Carrot and … more carrot

“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.”

2 thoughts on “Carrot and … more carrot”

  1. Great post! Your activities sound so fun and creative, and it sounds like your son is getting an amazing, enjoyable education.
    With my daughter we decided we will take the risk for her to choose what she learns. I can understood that not everyone wants to do this, or finds it’s the best option for their family. I’m not one for structure myself so I was relieved when I learnt about ‘unschooling.’!! Still it’s nice to also think about fun, creative educational activities to suggest 🙂

  2. An excellent post- I can so remember all the times I’d invested energy in something that they were having none of and then had the hard job of letting it go! I learnt the hard way that it was by far the best to do so, rather than be frustrated as you describe. Such is the nature of children! All the best.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *