Home Education | But Don't You Worry About Socialisation?Jul 03, 2022
An inspiring insight into the lives and daily experiences of a Home Educating family @HomeEdByLiving
“Don’t you worry your child will be weird?”
When people hear that we home educate, a picture is usually painted in their mind of a child sitting at home, alone, at a desk, recreating a school. When I first heard about Home Education (HE), my mind's eye conjured that image too. It's understandable, given that the majority of people have been through the school system that this image is the main point of reference. As such, it also makes senses that some people have a negative view of Home Education, and even feel sorry for our kids in. This is especially true since the pandemic, with parents having to juggle work while simultaneously ‘Home Schooling’ their children, it sometimes felt more like a trauma than Home Education. Although Home Schooling and Home Education sound similar, the differences between them couldn’t be further apart in reality.
When talking about Home Education, people often openly ask questions that highlight their concerns around the children’s social lives, such as “don’t you worry your child will be weird?”, “don’t you worry they won’t be socialised and they won’t fit in?”. They also show concern over the quality of education and future of the children, asking questions like “will you send them to senior school?”, “Are you qualified to teach them?”. All these questions are a natural response to the preconceived ideas that people have around Home Education, and I probably asked the same when I first heard about Home Education too. We are so conditioned and tied to our own experiences of school, we can't envisage another way. As Stark Raving Dad (@issysrd) so clearly puts it, the questions are easily turned around for parents of schooled children:
`Because if your child attends school, I would like to know how you’ll make sure they’re afforded sufficient socialisation opportunities beyond the small set of same-aged children they’ll be spending most of their time with? Also, how concerned are you about your child not being sufficiently prepared for the real world after spending so many of their formative years in an environment that is extremely curated? Is that one particular individual even the best person to be teaching your child day in and day out? And I would like to know how you’ll make sure your child is learning when their interests, strengths and progress will need to be juggled by one individual tasked with delivering a prescribed curriculum to 25 other children at the same time.’
I’d never dream of asking those questions of people I meet, but when you think about it, they are just as valid. Our school system is a recent addition in human history, but it has been widely used for all of living memory. So, to society, home educators are seen as the ‘crazy misfits’. When in reality, we are just a normal cross section of society, who chose an education that differs from the norm.
To home educators, education is not seen as something that you do Monday to Friday, 9am – 3pm. Home Education is something that we do every day including school holidays, it lasts from morning to night, from birth to death, it’s a way of life, a way of exploration, a way to grow in whatever way you choose, every interaction and experience offers an opportunity to learn.
Less play, more work?
My daughter who is 5, loves to play. Play is so important in helping her develop essential skills and knowledge. In most of her play, she likes to mimic life, she explores play using her own creativity and freedom, she learns social skills, cognitive skills, physical skills, fine motor skills among many other things, all while happily playing, my role in this is to enable her to have freedom and opportunities to develop these skills. As you’re probably aware, the fact that pre-schoolers learn best through play is widely accepted. What's less commonly accepted is that this same theory applies to older children.
At 5, we send children to school, as each year progresses, we expect less play from them and more work. Children are taught subjects which are chosen for them, they are not able to follow their own interests, adults tell them to buckle down and work hard, trust us, keep revising and this will pay off. And… if they manage this, they will grow up to lead a successful and happy life. By the time they leave school, many of them realise that’s not necessarily the case.
One Size Fits All?
In school, children need to read at an early age, the teacher needs a way to be able to instruct a whole class, so reading is paramount. This requirement works for some children, but others end up feeling incompetent and start a lifelong battle with reading. For instance, 50% of the prison population are functionally illiterate, meaning that half of the people currently incarcerated have a reading age of 11 or lower; most of who will have gone through the school system. The same can be said for Maths. How many adults do you know who say they are bad at Maths? The fact they run homes, businesses, work in complex jobs using numbers daily doesn’t count for anything. Their opinion of their ability is formed from their experience in school, due to the fact they that didn’t learn as quickly as their peers, or because they didn’t have a strong memory recall to pass an exam.
