My children struggled at school. Coming, as I do, from a family of educators, it is still difficult for me to say – or even accept – that the education system failed us: But it did. The lovely local school we carefully chose for our kids couldn’t cope with them. It is an outstanding school and they worked hard with us to find a solution, but when it came to the crunch, they didn’t have the facilities to manage children with different needs. Which is how we came to homeschool our kids.
Home education is unbelievably exhausting and unbelievably rewarding. It is mindbogglingly exciting and mind-numbingly tiring. Being with your children 24/7 is both a chore and a joy. Every single day requires us to use every soft skill in our Future Skills toolkit, just to survive. Here I look at how we use three of the seven skills: being proactive, adaptability and, most important at all from my perspective, empathy.
We begin the day by being proactive, because if we didn’t we would never get started. It is in a 5 year old’s nature to play. My first job of the day, every day, is to get immersed in their play and look for the opportunities to take that play in a proactive learning direction. It’s my job to teach them to ask the questions that will lead them to learn proactively. This might mean that, instead of berating my son for forcing his brother’s empty beaker into his own, full cup of water and spilling it everywhere yet again, we begin to talk about WHY the water spills, and explore displacement. We might talk about floating and sinking – why does he have to PUSH the cup into the water? Why does an empty cup float? Would a full cup float or sink? Before you know it, we have a whole experiment running, testing out which household objects will float and which will sink, measuring predictions against outcomes – yes there’s water all over the floor and the table, but it’s only water, right? It’ll dry!
Adaptability is absolutely key to home education, for obvious reasons. Children seldom act exactly as you hope they will, and the best laid plans can just as easily be thrown off course by the weather, technology, a power cut, other people, telemarketers with their incessant spam calls… Some days we have a fantastically productive day of phonics, reading, mathematics, science, diversity studies, physical education; other days the odds seem stacked against us ever getting going. It is essential that I am able to accept that some days are simply non-starters. This is a real benefit of home education over the classroom: my children get 1:2 attention from me every day. Often, one will wander off and play or draw by himself, and the other will get the privilege of some 1:1 time. If we lose the odd morning or afternoon to ill-mood, ill-weather or ill-mannered cold-callers, it’s never the end of the world; there is always tomorrow.
Another key skill that sits just outside outside of the seven future skills, but links strongly to adaptability is compromise. Some days the kids might have their own ideas about what they want to do – ideas that might not actually be feasible for a variety of reasons. They might want to play out in the snow for the 3rd day running – but their snow clothes are all soaking wet from the past two days’ adventures, while I am painfully aware that we haven’t touched on science at all this week… In which case, a compromise might be met by bringing the snow inside! Melted snow may make for another wet table, yes, but as we’ve already established, it’s only water: It will have dried long before such hands-on learning is forgotten.
All children – and adults – are subject to their moods, to how well they have slept, how well they are feeling, what the weather is doing, and so forth. My second twin has sensory processing disorder and potential autism, making him more prone to meltdowns based on sensory input than most. It might be too sunny, outside, or too cold; a helicopter going overhead toward the motorway might be too loud, or next door’s farming too smelly on any given day. Any of these can trigger a meltdown on his part, and my job is to think carefully about what he seems to be reacting to, and unpick what is really at the heart of his reaction. It is easy to lose my temper to his outbursts, particularly when a sudden meltdown is accompanied with violence, which it often is. I perosnally think that treating children with emapthy is imperative regardless of the child – to see the world from a child’s perspective is surprisingly difficult for an adult to do, and actually quite bewildering when you really get down to their level. But it is even more necessary for a child with particular needs, if we are to see how we can help that child to cope with the too loud, too bright, too scary – just “too much” – nature of the world in which they have to function.
This particular activity led nicely into a discussion about solids and liquids as the snow and ice melted, which then led into an activity around melting down their old bits of wax crayon in a bain marie to make rainbow crayons, and melting chocolate to make rice crispy cakes…
I’ve only really scraped the surface of how we use these soft skills daily in our household, but I will be writing more in the coming months. I will also be sharing how I am working to teach my children to be more adaptable, proactive, resilient, optimistic, empathetic, to think critically and to act with integrity, themselves.