“What are you doing to enable your children to flourish?” asked the school inspector of me – a newly appointed and very young headteacher. Since that wonderful and significant day I have spent a privileged lifetime with, and alongside, children and teachers from whom I have learned and honed my thinking and ideas: eighteen years as a headteacher, seventeen years as a school improvement adviser, an inspector, a trainer of headteachers and school Governors.
His question rocked me back on my heels as I stuttered to impress him with my best educational philosophy. I somehow succeeded but his question raised in me some of the profoundest inner searchings as to my vocation to teach yet asked of me; questions that had never been asked in my training nor in my former years as a classroom teacher.
Many other questions had been asked of me but here was the key question that began the release the core beliefs in me that had been latent yet had inspired me to become a teacher. My own education had been a disaster! I had grown up in a system of weekly tests and bells, of regurgitating facts and information, of competitive routines and meaningless exercise all punctuated by the barking of instructions and the cruelty of punishments that combined to drive the desires to learn and grow, to discover the world and life were all but beaten out of me.
All the while, my poverty of experience as a child briefing my inner soul to long for better for my life as an adult. Ideas, beliefs, vision and drive that had never fully surfaced or been expressed until that moment with the inspector now sprung into my thinking and became the driver for the next forty years in education.
I began to articulate and express my heart for children, my hopes and aspirations for my own two daughters and those I had the privilege and responsibility to teach and encourage in their learning. As I would say then, and believe even more fully now, I had the privilege and responsibility to increasingly release into reality a pattern of learning where these children were nurtured and cherished to demonstrate all the potential and gifts in them and so to flourish as human beings developing and enquiring new skills, attitudes and opinions.
Ever since that moment, way back in the early seventies, I have been on a learning journey about the nature of education, passionate about the purposes of education and discovering the best ways of expressing these hopes and aspirations in the opportunities we give to our children. As human beings we are not bottles to be filled from birth and then emptied out at the end of life but beautiful people with minds, souls, spirits and bodies that are so full of potential as creative, imaginative, thoughtful, inspirational individuals where each one is unique, different and gifted.
Education is lifelong but the early years of our lives are the time of significant equipping and developing, nurturing and encouraging the personal and social skills and attitudes, inspiring and refining the inner being of our children so that each one can flourish and find joy and fulfilment in their lives through relationships and through the fulfilment of a life well lived – a daily experience and not one in retrospect as life ends!
Each child will respond and relate to the circumstances and character of the family, the home, the society in which he or she lives. This can either be for the positive or the negative development of the child as like sponges there is an absorption of thoughts, feelings, attitudes, values and self-image that are birthed in us from the earliest of our days.
Young children learn through experience: we don’t learn by being told or exposed to other people’s experiences, and, when we provide different experiences to our children, they will learn. When we think of children as individuals who are learning and growing through their experiences then we can see them learn as they grow and grow as they learn.
Each child is full of potential and our task is both the release this potential and nurture it further. These children learn best through experiencing and exploring the world around them and our task as parents and teachers is to widen their experience of life with and through the people they will meet.
As children move from home to school, the learning experiences they will receive are as important to their learning as when in their early years. Every child is unique, every child learns differently but central to this learning are the personal qualities – the unmeasurable qualities, the spiritual development of each child, seen in her personal creativity, of her awareness of others, her qualities of feeling.
Few children will flourish in a competitive environment but one that nurtures the human spirit, that values the creative soul and is inspired by the beauty of the natural world, of the arts and of good literature while learning in an environment – the natural and the created, where the quality of relationships and the value of learning and personal discovery is at the heart.
Each one of us is born with creative abilities: the artist and the craftsman, be it in language or music. It is in the giving of dignity to the person and his or her gifts and skills when nourished and nurtured that the fullness of the learning we desire as parents will flourish. We will see children’s lives enriched, their personalities flourish, their judgement and self-awareness maturing as a rhythm develops in their lives through the security and safety of the environment that the home can give.
Our task as parents is to encourage learning in an environment that is welcoming and filled with wonder with a discipline that is self-motivated through a developing freedom of expression with responsibility.
Schools are the place the state provides for the education of the young but these are increasingly subject to pressures and conditions, both political and social, which home educators are not constrained nor controlled by. The scramble for results through testing is not an issue for parents. However, rigour and vigour in learning, the satisfaction and achievement from a learning activity well done are even more possible in the home educating environment.
The result of a quality learning environment will be a well-developed and well-rounded child, teenager and adult who lives in the vibrant fullness of personal creativity, of deep personal joy in discovery and learning, where given opportunity and encouragement, will have a lifetime of learning and maturing because their education is led and directed by their needs rather than the convenience of the state.
Character and personality; self-discipline, self-expression and self-motivation; commitment to tasks and a desire to achieve a personal best are qualities we wish for ourselves and for our children. Home education encourages and nurtures these human qualities through quality relationships, exciting experiences, interest-led learning and the opportunity for rich self-expression in a learning environment right for each individual person.
So, for my five grandchildren I rejoice! I never thought I would hold this view. After a lifetime in education, was I betraying everything I had worked for, every institution I had worked at, and every penny I’d been paid in salary? Now, as I have watched the children and even had the privilege of helping them, I am convinced that home education has the potential to deliver everything I hold to be of value in the education of our children.
In our society today, aims and ideas, times and circumstances have and are rapidly changing. For those who can home educate, these are exciting times! The pace of change is ever increasing and the best ‘equipped’ children will be those best able to live their lives to the full as flourishing human beings, both in their communities, and for themselves, able to adapt and use all their skills and attitudes, and therefore able to live together to the best advantage of themselves and their fellow citizens.
In this I am secure, my grandchildren will develop to the full as people and as learners in each phase of their growth and find fulfilment, not only as a preparation for the future, but for the NOW, and be fully able to meet the demands of what lies ahead because of the people they have become, are today, and are becoming, in their lives while giving and receiving the richest of experiences to both their parents and themselves …… hooray for children flourishing in Home Education!