In Home Education, there are many different educational philosophies, each one unique to a particular child or family. Over the years, we have tried many combinations of learning to see which one fits us, it's clear to me now that self-directed education is the most natural way for the children to learn. Although I’d read so many books and studies on the subject and I felt like I was fully committed to the idea from the start, with the benefit of hindsight, I realise I needed to really de-school myself before I could fully commit to the theory, so we spent a few years trialling different styles of learning.
Free To Learn
I was always passionate to learn along with my children and to try understand how we learn. Peter Gray’s book, Free to Learn, was recommended to me and, after reading it, my view of education completely changed. At that time, I hadn't decided to home educate, it sounded fantastic, but it was not something that I could do; that was for people who were qualified to teach. Little did I know that, as a home educator, you are not a teacher, you become a facilitator; seeking information, opportunities and experts to complement their journey. As my eldest was summer born, I decided to hold him back to start school the following year. He continued to attend forest school, along with attending other Home Education activities. He was progressing with every month, as he did, I started to identify exactly what Peter Gray was describing in his book, my son was like a sponge, absorbing life all around him and learning through play. When the time came to register for school, it didn’t seem to make sense in his life anymore, I’d seen the alternative, there was no going back. I was a terrified, but I told myself he would only stay out of school until he was 7, most of the world don’t start formal education until then, so we’d just do that. By the time he was 7, it was a no brainer, we would continue Home Education indefinitely, unless him or his sister asked to attend school.
Over the years, I have read many books and listened to many podcasts discussing educational theories, and I have entered a world of self-directed education myself, my focus being on education. Our educational philosophy was shaped by the writings of Ken Robinson, Peter Gray & Sugata Mitra. I recently discovered Naomi Fisher on a podcast, referencing the same people.
In her brilliant new book, Changing Our Minds, Naomi succinctly pulls together which are to me, the important parts of these theories and she expertly links them to our home educating world. Naomi has the added benefit of being a Clinical Phycologist and Home Educator, so she has a unique understanding of these different worlds. She explains self-directed learning much better than I can in her new book:
‘Self-directed learning is well accepted for one section of our society - the youngest. Most of us have no problem with letting small children direct their own learning through play. This could be because trying to get them to do anything else is such a thankless task but, for whatever reason, young children are generally allowed to learn about the things that they are interested in. They explore their passions to the full. The intensity of these passions often surprises their parents, who find themselves with an extensive digger collection and making regular special trips to the building site at the other side of the park without knowing quite how it happened. The result of this is that young children learn about quite different things. One learns about dinosaurs, another about the properties of mud and sand. One is fascinated by My Little Pony, while another can't get enough of Pokémon. These differences don't worry most parents, because they can see that the skills children are learning are higher-order skills - how to interact with other people, logical reasoning, how different concepts can fit together, how to plan a story or play a character. We don't expect young children to be learning useful information, and so we allow them to explore their interests, and acquire skills through doing so.
At some point between the ages of three and eight (depending on the country you live in and whether your parents pay for private school or not), these days of individualised learning come to an abrupt end. It's no longer acceptable to spend all your days pretending to be a dinosaur. This doesn't happen by accident. When a child starts school, the adults around them deliberately impose a new sort of learning. They start gently with little groups on phonics and reading diaries sent home. Within a couple of years, they have moved children on to spending most of the day seated at a table, completing tasks set by adults. Learning becomes something which is done because an adult says so, rather than because the child wants to know. As this happens, learning becomes separated from its purpose. Maths starts to be about getting the right answers, rather than being a way to understand quantities and patterns we see around us. Reading is about putting together the right sounds to decode a word, rather than communication. It's a big change. Before school, all skills are learnt because they are meaningful and useful for the child right now. But at school, the skills learnt are for the future - for the child, an unimaginably distant future where things like grammar and decimals will be all-important in some unspecified way. They aren't learnt because the child needs and wants to know them for their life right now, or even for their own future goals.’
