Un-schooling

Screen Shot 2018-09-02 at 13.58.26.pngAs most of us prepare for the first day of the new school year with a mixture of joy at getting back to some sort of routine, tinged with a tiny bit of sadness that summer over.

There are some parents who have made a different choice. Who opt to teach their kids outside of the conventional education system. Here Georgia Mascolo shares her thoughts on deciding NOT to send her daughter to school.


  • This September instead of starting her first year of school like so many of her friends, my daughter Elizabeth, who is 5 in January, will be continuing with how she has learnt from the day she was born.

  • There will be no back to school but no holidays either, we will have no schooldays but also no weekends.

  • I, and many other families, believe that learning is something that can happen everyday as a part of ordinary life and that a child does’nt necessarily need to be in a school for it to take place.

  • We will be doing what the government refers to as homeschooling but what I like to call home education or unschooling.

  • It’s something that is on the rise both in the UK and in America as the internet connects people with ideas and resources that were harder to find before

  • It is estimated that homeschooling grew by 65 percent in the six years leading up to 2015 and that 50,000 is a conservative estimate for how many children are currently being taught at home in the UK

  • I describe what we do as home education rather than home schooling as the ‘schooling’ part of that phrase seems to suggest a very specific picture of what we do- desks and a blackboard, hours spent sat at home doing lessons.

  • For us there is no plan, desire or need to recreate the kind of learning environment and routine found in school at home, with home education we are free to learn differently.

  • I do not fit the most peoples image of a home schooler – I live in a city not a cottage in the country, with chickens and a vegetable garden, I am not religious and we don’t have a schoolroom in our house where we sit doing lessons and making elaborate crafts whilst reading aloud poems.

  • We live in a flat in South West London that is messy and full of toys, I don’t really like crafts and we only occasionally bake.  What we do do is go to parks and ride bikes, explore the city and visit museums, meet up with friends and visit family where they live and work nearby.

  • There are crafts too though.

  • Some of the advantages of home education are freedom, flexibility, no school runs and one on one attention

  • We choose how we spend our days and when we go away

  • Elizabeth has play dates and spends time with children and adults of all different ages most days, not just with me.

  • Whilst we don’t have a strict timetable days and weeks naturally develop certain routines and rhythms.

  • At the moment Tuesday is ballet class, Saturday is market day, and bed and waking times are similar each day but we are always free to change and adapt if something more interesting comes up or feels like it isn’t working

  • Often we do what is thought of as traditional schoolwork in practical ways- practicing writing by making birthday cards, learning about money whilst shopping and reading by looking at maps and signs.

  • Most subjects can be discovered in real life settings

  • Outside the school environment Elizabeth will be able to learn at her own pace without the pressure of comparing herself to her peers

  • Although we spend a lot of time together, through combination of childcare and family help I have about two days to myself each week

  • We have a lot of fun.

  • And I find that the more time we spend together the more we fall into rhythm- there is no worry about how to occupy her when holidays come around as it’s something we are both used to

  • But some days are much harder than others- we get frustrated with each other, I run out of steam or just want to run for the hills but I think that is something every parent can relate to

  • Having some time to myself really makes a difference and allows me to connect to myself as an individual- I can work on my own projects, get a days worth of errands and emails done in an hour, see a movie or do a yoga class

  • I am lucky that I am able to work part time, flexibly and often from home as an artist and photographer and that my family are very supportive and live close by.

  • The time I spend with her is not always spent doing things together, as she gets older we spend more time working alongside each other- most of this list has been written whilst she draws, plays or does sticker books.Screen Shot 2018-09-02 at 13.59.25.png

  • As she gets older she is more independent and patient, happy to play on her own, wait whilst I make a phone call or come along to the shops with me- it makes things much easier

  • One of the things I am most excited about is seeing and being a part of what she learns and being able to share that experience with her

  • I am not a teacher and see my role more as a mentor, guide and facilitator.

  • I find and offer activities and opportunities but am ultimately lead by Elizabeth’s interests and what she enjoys. This week that is sticker books, next week it might be a book we are reading has sparked something off for her.

