Friday, 25 January 2013

Structure v Autonomy

Can you hear my brain stretching from where you are?

Unsurprisingly, given the latest little wobble, I have been revisiting the old "structure v autonomy" debate that has permanent residence in my head.  Sometimes I manage to ignore it better than other times, that's all!  Maybe the whole of HE is just one big debate/ experiement on the subject - or maybe I will have an 'answer' one day, who knows?!

Part of me is incredibly frustrated with myself for still vacillating on the subject, but I still want to be true to where we're at on this journey, in case it helps others.  I guess anyone who's as bored with the subject as I am tempted to be just won't be reading - so it's just me and you then.  Pull up a chair and I'l fill you in... bear with me while I try to be patient with where I am...

Today I posted in a forum asking why it is that there seems to be laods of information available on autonomous HE, but so little on the structured side of things.  We decided between us that structured Home Ed'ors aren't necessarily embarrassed by the way they home educate - after all, it is what works for their family - BUT, there have been too many groups where anyone who mentions that they are structured in their approach then gets metaphorically jumped on and made to feel somehow inferior for not being autonomous (it's almost as 'bad' as saying you voluntarily accept LA visits - shocking thought!!!).  You know, I can't bear this kind of judgemental behaviour.  It's hard enough going against the flow of mainstream education when you choose to home educate, let alone arguing between ourselves about the 'right' or 'wrong' way to do it - surely we need to be supporting each other's freedom to choose whatever works best for us?!

Anyway, I digress.  Today we had a trip to Toys R Us to spend some Christmas/ birthday money and vouchers.  While we were there I spotted and bought an English workbook for 10-11 year olds approaching their SATs.  I mean, what was that all about?  Since when have I wanted to measure how any of them were "keeping up" with their peers in school?  I don't even believe in education as a race! 

Well, partly I think that when we started HE I knew we needed to get away from the intense structure of school, so we probably swung to the other extreme - and as the boys and I obviously needed deschooling, that was immeasurably helpful for all of us.  I think that now I'm just swinging back, and feeling the need to go over the issues again, to get a more balanced view - and that is manifesting as a stronger desire for structure at the moment.

Also, I have lately felt that Eldest is growing beyond the point where we can all look at things together - he is capable of taking subjects much further than we can go when we're looking at things together with his brothers (eg with things like kitchen science experiments) - but I don't think he knows how to take it further, so I'm feeling the need to "educate" him.  This is most likely the reason for my mind having been churning over how to HE three boys of different levels - because I can see Eldest is ready to be stretched.  (I'm still not resolved on that though... it's an ongoing issue...)  However, he may be ready to be stretched, but that doesn't mean he wants to be.  Similarly, Youngest is showing signs of being ready to start writing (his fine motor control is improving, he's drawing circles, lines etc)... but he's not interested if I give him a 'learning to write' worksheet.  So I'm not going to push it - I figure he'll let me know when he's ready.  And maybe I need to apply the same logic to Eldest: when he's truly ready to push himself, he'll let me know...?  It's a nerve-wracking game though, trusting your child to show you when they really are ready - and what if my instincts turn out to be correct (in that he really does need help finding direction)?  I do love the child-led nature of unschooling, but I don't like the rigid idea that the parents shouldn't "interfere".  As a mother I believe we can trust our instincts concerning our children, and as a Christian I believe that God leads us to the best for each of our children... and as both of those, I believe that I mustn't discard my concerns simply because they don't match up with a certain ideology.

So what am I saying?  Good question!  I think I'm saying that while I doubt we'll ever yield to a complete classroom-type structure, I suspect we may need a bit more structure in our HE journey - and I'm giving myself permission to explore that.  It doesn't mean I'm forcing my will on my children; and it doesn't mean they will have to stop having fun, just to meet my demands.  It means that if I perceive a need for a bit of direction, that's OK.  Just like when children learn to ride a bike: some steadfastly refuse any help until they've mastered it for themselves (I was always this kind of child); some need their parents giving them stability and helping them to balance before letting them go.  Neither is better or worse - both are just learning to ride in their own way.  With Eldest I feel like he's coming to a new area of growth where he might need a bit of stability for a while, until he takes off by himself again.  I'm sure if he gets fed up of being held up (or more likely, being held back), he'll soon say! And if it looks like I'm putting him off, you can be sure I'll back right off!  Generally it doesn't take long at all before he's raring to go at whatever the new thing is.

Does this apply to the others? Well, I'm really chilled with where Youngest is right now; I don't feel any need to push him or change anything for the time being.  With Middle, although I feel like if I tried to introduce any structure he would run a mile, actually I suspect there is a confidence issue.  Sometimes he needs a little coercion to do something until he realises he loves it, which then makes him feel really good about himself, so a bit of a nudge in the right direction could be a good thing - but in his case it's more about specifics (such as writing in cursive which he has expressed a desire to do but reluctance to practice) and therefore may end up being the most structured for a while, with Mummy cheering him on all the way.

So who knows?  that's where we are right now - happy to try something new and see how it goes, but not writing anything in stone!  No change then!

PS A friend just posted a link to a blog about "Tidal Homeschooling"that really fits with where I'm at - I absolutely love it!  So I'm sharing it here too :)


  1. I don't think you have to be firmly one way or the other, most of the people I know use a mixture of structure and child-led, whatever works best for you and your kids! Some of the American blogs I read are very structured, and this site is interesting with lots of links to different resources
    Also, have you come across Project Based Homeschooling?
    I've read the book and it's a very interesting way of learning. Not structured but might be a way to let Eldest stretch himself without it feeling like "school-work"?
    R x

    1. thanks Rachel.. those are definitely the lines we are thinking along here too - I'll check out the links, thank you! Today's blog post wil explain more, hopefully (once I've finished it!) xx