I have been asked a few times recently what books I’d recommend for someone interested in home education. After a few moments thought I had amassed a whole shelf’s worth of inspiration but these are some of the very best. Books that have both inspired and guided me over the last eight years of family life.
ONE TO ONE is a beautifully produced sourcebook for home educators. Former teacher, Gareth Lewis and his family have compiled their knowledge of subjects from maths to gardening, cookery to art. It is aimed at families with children aged up to eleven, covering the preschool years and the importance of play in the early chapters. I used this book a great deal when my children were younger but we have now graduated to the sequel, Unqualified Education, for those aged 11 to 18. In One to One, there’s plenty of ideas to spark a journey of discovery and also much to ressaure you in Lewis’ editorial throughout the book. The illustrations and projects contributed by Lewis’ illustrious children serve as further reassurance that home education works. Great for those looking for inspiration for projects and wondering how to go about it.
TEACH YOUR OWN: John Holt’s book of home schooling is a useful reference book which has recently been updated. It contains much information on Holt’s philosopy but for anyone who wants to delve into the why of home education a little deeper, I would recommend How Children Learn and How Children Fail. Holt subscribes to the belief that children are natural learners and do not need to be co-erced into education or have school recreated for them at home. In fact his understanding of children and how they think make any of his titles an interesting read for all parents, whether home educating or not. A good choice for those interested in the philosophy of unschooling.
AND THE SKYLARK SINGS WITH ME: Adventures in home and community based education is David Albert’s first biographical book about his experiences educating his daughters. Some friends of mine don’t get on with this book, finding it frustratingly unachievable. It is true that Albert seems to be raising two daughters who are clearly genius material, which could highlight shortcomings in one’s own experiences. But I find that it serves as an exciting, inspirational tale of hope and possibility. Yes, his eldest is composing sonatas and singing complicated works with the local choral society by the age of ten but that is recounted in such a way that it is joyful to read of his child’s talents. I thoroughly enjoy this and Albert’s sequel, Homeschooling and the Voyage of Self-Discovery and revisit both at least once a year. A good read for those looking for stories of hope and possibility.
DUMBING US DOWN: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto is the book that I unreservedly recommend to anyone who is home-ed curious. I have bought countless copies over the years and yet looking in my bookcase now I can’t find one copy so they must all be out there circulating. Taylor Gatto, himself a former headteacher, outlines everything that is wrong with the current school system and details what we can do to put it right. Incredibly inspiring stuff from someone on the inside. A brilliant page turning read for those who are considering home education but are still unsure.
FREE RANGE EDUCATION, edited by Terri Dowty is another oft-lent book to those families considering home education. An excellent introduction, it comprises a series of essays and experiences from home educating families. Editor, Teri has put together a valuable selection of stories from a wide range of educational backgrounds, covering different approaches. This seems to be a popular read for dads who are seeking more information about the actual practicalities of home education. Useful for those who want information from the front line; how does it actually work.
Do you have any favourite reads that have inspired you? It would be great to hear about them here.
Okay, so we are weeks away from finishing our education special – it’s looking super chunky with loads to get your teeth stuck into from articles about making own medicines from the backyard to stress-free parenting – yes really!
We also have lots of inspiring writing about education – different methods, how to set up your own home ed group, exciting green projects taking place in mainstream schools etc. One piece that I am still putting together is an article on different methods of home educating. We posted on the forums looking for families to talk about their experiences but so far have only had a few responses. Well, I figured that it might be an idea to answer the questions myself about our approach to learning at home. And that it might encourage others to get involved.
So here goes: Structured or autonomous and why?
