A blended education

Recently, a few people have asked me, not unreasonably, if, now that we have had a taste of formal education, I have given up on the idea of home education. The answer is absolutely not. While I love that the girls are currently attending the village school in Sanlúcar, my commitment to the philosophy and practice of home education is as strong as ever.

A very particular set of circumstances led to the decision to enrol the girls in school here. We liked life on the Rio Guadiana in general, and we felt that enrolling the girls in the tiny village school would provide them with an immersive education in Spanish language that we could not give them at home. And, we felt that their attendance at school would give all four of us opportunities to participate in village life that we wouldn’t otherwise get if we continued to home educate while living on the river. We were drawn to the size of this school, with only seven or eight children per classroom, and thought that experience would be very different to being in a larger town or city school.

Apart from learning Spanish language and culture, the girls are learning other things at school that they wouldn’t necessarily learn at home – or at least would learn very differently at home.

One of Lily’s favourite school subjects is Religion, although she can’t quite express why. She’s certainly getting a very different perspective on religion at her predominantly Catholic Spanish school than she gets at home from her agnostic-Anglican and atheist-Catholic parents!

In school there is a big emphasis on perfectly neat cursive handwriting – something that I’ve never bothered with – and the girls are now writing beautifully. The great advantage of this for Lily is that she can now write faster, and doesn’t get so frustrated when trying to express herself on paper.

And, I must admit, one of the things I like best about having the girls in school is that I no longer feel the need to do the thing I like least about home education – arts and crafts! Even as a child I hated making things with scissors and PVA glue and toilet roll inserts and poster paint, and drumming up the enthusiasm to do that stuff with the girls has always been a guilt-inducing burden for me. Katie now has a very arty teacher and she comes home almost daily with some new creation. (Finding space to display these masterpieces at home is now the challenge!)

We have decided to spend another year on the Rio Guadiana, so the girls can continue to attend this school. Their Spanish language skills are developing so rapidly we feel that, with another year of immersion in the village, they will be close to fluent for their age. And after that? Who knows.

At home we continue to focus on those areas of education that are important to Julian and I and, in unschooling fashion, we facilitate the girls own educational interests.

At first, Lily found maths at school too easy (although I pointed out she was learning in Spanish), so she has continued to study maths at her own pace and level at home. In addition, she writes almost daily – letters, book reports, her own daily journal – and we try to give her the space and freedom to just get on with that. And while Katie is learning to read and write in Spanish, we continue to work with her at home to develop her reading skills and I’m hoping independent reading is just a few months away (this has been my hope for a long long time!!).

But, much as before, their informal education is led by what interests them and us. Katie has decided she wants to be a palaeontologist when she grows up (independent reading a necessity, Katie!) and our walks through the countryside these days are usually with the purpose of searching for bones. The many bones we find lead us in all learning directions. Through observation, conversation and research we are learning about physiology, how joints work, how to recognise different parts of a skeleton, the structure of bones, the different wild animals that live around here, distinguishing between carnivores and herbivores based on the teeth and jawbones we find. Believe me, it’s fun!!

Lily is recently fascinated by evolution, and asks endless questions about the origins of life, how plants and animals evolved, where the Earth came from, and so on. I told her recently that the answers to these questions were much easier when I asked them as a child. ‘God made the world’ was the answer that had to satisfy me! On our long evening and weekend walks, I try my best to answer her endless questions, and back home aboard Carina, we get the reference books out or search the internet for answers.

At home, we continue to actively learn through cooking and baking (weights, measures, how to cook, nutrition), through boat maintenance and care (learning to row, buoyancy), through shopping (maths, budgeting, practicing Spanish) and through all the other things we do on a daily basis. The girls are generally unaware, of course, that they are learning, but that philosophy and practice of learning by doing informs much of what we do together.

At the end of the next school year we will have another decision to make – to stay or move on. If we do move on I hope we will return to home education. But if we stay here, well, like many families, we will continue to blend education at school and home. The most important thing for me is that the girls retain their enthusiasm and joy for learning.


