Home-Education in the U.K.
By Madeleine Carroll
Making the initial decision to educate our children at home was one of the most daunting, but also natural choices my husband and I have had to make. We chose to teach our children at home, not because we disagree with the fundamental concept of the school system, but because we disagree with some of what is taught in most mainstream schools today. Wishing, therefore, to have more control over what they learn during their formative years, this option appeared to be our best one.
Having been home-schooled myself, I knew what it entailed from the perspective of a student, and could half foresee the many challenges I, as a mother, would come across; not least the often tricky dynamics between the parent/teacher and the child/student. I could, though, also perceive a great satisfaction deriving from the chance to teach my children, entering more deeply into their lives and experiences, and also having a chance to learn with them.
Although I was home-educated for most of my school life, my siblings dipped in and out of various schools according to different needs within our family. As one of six children, I have a great respect for my mother who worked hard at finding the right solution for each of her children, and I now recognise her wisdom as she acknowledged the unique needs of each child. So, with my own children, I recognise the importance of discovering their individual needs, as well as academic strengths and weaknesses, in order to best facilitate their formation as well-balanced people. I am most familiar with Catholic curricular material from America, such as Seton Home Study School, which is the curriculum I am currently using with my seven, five, and four year-olds. Seton started out as a small parent-operated Catholic school in Virginia but then expanded into an international correspondence school. I chose it due to its high standards of academic excellence and the authentic Catholic values apparent in all of its subjects. It has also helped me to keep the children on track with their age-appropriate levels. From Grade One upwards, Seton issues tests every three months. It took a weight off of my mind to know that qualified professionals were grading my children’s work. Alongside the strict structure of the Seton curriculum, which is necessarily very workbook-based, I like to supplement with some more practical work, which my very physical son, in particular, appreciates. One of the best resources I have found for this is the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.
A few years ago I was very blessed to be able to train with some local mothers as a catechist for three to six year-olds with this catechetical method, whose origins are inspired by Maria Montessori’s vision for education. Now we homeschooling mothers run our own little Catechesis of the Good Shepherd group in a specially prepared environment, with good liturgical and Biblical materials. It is a very beautiful way for children to encounter Jesus, their Good Shepherd, and caters to the needs of different ages, much as the Montessori Method does, with more practical, hands-on works for younger children.
Before having my own children I trained and worked as a Montessori teacher for three to six year-olds in a Christian Montessori school, and, after having helped to set up a little Montessori classroom for Aids orphans in India, I was eager to use the Montessori approach with my own children when they came along, at least for the very early years. I have found that the Language and Maths materials in particular have been very helpful for my children from two years up, especially such materials as the Sandpaper Letters and Numbers. These materials help a child come to grips with the abstract concepts of letters and numbers in a concrete way. There are also beautiful ways to introduce preschool children to nature via the Montessori method.
Lastly, I would like to touch upon a very interesting concept of classical education/hybrid schooling which originated in the U.S.A., which may hopefully come to the U.K. in the near future depending on interest. It is the classical approach to education as seen, for example, in the home-school curriculum and support services “Mother of Divine Grace”, which is used by families and various “hybrid” schools such as those in the Regina Caeli Academy network. Regina Caeli offers an integrated homeschool and a two-day-a-week classroom experience where children from preschool age upwards can meet and work together at one of their centres around the U.S.A. The benefits of this system are the social aspects, as well as the organised structure and community support they offer. Children of all ages meet, work, pray, and play together, and it is as much a centre of joy and kinship as it is a structured school environment.
Home-education is an exciting adventure, not to be taken lightly, but with all the varying resources out there, and with God’s grace, it is definitely possible and worth the challenge.
Madeleine Carroll is a homeschooling mother to five young children and lives in Surrey, England where her hobbies are walking and writing.
Join us to share examples of other homeschool co-ops, hybrid programmes, and support services over on the Second Spring Education Forum, which we have launched as a virtual space to discuss all aspects of what Stratford Caldecott called “the Re-Enchantment of Education”. We hope it will provide opportunities for homeschooling parents in the U.K. to connect with one another and with school teachers working towards similar educational goals.