Sheffield mum ‘home educates’ her children with life lessons - not books

Bea Marshall with her sons, Peep and Josh who are embarking on a  2 month road trip across America
Bea Marshall with her sons, Peep and Josh who are embarking on a 2 month road trip across America
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No alarm bells, no teachers, just everyday life...and Donald Duck. Star reporter Rachael Clegg chats to a mother who home educates her children.

BEA Marshal’s children don’t wear a school uniform. They don’t play in the school playground and they don’t study maths and English. In fact, they don’t even go to school.

Jos, aged six, and Peep, eight, are educated at home.

The key to the nature of this education is in its name – it’s not, as Bea stresses, ‘home schooling’ – it’s ‘home educating’.

And as such, Bea, 34, from Walkley, doesn’t adopt the role of teacher, instead she acts as a channel. “My role is to bring as much of the world to them as I possibly can. I don’t push them and I don’t teach them anything.”

Peep and Jos don’t study subjects such as maths and English. Instead, they learn through ‘living’.

“A lot of their knowledge is passed on through toys. They learn maths through life experiences such as shopping. They’ll ask me ‘which one’s better to buy’ and I will encourage them to figure it out. We bake a lot as well, and that makes them think about maths too. Lego’s also good for teaching children maths – numbers are everywhere.”

And while this education may sound avant garde, Bea says you have to ‘trust the process’.

“They get a lot from what they do and the level of questions they ask are amazing. The other day Peep said: ‘Mum, how cold would an ice cube have to be to freeze the water?’ They’ve also asked me whether it’s okay to kill someone if you’re in the Army, so I had to explain that sometimes people do that in self defence.”

And much of the boys’ curiosity about the world, Bea says, comes from cartoons.

“You wouldn’t believe how much my sons have learnt from Donald Duck. It’s opened up all kinds of debates at home. The boys once asked me why one country fights another country, for example,” said Bea, who is married to Andy. Many parents worry about the amount of screen time a child has on a daily basis. But Bea doesn’t let that bother her.

“When children have unlimited access to something they soon get tired of it, the novelty wears off. Sometimes the children will be watching TV and then suddenly they will ask to play their favourite board game.”

To educational traditionalists, the lack of structure in this method of learning may seem unruly, but Bea believes that it’s more important to teach skills rather than knowledge.

Some home educators follow the National Curriculum but Bea prefers a ‘fluid’ approach to her sons’ education. She said: “There are some seasons in which we are out all day and others where we stay indoors. There’s a lot of everyday life happening at our house though and that makes things interesting.”

British law on home schooling is relatively liberal.

Parents do not need to be qualified teachers in order to educate their children, nor are children obliged to follow the National Curriculum. Likewise, parents do not have to observe a strict timetable.

It is, however, obligatory that a child receives an education that’s appropriate to his or her age and aptitude. There is no financial assistance for parents who opt for home schooling, as it is entirely their responsibility to ensure their child receives a ‘suitable and efficient’ full-time education, as referenced in the Education Act of 1996.

Coun Jackie Drayton, cabinet member for children, young people and families at Sheffield Council, said: “As a council we want to make sure every young person reaches their full potential whether that is through home learning or if they attend school.

“We work closely with parents and carers to make sure that they have the help and support that they need and can access additional resources.”

Figures from Sheffield Council indicate that there are around 200 families who home educate their children in the city and they say this figure has remained static in recent years.

Bea says: “We home educate because we want our kids to have the best opportunity to grow into themselves. Also, home educating is a natural way to move towards more peace, joy and connection as a family.”

Bea’s philosophy on home educating is simple: “We act as if school doesn’t exist.”