Updated: Aug 22, 2020
I never imagined in a million years that I would home educate my Son. I had only heard before when I was younger once about children who didn't go to School that their parents go to prison. In my mind I thought back then how could you not send your kids to School, and came to the conclusion that " They must have bad parents." Children are easily swayed and the way they are spoken to on a daily basis often becomes truth, often easily manipulated or bribed or punished if they do not fall to the will of the adult, the environment that they are in is very easily suggestible and they believe it's correct what is front of them until they learn otherwise, or maybe they never awaken to it. I believe there is a part of us all that feels the fragmentation and dis connection in the system that there's something missing, that there's more, of something that must be better for us than this? Something that honours our very essence? Our greatest human needs.
I remember thinking wow those children won't learn anything about life, how will they grow up with what they need, how will they learn to read and write and do math and stuff? They will be thick, they won't have knowledge etc was my childhood thinking of what had been drummed into me on a daily basis by School - the current education " system" I was in. I would never dream of speaking to a child and telling them they are thick, but this was the kind of environment children are in when they are in the School system and I have still not met one person who doesn't have some scarring from the education system.
I regularly speak to people who share their experiences such as they hate reading in front of people, have low self esteem and really worry about people looking at them or worry what people think of them, are so scared of making mistakes, they feel really disconnected from themselves, refuse to talk about certain school topics as it brings them so much anxiety and worry, it might bring back painful memories of the way they were treated, maybe they genuinely came away with really negative beliefs about themselves, they may have been shy and struggled socially and needed more quiet time, or perhaps they were one of those people that were a Kinesthetic learner and needed to move their bodies all the time and were shamed for never sitting still and as a result are not at peace in their own body... I'm sure I have not heard them all but everyone has something to tell from their experience, however - they all fall within a very familiar way to the same feeling and root cause of " I'm not good enough."
As I'm writing this post I am listening to the Frozen two sound track " Going into the unknown" How apt really for this conversation. As that is truly what I did. I will never look back now. Unless my Son makes a choice when he is older to use this system in which case I will support him as best I can.
I went through the School system from nursery through to reception and primary and secondary and I also went to college. I thought that was all there was. I was in it because I was put into it, not by choice as no other choice was given. When you turn 5 you go to School and that was it for the next 13 years of my life and that was it. It's funny because I remember reception as clear as a bell. I remember my teachers, I remember how they made me feel. I remember painting, and I remember sitting in the big teachers chair and reading stories to the children on the mat, I remember singing and the songs I sang, I remember ice lollies on hot days, I remember dressing up and the lovely Chinese lady who came in and showed us how to write our names in Chinese, I remember dressing up as an angel for the Christmas nativity and I remember playing with friends on the school yard and these are my fondest memories from School. After this I can pinpoint the exact moment when this changed, it was Mrs Morris class, after reception, I remember thinking, why do we all have to sit still? Why is everyone quiet? Why can we not play and sing and move? I remember the moment where I felt unease - I was just 7. I was sitting at a little table and we hadn't been told this was a test but it clearly was. I felt confused and sad. I wanted to play. Everyone else was sat doing their test and I remember looking around thinking, what is happening? Of course after that, we are given so much " to do " you don't get much time to do anything else, or think about these things or even process them, it splits you off from yourself and you become fragmented and don't know anything else until this becomes just the new normal. just something else you " have " to do. The soul becomes dulled.
When I went to college I had already decided what I wanted to do. Photography. I had a huge passion for it and from the encouragement of a great teacher he encouraged me to leave and go and get experience and set up my own business and told me that I had a great portfolio and that I could do it. Thank you so much Paddy for your gentle encouragement and kind words!
I had had enough of being told what to do by the time I was 18 and so declined the offers I had from my universities of choice to study photography. I had wanted to study teaching but because of the system I refused to "do" what teachers do to children (even though I loved my teachers so much and think of them often - they are at the mercy of doing what they are told too!) I also had many friends who went to study a creative subject at university and all of them said don't waste your money - what they teach you does not support your creativity, it hinders it. When they told me this, something within me felt something and I felt a gut feeling it was truth.
From here on I went on to become promoted as a manager in the job I was in at the time and finally plucked up the courage to leave once my business was set up as a photographer.