The Autonomy and Desire to Learn
I have been a home educator for seven years. I’ve seen with my own eyes how children learn best when they have full autonomy of their learning. The innate desire to learn within every child pushes them forward. You know yourself, if you are passionate about a particular subject, you’ll happily research it, find out everything you need to know about it and talk about it to anyone who will listen. Self-directed education sets children up with these same skills to be lifelong learners; to be in control of their future from a young age. Children who are free to play and learn what they like, when they like, have time to find out what makes them tick.
When the time comes, usually in adolescence, to choose the path they would like to take in life, the children already have a wealth of exploration and experience to help make that decision.
Sometimes children don’t choose to formally learn English or Maths until they are in their teens, this does not affect their grades later in life, many studies agree that it enhances them. They’ve had so much time to play and explore who they are, they have so many different life experiences to draw on, which apply to their learning, children can learn the whole maths curriculum in months, rather than over a decade, the content isn’t an abstract theory, it can be applied to real life experiences. Children in school have their time, clothes, haircut, friendship groups micromanaged. They have the subjects they learn chosen for them. How long they learn for is determined by the sound of a bell; a child could be immersed in deep learning, it doesn’t matter, when the bell goes, it's time to stop and learn something else. Maybe they will return to it next week, maybe the spark is extinguished, hopefully not.
When do school children truly get the time to explore what makes them tick? We expect them to go through the school system and come out fully formed adults, knowing what they want to do with their lives. Yet, we don’t give them the space or time to do this. No wonder so many of us only begin to figure out who we are in our 40s.
Naomi Fisher goes on to say in her book,
`There is another group of people for whom the majority of their education is led by their own interests. Like young children, they choose what they want to learn and how they want to learn it and, when they have had enough, they stop. Unlike young children, these people often engage in structured learning courses, which they may or may not complete. Apart from formal studying, they use a wide range of methods to learn, including YouTube videos, games, conversations, TV programmes, tutoring sessions and books. And who are these people? Adults.
Adults acquire 'secondary knowledge' all the time. They learn because they want to, or they see a need for it in their career or life. Not only do adults not need to be obliged to learn, they will pay thousands of pounds for it. Adults don't just learn in order to get qualifications; many of us enjoy learning, particularly about things which interest us and in which we find purpose. Our school system makes the assumption that between the ages of five and sixteen, young people must be made to learn. It isn't just structured learning that they are thought to need, it is compulsory structured learning. The link between compulsory learning and structured learning is so strong in our minds that many of us don't question the assumption that, in order for children to learn in a structured way, they must be compelled to do so, yet young children learn without compulsion, and so do adults. Why do we believe that compulsion is necessary for those aged between five and sixteen?’
He taught himself to read
My son who is nearly 10, started his journey like his sister, learning through play. And he continues to learn this way. After our research into self-directed learning, we decided we wouldn’t sit our son down & force him to read, we would let him take it at his own pace. I must admit, it's one thing reading the theories that children can teach themselves to read, but testing it on your own child is a little unnerving to say the least. So, you can imagine my delight when he taught himself to read, all while playing Minecraft.
As a family we focus on comprehension, we play with words and language all the time, we read signs as we go about our daily lives, we discuss sounds and phonics and read stories. When my son started playing Minecraft, I would get asked, Mum, how do you spell diamond? How do you spell amethyst? As time went by, he started to ask Siri how to spell words too. He started asking me questions about words and about how they were put together, he had an innate desire to learn, pushed by his drive to become better at Minecraft. The words he was learning to read, had meaning to him, they weren’t abstract to him. In what seemed like a blink of the eye, he was reading. My son now has a command of the English language, which exceeds the ability of myself and the rest of the family; all because he has had the freedom to explore language in a way that works for him.
Even though I’d previously learnt so much about this process, it was incredible to watch. It was difficult to shake my own experience, that the school way was the only way that we can learn.
At that point I finally let go of my conditioning. I learnt to watch and listen to my children. I learnt how to identify their passions and see the extended learning that takes place within their interests or daily activities. I learnt how to support them on their own personalised journey and not worry about what other children can do. I've shaken my schooled mentality and the need to compare their progress with their peers.
