If you said over breakfast, “what would you like to do today?” my two boys would choose completely different things.
There is nothing wrong with that, we are all unique and I don’t want my children to be anything other than themselves. However, when I started home educating over 3 years ago it was something I worried about. How would I provide a bespoke education suitable for each of them when they are as different as chalk and cheese, in both their learning styles and their interests?
The choice was simple, I could either invent a cloning machine, split myself in two or I could try lots of options, embrace failure and eventually work it out. I chose the latter obviously because the first two ideas, although exciting sounded too painful.
The first thing I did was get curious. If I was going to support my children fully and facilitate their learning, I needed to know what interested them, how they liked to learn and where their internal motivation came from. For me getting curious meant stepping back and giving them room to step forward with their ideas. It’s sounds counterintuitive to step back but its not stepping away entirely, by providing enough space for them to explore life in their way I had the opportunity to be an observer.
I remember a family trip to the National Space Centre in Leicester; we had all enjoyed the exhibits yet on the car journey home each one of us talked about completely different elements. I found myself hearing about parts of the exhibit that I hadn’t taken in at all. My youngest described how the displays were laid out and talked about the graphics, my eldest was fascinated by the interactive elements where he could be more hands on. Similarly, on trips to London my youngest would point out architectural details as we walked around whereas my eldest would put his energy into navigating our journey and reading the map. If we stopped for lunch my eldest would probably observe the people around us whereas my youngest would comment on the design of the packaging. All these observations told me so much. The more I observed daily life the more I could see what fascinated my children and I began to see the common threads that weaved through their lives.
Armed with this knowledge facilitating their learning felt easier and my confidence grew. When opportunities arose, I would instinctively know which child it might interest and could offer it to them as a possibility. Like wise I could see where things might challenge them and could take the time to consider how I could support them. I knew that if my children could have autonomy in their learning and approach opportunities their way, we would be okay.
Observation also taught me to question my preconceived ideas of what learning is, what it looks like and how it should be achieved. My eldest has taught me that for him learning is best later in the day, sometimes when I am winding down, he is firing on all cylinders and can delve deep into his studies. He has also taught me the importance of movement. For him, getting ready to learn includes a full gym workout or a run, until then his body is just too active and distracting.
My youngest has taught me not to limit learning. If you are passionate about something you can do far deeper than any curriculum will allow. He’s also taught me to be more flexible, he is a creative thinker and when an idea strikes it’s important there is space and time for it to come to fruition. Sometimes it’s okay for the days plans to go out the window because an exciting opportunity has arisen.
I have learnt to be available and responsive to their needs, listening is imperative. Conversations form a huge part of our family learning. It’s through conversations that my children can express their thoughts, ask questions, and share. Having these conversations throughout the day with both children has helped them to appreciate each other’s viewpoint. Car journeys are great to this, a football loving child mentions some club news and it won’t be long before the other child has piped up and given their view. They may not have any interest in the subject matter but they can still have their say and add to the conversation. I love a car journey and all the things that get discussed. Having totally different interests means that my children get to see and hear about things that they might have naturally gravitated towards. A journey might start with a discussion on why women’s football gets less press coverage than the men’s game and end with thoughts on what to do with a potentially egg-bound chicken!
Focusing on their strengths and celebrating their skills, differences and unique perspectives has been a game changer for the whole family. Whereas school had fostered competition and comparison, our home education journey has allowed each of my children to shine for their individuality. I remember having a huge smile on my face when my eldest went to ask his younger brother for help with a computer issue because, as he stated, “he is really good at all this tech stuff”. Fostering collaboration and teamwork has helped my chalk and cheese kids to see and value each other’s perspective so much more. Yes, they approach things differently, but when they can, on the rare occasion, come together in harmony, they are a force to be reckoned with.
It hasn’t always been easy to accommodate, but when I have been able to spend some time with my boys individually, I have seen the benefits. The old me tried to do everything myself but now I reach out for help and try to carve out time with each child as often as possible. A trip to town for a piece of cake or curling up on the sofa for a film whilst the other child is being looked after by a friend, has opened up many more conversations and is often the starting point for new adventures.
The best days are when you find an activity that suits everyone. A day at the beach offers the challenge of crashing waves that my eldest would love, whilst also offering rock pools and interesting things to collect, pure joy for my youngest! Or that time we found an exhibition at the British Library about the news, the use of language and personal stories fascinated my eldest whilst the comic strips and humour fascinated my younger child. Those days are few and far between but when you find them it’s magically and I make sure I take the time to sit back and enjoy it.
Obviously, it’s not always possible to accommodate both my children’s needs all the time, there will always be compromises but as my children grow, I will continue to make observation and curiosity a priority. Their interests and needs will change, and I will have to adapt and trust that they will show me how best to help facilitate their unique learning journey.
Note from the Streams team: you can follow Claire on Instagram: @claire_ogleepoglee.co.uk