Ross Mountney, as I said in my Parentdish article, literally wrote the book on home ed, Learning Without School, so I’m really thrilled to have her here on the blog. (Plus, she’s really lovely and supportive.) Her daughters are grown up now, but you can read all about their home ed experiences in Ross’s book, A Funny Kind of Education.
What made you decide to home educate?
Our children were becoming increasingly unhappy about going to school, had regular illnesses and they ceased to smile any more. But I think the worst thing was that their love of learning and awe in their world, which had been an enjoyable part of their days previous to school, was disappearing and being replaced by a general malaise and apathy about everything.
What reaction did/do you get from friends and family?
The reaction we had to our decision was a real mixture of surprise, doubt, caution, shock, and interest. Thankfully nothing hostile as some families experience. Although not directly supportive – except their Gran – once we got into the swing of our home educating years then people became more positive.
What did an average home ed day look like?
Our days were usually a combination of things they wanted to do and activities I felt included concepts and skills they could do with learning. I was confident that as long as they were generally busy and engaged doing something they would be learning. But it didn’t necessarily have to be school-style activities. For example reading a recipe and baking together involved many reading, language, science and maths skills. And playing always develops skills and concepts too, so there was plenty of that, indoors and out. So we’d be busy during mornings at home then maybe go out most afternoons either to group meets, library, museums, workshops, swimming, etc, some exercise or even to the shops. As they grew we developed our own schedules/lists to make sure everything we thought we needed got practised every week, like some time reading, or exercising, maths practice, etc. and this became a habit they adopted for themselves to help them achieve their own goals as they got older.
How did you make sure your children were socialised and got other people’s perspectives on life?
We mixed with others regularly. We sought out groups and families to socialise and do activities with. And we visited friends and family who lived in other areas where the children got different experiences and saw different things. This also included visits to museums or workshops where they might be interacting with others. We live rurally so we made sure there were plenty of city visits. They were also involved in many clubs which all children do like pottery, dancing, diving, drama etc. We were always conscious of the need to bring contrasting perspectives into their lives, both from other children and adults.
How did you prepare your children for the future: having to have a job, sticking to rules, dealing with authority/bullies, etc.?
Living our lives in the ways described above kept the children in contact with real lives, other than school life, and promoted many discussions about life and how to lead it. We talked about everything from obnoxious people to finding ways to resolve differences, earning and work, to having original ideas but also having to fit in when required – the instances it might be required – or not! We always parented with respect and thus developed respect in our children which of course involves sticking to rules – even though they might be unwritten. People seem to assume that just because the kids don’t go to school and learn in fairly autonomous ways, there must be no kind of structure or discipline. But that is so inaccurate, for wherever there are relationships there is always discipline – discipline of the most valuable kind: self discipline! It was through the caring respectful nature of our parenting and education that children learned how to operate effectively in society and in work. And in that way they were as prepared as any of us ever are!
How did you make sure your children learned the value of doing things they may not have wanted to do?
We always taught from the perspective that there are certain things in life we all want, whether that’s the latest gadget or good results. And to get those things there is a certain amount of self-sacrifice or hard work. We have to decide what’s worth it. Our maxim was; what you put in you get out. So we encouraged them to make choices about life from that angle. E.g.: Want to go to University? Might need to do some dull stuff to get the grades to get there. Want a new mobile phone? What can you do to earn a bit of income? Want to go swimming this afternoon? Better get this job done this morning then! But I think children have to be a certain age to understand this. Once they did, they worked at it. And it doesn’t take them long to achieve what they want once they’re motivated. We never felt that they had to learn writing when young for example because once they’re older they might need to do GCSEs but we did encourage them to write because it’s a really useful skill if you want to make a Christmas list or text!! The motivational triggers have to be relevant to the child at the time. This way we never had any problem getting our kids to do the things they needed to do as we allowed them to do them in different time frames from school and for their own reasons.
If your children had decided they wanted to go to school would you have let them? If so, how would you have prepared them for school?
We invited them to go back to school and try it again to see if they liked it at various times through their lives because we thought they might want the experience, but they never took us up on it. As for preparation – I think it’s more about teaching your kids to deal with the people than anything academic. How do you teach your kids to deal with badly parented kids or disrespectful staff as those are the problems?
What do you feel are the most positive aspects of home ed?
For us it was the opportunity to reignite our children’s love of learning and show them how education is something wonderful that sets you up for a wonderful life, that goes on throughout life and they can use at any time to enhance their existence. It was so integrated with living that it became part of it. I wonder how many school kids think that! It was to give them a happy experience of learning and a happy unburdened childhood, free them from time wasting unnecessary constrictions, both educational and personal, and allow them to develop into the people they needed to be, to discover what makes them tick, what they can do and what’s important to them. They need to know what’s important to them in order to go forward into happy productive lives.
Are there any negatives?
Can’t think of any – not for us anyway! Some may think that having to manage on one tiny income was a drawback but for us the riches received in raising our children in loving, learning ways far exceeded anything we could buy.
Any home ed misconceptions you’d like to clear up?
Contrary to what most people think, home educating families are not weird but quite ordinary, the children go on to lead useful and educated lives, they can fit into society and have mature social skills, are intelligent and productive and have much to offer life as they’ve been involved in living life. People like to stick home ed families in that ‘weird alternative’ box. But that’s because of ignorance – the very thing that education is supposed to overcome!
Do you have any advice for someone thinking about home education?
There’s so much I want to say about it which is why I decided to write my books. The first; ‘Learning Without School. Home Education’ is a guide for families, answering all the pressing questions they have. And the second is the amusing story of how it worked out for this family and as such a real picture of how education develops through loving, caring parenting. Details on my website http://rossmountney.wordpress.com