This is our classroom…
This is our classroom…
As Jaiden and I approach our 8th year of home educating, once again homeschooling is seeing a massive surge in new registrations so I thought I’d take a moment to share some of our journey to perhaps help some of the newcomers.
Initially, I didn’t decide to homeschool because I hated the schooling system, or because I thought I could do a better job. Rather, I made the decision because I felt Jaiden had more important skills to learn than academia. A 6 year old that can write his name is great, but what about if that same 6 year old cannot control his emotions, perform basic self care tasks or communicate effectively? I knew I needed to address these key things before Jaiden could integrate into mainstream schooling (which was always the plan)
Despite all of this, when we embarked on our journey I somehow forgot all of that and went into full blown ‘teacher mode’. We had a timetable, morning lessons and curriculum planned 5 days a week. The problem I quickly discovered is that Jaiden had no interest in learning to read, and when we moved onto vowel blends, his lack of interest turned into resistance which created a huge amount of stress between us. We tried apps and games, which resulted in smashed screens, thrown keyboards and plenty of tears. Being a parent is hard at the best of times, but when you’re also wearing the teacher hat, the difficulty is often compounded. Only a few months into our homeschool journey Jaiden and I were both struggling with the frustrations of our morning lessons. Sure, he was progressing, but he hated it which resulted in us tearing shreds off each other by 10am, not ideal as a single parent who is with their child 24/7.
Eventually the frustration became too much and I let go. I stopped the lessons and gave up trying to get him to read. I thought back to my time working in early childhood and how we used a play based / interest based approach to individually monitor and assist childrens progression; it struck me as odd that interest based learning was encouraged in the early childhood setting, but when that child turned 6 and they attended school the majority of that was traded for a curriculum based approach. Why is this? Everything I have learned in my adult life I did so because I had an interest in it, and most of that information was retained because it has utility, in that the information actually has relevance and use to me.
An example: I love cars, and do a lot of work to cars myself. I needed to know the firing order of my engine, so I googled it – 1-3-7-2-6-5-4-8. Over a decade after first seeking that information, I can still remember it because the information was of value to me, and has continued to be of value. Around the same time, I was doing a 4 day course on some IT security infrastructure we were implementing at work, which required me to pass a test. I passed with flying colours yet 3 weeks later I needed to draw on some of this information, and it was not there.. Why is this? Well, I was told I needed to learn it, I really had no interest in hardware firewalls at all, it was just something I had to do. Sure, being competent in this device had use and utility to my boss and his clients, but not for me personally, there was no intrinsic motivation to learn it. Simply put, if I am not interested in what I am learning, my knowledge retention is very low, why would I expect my child (ASD no less) to be any different?
Many newcomers to homeschooling worry about their children ‘falling behind’. Part of the joy of home educating is that you’re able to tailor everything to the childs individual needs, and interests. There are no tests and no pressure to perform well in those tests that often stems from fear of failure. The aim is to create young adults that love to learn, that seek out information, and who use their interests and passions to create a life, and career that leaves them fulfilled and adding the most value they can to society.
The mainstream education system aims to empower children with knowledge to assist them in succeeding in adult life based off the childs age, which seems like a pretty solid approach. However I would argue that because much of the information is not ‘relevant’ to kids, knowledge retention is lower. This is reflected in the national OECD figures which show 40-50% of Australians have literacy skills below the average international standard, which means they read at, or below an 8th grade level, this is a frightening figure. Much research is being done into how to better teach kids to read and write, trialling different methods and resources. I am not sure if this is the answer.
As unschoolers, our approach is to not empower our children with the knowledge that we deem appropriate based on their age, or what formal approaches work best. Rather it’s about empowering them to SEEK this knowledge, creating a positive association to learning by making these skills useful, which is more likely to result in them wanting to learn. As parents, we use their interests and everyday life to seek opportunities to introduce new concepts, this is done organically and without planning. My job is to guide Jaiden and his educational journey, not to dictate it.
Some of you may be asking, what happened to Jaiden and reading? Well, when I gave up trying to force it, I bought a heap of different books that interested him (Lego, star wars, etc) but I did not sit with him and read once in over 5 months. During this time he started playing minecraft, something that required him to read if he wanted to learn how to play, and to interact with other homeschoolers. For months I did nothing bar answering the constant barrage of “how do I spell this” or “what does this say” questions, oftentimes they felt relentless. I’ll leave a post in the comments with the full story of this)
Fast forward 5 years and Jaiden (12) now reads, on average, a 500 page novel per week. He actively seeks out magazines that interest him and this often serves as a launchpad into new topics of interest. Jaiden is not yet a teenager but he is directing his education using his natural curiosity and is actively choosing topics that will allow him to create the lifestyle and career he wants. Our lessons have not come from books, they have come from learning about cars, visiting skateparks, cooking, bushwalking, museums, historical sites, meeting new people, and exploring the world around us.
The picture looks like a kid playing with a lighter, and some wiring. But it has in fact been a 1 week long Maths and Science project on understanding the basics and then planning and wiring an entire 12v and solar installation from scratch. Why does it have utility to Jaiden? Well part of it is because we live off grid, but the main motivator is that Jaiden wants a race car, and he wants to be able to wire it, and diagnose wiring problems without paying $200 an hour. His race car is a long way off, but he has a dream and this gives him the drive to gain the required knowledge, which means he’s happy to put in the hard work and face problems that arise. I believe in order to live to our potential we must learn to amass knowledge and skills that have utility to us, that move us towards our goals, and I think the sooner this happens, the better.
To all those parents about to begin their homeschooling journey, please take a minute to remember that if a child is ‘falling behind’ it does not mean they are destined for failure, in fact industriousness is a far better indicator of success than IQ or higher education. Whilst I began home educating as Jaiden was not ready for school yet, I now love this life because I see the joy in his eyes daily when he learns something new or masters a skill, often with me learning right alongside him.
I wish every parent got to experience that, it’s pretty special.