Rose has always looked after her daughter at home, combined with doing projects around naps and other bits of time. Her daughter is five and became compulsory school age in January but won’t be going to school.
“I liked primary school. I was the oldest in my year which helps, I loved learning new things and it was quite fun when we went wasn’t it? I remember doing projects on the Victorians and things like that, and stories and painting. It makes me sad that it has become so much more pressured, that five year olds, and younger, are being sat down for formal learning. My overriding memory of secondary though is of crushing boredom, so intense that staring out the window at nothing was hugely preferable. I was reasonably academic and good at exams but I came out of school with absolutely no idea of what I could do, no idea what I liked. It took me years to regain my desire to learn. I want it to be different for her.
When we started noticing, before she was two even, that she didn’t love the organised children’s activities we took her to but instead would do amazing things under her own steam, I started reading articles on everything I could find about how we learn. Thinking about home ed was a real leap. It just seemed weird but everything I was reading about school sounded miserable, the early tests, the focus on formal learning and things I was reading about self-directed learning sounded so inspiring.
Our daughter is so curious, so inventive and creative. It is a joy to watch her explore and learn. Some friends ask me what and how I teach her. I explain that I don’t, that we just do what she wants. They don’t really get it, it is so different from what their kids do.
I read her stories, she tells me stories – which sometimes I write down and ask her about. She sets up scenes and mini worlds with toys and we play whatever idea it is she wants to. We go to galleries and museums and explore town and go for day trips with friends. In the summer we go camping and occasionally to a small festival. There’s lots of time spent with other children in parks and woods and swimming. We go to regular meet ups, depending on the time of year, allotment meet ups, games clubs, Montessori, meet at soft play. She plays in treehouses and sand pits and with mud kitchens, her and her friends negotiate what make believe game they will play and how exactly the rules should go. She rides a bike and a scooter and is learning to roller skate. We talk, constantly, about all kinds of things. Currently she is desperately practicing letters and writing, she loves to give us little presents and write us notes and she wants to be able to do it in secret. She asks to help write my lists. She has exercise books she likes to use to practice. I am grateful that she does it because she loves to, not because she has to. Some mornings it is miserable out, she might spend hours watching shows she likes. She’s learnt lots, including to question whether you should believe everything you’re told. We paint and draw, she makes elaborate constructions and sculptures and bracelets for me. She is learning ‘maths’ all the time, counting and division and sums through games and cooking and money and sharing, it’s everywhere. She loves to do experiments of all kinds, she is fascinated by rocks and magnets. She has friends come round who live nearby, they dress up and play games and generally tear my house apart. We go to the waterpark and woods. Her and her dad seem to do different things, play around with a keyboard and making music, and photography and watching lots of things about Japan, which she is fascinated by. They watch films together, Disney and Studio Ghibli are favourites. They cook. Make ambitious Lego constructions and dens. Go for long walks.
I love what we spend our days doing but the important thing really isn’t what we do so much as that we’re doing what she wants, she chooses what we do, how we do it, she is the lead in what she should be learning. We support her and help her explore the things she’s interested in, find new things she might like. And of course, this is what home ed looks like for us with a just turned five-year-old. It’ll change and evolve and develop as she does. Which is what I love about it. There is so much to be excited by in the world, and so many options to explore and learn that we didn’t want to restrict this by putting her in a classroom. I know lots of people don’t have the choice but we are lucky that we do, although it isn’t easy financially.
I find the proposals to change the rules around home education and to introduce active monitoring very upsetting. There already is a process by which home education is checked, you can be taken to court if the local authority is not convinced you’re providing a good enough education.
It is frustrating that the need to constantly test and measure children is very much one of the things which messes up schooling, there is an awful lot of evidence on how assessment has very negative impact. It is particularly annoying that they are apparently desperate to get children ‘back’ into school when the entire system is failing so badly. It would be different if it were a successful system filled with happy children like in Finland, but it isn’t. There is evidence as well that monitoring would make the kind of education we’re doing – called self-directed, unschooling, child-led – impossible. There’s so much research to back up the fact that it is effective, it isn’t really some off the wall crazy idea, it’s just we’re so used to how it is that lots of people don’t question whether it really should be that way. My daughter’s education, and how we spend our days feels pretty perfect to me, I don’t want it to change. “