Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Following Our Own Path: Our Decision To Home Educate

I've always been the kind of person who follows the crowd in life.

When the girls in school decided it was no longer cool to like Take That, I dutifully tore down my many Gary Barlow posters with a heavy heart.

When everyone I knew was wearing white platforms, I made sure I bought a pair even though I thought they were bloody hideous.

My main goal has always been to "fit in" do what everyone else is doing, to conform to societys expectations of me, to be like other people.

I'm more comfortable that way, it's who I am and who Ive always been.

So last month, when we made a family decision to step outside of the "norm" and live our lives in a way that most people don't, I have to admit...I was nervous.

Nervous about what people would think or say, but also...nervous about how I'd handle it.

I've always tried so hard not to make any waves that facing criticism and confrontation isn't something I've often had to do.

But since becoming a mother, it's something I've realised is part and parcel of the deal....You stand up for your children. You fight for their rights and happiness. You do whats best for them...even if it makes you anxious.

I had my first experience of this last year when defending my middle childs right to dress up as a princess despite being a boy - something which saw me face a huge backlash from the biggots and homophobes of the world  - and now I find myself once again outside of my comfort zone. Answering questions that make me nervous, defending our choices, and standing up for my sons rights.

You see, last month....we made the decision to remove Tyne, our eldest son, from school.

He started reception in September last year, and he never settled in well - we tried to perservere with the awful drop offs each day where he'd cry and scream and cling to me as the teacher tried to tear him away. But months went by, and nothing seemed to change.

Infact, it all got worse.

Just before Christmas, Tyne came home from school telling us that a boy in his class had threatened to bring in a gun and shoot him dead. Of course we reassured him that this wouldnt happen, but he was scared - he went to bed panicking every night. Asking me "But Mummy, what will I do if he brings a gun in tomorrow?"

I approached his school for support, understanding that children sometimes say silly things but expecting at least some assistance from them in helping Tyne to feel reassured - but they couldn't have cared less.

They offered none. Infact they made us feel that we were the problem for even bringing it up.

The final straw came when they sent home a letter informing us that Tyne was "behind" his classmates with his reading and school work.

Considering the fact that he isn't even of compulsory school age yet, I found this horrifying and alarm bells immediately went off in my head.

How can a 4 year old child be classed as "behind" on anything?

Surely at 4 years old the focus should be on learning through play and exploring the world around them...not reaching some government set targets all at the same time to allow boxes on forms to be ticked off.

I had always had my doubts about the approach that schools take to teaching children if I'm honest and I've always been of the opinion that children start much too young in the UK and that we should be learning from how its done in other European countries where the children start later and the results of their schooling are far better in the long term.

And having had such poor experiences of school myself, I found it hard not to worry about my own children going.

I was bullied relentlessly throughout school - from infants through to high school - and the effect it had on my mental health has been profound, something I'm still in therapy for now at 36 years old.

I also remember having a lot of confidence knocked out of me by certain teachers when it came to their heavy handed and shaming approach to learning - I remember being made to stand up in front of the class while the teacher told everybody that i STILL couldn't do the Maths work they had all finished - she encouraged everybody to laugh at me while I stood there. To this day I have a mental block on maths, my brain shuts down whenever I even attempt it because that feeling of "You can't do this and everybody else can" is still there!

I know the damage that can be done to a child when they're told they're not good at something, that they're not doing something well enough or learning something fast enough...and under no circumstances was I happy to allow any school to label my 4 year old as "Behind" on anything.

And so, we removed him.

And ever since then, we're questioned a lot about when he'll be going back...why we don't just put him in another school...asked "But what if he resents not going to school"? and similar questions.

And I find myself out of my comfort zone outside of the differently to those around us.

And again, there's that familiar feeling of discomfort. Of nerves. Of worry at not being accepted.

But here's what I've realised.

There is more than one way to live your life.

Just because a certain path in life is the one that most people does not make it the only path, nor does it make it the right path for you too. What's right for everybody else may not be right for you...and that's ok.

There are alternatives.

There are choices.

You don't have to live the way everybody else does.

You can find your own "normal". You can blaze your own trail.

And that's what we've done with home ed.

We've found another that we can all walk together, one that gives us the freedom to live our lives our own way.

We can help our son to learn at his own pace, based on his own interests.

Tyne spends his days now learning through play - I see myself as his facilitator rather than his teacher, and when he expresses an interest in something - I find a way to help him learn more about it, to gain a better understanding of it.

Over the last couple of months we've learned about all sorts of things...from ancient egypt to space, and all kinds of things in between.

We can help him to make friends because he enjoys their company rather than because hes forced to spend his days with them...friends of all ages rather than being kept in the same birth year groups.

Already Tyne has mixed and mingled with children of different ages and from different backgrounds...and we've only been to 20% of the social groups on offer to us so far. And most importantly, he's made friends...something he hadn't made many of at school. He feels liked and accepted...which I consider SO very important, and which simply was't happening in his school environment.

And on a selfish level - I am getting the best of my little boy again. I'm not left with only the over tired, grumpy and emotionally drained child who returned home after a day at school - instead I get to spend time with him when he's happy, raring to go, excited to learn, excited to play. And so do his brothers.

We have time together to bond as a family unit and Tyne is able to spend his time with his siblings again, instead of feeling left out when they're together and he's out of the house for several hours a day.

We've only been doing home ed for a month, but we've already seen a change in Tyne - he's a much calmer, happier child and his interest and love for learning is so apparent. I hated seeing that fall away while he was in school and its amazing to see it back again.

His interests are so varied and he has the freedom now to explore them and expand upon them without being limited by the schools topics or what the curriculum says he should be learning about.

He has his freedom and his zest for life back, and he's enjoying his childhood again...which is fantastic to see.

I don't have to prize him off me and send him to his teacher...I don't have to feel awkward or embarrassed because my child is still reluctant to leave me. He's 4 years old, and its absolutely natural that he feels that way. There's nothing wrong with needing your Mama around you when you're still so little and I didn't need to feel that there was.

And I have to admit, that feeling of sitting in my PJs in the warmth of the house sipping a coffee and watching a movie with the boys while I see mums on facebook complaining about having to do the school run in the rain at 8.30 am? I Don't hate it!!

And let me be as clear as I can be - my decision to home educate is about ME and MY family. My reasons and my choices are not a reflection on anybody else and I never want anyone who sends their children to school to feel that I have any judgement or distaste for those choices.  Because I honestly don't.

The beauty of life is that we are all different, and that's ok.

I guess I'm learning, after a life time of trying so hard to conform and be just like everybody else, that's ok to be different. It's ok not to fall in line and do what everybody else does.

It feels very freeing to know that there are other options.

And we choose to live otherwise.

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