I found it really hard initially because I had been so used to being in the system where you were prescribed to " do " certain things. So this was a whole new world where I had a lot of different kinds of decisions to make. Honestly as my business grew, I grew so much. I learned about all different kinds of things, money and marketing and editing and communicating with people, how to become organised and make the most of the time among so many others things! I was happy and content doing what I loved for the first time in my life. I was directing my own life, my own learning and my own growth that came with it.
When I was 27 I had my son a beautiful baby boy who I named George.
As I write this now George will be 6 at the end of July 2020.
When I had George my life changed dramatically. All in the best kinds of ways. I felt I had meaning and purpose. One day I was sitting in the garden as he was born in the summer and he was always so calm when we were outside so I spent more time outside than I ever had in my life. I also felt calm too. One day it was so lovely, there was a gentle breeze and we were sat in a shady patch of the garden, one of our chicken called Beatrice we had discovered had hidden her eggs under the old chicken coop and we found her there one day sitting on eggs and as they had now hatched I was sat there and George was just lying on a blanket 6 weeks old in fact and I was watching Beatrice the chicken, I had never experienced this before. She as the mother was showing the baby chicks how to peck up food from the floor and she was showing them how to dust in the dry soil and she made gentle little noises to encourage them. It was the first time I'd really spent in a long time where I had no worries, no feelings of anxiety, not a care in the world, and I thought wow the babies are imitating their mummy. I was fascinated.
I had this feeling and heard quietly" home educate George " and I was like what how could I do that? Why would I do that? Is this even a thing? It felt important and I knew I should not dismiss this but as he was only 6 weeks old I thought - I have plenty of time to look into this.I still don't know to this day what it was, or where this voice came from. Whether it was own intuition or some kind of guide looking out for me I do not know. But it penetrated every fibre in my body and I knew it was too important to dismiss.
Over the next few years I researched online and started learning different things about what home education was, there came a point where I thought who will I find to make friends with? What will George's social life look like? and it was so funny because it was like people just appeared into my life, I would be somewhere and happen to start talking to a mum somewhere and she might say Oh we home educate, and I was just amazed that I went from knowing no one who home educated to suddenly people just somehow finding their way into my life.
So I was able to talk to people about what it meant for them and their children and because I was so used to this idea of School which was so prescriptive people would say well you can do what you like, and I was like but how do you know? It took a lot of peeling back my layers of understanding to where I am now.
When George turned 3 I was still learning about home education and he did attend a nursery a couple of days a week whilst I worked, I became unhappy with the arrangement and after getting to know George we spent hours a day outside and he would play with sticks and stones and mud, sand and water and climb all day, I remember reading about the forest schools in Scandinavia and I was so inspired by the differences in that country and how much they valued outdoor play and thought wouldn't it be lovely if we had one near us, 3 months later one appeared on a local farm. Which held my values at heart for outdoor self directed learning at the child's own pace.
It was a match made in heaven. George still attends once a week and the forest school has grown with him and has a mixture of ages up to 7 currently.
George's education weighed on me everyday. I felt that it was a really important decision and would affect the rest of his life and I spent a lot of my time learning about education, child development and how children learn. I looked into various different types of educational practices and learned about alternative educational philosophies as well and all of this which became my own self directed learning was just fascinating. I read so many books and blogs and spoke to people online. I observed George and made notes on what I noticed about his play and what he was interested in and felt in the pit of my stomach what would happen if he went to a mainstream school. I realised from all my learning that he was a kinesthetic learner (I didn't even know there were different types of learning! another thing I learned from School - everyone is taught the same even if they learn differently) which means that he learns best through physical movement and lots of it. He needed to run outside and climb and jump several times a day. Even during a quiet time often he would be upside down moving his arms and legs whilst I read to him or needing to do something with his hands and I came to understand through observation what he needed from me in these times. That he listened the most when he was doing what his body needed, when I would ask him questions like: " Why do you need to move when I am reading?" he would say my body wants me to. He was so in tune with his own developmental needs. I put myself in his position and tried to imagine what School would be like for him, it wasn't pretty and didn't fall in line with our family values for living up to our highest potential.
My husband and I had talked about it often. We held different ideas and some similarities. My husband was born in August so was only 4 when he started School. He believes that this has had a detrimental affect on him especially when it came to the expectations of learning the reading and writing (which is still far too young in the UK and does not meet up with our children's natural development) My husband always felt that he was behind and never enjoyed reading and writing as he felt it happened too soon when he was not yet ready.