  • As many private schools have understood in the past you do not necessarily need a professional qualification to help someone learn and having one will not magically enable you to make someone do so either

  • Much of how the school system, day and curriculum is designed is to accommodate that there are up to thirty very individual children, of different abilities and inclinations, all learning in the same room at the same time.

  • Home education allows each child to have more individual attention- with one on one guidance learning, when they are ready, can happen much more quickly

  • When I talk to people about the choice I have made some are enthusiastic and interested, others defensive and worried. It is a subject that tends to polarize opinion.

  • Often the first question I am asked, in hushed tones, is ‘Is it even legal?’

  • England is currently one of the simplest places to home educate from a legal point of view.  It is allowed under Section 7 of the Education Act 1996, which states:

  • “The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause them to receive efficient full-time education suitable –

  • a) To their age, ability and aptitude, and

  • b) To any special educational needs they may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.”

  • It is the ‘or otherwise’ that legalizes home education as an option for compulsory school age children between the ages of 5 and 16.

  • The government also states that, like private schools, there is no requirement to follow the National Curriculum and whilst it is suggested the education is well rounded it is not specified what constitutes a suitable education and deciding on particulars is up to individuals.

  • It is a little more complicated if your child is already enrolled in school and starting home education then requires a formal de registration. Some councils request visits or written reports however legally there is no obligation to do this.

  • I think what often surprises people the most is how simple it is. There seems to be a sense that it is too good to be true and it cannot be so easy, that there must be a catch.

  • The idea of school and learning are so bound up together in our society that most people have lost faith in children to learn by themselves and in their own ability to guide and support them.

  • We forget just how huge the amounts of learning they have done before school age are, how much they have either figured out themselves or with guidance from us and other people around them.

  • The road to deciding that this was the best choice for us was not always clear or easy.

  • Although even before Elizabeth was born I was interested in ideas about alternative education.

  • I read book after book about unschooling and was especially inspired by the writing of John Holt and Sandra Dodd

  • John Holts ‘How Children Learn’ completely changed my view on school and made me question everything I thought I knew about education. It made me see things from a totally different perspective, one that made so much more sense to me. Reading it made me see that there was a choice.

  • He wrote that “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.”

  • I wanted to find ways of doing that for my daughter but as a single mother the idea of actually being able to teach her myself and not send her to school seemed impossible, much too radical an idea

  • I explored other options

  • After a brief period of almost choosing a more traditional path of nursery then primary school near where I live, I tried to find an alternative, Montessori, forest or democratic school nearby but was unable to.

  • We attended a parent and child group at our nearest Steiner school but found it didn’t quite suit us and was further away than I liked.

  • With each school I looked at I found myself coming up against irresolvable issues- some schools were too big, some too competitive or results focused, some had rules that conflicted with my own values or seemed unnecessary- nothing was quite right.

  • I also knew it would always be a case of someone else choosing what, when and how she would be learning

  • I think that a lot of what is actually studied in school is arbitrary; most isn’t remembered the next year or needed after you have left.

  • The only really important thing it seems is to learn how to learn and develop a love of that process- often school can have the opposite effect on people, putting them off for life.

  • The more I looked into other options the clearer it became that I didn’t want to compromise

  • It is not always an easy path to go down and I have had to deal with feelings of shame, fear and worries about whether this really is a terrible mistake – and that is just from myself

  • It has taken me a long time to even begin to be confident about what we are doing, to start to speak to other people clearly about the choice I’ve made rather than dodging questions with vague ‘not yet’s and ‘haven’t decided’s when asked about what I was planning for her come school-time

  • It often felt like an embarrassing secret that was sometimes hard to admit to

  • I was wary of being judged and occasionally was

  • I have had people react very defensively to my choice not to send her to school, in a way they never would if I had chosen one type of school over another.

  • Often people take my choice as a criticism of their own and many have very specific preconceived ideas about what is involved and the legality of what I am doing

  • But I think that as a parent you are always being judged and will worry and it is important to be sensible but also stick by your beliefs.

