One of the questions I frequently face now that Ameli is almost 9 and heading speedily out of the learning through play phase of education, is ‘how will she ever be able to sit exams for university or college?’ This kind of question isn’t helped by comments from people like the the schools standards minister, Nick Gibb, who, earlier this year, said that children should start taking tests earlier on to help them cope with exam related mental health problems in later life 1
While I’m not even going to go into how crazy I think (sorry, that’s totally insane logic) that logic is, I have been thinking about ongoing education and long term education goals for both my children and wanted to share some of our views on how to encourage a love for learning that will prepare kids – in my estimation – a lot better than simply increasing exam pressure will!
Self-discipline is a learned activity
How will they learn to study if they’ve never had to study before? The same way they learn to do everything else. By doing it.
Before my 18th birthday, I’d never driven a car – but after learning the theory, applying myself to the theory, sitting the practice test, taking the practice sessions, I passed my driver’s test first time.
The same goes for the first time Ameli baked cookies. Or achieved her level 1 and then 2 swimming certificates. It’s how she achieved a her bronze badge in Beavers (the highest achievement a beaver can reach). She/we decided she was going to follow that path, and she learnt, step by step, little by little, making and reaching targets so as to achieve a goal.
This takes self-discipline, and sometimes it takes encouragement. She did not always want to go swimming in the dark in the dead of winter. But knowing what the end goal was she/we stuck to it and achieved the goal.
Self-discipline is a mental muscle, and like any other muscle, it can be developed and nurtured. There are plenty of ways to focus on studying consistently, without straining that muscle in such a way that you never want to use it again.
Furthermore, developing a strong sense of self-disclipline doesn’t just affect her ability to study, or pass exams, or hopefully one day excel in a job. Self-discipline extends to lifestyle choices, like choosing to eat right and start a regimen of exercise (and see it through!). It’s a skill that will bare fruit for a life-time.
Mastering your time
Another question that often comes my way is, “how do you know that you’re able to ‘teach’ everything she has to know?”
There are two ways of answering this. The first one, rather unhelpfully to people who are genuinely concerned about this point, is to say, “I don’t, and I don’t need to”. Because according to current UK law we don’t have to follow any kind of curriculum and we can just follow where her/our/their interests take us. This means they have a beautifully varied scope and spectrum of things they know, but sit them down in front of a year 2 English paper, and they will probably fail. (I have a degree in English Language and Literature, and chances are I’d fail it too!)
I do, however, prefer the second answer, because it rings true for us. While we don’t have to follow a curriculum, we do very loosely follow the UK National Curriculum. I find it gives me a focal point for how ‘deep’ to take our topical studies. So while we do kind of follow the curriculum, the honest answer to the question is that I don’t know everything, because… well, I don’t need to, but because we live in the most exciting time in history to be a home educator, because there’s nothing you can’t explore, investigate, find out more about etc on the Internet. Just last week we stood on the side of the road and learnt how to change the headlight bulb in our car, thank you YouTube.
I might not know the answers to everything, but as a busy mama who does this, works, runs a home and has another child to care for too, knowing that I can outsource a huge amount of learning from the comfort of the kitchen table goes a long way towards me staying on top of my schedule and with it, my life.
How do you encourage a reluctant learner?
This is another question I’m often asked. Some variant on ”what do you do if she doesn’t want to learn?” That to me is one of the amazing benefits of home education – learning can be disguised in play for so much longer than in a formal school setup.
As an example, reluctant writers. I have a lot of friends with children in school and something that seems to come up a lot is the issue of reluctant writers. They don’t mind doing the work, so long as they don’t have to do lots of writing. As it turns out, Ameli is like that. She’ll narrate whole stories in her head, but don’t ask her to write them down. There’s an endless list of homeschooling strategies – or in fact any learning, it doesn’t have to be just for home educated children – that can be employed to make writing fun, and a game, and an adventure. The benefit of one-to-one instruction is that it moves faster, can be tailored to a time that suits the child best, and can be themed to a topic that actually interests them.
There’s a lifetime ahead of our children. There are many thing they are going to face and many obstacles that will be thrown in their way. I see my role as a parent as one in which I help them build resilience, help them bounce back, with faith in their own abilities, and I think that’s a much better way than throwing them in the deep end too early, and kind of just hoping they’ll learn to swim.
- https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/schoolchildren-exams-more-early-mental-health-pressure-stress-education-nick-gibb-a8199291.html ↩