Guest post on Home Education in Exeter by Hannah Durdin
Devon is one of those places that people flock to for many reasons; the beautiful beaches, the wild, untamed moors, the slower pace of life, the picture perfect seaside towns… It is also one of the more popular places that home educating families seem to head to in order to raise their families. We are beyond blessed to have an absolutely thriving home education community in Exeter and beyond, with a wealth of opportunities for children of all ages from Forest School to choirs to science workshops and athletic meet ups and then so so much more.
But for those of you with children not yet of school age or those of you with children in school, home education may be a bit of an unknown entity. You might wonder why parents choose to follow this path rather than school, you might have questions regarding what we actually do or whether it is even legal. You might be concerned about our children’s ability to socialise or how they learn if not being ‘taught’ by qualified teachers.
These are all queries that people have raised with me fairly frequently so I thought I’d take this opportunity to address some of the more common questions that I’ve encountered over the last few years.
Firstly, yes it is completely and utterly legal! According to the Education Act of 1996, parents are obliged to provide their child with an ‘efficient full-time education…either by regular attendance at school or otherwise’. There is no requirement to register your children as home educated and as you are not a school, you do not have to follow the National Curriculum. In fact, this is one of the biggest benefits of home educating in my opinion.
The National Curriculum is set by bureaucrats in a Whitehall office and is often fairly arbitrary in what it decides our children should be learning. By choosing to home educate you are able to follow the individual needs, interests and learning styles of your own children. There is no one way to home educate and people’s approach varies massively from those who buy in a curriculum and quite literally do school-at-home to those who embrace an unschooling or autonomous approach whereby they engage in no formal education, learning through life and the opportunities and interests that naturally arise.
Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle of the two. My eldest two sit down with me (or the laptop) two or three times a week but what they do can vary massively. My middle tends to just do ‘lessons’ on Reading Eggs or play maths games with me whereas my eldest is learning Italian, to touch type, taking part in an series of animation related lessons with Pixar, to play violin, and is currently learning about Native Americans and Pilgrims. When not doing any of that, she either has her head buried in a book or is up to her elbows digging in the garden helping me with the planting. They both love anything science related so we often do practical experiments or explore the natural sciences. As well as this time spent one-on-one with me, they attend Exeter Forest School (which they adore), various home ed social groups, swimming lessons, and dancing.
In terms of socialisation, this is the most commonly asked question and I believe, the least relevant. Although they may not spend five days a week with 30 of their peers, my children see a large number of people every week of all ages and in all sorts of different scenarios. They are outgoing and confident talking to other children and adults alike. They are quick to make new friends at the park, able to work in a team when set a challenge and are considerate of others. It really is a non-issue.
Which brings us to the meatiest question…why do we (and so many other families) choose to home educate? First of all, I would like to start by saying that I have the utmost admiration and respect for teachers. I think they do nothing short of an incredible job and I don’t envy them the struggles they face.
What I do have a problem with is the education system itself. A system that increasingly tests our children earlier and earlier, that teaches to pass exams rather than impart knowledge, that requires children to spend six hours a day at a desk from an early age confined inside four walls, that has no choice but to use one method to teach all. No two children are the same so how can we expect them all to equally prosper with a one-size-fits-all approach to their education?
During my time spent with home educators, the reasons as to why are many and diverse. From parents who have pulled children out of school due to bullying, to those who want to spend some time travelling, those with children with a very specific passion who have allowed them to devote most of their time to pursuing it and those who just saw from the start that their children wouldn’t thrive in a classroom.
For us? It’s a mixture of reasons. I love being involved in their education, helping to facilitate their learning and being able to witness those lightbulb moments when they master something they’ve been working on for a while. I like having the freedom to follow their interests for learning and I am so thrilled that we can teach them to think outside of the box, to show them that there is more than one way to do things and an alternative to the status quo that society often puts forward does exist.
But one of the biggest reasons for me is to maintain and nurture their connection with the natural world. In a world where screens are at every corner, I cannot explain strongly enough how important I think it is that they have an understanding, appreciation and respect of the ‘real’ world. A knowledge of how to grow things, how to recognise plants and animals, to understand seasons, to feel rain on the horizon, to navigate (without a smartphone!) if needed, to be able to climb, run, swim and just be free.
The actions of mankind are accelerating climate change and we need our children to be the generation to wake up and stop that. We’ve left them with quite a mess and I want to equip them with the tools to help clear it up. I don’t deny that this can still be achieved through the school system and parents who are equally passionate about these things after school and at the weekends but for us, I feel this is the path we should be taking.
School is not the only option when it comes to educating your children, there is an exciting, diverse world of education beyond the classroom walls. It might seem daunting and beyond your capacities but I promise you, it isn’t! I see it simply as an extension of parenting and like a lot of things, it may seem like a mammoth challenge if you look from the outside in but once you’re doing it, you take it a day at a time and things slowly build up.
There is an amazing community of people ready to support you, build you up and for you and your children to connect with. Of course it’s not for everyone, nothing is. But maybe it is for you?
If I’ve piqued your interest and you’d like to know more about home education head over to Education Otherwise or Home Education Advisory Service or the Exeter Home-Ed Community group on Facebook for information and to talk to other real life home educators.
Hannah lives with her three children and husband just outside of Exeter where she juggles home education, writing, weightlifting, running and spending as much time on Dartmoor or by the beach as possible.
She is a freelance writer primarily focused on content and blog writing and social media management. Hannah blogs at The Starlings Gather Here.