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I’ve mentioned a couple of times that we’ve chosen home education for part of our children’s school years. I thought I’d go into that in a bit more detail, and talk about why we’ve opted for home education.
Why Home Education?
Some of you know already that my husband is a teacher, and that I used to be a teacher. He works as a supply teacher in primary schools, and I used to work as an English teacher, in secondary schools. I was very invested in the school system, and full of ideas about the difference I was going to make. I was going to be an amazing teacher.
It feels like a million years ago now. My teacher-self feels like a different person entirely.
I think many teachers realise that the job they want, and the job they’re expected to do, aren’t the same. I keep seeing reports of research that shows benefits in delaying the age of starting school, and I also keep reading about government initiatives to bring children into institutional settings earlier, and to keep them there for an increased number of hours. That doesn’t make sense to me. Home education lets us provide an education that makes sense, an education that accounts for each child’s individual needs and preferences.
What Do I Want For My Children?
I want to give them a childhood that has acres of free time. It’s important to me to have time where I’m not expected to think about or do anything in particular, those quiet times are when our brains do so much of their amazing work. Children need that too. They need to be able to move their bodies as and when they choose, and to learn how to do that. There’s a lot of media attention to the lack of physical exercise in our children’s lives, but if you’re at school for most of your waking hours, then the scheduled PE lessons and playtimes just aren’t enough. I want them to learn through play as much as possible. Most nurseries and childcare settings are really good at this, but my experience is that somewhere around Reception or Year 1, that changes.
I love spending time with my children, and watching them develop. Watching their interests, and helping them chase after them is a privilege. I know plenty of families with children in school who do that too, it’s not exclusively a home education thing, but it’s much easier to dive deep into a subject when you’re not restricted to evenings and weekends.
Downsides To Home Education.
I don’t always love it. Sometimes I’m envious of the midweek coffee dates and leisurely lunches my Facebook friends enjoy. Mostly I’m just envious that they get to tidy their house at 9:30 in the morning, and know it will stay that way until some time after 3:00. It’s not always easy to find midweek, daytime childcare, and taking my children along with me for a smear test isn’t my idea of fun, although I guess it could count as educational. Luckily my parents are just down the road, and I’ve got a nice little network of home ed friends who are willing to help out.
The feeling of being judged isn’t all that great either. Home education is still a minority choice (albeit a growing minority). We had plenty of people who thought we were crazy when we first took our son out of school. Even now, several years down the track, I definitely feel watched. It’s as if they’re waiting for us to fail. Some extended family members seem to worry that there’s not enough testing in our homeschool, so they like to spring little surprise quizzes to see who knows their times tables. Funnily enough, they’re far less likely to quiz the children on the things they’re actually really interested in.
For the most part though, it’s the right thing. It’s working for our family, and when it doesn’t work, we just do something different.
What Made Us Choose Home Education In The First Place?
I’d love to say we always knew that home education was the route for us, and that we home educated from day one. I’d be lying though. I know plenty of people in that situation, and I think it’s a far easier road to travel.
It was my second child that rocked the boat when it came to formal education and our family. He’s got a late birthday, right at the end of August. He was very young when he started school, and just not ready. Part-way through Year 1, I began to feel the need for drastic action.
We’re a book-loving family, but reading homework was a battle ground. He didn’t even want a bedtime story.
My son was angry, a big ball of frustration. He came out of school with fists clenched and his whole body on edge.
Reading and writing were hard for him, and he was caught in a cycle of falling ever further behind, and being increasingly unable to keep up. Our eldest, at the same school, a year ahead, was doing just fine. School suits some people.
So, we took him out. That sounds like a fast, easy decision to make. It wasn’t. It was a lengthy process of sleepless nights, marital arguments, and endless online searching for the right way forward. I bought and borrowed a LOT of home-ed books during that time!
We deregistered him shortly after the start of Year 1, to begin our journey in home education. There was an immediate improvement in his happiness and behaviour. We struggled, back then, to find the kind of community we needed, so our first adventure in home education was a lonely one. He made friends easily in many other places, but the home ed life is so much easier when you’ve got a network of people taking the same route as you.
