Ross Mountney explores how we find the confidence to home educate

I’ve spent many years writing about home education to raise awareness and champion it as a successful alternative to school.

School works very well for some youngsters. But having worked in the system, I’ve also seen others let down by approaches that seem to be more about politics and less about the individual, at times to the point of suffering and unhappiness.

Home education offers a workable alternative – a lifeline sometimes. But it can be hard to find the confidence to take the leap, especially since we are conned into thinking that formal schooling and teaching are the only route to education. How could we possibly ‘teach’ our children outside of those familiar structures, especially if we’re not ‘proper’ teachers ourselves?

In answer to that, I’d like to show you what is learned outside of school and also to demystify teaching.

For a start, look back at what your children learned with you at home when they were really little. Despite not being a ‘proper’ teacher, you will have enabled them to learn all sorts of things, probably without you realising. For example, you will have ‘taught’ them to talk and count, to use a wide range of vocabulary, to gain many useful skills such as dressing and using the toilet, to use tools and utensils such as crayons or paints, cutlery and scissors, to use technology, and so on. You’ve taught them to observe and name the things around them and to do many things for themselves. Your children will have learnt all this from being at home with you.

And I put ‘taught’ in quotation marks because you probably won’t have taught your children in the formal sense of the word. Instead you will have encouraged, provided opportunities and guidance, chatted and been engaged. Home education is really an extension of what you’ve already done at home with your little ones.

Look also at what you’ve learnt outside of school. You won’t have been formally ‘taught’ most of the things you’ve learnt since you left school, unless they were part of a specific academic course. But you will have gained many valuable skills without – cooking skills, for example, skills connected with your job, home management skills, budgeting and banking, among other things. You will have taught yourself new technology skills. You will have learnt how to do these things through the experience of doing and through self-led investigation. This is a very valid approach to learning.

And it shows that learning takes place without schools, without targets and strategies, schemes, tests or teaching, and in many cases is self-motivational.

This can be successfully applied to home education. When you parent, you already home educate, in a sense. You already ‘teach’ through your parenting.

It also might help to understand something about formally trained teachers. There is no magic strategy or secret that teachers know to get children to learn any more than parents can. It’s just that we’ve been led to believe there is. But think back to teachers you have known. The good ones aren’t good because they have a magic formula for teaching. They’re good because they’re great characters, inspirational, fair, honest, respectful. The qualities a good teacher needs are personal, not to do with training – or knowledge, come to that. I have colleagues in the teacher training profession who agree. However, because of the system, we’re conditioned to believe that teachers are gods and that without them we won’t learn. This isn’t true, and they don’t always know your child as well as you do – they may have thirty-odd others to be attending to.

There’s also the matter of knowledge. Once, we needed teachers who were ‘book read’ because they were the only source of information. Now we can access all the knowledge we need online. What do you do when you want to know something? Google it!

All the support, information, community, troubleshooting and research we could ever need while home educating are only a click away. You never have to do it alone – and your children won’t be alone either. ‘Home educating’ is rather a misnomer – many families find they’re learning in all sorts of places, usually with others.

What is really required is that we broaden our ideas beyond those we’ve been conditioned to accept, and to look instead at the other valuable ways in which children are learning. YouTube springs to mind! And also to understand another concept about learning: learning is something children naturally do – that’s why babies stuff things in their mouths and why children ask endless questions. They want to learn – it’s as natural as wanting to eat. Your role is to continue to encourage that desire by providing a supportive and stimulating environment.

Most home-educated children learn by doing: by research, by experiment and investigations of their own, by being out and about with the home ed community, by sharing ideas and resources. Some use many of the free study resources online, or course books available in bookshops.

But the most influential impact on their education is the time given by their parents, along with others, to encourage and support their activities, to facilitate opportunities, to talk and wonder and hypothesise and discover the things that interest them, and guide their direction. Time teachers don’t have. And the children have a respectful, democratic community within which to do it, without coercion, bullying, fear of failure, or the constant competitive testing that harms more children than it encourages.

Home education is a very natural extension of what engaged and conscientious parents already do. We just need to believe in ourselves in order to do it. The rest you can look up online!

Five ways to help you get started:

  • Connect with others. There are many groups (Facebook for a start) where you can do this – and get chatting to them.
  • Read some of the home-educating family blogs – they give a great illustration of day-to-day life as a home-educating family, along with tips for activities.
  • Research a cross-section of groups/blogs, because there are many diverse ways of approaching home education and you need to find the way you’re comfortable with.
  • Be reassured: the decision is the hardest part. Learning together is easier than you think.
  • Be prepared to be flexible and keep an open mind – that’s the most educated and successful way to proceed!

You’ll find help for making the decision and getting started in my book Learning without School: Home Education. For a more informal look at the home-educating life see A Funny Kind of Education, and there’s further support and tips in A Home Education Notebook.

Ross Mountney is a parent, writer, former home educator and ex-teacher. It was while she was teaching that she began to feel that much of what teachers were required to do in the name of education did not suit many children. This seemed to be borne out when her children became unhappy and unwell in school. So they left to be home educated until they went to college. Ross now writes to support the home education community and promote other ideas about children’s learning. Facebook: RossMountneyAuthor Twitter: @RMOUNTNEY7