Life Parenting

Friday 22 August 2014

Anything school can do, we can do better...

Home-schooling my three boys hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but I’m confident that learning to their interests and not to a schedule will help them make the grade in society, writes mum of three Erica Gorman.

Erica Gorman

Published 05/05/2014 | 02:30

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Erica Gorman and her children
Erica Gorman and her children

ERICA Gorman grew up in Australia and, after qualifying as a Primary School teacher, moved to England.She taught in east London until she moved to Ireland in 1995. She and her husband live in the Kerry Mountains with three of their boys and their three cats. She has been home-schooling for over 15 years. She initially helped home-school her stepson before becoming a full-time home-schooling mum of their |other three boys.

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ERICA Gorman grew up in Australia and, after qualifying as a Primary School teacher, moved to England.She taught in east London until she moved to Ireland in 1995. She and her husband live in the Kerry Mountains with three of their boys and their three cats. She has been home-schooling for over 15 years. She initially helped home-school her stepson before becoming a full-time home-schooling mum of their |other three boys.

“WHEN I mention to other parents that I home school my three boys, the response is often: ‘Really? I could never do that!’ This can sometimes be a polite reaction from parents who really mean, ‘I could never do that... to my kids’, feeling genuinely sorry for my children.

Other times, parents are expressing the belief that they simply would not feel adequately equipped to provide their children with the level of education offered by qualified teachers within a traditional school setting. In either case, their initial reaction is often followed by the question, ‘Why (on earth) do I do it?’

I am no different from any other loving parent. I want my children to be happy, contributing members of society. I feel that it is essential that my children develop an awareness of where their passions lie, and then, perhaps even more importantly, that they acquire the skills and abilities necessary to pursue these passions.

The reason I choose to home-school, is ultimately to provide an environment in which I believe my children can acquire the fundamental skills necessary to become motivated and passionate learners and thus, live more meaningful and engaging lives.

I refer to my kids as being ‘home- schooled’ however, over the years, as I have discovered more about how my children learn most effectively, they have become un-schooled. Un-schooling is generally a term used to describe self-directed learning, whereby the learner is free to decide for themselves when and what they learn. Most parents have more experience in un-schooling than they realise. In those precious years before a child has reached a school or pre-school going age, most children are unschooled. They are free to learn about what interests them. We do not decide for our toddler when and how they will develop certain skills through specific structured lessons. Instead, we trust that through simply providing a happy and interesting environment for our child, they will develop all types of skills naturally. If for example a child is attracted to some wooden blocks, he or she may try to stack them. They may fail at first, but they will naturally persevere and before long they will have stacked a number of blocks. When they manage this, they are developing more than just fine motor skills and hand-eye co-ordination, they are developing the skills and abilities to pursue |their passions.

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They are unconsciously setting their own goals and experiencing the satisfaction of reaching them. If children can naturally develop the incredible and complex ability to communicate through speech by simply being immersed in an environment that inspires meaningful self-directed learning, then clearly un-schooling can provide some incredible results.

To my family, independent or self-directed learning is a way of life. In a nutshell, for me it is all about allowing my children to truly own their time and develop an appreciation of how valuable their time is. I want my children to develop skills in setting their own goals based on areas of learning they find captivating.

When a child reaches goals they have set themselves, the experience is a great deal more rewarding and confidence boosting than when they reach goals instigated by others.

As parents it is easy to think we are being better parents by repeatedly reminding our children who is boss. I try and choose my battles carefully. I think there is a price to pay for dis-empowering our children.

When we tell them what to do based on the belief that we know what's best for them, we also deny them the chance to learn for themselves what is best for themselves. Allowing my children to really take control of deciding how| they should spend their day, didn't always come easily to me. Before I had my kids, I was a primary school teacher so, when I first began home-schooling, I would devise lesson plans, with aims and objectives derived from national curriculum guidelines. At one stage I had every minute of my children's days timetabled. As the years went on, I slowly began to realise that less was more — way more. The less time spent on formal classes teaching my boys the things I thought they needed to know, the more time they had left to spend on the things they were passionate about. In addition, when I expected my kids to sit down and complete lessons they really had no interest in, I was reinforcing negative concepts about learning and the value of their time.

It also grew increasingly clear to me that the degree of genuine interest my children had in what they were learning, made a big difference to whether the information actually made its way to my child's long term memory or whether the lessons were soon forgotten. When a child learns about something that has meaning to them, they make more connections with the concepts and it becomes truly learnt.

I still think formal learning can play an important role in education. I just believe that the learner has to arrive at the point where they feel formal directed learning will help them achieve their own goals.

My eldest son, who is 16, has been passionate about computer programming for about four years now.

He is currently attending his second year of a weekly course run for secondary students at UCC in computer programming and he loves these formal lessons.

The course is very meaningful to him and he finds the classes very interesting. He continues to teach himself a great deal of computer coding at home, but he is at the stage now where formal learning inspires him and furthers his knowledge considerably. I realise that home-schooling isn't a practical option for some families. However, I would like more parents to realise they can provide the perfect environment for their children to thrive.

An understanding of how your own child learns effectively, and a trust in your child's abilities, is far more beneficial than a teaching degree. We live in the perfect age for independent learning with so many online resources so readily available.

A favourite site in my house is Kahn Academy, a tremendous site offering brilliant lessons, all for free.

It is comforting for me and my husband to know as well, that our kids are thoroughly enjoying their rich childhoods. They are very rarely bored, they feel in control of their lives and they are proud of what they have taught themselves.”

For more info on home-schooling visit www.hen.org

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