All of a sudden your child is of school age and the questions start. “Is he reading yet?” “Does she know her first 100 words?” “How will they ever learn to socialise/learn how to queue up/get into uni?”.
In a few years these will be questions that are easy to answer. You may have met home ed alumni who are at uni, have watched your child create friendships with kids of all ages, and even watched her queue up at Scouts or gymnastics! However, right now you may be feeling a little unsure. “Can I really do it?” “Will I be able to teach Amy to read?”,“Will I be able to help her reach her potential?”
Yes, Yes and Yes. You are not alone in this journey, and just because your child is school age doesn’t mean that you need to become a primary teacher. HEN and the wider community are here to offer support and guidance, and we want to reassure you that educating a primary aged child is not that different to having a preschooler – or for that matter a teenager. You have done a great job so far – teaching them to talk, say thank you, share, count, and identify colours, animals etc. Depending on your child, they may also be learning a second language, starting to read, able to identify dinosaur species, or be the proud owner of a little veggie patch.
You may be keen to help them master new skills and explore the world, but you can do this without changing your whole approach. We all have moments of doubt, worry that we don’t have what it takes, or that our children will struggle with maths just like we did. However, in our hearts, we know that we know our child best, that no teacher – however kind and conscientious- can give our child the individual attention they can get at home. It’s true that we may be giving that attention whilst also hanging up the washing, feeding the baby or trying to finish a uni assignment, but children can cope with that so long as we answer their questions and support them as they learn how to learn. Don’t forget the times when they do have your full attention: cuddled on the sofa, collecting shells at the beach, helping them sound out a tricky word.
It’s easy to focus on where we think we are failing, and to underestimate the great things we are achieving. That’s what friends are for. So get out to groups, join the HEN Facebook group, invite someone round for a coffee. Friends will admire the beautiful Lego town, notice the pile of inspiring books, comment on how kind and thoughtful your child is with their little ones, or be amazed by how many dinosaurs your daughter can name.
A successful adult is someone who can form and maintain relationships and contribute to their community. A person who treats others well, does their best, and is honest and humble. Skills that contribute to workplace success include creativity, persistence, cooperation, problem solving and empathy. Of course adults need to read and write, to understand how the world works, to be able to perform basic calculations, and depending on their job they may also need to know the correct dose of paracetamol for a 3kg child, the formula for shear stress, or how to say cretaceous in Mandarin. But they have years to learn these skills, and when they are at university or out in the community, nobody is going to care when or how they gained the skills they needed. What matters is that someone was there to help them when they needed it, to guide and support them, to help them learn how to learn. By working at your child’s level, encouraging without forcing, making learning meaningful and satisfying, so much learning happens naturally. When new skills are ready to be mastered progress is often fast. Why push reading on a child who is not ready, when if you wait a year or two, they may master the skill in a month?
Given the speed of change in the world, we can only guess at the jobs of the future, and the skills that will be needed, but we can be pretty sure that creativity, problem solving and empathy will still make the list. These are not skills best taught by mandated tasks, but rather learnt through experimenting, not being scared to get things wrong, being free to express oneself and to be different – none of which are valued within the mainstream education system.
So take a deep breath, smile at those with the endless questions and repeat: “We are confident this is the right decision for our family”. Then grab a tea or coffee, meet a friend at the park and watch as your children socialise, learn and grow, and savour the moment because in a few years your friendly, capable, knowledgeable children will be heading out into the world, and it will be your turn to reassure the next generation of home educators.