Q&A WITH SUE
Hi Sue, thank you for taking the time out for this ‘interview’….I will get straight to the point here with the questions form various parents and children…
Questions from the children……
How do you know so much?
I have a very curious mind and love finding out about all sorts of things. From a very young age I would go to the library and bring back lots of books on all sorts of subjects. We didn’t have the internet when I was a child, so I got long arms from all the books I carried home from the library!
How is it that you are so patient with everyone?
I try my best to be understanding of all people, as we are all on our own journeys and we all have challenges at times, so I try not to be too judgemental, although I have bad days too! I also know that we all learn in different ways, so it’s important to allow someone to develop naturally and with patience and support, people can thrive and feel cared about, which is important for confidence to grow.
Did you do lots of art at school?
I was very creative at home when I grew up, always working on some project and making things for my brothers and sisters. When I was young and at primary school, teachers had more freedom in the way they taught and I still remember now only the teachers who allowed creativity into their teaching methods. I found art not so much fun in secondary school, it seemed too rigid and didn’t allow for my own creativity to show.
Did you like school?
I half liked primary school! Sometimes I found it scary and uninviting, usually due to some teacher shouting at the class or being boring. However, because of my natural curiosity to find out things, if the teacher made it interesting then I enjoyed it. Secondary school I didn’t really enjoy because I felt that the teachers were just trying to fill us with facts and figures which didn’t really mean that much. So I am very good at Trivial Pursuits and Pub quizzes!
Do you wish you were home educated?
Yes I feel that home education would have been great for me because I don’t like being a sheeple! In other words, I like to follow my own curiosities and devour them for as long as I need and school does not allow for this. I also grew up in a big family (6 brothers and 3 sisters), so it felt like I was in a home education group outside of school! We were always doing something exciting, making things, drama productions, sports contests etc.
Is it different teaching home educated children compared to children in school?
Generally yes, because school is limiting to children whereas home education isn’t, unless you put constraints on it. Therefore without rules, regulations, punishments, rewards, schools would find it hard to work because they want to control what happens. Children react to this in different ways, either by putting up with it, or rebelling against it. Both ways are not healthy and result in a lesser education and often a more difficult time for teachers to teach. That’s why at Happy Learners I say to new children we don’t really have rules, we just expect everyone to respect each other and be kind. This gives a child space to let go of old rules and constraints and become themself and when you are truly being yourself you expand and grow in a very healthy way.
Why did you become a teacher?
I felt that because I have a natural curiosity to find out about things and I was always passing knowledge and information on to friends and family, being a teacher seemed like a natural job to do. I also love working with people, especially children.
Do you like teaching?
Yes I really enjoy teaching as long as I am free to teach in the way that works best for me and the students. I found teaching in schools too limiting and stopped my natural instincts. Teaching can become boring for teachers too, if they are teaching the same things in the same ways for years on end.
Questions From Parents…
You home educated all 3 of your children who are now adults..why did you choose to home educate?
When my first child was born I used to read a natural parent magazine and there was a page each month on home education and it always interested me. I also grew up in a free-range family and I had always thrived in a very caring and supported family, my true education that put me on the road for life, came from my family and what happened at home and my own self-motivated curiosities about life.
However, living in London at the time, all my friends were sending their children to school, so I sent Joe along with his friends to the same school. Joe stopped thriving in many ways and I remember my Mum’s quote, ‘when you send your children to school you start losing them’. When she had said this to me many years ago, I hadn’t really got the true message, that a part of them is suddenly cut-off and disabled in many ways. When Christy went to school she too started to suffer, even developing eczema and being fearful, when she had never been fearful in her life before. My children were intellectually bright, very sociable, well liked, so on one level you might say they were ‘doing well’. But spiritually they were not, a part of themselves was not being allowed to shine and as I had brought them up to allow their wings to fly, having them clipped was detrimental to their well-being. After moving to a Steiner education and trying a form of creative education, I realized that this was just a stepping stone out of any system that compromised my childrens’ well being unless they chose it for themselves. So after much deliberation and restless nights, I awoke one morning knowing full well that home education was the best thing to do….and we never looked back!
