Sunday 5 March 2023

Joyful Homeschool

I am certain that some British friends would wince at my use of the term "home school".  In the UK the term for teaching your children at home is "Home education".  Some people can become quite pedantic about not using the term "home school" because they say it implies school at home, which is, quite rightly what we are trying to get away from.   However I have found the term "home school" to be very useful.  It certainly rolls off the tongue more easily that "home education", and I have found that it is more easily understood by questioning strangers.  Funnily enough my children have taken to using "home school" to describe what we do in spite of my correcting them in the past. I think they simply find it easier to say and they find they are better understood.  

I think you'll agree that "joyful home school" has much more of a ring to it that "joyful home education".  My argument, like our American friends (who typically use the term "home school" in favour of "home education") is that in actual fact home school is not school-at-home.  The word school has several definitions, one of which is the place which children go to to receive an education,  this could be home could it not?  Similarly the word "schooled" as in "home schooled" simply means to receive an education.  So using the term "home school" certainly does not mean the replication of the institute of "school" at home. 

All that to say,  today I am talking about my word of the year "joyful"  and how I am going to be attempting to apply it to our home school (home education!).  

Before I begin I would like to take a moment to reflect on my February focus which was "Joyful Parenting".  I read "Yell Less, Love More"  By Sheila McCraith, and am about half way through "Calmer, Easier, Happier Boys" by Noel Janis-Norton.  I really enjoyed McCraith's book she is very honest and wears her heart on her sleeve which really helps you to feel a connection to her; it makes her very relatable.  I also enjoyed all her tips for yelling at your children less. She gives lots of ideas for strategies to use to get a handle on your yelling.  It is a fairly gentle approach to parenting and does ask her readers to examine what behaviours can be triggering, and how to manage them,  I like this idea more than the idea of having to spend time in counselling to supposedly overcome your triggers, learning to manage them is much more realistic.  However I have found that what you mostly need is a heck of a lot of self control to stop yourself from yelling, and what I really need more of are strategies to stop my children from doing things that cause me to yell.  This is where "Calmer, Easier, Happier Boys" by Noel Janis-Norton has been really useful.  I absolutely love her no-nonsense way of talking about children's behaviour, no messing about with talking about "big feelings", she quite honestly describers some behaviours as annoying (thank you!)  and gives really practical and achievable ways to help your children become less annoying!  I am about half way through this book and am already putting some of her techniques into practice, for example using praise (shocking!), more specifically descriptive praise ("I noticed you put your plate in the kitchen") rather than hyperbolic praise ("Oooh fantastic plate carrying!"), and reflective listening.  I am finding the reflective listening really helpful with my 6 year old he responds really well to it, but I often forget about the techniques and fall back into old habits of yelling, begging and coercing.  I also realise I also need to get my husband on board so that we can be a united front for things to really change.  There is still much to work on, and I will be continuing to hold "joyful parenting"  in my mind as I move into my March focus of "Joyful Home school".  

When I saw that I had chosen "Home school" to be the focus on this month I wanted to skip it, or switch it with something easier.  How on earth can I make our home school joyful? It really doesn't feel joyful right now.  The main problem is that my boys do not want to do anything that I suggest.  All they want to do is play with their friends or have their eyes on a screen.  Screens have become extremely problematic in our house in spite of me restricting them.  And I do believe strongly in restricting screen time (you can read my blog post about it if you like).  I don't believe children's brains are developed enough to be able to self regulate their screen time when it is, by nature so incredibly stimulating and addictive.  What is more, I do in fact have to give them an education.  I am obligated to by law.  I know that this can look very different to a school education, and I understand that some people who take an "Unschooling" approach to their children's education would encourage me to let them do what they like, (which I hear can include unlimited screen access), but I am just not the right personality to be able to do that.  It would cause me far too much anxiety.  Also I love learning and what I longed for when we decided to home educate was to share my love of learning with them; I want to show them all the beautiful things, all the art, all the music, amazing world history, astonishing geography, mind-blowing science, I want to show them the world, and I want them to share in my excitement about it all and I want to share in theirs.  So how can I do this without the tears, tantrums and repeated chants of "no," or "I'm not doing it," or "it's boring", or "I hate...(insert whatever it is I'm suggesting here...")?  The answer right now is that I don't know!  To be honest I really don't understand it because, as much as I hated school, I loved learning, I loved finding things out, drawing diagrams, writing descriptions, stories, being creative... Is it because I am Female and I'm just wired differently? I don't know, but something needs to change.

I have seen some people suggest that I could grab one of their interests and run with it.  For example, my boys are quite into Minecraft, and I have seen products online such as Minecraft Maths books for example.  Unfortunately my boys know from a mile away when I am trying to make something "educational", they're not that easily tricked!  

Likewise,  some have suggested that by letting them really get into the thing they are interested in, I might be facilitating for them to be then next amazing xbox game designer or coding expert.  However I would argue that in order to be a producer of something that requires creativity, a game designer for example, one needs to have a bank of experiences, images, sensations, art, understanding about the world etc in their hearts and minds to draw from in order to create something new and exciting.  I don't believe anyone ever created anything extraordinary from simply playing the old games day in day out.

What is more I quite simply don't want them glued to a screen every day.  I do not believe it is healthy, I do not believe it is nourishing or enriching and I do not believe it will help them to turn into good men who give something positive to the world.  I want to spend time with them, get to know them, share experiences with them and have opportunities for expanding their hearts and minds with new ideas and knowledge.  And I want them to experience all the good and beautiful things first hand. 

Talking to the boys, what they do seem to enjoy is field trips, though there is still a degree of resistance in leaving the house.  Unfortunately field trips can be expensive, they're tiring, and some things just can't be learnt through field trips alone.  They enjoy doing experiments, but again not everything can be learnt or experienced through an experiment.  

I want them to be free to enjoy their childhoods without the pressure that comes with a school education, but I also need to teach them maths, and how to write and spell and at the moment, this part is like pulling teeth! Help! I really have no clue what the answer is at the moment, so of course I am doing what any sensible person does in an unknown situation, I am going to buy books!  (My husband will be thrilled!) As March unfolds I will see how I can inject more joy into our home learning, and I'll report back here so you can find out how it went! 

I really believe home education can be a joyful experience for both me and my children, at least 90% of the time, that's the goal.  Joyful home school here we come!