Two years ago we made the life changing decision to take our now 7 & 8 year old children out of school and home educate full time. Making that call was one of the most difficult things we’d ever done, but two years on, I can honestly say that it was literally the best decision we’ve ever made. Here’s our story of how we entered the wonderful world of home ed.
I have a very vivid memory of my just 4 year old daughter skipping happily through the flower beds in our garden and then running into the tent to snuggle down with her teddies and make up stories to entrance her younger brother. It was the summer before she was due to start school. In a few weeks, we’d have to ditch the shorts along with the freedom, dress her in her school uniform and rush her out the door to be confined in a classroom and fenced off outdoor space for the next fourteen years of her life. She could already read fluently and was a whizz with numbers, but she’d still be required to sit still on a mat whilst everyone practised the sounds of the letters and how to count to ten.
Every part of my body ached to say no. No to following the crowd and doing what everyone else does just because that’s what you do. It’s cliched, but my heart was breaking. I was experiencing grief at what felt like the impending loss of my baby.
And yet we were not quite brave enough; not quite strong enough to swim against the tide. Instead, we were a little bit brave, brave enough to insist that she only go in for mornings. Brave enough to stick to our guns, despite the daily push from the school for her to go full time. Legally we knew she didn’t need to be in full time education until the term after she was four, which for her was the beginning of Year 1. But could we really hold out for a whole year of Reception, when the school was so obviously desperate for her to stay for the full day? As I look back, I’m thankful that yes, we were that brave.
As we neared the end of the following summer, I again faced the dread of having to send her back full time. But thanks to the support of some inspiring women, I discovered that flexi schooling might be an option for us; part time in school and part time at home. It seemed like the best of both worlds. Fortunately, we were blessed with an open minded headmaster, who agreed to let her try the flexi approach, with two and a half days at school and the remainder at home.
And for a while it worked, in large part due to a fantastic Year 1 teacher. We were feeling really pleased with ourselves that we’d been brave enough to push for this for our daughter. However, as she progressed through the year, it became apparent that whilst academically she was working significantly further ahead of her peer group, emotionally she was still very young. She was fascinated by Greek mythology and read adaptations of Homer’s Illiad and Odyessey, but still wanted to dig in the dirt and climb trees at breaktime – two activities that were forbidden at school. Although she was lucky enough to have a couple of very close friends, increasingly she was finding it difficult to connect with the rest of the children in her class.
This differential only seemed to increase as she moved into Year 2, working two years ahead of herself and yet opting to play with the younger children in the playground, acting out imaginative worlds and stories with them. Her younger brother had now started at the school, part time under our flexi school arrangement, and she chose to play with him and his friends most of the time. Like her, their imaginations were still free to run wild and uninhibited.
As her mother, I felt torn. I wanted to provide sufficient academic stretch to keep her interested and engaged, but I also desperately wanted to provide plenty of time for her to play and remain a child. Instinctively, I knew that neither of these goals were being fulfilled by her time in school.
In the process of looking for how best to support her, we stumbled across Potential Plus UK and decided to have her independently assessed by their excellent educational consultants. Her test scores were very high, with her IQ sitting in the 99.3rd percentile for her age and although she was only 6 at the time, her reading, maths and writing equivalent ages ranged between 10.5 and 12 years.
The report provided an overwhelming amount of information about how best to stretch and support her, but it was the conversation with the consultant which had the biggest impact on me. She had two gifted children who she’d home educated through primary and was a huge advocate for this method of educating bright children. Could I be brave enough now to follow what was increasingly becoming obvious was the right path for our daughter? And yet now there was another child to consider; our son had made some very good friends in his Reception class and was happy there. He was a fluent reader and had been sent up to Year 1 to complete some of his work with the excellent teacher in this class. Should I take one child out and not the other?