I knew that the teachers would get irritated by George wriggling and moving, I knew that he wouldn't be able to sit on the mat for story time without probably getting told off for doing forward rolls and cartwheels. He would be talked about like " that child " Like it's a problem. I could see this having a big impact on him.
I realised that by sending him to School he would be asked all day long to resist the natural learning movement urges he has by being asked to sit in a chair for long periods of time.
I realised that by sending him to School he would be forced to read and write when he wasn't ready.
I realised that sending George to mainstream School would dull his senses and shut off his naturally creative self to more favourable behaviours asked by " well meaning adults "
I realised that sending George to School would affect his mental well being as he enjoys long stretches of play and slow days, that are not hurried or rushed and long hours outside.
Me and my husband could not agree on home education.
He felt that even though we had had these long discussions about how children learn, educations philosophies, even showing him how damaging it is to a child's well being to have them do forced learning when they are not ready.
He was still skeptical.
I understood why, I was scared too. Going against everything you know can feel like a big risk. But when I come to understand this knowledge - I realised that I could make a positive change now.
At the time George was also asking about School - which was because he had friends at forest school that were moving up to big school and of course as children do - he assumed this would be the case for him.
I then started to worry that it was about me, was I wanting to home educate him because I wanted to keep him home, was it about me not wanting to let go. I started to get these thoughts. People also said things to me like Why would you want to home educate? It will drive you mad being together all day. Is there something wrong with him? aww, what a shame - he'll be at home all alone with no friends. Which was not the case at all. I realised that people are so trusting of the system that they can't see the things that are standing out right in their face. They also have not done the research and education and actually did I really care what their thoughts were. No! was the answer. It was me who would make the change.
I decided to go and look at Schools anyway for peace of mind before I made a decision.
I went to the local School and of course the teachers and staff are lovely as they always are.
But right away my intuition and gut were nagging me.
It was a feeling of unease I had.
This is the thing with intuition and trusting yourself and those feelings. You can't always see a reason at the time or around you or in front of you but you " just know" and from the experience we had of the tasters at the School It just didn't feel right at all. It's not the rooms or the people or the stuff but the deeply rooted issues that are within the system that you can't really see until your in it and often find it difficult to put your finger on but aren't quite sure why.
I ended up buying uniforms for two different Schools and we looked into flexi schooling.
When I had done that it still didn't feel right.
I wrote a long list of all the pros and cons of both School and home educating too which really helped me to make my decisions.
I had to go against my husband and say I have made a decision and it was tricky because he wasn't very happy about it. I had to say to him that I know I have made this decision but I just know it's right and you have to trust me on this one. He trusted me but needed time to come around himself and adjust. I must say that regardless of my decision my husband supported me and always asked what he could do to help and what could he do to support me. I am so grateful for this and how much trust he has in me.
A year later and he said to me only last week. I know we made the right choice. I just couldn't see it. But now he has seen on a daily basis what kind of self directed learning happens and it's just magical, the layers start to peel back even more. It becomes easier to trust your child and yourself in the process.
He had his own reasons why and they are different to mine but completely understood why this was better in the long run for George's life, mental well being, giving him the long, slow childhood he deserves to explore, experiment, be curious, take his time for what he needs, and to learn to read and write in his own time with support and encouragement.
I am now completely in love with our life. It's simple, it's enjoyable, it's not rushed and there's plenty of time.
My husband works from home 5 days a week, I work weekends and have just started a business but we all seem to find time for one another and time to do our own thing,
I realised that there are many people in the world who home educate their children for different reasons and we all do it differently, bespoke to the child's needs. Every family has different values and reasons.
People who home educate are certainly not bad people. They are parents who see a different way to learn and grow that is closer to the natural development of the child.
They see the world as their learning experience and understanding that " learning " within 4 walls with 30 other people is not the best way to learn.
Being in the world and speaking to different people, being in the community and learning about different cultures and different things gives each of us a unique perspective of the real world and our part in it.
Each day is an adventure, we have made lovely friends in our home education community and we keep in touch with George's friends who go to School and meet for play dates when we can. We meet up at groups, go on trips, holidays and spend long hours outside. We do spend time at home too playing games, gardening, reading lots of books and doing things that interest us.
I can't imagine our lives any other way now. Living is learning and learning is living.
Every day our lives are filled with singing, playing, cooking, walking, curiosity and periods of quiet.
The decision now feels easier.
I'd love to go deeper about what learning really looks like and what I have learned in this process, but that is for another day.