  • I have faith in myself and Elizabeth and I think that confidence is one of the most important things I can give her

  • I definitely believe in the power of modeling any qualities and values you want for your children and in showing rather than telling them what is important.

  • From this choice I hope that she learns to have faith in her own ability to learn, that she is strong enough to question the status quo and is brave enough to do what she believes is right for her regardless of what other people think.

  • I hope that she is empowered by having autonomy and learns to be self-motivated.

  • I did well at school and although I didn’t always enjoy it I think that it is a testament to my education (though perhaps more to the one my parents gave me) that I feel confident enough to make a different choice for us

  • I feel that in the last 20 years the world we live in has changed so radically, the education I had at school is no longer possible nor is a traditional education always as necessary as it once was.

  • In a fast paced ever changing society creativity, adaptability and self-motivation are often more valuable than the things we are rewarded for at school.

  • Repetition and rote learning are not always the most effective way of learning something, especially if someone is not ready or interested.

  • I want to offer the world as a classroom full of different experiences.

  • As she gets older it will be her choice whether she takes exams, when and if she needs to and whether she needs specific qualifications for what she wants to do in life.

  • More tests and more higher education hasn’t solved everyone’s problems – I know many successful people who left school early with no qualifications and many who felt lost after getting all A*s and a First.

  • Children in Britain are some of the unhappiest in Europe and I think that the pressures of our education system are at least in part to blame.

  • There are problems with the education systems we have and a need of new options for children trying to learn about the world and figure out a path in our society

  • I believe that however people choose to educate their children unless we are aware of the choices and options available we will not be able to change and improve what is there.Screen Shot 2018-09-02 at 13.56.10.png


** More information can be found at :

https://www.gov.uk/home-education

https://www.home-education.org.uk

https://educationotherwise.org

and a range of interesting articles and interviews focusing on home schooling in the uk can be found at

https://www.theguardian.com/education/homeschooling

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5 thoughts on “Un-schooling

  1. I remarried 3 years ago to a widower-I too was a widow. His wife homeschooled their children, gardened, and did as you did with visiting museums.
    When we married I placed all of our children in public school.
    What I learned is that although my husbands children excelled in knowing details about life that other children do not care to know, they lacked so many vital skills and it was painful to teach.
    They would talk about the weather in detail, other children do not care.
    They would discuss our property taxes and the government and other children had no idea what they were talking about which casted them out socially and was difficult for them to integrate into friend circles. Actually, I told the children to mind their own business and to get out of my finances and taxes as they are children!
    His children had no idea that if you don’t brush your teeth and hair, eventually other children will make fun of you.
    They also didn’t understand talking out of turn is rude. Because after all at home you don’t have to share the “teacher” time with 30 other children.
    The BIGGEST negative side effect from homeschooling that I’ve dealt with has been memorization of math facts, spelling, sight words. I think they enjoyed their free time and being outside gardening all day and exploring earth that some of the small details of school were let go.
    I think there are positives and negatives to homeschooling but my experience has been that putting these children in to public school has caught them up where they were lacking.
    When they are in school, they are learning. Field trips are set aside as different learning experience, not part of the day.
    I think it’s wonderful that you are taking on home education and hopefully by seeing how it effected our children you can pay closer attention to the small details that are truly SO important.
    I’m sure you are a wonderful mom and your daughter will grow up grateful for your time learning together!

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  2. Just what the world needs – more posh hippies.

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  3. Enjoyed reading this list about a different experience. But the only thing that seems a little strange to me is the little girl isn’t of school age yet so the experiences thus far are just what many of us do if there is a parent who doesn’t work outside of the home.

    The expectations of children now seem to go to preschool age. I never considered not sending my child to preschool would be considered alternative or that he may be behind. I wish children could truly just play for longer.

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    1. I think you will find that the government actually refers to call it elective home education (ehe) rather than home schooling … As it is not schooling done at home, but an ‘education’.

      I have many ehe friends, and I think that a lot of parents/carers start ehe due to their own school experience/fear (it certainly is true for my ehe friends) , but if it works for your family and your child(ren) then go for it.

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  4. I enjoyed this, great read!

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