In the past five years, the home education movement has risen from 34,000 in 2015 to an estimated 80,000 in 2019. Many families are waking up to the constraints of the current outdated education system and realising that they want more for their children’s education. No more so than for myself and my 15-year-old daughter. At the beginning of this year, I finally removed her from the education system completely broken and weighed down. Two months on and I have a child back that is happy, has a more positive attitude, we hardly argue now, whereas before it was very challenging to be a parent. She’s embraced self-directed learning, she has group tutoring and attends classes to support her interests, she gets paid to help her nana clean, she’s accessed The Prince’s Trust for confidence and team building and she takes herself off into town to access the museums. However, I am still plagued with doubts and question whether I am doing the right thing, will I provide her with enough opportunities that will enable her to grow and learn. Yet, I am reminded each week by the children who attend my Home Education day that knowledge and learning do not need to be implemented within 4 walls within a school. And although I have spent years researching how children best learn and what methods support children’s unique needs, as a parent I have felt the weight of societal pressure that has been ingrained in our way of thinking. Will I fail my child if I take her out of school? Ultimately it came down to one decision – Education or Happiness. I chose happiness and trust that the rest will fall into place. I removed her from school in year 6 so she could have her last year of childhood with no SAT pressure and I have removed her from high-school so she does not miss out on her teen years.
This has guided my decision to open up the setting to now cater for children aged 3-9 within the same group. We have always loved our Wednesday groups for the relationship dynamics between the younger and older ones, and between the dynamics of the older ones and the grown-ups too. The conversations we have each week continue to amaze us, their knowledge of their key interests teaches us things we never knew ourselves. We all become the teacher and the learner within this shared relationship. It is also at the continued request of many parents who ask us when are you going to open up a ‘school’. Whilst a school is not what we will be, we will provide an alternative educational experience for the home education community across 3 days. Although we are at the beginning of this transition, we are excited to see how this will unfold over the coming years. As with the pre-school, we will continue to seek inspiration from educational models around the world that will help us to learn new ways of doing things that enable us to further enrich the children’s experiences.
The space has been created to provide children between the ages of 3 & 9 the opportunity to engage in mixed-age groups, in a safe confined space without the interference of an adult within their play. Our sessions are designed to teach children one of the most fundamental life skills – how to be human. Not many children get the opportunity nowadays to spend 6 hours a day completely immersed in nature with the opportunity to engage in child-led play. Play in its purest sense is what the children who come to us get to experience. These playful moments are what teach children a whole range of complex skills and support the development of their executive functions and cognitive development. Our social relationships help us to develop a sense of belonging and I believe children do not get enough opportunities nowadays to develop these skills due to their overstructured lives.
What we do provide is a range of open-ended loose parts for the children to engage with, and if they do want us to build, construct or guide an activity then we will. They learn to problem-solve, turn-take, negotiate, be imaginative, have disagreements and resolve conflicts, regulate their emotions and collaborate. Essential life skills. I wholeheartedly believe that the educators are there to provide strategies that support children’s emotional literacy skills, and if children want some guidance and to participate in the activities we have on offer, then it should be their choice to do so. For our home educated children, what we provide is an experience that enables children to engage in active learning that is led by children’s own curiosity. Our approach is guided by the most influential theorists of our time Piaget, Vygotsky, Bruner, and Frobel and adopts a more constructivist approach to education, which is facilitated by experienced educators.
The most fundamental skill that young children should learn when they are in the forest, is how to develop their emotional intelligence and their connection to the natural world. This combination is what enables children to know what their values are, to develop ideas, reflect on their frustrations of self-directed learning and assimilate information that will hopefully set them up for life. What it is is play in its natural sense.
Julie Ann White