The guest blog today comes from Great Britain, where Stuart and his family have started on a journey of home education.
Part one of our Home Educating Journey
Today we had the most wonderful day out with a group of home educators and their children in the English countryside. After arriving at about 10.30 am all the children, of which there are about eight and ranging in age from about 5 through 8 years old, had a maths lesson in the forest centre kindly taught by one of the mums. After this all the kids were free to go and explore the woods and play on the zip wire and tree swings or in my daughters case make a lovely lunch of mud pies and mud desert (yum).
After a much more appetizing lunch, there was leaf and bark rubbing and more playing in the forest. I, my wife and Annabel, our 8 year old daughter, are very new to home educating so I wanted to give readers of this post an idea of why we decided to home educate and a flavour of the journey as we discover it.
Let me take you back to April 2014 when we took Annabel out of mainstream education, no actually, let’s go back even further, right back to the start. Like all babies Annabel was born a bundle of pure potential and even at a very young age loved books and being read to (whether this had something to do with me reading to her when she was still in the womb, I have no idea). And like all children she loved to learn, explore and be inquisitive about everything in the world around her. So we travelled the road we thought we were supposed to follow and found a lovely little Pre-School attached to an infant school in a village not far from our home. We eased her into Pre-School, building up her time there slowly. She fitted in well, had fun and made friendships that have lasted to this day.
Then came moving up to the big school which was a big adventure for her. It was lovely that all of her friends from pre-school all moved up to the infant school together. Her infant school years were very happy and she loved every minute of it and couldn’t wait to get back after holidays etc.
So came the time to find a junior school to move on to and in our area we struggled to find somewhere we liked so we revisited a Primary school that we had looked at originally but back then had no places. Luckily they had some spare places but it would mean taking her out of her present school 6 months early to make sure she got a place. It seemed the right thing to do and Annabel was in favour of it. The school seemed great and their values matched our own.
The first six months were fine and Annabel fitted in well, made new friends and learnt new things. But then we noticed she wasn’t as happy as she had been and wasn’t so positive about going each day. I suppose in mainstream education this is expected and normal for some children when the education gets “serious”. The fun and play isn’t so important anymore and schools need to reach their targets and get good Ofsted reports and kids need to achieve.
The school had a warning system. Three warnings and you’re up outside the head teachers room. But for some children like Annabel this was just something to be scared of each and every day. This is not me saying mainstream education is bad, because for some children it’s a good fit and it works for them, but not for all. More and more families are going the home education route here in England. In just our county over 700 children are now home educated and while that’s probably a small percentage of the total it’s still a significant number.
When we think back we had very often had home education at the back of our minds as an alternative. “How nice it would be to all be together as a family all the time and the flexibility and possibility.” We had never really taken those thoughts seriously until now. But how would we do it? We aren’t teachers, we wouldn’t have the time, we don’t know how to structure it all. It seemed too big to contemplate. So after quite a long time of tying ourselves up in knots about it, we had the idea, what about we just take her out of school. No plan in place, no idea how it would work, what it would look like. We spoke with Annabel about what she wanted, because at the end of the day it’s her life, and she wanted to leave.
So that’s just what we did, without any plan we just gave the school a letter and a week later she finished. That was April and now nearly 3 months later life is good. The funny thing is we still really don’t have a plan and structure in place but it works and it will evolve. We have learnt to let go of having everything in place because we know it will be an ever changing and evolving thing. Something that flows.
We’re still going through a period of adjustment and exploring possibilities and that feels like a beautiful place to be right now. We’ve found on the whole people have been really supportive of our decision with only a handful of people having some judgemental thinking around it and that’s fine and expected because of the way people are conditioned around education.
For us home education at the moment looks quite informal and we let Annabel lead what she wants to learn. Right now she’s decided she wants to do a project on ancient Egypt. So we can go to museums, libraries, online or anywhere else it leads us to. That seems to go against what we are conditioned to believe. We’re led to believe that education has to look a certain way and that’s the only way. But what if it’s not the only way? I’m guessing as an adult you only pick up a book to read when you want to read and don’t pick it up when you don’t want to read. Would we want to read if our partners were telling us, now we have to read? So I don’t see a difference with children. When they want to learn something (and they all do naturally) they will, very easily and naturally.
Perhaps we could all lead happier more creative lives if we didn’t have that moment when we believe it all gets serious and it can’t be fun anymore. It not only feels different for Annabel, it not only changes Annabel’s life, it has enriched all our lives. We are no longer in the box of what you are expected to do and this is what it looks like. We’ve opened the box, climbed out and found a whole other world to explore. A world where anything might be possible.