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 He is not one to sit still… over the months that followed we noticed he became quieter and more withdrawn; he was constantly tired.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.

Looking Back on My First Year

Looking Back on My First Year

When my 9 year old daughter innocently explained that she was using disassociation and self-harm strategies to get through maths lessons, we knew we’d never walk her over the threshold of the school again.  As ex educators, both my wife and I had already experienced the anxiety and stress in the education sector  and had left so it was only a matter of time really.

The amount of sheer joy which followed for all of us was unexpected, without the irrelevant requirements of the school day and adhoc demands (I’ll never forget the Christmas when there was a last minute message for the children to dress as nativity stable animals… The amount of “F*&k You Gruffalo costumes” was overwhelming) and the daily dinner time chats about struggles with ‘friends’, we felt a huge weight off our shoulders.

As an ex primary teacher, full of anxiety (had we done the right thing? Was I going to let them down? Were they going to fall behind compared to their school attending peers?) I not only replicated the school day but increased their workload!  Even so, my two wonderful children shone.

In those first 6 months we covered numerous traditional topics (raiding twinkl daily) and almost took them back to the beginning again with their maths to great effect.  They become confident, happier and relaxed – and made great progress. We spent an hour each morning just enjoying reading chapter books and their joy and ability for reading rocketed.

Looking back one of the jewels in the week is their weekly home school circus day where they lean trapeze and silks along with continuing practicing their social skills and have some fantastic role models in their lives.

As I grew more sure and less anxious, we naturally began to reduce the intensity and as Winter turned to Spring we got out much more and joined clubs for home educated children.  But I started having misgivings.  I started questioning the value of the curriculum I’d been trained to deliver. Also my boy was becoming more and more reluctant to write and it was getting a daily negative spiral.  I asked a new friend from home educating (and ex head herself) for some peer support and she introduced us to Sir Ken Robinson, challenging the fundamentals of the UK education system, and Peter Gray with the whole unschooling concept.

So this is where we are in our journey. We try to read and do a bit of formal maths three or four mornings a week (mostly for my own reassurance!) then its play and getting out. It’s brilliant. The children have done things I never would have dreamed of: jam making, building working 8 foot high catapults, recreating Cornish mining heritage sites in Minecraft, using dolls to recreate and experiment with styles of government leadership and making their own radio show with hilarious call ins and carefully crafted musical playlists- all in the guise of play that is more genuine, much deeper and more sustained.  At this point on my journey, I’m learning to trust my children to rekindle and follow their own curiosity, with my role being to support and guide when they’re open to my offerings.

Story written by Tom and uploaded by Streams.

Why We Are Home Educating

Why We Are Home Educating

MY SCHOOL EXPERIENCE

My own school experience was on the whole, positive. As my parents were largely ‘uneducated’ immigrants who spoke very little English and worked long hours, school gave me an education that my parents could not. At school, I excelled in my GCSEs and A-levels, then at university gained a very good degree and thereafter a PGCE. I went on to become a primary school teacher, a job which I loved. Having been “successfully” educated in the school system and then having worked as a primary school teacher, I was a proponent of the school system.

 

HOMESCHOOLED KIDS ARE WEIRD!

I grew up in Cardiff in the 80s and everyone I knew went to school. I didn’t know anyone who was homeschooled.  NO-ONE. I didn’t even know such thing as “homeschooling” existed. It wasn’t until I was an adult working in Hong Kong that I first met a boy from a Canadian family who was homeschooled. The boy was clearly socially awkward and a bit slow and strange. My husband and I concluded that homeschooling makes people weird and made a mental note to never ever homeschool our (future) children! That boy has since grown up to be a wonderful young man and I’ve also since learned that the boy had once attended school and had experienced some bullying there. As my husband and I started to meet a few more families who home educated their children, we were surprised to find that the children were bright, engaging and…quite ‘normal’! One family had access to one of the very best and highly sought after private schools, at no cost, yet still chose to home educate their children. This then begged the obvious question, why?

 

MY UNQUESTIONING TRUST IN THE SCHOOL SYSTEM CHALLENGED

As we sought to explore this hidden world of home-education further, one of the first and most surprising discoveries was that contrary to popular belief, school is actually not compulsory; it is a system that we opt into. For the first time, we started asking questions of the school system, especially about the people who set and change the contents of a curriculum for the children of the whole country…

  •       Who are they?  What qualifications do they have for this massively important job?
  •       How attuned are they to children and how they learn best?
  •       What is the process by which they decide what children need to learn, and the ages at which they should learn it?
  •       On what basis did they decide that all children across the country should be reading and writing at the age of 5?
  •       Why is there increasingly less play for children at school, when studies overwhelming show the vital importance of play in a child’s learning, development and well-being?

And as we sought answers to these questions, our list of questions seemed to grow. Can schools really operate with each child’s best interests at heart?  Needless to say, my previous unquestioning trust in the school system as an ex-primary school teacher were massively challenged and, from there, began our journey of home-education.

 

Story written by Kayi and uploaded by Streams.