Three years ago, our daughter entered secondary school and, initially, seemed to thrive. It is a well respected school, the same one our boys had gone to with positive experiences. However, as time went on, we noticed her getting more insular and less excited about school each day. There were some relational conflicts emerging that were fuelled by the essential WhatsApp groups she was part of and one minute she was ‘in’ and the next ‘out’, like an emotional rollercoaster. It got to the point where we felt like we were losing our daughter and she couldn’t escape from the constant barrage of negative messages. It was tough to watch and hard to walk her through it.
Meeting with a close friend who we knew home educated was a major shift in our perspectives on home education, having had some previous ‘not so positive’ experiences in the past. She presented options in a manner that empowered us and gave us courage to walk away from the traditional methods of education and into the somewhat uncharted waters. So, we took the plunge and removed our daughter from school and enrolled her with GalileoXP, an online learning community.
The shift in emotional wellbeing was obvious. Our daughter began to get her confidence back, reverting back to her bubbly self. The flexibility it gave her to pursue the things she loves rather than endure hours of classes that she has no interest in was great too. She then joined a local home ed group coordinated and facilitated by two parents; a group of 12 like-minded crazy kids who gather weekly to do group projects and drama. This has been amazing for her. She gets to interact socially with kids her own age, to be creative, to be expressive, to build friendships. Its a safe place to express who she is without the pressure that the school environment can create.
For anyone considering taking the plunge, we felt that our daughter’s mental and emotional health was more important than any academic qualification. Academic achievement is probably over-rated, with many of the world’s top leaders and entrepreneurs having few, if any, recognised qualifications. Those can come with time but nothing can replace good, positive emotional health and wellbeing. Reach out for advice and be courageous! We took the risk and got our daughter back.
On 17th January 2022, we started our journey and adventure into home education and officially de-registered our son from secondary school. He is 14. We initially described it as jumping out of the plane! 10 weeks into this new approach to learning, we feel like we’re slowly settling into our new life and routines. I’ll be honest – it was harder for me than it was for Thomas. He took to it like ‘duck to water’. I initially spent a lot of time crying and letting go. We both said that it felt like breaking up with school.
Here are our four take-aways so far:
FOLLOW YOUR HEART
As I said in the intro, it took us several months to finally make the decision to de-register Tom and it wasn’t an easy one for us to make. That said, my heart knew long before I allowed my head to ‘catch up’. My challenge is I am an overthinker. A pure product of the academic system in France and in the UK, I used to believe that I had to use my logic and to ‘think about things’. My final decision was made when I watched my son’s face as we were heading home after having a chat with another home ed Mum and her son in early January; Thomas asked me: ‘do you think it’s possible for me to leave school? Do you think there is truly another way?’ Sometimes as parents we know in our ‘heart’ what the right answer or the next move is. We just need to give ourselves permission to follow our hearts. Taking this step for Thomas and starting the journey has enabled my ‘head’ to catch up.
Our decision to home educate coincided with my own year-long sabbatical and stepping off the ‘hamster wheel’. Combined with Thomas becoming self-directed in his learning, this means that we are both discovering the power of agency – that feeling of freedom and choice. We can decide how we schedule our day and what we explore. We can be open and flexible and that feels good. And the exciting thing is that as we develop our sense of agency and we explore new skills, we build a sense of competence too.
We were very lucky that we connected with a local group of home educating families. We join their regular gatherings two days a week. With a range of ages from 10 – 15, all the young people have been so welcoming.
With Thomas’s help, I started sharing my French and Spanish skills one day a week offering an immersive languages day. The young people have embraced this learning opportunity and every week I feel so energised. I feel so lucky to be able to spend time with these young people. They are all so different, so friendly and always willing to share. What I love the most about this group of adults and young people is that they are so life-giving and life-affirming. They have created a real safe space for us all to learn, grow and evolve.
I feel like I am also getting to know my own child. I am discovering who he is, what he likes and doesn’t like and what he stands for. Last week, Thomas and I commented on how we both feel that ‘we have found our tribe’ and how lucky we both feel to have access to this amazing community and self-directed learning hub. Everything in life is relational and interconnected and we can feel the real benefits of the sense of belonging and the positive relationships we are establishing with every single individual in the group.
Over the last ten weeks, it feels like we have ‘freed’ Thomas. We have opened the cage and most importantly unclipped his wings. We are allowing him to explore new areas of interests. We are allowing him to stretch his wings and to see what they are for. He is discovering who he is and what he stands for. He currently thinks he might want to become an architect and so every week he attends a local architecture course, and he is loving it. He also takes part in a weekly woodwork workshop. These things wouldn’t have happened if he had stayed in school. It’s so wonderful as parents to watch our child flourish. His passion-led learning is enabling him to soar.
And it’s not just Thomas who is becoming a self-directed learner. I am also allowing myself to explore my own interests and to become in charge of my learning – this is a truly liberating experience.
It feels like we are both discovering what inspires us – our sense of purpose and passion: architecture, design and technology for Thomas, educational reform and the link between being self-directed and wellbeing for me.
Together we are discovering our preferences, through experience and we are taking action. Empowered to do so.
