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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Tue 30-Aug-16 12:49:00

Guest post: "This September, my daughters won't be going back to school"

After becoming disillusioned with the education system, Joanne Watt decided unschooling was the best option for her children

Joanne Watt

Girls Unschooled

Posted on: Tue 30-Aug-16 12:49:00

(800 comments )

Lead photo

"If they need qualifications there are plenty of ways to get them."

When we first considered home education, I pictured handwriting practice, daily reading tasks, desks and mini-projects. I used to be a teacher; I imagined some kind of co-op, where I'd teach four or five children Stuff I Knew and another parent would include our children in a similar group for Stuff They Knew.

We decided to opt out of the school system after a brief dabble with preschool for Evie, who's now five - her four-year-old sister Clara won't be starting school this September either. Society can sometimes laugh, with varying degrees of mirth, about the lack of fun and creativity in schools. But given the government push for testing and an ever-narrowing curriculum, we stopped laughing and just felt a bit sad. We decided that home educating would suit our family better.

Of course, we had early worries about doing the right thing for the kids; qualifications; making friends; the embarrassment of telling people.

Although I'd initially envisioned a kind of school at home, my children don't learn that way; in fact, few of us learn that way. It's how schools work because there are 30 children in each group with one adult, and that's hard to manage. It's what has always been done.

We're usually wet or muddy or covered in ice cream or - on good days - all three. Some days I'm Queen Elizabeth I at Hampton Court Palace (but a nicer one at Evie's instruction, because our ginger queen wasn't known for her benevolence) and the girls are my daughters (but secret, illegitimate daughters, because she didn't have any really). Other days we might go back to check on some tadpoles at the park. The girls are enthusiastic explorers and biologists. I'm a rather repetitive and slightly irritating Protector of the Tadpoles. No tadpoles have been harmed, but many have been stroked.

The essence is that you live with your children and allow them to live: offer lots of opportunities and resources, and allow them to choose how they spend their time. As I started to look for and find learning in ways that don't look like school, this made the most sense to me.


I always knew that these kinds of activities were legitimate ways of learning, but surely you'd also need lessons, or some form of structured teaching. I had read a bit about unschooling but I wasn't really convinced. The essence is that you live with your children and allow them to live: offer lots of opportunities and resources, and allow the children to choose how they spend their time. Be supportive and talk to them. It's the parenting that most of us did when our children were babies and toddlers. They learnt to talk and walk, and recognise individuals, they knew their colours and how to count, and how to stack things, and what would make them feel better if they got hurt. As I started to look for and find learning in ways that don't look like school, this way of educating, and living, made the most sense to me.

We're lucky these days that lots of unschooled kids have grown up and been to university; they're getting good jobs and living satisfying lives without ever having faced the stress of year 6 SATs or last minute Sunday night homework or bullying.

So we're unschoolers. We don't do it in exactly the same way as anybody else, because everyone has their own set of interests and learns in different ways. We go on all sorts of trips organised by home educating parents - to museums and nature reserves and sites of historical interest - and a whole lot of unorganised trips to parks and IKEA and the swimming pool. We read lots of books and go to the library to get more. We play with toys. We watch a lot of Netflix and YouTube and are currently in a phase of playing an abundance of Kirby's Epic Yarn on the Wii.

We spend time with lovely friends and travel around the country to see family. We never take tests; we're never limited by a curriculum; we don't sit if we want to run, nor do we run when we need to sit.

I don't worry about the same things any more, which luckily leaves me time to worry about the mess, or the sibling squabbles or what we'll have for tea instead. I know this is the right choice for us. If they need qualifications there are plenty of ways to get them; they have lots of friends of all ages; and I'm not at all embarrassed to tell people that we're not on holiday, actually, we home educate.

By Joanne Watt

Twitter: @joeysephine

freetrampolineforall Tue 30-Aug-16 15:13:21

All sounds lovely if you have the family income to support it and the transport to take them out and about. And good health. And plenty of access to play with other children. Good luck.

IcedVanillaLatte Tue 30-Aug-16 15:18:14

princessmombi Tue 30-Aug-16 15:19:33

Never take tests? What happens when they are teens? What is your contingency plan? How do you measure progress and I don't mean that in a goady way at all I would genuinely like to know.
I try to sit on the fence a bit but I find home schooling as in the families I have personally experienced in my own community a bit of a privileged activity. I couldn't afford to do it by any stretch. Well short term I could but I am a lp and I would be stare dependent with no pension accruing. Not the ops problem of course and it was an interesting post.

gillybeanz Tue 30-Aug-16 15:24:56

I think it's the only way for some children and as a family we really enjoyed our 3 years H.ed.
The freedom to study just what dd wanted at a pace to suit her and of course no dreaded SATS.
There is so much more to education than sitting in a classroom.
Atm my dd is happy at her specialist school, if this doesn't suit at any time it's back to H.ed for us.
Some people are stuck in their conventional world and unable to think outside this, H.ed is not for them grin
Good luck to you, hope it continues to work for you all thanks

freetrampolineforall Tue 30-Aug-16 15:33:02

No need to be rude, gillybeanz. If not having lots of disposable income counts as conventional then, yes, guilty as charged.

