“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” – WB Yeats
Home educating was not something that was even on our radar when we were expecting our eldest, Joyful. We were living in London and not really even aware of the local schools where we lived.
When Joyful was one year old, we moved up to North Wales and into a circle of friends who had been fully or partially home educated as children, as well as families who were actively home educating their children. At the time, I honestly didn’t really think much about it and couldn’t get my head round why anyone would choose to opt out of mainstream education.
So what changed?
My experiences at school were generally positive. My family had moved around Lancashire a fair amount when I was aged between three and seven, when we finally settled in South Manchester, close to where my parents had grown up. All of the moves meant I attended four schools full time before I was seven.
Similarly with high school, I attended one high school for six months, before I switched to a new school for the next four and a half years. I mostly enjoyed school, though I do think I would have loved home ed had it been an option for me. I say this because, even though my school was small (around 200 pupils), I often found it overwhelming.
Our older two girls went into mainstream school at the expected ages. Joyful spent four full time years in school and came out at the end of Year Two (aged 7). Happy Dreamer just did one full time year in school and, as an August baby, she was still only four when she finished her Reception year.
They enjoyed school mostly: they were in a small village school, with great staff and they did fine. But I wouldn’t say they thrived.
Why home educate?
The answer I give when people ask why we home educate is simply this: home educating is “The Best Fit” for our family right now. I find it prevents people from going on the defensive when I speak solely about why home ed works best for our family. But getting a little more specific…
Home educating allows us to-
On a daily basis, there is no rush to get everyone ready for school each morning. No last minute Sunday night panic when I realise there’s homework to be done or uniform to be ironed.
On a bigger scale, we can go at the pace of our individual children. Learning can be in response to their readiness, not at the whim of an arbitrary date in a school calendar.
Promote and develop attachment since our Rainbow Girl came home:
When Rainbow Girl came home three years ago, she was a month or so off going to school. Physically, she was not ready (lots of delays and motor skill difficulties, some of which continue today). Emotionally, she had not had any time at all to even develop attachment to the five of us. School would have been impossibly difficult.
We could have kept her home for another year and then sent her to school. But we did what felt right to us, and she has stayed home. Listening to my adopter friends talking about their difficulties with the education system, I have no doubt that we did the right thing. She has thrived because of being at home full time, both with me and with her sisters.
Over the last six years of home educating, our family life, parenting style, life choices and future plans have changed beyond recognition. Having the time and space to breathe, regroup, dream, and develop these changes has been an absolute privilege that stepping out of the norm has facilitated.
Allow the girls to develop at their own pace:
One of our girls is only recently hitting the point where she is making sense of words. She has long been able to identify letters and match them to their sounds and names. But she has not been able to connect those letters together to form words. She does not easily recognise or remember the shapes of words. She adores stories, being read to, ‘writing’ letters and journals that she keeps. She is so very keen, but her brain has simply not been ready.
School would have been an immense challenge. Now there is nothing wrong with facing up to challenges. But our education system would have labelled her. Would have battered her confidence. Would have grown frustrated with her. And she would have grown equally frustrated.
As her parents (and sisters), we can nurture her. Help her when needed. Push her when required. But most of all, we have been able to allow her to develop at her own pace.
Rainbow Girl has needed lots (and lots) of time to develop physically. The amount of energy required for her to cope with her new life, as well as to stay upright against gravity was immense when she first came home. Getting around on her feet took so much energy. She would have been wiped out over a morning of school. She would have needed to sleep in the afternoon, to get up for food and fairly shortly afterwards go back to bed ready for the following day. That’s no life for a four year old.
Focus more deeply on the girls’ areas of interest:
Happy Dreamer is currently a little bit obsessed with Norse and Greek mythology. She’s devouring the Percy Jackson books at a rate I can’t keep up with and is reading anything and everything she can get her hands on about the subject. So we’re going with it, finding extra resources, websites, books, podcasts and videos about and around that topic. Her desire to learn has been piqued and we are actively encouraging that! She has Greece as a top hit list destination to visit in her next few years…along with Alaska (not a clue?!?).
Joyful is currently following an online creative writing course, as she wants to write a book. She has a reading book pile to work through of varied literature. From some classic British literature to modern teen fiction. We’re facilitating her interest and encouraging her to read widely, alongside her learning how to craft a story. She is digging in to grammar for the very first time, because she understands why we need to know the rules of language.
Home educating allows us to pursue those interests without the constraints of time or the need to tick a box on a curriculum.
Promote their emotional development as a priority:
It has been such a joy to watch our girls growing and changing over the last six years of home edding. They have faced trials with bravery, fear with courage, tiredness with resolve, trouble with confidence. They have grown increasingly emotionally resilient, yet remained child like and trusting.
Home educating has enabled us to opt out of the rampant over-testing of our children at every stage of their learning. It has allowed us to protect them from the anxiety provoking, stress inducing world that pressures children into situations so early in their lives.
Don‘t misunderstand me…I have friends who are doing an excellent job of the above without removing their children from school. This is simply a by-product for us. Allowing our girls to enjoy their childhood at this stage, without the added pressures that the school environment and the education system create.
The adoption process also produced incredible opportunities to facilitate ongoing emotional literacy development for our big three girls. Having to unravel their feelings about a new sibling. Talking with social workers about why and how and what. Coping with some of the things their little sister has thrown at them since joining our family. Learning first hand about loss. Understanding what Life Story work is and why it is so vital for our family.
Home education is most certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. But it works so very well for our family. And I am thankful for the oppportunity to live this way, thriving in our Team.