I spent four years thinking about home educating, joining groups, procrastinating.
What if I failed? What if I couldn’t give the education my children need? What if my house isn’t big enough? I don’t have a set work space they can sit and study, like at school, what if I couldn’t afford it? I’m only on benefits, what if I couldn’t get up in the morning or couldn’t motivate myself to teach them every day?
I had so many questions, so many doubts and so many things in my head, stopping me from just taking a leap of faith and doing this thing my heart ached to do, my instincts felt was right to do, but my head kept telling me no.
There’s a lot of things that finally tipped the scales for me into finally making the decision to just do it, take that risk and if the worst happens, school isn’t going anywhere.
My eldest had been plagued with bullying and suffered years of distress caused by undiagnosed dyslexia. She had felt inadequate and gone off the rails, but eventually, without much help from the schools, and at great cost and sacrifice, she pulled through, gained her qualifications and escaped the institution she’d attended only because she felt she had no choice.
My 14 (12/13 then in year 8 at school) on the other hand was identified as a gifted and talented student, she was popular, described as a key student, a leader, confident but yet, again she struggled, not fitting into the average expectations, not challenged within the classroom, she became disruptive, the joker of the class. Buckling under the pressure of class restraints. She started lacking socially where before she was popular, now she was the weirdo, the geek. Oh gosh her interests were many, she wanted to attend every after school club and extra curricular activity, she couldn’t spread herself enough. She wanted to swim, play hockey, rugby, play musical instruments, drama, dancing, army cadets, roller skating, rock climbing…we couldn’t keep up and meanwhile her grades were diminishing in school where she wasn’t challenged and was forced to take subjects she had no interest in.
My 9 yo (then 7/8 year old) was an average child, nobody gushed over her like they had her sisters who’d had special needs in one way or another. But, she was treated differently instead, because her family came from a background of benefits and a history of domestic violence. Violet was poor, sweet Violet, who needed a special school mummy, someone she could confide in, who could sit in assembly in front of the school and nitcomb her hair, who the school could regularly send home for having nits that she was getting from her upper class – class mates, whose parents weren’t patronized and told their children had nits, because their precious children couldn’t possibly be the root problem, it had to be my child, the deprived child. One day she had a red mark on her arm and assuming it to be a burn (no longer in an abusive environment) they pulled her out of class, scaring and embarrassing her, and stripped her without my knowledge and without her permission, to check the rest of her body. She was distressed when I collected her, still unaware of what had happened, and when they went to show me this ‘burn’ there was nothing to see, no pink or red mark, nothing, perfect skin…oh..a heat rash they declared it must have been!
They used to call social services over nits and lost shoes my daughter hid to get out of going to school, and we spent years hounded with a constant sense of threat hanging over us.
And 2015 was the year my youngest at the time was meant to start school, she was my precious miracle special care baby unit child, the one who had delayed development and was still the size of a 2-year-old and she just didn’t look ready to go to school.
As the new school year approached, so did the feeling of dread, the years of being let down, of fighting a system I felt I couldn’t beat, of my children being failed and an awakening of what the system was really all about. Of a sense that the system creates perfect parcels to fit their agenda, 9-5 robots who’ll not question anything, but blindly follow and who lose their individuality, the weird that makes them…them
And it suddenly dawned on me…I don’t need a government led curriculum, we don’t need to sit around a table with workbooks, we didn’t even need to spend lots of money, and in fact would save money on uniforms, shoes, school trips that were always sprung on us last-minute, transport costs, all the latest charity fundraising days and discos and dress up days…
And here I am, a year on…And we’ve never sat at a table with workbooks, we’re free!
We get up when we want to, we decide day-to-day what we want to do, with only a limited number of events and activities planned in advance, and we jump in the car, the rabble, and we drive off into the mystery adventure that is now our lives.
We can point a finger at a map and let it take us where it will, we can see something in a book, magazine, online and go discover more, they can tell me something they would like to do.
My children have travelled the country, been to castles, museums, zoos, country parks, rivers, mountains, high and low.
My children have been on treasure hunts, explorations, volunteered, won scholarships, entered competitions, they’ve had poetry published and been taken on a university internship based on their artwork, the eldest in what would be year 9 achieved a city and guilds diploma and has been offered her first paid employment age 14.
We are closer as a family, with tight healthy bonds and boundaries, we know one another far better than ever before, and I thought I knew them so well.
We get to enjoy life, enjoy their childhoods, build memories, have quality time…
They are only children once, and finally, at long last, I can sit and really truly appreciate that sentiment, and watch them grow up, knowing I’m their main influence, my values, my beliefs…not being steered off course by trying to impress their peers, or by bullies, or judgements and expectations from outside forces, but instead, the freedom to mould themselves, to create themselves naturally and follow their own dreams, their own interests, not compared to their peers, not in competition, no end date or deadlines…learning is for life…We don’t stop learning at 16 or 18…We have the rest of our lives to learn what we want and need.
Don’t stop yourself, don’t hold back, don’t worry they won’t learn, or won’t want to learn…human nature is a thirst for knowledge, children have natural curiosity. They may not learn in the styles you want them to, or what you want them to…but trust them…because they will learn.