If they went to school did they enjoy school?
Like a lot of children they went to school for their friendships and of course liked some of their teachers and took interest in many things they did, however many things just seem like learning by rote and a chore. However, they were never as happy as when they were on holiday at home and as school is a big part of the year, that seems like a long time not to be truly happy and stimulated. Joe and Christy both home educated upto 16 years of age and took GCSEs from home. However Sam, my youngest, at the age of 14 years, when both his siblings were entering higher education and sixth form college, decided he was going to have a change too. He announced one morning that he felt he needed a new challenge in life and chose to go to school! He chose the school himself and promptly started with no problems whatsoever. At his first parents’ evening, his headteacher spoke to me and said that Sam had settled in really well and was so self-motivated and she was surprised about all this because Sam had never been to school! I explained to her that Sam chose to come to school and that he doesn’t have to if he doesn’t want to and this is where the confidence comes from. He has had a say in his own life, which is very important. If as a parent we don’t listen to our childrens’ needs and support them, even through the mistakes too, who else will? So has Sam enjoyed school? Well he would probably say yes, because he had a good social life there and he put his time and effort into it. However I saw his spirit diminish and I could see he was being limited and defined by the system he was in. I have certainly seen a difference between my two oldest who went to sixth form college (which is much freer) at 16 years of age and Sam who went into the system at 14 years and was inundated by the perpetual assault of the meaningless need to obtain so many GCSEs.
Did you ‘teach’ your children like school at home? If so, what curriculums did you use?
No, I kept away from being too stifling and controlling in home education. We had certain things we did each week which were set and then the rest of the time was for them to follow their own natural instincts, be out in the school of life and we had lots of fun! As far as I was concerned, if they were not happy with what they were doing, then something was wrong. I don’t mean the little blips along the way, but if they had got everything they needed from something they were doing, then I respected that and we moved on. I had various text books and we used the internet for ideas, but generally we did our own thing and adapted to make ordinary text book work into more creative and interesting ways to learn. When they were doing GCSE curriculums, they found it limiting and sometimes boring, but only took the ones they needed as a means to an end. Allowing them to follow their own instincts I found, gave them the chance to be passionate about what they did. Joe was always making films and eventually he did this at degree level and now is working in the film and tv industry. Christy always took an art pad and pencils to bed rather than a book, she created all over the house, singing along the way and these are her passions and her love of art is what she is studying at university at the present time. Sam was less defined once he went to school, because he was bombarded by everything and there seemed little time to develop his true passions. However, his natural inclinations were towards design and sport. He is now studying art and design at college in Brighton.
Do you have any curriculums that you would recommend?
The internet is amazing for finding out about all sort of things you can use. I never adopted any curriculum, just used ideas from many. I think I originally looked at ‘Waldorf without Walls’, which was the Steiner education for home educators, but moreso because we had just come out of that educational system. As all curriculums are limited, then dipping in and finding what you really want is probably the best advice and backing up with other ideas. Our best lessons have been those that have come naturally out of life itself. The questions should be, ‘what do we want to find out about, what do we want to get out of this and how can we make it interesting and stimulating?’. My children would pop over to a home educating family and have a lesson there somedays and then their children would come to me and we’d do something else. When I home educated were were pioneers in our village, so we were finding our way too, but felt the best approach was small groups and just following our own childrens’ curiosities. Most importantly we found that if you gave your child a say in their education they would put 100% into it.
Are there any books you would suggest for home educating parents to support them on their home educating journey?
I think I looked at ‘Free range Education’, but I don’t think I ever really read a book on it itself, I was too busy doing it! I preferred to share with parents and their stories and support each other and be responsive to my children. I am a very instinctual person, so I follow my own intuition and I truly listened to my children, this is more powerful than any book. I would just say, I found that to allow them to flourish in their own way, which can be a challenge at times and requires great patience, miracles can happen and you get a happy, confident child in the end.
