As the world reorders itself around Covid-19, many children are now stuck at home with their parents, while their teachers gamely try to engage them through remote learning activities.
Where before the idea of no school may have seemed like a dream to pupils, most are probably now realising they are in a worse spot than before – a school they can’t leave, a teacher that can take away the Xbox.
For parents and teachers the concerns are probably a little more serious – are they learning? Will they remember anything we taught them? What will they be like when we go back to school?And, perhaps most fundamentally, how will this impact on their life?
My view, as someone who was home educated for eight years in a less-then-structured teaching set-up, is not too worry too much: they will be learning a lot – including how to be themselves and follow their own interests – it just might not be obvious right now.
Coronavirus: The positives of home-schooling
My mother’s take on home-ed was, in many ways, just to let us do whatever we wanted. My two sisters and I had French and Latin lessons, world history once a week with another home-ed family, and I did astronomy with my grandfather.
The rest of the time we could fill ourselves. I had read every Conn Iggulden novel in existence four times over by the age of 13, and developed a lasting love of history because of them.
My fascination with his series on the Mongols led to hours spent researching Genghis Khan, his battles and empire, which then turned towards learning about the signature military moves of each of his generals, and how those same tactics were later deployed by Napoleon.
Thirty-five open tabs later, and I’d be nowhere near where I started but I’d learned a lot.
This time was crucial to helping me learn in a way that was almost addictive. It didn’t matter what I was learning, just that I was enjoying learning. And often new skills, too.
Helping grandpa measure the rainwater was a lesson in meteorology. Watching Blue Planet turns into a discussion about types of shark. Spending five hours on the computer becomes…touch-typing practice? Good enough.
One of the buzzwords of the home-ed community is "holistic" – that when exploring a topic, everything must be taken into consideration. This philosophy was adopted to the letter by my grandparents when Steve Irwin died. I loved him: his persona, his passion, and I was envious of how he could wear shorts and tackle crocs all the time.
My grandparents decided to use his sad death to teach us all about Down Under. They did this by "flying" my sisters and me there – from their living room in East Sussex. They plopped us down on their sofa, strapped us into our seats, and brought us our lunch on trays. Once we’d arrived and had safely disembarked the sofa, we started to learn all about Australia.
Naturally, the tune and lyrics of Waltzing Matilda were drilled into us first. After that, we could really dig into the country’s history and cities through making collages; we learned about the Aborigines through imitating cave art with chalk on black paper.
Learning to love learning
The point is not that every child will get a similar experience on lockdown, or that teachers should be asking parents to do this, but that moments of learning, or engaging in a new topic, and how this shapes us happen in ways you can’t always measure or see - but they happen..
What’s more, it won’t stop children from succeeding. I’m now finishing my second year of university. Again, the path I took here wasn’t tremendously conventional, with two gap years and more AS than A levels (every subject looked so interesting before I started it) but I am happy with who I am and where I am.
I am the product of not a whole lot of studying pre-college, not very many GCSEs, and a lot of touch-typing practice.
I am working my way towards conversational fluency in French, I have sung in Canterbury Cathedral four times, and I am quite enjoying yoga during lockdown.
I know, of course, that children on lockdown now are not in the same position I was – many parents are working from home and can’t afford to spend lots of time with their children. Grandparents and other family members are sadly off-limits.
But this doesn’t mean children are not growing up, becoming inquisitive, learning that if they are bored they need to find ways to address this and a whole lot more.
For me and my sister, this environment helped us to develop skills that stand me in good stead to this day.
We could fire off questions about anything at any time; our ever-expanding minds free to wander wherever they wanted:
- To learn how to refer to any prior experience when thinking of questions or answers.
- To learn how to find a genuine pleasure in learning.
- To learn how to attempt to make the most of everything.
That’s what home education was to me. I’m sure it be will the same for many others.