Planning, Recording and Making Home Educating Life Easier for Ourselves
by Beverley Paine, Aut 2012
Last week Sharalyn, a mum on one of my support networks, commented that she initially felt bad about not stringently requiring her child to do school work at home. She discovered that her son seemed to "pick up a lot just by living it, being immersed in everyday life". This came about because they started doing a maths lesson (basically a mini-test to see what he actually knew and could do and to her surprise he knew far more than she realised, even though he hadn't been learning in the traditional school way. Sharalyn is now happy that her son "now learns in a way that suits his learning style". Bookwork and online lessons weren't for him: "he can and does pick up a lot more and faster than before". She no longer worries about him catching up to his schooled peers. This is how it happened for me too.
The first time I noticed it I was so surprised and I have to confess it took me years to learn to trust that my children could learn without being overtly taught. Now there are hundreds of thousands of families in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States of America that echo this experience. Many of these families have grown children now home educating their children! But even with this knowledge and understanding, it is hard to go against what has been conditioned into us and to believe that learning in other ways does happen and happens brilliantly. Letting go of the one-size-fits-all curriculum approach to education is difficult because of this conditioning. It is thrown at us every day as the desired 'norm': the media (books, television, movies, internet) portray school as the only way for young people to become educated. And if you have teacher training, 'deschooling' can be especially challenging.
I love using books and textbooks and student workbooks as tools to achieve objectives, rather than as a total approach to education. We learn from life and life is busy and productive and constructive and active: there is a lot to learn from all that! When we need to learn something specific we find the best tool to help us do that.
I found recording our educational journey an essential tool and one that helped to build my confidence as a home educator. My records of what my children did and learned throughout each week demonstrated that it didn't really matter what approach we took they still learned so much. What's more they retained skills and information. This was another surprise, but when you think about it, because they weren't learning to pass a test or secure a grade, whatever they learned was of immense interest to them in the moment. And once a concept was learned it often didn't need any revision!
We used a mixed approach in the early years: school-at-home mingled with long wonderful days of unschooling. Eventually this translated into our ability to use whatever tools we could find that worked to learn whatever we needed, including using texts, work-books and courses. My deschooling journey was slow and gradual and in many ways experimental, responsive to the results of those experiments. I think this is a sensible way to begin home educating and helps to build security and confidence in learning from home.
Over time I developed recording methods that demonstrated to others that allowing children to learn naturally actually covered aspects of each curriculum area every week; see http://alwayslearningbooks.com.au/diarysamplepage.pdf . Although to onlookers my children seemed to 'play all day' and their learning appeared 'unstructured' our unschooling life wasn't unstructured at all. I had goals and plans and records which I maintained: that's my job as home educator. My children's job was to simply learn, which they did brilliantly.
Instead of planning ahead I opted to plan retrospectively. I would review my records of what my children had done and learned over the last couple of months and write it up as a plan. My natural learning diary helped to phrase everyday life as educational activities. I would record activities my children naturally chose to do on one page and those things I asked them to do on the facing page. Putting activities under headings helped me describe our natural learning life to fellow educators, especially for the purposes of obtaining approval to continue home educating. Doing this meant I didn't have to disrupt the wonderful spontaneity of learning or worry that if we didn't stick to the curriculum my children would miss out on some piece of so-called essential learning. Recording allowed me to see the diversity and range of what they were learning everyday and how comprehensive it actually was.
I would also collect 'samples' of specific learning outcomes for our annual review. Sometimes this meant jotting down on a piece of paper the objective and asking the child to add a comment or a drawing, especially if the learning occurred through conversation. I would then date it and then store it in my child's 'subject' folder. My children knew that I needed to keep some samples of learning for home education approval each year. I didn't pretend that it was necessary for education - I made it clear that we needed it to secure approval. Although as I later came to realise, recording was actually teaching my children many useful skills as well! At the end of the year we had enough samples to link together to show continuity of learning and that gave me the confidence I needed when talking to others.
A program is simply a plan and a plan is what you intend to do, not what is necessarily done. Builders start off with every intention of building according to the plan but if the plan doesn't work on that site or with the materials supplied, they change the plan. That happened with a house we had built: the roof needed to be removed because the plan hadn't taken something important into account and adjustments to the framing below needed to be made. When we design our early home educating plans we may not know our children's learning styles, needs and preferences. Plans need to have flexibility built in and created with a holistic or 'big picture' mental framework. And plans aren't 'set in concrete', they are tools, essentially maps to help us get to where we want to go.
It took my husband thirty years to realise that when I make plans I don't mean that we have to do exactly what I plan, that it's just an idea of what I'd like to happen, sometimes in a particular way, but that if circumstances change, then yeah, that will affect and change the plan. Goals and objectives are the same too. They aren't set in concrete; they are a bit like a 'wish list'. When we relax about deadlines and needing to stick religiously to our plans, when we start to de-school and realise that we have been trained to think in a particular way and that it is okay to change that to suit our needs, not the needs of others, home education becomes a lot more enjoyable.
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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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