So, how DO you home educate three very different children who are at three very different stages of development, with very different needs and an unpredictable, sulky and disorganised mother?
The truth is, I don't know.
For a while, when I had a baby, a toddler and a young child, it was horrendous and to be honest no observable home education took place (although miraculously lots of learning did). Then, finally, when I had a 5, 7 and 10 year old, it became manageable: the youngest was old enough not to be a constant drain, the 7 and 10 year old were reasonably interested in some things some of the time and we could do stuff, whatever that 'stuff' was.
But now I have a 6 yr old girl who is very precise about what she will and wont do, an 8 year old boy who is at the right age to be led to the water to drink, but is lacking from maternal time and focus to feed the sponge-brain, and I also have a slightly sulky, show-off, but lovely really, 11 year old teen-child who is beyond being 'led' to the water to drink and wants everyone to know it.
As a friend of mine said - as soon as you focus on one child and take your eye off another they stop thriving. It's true. I am constantly flickering like a manic torch from one child to another trying to fulfil unmet needs (or work out what those needs might be), while putting the others on hold.
Now if I was a rigid, non-autonomous, or even slightly more structured home educator, then perhaps it would be easier. But though I like the idea of routines, somehow, according to some unwritten law, my routines, systems, timetables, plans etc always go udders-up. Sometimes it is because my stubborn group of goats are digging their hoofs in and refusing to budge. And often it is because of my inability to screen out all the other distractions of life. I wonder...do I really want to supervise, half an hour of maths, half an hour of literacy, half an hour of French etc especially when it takes certain children exactly 1.5 hours to find a pencil, sharpen it, lose it, break it and go looking for another pencil, then lose the piece of paper, tip over the chair, feel hungry, raid the kitchen, then burst into tears when I ask them why they haven't written anything... No this is not what I want.
But neither can I, with my natural unpredictable personality, easily accommodate total autonomous education. I don't want to be on call 24/7, ready and willing to be interrupted (whatever I'm doing) and keen to provide an answer to a question, help to make a cardboard looroll tower, fix the pc, find a missing jigsaw piece, play snap, make chocolat muffins with a child (arggh!), discuss whether Roman Centurians wore underwear, buy wax for candlemaking, or play football. I like my children to discreetly disappear for at least part of the day, so that I can have some semblance of a life. GIVE ME A MINUTE, I'M THINKING! is a common phrase that emits from my lips. Is that too much to ask? I mean, even in paid employment it is a legal requirement to have a break during a working day.
Anyway, a while back I came across this article about Eclectic Home Education, which is a way of describing that place on the spectrum between autonomous and non-autonomous. And the article struck a familiar chord with me. Of course I aspire to have wonderfully autonomously-educated children, but I just can't seem to achieve it. It's not through lack of trying, or even lack of not trying. And I have for the most part deschooled now (apart from the occasional psychotic twitch).
Anyway, here is an excerpt from the above article:
"Our detour into "school at home" nearly derailed us entirely as homeschoolers. By the time all was said and done, I was ready and willing to send my kids to school, any school, just so long as I no longer had to be responsible for their education. Disillusioned and weary, I was completely confused about homeschool in general, and my own methods of homeschooling in particular.
Right about now I hear the chorus of voices crying, "Unschool! You needed to unschool! Relax and let life take over and allow things to proceed naturally. Allow your children to be responsible for their own education!"
But the problem was I had tried unschooling. While it may be natural education for many, for my family it was a natural disaster. I am not by nature an interactive person. People, including my own children, get in the way of thinking and creating. I begin writing, and everything else goes out the window. The house is a mess; the kids are unwashed and unfed. My husband wonders if and when his wife will check back in. It's not natural for me to focus on providing educational and learning moments for my children any more than it's natural for me to stop and clean the toilet the first or fifth time I notice, vaguely, it needs scouring.
Nor am I able to leave my own pursuits and follow someone else's at the drop of a hat. That sort of demand tends to make me cranky. My kids, curious as they are, given the choice to be responsible for their own education would quickly choose Lego blocks and computer games over biographies of great world leaders. In short, nothing about me or my family translated well into an unschooling lifestyle.
In my desperation and guilt--after all, I'd now failed at two of the "best" methods of homeschooling, albeit at opposite ends of the spectrum - I took Hermione's advice and went to the library...
...And when I was done, I had drawn what was for me a clear generalization of unschoolers. Most folks who adhere to a true or complete unschooling method are naturally outgoing, with entrepreneurial personalities. They're organized and scheduled from within, not without. Me, if I don't draw up a schedule for basics like housework and cooking, they never get done. If they're not highly scheduled people, unschoolers are flexible, able to go with the flow, adapt their course and accomplish necessary tasks without a schedule. (See above comment on my life without a schedule.) In many ways, I believe unschoolers are born, not made. And the evidence from my life and my five years of homeschooling was irrefutable: I was not born an unschooler...
...My trip back to the homeschool drawing board took well over a year. In the end, as is usual for such trips, I wound up about where I began. A little higher up the spiral, and a little more confident of my decision to honor my own personality and my children's, more certain of my ability to create a method of homeschooling that fit my family's individual learning styles and beliefs.
...Despite conventional wisdom, unschooling isn't the answer for all homeschoolers. Most families better define their method of homeschooling along a spectrum than in a box. Many unschoolers use curriculum here and there with their children; many structured schoolers study at least one or two subjects that are completely driven by the child's interest. There's no shame in not unschooling, and there's nothing wrong with not using a school-from-a-box program. The only shame is when homeschoolers are left feeling like they are less than other families because they follow a different path for their learning adventure."