4 thoughts on “A blended education

  1. I love reading your blog and I think you’re making some great parenting and family choices, so I hope you don’t mind if I play devil’s advocate and ask you how your current schooling arrangements, of sending the children to school and also doing activities outside school led by their interests that also extend their education, differs from my experience. My kids are both in their local state school in the UK (granted, it has larger class sizes than the one in Sanlúcar and is teaching them in their native language, though that is not the case for all their classmates) and we do lots of things with them at home, from maths projects, to sewing, going on walks, discussing nature, cooking and shopping. And my friends who are my parenting peers, also with kids in formal education, are doing similarly. And yet a home schooling advocate would surely label us as giving our children a formal education, rather than the term of a blended education that you use. So I wonder what, if any, difference you see between these two situations?
    I suspect that underlying this question is the defensiveness that many people have around their parenting choices when they are different from people they meet and so perhaps the assumption that someone who has made different choices from you is implicitly critical of your choices, whether they say so or not. I know I have got the impression (perhaps wrongly) from at least one parent who home schools that I am somehow letting down my children in some way, or perhaps even being neglectful.
    For us, formal education is absolutely the right decision. If our circumstances were different our choices might be too. Certainly if we were without access to a school (say for instance, we were sailing around the Mediterranean staying a week or two in each port) then I would definitely be more conscientious of how my interaction with the children is educating them.
    Anyway, I hope you don’t think this is critical, like I said, I think you’re both excellent parents and your girls sound to be having a wonderful and enriching time. I’m just curious about how your home education experience frames your description of your formal education experience.

    • Hi Rosemary. Thanks for these comments. The first thing I’d say is – no need to play devil’s advocate; I accept your criticism. I agree wholeheartedly with everything you’ve said, and I was thinking along similar lines when I wrote this post, but I guess laziness and a desire to post something got in the way of me writing something more rounded that explored some of these issues you raise.
      I’ve so much to say in response (we need sit down over coffee and cake)!! In essence, our experience right now is no different to any other family with kids in school. All my friends and peers with kids do all those out of school informal and semi-formal things too. And I guess if I was to think about the title of my post a bit more it would refer more to long term than immediate term education. The girls are in school now, but they may not be in a year’s time, or five or ten years time. I find it interesting talking to other ex-pats here on the river whose kids are in school and a similar age to mine. They are already thinking about secondary school options – pondering whether to return to their home countries so their children can take specific exams or move to a bigger town in Spain where schools are better resourced. But we’re not thinking along those lines at all. I have met many home educated adults over the last few years who are living fulfilling and meaningful lives despite never taking any formal exams and/or never going to university. I’ve also met home schooled adults who have found alternative ways to gain entrance to university. So knowing there are alternative routes to adulthood I suppose informs how I think about school.
      That said, having made the decision to put the girls in school for a while, we have fully embraced the school experience. They are on time, they do their homework, they haven’t yet missed a day of school, and I’m the parent always volunteering when the assistance of parents is called for. Beyond that, we take the advice of the teachers on board – Lily’s teacher advised we all speak more Spanish at home and, well, let’s just say, multilingual confusion reigns aboard Carina!!
      And goodness, I know what you mean when you write that people are critical of your choices. From the moment you announce your pregnancy it seems everyone is critical of your choices!! And believe me, I’ve met a few of those home educating Fascists in my time. Indeed, the first time I ever went to a group play event of home educated kids (in Cambridge) the woman running it said ‘People who send their children to school don’t love them’. Hold on a minute, I thought to myself (too bloody lily-livered to speak up) that means my parents didn’t love me, and none of my friends or family love their kids! We never went back there again!! In the main, however, I have met lovely home ed families, many in Leamington and Coventry last summer. We avoid the Fascists. As you know, there are as many different models of formal education as there are informal, and those of us who are lucky enough can choose the model that works best for our family.
      And finally, like birthing options, innoculation and vaccination options, and all the other decisions we have to make as parents, I have been surprised in recent years by how many people don’t even know that home education is an option! Our decisions about our children’s education should be informed. Wishing you could do things differently, but not realising that a different way is possible seems wrong to me. But if you know that you have the option of home education, or the local state school, or a Steiner school, or a boarding school in the Swiss Alps, then you know your options.
      Hope that answers some of your questions. Now, I must get my kids home and into bed…they have school tomorrow!!

      • Thanks for your reply Martina.I was slightly concerned that things can sound more critical in internet comments than they are intended, glad you didn’t take it as such.
        I think you make a great point about knowing your options. I don’t think when I was at school with Julian I was aware you could be home educated, except possibly as a last resort as no school would have you! Nowadays I know getting on for a dozen kids that are peers of my kids that are home educated and by no means are all their parents fascists!

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