Five Pillars of Education at Home
   
           
   
   

As a home educating parent as well as a home education coach and writer, I know there are five aspects of parenting that create a rich, positive environment in which children can play and learn at home.

The five pillars of parenting, which I write about in Extraordinary Parenting: The Essential Guide to Parenting and Educating From Home, help all parents, whether they are educating their children at home full-time, homeschooling due to the current pandemic, caring for toddlers or preschool-age children, or simply want to support their children’s learning outside school hours.

Pillar one: Relationships

 Much has already been written on this blog on the importance of parent-child relationships in nurturing children’s developing brains and supporting their health, happiness, and resilience into adulthood. This is doubly so with home education: A positive relationship based on collaboration, parental empathy, and playfulness forms a solid foundation for the highs and lows of educating at home. This type of relationship also creates an atmosphere in which children feel they can make mistakes and take risks, free from the comparison and competition that can be rife in school settings.

Understanding that children’s challenging behavior is a form of communication and seeking to meet the needs behind that behavior are important for parents supporting their children through the rich terrain of home education. Marshall Rosenberg’s pioneering work on nonviolent communication is a good place to start. Parents who homeschool can build a relationship with their children that doesn’t rely on punishments, praise, or rewards, and instead seeks to develop children’s intrinsic motivation.

Pillar two: Rhythm

In his 2010 book, Simplicity Parenting, educator and school counselor Kim John Payne made a powerful case for simplifying children’s daily lives and reducing the number of activities – -and the sheer amount of stuff — in their lives for a slower, more balanced, and more psychologically healthy childhood. He advocated building a predictable but flexible rhythm, rather than a strict and brittle routine, which allows children to feel secure and thrive.

Living in a society in which most children go through the school gates every day can leave us with a very specific idea of what learning looks like. It’s easy to forget that, at its best and most effective, learning — for adults and children alike — looks a lot like play and playful experimentation.

Parents and children can work together to build a rhythm that ensures a predictable flow through the day and enough time for learning activities (for formal academic work at home, children need much shorter lessons than they do in school, so plan accordingly), time outdoors, play, rest, and time as a family. During each day, certain times can act as anchors — meals, a walk, time together in the morning to do project work or read as a family, time for everyone to pitch in with chores. This rhythm brings a reassuring pattern to each day without putting too many brakes on the creativity that can come from blank space on the calendar.

Education at home

Photo provided by the author.

Pillar three: Home environment

Many pedagogies speak of the importance of a prepared environment, from Maria Montessori’s insistence that the environment should facilitate maximum independent learning and exploration to the Reggio Emilia notion of the environment as the third teacher (alongside the child and the teacher), designed to suit the child’s needs and encourage collaboration, relationships, and exploration.

At home, parents have the advantage of not teaching in a classroom — in fact, research suggests classrooms should be more like homes. A 2015 study by Barrett et al. on the impact of classroom design on students’ learning found that the aesthetics of the spaces significantly affected children’s ability to take in information: Classrooms with too much color and information had a negative impact, distracting children and making it hard to focus, and classrooms that were bare had similar effects. Natural light and fresh air were the most important ingredients for happy, focused students, as well as space to move around and furniture that fit their needs. These are all things parents can provide at home, meeting children’s needs for independence, creativity, movement, play, and rest in a comfortable space.

Movement is especially important, with research showing that it is a key factor in how children integrate social and academic learning and transform it into memory. Parents can bring movement into their children’s daily rhythm with far more ease than schools.

Pillar four: Encouraging natural learning

Living in a society in which most children go through the school gates every day can leave us with a very specific idea of what learning looks like. It’s easy to forget that, at its best and most effective, learning — for adults and children alike — looks a lot like play and playful experimentation.

Humans are born learning; all we need to do is look at a baby to see that this is true. In the first year or two of life, babies learn one or more languages; figure out how to crawl, walk, run, and climb; discern when something is funny and when something is unacceptable; determine how to respond empathetically to others’ emotions; and learn how to play. Home education can allow for a return to this more natural, playful style of learning, whether children are learning math through baking, studying a foreign language by playing Minecraft with a friend in another country, or chatting with a neighbor.

Children have their own passions and interests that they want to explore, and home education provides the time and space for them to learn through hands-on experiences, as well as enabling far deeper exploration of different subjects than would be possible at school. Rather than trying to replicate a full school timetable of compartmentalized subjects, parents can facilitate multidisciplinary projects and investigations. They can also allow children the space to tinker, lead their own learning, and find the state of flow we know is conducive to happiness and positive self-worth.

Education at home

Photo: Unsplash.

Pillar five: Self-care

Stress can harm parents’ ability to respond to their children, and parents and educators alike have seen how children pick up on adult moods. We know that stress in teachers negatively affects class attainment, and stress in parents has been linked to poor behavioral outcomes in children. Home educating can be very fulfilling and enjoyable, but it can also be exhausting, especially when combined with other responsibilities, such as paid employment, housework, and caring for other children or elders. The importance of self-care for parents and caregivers cannot be overstated.

Self-care can be broadly described as taking care of our own emotional, physical, and intellectual needs – for example, engaging in regular exercise (including taking a walk), taking time to enjoy a hobby (any activity that brings a state of flow is ideal), reading a good book, reducing time spent on social media or reading the news, having a phone conversation with a good friend, and practicing meditation. Self-care differs for each individual. If parents don’t have much or any time apart from their children, choosing activities that can be done alongside the children is most effective. Doing so also gives parents the opportunity to model self-care and show their children what it means to prioritize one’s own needs.

Home Education Is Not Just For Pandemics

Educating children at home can benefit both children and their families. Following the initial COVID-19 lockdowns over the spring and summer, many parents decided to remove their children from school permanently and take charge of their education themselves. In doing so, they noticed their children were less anxious and more interested in learning, and that sibling relationships once again blossomed with more time together. Evidence from families all over the world shows that children can learn perfectly well without school, and in many cases are happier, show more self-direction and intrinsic motivation in their learning, and develop a wide range of skills and interests.

Header photo provided by the author.