Homeschooling is something Liam & I always wanted to do since before the kids were even born so last year when our first born Ellen was 5 and it was decision time, it was all we were asked about. Are you excited for school? What class will you be in? It’s always the same questions towards the end of every summer. It’s an Irish thing I think. Our kids are still very young (ages 5 & 6) and Ellen was excited to start big school so we sent her to the local primary school but we realised very early that it actually didn’t suit her or us as a family and we decided to take her out two months in. Honestly, it was a terrifying thing at the time, I thought it was the biggest decision of our lives. I was frantically researching curriculums and constantly addressing that issue of (insert eye roll) “socialisation”! Ellen was involved in the decision too & she is really happy, confident and thriving. She often says when we’re out and about “imagine being in school on a day like today”.
The first book I bought on the subject was How Children Learn by John Holt and in it these two quotes really struck me;
“We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far as we can, accessible to them, paying serious attention to what they do, answering their questions – if they have any – and helping them explore the things they are most interested in”
“By nature people are learning animals. Birds fly, fish swim, humans think and learn. Therefore, we do not need to motivate children into learning by wheedling, bribing or bullying. We do not need to keep picking away at their minds to make sure they are learning. What we need to do, and all we need to do is to give children as much help and guidance as they need and ask for, listen respectfully when they feel like talking and then get out of the way. We can trust them to do the rest.”
The kids are still so young, in these years they are really learning through play, observing, exploring and we are nurturing their curiosity as much as possible. Their learning is not structured, they are free to wake up when they want, then we plan our day and do what the kids want to do. If the weather is good we’ll go out and read books in the sun, go walking, exploring, playing, beach combing & if the weather is bad we’ll do art, crochet, workbooks, do some work on the ipad, go to the library, swimming pool, visit museums and often we just snuggle up in bed and watch movies. Technically we would be called un-schoolers as what we do is the complete opposite to school and learning is called road-schooling or world-schooling. We learn new languages, new environments, new cultures & traditions. I could think of nothing worse than to have to sit down and do school work when there’s a whole world of opportunities right on our camper-van doorstep.
Article 42 of the Irish Constitution, states that the primary and natural educator of the child is the family & that parents are free to provide this education in their homes or in private schools or in schools recognised or established by the State and that the State shall not oblige parents in violation of their conscience and lawful preference to send their children to schools established by the State.
Homeschooling in rural Ireland can be isolating and it is quite a contentious subject when we’re out and about meeting people for example when I’m in the queue at the supermarket, an adult often asks the kids “oh have you a day off today”, “what school are you in” or there was the kid who called us out at a playdate by pointing at us and shouted repeatedly “they don’t believe in god but god is real” or at another party when a mom approached me to ask about homeschooling & continued to tell me she doesn’t agree with it & what we’re doing is wrong because she felt kids need to be in a classroom to learn & to socialise. There are family members who have bets on how long we will last and some who choose not to talk about it all so it’s that unspoken about thing that we do and the family friends and even complete strangers who continuously ask about school exams & how our children will get into college. I know a lot of people who went to college still confused about what they wanted to do and ended up in a job completely unrelated to what they studied in college anyway. We will cross that bridge when we come to it but I have no doubt Ellen & Alex will be just fine if or when they decide what they want to do. These days, there are many other ways and routes to get into college and homeschoolers always have the option to sit the state exams if they need to but with academic qualifications these days falling in value who knows what jobs will be available in the next 20 years.
Apologies if I’m coming across a bit rant-y but maybe I am getting a few things off my chest. I understand some people are genuinely curious and I do love talking about it but I feel like many people think we did this on a whim and question us intensely like the home-school police or offer us advice on what we should be teaching them. It’s absolutely fine if you don’t agree with homeschooling but isn’t it important that people like us continue to do it so that the option is kept available. It’s a growing community in Ireland but still small compared to many other countries where it’s almost mainstream like the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand & the UK. The Irish home education network (H.E.N) and other homeschooling groups online have been a great support and were a huge help to us at the start. At first it was a big scary decision for us & I remember researching the vast array of curriculum’s, books & homeschooling approaches possible. Instead what we should have done was relax and think about what philosophies suited us best. I had to let go of my fears of “keeping up” with school curriculum. And in fact by letting go of that fear, the kids are figuring it all out themselves, they are teaching themselves, they are free to learn what they want and are learning all the time not just between the school bells.
In reality the kids are actually teaching themselves, I’m facilitating them as much as possible, am totally following their lead and loving being on this learning adventure with them. It’s so nice seeing their individual interests coming out at such young ages, Alex age 5 loves exploring all things solar system, outer space, maths, scratch coding and ancient Egypt. He could tell you how many moons each planet in our solar system has and how to make a mummy. Ellen age 6 loves Irish history, science & nature, everything arts and crafts and reading and writing notes to her fairies. Now I’m not saying they’re little geniuses or anything but we totally trust that they can and will learn everything they need to know outside of school.
I picked up some of John Holt’s books “How children learn” and “Teach your Own” and found these so helpful in letting go of my fears and allowing the children to learn by themselves not through daily lessons.
Their own natural interests and unique personalities are shining through & it’s a beautiful thing to watch and nurture. At the moment, they are learning about where rubbish and recycling goes. Ellen is very affected by it & picks up other peoples plastic left on beaches and wants to be a bin collector when she grows up whereas Alex just wants to be spiderman. Alex is very mechanically minded loves his coding programme and he’s already great with maths and numbers and a little too obsessed with money and counting at the moment. Ellen is a very intuitive little fairy woman and can read entire books now without the help of any fancy phonics lessons. She writes notes to her fairies every night and sometimes, when they remember, the fairies even write back. We hope to set up a penpal section on our blog where kids can subscribe & Ellen & Alex will send a postcard from wherever we are across Europe over the next two years.
We want to bring our kids up with open minds and learn about lots of different cultures and religions which isn’t an easy feat if you attend school in Ireland. 94% of Irish primary schools are owned and run by the Catholic church (but funded by the taxpayer which is a little frustrating) and if you attend one you must respect the ethos of the school, another reason why we decided to home school.
Liam & I did try and intended to live by the rules, we worked hard, booked our annual holiday every year but over the past year or two, we questioned a lot of things, made some big decisions and hungered for new experiences. Anyway the point is, the decision and commitment to home-school was one of the best ones we ever made. Not only is it best for Ellen, Alex and the whole family, it pushed us out there, sealed our intention to seek out and be part of a new community. Having made that big decision sort of made it easier to make other big decisions. Look at us now, we’re embarking on a two year road trip around Europe in our camper van. You just have to be true to yourself, live now, look forward and take the leap or you will never know. Regret nothing, make mistakes, take risks and don’t let fear or judgement control any of your choices.
“You have nothing to fear but fear itself” Franklin D. Roosevelt. Amen to that 😉
Below is a list of videos, articles, blogs and books that I recommend.
The current education system was designed in the 1800’s during the Industrial revolution mainly to turn out factory workers. The system has changed very little since & is totally outdated.
Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity.
Some other useful & interesting websites & articles:
I highly recommend these two books by John Holt to anybody interested in home-schooling.