I was home-schooled until I was almost eight, and I really cannot emphasise enough what a positive and long-term impact this has had on me. I would go so far, in fact, as to credit this experience almost entirely for any successes I have had. Yes, stubbornness may also play a part, but I hope I can show you the benefits if you are in fact considering it for your children, both through my own experiences and those of my clients, and of strangers on the train.
Home-schooling means educating your child at home, either yourself or with the help of private tutors. Children are home-schooled for a variety of reasons, but the most common is lack of access to a high standard of group education. This may be due to geography, as in my case. My parents and I moved to a tiny tropical island called Nauru when I was four, half way between Australia and Hawaii. There was one school on the island, and it was geared towards the native islanders who solely learnt English as a foreign language in their first year. It didn’t really cater for the children of English-speaking expats. Luckily my mum trained as a teacher in the UK and had worked as a primary school teacher in Papua New Guinea for a few years, so she already had plenty of experience. Not everyone is suited to teaching of course, it requires a huge range of skills and doesn’t always align well with being a parent, but don’t let that stop you trying.
You don’t have to make it up yourself either; children are supposed to be educated. There are laws about it. If you want to educate your child at home for any period of time, and have a good reason, then legally you absolutely can, and there are thousands upon thousands of resources and lesson plans available. I was taught via correspondence from Australia, each month being sent books to read, workbooks to work through, and tasks to complete. These would be posted back to a mysterious ‘Mrs Phillips’, and she would return the work to me marked and decorated with stickers. I presume these days email and Skype lessons are also a big part of home-schooling, but I was perfectly happy with Air Mail as a child.
The freedom this system gave me was fantastic. I was supposed to do a set amount of work on each subject each day, but some days I just wanted to write stories, some days I just wanted to do Maths or Art, and some days I didn’t want to do much at all. Within reason, I could focus on whatever I wanted as long as all the work was completed by the end of the month. This made me hugely independent and self-motivated; skills that paved the way for university and made it a joy rather than ever being laborious. It puzzled me that my peers wanted to be led by the nose academically; getting higher grades for doing it your way seemed a far better way of doing things to me! Setting up my own business after university – with no business training – followed on naturally, giving me freedom over my time but also utilising that self-motivation I mentioned. And the stubbornness. That helped.
Several years ago I bumped into a former secondary-school teacher of mine. He happened to sit next to me on the train, and it turned out that he and a few other parents were taking a group of home-schooled children on a field-trip to Wales (he didn’t recognise me, and was initially horrified when I let-on that I was a former student…
“Oh God, did I give you loads of detentions that you’ve never forgiven me for?!”
“[indignant pause] No. You gave me a ‘B’ once for failing to colour within the lines on some stupid DT poster though. That was unforgivable”).
He explained that he had been so infuriated by the ‘bureaucracy’ at my old school (this is the polite version of his critique) that he had quit his job, taken a part-time position elsewhere, and removed his daughter from the school to embark upon a home-schooling system. She went to clubs after school hours like any normal student and had a busy social-life. She would return to school for her GCSEs, but for now seemed to be having a wonderful time, and her learning was entirely geared towards her interests and talents. Just the approach needed to develop self-confidence and self-belief in a young mind.
One of our clients recently took his three children out of school for six months, to travel around Asia. They engaged three private tutors to travel with them, and recruited for the ability to deliver holistic lessons that utilised the incredible environment and experiences available to bring subjects to life. Lessons took place at temples and in the jungle, making connections between facts and information and the real world. Teaching the children myself on their return, I can see that they have experienced the world a little. I can see it in their work, and I can see it in them, and it’s wonderful.
There are other reasons of course for home-schooling. Some students just don’t learn well in a group set-up. Some cannot conform, some are bullied so badly they need a break, some have very specific learning needs. Some are left behind at the bottom; some are left to stagnate at the top. Targeting the middle, the majority, is a necessity, but what about everyone else? Everyone who is not average? The group-education system we have ensures everyone receives an education, but it is born of necessity. It certainly does not suit everyone. Private tuition is a wonderful supplement, but taking it further and home-schooling for any period of time really is an amazing gift you can give your children.
Just as group-education doesn’t suit everyone, however, no doubt home-schooling wouldn’t suit everyone either. Students who thrive on competition, who need the social pressure of their peers to motivate hard-work, who shy away from independence; these children may get lost out of school. Every child is an individual though; they cannot all fit the same mould, and they will constantly surprise you. For more guidance take a look at Education Otherwise, a UK charity offering support to parents considering home-schooling.
Would I home school my own children? Yes of course. For a couple of years, maybe even for a few. It would give them strength, confidence and independence. They will not learn to take orders though, or to conform. They will be difficult! But I think we need more people like that.