TL:DR The process of ‘convincing’ your partner in the short term to home educate will develop the skills you will both need to be long term home educators, plus help you advocate for/justify/defend your approach.
When I was a young mother I was lucky to fall into a crowd of mothers who had slightly older children. When Vanessa was about 9 months old we met at a city farm playground and as the kids did their thing the adult conversation turned to school, or more accurately, choosing not to school. I heard the word ‘unschooling’ and, because for us this future seemed so far away, it was easy for me to listen without much on my mind.
It’s fair to say that that conversation changed our lives. I had had no intention of questioning school but, after some intense reading on the internet, I was convinced that the values and attitudes I had towards my child and my family would be much better served by not imposing a school structure into our lives.
Later (about 8 years later) I would have learnt much more about the problems with school, but back then the decision was very much an organic ‘move toward’ decision rather than a ‘move away’ one. Unschooling, and radical unschooling specifically, sounded like exactly the approach we would love to grow into, and the realisation that school was optional meant we now had the freedom to do that.
My husband didn’t need much convincing, and over time I’ve realised that this is very uncommon! My theory is that the majority of partners spend much of their young child’s life at work so they don’t get that intense exposure to a child’s intrinsic motivation that a mother tends to. In that intense period the expectations we have get challenged head on. We learn to let go of our identification wth what we thought was supposed to happen in order to embrace what is actually happening. Begin the parent most at home changes us, and for a growing many the result is the deep realisation that our children have an innate ability to learn AND we can trust them to do it!
As I write this I realise it doesn’t sound like much on the surface, and yet it is HUGE. In Western society we have, in the main, been raised to believe that children are ’empty cups that need to be filled’, and that without proper guidance they will tend to be lazy, selfish and unproductive.
This lack of trust of children is deeply embedded in our institutions, culture, economy and our own identities. It can take many experiences of choosing to trust your observations over your expectations to realise how much you have internalised this message, and it’s often the personal investment in your child that motivates you.
When we haven’t been forced to think about whether school is necessary – or even desirable, of course most of us don’t.
So how do we inspire this change in perspective in our partners? Research?
Commonly we think that if we can get some compelling research then we can convince our partners to come on board. But how many times has research changed your mind about something you believe is true? Don’t we always believe we are the exception?
Whilst objective research can help, it’s much more likely to be effective if it answers a specific question or allays a particular fear. But first you need to find out what those are…
Coming from a coaching perspective, here’s what I would do:
- Connected Conversation
In order to address your partner’s reservations and concerns you will need to understand more detail than just “I think school is best” or “school worked for me” or “but you have no training”. The best way to find these out is to talk! Put your own opinions aside and get curious. For example:
- What was their experience of school?
- What do they think their child needs to learn?
- What have they heard about home education?
Depending on your partner you may be able to tease out explicit details of their doubts and assumptions – and some of these you can put to bed immediately, but it’s more likely you’ll have to do some guesswork. Sometimes trying an answer to see if it fits helps, for example “are you worried they won’t have many friends?” or “do you see a difference between learning to walk and learning to read”?
Don’t feel like you need to have any answers – they may come up wth some really good questions that leave you stumped! This is a process of uncovering and discovering that is just beginning. If you can enter into the spirit of discovery and adventure it will be a lot more fun and organic.
Really understanding where they’re coming from not only makes it easier to find relevant examples, it also improves the connection between you. If your partner feels that you value their opinion and you genuinely appreciate their perspective you will be in a good place to find a way forward that balances everyone’s needs. And this will extend beyond the specific conversations and create an atmosphere that is more open and supportive.
Being able to have open, honest conversations about expectations and beliefs is an important part of our development as home ed facilitators. We all have milestones schooled into our psyche, and when our child reaches certain ages we all experience wobbles. It can be so easy to think we did all the transformation work necessary in the early days, but the reality is the work is ongoing. If you and your partner can rely on being listened to you increase the chances of home ed being a long term success.
If there’s a temptation to think that you want this and they want that, and they’re stopping you from doing what you think is right – that doesn’t lead to a collaborative approach, and when you home ed you will struggle if you and your partner are not communicating on equal terms.
So whilst it is true you are two individuals with your own opinions, it is also true that you are a partnership wanting the best for your child. Ultimately you both want what’s best for your child, it’s just the way you think it should happen is currently different.
So if/when it gets heated, step away and come back later when you’re both in a better, more collaborative mood. Think of this process not as a sprint, but as the building of the foundation of your child’s education. Remember it may be challenging on an identity level, and sometimes we all need a breather from feeling like we’re the ones having to change; no one likes to feel like they have no choice.
We see examples of our child’s innate ability to learn all the time, but usually we’re not looking for it. Being able to recognise how much your child is learning without being taught, how much they’re picking up just from living, is an important part of being a home educator. If you’re rock solid in that awareness when your child is blazing through milestones it will give you faith and confidence when it seems like absolutely nothing is happening!
Part of this is stepping back and looking for a feeling of wonder. You know that delight you experienced when your baby made their first experimental noises? When they screwed up their little face in cute expressions? When they were enjoying the experience of being able to stand up? When they took their first steps? I bet you have an exhaustive list!
