We have been home-educating for 13 years.
Our home-educating adventure began when my youngest son Joseph (now 19) was bullied (for want of a better word), in his primary school. He was so young, just 4 then 5 years old.
It was heart-breaking to see my child change so dramatically. He went from being a happy-go-lucky, confident, always smiling sort of boy, who was the first in the classroom every morning eager to learn, to being incredibly withdrawn, hardly talking to anyone, lacking in self-confidence and with such sadness in his eyes. At the time Joseph wore glasses and had an eye patch for the treatment of a lazy eye. He was also receiving speech therapy for speech dyspraxia – thus making him an easy target for the ‘bullies’.
I tried talking to the teachers, and I had numerous appointments with the head mistress of the school. I tried to discuss my concerns. All that knew him had noticed a change is his personality. Staff members mentioned that he didn’t seem to be as happy as he had been, and they noted that he had gone very quiet in class and he wasn’t as keen to learn as he once had been – but no-one would admit to there being a problem. “It’s just a phase.” “Are there any problems or changes at home?” “How is the relationship with his dad? And his siblings?”
The teachers were handing over parts of Joe’s broken glasses to me 2, 3, sometimes 4 times a week, but could offer no explanation as to why.
I was exasperated.
Joseph became incredibly withdrawn, barely ate or spoke, his behaviour regressed and he spent hours alone in his room.
I started trying to spend as much time as I could helping out in his class – taking pupils for reading sessions, swimming, attending walks and days out. I was desperate to know what was happening and why such changes were occurring. I noted that Joseph just sat in class without speaking, for hours he didn’t speak to a single soul and the teacher allowed that to happen – she never asked for his vocal input during lessons.
My heart was breaking.
I was scared. Just how long do you allow such damage to be done in the hope that it is ‘just a phase’ as the so called experts suggest? How long do you sit back and watch? How much time has to pass before the damage becomes more permanent and you can’t get that child you once knew back?
It got to the point that my son was actually being physically sick on the way to school.
Enough was enough. He was just 5 years old.
I started looking outside of the school for help. I spent hours on the internet searching for ‘bullying’ and ‘school phobia’ and fortunately Education Otherwise (one of the charities set up to support home-educators), kept appearing at the top of the search listings.
A spark of hope.
At that time I had absolutely no idea that home-education was a legal option here in the UK. I strongly believed that all children had to attend school. I didn’t know anybody that home-educated, and it seemed like such a huge and daunting responsibility to take on, but I was desperately concerned about the deterioration in Joseph’s self-confidence and general happiness.
After a great deal of research (and a few more trips to the opticians to repair broken glasses), we made the decision to de-register Joseph from the school. We did think that maybe we could transfer to the other local primary, but were worried about the damage that could be caused if he suffered similar experiences there too. Initially it was thought of as a temporary solution. I think that helped me feel better about taking the plunge – it was just going to be for 6 to 12 months in order to rebuild lost confidences and self-esteem.
But it worked so well for us.
Home-education naturally fitted in with our lifestyle, and we noticed a change in our son within weeks. We decided to de-register our daughter Chelsea (then aged 7) too. Not for the same dramatic and damaging reasons as her brother, she certainly wasn’t bullied, but we had a few niggles about the system that we had previously tried to ignore. We had also lost a lot of faith in the staff at the school after the situation with Joseph, the trust had been broken and I knew that wouldn’t be resolved any time soon. Knowing that we had another option open to us gave us a way out of an uneasy relationship. We didn’t have to put up with and try to ignore things any more.
Home-education has worked very well for us, and continues to do so. We are a close family unit, and I feel that the relationship with my children has really benefitted from time spent with them day to day. When we first started out on this adventure, my husband worked nights. With the children at school they were hardly ever able to spend time with their dad. Once out of the system, they were able to spend far more time with him, which was a benefit to us all.
We have found freedom. A freedom that permits us to explore the beauty that is around us, the freedom to follow our own passions, and the freedom to treat each child as an individual with their own way of learning and their own way of doing things.
I’m not anti-school by any stretch of the imagination.
I am well aware that many children absolutely thrive within school, and I’ve always made it clear to my children that if they ever wanted to go I wouldn’t try to persuade them otherwise. But school doesn’t suit everyone – just as home-education wouldn’t and doesn’t! We have to choose what we feel is best for our own families and situation, and we should be able to do so without criticism or judgement.
When the children first came out of school, we tried to replicate their school day and did school at home. We tried to be structured – complete with a timetable and lesson plans. I was desperate to prove that I could do this. Desperate to prove that I could be a successful home-educating mama, and that I wasn’t letting down my children in any way. I wanted to make sure that we fully covered everything that would have been covered at school.
I got upset and frustrated when our days didn’t go to plan, and it wasn’t long before I realised (and actually admitted to myself), that playing at schools wasn’t going to work for us.
I started to relax.
I began to research how children learn, different learning styles, and different ways of home-educating.
I soon realised that we didn’t have to sit at a table from 9am-3pm. We didn’t have to write pages and pages, and we didn’t have to plough our way through repetitive workbooks. Instead my children could learn in many other ways – discussions, reading books, using the internet, watching television, visiting places, talking to people, going to clubs and associations. The list is never-ending.
To coin a home-ed phrase – the world is our classroom.
I now have six children. They are aged 21 months, 4, 10, 13, 17 and 19. The youngest four have never stepped foot inside of a school building. The eldest has now found her independence and has flown the nest. All have a love of books and reading. All have inquisitive minds. All have amazing personalities and a zest for living life.
At times we find ourselves the ‘talk of the town’ when out and about. Occasionally we are stopped and questioned about the children not being in school – and reactions to the home-educated response are mixed. Some people are curious, asking lots of questions and being quite positive and interested. Others are very negative and tell us how they find it hard to believe that we are allowed to do such a thing. I’ve also been told that I am ruining the futures of my children. I’ve learnt to ignore those that don’t understand. It’s not personal.
Of course, the home-educator lifestyle isn’t always rosy. I rarely have time to myself, and many people have remarked on how they couldn’t cope with having their children around almost 24/7. I was the kind of mother that missed my children when they were at school and I relished the time with them during the six week holiday break. Some mum’s count down the days until the school is reopened. I learnt a long time ago that my home was ever going to be as clean and tidy as I would like it to be, and sacrifices have had to be made to make things work, particularly financially and materialistically, but it is definitely, without a doubt been ever so worth it.
I see my children happy and thriving, with a real thirst for learning.
The one responsible for my looking for alternatives and thinking outside of the box? He is an amazing lad. He is kind, caring, and considerate. He is the first to hug me when I’m upset and will help anyone with anything. I’m so very proud of the man he is fast becoming. I am thankful that we had the opportunity and more importantly the choice to home-educate. It literally feels like it’s been a life-saver for me and my family, and certainly for Joseph. I daren’t even consider what the alternative outcome might have been.