If you did not do ‘school at home’ what did you do? What was a typical day like for you when they were home educated?
This is a very good question because our days changed according to what was happening around us, the seasons and the needs of the children. We had certain group sessions set, but this was the minority of the week, for the majority of the week we followed a more autonomous approach. For example, Joe at the age of 14 years decided he wanted to learn about WWI and II, took himself off to the library and came back with lots of books on the subject, sat down and read them in his free time over a few weeks. At the end of which, he stated he knew now what happened and was ready to move onto something else. Christy at the age of 12 years decided to make a film with her friend who home educated too. They took 6 weeks to make the film and didn’t do much else in that time! They put this amazing film together, they filmed, acted, produced, edited, added music , special effects – they produced a film over an hour long and we had a special viewing where they invited guests. As parents, when the children showed an interest we tried to follow it up, whether it be a 15 minute chat or weeks of discovery. Sam ran his own football course at the age of about 10 years, where he taught other children (often some older than him), football skills and training and got paid for it too! What I noticed in my own village of home educators, was that those children who had been allowed to thrive by following their natural passions, developed these and many have taken them into their adult lives. I also taught my children home skills, as I once remarked to my sons, that any woman worth marrying does not want a man who can’t do his own ironing!!
What do you think is the biggest advantage of home education?
Freedom to choose what you do and being receptive to your childrens’ needs and curiosities. The majority of children if allowed to thrive will grow up being self-motivated, confident and have the ability to communicate well. The government white paper at the time when I was home educating stated quite clearly, that home educated children were more able to fit into society and they were academically advanced than their peers in schools. Overall much more well-rounded individuals.
Being a fully qualified teacher and having so much educational experience, do you think that was a benefit for you as a home educator?
Not really, because my ‘real’ education came through home educating my children and that journey of discovery. I had only taught for a short time before I had my children and stayed at home with them as a full-time mother as they grew up. I would say I enhanced my teaching skills through working with them and other children, not only in home education. I had experience in mainstream, private and one to one tutoring over the years, they all added to my experience as a teacher, but that doesn’t mean you can inspire children. I believe I would have done the same whether I was a qualified teacher or not. It’s about inspiration, adaptability, flexibility, patience, curiosity, support and of course, as I told my children, all stirred together with love!
Any advise for home educating parents that you wished you had known when you were home educating?
I feel that because I was quite intuitive with my approach, I tried to adapt with my children and this gave less problems in the long run, than trying to make something happen that is going against the grain. Don’t get caught up in the need to do what other people are doing, it may not work for your kids! The best advice is that it all works out in the end! Trust in your instincts, be patient and LISTEN to your children, as my son once said when I was worrying about something, ‘you know Mum I know what I’m doing and its alright’, and it was!
Try and take time out for yourself too, whilst being a parent and it’s a full on job when home educating, we are people too with needs that need nurturing.
The children adore you and your daughter, Christy, in Happy Learners. You obviously enjoy being with children and sharing your knowledge with children in a fun relevant creative way…how do you do that?
Totally instinctive and probably growing up in a big fun family, then having my own children and just being a big part of their growing up. I also love passing on things I’ve found out about and always want to share it, which has led to some very long debates in our household on all manner of topics.
Having home educated how did that impact your relationship with your children in a good or not so good way?
Home education made us closer there is no doubt about that. You learn your first real lessons in your close relationships and that tends for most people to be family life. We grew together and learned life skills from each other, we also cared and shared and made sure we had fun. Of course there were days when things just don’t go to plan, but we worked things through. I tried my best to make sure my children felt able to voice their feelings, good or bad, that way they knew they were listened to. I remember the home education days with great warmth in my heart. However, I do remember the day when Sam, my youngest went to school and the home educating at home was ending . As my children had all chosen the paths they wanted in their lives, I felt a job well done and I suddenly felt a load taken off my shoulders!
How were your children at home together growing up home educated?