We are not invisible
Over the last year we have visited the RNLI, completed a Discovery Art Award at Creative Hub, ran a successful community art event, investigated coast lines with RSPB, attended regular sports and outdoor pursuits sessions, coding classes, regular meet ups with other home educated children, fishing CAST awards, drama at the Empire Theatre, learnt about myths and legends, visited Tintagel Castle, visited a copper mine, attended a Safari School at Knowsley Safari Park… amongst many other activities.
My children are integral members of their community, they are known and seen by many education professionals, health practitioners, neighbours, family and friends. We are not invisible, like it’s widely reported in the press. My children will interact with anyone of any age. They don’t see a hierarchy in life, they feel as entitled to an opinion as anyone else and exist alongside adults. Adults find this refreshing and some of their best learning comes from these impromptu conversations.
“Don’t you worry they won’t be socialised?”
One of the biggest misconceptions about Home Education, is that the children don’t socialise. Home educated children actually have much more time to socialise with their peers compared to schooled children. They have time to explore their friendships, and to learn from each other, and they grow fast in emotional intelligence and negotiation skills. They mix with different age groups and learn different skills; younger children learn social norms and get emotional support from the older children, and the older children practice nurturing and leadership skills with the younger children.
When playing, the main aim for children, is to keep play going, no matter what. So, they will put the effort in to quickly learn socially accepted norms within their peer group, they will be flexible in their play as they learn to accommodate each other, and ultimately share knowledge and skills because, if they don’t, then the play stops and the fun is over. In my opinion, they are hammering out a world which is much closer version to the adult world, compared to their schooled peers.
Home educated children have more free time with their peers to practice these skills compared to school children. We all remember being told that we are not at school to socialise! If a dispute happens at school, the bell goes and then it’s back to class. The children don’t have the time to work out a resolution. With HE children, conflict resolution happens daily. They still make the same mistakes as school children, but they practice or see conflict resolution on a daily basis, learning the skills they need to resolve their own problems.
Over the years I have watched my children develop in the ways Peter Gray describes in his book. In some ways, it seems so obvious once you can see the possibilities but, like everyone else, I had those same misconceptions before we started our journey. Now that we have lived this life, it seems so almost funny to think of the perceptions that HE children are not socialised.
Self-Directed Education in Practice
To give you an idea of how self-directed education works in practice, I'll take the time to explain a couple of recent pathways. These experiences have taken place over months and alongside many other activities.
My son was exploring his love for The Beatles, he played their songs constantly, exposing his younger sister to them. In turn she found her passion for them too. In Forest School, this led to a shared passion with other children too. My son and two other children formed a band, they wrote their own songs and performed them again and again for the other children at the Forest School. One of the songs became a bit a theme tune throughout the winter for the rest of the children. To encourage this passion, I printed off the lyrics to many Beatles songs, my son read them over again and again, singing along with the music and enjoying reading. He would talk constantly about the meaning behind the songs and what he thought they meant, we used the internet to find out the intended meanings and we discussed them at length, looking at how language is used. There was no need to write anything down; deep learning was in action.
We watched documentaries and films about The Beatles, we discussed the era of Beatlemania, which led to a discussion of the 1950s being the birth of the teenager and how that was the first-time teenagers had a disposable income. We discussed the baby boom and how teenagers outnumbered the older generations. We discussed Pop Art, fashion, money, jobs and many other things. He spoke to his grandparents, neighbours, friends, and even the local dog walkers about their love for The Beatles.
I organised a trip for home educated children to the Beatles Story in Liverpool to help cement some of the learning, and the children walked through the world of The Beatles, experiencing life as it was in the 60s. We visited a local record shop with a group of children. The owner spoke to the children about the different ways that we have consumed music over the last few hundred years. He discussed how people, usually wealthy people, would wait years to listen to Mozart and, if they wanted to hear his music again, they would need to buy his sheet music, learn to read music and play the piano. They discussed how the poorer people would usually create their own music at home or in a pub and the type of songs that come from that era. He discussed with the children about many of the different ways that we have consumed music over the years, from wax cylinders, gramophones discussing the journey through from Vinyl, Cassettes, CDs & Minidisks, he had many of the recent formats in the store and the children looked through the music in store and tried playing it on the various formats.