And of course, it’s still early days – we are only just starting on this new adventure, but I feel that we have the right ingredients to move forward. My professional research has shown me that it all starts with ‘flourishing’. We have the five wellbeing essentials in place: intrinsic motivation (purpose), sense of belonging, positive relationships, agency, and sense of competence.
I am sure the rest will follow…
Fabienne is an educator, author of The Flourishing Student and co-author of How to Grow a Grown up, wellbeing expert and parent of 2 boys aged 14.5 and 12. She will share her learning from 7 years of action research and hours of conversations on her Flourishing Education Podcast in order to empower all to become flourishing lifelong learners.
Want to know what a day in the life of unschooling looks like? Then check out Stacey Piercey’s, The Alice. The Alice is like peering into the mind of an unschooler on any given day that their interest is piqued. It’s written like an unschooling journey. What I mean by that, is that it’s not laid out with standard steps to follow, or things to purchase in order to be a “better” homeschooler. It’s a wonderful rabbit-hole of curiosity. In unschooling, a person can wake up and watch a video or see a word or have a conversation that leads to a spark of interest. From there a deep dive begins. We can find ourselves down the “rabbit hole” of learning that can go in many different directions but is all connected from that beginning thread.
“Something to watch”. “Something to strew”. “Something to try”.
It’s not prescriptive. It’s a spark of interest.
I am really enjoying “The Alice” as something to keep checking my email for.
Cost: $4 USD/month – a fantastic resource for home educating parents.
Creator and Host of the podcast, Honey! I’m Homeschooling The Kids
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.
People home educate for different reasons. Some parents know before they even have children that they want to educate their children themselves, whereas others find themselves home educating because a school environment is simply not working for their child, or they believe they can provide their child with a more personalised, supportive approach. Regardless of what gets you started on the journey of home education, many parents find themselves uncertain of the best approach to use – should they try and retain the structure of school? Should they buy workbooks? Should they have a curriculum, and hold their child to government-imposed standards? Our reasons for home educating are often what defines our ideas about what that education should look like. If you’ve had time to prepare yourself and do a lot of research on home education, you may have a very clear idea of what approach to take, but very often we come to home education with preconceived ideas and stereotypes ourselves.
Understanding our ‘WHY?’ Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
Why have you chosen home education?
Why do you follow the approach that you do?
Why do you use the methods you use?
And the ‘WHAT?’
What motivates us to home educate, or motivates us to home educate in the way we do?
What drives us?
What frightens us? What fears are shaping how we educate/raise our family?
When you spend some time exploring your WHY and your WHAT, you might find that there are some NEGATIVE MOTIVATIONS behind the approach you have chosen. Here are some examples:
Pressure from friends and family – Do you find yourself making sure your child does certain types of work to ‘prove’ to others that they have “done schoolwork”?
Fear of failure – Are you concerned that your child will ‘get behind’ and that others may criticise you if your child does not appear to be performing according to a school-defined standard?
Comparison – Are there others around you that you compare yourself to whose children may be in school or home educated? Are you being drawn into unspoken ‘competition’ with others?
Emotional “baggage” – Consider your own experiences, fears and regrets and whether they affect your educational approach
Fear of authorities – Are you concerned about needing to prove yourself to your Local Authority, doctors, etc? Is this informing your educational choices?
Feelings of inadequacy – Some parents are told they are ‘too thick’ to educate their own children successfully or have experienced educational failure themselves. This need not impact your ability to educate your own child.
Desire to please others – This links to some of the other points above, but could result in you making certain choices because you are trying to make others happy.
It is really important for you and your family to ‘clean up’ your WHY so that you can make positive educational choices, uncorrupted by these negative motivations. It can be beneficial to examine these negative motivations and baggage we carry around with us, and work through some of our own issues. How we process these depends very much on personal beliefs, philosophies and upbringing, and sometimes we might even need someone we trust to help us. It can liberate us for the journey.
In this blog I hope to share with you some ways you can flip to POSITIVE MOTIVATIONS which will lead to a more positive approach that will be in the interests of your child and your family.
We are going to ask ourselves the questions:
Where do you want to go?
What is really important?
What does success mean to you?
What outcomes do you want for your children?
Some of you may have heard of this powerful demonstration:
A speaker stood behind a table on which were a large jar and a container of rocks. He filled the jar with rocks and asked if the audience thought the jar was full. When they replied “yes”, he took a box of pebbles from under the table, and managed to shake them into the jar, filling the spaces between the large rocks. Was the jar full? The audience replied “yes”. But the speaker produced a canister of sand, and was able to pour it between the gaps between the large rocks and pebbles. Finally, he showed that the full jar could hold even more by adding water to it. The moral of this demonstration is that you must put the big rocks in first! If you started out by putting pebbles, sand or water in the jar, the big rocks won’t fit! The ‘big rocks’ of life must be dealt with first or smaller things will crowd them out.
As a family you need to decide what your big rocks, pebbles and sand (and water) are, so that you can consign them to the correct place in the order of priorities. Here are some examples, although, of course they will differ for every family.
There are so many activities, interests, opportunities and problems vying for our attention that we can easily get sidetracked if we don’t focus on what we regard as most important. If you make sure you fit your ‘big rocks’ into your day you can ensure that they don’t get lost in all the busyness of life. They will form the foundation and help support the vision you grow for your family’s home education journey.
In Part 2, I will look at other factors that might shape your approach to educating your children.