Monday, 31 October 2022

The Pros & Cons Of Our Home Ed Lifestyle

As I write this post it's the first week of September, and across the country parents are preparing to send their children off to school for the new school year.

It's during the first two weeks of September that I feel the difference between our lives and the lives of school families most starkly. As my social media feeds flood with images of children in pristine school uniforms and shiny school shoes clutching peg boards declaring their year group, and all of the parents I know showcase their slightly manic rainy morning school runs on Instagram stories - all the while I'm sitting at home in my pyjamas while my kids turn the house upside down and cover my dining table with all of their messy crafting materials, just like they have done everyday throughout the summer.

It's during these weeks in early September, when everyone elses routine changes completely to return to their norm and ours stays the same as it has been...that I most notice the difference in our lives.

I feel that difference pop up at other times too - whenever I'm with a crowd of female friends it never takes long before the conversation turns to something school-related, be it meetings with headteachers or upcoming jumble sales and so on. So I sit and wait for the conversation to drift back to something I can get involved in.

I feel it whenever parents evenings come around, and my social media feeds are once again flooded - this time from doting parents sharing declarations of pride in their offspring and how well they're performing in their school lives. 

I feel it when its time for the Christmas play and I see the adorable photos of little ones in various nativity roles.

But although I understand that life behind the scenes for a school family and school children isn't always quite so wonderful, that there are plenty of cons to accompany the pros of school life - I often feel that there isn't really the same understanding about life as a home educating family. The ups and downs, the highs and lows, the rough and the smooth.

Perhaps because home education is so often misunderstood and harshly criticised, I often feel that home educating families can give off a "Our life is so much better" sort of front - it's rare that I see any downsides to this choice put across from those who themselves are actively home educating. So I thought I'd share an insight into my own personal pros and cons of home education.

Obviously these things will differ from family to family, as every family has a unique approach to home ed life - but hopefully this  will offer some insight for anyone who's ever been curious or for those considering a different option for their children.

The Cons

*Lack Of Alone Time/Head Space - Personally this is the thing I find most difficult of all. We don't live close to family members, and so we don't have a regular support system in place to enable us to offload childcare duties. This can make things difficult to juggle - balancing working from home with housework and general life admin, whilst living in a house that is probably too small for us and always having children at home can be tricky. We try our best to make it work, and balance it all between the two of us (I'm always very aware of how much more difficult it would be for single parent families) but sometimes it can become overwhelming trying to juggle it all. 
I also feel that the lack of alone time can be a problem - we all need head space and time for ourselves, but given that my children are with me 24/7 this can be difficult to manage. 

*Parental Pressure - From the pressure of being the one responsible for your children's education to the pressure of ensuring that they have the opportunity to socialise regularly, make and maintain friendships, and are getting enough educational experiences - when the buck stops with you it can feel overwhelming at times. If a school child doesn't "do well" (whatever that even is...) after leaving school, then that will usually be put down to failures on the part of the school or the child themselves. But for a home educating family, all eyes are on the parents!

*Parental Involvement - Linked to the above, but one thing that is tricky about home educating young children in particular is that you usually need to be present at all of their social groups and playdates. We are really fortunate that there are tons of educational and social groups available for home educated children where we live, covering everything from science club to parkour, but parents need to be present at 98% of them. For those of us who can find social situations draining, this can be problematic and can add further strain.

*Exposure to extreme views - This could be quite a controversial one and perhaps I'm alone in my experience of this, but - again as mentioned above - we as parents need to be present at most social clubs and groups that our children attend which means there's a certain amount of socialising with other parents involved. Due to the types of people attracted to a home ed lifestyle, this can sometimes result in having to spend time around people with extreme opposing views and beliefs to your own. 

