What is education?
What is education? How do children learn? Can they learn without school? What does it look like day-to-day? Is it just for the ultra-rich with an army of tutors? What about socialisation? Without school, how will they ever learn to operate in a society? How can you teach them if you’re not a teacher? How will they ever learn anything without a classroom? Isn’t school compulsory anyway?
I’ve been home educating my son for 5 years – he has never been to school.
These and many similar questions have been thrown at me at regular intervals throughout this time.
Most of these questions don’t have a simple answer, so I’ve mostly resorted to “it works for us, it’s not for everyone” and left it at that – unless someone was really ready to listen and talk, sometimes for hours.
For me, and for thousands of people in the UK, deciding to home educate our children was a considered choice, one we have not made lightly. It’s also called “home education” and not “homeschooling” for a reason – we don’t do school at home, nor do we have to, by law.
Yet in 2020, as the country locked down at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, “homeschooling” became the main topic of conversation for many parents who were thrown into the deep end, without much preparation, consideration or a support network, and with unrealistic expectations that schools imposed on them.
While many found the experience liberating, throwing away the rulebook and seeing how their children thrived without a rigid schedule and with freedom to play and learn on their own terms, many others struggled. They assumed that’s what home education looks like and tried to recreate school at home – to the detriment of their children, and themselves.
It isn’t, of course, what it actually looks like, under normal circumstances.
What happened at the beginning of 2020 was hard on everyone, even seasoned “home edders”. That was not home education, or even homeschooling. It was “pandemic schooling”.
Most home educating families don’t spend days on end indoors, only going for a brief walk around the block once a day. Nor are they isolated and limited in their social contacts only to their immediate family. They have clubs, and get-togethers, and museum and theatre and field trips, and play dates, and sports classes, and forest schools.
We have had to adjust, of course, to the new reality of home education, but I would wager that this transition has been slightly easier for those who have already home educated for a while, as we are used to not only having our kids around, but also rolling with the punches and going with the flow of things. Our usual clubs and classes might still be cancelled, but we know our children will still learn organically.
So this is how this project was born.
Tentatively called ‘Educated’, through a series of photographs and interviews I will aim to showcase what home education really looks like, and how children really do learn without school. How their classroom can be a local playground, a space to be bored and get creative, the sea, a skate park, a local forest, or anything in-between.
And just like with home education itself, I’m coming into it without any preconceived notion of what my time with each family will look like, letting it develop depending on the family’s members personalities, interests and lifestyle.
If you are interested in being part of this project, please get in touch, wherever you are in the UK.
Below are just some of the images I’ve created so far this summer of home educated children getting their education in a variety of different ways.
“My kids are all so, so different and yet they all share DNA and an upbringing. The thing that excites me most about home education is that they can be tailored to. They learn about compromise because we are a family and it has to work for all of us but ultimately, their childhood days are being targeted to their passions and strengths and that is what does it for me.”
Angie, home educating parent
“I love gaming and making videos for YouTube”
Sasha, aged 9
“I like learning about trees, I love their bark”
Nixie, aged 5
“We want our kids to be free to follow their own interests, to be free to grow in their own way and in their own time without external pressures. So that they can have the freedom to spend as much time as they want learning about a subject which means they will be able to learn about things in a greater depth than would ever be possible in school.”
Ann, a home educating parent