Wednesday, 27 May 2020

2 Years Of Home Education: Our Experiences & Plans For Moving Forward

How It All Began

This January saw the 2 year anniversary of the day I finally bit the bullet and sent a letter to my son's headteacher, requesting that his name be removed from the register.

Throughout my pregnancy with my firstborn, I had known that the idea of home educating appealed to me.

I had debated the merits of it in parenting forums. I'd followed home schooling bloggers with interest and admiration. And I'd quietly dreaded the day that the school enrollment forms would drop through my letterbox, signalling the time had come to send my tiny 4 year old off into the big wide world on his own for several hours a day, 5 days a week.

It felt so foreign to me. The very opposite of what my instincts were telling me to do. But having always been the sort of person who felt a deep desire to live life outside of the norms of society alongside an even deeper desire to please other people by towing the line and conforming to what was expected of me, I simply couldn't bring myself to do it.

As much as I wanted to, I just couldn't muster the strength to go against the norms. My friends were enrolling their children in schools, and I felt almost fearful of doing something different - as though my choice of something other than school might offend them or call into question their own parenting choices.

I didn't want to rock the boat. I didn't want to risk the judgement and disapproval of others, so against my own desires - I enrolled him in school.

And for 3 months, I battled with my emotions as his teacher physically tugged him out of my arms each morning when he clung to me - sobbing, begging not to be left there again, telling me how much he hated it.

Devastated by his unhappiness, I sought the comfort and advice of other parents of reluctant school-goers, I tried all of the reward systems and recommended techniques for helping to settle him. I did what I thought I was supposed to do - against my intuition and instincts, I tried my hardest to make school life work for him. To force him to like it. To make him fit that mould.

But after 3 months of constant tears - not only on the school mornings but at bedtimes and weekends too, when he had sobbed in my arms with fear at the threats he'd received from another child (Something he still talks about to this day) - when
 emails and meetings with the teachers to request their help in resolving his worries and issues left me despondent, the time came to make the call.

To do what I knew was right, to follow my intuition at last.

So the letter was sent. And he never returned.

My original intention had been to simply have a break before trying school again. He wasn't yet compulsory school-age, so I had planned to give him 3 months at home before returning to a different school for a fresh start.

But during that time, we took our first tentative steps into the world of home education - we met with local families and discovered a thriving community of home educators right on our doorstep. And within a matter of weeks, he suddenly had friends. He was learning. He was sleeping better. My little boy was happier. And that was all the strength I needed to make the definitive choice.

School wasn't to be part of our lives from now on. We were home educators now.

Finding Our Feet

The first year of home ed is a funny one. I felt the highest of highs at seeing my little ones form friendships, and grow in confidence. And I felt the lowest of lows when I inevitably compared their academic progress to that of their schooled friends, and allowed myself to be overcome with worries and doubts and overwhelm at being the one solely responsible for their education.

We must have changed our approach to learning several dozen times in that first year, as we struggled to find what worked for us.

I read endless books on various methods and home schooling philosophies. We had months of unschooling, alongside months of the strict "recreating school at home" approach of workbooks and rigorous timetables.

I think that most families need to go through this, the trial and error periods until eventually settling into their own groove.

I feel as though our groove only found us around 7 months ago, and I have no doubt that it will continue to periodically elude us as time goes on.

But I know now that this is a normal part of life as a home educating family. When the plan isn't all mapped out for you and the path is entirely yours to forge, it's natural to take detours and head in the wrong direction sometimes.

The key is not to allow yourself to dwell on the missteps. To keep forging on, to keep trying new things, to keep the faith.

Ironically, considering it is always the sticking point with non-home schoolers, socialisation has been the area of least concern for us since we left school behind.

My son complained every day of being lonely and left out at school, he made only one friend during his time there and often said he'd spent his playtimes alone. So to see him with so many friendships among his home-ed peers makes my heart sing.

And not only have he and his siblings managed to form some lovely friendships, but I have too - finding support and kindred spirits in the other parents who chose this path for various reasons.

One of my very favourite discoveries from the last 2 years has been how homeschooling has helped to increase the children's overall confidence when it comes to making new friends and socialising with strangers - they're always happy to chat and get to know people, and although they're naturally shy they are growing in confidence every day.

As for the academic side of things, I have to be honest - I don't think I'm a natural home educator. As much as I love the planning of lessons and curriculum, I'm a born worrier and I am forever fretting that they're not learning fast enough or that I'm not teaching something in the right way. I can also struggle with my patience at times, and my own health issues can make things tricky.

