Wednesday, 2 September 2009


"When does all this educating take place?" " Surely you don't make them work in the school holidays?" "Do you have a timetable?"

The "When?" question is something of a home education cliche, but things become cliches for a reason, and that reason is that they tend to contain a universal truth. So the answer to "when?" has to be: "all the time". No, that doesn't mean that the children are chained to a desk 24/7. Desks very rarely come into the equation, if at all, but we'll talk about the "where?" tomorrow.

Children, and adults for that matter, really are learning all the time. Even when they look as though absolutely nothing is going on, they are still processing information. These *fallow periods* can be very disconcerting to a parent, but I've come to the conclusion that they are incredibly important. You will often find that, just as you are starting to internally panic that your child is doing absolutely nothing that could be considered educational, suddenly they have made a huge leap forward in some area or other. I've seen this happen enough times now to know that it's not just a fluke or a one off, it is all just part and parcel of how the human brain works.

When you think about it, it's actually not so surprising. If we were to expect our digestive system to work in the way we expect a child's brain to work, we'd soon end up with a nasty mess. Imagine for a minute what would happen if we were continually emptying food into our mouths, whether we were hungry or not, with no time for our digestive system to process it properly. Then ask yourself why our brains should be any different.

An awful lot of education, in our family, takes place through what has become know by academics as purposive conversation. This sounds ever so dry and theoretical, but actually, it's just living really. If you were to conduct an experiment for a day or two, and jot down all the many and varied things you talk about, the little offshoots that these conversations develop, the curiosity that comes from not knowing the answer to a particular question, I think you'd be surprised just how many different areas you covered.

The other day we were watching the TV programme Coast. The particular episode we were watching was asking the question "how long is the British coast line?" You'd think that would be a relatively easy question to answer in this day and age, but actually no, it isn't, and the answer you will receive depends on many variables one of which is the length of the item you use to measure with. Mandlebrot's fractional dimension was explained to us and we were all fascinated. It sparked off an in depth conversation about measurement, the coast, history, cartography etc etc. We couldn't be considered mathematical nerds by any stretch of the imagination, and had I tried to present such a theory in a dry lesson, we would all have been pulling our hair out in seconds, but presented in a real life situation it was made more accessible and we were able to see the real value of what would otherwise have been boring theory. This was on a Sunday afternoon.

Other such conversations can happen in the morning, afternoon, evening, late at night, any day of the week. It can be wearing, but it can be very, very exciting, and these conversations don't just happen whilst watching TV programmes. These conversations are famously held whilst in the car, on a bus, walking along the street. If you are awake to the world around you you can't fail to be learning every single minute of the day.

Of course not all learning takes place through conversation, but this post is just trying to show how, regardless of any other methods you might use to learn, conversation is so incredibly important and happens at any time of the day or night. This type of learning doesn't understand timetables, or schedules, it just happens on the hoof, but don't be fooled into thinking that it's not incredibly important, or valid, just because you can't see it happening, or have no physical evidence to show it took place. It's probably one of, if not the, greatest educational experiences you and your child will have.


  1. That is a very clear explanation I will store it for use when trying to explain home education to others if that is ok with you ?

  2. I am always amazed that I have to remind adults that they've probably learned more since they left school than while in school! This mentality that we can 'only learn in school' has got to be destroyed! Yes--learning happens all the time. Just a pity we have to keep pointing it out!