Homeschooling: Home Education: Unschooling: Life Learning

“There is no school equal to a decent home and no teacher equal to a virtuous parent.”
Mahatma Gandhi

My dear friend, Florence Bouekria made one of the bravest choices to homeschool her kids whilst I was still filling up forms for school for my children. I have been curious ever since. Hence, she is my guest blogger of the day to tell us the ins and outs of daily sacrifices, challenges and blessings; homeschooling comes with.


Where to begin. There is a lot written about homeschooling/home education/unschooling/etc so I

will stick to my own story and journey. Anyone wanting to know more I will list a few resources at

the end.

I think like a lot of people I had little idea of what homeschooling was about and imagined it to

mean literally school at home, where mum (mostly mum) acted as parent and teacher. And quite

frankly I couldn’t think of anything more abhorrent for child or parent. That was before having my

own children.

Then by chance I came across a book called Twenty Chickens for a Saddle by Robin Scott. Written

by a girl roughly my own age she describes her own magical up bringing in Botswana. I could no

way claim that my childhood was as exciting as hers but there were parallels that I could relate to.

The freedom to roam, to explore and to learn. For the first time I realised that homeschooling was

not school at home but the freedom to learn and an absolute trust that children have a natural

desire and inclination to learn.

Coupled with this I was also reading or had just read Why Love Matters by Sue Gerhardt and other

literature on Attachment Parenting. My first son was only a few months old and I had learnt to trust

him to tell me when he was hungry and when he was tired etc, to follow his cues. Why Love

Matters supported this by describing how the infant brain needs to grow through connection and

trust. So this new realisation that homeschooling was just life at home with the freedom to learn, to

be surrounded by and exposed to new ways and opportunities to learn, seemed to me an

extension of what I was doing already and made a lot of sense.

However, it wasn’t lost on me that Robin’s adventures are from the child’s perspective, coloured by

nostalgia of her own childhood. None of the trials and doubts of her parents make an appearance

and the realities of parenthood were still mostly unknown to me. I got hold of more books and read

and talk to as many people as I could and still do.

But I did have my own experience to fall back on. Having gone to a Steiner school, at a time that

health and safety hadn’t quite taken the straggling grip of today, my childhood memories are full or

freedoms and with little academic pressure. We had whole lessons when no adult or teacher came

to supervise us, as our class teacher was sick, a replacement was often forgotten. We had no tests

and no phonics to learn to read. I was always proud to be able to tell people that I learnt to knit

before I learnt to read and write, and that when I did learn to read it was because I’d taught myself.

I never had to struggle through endless mind-numbing phonics books. The first book I read on my

own was The Little Wooden Horse. Once I could read I remember reading continuously book after

book. By 13/14 my grandmother had me on Dostoevsky and Charles Dickens. By the time I

changed to a more academic focused school I was struck, even at that age, by the fear in other

pupils and ownership of their own learning. Being a complete culture shock most of what was

taught to me went over my head. I continued to read books at home, rather then study and revise. I

enjoyed autobiographies and classics, and I am sure they are the reason I managed to pass my

exams. I also had no fear of exams. I place no big value on them. I was not riddled with panic that I

knew a lot of my peers were. I passed my exams successfully with a good moderate spread of high

grades, that surprised my father.

I knew from my own experiences that an exposure to good books and an example that in your own

hands learning can be fun, I realise that everything I know today is from my own determination and

interest to find out more. I was determined to give it ago with my own children.

My children are now 7 and 4 and have not been to school. I quickly found other parents with

children of similar ages and during the week we meet up to let them play. Sometimes we will

organise an activity. More often then not the parents get stuck into the activity and the children go

off and do their own thing. We drink a lot of tea. I read read read to my boys, anything and

everything. As long as they are interested I don’t worry about how hard or adult the books are, or

how childish and simple. If they ask me to read the same book a 100 times I do without showing

my boredom. (I am not saintly, I do sometimes just have to say I need a break).

I answer there questions as openly and frankly as I can, but not giving them a closed answers.

Often asking their thoughts, their ideas. We have a lot books and can still be persuaded to get

more books.

It is not always plain sailing. I can suffer a lot of doubt. Are we doing enough? Is this right for our

family? Do we need to be more structured? What if this is one mighty F**K UP. To be with your

children nearly 24/7 without a break is exhausting and occasionally mind numbing. There are times

I would like to run away, or leave them at school, just so I can get my head space back and live in

a tidy house. Also because I want to be able to pursue my own interests in becoming a Doula

(supporting women through pregnancy and birth and beyond) and the difficulty of finding someone

to look after them can be wearing. When they don’t behave, or aren’t polite it is hard not to feel

judge on the homeschooling.

I have also made changes that I thought I would never do, of which I still feel I am trying to find my

feet. Over the summer I read Sandra Dodd on radical unschooling. We didn’t grow up with TV’s or

computer games and before my eldest was born I was happy to think we would never own a tv. I

scorned those parents that let their children be constantly entertained by screens. Especially as the

screens became smaller and more portable. I still feel a tightening of the chest at the idea that they

can be constantly entertained going from one thing to the next without ever having a break from

staring at a screen. It feels so unnatural. So detached from real life. And yet, Sandra Dodds

arguments are compelling. Why should there be a hierarchy in learning. Children learn when they

are interested and self directed. Sitting in front of a screen can seem to be passive but the more I

watch my own children the less I believe it is passive. They are actively seeking, following what

interests them and then processing the new information. (If you want read more goggle Sandra

Dodd). Screens are also so much or our reality now, whether we like it or not. My brother and sister

in law are lawyers, much of their day requires working from a computer. My work as a Doula

requires me to be in touch and available and looking at my phone. As a homeschooler, keeping up

to date with what is going on requires me to look at my phone. My parents, when they want to look

something up, keep in touch with their children and grandchildren, requires the phone, tablet and

computer. When all around them adults are constantly referring to screens it is not surprising that

our children demand it to. Is it then right to demonise it. To ration or make them feel guilty about

using it. So I will use the same approach that I used to feed on demand when they were babies, to

make fires or climb trees or being allowed to learn and find their own way in an adult world. I will

learn to trust them. That doesn’t mean that every now and again I won’t pull them away and get

them to do something different, to make sure their childhoods are varied and balanced as I can.

The key for me is to meet up with other parents who are homeschooling. There is a great varied

bunch of other people all doing their own thing, differently and the same. I am part of countless

groups online. We have joined hundreds of other families to camp and share and learn with them.

But most importantly nothing is set in stone. I am always open to re-evaluating our circumstances,

options and learning opportunities. If one day it means that it feels best if one or both our boys

needs to go to school then that is possible.

Notes and Resources

As the the legality of homeschooling read: Education Otherwise

Some of the pioneers of homeschooling:

John Taylor Gatto – Weapons of Mass Instruction

John Holt – Teach your Own

– Learning All the Time

How Children Learn at Home – Alan Thomas and Harriet Pattison

Educating Your Child in Modern Times – Essay by Dorothy Sayers + other authors

For a more formal approach:

The Well Trained Mind

– Dumbing Us Down

What are you thoughts on homeschooling?