princessmombi Tue 30-Aug-16 15:35:44

Freetramp - and I

gillybeanz Tue 30-Aug-16 15:36:57

I wasn't being rude at all, I'm speaking from experience.
H.ed is hardly conventional, the default for children's education is school, so you do have to be unconventional to not follow everyone else.

freetrampolineforall Tue 30-Aug-16 15:40:46

Gilly: who pays the mortgage/rent, the food bills, the transport bills, the council tax etc etc?

gillybeanz Tue 30-Aug-16 16:08:11

free confused
What does that have to do with a philosophy of H.ed?
I think it would be pretty obvious that the mortgage and bills were being paid.
Now, if you were to say not everyone can afford to do this, I would agree.
But that's irrelevant to the comment I made.

freetrampolineforall Tue 30-Aug-16 16:15:20

Home Ed is simply not an option because I (most on mn) can't afford it. It's akin to "would you have a Ferrari or a Maserati?".

Pteranodon Tue 30-Aug-16 16:20:50

It's horrible that parents who want to home ed can't afford to. Not everyone can work shifts opposite their partner or set up a business flexible enough to work around the children, though many home educators do.

For people that can afford it, this is a really lovely and inspiring post, thanks Joanne.

gillybeanz Tue 30-Aug-16 16:20:51

free
Of course, I can see this and it's also each to their own as well.
However, we came across plenty of people who could afford it and had decide against it/ not even considered it as it was unconventional.
Fwiw we are a low income family, but were fortunate to have friends and family to help out.
Most of our resources were free, but we spent money on computer ink, paper, public transport, which can add up.

freetrampolineforall Tue 30-Aug-16 16:22:21

It is simply Not "each to their own". It just isn't.

gillybeanz Tue 30-Aug-16 16:24:18

free
Haven't a clue what you are talking about, sorry.

OrionsAccessory Tue 30-Aug-16 16:24:49

This is pretty much how we ended up unschooling too smile nice to see it being written about on a not-home-ed-specific website!

freetrampolineforall Tue 30-Aug-16 16:24:57

If you cannot afford it you do not have a choice.

ParadiseCity Tue 30-Aug-16 16:33:51

It is lovely when school works well, it is lovely when HE works well.

I just cannot wrap my head around:
1. Not earning a living
2. Encountering so many annoying children being true and free to themselves. I am sure school children are just as annoying. But if you go to HE groups you have to put up with a lot of Other People.

MidnightVelvettheSixth Tue 30-Aug-16 16:37:02

It sounds lovely, I'm glad its working for you. I have to say that I couldn't home ed, as much as I love my children I also value my job & time on my own to function in an adults world grin and I wasn't a natural sahm by any means but I love the ethos behind home ed.

I hope I'm OK to ask a question in here as I'm very interested in how it works, I get that one of the plusses of home ed is to allow the children to choose their area of learning, however how do you cover the stuff they are not interested in? Say maths for example, I understand that counting money & working out change teaches maths but if you would like the DC to get a qualification in maths then how do you teach algebra or trig if they have no interest. How do you turn it from a 'learn what interests you' scenario into a 'you have to learn this to get a GCSE' scenario? smile

gillybeanz Tue 30-Aug-16 16:43:05

free
Nobody has disagreed with this grin

princess

I will try and answer your question:
Measuring progress in an official way isn't really necessary, what would you measure it against? Many H.edders don't follow the n.c it is great to be able to avoid this and allow children to choose their own pathway, one of the benefits for many.

When they are teens they continue to learn in the same way and if they choose to take GCSE's have the whole offered subjects to choose, not just what a school can provide.

They can attend colleges when older, take alternative qualifications to GCSE's the same as schooled teens can.

Contingency plan is a good question, I wonder what plans school have in place for those who would leave unable to read and write, some do.
However, I also wonder what sort of contingency plan would be needed, against what?

Pteranodon Tue 30-Aug-16 16:49:52

Midnight if the child wants a GCSE the parent facilitates that (Distance learning or college or working through the syllabus together).

freetrampolineforall Tue 30-Aug-16 16:51:21

Gilly- thanks for your answer to pp question.
This excludes so many people that it is a bit out of order to assume those who don't do it are boring drones.

MidnightVelvettheSixth Tue 30-Aug-16 16:52:51

Thanks Pteranodon smile

Pteranodon Tue 30-Aug-16 16:53:45

School's our contingency plan, if we ever feel our children would prefer it and be better served by it, or if finances dictated. But for now, for my children, for our family, this is the best available option.

Houseconfusion Tue 30-Aug-16 16:58:05

Some people are stuck in their conventional world and unable to think outside this, H.ed is not for them

Just when I thought with natural/medical births, breast/bottle, pram/sling, spoons/BLW, and the many shades of sleep we were done with divisionary crap hey presto - here's another one. If home education isn't what you want then you're stuck up in your conventional world and unable to think outside it.

God Mumsnet. Some days I feel like I've heard it all.

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