Are The ‘Feral Families’ Really So Feral?

I wasn’t sure I was going to watch the Feral Families television show, broadcast over on Channel 4.  Mainly as I had already seen a LOT of comments discussing the families on various Facebook threads and the comments were very judgemental and not pleasant reading.

However, after talking to some fellow home educators that said it wasn’t as bad as the title made out I decided to watch it and I really was pleasantly surprised.  The show followed three unschooling home educating families who lived a ‘no rule’ lifestyle.  The show was partly about home education, but also focussed a lot on the parenting style of ‘no rules’.

So lets focus on the main misconceptions from those who watched the show.  Firstly ‘children need an education, they need to go to school’.

Children Need An Education

I agree with the statement that children need an education, but education doesn’t just happen through schools.  Children can learn both with direction from adults and all on their own.  If you watch Feral Families back you will notice that the children in the family who had 7 kids could read despite never having gone to school.  They also showed the two girls heading into the local shop on their own, so they are clearly learning about budgeting and counting through real life interactions like these.

I recently asked in a home educators facebook group about the age their children learned to read and most were around 7-10 years old (although there were those at 4-5 years old too).  Children can and will learn to read when it is important to them and when they are ready.  Once the children started to learn to read they very quickly became avid readers and went into reading novels and in depth books that interested them.  These books were at the same stage or further ahead of their schooled peers, so there was no disadvantage to learning later.

Day to day life is full of learning and children can just as easily learn at home as they can in school.  The only difference is that the learning is chosen by the child and it’s all on their terms.  When there is no pressure to learn it’s surprising how much children love to explore and discover; from how to cook a recipe, to building a birdhouse or exploring Ancient Egyptian history.

As Feral Families television programme was mainly focussing on the parenting style, there wasn’t a lot of information on what the families do outside the homes.  Home educating families we personally know spend a lot of time visiting different places and interacting with others.  This type of learning wasn’t shown, but it WILL be happening.

They Don’t Socialise

If you watch the programme you will hear one of the mums say that her daughter has a better social life than her.  I think most home educators have similar experiences and find that they are constantly going from one class/group to another.  It’s likely they didn’t show this as they would need permission from everyone in the different groups to show them on the programme or that they just wanted to focus on the feral’ness’ of the children, which wouldn’t be as obvious in a group situation where children are working and playing together.

home education

We personally feel a little too busy with all the activities we do and sometimes wonder how school kids can manage school all day and then the myriad of afterschool activities too!  Home educated kids definitely do socialise.  But even if they didn’t who is to say that is wrong.  Everybody is different and some people (including children) like to spend more time on their own independent play rather than in groups.  That’s ok!

Kids Playing With Tools!

During the tv programme we see children using knives and pick axes.  But are they wielding them in a ‘I’m going to destroy you’ type of game?!  No!  The children are using knives to cut and prepare food for themselves and the boy was using the pick axe to practice using it in the garden as a tool.

feral families

Consider all the forest schools that everyone raves about, don’t the preschoolers have free use of tools?  Yes.  They are shown how to use them appropriately, safely and how to risk assess the use of tools.  Exactly the same as the children in the show, only they were using them at home.

They Need To Learn Structure And Authority

Firstly, why?  Why do they need structure?  Some people have commented this on threads about the tv programme and mentioning that they need to be able to work 9-5 and sit in an office or factory.  That might be a lot of people’s idea of work, but it’s not everyone’s!

Not everything is 9-5 and not everyone works in an office, I was an ecologist before children and spent a good deal of time each day outside surveying the country, my work was flexible so the computer based work would be fitted around outdoor work and evening surveys.  My husband works outdoors as an arborist, which is skilful work and has set times, but he enjoys it.  I have friends who are child minders, writers, builders, engineers, accountants and  environmental tutors to name a few.  They can be employed by companies or self employed. Some work in an office but their work is still flexible, they can choose to work from home and they have varied days that can take them to other places.  Others careers are even more flexible and can be fit around their own lives.  The point I am trying to make is that everyone is different, everyone need a different amount of structure and freedom to make them happy.  So surely we need to instill in our children a sense of choice, a choice of how they want their lives to be.  It is their life after all?!

I loved that the larger family of 7 kids gave their children the choice of going to school.  Their eldest boy likes structure and wanted to see if he would enjoy school.  Giving a child a choice in their future is something I feel strongly about.  We are their parents, we don’t rule over them, we simply need to keep them safe and loved and help them when they need (and ask for!) it.  After 3 days neither child wanted to stay at school permanently, but they seemed happy that they had tried it and made a decision for themselves.

The Verdict

The children in the families aren’t what I would call ‘feral’ at all.  They are simply being children.  The parents let them choose how to live, providing the things they need and supporting the children in their decisions.  I think that I would call it ‘Child-Led Families’ rather than feral, but that wouldn’t be as catchy for a tv programme!

A few people in Facebook threads have wondered where the children will be in 10 years, well I assure you that they will most likely be living happy lives in whichever way they choose.  Plenty of people who were home educated in the past are now working in a variety of types of jobs from doctors to actors to chefs, so I really wouldn’t worry about their future!

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