“Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.”
“Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to the body; but knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.”
Plato, The Republic
So often in defence of home education you hear the question. ‘how much can you remember of what you learned in school?’. Actually in my case quite a lot, but I suspect I am not the norm. I know from later study in particular, I have been able to pass exams yet recall little to nothing about the subject matter within a very short amount of time.
I am absolutely convinced of the idea that children learn best and retain better when they they are interested and are actively engaged in the process.
Can they learn everything they need when driven entirely by their own interest/thirst for knowledge? Many will say yes, and I’d like to but it is not a risk I am prepared to take.
So how does it work? I want him to learn certain things but I don’t really believe in ‘teaching’… In Plato’s words I ‘direct them to it by what amuses their minds’. I see my role as educator kind of as a temptress or those annoying people who stand outside restaurants on Brick Lane, it is my role to make things engaging and capture his interest, to make him want to learn.
In many cases it is simply a matter of finding the right book. In some cases it is finding a bit of fun in the mundane. Maths in this house involves running in circles, bomb timers, playing with coins, origami, water bombs, colouring rainbows but only a very small amount of sitting and worksheets.
Home education to me is about knowing your child and what excites them. It is about knowing when to give up on a lost cause and lower/alter your standards. It is about recognising the need to put something to one side for a while to come back to later (only to find they have leapt onwards with no input when left to digest). It is about capturing the right moment when they are ‘ripe’ for an idea – both mine learned to read with no reading schemes and little to no concerted effort on my part, I just caught the right moment with both and away they flew (more by luck than judgement). It is about hours of discussion, bandying around ideas and being prepared to have yours challenged. It is about knowing when to let them lead wherever they want to go and when they might benefit from a bit of gentle redirection. It is about respecting, valuing and cultivating our children’s uniqueness and individual strengths while recognising that we are part of society and we need to live within boundaries out of respect for others (one of the ‘positives’ of bus travel is the development of small talk with all sorts).
It isn’t easy or cheap. I spend a lot of my life researching materials and yet have made my fair share of expensive mistakes (although many of the best ideas are actually free). Our house is full to bursting with books/games/resources, to the point where we had to build an extra room just to store it all (well some of it, doesn’t all fit 😉 ). It can be frustrating when something you thought would work doesn’t and you can’t be too attached to plans. But I love it, we have great fun and definitely challenges my brain.
One more Plato quote has no real significance here but I like it!
“People are like dirt. They can either nourish you and help you grow as a person or they can stunt your growth and make you wilt and die.”