We didn’t always intend to home educate. Neither of us had ever met anyone who had been home educated or who was home educating. Both of us had grown up within the mainstream education system. However we made a significant geographical move as our first child turned one and were suddenly immersed in a friendship circle of adults who had been home educated and families who were home educating. We had some great friends who were home educating from the start and whose children were such positive examples of a different way of learning.
Our girls were in a good, small school in a village close to our home. But we began over a few years to feel that home ed was the right fit for our family. When you have school age children, school is the dominating factor in all of your daily lives. We wanted to rebalance the scales and be with our girls for more time, to learn with them and support them fully in their learning. We wanted to give them more of our time and energy for the short time that they are children. We always felt like the end of the holidays came too quickly and we were having to hand them back to their teachers again. Please hear me right: we have no problem with school or with families whose children are in school. In making the choices that we have, we have merely exercised our right to choose. This does not mean we are criticical of the choices of other families. This simply could not be further from the truth.
Our decision to home educate meant that I was to sacrifice my career to be home with the girls whilst Mr Six continued at work. This also meant we took a significant hit to our family finances. But we took the plunge and deregistered our older two girls from school and turned down a place for our littlest in the summer of the London Olympics.
We had a summer of watching sport, talking about competition, learning about London and the Olympic movement. We enjoyed the sunshine, the countryside where we lived, hung out with family and friends and began to think through how we would home educate. And so it began!
Over the last four years, we have relaxed and grown together. We have tried different ways of learning:
- school at home: didn’t work at all for us and is fairly uncommon amongst the home educators that I have mixed with, to be honest!
- structured: working to a fixed timetable, with subjects scheduled in, which didn’t work for long.
- informal and child led (often known as unschooling): slightly too chaotic for my tidy brain and for our children’s learning styles.
We have settled on what is known as semi-structured, where we have topics and learning tools that we do each day, but which aren’t scheduled to a timetable. We use a range of websites, workbooks, unit studies (where a topic is studied and covers a variety of ‘subjects’) and other resources.
And so we have recently brought an addition into the fold, as we adopted our youngest daughter. She came home in the summer of 2015 and brought with her a range of additional needs, which were primarily focussed around her physical difficulties, delays and fatigue level. At age 3 in foster care, she had not long been walking, was managing only an hour or so a week in a playgroup setting and was seeing a range of healthcare professionals on a regular basis. She has ongoing physical issues and tires very quickly.
For our Little Legs, home education has been invaluable. She is constantly learning from three new big sisters. She is doing everything each day as dictated by her energy levels. If she is tired, she sleeps in. Sometimes til 9 o’clock. Which is an allowance that school may not be able (or willing) to make. We can switch activity if she has lots of energy and focus on tasks that require mental or physical energy. After lunch most days we have Quiet Time, when the girls go up and spend time in their bedrooms doing quiet activities, be that reading, playing a game, playing with Lego, listening to an audio book or having a nap.
Home educating has allowed us as much time as we have needed (and still really need, less than a year into placement) to build attachments with Little Legs and for her to build with both of us. We weren’t on a schedule post placement, constantly looking ahead to the time she would have had to go to school for at least part of every weekday. It has given us time to just be together, on the good days and the not so easy days. To learn how we all work together. How we all strain against each other. To learn how all of our girls are dealing with being a new family.
Home educating is also allowing us an early insight into Little Legs’ learning style, her attachment needs, her personality traits and her energy levels. We are getting to see first hand, over a lengthy amount of time, what makes her tick, what she enjoys, what she really hates, the kinds of people she is drawn to and what she enjoys spending time doing when given the time and freedom to try new things.
Home educating is not for everyone. Not every parent, or child, will find it to be the right choice for them. As a parent, it is demanding, time consuming and tiring. I have little time during the day to myself and there are days when it is just hard work. Add in the complexities of parenting an adopted child and my patience can suddenly be gone before 9 o’clock!
But we are finding ways to step back and breathe and then carry on together. But for those who are considering their options, or struggling to find a good fit with school, or whose children are rising nursery age, I would encourage you to find a home educator (online or in real life) and pick their brains. Ask them why they chose home ed, what they believe to be the strengths of home educating, what home ed resources and groups there are in your area. It might be the best thing you have ever done, for your child, for you, or for your family.
This blog was previously posted on first4adoption and on our blog in May 2016.