Talking about the birth of the teenager then led us to discuss the second world war. When we first moved into our house, we found an air warden helmet in the loft, so we got the helmet out again, this time looked at it more closely, and my son found an initial, surname & number on it. We decided to sign up to ancestry and find out who lived in our house during the war. At that point we assumed the helmet belonged to a man, thinking it was a soldier's helmet, but we were wrong, it belonged to a lady, who was an air raid warden. That discovery led us down so many paths. We had discussions around the roles of women through the war, the other tools air raid wardens had, the houses that were bombed on our estate, we spoke to neighbours and family about their memories. One of our neighbours told us about how, when he was evacuated to Scotland, the train line was bombed so he had to wait in Carlisle while it was fixed. He told us about the streets in Scotland, the smells he remembered. He also taught us about the Mulberry Harbour which was built on D Day and how his dad was one of the soldiers who built it. We went home and looked at the engineering of this online.
We then went to the library and looked through the microfilm of the local newspapers during the war. There were so many interesting articles. We discussed The Blitz and the interesting stories that we found. We found an animation online showing the bombs dropped in Merseyside during the Blitz and we discussed the bombed-out church in town. We repeatedly found articles about an ongoing public debate because there was a dispute about who owned the debris left over from bombed houses; was it the government who paid for the repairs, the builders who carried out the repairs or the home owners? This debate among other articles, was interesting for all the generations in our family. We borrowed the book Carries War from the library, which is about evacuee children. I read this myself in primary school and we discussed the book at length.
Remember though, this whole learning pathway came from playing the Beatles. My children asked questions, and I helped them find the answers or experts who could answer the questions for them. As the questions came from the children, they were interested and engaged. Through their own curiosity they covered most of the subjects on the national curriculum. My daughter was with us the whole way, she picked up the parts that interested her, joined in with our discussions, and took herself off to play when she was bored.
The Hole in the Wall
Meanwhile, for my son, a passion for cooking was flourishing. He attends weekly cookery lessons and regularly cooks at home. He has adapted recipes that he learnt at his lessons, creating his own recipes and regularly cooking them for the family. He is currently researching packaging to see if he can make and store one of his recipes, with the view to be able to sell it in the future. He is looking at the costs to produce his product, the time it takes, the laws involved in selling food… this subject will run for a while yet.
His sister does not want to attend cookery lessons, but she is inspired by her brother. She now wants to cook at any opportunity and has created some of her own recipes. Admittedly, these are carb on carb on carb, but this then led us to discuss nutrition and a balanced diet. At a social Home Ed meet up, I took the camping stove and my son cooked one of his recipes for the other children and parents, he then showed another child how to make it. This boy then showed his father how to make the meal at home. This transfer of knowledge is a perfect example of Sugata Mitra’s, The Hole in the Wall experiment, which was a TED talk winner. In this, he demonstrated how children with autonomy and the right environment don’t necessarily have to put time in to learn the particular skill themselves, they can learn through the experience of their peers.
A day preparing for a family holiday
We have recently been on a family holiday. In the lead up to the holiday, the children were involved in the planning process, looking at the country, the culture, the language, the history of the country, the travel options, budgeting in understanding what we could and couldn’t afford. Prior to travel, I needed to visit the passport office in Liverpool. The children came with me, and we crossed the road at the Strand. As the road was so busy and noisy, both my children were a bit unsure of crossing, so we spent some time looking at the different signals and when they were activated. We looked at the prioritisation of the lights and discussed road safety while observing the actions of other pedestrians and drivers. We estimated speeds of the cars and discussed when we felt safe to cross. We discussed miles per hour and how that is calculated. After crossing the road, we discussed the technology behind traffic lights and I told them about the recent changes to the road layout. We discussed the theory of why the planners think that the changes will be better for the traffic. We discussed the fact that planning the roads is someone’s job, we discussed Highways England and the proposed road through Rimrose Valley Park. We discussed the alternative proposal of underground pipeline to take the traffic away from the docks and discussed the pros and cons of both the options. We discussed the fact that Sefton Council are opposed to the road and why it is not their decision if the road is approved.
