Reflections on a Journey

Reflections on a Journey

This reflection I wrote for a family blog in 2017 when we stepped out of school. I rediscovered it again this week and thought I would share it here. It very much captures that sense of freedom that you feel when you step out of the system. It is a decision made five years ago that we have never regretted.

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2017 – So, we have finally taken the leap and are officially home educating our kids… I am aware that there should be a coherent answer to the ‘why’ questions which have already started to come – the dog walker we met as we flew our kites yesterday, the cashier at the checkout… I have not yet quite worked out quite what to say; other than knowing it is where we are meant to be right now!

The ‘what if school looked different’ thought process began when my son started school age four and half… I could see quickly that my little boy with boundless energy was contained and restricted in the classroom; so much of his energy was taken by trying to sit still, that school became something that needed to be simply got on with and out of the way. We decided quite quickly that one day a week out of school at a local Forest School was going to be good for him – and how he thrived; I would collect him wide eyed, covered in mud bursting with excitement after five hours of exploring ‘Hidden Woods’ with his ‘teachers’.

This stopped when we moved to a city and we decided to join the local school at the end of our street. As a family we have loved them being part of the community for three years. However, the more I read, the more I observed my children in school, the more I knew that it was right for us to exit the traditional school setting.  This spring we felt the time had come to take the leap.

I am not anti-school – I think school can be amazing.  So many teachers work so hard to enable young people’s learning journeys and there can be a lovely sense of community both for the children and adults. The bit that I struggle with is seeing the immense pressure put on teachers, and the subsequent pressure that children feel as they sit tests and are told what to learn. It takes a brave head teacher, like ours was, to fight to keep the extracurricular activities on the weekly schedule alongside the Ofsted assessed maths, literacy and reading.

In our journey, I know we are privileged to be able to make it work financially (although this comes at a cost, we are learning to prioritise different things). I am excited, but I am also a realist and know that some days will be tough and many will be chaotic! So, as we journey into the unknown of our kids learning and exploring life outside of the system, we will take a day at a time.

People keep asking me if I am a teacher, to which the answer is no. People ask, “but what about the curriculum? What about SATS? GCSEs? How will you teach Science and DT? What about Bunsen burners? How will your child be prepared for real life if they don’t navigate the challenges that school brings?” I feel starting with these questions is the wrong place to begin. We have chosen to start with looking at the big picture and ask the question, ‘what do we want our kids to be?’ Our thoughts are that we want to grow children who will be independent lifelong learners, who are creative, resilient, fearless, and fun loving. Kids who are confident in who they are; understanding what gives them life and excites them. We want a slower pace of life, with opportunity to reflect, to learn life skills as well as maths and literacy, to celebrate the lessons learnt through failure together, to encourage and support one another. I am not saying school can’t do that, I am simply saying I could see it was not doing this for our children and the individual personalities they are. Already I have found it is easy to lose sight of the big picture and start to wobble and feel overwhelmed by ‘curriculum’ and what our children ‘should’ be learning.  In these wobbly moments, I am finding I have to remember to focus on the ‘why’ and the daily freedom we now feel we have as a family in this journey of learning.

This week gave me a wonderful example of the freedom we now enjoy. My son has spent the week building puzzle boxes from Lego. He has set his own challenges by making three dimensional boxes with so many moving pieces. He has also learnt to do the Rubix cube watching YouTube.

At school these past two years writing had become so difficult for my son, he hated literacy. The reason being that he had to write cursive. Last year I chatted with his teacher one day and asked why he needed to do this – she said because ‘that is what Year Five kids need to do’. Yet for my son this does not work; he is left handed. To write cursive as a righted handed person, you pull your pen along a page, the writing flows as you move from left to right. As a left-handed person, you have to push the pen, it is slower work as you move across the page. Writing cursive was simply hard work.  My hope is he can continue to learn to write in a style that suits him.

So, we are home educators. We look forward to breaking down some of the stereotypes these two words can bring to mind; we are excited to be doing something I believe stirred in our hearts six years ago, again, a seemingly reckless decision made with confidence because we believe our children will flourish. ‘What if you fail?’ people have asked, ‘what if you get it wrong?’ In response to this I feel we can answer – at least we will have tried! And what if we get it right? What if this is the right way for our kids to learn and thrive? Our kids will always be richer for knowing we had the courage to pursue our dreams and explore a different way of doing life.

Taking the leap & no regrets!

Taking the leap & no regrets!

If you had told me when my son started school in 2011 that we would become home educators, I honestly would have laughed out loud. Coming from a family of teachers, the thought of home educating did not even come onto my radar. I will also confess the term ‘home school’ would bring up images of feral children in tied dyed clothes – ‘an irresponsible way to grow your children’ would have been my initial thoughts. In hindsight, I am now sorry for those unfair presumptions!

When my son started school as a small 4-year-old with he was full of beans, excited to go and bouncing with energy. He is not one to sit still… over the months that followed we noticed he became quieter and more withdrawn; he was constantly tired. My wife kept asking do you think he is happy? He feels different, less bubbly…? My response was always, it is just school he will get used to it and he needs to toughen up and learn to manage it (after all he had another 12 years in the system!).

