch, I help my younger ones with maths and copywork. Then they have a free-ish time, practising instruments, doing some computing, playing with friends, and having Spanish lessons with the au pair (cheaper to have an au pair than pay for a tutor). This is our schedule for three days a week. A fourth day, we co-op with another family for Bible study and Art, and a fifth day, we watch some documentaries, have swimming lessons, and either read our own books, do art, or have a field trip.”
Computer-based Curriculum Aids
There’s so much available on the internet in the way of programs you can sign up to, designed to help you teach or facilitate your kids’ learning, and this is a popular choice for many parents:
“Today was 45 mins to hour English, Maths and Science. Read Macbeth for a little while. Did a crossword/wordsearch. Played magic skills. Did a lesson on Literacy Planet and a lesson on Conquer Maths. Gardening in afternoon. I discuss the next day’s plan with DD and then write down on a little index card the structured learning for the next day (usually), she ticks when completed, sticks it into a scrapbook, then the day is her own. No TV until after 4pm. Usually a topic per month but this often gets completed quickly, lasts for several months or is totally abandoned, you never can tell.”
“On an average day, at the moment, we do some maths using Conquer Maths, some English using Reading Eggs/Eggspress (spelling and comprehension) and a project. Our current project is the Suffragettes – I made a lapbook myself using information online and lapbook templates. This structured work is done in the morning. In the afternoon we try to catch up with friends at local groups or at each others’ houses. Depending on the day, there may be other activities in the evening, eg Woodcraft Folk, ballet lessons. But we generally only have an average day several times a week . There are lots of things going on that will take precedence over the work at home, eg visits to local museums, climbing lessons.”
Extra tuition and support
If finances will stretch, many parents choose group and/or private tuition for their children. If you have a skill or talent yourself, then it makes sense to avail your children of it. Also, if you are able, enlist the Grandparents:
“I also reserve one afternoon a week to spend with Grandma. For the last 6 months they have been painting large canvases to go above their beds with Grandma. She’s a great artist, and is also much better at gardening, sewing and knitting than I am so we might do a bit of that together.”
This is a top tip, and one of the super-advantages of home education. Ofsted isn’t coming tomorrow, so if the kids are poorly, or the house is a tip, then shift your priorities for a day (or a week).
“We do not follow a style, programme or educational theory. We just do what sits well with us depending on the season and the kids needs/wants but based on a core of our family values which are: lots of fresh air and exercise and everyone helping out at home.”
“With my eldest, I followed an autonomous HE style, which suited him perfectly and was easy to facilitate with only one child. Consequently, I began to HE my two youngest in a similar way but quickly found that it was more difficult trying to facilitate two children in that same way. I also realised that these two like routine and structure, and with never having been to school they had no negative attitudes to learning to combat.”
“Don’t know about snapshots of “a day in the life” but I can tell you about “structured list loving/planning oriented” mom and her “go with the flow, semi structured” kids… grin. Every week I begin highly organized. By the end of the week, I am practicing deep breathing and meditation at all hours… and yet somehow… they learn. Kids. They amaze me.”
A Unique Approach
You might recognise your style in any of the above, or you might be pioneering a whole new one. We have found our style gradually, over the course of many years, and actually it has evolved with the ebb and flow and seasons of life. Our style is a true mixture of all of the above, and is built on our philosophy of education. This is simply putting down on paper the basis and reasons for choosing home education. We believe it makes for a strong foundation and gives helpful indications of which styles of home education will best support, or realise your philosophy.