‘An untapped resource’ – the inside track on home education from Stevenage expert
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A leader in home education in Stevenage has shared the inside story of a community which now, with the help of a national lockdown, is entering the mainstream for the first time.
Geraldine Strohm has educated her daughter at home for over seven years. In that time, she says, the home education scene in Stevenage has grown from a quiet minority into a “remarkable community.”
“We prefer the term home education to home-schooling, which is an Americanism.” Geraldine tells The Comet. “It has the effect of making people think that what we do is ‘school at home,’ when in reality, home education is nothing like that.”
Geraldine says that major organisations have now come round to the idea that home education is “an untapped resource,” and is becoming a “viable option” for parents.
“Since I started in 2013, we have seen the growth of a huge network of home-ed groups and socialisation for young people. There are hundreds if not thousands of us in the Stevenage area, under the radar.”
Geraldine, who is also president of Stevenage Rotary, has been at the vanguard of new collaborations with Stevenage-based companies such as Airbus, and also North Herts College, in launching exciting opportunities.
One such opportunity is the STEM Discovery Centre, hosted at North Herts College, where young people can receive hands-on STEM sessions and be inspired towards a career in the sciences.
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“Our young people have been programming the Mars Rover, and making rockets. My daughter is also on the Youth Council, and has been nominated for a Rotary Young Citizen award.”
Geraldine says the old-fashioned perception that home educated children are socially isolated and separated from their peers, couldn’t be further from the truth. “Sometimes finding the time to be at home is actually the most difficult, because there is so much going on,” she says.
What advice does Geraldine have, then, for the millions of parents who have been plunged into full-time teaching, almost overnight, due to the coronavirus lockdown?
“I do feel for the parents who have been thrown in the deep end,” she says. “I know they don’t feel like they’ve been given a choice. But good on them. They need to take a deep breath and ease their way into it.
“When I first started with my daughter, who is now 12, my first reaction was that I’m not a teacher, I can’t do that.”
Geraldine reassures parents that it “takes time” to get things right and “understand what motivates your children.”
“There are many different ways of home educating: structured, semi-structured, autonomous. Some people use the Charlotte Mason approach, for example. Others use Forest Schools. There is no set way of doing it.”
Geraldine does warn, however, against trying to replicate the school environment from your kitchen table. “For a lot of people, trying to make a school at home simply doesn’t work. If it works for you, fantastic, but it’s important to go easy on yourself when this isn’t the reality.
“It’s not ‘I’m the teacher you’re the pupil.’ You are still their parent, and are still providing that love and care. At home, we don’t have to pretend we’re going to have an Ofsted inspection. With my daughter, I am a facilitator. If there is something she wants to know, we find the solution together. We’re very much a partnership.”
Geraldine says that parents can achieve far more than they think they can, and need to readjust their expectations.
“About five years ago there was a blog post by ‘Monkey Mum,’ an ex-headteacher, who broke down the school day over a full year, and she worked out that schools on average only provide about 51 minutes of active learning a day. 51 minutes. If you think about that, suddenly it makes it a whole lot easier to achieve your goals.
“The thing to remember is that education is compulsory, school isn’t,” Gerladine says. “It doesn’t work for everybody, but nor does mainstream school.”
Geraldine affirms that home education has never been more accessible than it is today, thanks in part to the mountain of resources provided by schools in the current climate – but also the marketplace of shared ideas online, including home school share, lapbooking, Yahoo groups, and Facebook groups.
“It’s actually really exciting,” Geraldine adds. “There is a whole community in Stevenage that people don’t know about.
“I hope that one thing which might come from this pandemic is that parents will see that home education is a very viable alternative to school.”