At the passport office, we were given a number and took our place in the waiting room. My daughter asked for her pen and paper. She started writing our ticket number over and over again, practising her number formation. Meanwhile my son discussed the logistics of how the passport office was run, we discussed why so many people were there, why we need passports, how the office handled our requests, how he would run the office differently, among many other discussions.
At home, influenced by learning that Sefton Council aren't in control of the potential road through Rimrose Valley Park, my son asked about how our government works. We have the Usborne book of Politics which has a description of democracy in the UK, along with other systems, so we read this book. We watched PMQs on YouTube and discussed the traditions of parliament and also the way politicians speak to each other.
This learning path was created by questions from the children that they were genuinely interested in understanding. Will they remember everything that we discussed and learnt about? Most likely not. But they will remember the parts that spoke to them and the parts that apply directly to the experiences in their lives as they grow and shape their perception of the world.
When our holiday arrived, my son used the previous discussion of mph to calculate how long it would take to get to the airport. Waiting at departures, my children were waiting for our gate number to be displayed. They kept checking the time and calculating how long until the gate information was displayed. While waiting, we looked at the exchange rates and calculated how much currency we would receive if we changed different amounts of money. Maths is everywhere and is explored throughout every day, be it these examples or shopping, cooking, sharing, construction, temperature, wind speed a Forest School, sports or other types of play, it doesn’t matter what a child decides to do, they inevitably expose themselves to maths.
As a consequence of the upcoming Schools Bill, we have recently watched the debates in the House of Lords. This led us further into the workings of parliament. We watched the educational videos on the Lords and Commons YouTube page, we started looking at the history of Britain, the Magna Carta, King John and looked into the origins of the Wool Sack. Based on previous experience, I think there will be more questions on this subject taking us deeper down this path.
So you’re home educated. What’s 7x13?
When people find out that my children are home educated, they often quiz them to find out what they know. As most people were schooled, it's difficult for them to believe that there is another pathway to learning. I get that, but for my children it’s so strange. The questions are generally limited to what they would know if they went to school, like times tables, random sums, or if they can spell something. Compounded by the fact they don’t learn subjects in the same order as school children, to HE children, these questions are strange abstract requests for them to do a sum without a reason or context. People have no idea that they can communicate with them as they would an adult since, as HE children, they inhabit the world as adults do. The children are interested in debating the same things that us adults like to debate, and can contribute solutions to problems like we can; often with more creative solutions.
HE children literally learn by observing the world we live in, just like we adults do. So it would be great if other adults started a discussion about their interests, life or anything else rather than testing them. I guess that’s why I agreed to write this blog. How will people know what HE is like if we don’t tell them?
As parents, we are all doing our best
Parenting can be such an emotive subject. Sometimes when you talk about what you do, it can seem like you are demeaning the choice that people make to send their children to school. That’s certainly not the case. It's just difficult to discuss why you chose a certain path, when it is in opposition to another way of life. I am aware of how lucky we are to be able to home educate since we work in jobs that enable us to work around the children, and that others do not have the luxury.
As parents, we are all doing our best. Most of us have not been parents before. We are learning on the job. I always think that, if my children went to school, it would be a lottery whether they thrived, survived or failed. Our school system works for some children, but not for all. There are so many variables contributing to each child's success at school. Whatever path my children decide to follow in life, inevitably people will say it's because they are home educated. They could be incredibly `successful’ and it would be seen as a good thing, or they could end up in dire straits and it will be seen as a bad thing. Our aim though is for them to lead happy, secure lives. To our family, we think that Home Education is the best route to achieve this, it might not be for everyone, but it’s working for us.
Stay connected with news and updates!
Sign up to receive updates, resources, inspiring blogs and early access to our courses.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.