The Home Ed Hokey Cokey.
When his friends started junior school, he wanted to do the same, so we applied for a place for him, just to give it a go. It’s fair to say that that was an unmitigated disaster.
We returned him to school happy, confident, able to read, and with an insatiable appetite for history. That changed, long before the half-term holidays.
In retrospect, I’m not sure why we stuck it out as long as we did. By this time, I knew that he was learning differently to other children, knew that he had struggles that weren’t ‘normal’. We’d committed to giving school a fair go, though, so we kept going. I lost count of how many meetings I went to, how many times I asked the school for help. They offered extra work, when he was already exhausted from keeping it together during the school day, and took his breaktimes and lunchtimes when he hadn’t finished what he was expected to do. Unhelpful, and ineffective.
Lack Of Support For Special Needs.
The dyslexia test we eventually had done privately, reinforced everything I’d observed. He had slight processing difficulties, very poor working memory, dyslexic tendencies, and probably dyspraxia as well. The report wasn’t of any interest to the school – the cynic in me thinks his difficulties weren’t severe enough to bring any increased funding their way.
By the end of Year 4, we had decided that we were going to take the leap and deregister everyone.
My eldest was going into Year 6, so we let her choose. She opted to come out of school, and was at home for a year. What we learned from that is that she likes someone to tell her what to do all the time, and she doesn’t like it to be me. She went back to school for Year 7, and thrives there. (Incidentally, missing the SATs year didn’t harm her progress, she slotted back in where she left off. The only problem is that the school computer systems don’t know how to work out targets for people without SATs results).
My third-born was Selective Mute from the time he joined nursery. He was happy, learning well, and had lots of friends, he just wasn’t able to talk in school. At some point during Year 2, his classmates realised he was a bit different to everyone else, and things turned nasty very quickly. Our experience with his brother’s difficulties in junior school didn’t give us much faith in the system. Deregistering him was an easy decision to make.
My fourth was due to start Reception, so we just declined the place, and number five wasn’t yet born.
Where Are They All Now?
My eldest three have all started in a mainstream secondary school now. They’re in Years 7, 9, and 10.
Selective Mutism is a thing of the past. I’ll admit to holding my breath a little for the first day of school, wondering whether it was going to pop up again.
Working memory, dyslexic tendencies, dyspraxia, they’re all still there. We worked on those areas while he was at home, but they’re part of him. I still spend a lot of time helping him find coping strategies. He was lucky enough to land the most amazing English teacher for Years 7 and 8. She helped him maintain the resilience and self-confidence he’d found again during his home ed years. There are plenty of teachers who can’t see past the fact that his writing looks like a four-year-old’s, and the painful slowness of his written work. From the beginning she listened to what was in his head, she moved mountains to help him succeed. Now he uses a laptop for most of his written work. He’s happy, he’s finding success, and he’s enjoying his school life.
There are good secondary schools and not-so-good ones, just like with primary schools. We’re lucky to have a good one half a mile away, and I’m happy with how things have gone. We know people taking GCSEs as home educators, so that’s an option if we need it. For now, though, we’re happy with what school has to offer.
What Will The Younger Two Do?
So, it’s just the younger two at home now, aged almost-four, and nine.
Occasionally my nine-year-old will ask about school. She has good friends who go to school, she’d like to know what she’s missing out on. Then she realises that she’d have to give up climbing, the chance to do all the zoo’s educational workshops (rather than just one school trip), and she’d have less time to work on her website. For now, the balance of good stuff definitely tips in favour of home educating.
I see us sticking with home ed for the primary years, and moving into mainstream school for secondary. That’s how I would guess things will go. Home educating through the secondary years is still an option though. What’s important to me is that we do what seems to work at any given time.
Are you a home educator, or have you ever considered it? Or do you just think we’re all a bit weird and out of touch with reality?