The value of experiences

Two people made comments yesterday which really tie in neatly together. One person had found, like me, that even with a structured and planned education, it could all be done in a few hours in the morning, leaving the rest of the day free for other things. Another person remarked that I had mentioned the teaching of facts and skills, but not mentioned the value of experiences in a child's education. The fault is definitely mine here, because I have not explored this idea before.

I must say at once that I was an extremely structured home educator, who worked to a dozen syllabuses at once. Nevertheless, I found as others had before me, that I could cover all this by working hard in the morning and then spending the afternoon doing whatever my daughter might want. In addition to that, there were many days when we did no academic work at all; just went out exploring. I regard those expeditions as having been just as valuable a part of my child's education as was studying physics and chemistry.

As a matter of fact, my daughter saw and did far more than any other child of her age. This is the great thing about home education; the freedom to go anywhere with one's child and expose her to things which she would not do if she were stuck in a classroom all day. What sort of things am I talking about here? I have very strong views on the way that gender roles are moulded by the environment and so I took particular care that she should be doing and seeing things which were not gender specific. Not for us the lace exhibition in the Victoria and Albert Museum! Shooting, for instance. By the age of seven she had fired shotguns, air rifles, crossbows and bows and arrows. At one time, she was considering joining a rifle club. She took up fencing and quickly gravitated towards sabres; which are traditionally only used by males. We visited the Imperial War Museum in London a good deal, as well as the National Army Museum and RAF Museum. HMS Belfast, the warship in the Thames was also favourite. When she took the IGCSE in history, she had to choose which topics she specialised in. She chose World War I and the Changing nature of Twentieth Century Warfare! She is the only young woman I have ever known who could discuss the Schlieffan Plan intelligently or explain how the Fokker Interrupter Gear works.

When she was under five and we lived in Tottenham in north London, I had a season ticket to London Zoo. We used to go there most weeks, as well as many other zoos and aquaria. By her fifth birthday, she had stroked, held, fed from her hand or touched an elephant, giraffe, rhinoceros, tiger, wolf, zebra, reindeer, camel, crocodile, tapir, owl, python, penguin, tarantula and dozens of other species. It used to be a point of honour to see which animals we could get near at zoos. Stroking the tiger and wolf entailed climbing over safety barriers and getting chucked out of one zoo, but boy it was worth it! This is experience.

And don't even get me started on mines and caves. A coal mine, iron mine, lead mine, cave systems, potholing; she absolutley adored going underground. All this was when she was five or six.

I have not gone into this aspect of her education in detail before, because I rather took it for granted that most home educated children were raised this way. I am aware that some do not get as much formal teaching as my own daughter got, but I assume that most spend a lot of time out of doors like this. I am not sure if all this would have been a sufficient education in itself, but it was certainly a valuable part of the education which my daughter received. When she was a baby, I used to joke to my wife that by the time our daughter reached puberty, I wanted her to be able to use a sword, handle a gun, ride and take communion regularly. I have to report that she did so. I saw these things as being just as important as knowing about ionic bonding in molecules or how photosynthesis works!