When we first chose to homeschool, I never imagined that we would keep doing it all the way through our children’s “school” years. But now, after supporting their learning for 18 years, I look back and see so many things that I wish I had known at the beginning and so much that I wish I had understood back then. I know how helpful it would have been for me to have been able to deeply trust, right from the start, that homeschooling works and that our relationships with our children would turn out to be so deeply beautiful as a result.
There are many different ways to homeschool children and one of the greatest things about this way of life is that we get to choose how we want our homeschooling adventures to be. We chose the Natural Learning approach and over the years I have learnt so many lessons and seen firsthand how effective it is to support our children.
Most of us were schooled traditionally and, even when we know that’s not what we want for our children, it’s hard to break free from all the deeply ingrained ideas about what learning is and how learning should look. Learning in school is based on an expectation that all children should be doing the same thing at the same time, should be interested or needing to learn the same things, and then the children are measured and compared to each other on those things.
But, after 18 years of Natural learning, I now understand how powerful it is to step away from these ideas and to instead allow our children the freedom and support to find their own way with learning. These are some of the things I have learnt along the way:
- Children develop skills and learn according to their own natural rhythms and their own learning styles. We can trust that each child is capable of learning in their own time, in their own way and on their own continuum. Natural learning understands and respects that each of our children is on a unique journey, with unique dreams, hopes and interests.
- We can create an environment and culture of learning at home that provides our children with everything that they need to successfully grow and discover all that they want and need to learn. When our children are supported in this way, they can then be connected to their authentic selves because they have the freedom to be themselves, to make their own decisions, explore their own adventures and follow their own path.
- Children are born to learn and they don’t need us to motivate or coerce them in order to “get them to learn”. They don’t need rewards or bribery. They don’t need us to trick them into it or to force it. They are perfectly designed to learn from the moment they are born and this doesn’t change when they reach school age. Learning happens by itself, when we support them and enable them but get out of the way of their learning.
- Our children will choose to explore what interests them most. They often do not learn what we would choose for them to learn. Instead, their learning is driven by their own innate curiosity and is based on their own desires and interests. All we need to do to guide them is provide a safe, interesting and loving environment within which they can learn as they please.
- All learning is valuable, not just learning in a curriculum. We need to recognise and value all different types of learning and all the different things that our children choose to learn. This is often not the same as the learning that is in a curriculum, and is often not book-based. Learning is not a means to an end, to pass a test but an on-going, organic exploration of all the different things in life that interest and excite our children and shape them as they become themselves.
- Seeing the world as our classroom and understanding that learning happens everywhere. So much of my children’s learning has happened through conversations and going about our daily lives.
- Learning is often not linear and is not chopped into discrete subjects. Learning all overlaps and can be jumping from one thing to another as you explore things together and have discussions.
- Learning happens best when children’s basic needs are met. For most children, learning is easiest and most effective when their needs for safety, loving support, choice, freedom and autonomy are met and when they are learning in an environment that is free from punishments and rewards.
- We can support our children to heal from stress and trauma and to release feelings that might otherwise get in the way of them learning when we have them at home with us. When our children are experiencing stress, we can listen lovingly while they cry or tell us about what is in their hearts, we can move in gently with some attachment play to get them releasing by laughing and strengthen our connection with them by being light-hearted and playful.
- When we homeschool, we aren’t putting our children in an environment, day in day out for most of the year which is stressful and difficult for most of them. For many chidren, school is full of negative experiences i.e. shame, fear, or abandonment. By having them at home, responding to their feelings and needs, we allow them to thrive in an environment which is free of all this, instead focused on connection and building our relationships. It’s such a joy to be together everyday in a life that is family-centred rather than institution-centred. We spend so much time together – watching them grow and learn and enjoying each other’s company.
- We don’t need to worry about our children “falling behind”. I was worried at first about my children not ‘keeping up’ with their peers. I worried that, if we didn’t teach them and do school at home, then they wouldn’t learn and would be at a disadvantage. I now know that, by supporting my children with natural learning, their learning has been based on their own intrinsic motivation rather than on external markers of their worth, grades on a test, scores in exams. Their childhood has therefore not been burdened by tests, comparisons, judgements and control but instead they have had freedom, fun, play, choice and self-determination. No one wants their child to feel "behind" or to feel bad about themselves because they scored 50% instead of 60% on a test! We can't quantify our children's worth in that way!
- Many people won’t understand or support our choice to homeschool and that’s ok. In the early years of homeschooling and natural learning, we often felt like we had to explain ourselves to everyone else and often this felt uncomfortable and we felt judged. But, as we became clearer ourselves about natural learning and saw how our children were thriving, it was so much easier to feel confident and happy with our choice, regardless of what anyone else thought.
- We are modelling to our children that we can have freedom to choose in life. When adults step out of the rat race, it’s celebrated. So why not for kids stepping out of school too then? By choosing natural learning, not only are our kids able to do this at home, we are stepping outside of social norms and expectations and are doing things differently and showing our children that that is ok.
- Getting support from like-minded people is crucial. It is inevitable that there will be times when we doubt our choices, we have fears and worries about our children’s learning, we lose the trust. We feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of homeschooling. Sometimes our own hurts and wounds from our school years come up to be heard. It is therefore so important to have support, listening and care from others who understand and respect natural learning. With this network of other natural learning families, it was so much easier to explore my feelings and get clarity and confidence in my choices.
- Natural Learning teaches our children how to learn. It allows them to develop a lifelong curiosity and love of learning because it is focused on what they are interested in. They can dive deeply into things that interest them and avoid wasting their time exploring things that they don’t care about at all. They develop critical thinking and learn to question everything.
- Children allowed to explore learning in this way will learn to trust themselves and have a strong connection to that inner guidance and self-knowledge. At school you can’t think for yourself because you are often told what to think, you can’t choose for yourself because you’re often told what to do, you can’t go where you want or move when you need to or even choose who to spend time with. Natural Learning at home is self-directed and relaxed – we aren’t rushing out the door every day, we follow the natural rhythms of life and the seasons. Children have time to rest and sleep and tune into their bodies. Children supported in this way are more self-confident, balanced and happier.
- Sometimes life is hard and messy and that’s ok too – there’s no such thing as perfect! We all have bad days, when we aren't the parent we want to be. I remember threatening to send my kids to boarding school when they wouldn't do some learning I wanted them to do! But, when we lose our temper with our children, which we all inevitably do from time to time, practising rewind, repair and reconnection with them as soon as we can is so helpful. We explain, we apologise, we reconnect and through this we model that we aren’t perfect and that’s ok. Aletha Solter (the founder of Aware Parenting) says that the sign of a healthy family is not one that is free of conflict - it is one where conflict is handled in a way that leaves everyone feeling loved.
And lastly, in answer to the 2 things that I get asked the most, Yes they do socialise and Yes they can go to university!
As we approach the start of a new school year, many people are restarting homeschooling or thinking about homeschooling for the first time, and never more so than now.
If you would like more support with homeschooling, Marion Rose and I are starting our Natural Learning and Aware Parenting Community on the 1st of February 2022. We have over 35 years experience between us of supporting our children’s natural learning and we understand how crucial it is to have support and guidance along the way. For more information about this community or to sign up, please send us a message or email me at email@example.com