I think I have been blessed, because despite the odd fights that children have, my children get on really well and are very close. I’m not sure if it is because I had a boy, girl, boy, or they are nearly 3 years apart or what, but they are lovely people. Joe the oldest always seemed to inspire the others and he was and is fun to be with. I think at the key of it, is that we are all creative and they all felt happy in their own skins and content to play together or equally happy in their own space. I also feel that because I stayed at home with them as they grew up, we had a much more mellow and calm environment and could go with the flow of the day. The children also had healthy friendships outside of the home and close by, so they could pop over and play, so could find nurturing space outside of the home too. I was very lucky because there were a lot of home educators in my village and we also as parents kept close friendships and looked after each other.
Did you ever have bad days? Or days where you felt like ‘what am I doing?’ If so how did you work through them?
Of course, I am human! Often those days were because I wasn’t listening to a particular child’s needs and coming from a space of fear. When I realised that it was my stuff that was blocking change, then everything flowed again. Children are very instinctive, so often they know what’s best!! Trust is the biggest issue for parents. Bad days were usually resolved by changing the situation if possible and often involved getting out into nature. I would also take myself through the ‘dark night of the soul’ scenario i.e. what is the worst thing that can happen and once you’ve faced that, realise in most situations, the fear was worse than the actual problem! Of course, you can feel overwhelmed carrying the load and that is when your partner or good friend takes the load for a few hours and gives you time off for yourself. Always come back to why you are doing this and try not to be swayed by other’s opinions, they just feed fear at times. Look at your children and if they are happy, you are doing it right, if not, maybe something needs to change.
What was the biggest plus for you having home educated your children?
Having this great chance to really get to know my own children and feel so close to them and the happy well -rounded children they have grown up to be. The education side is second to this, because I feel true parenting is far more than giving birth, feeding and putting them out into the world to try and navigate without you at such a young age, often in situations you wouldn’t put yourself in as an adult. We have a lot to give our children and we are their first role models. Conscious parenting is what it’s about.
What was/is the biggest plus from having home educated your children?
The above and the fact that they have learnt to be self-motivated, responsible and know that education can be fun and inspirational. As my son said at his interview for University to the question of , ‘what has home education done for you?’ His reply was that it helped him to think outside the box – after which they said we need people like you and gave him a place straight away.
What have you found to be helpful for tweens/teens who are home educated?
Many of the points already made but also remember to grow with them and be flexible as the teens can be some of the most vulnerable times for children. Rushing hormones and changes bring insecurities up and demands out of nowhere! Be patient, they need you more than anytime now. It is no coincidence that in Steiner education they study periods of rebellion in history in the teenage years! Another important factor is that in home education, parents energy seems to diminish somewhat as the demands of teens appear and often it is a time children need good friendships and many children start choosing school because of lack of this. Which means that there are less teens around to socialise with, but its not the best reason to go to school. Whilst my two oldest children had plenty of friends in their teens to share home education with, Sam had few and that was one of the factors that made him choose school too. So I feel its important to try and keep up group activities in these teen years, as they like being part of a pack.
What was the one thing you did as a home educator that was most helpful?
In my community, as parents we supported each other and I made sure I nurtured myself too so that I was healthy and able to cope!
What would you change about the way you did things as a home educator?
I probably wouldn’t change much at all except now that I am teaching my home ed groups, I realise how many other things I could have done with them too! I think my youngest son would have probably wanted more group activities as he went into his teens, but as previously said, there were few children of his age around at that time.
What advice would you give someone who is just starting out?
If your child is coming out of school, they need time to de-school and this can take a long time if the child has suffered trauma. Many children will go back to playing with toys etc from their past, as they re-live and find themselves again. Take it slowly and be patient. For others just choosing home education, remember that you have complete freedom – that is a great gift. Follow your child’s inclinations, because if you do, you will see they will throw themselves fully into what they are doing. Allow them to get bored if they just don’t feel motivated by anything at the time – this is a big act of trust but out of this a fire will be kindled and grow. They will also learn that you trust their instincts too and that is a great learning curve for them.