Monday, February 27, 2012

The Questions Series #1 But how can you.... ?

One thing I always get asked as a home-educator is just how do I know that my children are learning if we don't sit tests or exams?   How can I possibly know if they are improving if I don't regularly enforce written work or follow reading schemes?

I can't help but smile as I give my answer.

I'm their mum.  

I spend time with them.

This response is usually met with, but how can you be sure?

I am witness to and take an active part in numerous discussions with my children on a daily basis.  

I see them rapidly answering general knowledge questions during TV quiz shows, about such a diverse range of subject matter that neither I nor a school curriculum could cover.  

I observe their ever growing vocabulary through conversation and day to day living.  Even games such as Scrabble can demonstrate an increased knowledge or a lack of spelling understanding.

I can affirm to the fact that their social skills are developing well just by being an onlooker as they relate to those around them.  How do they integrate with their friends? How do they converse with people they do not know? How are their confidence and communication skills?  I live with my children, I see their interactions. 

I know that numeracy skills are improving when they help me figure out how much wallpaper I need to buy, or how many tins of paint I need.  When they assist with our meal planning budget and can tell me how much  each meal will cost, how much the total shopping bill will come to, and how much over or under budget we will be.

I can verify that their handwriting is improving when they write out their Christmas wish lists or the weekly shopping list.   When they are in the midst of creating a fabulous story, handwritten in haste as the idea's keep flowing - is there improvement? Are capitals used in the correct places? Are words spelt correctly?

I am assured that their knowledge on history is increasing when I get a full blown account of a certain historic event, complete with dates and facts before I've even poured out my morning coffee. 

I can certify that their geographical knowledge and understanding is ever growing when I am consulted on a world news breaking story or current affair and I see the children reaching for the atlas, globe or searching google maps at 11pm.

I don't need to test my children to know that they understand all that they need to know.  I just need to spend time with them.  To know them.  To talk with them and build strong relationships.  I don't need to play teacher.  I don't need to quiz them, to stress them out with tests or exams, to tell them to sit in silence and not speak to another soul as they answer questions on a piece of paper.

I don't need to do that.

My children don't need to do that within their home environment.  

Did you, as a parent, need to test your child when he or she was learning to walk?  

Did you count how many seconds they could balance alone for? Then repeat it again a week later to check development?

Did you need to count out how many steps your child could walk to ensure there was improvement over time?  Did you have to keep note?

Could you not just see that your child was growing, learning, developing with age?  Could you just not tell that more instructions were being understood? That more words were being spoken? That more tasks were being achieved? That more items were being identified?  You just knew  it was happening.  You didn't have to keep a record to check at a later date.

That's how it is for us home-educators that live and breath our children and their education.  

I obviously know that 6 months ago Callum struggled reading the first few pages of The Gruffalo for example, but now today he can read it through in it's entirety and read a fair few other books with ease too.   We haven't followed reading schemes, nor have I panicked that he is past that "magic age" and "should" be reading fluently by now *rolls eyes*.  I know he is improving, but more importantly I know that he is developing a strong love of books - just as my older children have.  

Take away the pressure of "learning".

Take away the pressure of expectation.

Take away the pressure of meeting set standards and conforming to the norm, and you are left with a child who can just get on with working through and enjoying the process.  A child that can just enjoy reading for pleasure and necessity.  A child that can pick up a book without it being a test, without being watched or judged, without fear of being marked down for an error.  A child that can choose what he or she wants to read instead of being told that they have to read this certain book as it is the next one up on the scheme ladder.  You are still there for them.  You are still involved as much or as little as your child desires, but with no pressure on the must succeed pedal.

I'm not trying to observe a classroom full of 30 children, of differing personalities, backgrounds and abilities.

I don't have to keep a track of progress in order to demonstrate that I know what is going on in my classroom.  I don't need to show anyone that I know for sure that children A B and C are struggling but D E and F are of enhanced ability.  I don't have to worry about what I'm going to tell a child's parents during a parent teacher meeting.  

I don't need to follow the same rules and routine as a teacher.

I am not a teacher, nor do I pretend to be.  We cannot and should not be compared.

I am a mother.

A mother travelling on an ever evolving journey of what I believe to be, right at this moment, the best thing for my children.  

I'm not saying it's the only way, even in the home-ed world.  I'm not saying it is the best way and look disdainfully down at those that don't follow suit.  But it is the way that I, as a mother of five beautiful children that grow and enrich my life day by day, I believe that our approach to be right for us, for now.

I know of many home-educating families who do do formal learning, following a set curriculum, charting progress, and slipping in tests to establish understanding.   That is the beauty of home-education.  You are able to find a way that suits you and your family, walking your own path, changing direction and tweaking the route until it get's easier - then a few months down the line you may find it needs tweaking some more.  If you are reassured by placing ticks on a piece of paper, or having a written record of improvement in front of you, by all means go for it.

Another question I'm often asked is "How can you be sure that you're covering all subjects and  be sure that your children are receiving a well-rounded education if you don't use a curriculum?"

One thing that I did find useful, particularly during the early non-curriculum - non planning days, was a checklist of subjects.  At the end of each day I review what we have achieved - what did the children do? What did they read? What was discussed? What documentaries did we watch or games did we play?

Even now, during slow feels like we are not doing very much weeks, I find it reassuring to look at the subject matter we have covered.  I can tell at a glance if there are gaps that need filling, great for those "oh my goodness, just what am I doing?!!" wobbly moments. And for those that need to tick boxes, this may well fulfil that need ;o)
  I've put the sheet that I use as a PDF file on Google Docs, you should be able to click on this link to access it....
Subject Check List PDF


  1. I love this post. Do you mind if I share it on my FB page?

    1. Hi Jo, thank you :) Of course you may share it.

  2. Hi

    The 'tick' list will be very useful for me to stop my new to HE 'wobbles'..thank the blog xxxJane

  3. Thanks for the will help me through the early 'wobbles'..should be starting our new HE journey in the next 2 scared and your blog xxx

  4. Beautifully put and right on. Sharing this with my group.

  5. It's amazing, my children know far more than I was taught as a child and you definitely know they are doing well when they start teaching you things you don't know with a "mum didn't you know that" attitude!

  6. Thank you, this is so eloquently written. Its also useful to see that you can add structure of sorts (i.e. the tick list) to unstructured education. This is exactly the kind of thing I need to keep me focused and, as your other commenters have said, to avoid the 'wobbles'.

  7. Lovely post. One of the ways I know is that I find myself getting asked questions that I hadn't anticipated and sometimes can't remotely answer. As I see it, the asking of questions is as important a sign of learning as the answering of them.

    As for your ticklist, I've created something *very* similar in the past to get me through a wobbly stage! It sure works as a reassurance tool.

  8. This is a really beautiful piece! Blessings on your journey.

  9. What a lovely post. It's crazy that parents are made feel bad if they want to spend time with their children and guide them in their learning. I get bad feedback because I don't want to send my 2-year-old to nursery but look after him at home. It's hard work at times but comparing him to children who do go to nursery, he is so much more compassionate (none of that hitting other kids at soft play) and all around such a happy boy. Maybe I'm doing something right :)