And then fate intervened and gave me a good old nudge in the right direction. Looking back, it’s quite clear that my daughter’s unhappiness at school had been increasing for some time. When I picked her up from school, she seemed quiet and flat, not the happy excitable child that she’d once been. She was increasingly isolated in her class, left to read and complete projects on her own, so that the teacher could concentrate on the rest of the class. She once told me that her arm ached from where she’d had her hand up to answer questions, but the teacher had never called on her. Not once. She assumed it was because the teacher had known that she knew the answer and had to focus on the other children. But how unbelievably demoralising. To sit there all day being effectively ignored by the adult in charge. And then one day in the February half term, she burst into tears, telling me how sad school was making her and begging me not to send her back.
I knew instantly that she would not return.
Writing this, I feel wracked with guilt that it took me so long to make the right decision.
My husband and I both struggled with the decision about whether to keep our son in school or not, but we finally decided that to reap the full benefits of home education, we should take them both out.
And we have never looked back!
Within weeks, my daughter was back to the bouncy, happy child that we love so much, we’d found wonderful friends in the home ed community and we all LOVED our new life! Had my son stayed in school, I suspect he would have followed a very similar path to his sister, as he’s just as bright, and I feel so grateful he didn’t have to suffer that, but instead maintained his joie de vivre and lust for learning. As Beatrix Potter once said,
“Thank goodness I wasn’t sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the orignality.”
The time seems to have flown since then and we’re now almost at the end of our second year of home schooling. To be brutally honest, home educating and for that matter, parenting these intense, super sensitive and spirited children isn’t for the faint hearted. Neither of them ever stop moving, although I’m extremely thankful to be able to send them outside for a run around the garden whenever they need it, and my son in particular, NEVER stops talking. Between the two of them, they ask literally hundreds of questions a day. It’s exhausting! Sometimes I have to escape to the sanctuary of the toilet for a brief respite!
It’s hard work, but it’s also the most fun, interesting and exciting thing I’ve ever had the pleasure to do and I feel very blessed to be able to offer this lifestyle to our children.
I love being able to witness those eureka moments, when they finally understand a maths problem.
Or watching their uninhibited play, where they pretend to be war evacuees or code breakers working at Bletchley Park.
Or when they hear something on an audiobook that they’ve learned about in science and they get really excited to make the connection.
Or seeing the excitement in their eyes when they finally master a piano piece.
Or finding them sitting in the oddest positions surrounded by piles of books.
Or when they come and show me an awesome fossil they’ve found.
I secretly love all the questions, as I get to learn so much in the process. I’ve experienced plenty of eureka moments myself along this journey (if I’m honest, far more than I’d like to admit!).
And then there’s the travel; oh how I LOVE that aspect of home educating! I have an absolute passion for travelling, ever since my parents took us backpacking around Indonesia and Borneo as children. From this first hand experience, I can categorically say that travelling can have a profoundly positive impact on a child’s education. It was literally life changing for me. It opened my eyes to the beauty, enormity and complexity of the world that I would never have appreciated through books or other media. It made me appreciate just how incredibly lucky I was and as such was a huge motivational force in my own education.
Home education allows us to travel in the off peak season making it much more affordable, and we can explore for longer at our own pace. We took our first big trip to South Africa in 2017 and by Easter this year, they’ll have visited 15 different countries.
Home education has enabled our children to thrive academically, socially and emotionally. They’re free to work at their own pace and follow their own interests and passions. We’re not restricted by the National Curriculum for their age group, so if they’re fascinated by a topic, such as chemistry or Shakespeare, which wouldn’t normally be covered until secondary school, we can jump right in and study to our heart’s content. We can take it as far as they’re interested in going. There are no limitations.
Socially, their confidence has soared since leaving school, and they’re happy interacting with adults and children alike. They’re fortunate to have a large and diverse set of home ed and school friends. Of different ages. Because in the real world, outside of the school construct of year groups, that’s how it works. You can tell they’re completely comfortable in their own skin, free to be the people they want to be, just by looking at what they wear and how they behave. No conforming for us; they dance to their own rhythmn!
And emotionally, they’re just two very joyful, contented children…most of the time!!