We all know that home educating parents are so organised. It’s right up there with patience as the quality most mentioned when I tell people my kids don’t go to school: ‘oh you must be sooo …’.
I’m sure there are some paragons out there, but the image of the perfect home educator is as damaging as the idea of the perfect mother. It’s one of the reasons I struggle with social media, because for every blog or account sharing thought provoking, real content, there are ten sharing a highly edited version of reality. You know, the lives where kids can always find their shoes, the living room floor is not covered in Lego, the children are excited by grammar, and reality follows the plans laid out in the pretty binder.
My home education life would make a pretty terrible Instagram account. In the background of every photo is the detritus of every life: coffee cups, unfinished craft projects and piles of library books that were due back last week. I’m not always organised (or patient), but I am flexible, curious and adaptable– and those are important qualities too.
It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with the kind of home educator I am, and let go of the idea of perfection. I’ve learnt that for our family, planning too far ahead just creates stress. I want to value the day spent on the sofa rereading favourite childhood picture books, to take the last minute invitation to a day at the beach, and know that in weeks when my kids have lots of performances it’s okay to forget about everything else.
If you are a 100% natural learning family you will avoid the planning angst (and you probably stopped reading a couple of paragraphs ago). But anyone between eclectic and formal in learning style has to work out where they sit on the planning spectrum. For me it’s come down to a discussion with my daughter each semester about what she hopes to achieve, and how best to do that. As a teen, she’s responsible for much of her own education, but still appreciates a scaffold, which for us is a checklist. This helps her keep track of what she wants to achieve, but it’s adapted weekly to allow for excursions, camps, interstate visitors, mental health days, glorious weather, medical appointments, and parents/kids who need a break.
In my experience, at least 10 weeks of term have challenges or opportunities that mean our plans change substantially, which is why I avoid planning too far ahead, or for a 40 week school year. This year my daughter chose to use a regular school maths book, which I divided into 30 sections, an approach which worked well last year. Lockdown intervened and by the end of the first semester, she had made very little progress as it was hard to be motivated. We reassessed, and I suggested we do this book over 18 months, but she preferred to redivide the book into larger chunks to finish on schedule. Other areas are more flexible, so lockdown or the vagaries of life do not affect us. My daughter loves Crash Course, so she watches as many/few as she wants, and moves on to a new topic when she’s ready. And many things are ongoing, such as fitness, French and music where progress comes in fits and starts, and anything we don’t get around to this year, can just move into the next.
Learning tends not to be linear, whereas calendars are. A few years ago I tried to be the pretty binder lady in an attempt to respond to one child’s need for more structure by imposing it on the whole family. The kids tolerated it, but I don’t think they learnt any more than normal, and I was substantially more stressed. Then one night, chatting to a friend, I realised that I am just not a pretty binder person. And that’s okay. I’m not particularly patient either, I don’t like to bake with my children, and I never finish the last centimetre of coffee in the cup. Surprise, surprise: I’m not perfect. But that doesn’t stop me being a good home educator; helping my kids, my way.
Maybe you are a naturally organised person and your kids follow suit. Perhaps you plan so loosely that it’s easy to happily follow as your child leads you down multiple bunny trails. You could be realising that the reality of your home education journey does not match your expectation, or reassessing your position on the style spectrum. Wherever you sit, there are multiple options to help you with your planning. Apps, spreadsheets, calendars, bullet journals and scraps of paper– each has its place. However if your planning method is a chore, or you are discouraged because it’s more like a record of what you haven’t achieved, take a step back and reassess your priorities.
Kids in school are moved along from class to class, year level to year level according to a plan that has been decided by a committee and does not relate to their individual learning needs. We have the opportunity to plan differently, to adapt where necessary and that’s a sign of success, not failure. The VRQA understands that plans change, so you will never be held to the learning plan you created when you applied for home education. It’s okay to switch from Japanese to coding, to finish a curriculum half way through because it’s not a good fit, or to change your plan entirely and follow a new interest or opportunity.
Plans are a tool, and a very useful one. The trick is to ensure that planning does not make you or your child feel inadequate or stressed, and that most importantly there’s space in your plan for the sometimes seminal, yet unexpected, opportunities that arise when we least expect them.
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