Now of course to some degree this is a good thing and provides a great learning opportunity for our kids - tolerance is always worth teaching, but at times I've found this to be an emotional struggle. For example, there've been occasions where I've been confronted with parents telling me they removed their children from mainstream school to avoid the pushing of the "LGBTQ agenda" on them - which, as the parent of a trans child, makes me feel extremely angry and uncomfortable in their presence. 
This is something that has been amplified lately, with the anti-vax/covid-denial debate ongoing - I do have friends who are anti-vax and although I disagree entirely with their view point I'm happy to respect their right to a different opinion - but unfortunately not everybody adopts this mindset and it can make for some very uncomfortable social situations.

*Lack of authority - This will of course depend on personal perspective, but in my experience it is absolutely true that my home educated children have very little fear of authority. They are not used to being spoken to on a lower level than adults, and they are not used to having to follow many rules in life. They are used to airing their opinions and being listened to, and spoken to as equals. Now this is something that I would personally consider more of a Pro on the whole - because I think its going to stand them in good stead later in life.  I don't want them to believe that certain people have authority over them just because of age or job title.  

But I will admit -  I do wonder how much they might struggle to adapt to authority in certain working environments later in life, and I also admit that it can make them more unruly and ...."Free range" shall we say! I can always see the difference between them and school children when we're on days children are usually much louder and wilder! Whether or not that's a bad thing I'll let you be the judge of...I change my mind about it hourly depending on how bad my headache is!

*Feeling different - I'd say this effects both myself and the children. I often feel left out of conversations with school parent friends, and as though my lack of school mum crowd membership singles me out as unrelatable. I think my children feel the same way when they meet and befriend school children on holidays and in parks, as school is usually the go-to topic of conversation. Of course it does also provide a learning opportunity in that different isn't a bad's just different.

*Financial burden - This will vary depending on many factors and its fairly easy to keep home education within your budget whatever that may be, it's something that can be as expensive or inexpensive as you make it. There are no set requirements for what you do, the choice is truly yours. But because I run businesses from home, I feel the need to pay for some ready-made curriculums, subscription boxes for various subjects and a tutor for extra support in order to reduce the demands on my time - but all of this adds up quickly! Add in the clubs and classes they're interested in, and it can become very pricey.

*Outside judgement - Like it or not, there are always people who just don't agree with home education. Whenever you do anything slightly outside of the norm in life there are always going to be nay-sayers, people who just don't understand it or often won't even try to - and that can be irritating to deal with.

*Missing rights of passage - I may be alone in this one, but every so often I will feel a little pang of sadness at the little fun aspects of school life I probably would have enjoyed as a parent. Things like school photographs - I often think about how cute it would be to get their photos back and see their little faces in their uniforms. The same goes for school plays - I wonder what part they may have had in the nativity play, and I think about how nice it would be to get a glowing school report on parents evening. Likewise I think about aspects of schools that my kids would probably enjoy - I often think my middle child would likely be a real social butterfly and probably queen Bee of the playground! I think about how my eldest son would love PE lessons, and how my youngest would probably be teachers pet. I even think about how much they'd love things like choosing new lunch boxes each term. 

But on the whole, I know these are very small things and that the pros of home education outweigh the cons for us.

The Pros

*The Freedom - This is by far the biggest pro for us. The absolute control over our daily routine and schedule. The freedom to do exactly what we want, when we want. The fact that we work for ourselves helps this of course, but the fact is that if we decide we want to go on holiday next week in the middle of term time - we can. 

We don't need to tell anybody, we don't need permission...the choice is ours to make. We can decide to go for a random day out half way through an afternoon - we don't need to worry about being in bed at a certain time because we can always sleep in the next day. We can change our plans for the day at the drop of a hat depending on what we fancy doing. We don't ever really "Have" to do anything - it's pretty much all down to choice. Which is pretty unbeatable to be honest!

*The gift of time - I'm always quite floored by how much time children actually spend at school, and although I occasionally have days where I think "I wish that I had that time to myself to just get my work done in peace" - on the whole, I'm grateful to have all of this time with my children while they're young. They're only little for such a short time, and it really is a blessing not to have to share them with anybody else - we get so much time together as a family, and that is such a precious gift that I know I'll really appreciate when I look back on  and I'm sure they will too.

