“I learned a lot from being home schooled”

Reflections on an unusual educational journey and its relevance to parents who find themselves pandemic-schooling

What’s been said?

Now a second year journalism student, Tristan Ledger’s article published in the Tes on 9 May offers plenty of encouragement both to parents currently home-schooling their children of necessity, and to those longer term elective home educators.

Drawing on his own experiences of being home educated for eight years, he encourages parents not to worry about what this enforced period of being out of school is doing or not doing for their children. Ledger believes that “children learn in unexpected ways,” and is confident that a great deal of learning will be taking place, though this may not be immediately apparent.

“My view, as someone who was home educated for eight years in a less-then-structured teaching set-up, is not too [sic] worry too much: they will be learning a lot – including how to be themselves and follow their own interests – it just might not be obvious right now.”

Ledger views his own years spent in home education as both positive and holistic. Apart from certain scheduled activities such as French and Latin lessons with his sisters, a weekly world history slot with another home-ed family and astronomy with his grandfather, his time was his own to fill with whatever took his fancy.

In Tristan’s case, this led to devouring historical novels and in-depth learning about Ghengis Khan and the Mongols. More significantly, he says this period “was crucial to helping me learn in a way that was almost addictive. It didn’t matter what I was learning, just that I was enjoying learning. And often new skills, too.”

Citing measuring rain-water levels with his grandpa and watching Blue Planet as examples, Ledger goes on to explain how the activities of normal daily life became the stimulus for questions and further investigations. It was clear too that for him this happened in a relational context, as demonstrated by the lovely account of his grandparents giving the children a pre-internet virtual experience of going Down Under and exploring when they got there.

Why does it matter?

Ledger’s final section explains why it matters. “The point is not that every child will get a similar experience on lockdown… but that moments of learning, or engaging in a new topic, and how this shapes us happen in ways you can’t always measure or see – but they happen.”

He also addresses that lurking fear in the back of many a home ed parent’s mind – what if we’re ruining their chances for the future? Ledger is confident that his own “less-than-structured teaching set-up” has not stopped him from succeeding.

Though he acknowledges that the path he took to get to where he is now wasn’t “tremendously conventional”, he asserts that he is “happy with who I am and where I am.”

He realises that today’s lockdown-constrained version of home-schooling may have more limitations, but maintains that children will still be growing up, exercising their natural curiosity, finding ways to address their boredom “and a whole lot more.”

He believes his own educational environment helped him to develop “skills that stand me in good stead to this day,” and attributes this in large part to the fact that he and his sisters were free to

  • fire off questions about anything at any time; our ever-expanding minds free to wander wherever they wanted,
  • learn how to refer to any prior experience when thinking of questions or answers,
  • learn how to find a genuine pleasure in learning,
  • learn how to attempt to make the most of everything.

An impressive and thoughtfully analysed set of life skills there, and certainly transferable.

What can I do?

Take courage from the testimony of a young person who has emerged from home ed with a reasoned appreciation of the life skills he developed in the process.

Trust your gut instinct that your relationship with your own children coupled with your understanding and love for them will guide you to find the route through HE that is right for each one.

The whole educational world is undergoing a major shake-up as a result of the pandemic, and there are more questions than answers at the moment as to what it will look like in future years.

With the rise of on-line learning, fundamental questions about where learning takes place, the purpose of school, and what a meaningful education really looks like are being stirred up. For the moment, EHE parents in England are still comparatively free to think outside the box.

The application of the typical standardised learning package may need some rethinking in a post COVID-19 brave new world. However things turn out, young people with the confidence and maturity to take on new challenges and the initiative to find out what they need to know in order to meet those challenges, are going to be well equipped to face the future – so make the most of your freedom.