I am continually surprised at connections my children make; the things they silently show they’re capable of doing; the way they handle each other. This surprise is important because it reminds me that I didn’t make it happen. The more we see we’re not the ones doing their learning the more we have space to see when we least expect it. Acquiring experiential evidence that your child is autonomous and self-driven, and always has been, makes it easier to imagine life with a direction, with growth, with development – without the need for school.[click_to_tweet tweet=”Acquiring experiential evidence that your child is autonomous and self-driven, and always has been, makes it easier to imagine life with a direction, with growth, with development – without the need for school.” quote=”Acquiring experiential evidence that your child is autonomous and self-driven, and always has been, makes it easier to imagine life with a direction, with growth, with development – without the need for school.”]
Why do we start to devalue delightful moments unless they have some sort of learning objective?
As a society we seem to live in the assumption that we do better goal oriented, but this is at odds with what we observe as mothers in the early years. The moment we focus towards a future goal that is not set by us it can be a challenge to continue to wonder and marvel and delight – these feelings require us to be in the present moment, and more often than not when we’re future focused we are no longer fully ‘here’.
Be aware that your partner may be living more in a future focused world than the one your child and you (most of the time) are living in. This is why partners may need reminding to change gear, to join you in the moment, and that you see more when you expect less.
Share the moments that made your heart burst wth pride and the moments where you held your tongue and watched on a little longer. Observe out-loud things you enjoy about how your child interacts with your partner, ask them about what they’ve seen in their time together, and encourage your partner to continually step back and watch with a sense of wonder, with no thoughts about the future, with no expectations.
The next step (though this is not a linear process), is to reflect on what you’re seeing. Why do you feel home education would be better for your child? What have you seen that backs that up? The more able you are to articulate your own realisations the easier it will be for your partner to see that you are basing your opinion on your observations of the child in front of you. This will give them confidence that you are quite serious, and the conclusions you are drawing are not based on fantasy.
For example, “Today when we were at the playground I was talking to another mum and before I knew it she had climbed the ladder and was just about to slide down the slide. I was a bit nervous because normally I stay close incase she falls but today I realised she’s confident enough to do it herself. It’s so cool how when it’s the right time she doesn’t need anyone else to tell her so.”
Or maybe “You know how he never wants to leave to go to that playgroup even though he always enjoys it once he’s there? Well today I just didn’t mention it, and when it was nearly time to go he asked me what day it was, and then he got dressed and was waiting at the door ready to go! He’d even got his water bottle and put some snacks together. It makes me realise how much he enjoys being able to make his own decision to go, instead of me trying to convince him all the time.”
These examples show that through trusting your child they did both what was challenging and what they knew was socially acceptable, because of their own intrinsic motivation. They also hint at the deeper truth, that children are constantly assessing risk, making choices and learning from the consequences and they don’t us to teach them how to do it!
I absolutely recognise that coming up wth examples like this is a bit of an effort unless you naturally think this way, however with some practice reflecting like this will make it easier for you to articulate why your education approach works for you. The reality is that most home educators have to justify what they do at some point, whether to family members or wider society, or the local education authority. (Actually it’s the one thing all home educators tell me they wish they didn’t have to do!) At some point your child will also want to articulate what they’re learning, or reason what they might gain or compromise if re-entering the school system becomes a possibility. The important thing is that as you develop this logical reasoning and the language you need to describe the benefits of home ed, you can drive factual discussions rather than emotive ones.
To minimise the effort (and maximise the impact) make sure you are aware of your partner’s specific concerns and then just keep an intention to notice an example that challenges it.
For the first example above, perhaps your partner thinks that children need to be stretched, and being at home with their loving mother is not the right environment! In this case look for ways that your child challenges themselves in spite of your loving presence.
For the second example, well, actually this one is a bit more multi-level because it will address concerns about independence and shows what can happen if children have space to remain intrinsically motivated, but it may also challenge deeper assumptions that life shouldn’t be fun and that if given the choice no one would do the things that are still necessary but not obviously or immediately rewarding.
This is why reflection and conversation go hand in hand and why the process can be so beautifully revealing. When you are co-creating a collaborative space where the future of your child is not yet decided, your reflections can inspire deeper introspection in your partner, and can open the door to possibilities neither of you had imagined.
Entertaining the possibility of no school is the surface of a much deeper exploration of how we have been schooled to see ourselves and our place in society. We have all developed some part of our identity incorporating these beliefs and so we are likely to get defensive or emotional when they are exposed and challenged.
Today I invited you to reframe this seeming challenge to ‘convince your partner’ as the first step in your journey as ‘parents with an active interest in your child’s education’. When you approach this step in the spirit of discovery and adventure you can enjoy your own lived experience of learning through life – who said education was just for children?!
Make space to create connection conversations, share observations and do a little work to reflect on what you have seen and experienced.
When you yourself are willing to put aside you opinions and beliefs and listen, even when you think you know what is best, you create an inclusive environment where your partner and child will feel welcome and valued. In this atmosphere opinions can be forgotten, beliefs released, identities reimagined and inevitabilities burst wide open.
Choosing to home educate is a long term game. It is not about getting a quick yes now, but instead preparing the soil and sowing the seeds for a trusting and collaborative partnership that you will support you through many joyful and challenging moments to come.
Enjoy the process! No matter the outcome, the process will help you all to become aware of what really matters to you, and that knowledge is invaluable.