When people find out we are a home educating family their reaction is often one of surprise. When I then tell them, we do not use a curriculum, we do not have a learning schedule or a yearly plan, their looks often turn from surprise into something between confusion, disbelief and fear. We are, what some call, “Unschoolers” but personally I prefer the term, “Free Range” learners. We were not always “Free Range” learners. I trained and taught for a while as a Steiner Waldorf Teacher and when we first started home schooling, nearly five years ago, we did use a curriculum and I did spend many hours planning. It was basically school at home. As the years passed I noticed that my children’s enthusiasm to learn started to disappear. I panicked, had thoughts like “What am I going to do, I can’t let them play ALL day” but, slowly I started to unravel my firm held beliefs that children need to be told what to learn and started to see the learning value in the world around us. I let go of my fear over technology and instead, embraced and celebrated the creativity my children expressed through all forms of media. Our lives became more exciting as we let the world in and explored our different interests. I noticed how wide and varied each child’s interests were and at the same time embraced my own. My twelve year old daughter is passionate about Jane Austen as much as she is about “Monster High”. She has asked me to help her make a Regency style dress and bonnet so we can join the Jane Austen parade in Bath this year while, in her room, she is creating bedrooms and cafes out of old shoe boxes for her ever growing collection of “Monster High” dolls, which I happen to think are very beautiful dolls and they sure leave Barbie in the shadows.
Honouring and following each persons interests leads you to many exciting places which you would never know existed if you just stuck to a prescribed curriculum. That does not mean that curriculum material can not be used as a great resource sometimes but it is more about picking and choosing. Another important aspect about Free Ranging learning is that you have to be prepared to let go of your child following everything through. They may be passionately involved in something one day and totally despondent about it the next. This can feel frustrating as a parent when you have put in a lot of effort finding resources but I have come to trust that often my children dip into a something for a while, drop it and come back to it maybe, weeks, months or even years later. It is a real test of faith in your children that they will learn what they need to learn, when they are ready to learn and that any kind of “Forced” learning does not work. Well, hang on a minute, when I say “Forced” learning does not work, I mean, of course it works if you just want children to cram facts in their heads for tests and tick boxes but if you want them to really develop a life long passion for learning and exploring the world you need to allow them the freedom to try out many different experiences. Free Range learning does not mean total “Hands off” education either, I see my role as a facilitator of my children’s education. I seek out as many resources, materials and experiences for them to explore. Using the world around us to learn from seems much more sensible than being sat in a classroom all day. We do not fill out work sheets with pictures of money, we go to the shop or the post office and use real money. We do not read Maths stories about imaginary journeys by train, we take a real journey by train and work out what time we have to leave the house and how long the journey will take.
There are many questions home educators get asked, the most common one is…”But, what about Maths, how can you teach at secondary school level?” Did you know that 99% of the population will not use any of the Maths they learnt after 10 years old in their adults lives and it has been proven that the best way to learn Maths is through games; Board Games, Card Games, Movement Games and Computer Games. I highly recommend listening to the TED talk by Middle and High school Math teacher, John Bennett @ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xyowJZxrtbg&feature=player_embedded. Then we come to reading. It is not uncommon for people to sway slightly as if to fall over when I tell them that our daughter did not learn to read until she was nearly twelve years old. It is not that we did not encourage her to learn to read, as I said we did the whole schooling thing for a couple of years. I went through all the Phonics flashcards, workbooks, computer packages, read to her every day but, she just was not ready and it was only when we completely backed off, our daughter discovered books she liked in the library, books she was interested in reading and so taught herself to read, now she leaves the library arms pulled high with books.
Sometimes, the fear of “Will my children know enough?” does sneak back in especially, when I see the amount of work other children their age are doing in mainstream schools. Then I try to look at the bigger picture and remember the words of W.B. Yeats, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”. I believe the greatest education I can give my children is the knowledge of how to be in the “Real” world, how to embrace all the world has to offer, how to connect and socialise with people of all ages but, most importantly, how to follow their own path in life free from the expectations of others.