Looking back - what would I change?
© Beverley PaineMy youngest turned sixteen last week. I guess that means we're officially traversing the barrier between child and adult, dependent and independent. Thomas is still learning, as we all continue to do, but for some time now my responsibility for his education has been diminishing as he takes over. It's a weird and wonderful time - but only in my head: no one else notices it!
For some time now I've given consideration to the question - what would I change if I had the chance to start again? It's a tough question for me as ultimately such a question can't help but arose thoughts of regret, something I'm dreadfully allergic too.
I've found it hard, over the years, to shake off the educational ideology I grew up with. Cultural conditioning and socialisation meant that 'listening to my heart' as a parent and home educator continually gave rise to intellectual and emotional conflict. No one told me that having children or 'teaching' them at home would change the way I viewed the world and experienced life. The adventure I've shared with my children challenged my values, thoughts and beliefs. My intense interest in how learning occurs, and how I might best help my children learn, led me to consider how I might best help myself learn and to see myself as a life long learner - something I only fully realised after several years of homeschooling.
So it's hard to look back and find things that I would change because, on the whole, I like the person I am today, which is more than I could say for how I felt seventeen years ago when our homeschooling adventure began. I still have the list of homeschooling goals I presented to the education department back then - top of the list was "to develop self confidence and self esteem". I felt that I didn't have sufficient of either of these as I entered adult life and there was no way I wanted my children to suffer the same fate.
Our haphazard and untidy homeschooling methodology paid surprising dividends. We're very happy with the level of self confidence and self esteem our young adult children display. We're also pleased with their sound grasp of who they are as individuals, even though they aren't overly social, outgoing or ambitious (have you noticed how society always parades those kinds of people as the desirable kind?) I think the journey has been a success because it was underpinned by a sensible, balanced and consistent homeschooling philosophy that had at it's centre consideration of the child's thoughts, feelings, interests, needs and wants.
There have been many times that I've felt a complete homeschooling failure (not a month goes by that I still don't!). Sometimes it's all too easy to buy into the 'regrets' philosophy. April, my eldest, feels that television wasn't a good idea, although we rarely watched it, and then mostly for documentaries or movies. The same could be said for computers, and computer games, which were restricted until the children were older, but not because of age; we simply didn't have the power to run the computer for long each day. However, I can't deny the ease with which my children absorbed information from the television and continue to be amazed at their ability to recall that information years later. No real regrets there.
When I think of areas that I might, in a moment of waning confidence, call deficiencies in my children, it's easy to see the root cause. Take their social life, for example. April once joined a dance class and later on tried horse riding. Roger and Thomas joined in the local community table tennis competition for a year. Every year I encouraged them to join scouts and other groups but they weren't interested. They were barely interested in the homeschooling gatherings I organised! There have been huge chunks of their homeschooling lives where they didn't play with children their own age for months on end! It's easy to feel some regret about that, but then I consider the eventual outcome and realise that the children haven't been disadvantaged at all. But more to the point, they wouldn't change anything.
I do wish we'd been more physical though, and taken up some sports activity as a family, perhaps bushwalking. The truth is that no one is particularly physically minded, although the boys did a few years of circus training and Roger went on to do gymnastic training for a year - both activities over an hours drive from home!
April's on again off again schooling could be listed as a regret, but I'm not that sure it is. She went to school at age seven full time for eighteen months, then part time for four years. After a couple of years of full time homeschooling she went high school part, and then full time. She was always the oldest in the homeschooling groups and missed hanging out with girls her age. School didn't live up to its promises - neither socially or educationally, but it did deliver many things April needed to further her own natural learning program, which makes it difficult to harbor regrets about that experience.
I remember thinking, way back in 1986, that community run and owned learning centres would one day provide the ideal education for all members of the community, young and old. I've always viewed home education as a compromise. Regardless of whether a child is at school or not, every one is home educated - that's as natural as breathing. My learning centre pipe dream is still a long way off - I'm not even sure my grandkids will enjoy such an educational opportunity. In the meantime I'm happy to continue promoting the best compromise I can come up with, home education, whilst helping people break out of the school habit.
If you thought, at the outset of this letter, that you'd find a list of the dos and don'ts of homeschooling, then you'll be disappointed. Boy, would I have loved a list like that seventeen years ago! But I know now that such a list would have led me up the garden path and back again. only to discover the important lessons I needed to learn, about life, about myself, my children, my family and my society, entailed me making a whole host of 'mistakes'. I needed to learn to get over minor regrets, learn that every moment of life is an entire learning journey unto itself! Along the way I've discovered that there are many levels of learning in one breathless moment of life and that there is never enough time to contemplate them all.
Every thing we've ever done in our homeschooling adventure was done in a spirit of centredness, with the child at the centre. Sometimes the child was a real child, sometimes it was a theoretical child, an imagined perfect child in a perfect world (great for finding out what we each truly want from life!). Sometimes the child was myself - the child I once was or the child I am today. From that centre self esteem grew and continues to grow, though it's hard to deny the battering effect of the 'outside' world. I found isolation truly helpful in keeping my mind and goals clear - the temptation to socialise my children, have them grow up to fit the 'norm' or 'average' or force them to excel, live up to someone else's standards or expectations, was sometimes overwhelming. My children helped me find, and keep, that centredness intact.
What would I do different - in this lifetime - nothing! What would I recommend my children do differently if they chose to home educate their children? Aha! I think I need to write another book!
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!
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