*Independence - I feel that home education encourages my children to be independent thinkers much more than I personally ever was as a school child. They're not taught to tow the line, they're encouraged to think for themselves and question authority - to question things that they're taught and to make their own minds up about things, and I think this can only be a good thing. There are certain aspects of school education that worry me - the whitewashing of certain aspects of history for example, and the lack of criticism of the government along with a lack of teaching enough about politics at all. Home education allows for much more independence in learning, giving the children the opportunity to question things and learn from a wider range of resources.

*The chance to cultivate a love of learning - Of course this is also something that many school children are able to do too, but personally school did not instill a love of learning in to me. In actual fact it instilled a deep-rooted fear of certain subjects.  I love seeing my children learn and develop their abilities because they actively WANT to, rather than because they're being told its time to learn a certain thing. 

To see them follow their own interests and develop their own passions is wonderful, and I particularly loved seeing how my eldest son flourished from a nervous child in his first term of school who was starting to believe that he was "stupid" and "couldn't read" because he wasn't keeping up with other children, to a confident and fluent reader who avidly devours a different book every night in bed, entirely of his own accord. 

*Lack of peer pressure - Although my children of course have friends and acquaintances socially, and therefore will no doubt experience a certain amount of peer pressure at some point, I feel that it will be dramatically reduced as they're around far fewer children generally. There's less incentive to "follow the crowd" as the crowd doesn't really exist in home ed circles, at least not in the same way. 

*Autonomy - They have total autonomy over their bodies (rather than having to ask permission to urinate, or being denied the right to stand up or sit down at will). They have total autonomy over their social interactions (rather than being forced to potentially spend time with people they don't get along with or feel uncomfortable around). They have total autonomy over their friendships (rather than being forced to make friendships within the same year group as them, and being largely separated from older and younger children). They have total autonomy over their education (rather than being forced to learn about things that don't interest them or keep to the same learning pace as 20+ other children).

*Lower cost holidays and day trips - Home educating means that we're able to take full advantage of holidays and days out during term times, when not only is everywhere far less crowded and therefore much more enjoyable, but it also costs a fraction of the price of the school holidays too. This means that we tend to be able to budget for far more holidays and days out than we would if the children were in school. 

*Close family bonds - Again, I'm not insinuating that school families are any less close - but I do feel that home educating siblings does encourage a particularly nice bond between them, as they become each others closest friends and without school to separate them into different classes during the day - they seem to remain that way. 

*Opportunity to embrace individuality - I love that my children are totally free to express themselves by way of their wardrobe choices, hairstyles, choice of accessories etc. For the one term my son spent at school, he came home in tears quite often having been told by his teacher that his bag was "too large" and that he needed a smaller one. This standard sized Minecraft school bag was his pride and joy, and the only thing that had made him excited about going to school - but rather than allowing any opportunity for freedom of expression, he'd had the joy of it snatched away because it was a bit "too big".  

Now he, along with his siblings, can use whatever bags they please with nobody to tell them otherwise. They don't need to keep their hairstyles within school rule guidelines, infact my youngest son is thinking about temporarily dying his hair purple and if he wants to - he absolutely can! Because its his hair, and his choice. I believe this is the way it should be.  I also believe that having the freedom to express themselves and discover who they are without the addition of peer pressure will help them to be sure of themselves and comfortable in their identities when they're older. Something I personally felt that school robbed me of.

Again, let me re-iterate that these are my own personal pros and cons. I can't and won't speak on behalf of every home educating family as we all make different choices, and we all have different challenges in life - part of the beauty of home education is the freedom to choose what education looks like for your child, and that's something I'll never take for granted.

I'd also like to re-iterate that this post is not intended to paint home education or school as the best option for anyone else, these are merely my own personal thoughts and our choice for our family. Every family is different and there is no one size fits all.

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