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Comparing and Setting Standards

© Beverley Paine, 1999

Most of us compare our children to other children, both homeschooled and schooled. But even more than that we compare them to the imperfect memory of our own schooling or education and set our standards for our children's performances accordingly.

I set high standards in English for my children - simply because I love to write, and was very good at English at school - but from what age I wonder? Without records it is hard for me to really know how good my work was... So what I tend to do is compare my children's work with my own, at the age I am now! This has terrible results, as you can imagine. It took me more than a year or two to stop doing this, and when my children started homeschooling at high school level this tendency reared its head again and went into hpyerdrive!

I once read some research that said problem with home education is the tendency to replicate the kind of schooling the parent received as children - especially if we thought that our own schooling experience was successful. This sometimes happens even if it failed us miserably. And the primary reason for this is that for many of us it is our only experience of education. Perhaps this is why so many start home education as 'school at home'.

The research indicated that the problem with this way of doing things is that it fails to reflect the huge amount of research in learning theory and good educational practice over the last few decades. Someone once talked to me about education as either lighting a fire or simply filling a bucket. I know I'd rather be sparking away... and my kids too! Not replicating my own narrow experiences of education and expanding my knowledge and experiences are ways I can achieve this.

I keep on reading as much as I can on the subject of education - stuff written for teachers as well as homeschooling parents and university people too. It all helps me understand the learning process more and how I can best facilitate it at home. I like to read about adult educational practice too.... that is interesting. I read mostly stuff gleaned off the Internet nowadays though... bits and pieces, nothing substantial. Academic articles are often hard to read, but very thought provoking.

I try to ask myself if what I am expecting of my children is developmentally appropriate, given their individual learning needs and styles and personal temperaments, and try to separate my memories of myself out of their learning processes!

So often parents are never quite sure where their children are at and if what they are doing is 'typical' for their age. They worry that there might be educational or developmental problems they are not picking up on, and if they should be doing something about that. I see this as a problem in confidence in my own ability to educate my children. There are a couple of things I do to help me overcome these moments of worry. The first is quite simple - I get back into the habit of record keeping, jotting observational notes of everything my children do over a few weeks. From this record I can quickly check progress and ability, and even check it against curriculums or developmental checklists, or compare it with other parents' experiences if need be. Mostly I am reassured just by keeping records though.

Another trick I employ regularly is to spend a few moments thinking about what would happen if my boys went to school. Would things be any different? Would they be learning the right things for them at the right age? Not at all! Would all the kids that age, or in that class, be at the same level, be able to do the same stuff, to the same standard? Definitely not! If my sons were 'behind' would they be helped to 'catch up'? Once again, the answer is no, not really. And if they were 'ahead' would they be given 'extension work' suitable to their individual learning needs. I don't think so.

Having carefully considered the alternative to home education - school - I'd always feel better at whatever mish mash I was making of education! Better to be stuffing up my children myself than letting some stranger do it.... at least this way whatever terrible mess I make today I can set to and attempt to clean up tomorrow. Too often in schools this cleaning up happens years later, if at all, and much too late to be very effective.

I've often heard educationalists and parents making much ado about helping their children reach their 'full potential'. I wonder what this really means and if it is at all possible? If it is a sensible goal? I ask myself if I have reached my potential? Could I do better in life? My father continuously thinks so and tells me! To him I am unsuccessful, a hippy dropout, someone who could have made something of her life is she had chosen to. Is this how I want to judge my children later in life? His words often hurt, but then I think about it carefully. What is the best that I can do? Who should be the judge of that? You, my father, that teacher over there, the stranger in the street, or me? I learned the answer to that one somewhere in my 38th year of life.... Me. I allow my children to grow in the knowledge that they have responsibility over their own education, and that they have a real say in what and how they learn. I expect them to tell me if I am falling short in my role as educational facilitator. I supplement that by listening and observing very carefully, anticipating their learning needs. This ability has grown out of my long episodes of detailed record keeping.

Setting realistic goals is important, and something we so often overlook. However, to set realistic goals most people need some idea of what would be realistic, and look outside of their homes, to the experience of schools, both past and present. I think we don't really need to do that as homeschoolers. The easiest way I discovered of working out whether my goals were realistic or appropriate was part of the evaluation process - was I achieving them? If not, why not? Often I would then discover that the goal was quite inappropriate!

For example, I tried to teach Thomas lower case letters for his writing at the age of four when he was quite clearly exploring upper case letters..... inappropriate goal modelled on what I believed he should be doing because 'everyone else' learned lower case letters first. I totally confused the poor kid and had to spend a lot of time building up his damaged self esteem as a result afterwards.

As part of the evaluative process I prefer to ask questions like 'Is this my personal best?' and 'if not, why not?' I regularly ask myself these questions, and often opt for less than top quality, 'full potential' stuff, and don't give myself a hard time about it either! I treat my children similarly. I don't see the need to measure up to anyone's standards - my own standards reflect my values, my values generally reflect that of my culture and the society I live in - or where they differ it is because I have developed a different code of ethics to live by and can rationally defend them. I hope my children will be able to do the same when they are adults - as April is already demonstrating. I try not to measure my children up against some arbitrary or averaged standard. Comparison is a tricky trap to fall into. I am wary of it at all times now - which isn't to say I don't do it. I just try and notice when and why.

One of the interesting things I have noticed from home educating is that all three of my children will do absolutely mediocre work most of the time, but when motivated by personal interest or desire (usually to please someone important to them) they achieve excellence and have been even called gifted! Another aspect is that they tend to learn much faster and with less difficulty and practice as they get older - clearly working against a common myth that it is best to teach children young as they learn best then.

I don't think home educating children on average make slower or faster progress in their educational development - they are just learning very differently, and very different things, in a different order to their schooled peers. In many cases it is a nonsense to compare them to schooled kids, or to other homeschooled kids. This is a very important argument against having to follow or adhere to school standards in registration processes and one that we must guard against at all times.

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

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