I recently watched a segment on The Project about Unschooling. Overall, it was very positive towards home education and the families in the segment were very articulate and inspiring.
However, towards the end an education expert, Adam Voigt, commented that home education is ‘missing the opportunity to learn cooperatively with other people, that in the future people need to work out significant world problems in the company of people that they do not like or love. This is where Home Education falls down.’
I believe the opposite – I believe home education provides lots and lots of varied and challenging situations for cooperating and working in collaboration. There are lots of opportunities out in the community and it is up to us parents to find how to provide and support the opportunities for our kids.
I will talk about some experiences of collaboration from our home education journey.
We have an active home education group that meet regularly. At the informal catch-ups, the kids need to work out what to do for themselves. Sometimes the kids play in a big group with the young and older kids playing together. There is always so much to learn in social situations with kids of different ages. The older kids learn about leadership and are role models for the younger kids.
Within the group the kids need to work together to think of a game. Most of the time they then play the game cooperatively. There have been times where there have been a few disagreements. Having the parents there helps to diffuse and work out the situation effectively. I feel this is a real benefit of home education, that we can be there in the moment or soon after to help our children work out a social situation. We also know the kids and the parents so can be active in talking through the issues.
Other times, the kids play in smaller groups. This could be imaginary play or a board/card game. They need to work together to follow the rules, be respectful of each other and have fun. The kids are from different backgrounds and sometimes this means respecting someone’s beliefs that may be different to their own.
When my daughter was nine years old, she decided with two of her friends to make some craft items to sell at a market. This took lots of communication and collaboration between the three of them. They did most of this themselves, seeking help when they came across difficulties. Having three different personalities meant that they came across challenges that needed to be worked through. They learnt a lot about communication through this experience.
Our home education group has a concert each year. The kids perform some plays together which they practice for a few months prior to the concert. The kids are often involved in writing and directing plays. This provides great skills in communication and leadership. The kids learn a lot about how to give instructions, how to get others to listen to them, but not being too bossy or controlling in the process! They also learn about planning and organising to make sure that the play is ready by the concert day. Those acting in the plays learn so many skills about working together – sometimes coming up with ideas to share, listening to other people’s ideas and being supportive of others. They also learn harder skills like having their idea knocked back or taking constructive feedback from others. When the show is performed the kids get an awesome feeling of accomplishment as they worked together to produce something great.
Home educated kids also have the benefit of being able to do more ‘after school’ activities because school doesn’t take up so much of their week. There are so many activities that provide opportunities for group work. Team sports provide great experiences for working together. My kids play hockey. They learn great skills about working together eg. supporting other team mates, working to a team plan and listening and following instructions from the coach. There are also difficult situations to learn from e.g. when they make a mistake and let the team down or have negative feedback from other players.
Guides and Scouts provide a great opportunity to work in groups. They use a patrol system so working in groups is a big part of the structure of the activities and camps. Lots of activities are based around working together to achieve something – whether it is to cook a camp meal together, put a tent up or to build a bridge from recycled materials. There are also many games and activities that can involve the whole unit working together. Another big part of Guides and Scouts is having kids plan and lead activities. This involves lots of planning and communicating to the leaders.
Guides and Scouts also involves ‘service to their community’; thus allowing the kids to interact with people in their community; and hopefully being able to gain understanding to enable effective service to them. My older daughter, within her ranger group, helps a lady with a disability by completing gardening tasks. This involves communicating with her and working together with the other girls to complete the tasks.
My kids have been involved in volunteering roles (e.g. Nursing home, playgroup and helping at a school). This involves communicating with people of different ages and of different backgrounds which helps to develop their confidence and communication skills.
My son was involved with a Lego First League robotics competition a few years ago. The Lego League focuses on teamwork to build a robot and produce a project. The group of kids were different ages, some kids he knew and others he didn’t. He learnt a lot of skills about learning to work with people and what worked well and what was more difficult. He also had wonderful role models from the adult coaches and learnt about different communication styles.
There are also lots of communication and negotiation skills to be learnt in the home. Siblings are well- known for getting along sometimes and fighting at other times. Siblings need to work together to engage in imaginary play or a more structured game. Lots of communication skills are obtained within the safe home environment which are then taken into the wider world.
Home educated kids also get the luxury of long play times at each other’s houses. This provides lots of opportunities to socialise and work together, whether it is structured games, outside play, imaginary play, creating art, developing a dance or song or a play together. There are also lots of practice at working out disagreements and how to work out an issue together.
Overall, there are so many opportunities for our kids to gain experiences with working together with others. These are only some of our experiences, but I do not feel my kids are missing out on opportunities to work cooperatively by being home educated. In many ways our methods and home education network, I think, actually enhance the opportunities and make them a better chance to be a more enriching opportunity.
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