But we manage, somehow. And the last 7 months have been especially positive, as I've seen such academic growth in our eldest. He moved up 4 reading levels over the summer despite not practicing as often as I wanted him to, his handwriting and spelling has improved massively, and he's managed to learn to tell the time and to count in multiples. Although it's never a good idea to compare home educated children to school children, right now he is working at the same level across all subjects that he would be if he attended school. He's naturally bright and eager to learn, and without meaning to brag I do have to say - his vocabulary could put most adults to shame!

The thing to remember in home education is that it isn't supposed to be the same as school. That's the entire point.
Home schooled children learn at their own pace, there are no deadlines for certain things to be achieved - there are no tests to pass, there are no expectations placed on them. I know this is so foreign to so many people but to me it seems so much healthier to allow children to learn and develop naturally with nothing forced or pushed for - in my opinion this lends itself to a more enjoyable learning experience and, hopefully, to a more naturally enthusiastic and joyful learner in the end.

Education should never be a final destination, but a continuous journey throughout life - and I'm hopeful that home ed is encouraging that in my three.

I'm aware that this post might seem a little flowery and so I want to be very clear that home education isn't always sunshine and rainbows, far from it. There are so many days when I can clearly see the appeal of sending the children to school and I often have the desire to do exactly that, but it's always for reasons of benefit to me rather than them. Because I want child-free time, because I want to feel less pressure, because it feels like it would be easier to have someone else provide their education for me so that I don't need to think about it on the days that my poor health gets in the way.

And those days are difficult. And frequent. I can't pretend they're not. But I have yet to experience them frequently or strongly enough to decide against the home ed life, and I still firmly believe it's the right choice for them.

Where We're At & Moving Forward

Over the last 2 years, we've enjoyed many fantastic experiences both with the local home ed community and on our own too.

My eldest has been on so many of what school would refer to as "field trips" - educational experiences that enhance his interest and knowledge in certain subjects.

Off the top of my head, he has:

*Been to an open day at the local fire station where he learnt about fire safety and got to sit in the fire engine and use the hose
*Visited the local battery museum and learnt about how the wars effected the local area
* Visited our other local museums, libraries, zoos, farms and aquariums numerous times
*Visited the Imperial War Museum North
*Been to Longleat safari park
*Been to Puy Du Fou and watched historical re-enactments from various periods in history
*Been to a group cookery and food hygiene session at Pizza Express
*Had a group stone age workshop and tour of the local caves
*Visited Oxford Natural History Museum
*Visited numerous museums and tourist attractions in London
*Visited Cardiff museum
*Visited the Roman Baths in Caerleon
*Visited numerous museums and educational experiences in Liverpool
*Visited the Science museum and other educational places in Winchester
*Enjoyed holiday visits to France, Holland, Belgium, Spain, Gibraltar, Portugal and Italy - enabling him to experience different languages and cultures
*Joined a home ed trip to the local Deer park and hand fed the deer, and taking part in a workshop
*Taken part in sports days and world book day celebrations

He's had all of the experiences a school child would have had in their first 2 years, and probably more besides. And although it's not important, he is learning at the same level as a child his age would be in a school environment.

His week is varied in activities and subjects covered - he goes every week to a computer coding and video editing club, and a science club. He visits a maths tutor once per week. He goes to a weekly forest school seasonally, and he goes to regular social activities ranging from general get togethers to group soft play and swimming meets.

Now that my middle child is of school age too, she's also started to join in although with a more gentle introduction - currently attending regular social groups, forest school and a weekly maths tutor session only, with the hope of introducing some dance or theatre classes in the near future.

At home, they work on English, reading skills, numeracy and topics linked to History, Geography, Technology and PSE every week day. Only for short period of times, but working on a one-to-one basis allows the learning to be much more focused than it would be in a classroom and so it requires less time.

They get plenty of free time and play time - it's me that ends up feeling a bit strung out and spun in circles trying to keep up with their schedules and fit in my own work too!

But we make it work, and on the whole I think we have a lovely life. The children are incredibly happy, they're learning and growing in skill, and they have friends - home education is chaotic at times but I think it's hugely underrated too.

I'm so pleased that we took this path and that we continue to tread it, despite the misunderstanding and judgement from those who clearly have no understanding of the beauty to be found in stepping outside of the norm.

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