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Thanks for writing this up Henry. It was great to read a story of bringing up kids that had real ambition. As the parent of two kids now in their twenties, we too were very ambitious — again my wife did much more than me though I at least I can say I brought in the money. My wife is a primary school teacher and she did a lot of home schooling (woops — home education) early on and lots of enrichment afterwards. They didn't go to childcare — but did go to school from grade 1 (already able to read and write to some extent). In any event, I couldn't feel better about the effort that was put in. They're just fantastic people.

A few thoughts occurred to me as I read your piece — they may be in some tension with each other.

1) I think there's a bit too much reliance on ideology in your idea of kids being 'self-directed'. I thoroughly buy into the idea that schools have it arse about and that kids should be far, far more involved in the directions they take. But something in me (though at bottom it's also ideological — just an instinct) that adults should have some role in direction. I don't mean by that anything 'soft' that adults or parents are just the 'advisors'. I expect you do that. I mean that parents might want to have some supervisory power. It's easy to misuse power I know, but I think it should be possible to push kids a bit to do things that they might not fancy but which reflect an adult's judgement that it might work out to be a good idea — might give them some grounding in something — like scales in music. But it needs to be handled with considerable care I accept. We had a teacher who put both our kids off piano by demanding lots of attention to practice and scales.

2) Your descriptions of the way you interact with your kids as a guide and teacher seem to me to come exclusively from the adult world and a very reasoned one at that. You say this:

<blockquote>If we have lunch in the park, I pass time with the story of Brunelleschi and the dome of Florence Cathedral. On a winter bus, I explain condensation. We cannot see light refracting without revising what that means. God knows how much of it goes in. More than it seems at that time, I would say, based on later recall.</blockquote>

I found this kind of thing fun and hoped it was useful too. But I also think it's worth trying to address them in their childhood. I love asking kids philosophical questions, but if I'm good enough at it, they're <i>kids</i> philosophical questions. I once asked a three year old kid why all the houses we could see have roofs on them. I still remember his answer (though this was 35 years ago). "Houses have roofs because the house needs something that wants to keep the rain out." I love that. So the ideal I think is for the kid to be teaching you more than you teach them. The adult stuff will come naturally enough, but I like to think more richly the more childhood is packed into the adult.

3) Another thing that I think was really successful — and certainly fun — was the use of irony in bringing up our kids. Kids understand irony from the time they master language because irony is just <a href="http://clubtroppo.com.au/2011/11/02/games/">being playful with meaning</a>. I have a hatred of homilies. And yet one needs to instruct kids.

So watching carefully to ensure my kids got the joke and didn't misunderstand or didn't think I was being cruel, I would impart messages by saying the opposite. I would say to my son that boys were better than girls. We'd have a good joke about it and his sister would either play at arguing at this or conspire with her mother that girls were better than boys. I'd also say to her that blue eyes were obviously better than brown eyes (the split in the family was again 2:2 but going the other way — so my daughter and I had the blue eyes). I also think this is a better way through the minefield that identity politics will become for them because it leaves a lot of room for difference. The 'messages' of equality sit deeply in the background, which is where they should be.

I have a wonderful — completely wonderful video where I ask my three year old son to give his mother the bad news — that he loves me more than her. He then prepares himself to denounce this terrible idea in no uncertain terms. But, and I only realised this after watching the video many times, he actually stops himself saying that he <doesn’t> love me more. After all, that might hurt my feelings. He's a true diplomat. So he patiently but insistently explains to his parents "I love you both the same!"

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Thanks Nicholas. It's a tricky one with making them do stuff. At least one of mine would be a nightmare to make them do things like that, but when they come to it themselves they concentrate for quite prolonged periods. If we make them practise the piano, it doesn't happen. If we let them go it it, they ask for help. It won't make them piano players, I expect, but the overall system is better for encouraging concentration, I think. And if I am right about the punctuated equilibrium of their progression, there's plenty of time to catch up on the things like piano scales that they don't practise now... let's see!

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Loved this, Henry. Keep em coming.

The more I read of your approach, the more I would urge you to read Charlotte Mason — a similar respect for the mind of the child but you might find some useful pointers in her thought too. This is a selfish request as I know you would write a great essay about her life.

PS. We have been catechised by homeschooling families to use the term ‘home education’, especially when trying to break free of the rigidity of school. You be the judge.

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Thank you, Will! CM is definitely on my list. Ah! I like "home education" --- certainly the right idea.

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Jun 14, 2022Liked by Henry Oliver

As someone with a three and a one year old who is considering non-traditional education, I really appreciated this. It sounds like your kids are getting a fabulous education. One impression I was left with is that you are very well educated yourself! I don't know if I have the knowledge to be able to teach them the breadth of subjects you seem to share with your kids. I wonder how much a parent's education determines the quality of a homeschool education...

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I don't think it matters as much as all that. You are there to help them get access to information and to help them understand it. I teach them a lot of what I read about. My wife had covered the breadth, largely through activities and by reading to them. There are lots of excellent children's books, they go to the library etc. It can be an education for you too! We are very lucky though as my wife does this full-time.

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Am also a home educator, one nine year old. I have an MA but I think that it's as important to be curious about stuff than to come into the experience knowing already. Knowing what questions to ask when kids are wondering is key even if you know no more than they do. But of course people who are curious probably will know a lot even if they aren't conventionally well educated.

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I agree that shared curiosity is good and that you are there is enable their curiosity.

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