A mixture of both. When we started out on our home educating journey my eldest was just four. I was over-the-moon excited that we had discovered a different path – I felt such a sense of relief that she didn’t have to go to school, it was all I could do to stop myself crying when I spoke about it. Anyway that first year we did lots of craft projects, reading together and trips. I recorded everything that we did and made books of all the books we read and the places we visited. After a year or so of this, we settled into a more organic approach and Jez started working on the Green Parent with me from home so I had a home educating buddy! This made a big difference – we divided our week and both got to spend time with the girls and time in the office. It took a while to get used to but I can’t imagine life any other way now. So now the girls are 11 and eight, we provide a little structure in the form of a workbox system that they can do in the mornings if interested and if nothing else is going on. This means they can work alongside us and we get involved in their projects. They have created much more structure for themselves than we have ever imposed upon them. They run a school for their bears with a timetable, certificates, school inspectors – the lot! After watching this regimented approach unfold for a couple of weeks, I brought in the workbox system as I figured that they needed to create something that was missing from their daily lives. So far, it has worked pretty well – they only have six boxes – not the twelve that Sue Patrick, the US based home ed mum who came up with the concept suggests. It is interspersed with physical activity, fun stuff like making raw fudge and some fairly dry maths worksheets from enchanted learning etc. However, we take an autonomous approach to this work and other classes that they attend in that they are free to decide whether or not they want to do it. This is based on the belief that if you don’t want to study something then it is unlikely that any worthwhile lesson will be learnt.
Do you have an educational philosophy?
I do have an educational philosophy. I even wrote it down when I was young and feverish about home education. I can’t remember much of what was written but it has boiled down to a sense now that I want my children to grow up with a sense of freedom and a belief that anything is possible. I also want them to question everything. Oh and to be able to listen to their own bodies and follow their own daily rhythms, rather than those suggested by the state.
Do you follow a curriculum or particular programme?
I go through phases of getting excited about systems and programmes, though I have lacked the ability to actually follow one. I like to look at the Five in a Row website and even treated myself to the book outlining the programme for 8-12 year olds recently but as predicted it hasn’t got further than me reading it and getting all excited about the possibilities – the organised projects, the neat workbooks etc. Then real life surfaces through the daydream and I remember that my children are mostly happier poking sticks in the fire, and setting up a charcoal making workshop than ticking neat little boxes.
Do you have a space set aside for home education?
This is something that I have always longed to create. I read Amanda Soule’s The Creative Family book and cried at the wonderful gift she gives to her children, in making SPACE for them and their interests. We have a dresser full of art equipment and projects in progress called “The Home Ed Cupboard” and the boxes take up an inordinate amount of space but this is in the office so it doesn’t really count. I wonder what a whole room would look like? When the girls were much younger I used to browse through the pages of the Community Playthings catalogue and look longingly at the handcrafted wooden desks and chairs made by an Amish community not far from here. Now, I think about an art studio out in the woods, filled with ideas and inspiration. Dream on, dreamer!
What does a typical home ed day entail in your house?
There is no such thing as a typical home ed day – why did we ask this silly silly question? In retrospect, I’m sorry. Sometimes, mornings workboxes and afternoons a cycle ride, trip out with friends, home ed group, art class or french lesson. Lots and lots of eating and a serious amount of play.
What are your children interested in and how do you foster those interests?
My eldest is interested in most things at the moment. She loves reading and has recently started expanding her reading choices beyond Jaqueline Wilson and the Lady Grace Mysteries to take in Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, Little Women and the Railway Children for example. She wants to be an author. In terms of fostering her interest, I make sure that some of the projects in her workboxes push the boundaries and get her thinking about new ideas and concepts. She is very good at pushing her own boundaries however and is v self-motivated.
Her younger sister is into more physical pursuits – she loves moving her body, playing instruments, cooking etc. I try and make sure that she gets a good dose of high octane activity everyday. I also make sure to make her boxes appealing to her sense of fun rather than relying on worksheets etc. She has recently decided that she would like to be a designer who lives in a caravan so she is drawing and creating a great deal at the moment.
Are there any particular skills that you would you like your children to gain from their home education?
There are lots of things that I would like my children to take from their home education – I think a sense of responsibility for self is very important. A knowledge of basic survival skills – how to make clothes, grow and cook food etc. How to be self reliant – emotionally as well as physically. And also the importance of deep connection with others. I’d like them to learn a new approach to maths that is both creative and practical. I love the concept of art within mathematics and the incredible structure of nature for example. I also want my daughters to have an understanding of living maths too though – things like running a business and managing household finances etc. Mostly I want them to have a thirst for knowledge and an understanding that we create our own reality – literally life is what we make it.
What does home ed look like in your house? Write and tell us and your story could be in our next issue!
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