Thursday, February 23, 2012

Why I think you need to write individualised and personalised home education curriculum for your children.

There are so many areas in my life where I attempt to do something and then feel disappointed in the result. We're DIY people and my husband prefers to just start building. First we talk about what we want and then he starts building, collecting what he needs along the way. Helping and watching him frustrate me enormously: he frequently needs to stop work because he doesn't have the appropriate materials on hand and because that frustrates him he often takes short cuts which means he needs to rejig the original plan and what we end up with isn't exactly what we want.

There's not a plan in sight. Or a list of materials needed. Or a budget. It's all made up as we go along. Looking back it's amazing what we've accomplished. Walking around in the beautiful house, around this amazing garden... it's all wow! Ask anyone that visits. 

But what they don't see is the confusion, the arguments, the heartache, the disappointment, the many times the marriage has almost dissolved, the gradual loss of joy in doing what we love, being DIY people. We did, however, follow a plan - which my husband drew himself - for both houses we've built. We had a list of building materials and specifications which I put together. I'm glad we did because both houses are sound and safe and that's important! But we changed minor things as we built - adapting the plan to suit our growing understanding about our needs and what we want in a dwelling. I know I would be much happier in our DIY lifestyle if we drew up more plans on paper that we could use to guide us and help track our thoughts and need to be flexible. I know I would feel more confident and as optimistic and hopeful as I used to be if we did.

Why am I writing about this? Because I see a parallel with home education. So many parents I have spoken to over the years express feeling lost or confused, not sure where they are heading or what resources to use, or what they want and need for their children educationally. They try one approach or one resource, that doesn't quite work so they try another. Over time they settle into what works for them and their children, but the period of time spent getting there is fraught with self-doubt, confusion and in many cases, considerable expense on materials that are underused.

In 1995, after a decade of home education and half a dozen years of helping others begin this incredible learning journey, I started to write Getting Started with Homeschooling, which put on paper the approach I took and which had worked to build my extraordinary confidence. In the first year of homeschooling I'd moved from a school-at-home approach to unschooling and natural learning, and by the time I finished writing Getting Started my youngest was age eight and enjoying learning naturally using a play and interest based approach to learning. I remained confident with this approach because every year I put down on paper my goals for his education and reaffirmed my beliefs about education: this was our natural learning curriculum. If anyone wanted to look at it they would see that I was covering what was expected by society from an educational program for a child of his developmental stage. This 'curriculum' - my planning document - together with our haphazard recording regime - continued to strengthen my confidence in home education.

I developed and reviewed it for me and my child - not to please or satisfy others. I knew that one day my child might ask me what right I had to experiment with his education - especially as how he learned looked vastly different to how his peers were being educated at school. I knew I was accountable to my child for his education. My home education records gave me confidence that if it ever arose I would be able to answer his questions and justify the approach we took.

I am firm believer in the planning process: dreaming, planning, gathering and using of resources, celebrating the process, reviewing. I think that as home education we do all of these stages concurrently, but that some recording helps us track outcomes which in turn helps to build confidence and hones our ability to efficiently and appropriately meet our children's educational needs. 

What I love most about meticulous planning is the freedom it gives me to be flexible. 

People think that natural learning and unschooling is unstructured, that it just 'happens' - it doesn't. Children, like other people, don't learn like that. We get overawed by the spontaneous learning that appears to be happening and forget to notice all the mundane but just as important learning that is happening. And when we tell people how awesome natural learning and unschooling is we remember those interesting highlights. That puts an unrealistic gloss on it.

If we plan our home education journeys well we can be open to enjoying whatever spontaneous opportunities arise.