A Free Range Child: Our Adventures in Home Education
By Anthea Hudson
Congratulations! It's a boy!
A baby... a boy... a real miniature human being... our responsibility! So much to think about- so much to plan. What will he be like, who will he be, how can we help him become that person in the best possible way?
All these thoughts and more come hand in hand with the joys of having a new little person in our lives. Along with worries and fears... how can we protect him, how can we help him grow strong and healthy and avoid peer pressure into harmful things?
How can I ever let this special little boy, whom I have loved, nurtured and shared every one of his waking moments, be handed over to a stranger... a stranger who will then share his moments of joy and sadness, each new discovery, create shared memories that will never be mine, steal so many of his precious hours from me? A stranger who perhaps won't see, nor stop in time, heartless bullying or his tears of pain.
These thoughts plagued me like a real pain in my heart... until by chance I saw a segment on a current affairs type programme which showed a family who home schooled. I had never heard of home schooling, but instantly knew that this was what we were meant to do! It inspired me and excited me at the prospect of this path for our lives. It gave me a sense of having control over an important aspect of our lives- one I had felt only a sense of uncertainty and insecurity over so far.
That night I broached the subject with my husband, excited to share what I had learned, yet at the same time a little uncertain of his reaction, knowing I would feel devastated if he was opposed to the idea. I needn't have worried. He was just as enthusiastic about the idea as I was. We immediately started researching and coming up with all kinds of ideas for the future- people and places that could help enrich our son's learning experiences. He was not even a year old yet, but in our minds learning began before birth, not at a specified school age, or in a certain building at a desk, so our plan was for a seamless journey, learning as we went in all our life experiences.
Our extended family were a little less enthusiastic, though cautiously concerned rather than all out against it, for the most part. As time went on, several of them became interested in how they could help, so rather than one teacher for a classroom full of kids, our son had several "teachers", with widely varied interests and areas of knowledge and expertise, all to himself.
As he got older, we found a local home schooling group and became part of a wonderful community. We met many lovely families who shared their experiences, and we attended many outings, group workshops and social events. In time I also began running interest groups for interested families, such as a Drama group and a Science group.
It was kind of like the saying "It takes a village to raise a child". We were immersed in our own little "village" of family, friends and fellow home educators, all helping to provide experiences- many of which would be hard to find in a traditional school setting- and pass on knowledge to our children. One of the other great things that became apparent, not only did most of these children interact well with children in their own age range, but they mixed freely and learnt how to relate to others of widely varied ages, on an ongoing basis, from babies to elderly people. Most seemed at ease and able to converse on quite a mature level and also to be gentle and playful with a tiny friend. Friendships extended well beyond the normal school age grouping parameters, and exclusion or bullying seemed fairly uncommon.
For us, part of the benefit was being free to travel or take advantage of special events, that might otherwise not have been practical with a child at school. Fortunately, my husband has worked from home for most of this time, so he has been able to share in many of our adventures too. We could take our learning "on the road" because it was with us every step of the way, in our curiosity and joy for exploring and finding out. It allowed us to spend extended periods volunteering in an outback national park, to do things with family- planned or on a whim, to look at a lovely day and decide to go and explore all the zoo has to offer, or wander though his favourite exhibits at the museum. We could go on home schooler group visits to many, many fascinating places, that a traditional school just doesn't have time for.
We could also follow through on ideas and areas of interest, wherever and for how ever long it might take us, because we weren't constrained by a ringing bell, or a need to move on to a new subject. In fact, most of our "subjects" popped up in whatever we were doing, interconnected and seen through a real life perspective.
Another great advantage was that we didn't have 30 other kids to have to cater to, meaning we could explore things at his pace and not have to wait for slower children to understand a concept, or could spend more time on something he was having difficulty with, or wanted to expand upon. We could also cater to his individual learning style and design things with his interests and needs in mind. We could respect him as a human being, with a mind of his own, and allow him freedom of choice, and let him develop his own ability to direct his learning, and to not lose his love of it.
And we could let him be a child... to just "be". To not rush him through seemingly endless busyness. He had time to think and contemplate, to observe and wonder, to lie back and watch the clouds, or get lost in his imagination.
It has been a fascinating journey- with both ups and downs- and we as parents have learnt so much along the way. It didn't always go as we planned, but often that actually meant it went somewhere richer, somewhere he dared to think of and explore. I'm sure it has created a much closer family too, than often happens when families lives are so separate and they get very little time together to share, talk, learn and laugh together, throughout the day.
Home education is time consuming in one way, because it basically becomes your time... but it doesn't need to be a separate "school time" as such, unless that is how you want it to be. (and this is often not a successful approach.) It can easily become learning as an integral part of your lives. It just takes a certain way of thinking about things and a different approach to the "norm" at times. And you don't have to "know" everything, by any means! You only have to have an ability to research, and either help point your children in the right direction, or access appropriate people or materials where needed.
Taking responsibility for our child's learning has also been extremely fulfilling (and frustrating at times!) and something we feel very strongly about. We don't regret embarking on this journey that has led us along some fascinating roads, and intriguing offshoots, and wouldn't have wanted to lose those precious years spent as a family, learning together.
In a year or so our son will probably move beyond home education, in wherever life takes him, but we know that he will never stop learning. That learning is a lifetime pursuit, and that we have helped develop that spirit in him that will keep him questioning and seeking out new knowledge throughout his life.