My wife started to question if he was in the right school (not so much questioning actual school as a concept) but, more was a two form entry large primary school the best for him. At the same time, she discovered a new local forest school who were keen to have kids who were flexischooled. A new term to us but one we quickly embraced – one day a week he would run free in the forest under the guidance of a couple of leaders who encouraged risk, taught him to use tools, light fires and play imaginative games. To say he loved it was an understatement – he would come home beaming, covered in mud, the sparkle back in his eyes. And yet with this small decision came the slow trickle of ‘concern’ from friends who were worried he would miss out academically if he missed 20% of his school week. Something at the time I could not answer with a confident rebuttal, more just a smile knowing how happy he was and a growing confidence that was a critical part of being able to enjoy learning.

Then parents evening came, and his teacher informed us he was doing well, he was settled and she said ‘to be honest he’s so well behaved we don’t really notice him’. This of course was meant to be a compliment – he didn’t stand out academically yet neither did he cause trouble. However, I heard it that my child was not a problem and as such ‘not seen’. It triggered further reflections (not angry or upset, more intrigue) … in reality can a teacher with 30 kids in their class actually see each child and support their individual learning effectively? What about the fact that children learn differently? These questions coincided with the Education Minister removing the right to flexi-school which meant forest school was stopped. I had ‘moved’, a reluctant flexi-schooler to appease my wife, I had experienced the change in our son and now knew we needed a change. We decided to move schools and found a local village school which had only 18 kids in the class and focused on learning outdoors. We watched our son come alive again; lots of play, outside nearly every day, lots of moving around not sitting still, being quiet and listening…

Then we unexpectedly moved to a city, village school no longer an option and so he joined year two of a nice city primary school with a good mix of international kids and a ‘Good’ Ofsted report. Our son was happy and we hoped the opportunities at forest school had restarted his enjoyment in learning. For the next three years we ‘did school’, his younger sisters joined and my wife juggled work in school hours, and after school commitments. Yet, this niggle of ‘is this best for our kids’ never went away – in reality I wish it could have stayed quiet!

There were a few incidents that led to our next decision – one of our daughters coming home, age six, saying she felt trapped at school, ‘what is the point of starting anything at school –  just as I get going, we have to stop and move onto the next thing’. She was frustrated. For my son, there was a ridiculous conversation with his year 5 teacher who was adamant he had to do cursive writing. We tried to explain that as a left-handed writer cursive is more difficult for him, but cursive was the rule and he had to obey. His dislike for writing rapidly increased. Our school term would start quite well, but as the weeks would go by the level of exhaustion would increase, sibling relationships would break down and home felt a battle ground – particularly on the morning, exiting the house to meet the ‘we must be not late challenge’ Mornings were full of stress as the kids – despite good friendships – were not keen to get to school! They were frequently trying to tell us they did not like school.

Finally in May 2017 my wife said enough. Her avid reading of the alternatives empowered her argument to me that we had to at least try it for a year – so we did. To be honest I had been slowly worn down by the experience of the kids but also the ideas (scary as they were) that there might be a better way. It felt more risky to step out – but whilst staying felt ‘safer’ it also meant pretending that we had no choice – and yet we were blessed with the responsibility of choice. So we left – or we jumped – or we fell … and in honesty we were totally ill equipped to answer our own questions, let alone of those of our (mainly) kindly disapproving friends or family.  In hindsight, that’s the hard bit about ‘stepping out’ – you leave the safety of convention and raise an unintended challenge to those for whom the safety of that very convention is itself reassuring and therefore not to be questioned.  And yet… question it we did…

Fast forward five years and I am confident it was a decision well made. Over the months that followed our exit I watched my kids come alive, their curiosity rekindled, their joy in play, their sibling relationships restored, no more early morning wake ups and being squashed into uniform and dragged out the door. Our one year trial simple turned into our reality.

To be clear, I do not believe school is a bad thing. However, I do believe the education system needs to change, but that is a different story and not for here. What I do know is stepping out of the system has given us a freedom to enable our kids own learning journeys. We don’t always get it right, we have good and bad days, we have friends/family who do not understand, we have had to make financial sacrifices, my wife had to step away from her research work, we get the ‘what about socialisation’ ‘your kids won’t be toughened up ready for the world’ questions… yet what I get to experience is three happy kids, they play a lot, have friends of all ages, explore their passions, choose what they want to learn and learning is fun (and does not start or end with a bell) – our family is richer in relationship and they are growing with a deep sense of self and a love of learning. On the wobbly days of doubt (being outside of convention, those wobbly days can come hard and without warning) I need to remind myself and to be encouraged that even conventional wisdom (in the main) agrees that the purpose of education is not just about ‘leaning a curriculum to pass exams’ but about cultivating a joy in creating lifelong learners (albeit that is harder to standardise as an assessment). My kids have this joy and a freedom to pursue their passions, for this I am grateful.

Touch Typing

Touch Typing

I am a self-taught touch typer and as a result I am still far from speedy. As a self-employed entrepreneur with home educated kids, learning to touch type felt like an essential skill for them to learn. We started the journey with a free online version which the kids persevered with but it was tedious – even I found it boring. So after an extensive google search I discovered English Type. There is lots I have liked about the programme:

  • One payment covers one household
  • No monthly cost, just up front £29.95 which compared to many options is cheap
  • Engaging – the kids love it
  • Level-based learning which unlocks typing games as you go
  • Easy to use
  • When we need to upgrade one laptop the English Type team were quick to respond to our request for the key to download it again.

My kids started using the programme 2 years ago just before lockdown when they were 9 and 12 and they are proficient now. As with all skills, it still requires practice and the odd reminder to choose the tough type. However, the foundational skills are there I highly rate the programme.

  • 8-10 years | 10-12 years | 12+ years
  • https://englishtype.com
  • £29.95 for one household, one payment
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