How to boost your confidence with home education
As parents, we all want to do what's best for our children – and if you're home educating your child, chances are they were at the very centre of your decision to teach them at home rather than sending them to school. But while home education has some definite benefits (like being able to spend a sunny day at the beach doing a geography project when everyone else is at school!), at times, it's normal to worry that you're getting everything wrong and begin to doubt that you're cut out to home educate your child.
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'Initially, it's only experience that gives confidence,' believes Dr Alan Thomas, an honorary senior lecturer at the Institute of Education, University College London, who has been researching home education for 20 years. 'Some parents may take time to gain this confidence, especially if they are taking a child out of school, which is very different from choosing to home educate from the beginning. If your child has been bullied, or they are too advanced for formal education or have special needs, you may not feel confident to teach them yourself. But this confidence builds up over time, and most parents find a way of home educating that suits them and the child.'
So if you're having a crisis of confidence about your ability to home educate your child, reassure yourself with these truths.
You’re already doing it
There’s nothing mysterious about home education. Since your child was born, you’ve been teaching them about the world. 'You don’t suddenly sit down one day and teach a two-year-old how to speak; they learn naturally from you,' says Dr Thomas, who has a particular interest in autonomous learning (in other words, letting your child's interests and ability lead the way). His observations suggest that for children under 14, learning autonomously is a viable alternative to traditional schooling.
'Children learn very quickly if a subject is something they are interested in,' he says. 'Some parents might be afraid that their children will only learn their view of the world and not gain a broad experience. But because they are aware of this, they'll ensure it won’t be the case.' This could be through learning about other cultures, visiting different places of worship, joining a home education group where your child can meet people from other walks of life: there are many opportunities to make sure they're developing a broad world view.
You are more than qualified
You don't need any qualifications, training or experience to home educate your child. 'It’s not about the educational level of the parent, but the parent's ability and willingness to facilitate education for their child,' says Dr Helen Lees of Newman University in Birmingham. 'I’ve got a PhD in home education and I’m a trained teacher, but I don’t believe my ability is any different from any other parent's.'
You don’t need a degree to go to a museum or the library, nor do you need to be good at everything. For example, if maths is a struggle for you, you could teach your child using workbooks, swap skills with another parent from a home education group who might be willing to help your child with maths in exchange for you helping yours with languages, or hire a tutor for specific subjects.
You don’t have to do it alone
There are well-established national home education support services such as Education Otherwise and the Home Education Advisory Service, as well as smaller local groups that exist to support home-educating families.
Kathleen Thompson set up the information service Education Everywhere eight years ago, after home educating her own child. 'The best advice I can give to parents wanting to home educate is to be in touch with other home educators. There is no need to be on your own,' she says. 'With groups like Education Everywhere, it is easier than ever to meet people in the same boat. Talking to other people will help boost your confidence – often parents instinctively know what is best for their child, but doubt themselves and need to talk to other adults who understand how they are feeling. Any worries or queries you might have can be soon cleared up by learning more and talking with others, and this will give you the confidence to listen to your child.'
There are many resources to tap into as well, from BBC schools programmes to workshops in local museums and days out organised by home education groups.
You know your child better than anyone
Learning at home used to be more common, and many children were educated in this way – including Queen Elizabeth II. 'Who wouldn’t do better being taught on a one-to-one basis by someone who loves and understands them?' asks Kathleen Thompson. 'My opinion is home-educated children do better than they would at school. Learning at home is more natural and doesn’t just start when school starts, or happen between the hours of 9am and 4pm. Children and parents are learning all the time.'
You can’t fail
'The main philosophy of home education is that it should prepare a child to be fit to take an active role in their community or another community they choose. It doesn’t label any child or parent a failure,' says Dr Helen Lees. For example, you might have decided to home educate your child because they're a promising sportsperson and their team commitments are difficult to fit in around school life. In this case, you might measure their success by their progress in their sport rather than their academic results. As long as you are both doing your best and your child is happy and interested, you're being a successful home educator.
What other parents say
We asked members of Education Everywhere to share their tips on boosting your confidence as a home educator.
'The way I boosted my confidence was by joining meet-up groups. Getting involved and sharing ideas with others goes a long way.'
Ellie, mum to Jacob, nine
'For me, the biggest boost in my confidence as a home educator is watching my children’s confidence grow. Seeing our children enjoying their learning and feeling passionate, engaged and interested in what they are learning is a great confidence booster.'
Sarah, mum to Olivia, 10, and Charlotte, seven
'Confidence comes from being able to explore new ideas with the children without the stress of endless testing so they can enjoy what they learn. Seeing my children flourishing and happy at home boosts my confidence.'
Nicola, mum to Ethan, six, and Joel, five
The beginner's guide to home education
TheSchoolRun's Home education planning pack is full of templates, suggestions and advice if you're starting your home-edding journey.