Life learners are always learning about learning. And they learn a great deal from those who have come before. In this article, a British writer and mother of grown unschoolers shares how her family learned that education and schooling are quite different things.
By Ross Mountney
It’s brilliant to have this opportunity to tell you a little bit about our family’s home education. It was such an inspiring journey where we adults learned as much as the children and I always welcome the chance to share those lessons around.
Ironically, I started my educational career teaching in mainstream UK Primary schools. But I soon felt that much of what I saw going on there didn’t appear to be that great for children – learning-wise, emotionally, circumstantially, or intellectually! When my own children began school, my suspicions became reality as I watched their enthusiasm for learning, their health and well-being, even their vibrant personalities, wither and disappear. We knew we had to do something about it, so we took the homeschool route.
Like the philosophies here in Life Learning Magazine, I also feel that “homeschool” is not the ideal name because firstly, as much of it takes place outside the home as in it and secondly, it is a very different approach to children’s learning than schooling.
That’s one of the lessons we learned very early on in our home education: “education” and “schooling” are quite different things.
Schooling implies something done to someone else by another person – exactly what happens in a school. But real education is about personal growth, and doesn’t necessarily have to take place in a school. And a huge step the children took was when they realized that education was something that they can be in charge of, for themselves and about themselves and their personal advancement, rather than it being something done to them by others in an institution.
Another very valuable family lesson we learned was that children can learn by themselves, without being taught, and everything is educational. Every activity children are concerned with, from feeding the cat, through playing, to practicing some academic task, or looking on the Web, is an opportunity for their advancement. If you throw discussion, further research, going off on tangents, more conversation, etc., into the equation, the learning extends all by itself.
If children are engaged with and observing the world, they’re learning about it.
We also learned that one of the most valuable opportunities parents have to facilitate their children’s educational development is through conversation. Within conversation is the opportunity to pose and answer questions, get children thinking, discuss hypotheses (e.g. I wonder what would happen if…) make observations, wonder why, etc. And the beauty of this is that conversation can take place anywhere, at any time, whatever you’re doing. It makes learning instantly accessible and extendable.
That raises another valuable point that became clear to us: Learning doesn’t necessarily have to be written down to be effective. All the time you’re conversing, you are extending the children’s ability to use language, develop their social skills, their observational skills, their mental agility and reasoning, and broadening their view of the world. What is education for if not for broadening your view of the world and increasing understanding? If children are engaged with and observing the world, they’re learning about it.
We took a very experiential approach to the children’s learning day to day. That is, they were practically involved in a variety of experiences and activities that extended their knowledge and skills. It might be playing or creating something, home-based jobs or care, exploring, investigating and experimenting, or practicing academic skills – although we rarely did that for the sake of it; it was more as a natural extension of other activities. Activities were very much led by their interests, although we offered guidance and encouragement if motivation was waning. We met others, and got out and about regularly – perhaps on a library trip, doing the shopping, or a group visit to a museum, gallery, or field trip. We got plenty of exercise, sometimes on a meet with others for swimming or wall climbing or skating, or just for a walk or cycle.
It was an intended part of their education (and our parenting) that they understood that their lifestyle had an important impact on their health and well-being, mental and physical, that they grew in confidence and self-esteem and that they learned about themselves and how they could extend themselves into the wider world. They decided to use Further Education College and University to help them do so and are now both working.
We also wanted them to learn that education is an inspirational, uplifting and enjoyable opportunity for them to grow, enhance their lives, to become independent and make their own choices, and know they didn’t always have to do the same as others. What they did need to do was think for themselves!
I would say they’ve both been successful in that. Their ongoing learning has extended into their lives by the way they lead their lives, as we hoped it would.
When we first started back in 1999, it was before the Internet had become the tool for information and networking it is now and I felt that it would have been immensely helpful to have a book for guidance. So I set about writing one as our home learning matured, hence my book Learning Without School.
The second book A Funny Kind of Education came about because I thought there’d be more chance of people reading about education through a story format. I wanted to raise awareness of other approaches to learning, to dispel many of the myths surrounding home education, and spread educational ideas around.
When you first step away from the mainstream and start a life learning approach, you’re very anxious and concerned about where it will all end, how you’re going to cope and what will become of you all. In those early days, it was unimaginable that someday I’d be writing from a house that is empty of little bodies – no interruptions, when once I would have appreciated a bit of the peace and space I now have on a daily basis.
>Suddenly it doesn’t seem quite so attractive! But it will happen for you too. So enjoy your children while they’re around for there will come the day when they will have become so well educated they’ll also be ready to fly, just like ours have!
Ross Mountney is a parent, writer, definitely an ex-teacher, and home educator. She lives on the east coast of England in a cottage that’s been alarmingly empty as her two children have grown and flown! She continues to support other home educating families and a life learning way of living. You can read excerpts from her books at http://rossmountney.wordpress.com. This article was published in Life Learning Magazine.