A few weeks ago I met a long time friend for dinner, to celebrate the recent passing of my birthday and the eve of hers. It was a simple pizza and wine chat on what’s been happening since we last met. Inevitably, we discussed how we have changed from our interaction with family, friends, colleagues and society in general.

My friend is teaching and loving her job. She is aware that my wife and I home educate our children and she asked what ‘schooling’ my children were getting. I explained we were unschooling and this kept the conversation going for a while. We discussed the merits and worries of schools versus home educating, but I felt a bit lost for words in trying to explain the education style we use. In bed that night I decided not to go into the topic until I could explain unschooling better. Until now, that is. 🙂

I’m writing this to try figure out my understanding of my decision. Each day I see my children learn something new. They interact with people of all ages quite well. My daughter asked to do some number games recently, after we finished baking cookies. My son is learning words and tries each day to say a few new words. ‘Ham’ is very clearly understood, but not so much the word ‘grandad’ at the moment! It’s a joy for me to learn with them each day, even when my learning involves me apologising to the kids for getting so easily annoyed about their behaviour at times.

In trying to establish an understanding of what I do in educating my children I’m always drawn back to comparing it to a school based education. However, that is one of the main reasons I want to home educate – to avoid the structures and categories of learning that schools implement. I liked the flexibility of my daughter baking with me, then sitting down to do numbers and tables. She called it her homework. Then she played a word game on the computer so that she could challenge herself to the next level of the ‘game’. She led all of this learning. I helped her follow the ideas she had to learn more. She wanted to learn and by doing stuff, and by doing this with her I learnt how much she loves moving from one task to another throughout the day.

I’m still not sure how to describe what I do to ‘educate’ my children, other than to say that I help them learn and then watch what happens. Just like many other parents. Around the world, every day, parents help educate their children whether the child is in preschool, primary school, secondary, university and the home. My children probably learn things in a different format to many other children their age; and they will probably prefer to learn some tasks more regularly than others – just like their friends. And this is another key concern for all parents – helping our children to interact with others and create friendships. This might be a bit of a shock to some people (based on the No.1 question I’m usually asked by adults) – Yes, my children have friends! Home educated children are not kept in boxes away from the community they live in. They interact with people every day and learn something from it.

I have learnt many things through school, work, university, travelling and simply by interacting with people and my surroundings. I continue to learn something new each day. I like to share with others some of what I’ve learnt. In my work outside of the family and home, I have many people who are grateful for me sharing what I know. I am often challenged to research something so that I learn something new. Thankfully, learning can be a reciprocal arrangement, if we allow it to happen.

Cartoon taken from the brilliant imagination of Bill Watterson in his ‘Calvin & Hobbes’ books