Every home educating family has a story to tell. Some felt so strongly about wanting their children to learn at home, that they never sent them to school, even for one day. Some got as far as nursery but had a hunch that school would be too much.
Others, like us, sent their child(ren) to school in good faith, but things didn’t work out.
One of my closest friends and her partner home educate. They had been thinking of it from the off, and made the decision after their eldest had been through pre-school. He’s seven now and they’ve never looked back. When she told me they would be doing this, I asked her the same questions that almost every single person I’ve mentioned home ed to has asked me.
“Won’t you need some time away from the kids? Won’t you miss your ‘you time’? Won’t them being there constantly drive you mad?”
Her response was brilliant, and completely put my mind at ease. She said that the kids wouldn’t be young for long, and if she sent them off to school against her gut she’d end up living her life full of regret.
My friend is the most selfless person I know, she epitomises the phrase ‘heart of gold’. She doesn’t do spa days or long boozy lunches. She doesn’t crave ‘me time’ like I do or so many other mums I know. She knows what is important, who are important and is almost always happy. She constantly amazes me, and I am very lucky to have her in my life.
The things is, I’m a bit like Monica from Friends. I NEED THE STUFF! Not in a materialistic way, but I need my space. I need to do things just for me outside the family unit. I need to write to order my thoughts. Spa days and long boozy lunches are my ideal way to spend rare days off.
Also until very recently I loved my job, and wanted to work in it. Until hubby’s promotion earlier this year we couldn’t have survived financially without my job either. I guess I didn’t question it all too deeply prior to that, because we couldn’t have done it even if we had wanted to. I learnt long ago that there is no point in torturing ourselves over the things we can’t control.
I’ve known for a while now that school was a massive problem for my 6yo. She didn’t breeze through Reception like her friends; she used to walk out looking like an extra from The Walking Dead whilst her little buddies were skipping out the door asking their mum or dad to take them to the play park.
It’s a well documented fact that Reception is hard work for all children, but usually once they get through the first term things start getting easier, and by the end of the first year (according to their parents anyway) they are mostly ‘loving school’. This did not happen for us, and rather than improve over time, things got steadily worse.
There was the tiredness, and nightly meltdowns (also linked to autism). There was the bullying we had to contend with in year one, which was awful. There was the so-called best friend who was basically bullying her intermittently (which is a big problem for many from what I can gather). I just couldn’t shake the feeling that although school had some massive pros, they were being far outweighed by the cons.
When we had the news of P’s autism diagnosis, and my redundancy in the same week back in June, the doors of my mind flung wide open. During the summer holidays my thoughts started seriously drifting towards the possibility of educating my children otherwise. I started researching ideas for what our time table would look like. I created Pinterest boards packed with worksheets, projects and games. I joined home ed groups on Facebook to get an idea of how other people make it work.
Hubby needed a lot more convincing though, and I begrudgingly sent P back to school on the 3rd September to start Year Two.
When I asked her what she was looking forward to most about going back she said that it was a two day week, and she didn’t have to wait very long for ‘golden time’ (their 30 mins of unstructured play on a Friday afternoon). It was heart breaking watching her fall to pieces, and all our hard work from the summer go out the window in a matter of days. Once again the name calling and pinching became a daily feature, and she would taunt her sister by calling her stupid until she made her cry.
Something really troubling started happening as well. She was coming home with at least one red slip per week – sometimes two and once two from the same afternoon – to inform us that she’d hurt herself. She was being pushed over in the playground a lot, and the best friend/bully I mentioned stepped up her nastiness. I was genuinely fearing for her safety.
The week before half term was absolutely dreadful. This girl pushed P off the adventure trail in the playground, and she came home with a bruised and grazed spine. I raised it with her teacher the following day, and she told me that she thought P had fallen off, and wasn’t aware that she’d been pushed. Anyone with an autistic child will confirm that they are unable to lie, so when P tells me something like this I know she’s telling me the truth.
I asked her teacher to keep her inside that lunchtime, and separated from the other girl as much as possible. I couldn’t believe it when P told me that she’d gone to an indoors club at lunch, along with the other girl. Clearly my words of worry had fallen on deaf ears. Again. I’d just about had enough of not being listened to or taken seriously.
What about other options I hear you ask…
There are two alternatives: a wonderful sounding Steiner type school, and a school for autistic children, both of which are a bus ride away. Unfortunately as part of the ‘squeezed middle’ we earn too much to qualify for help, yet would need to earn at least double to consider paying £10k a year per child for their education. Not that I’m complaining of course, coming from my background I see it as a miracle that I’m even in the middle.
The popularity of my recent post about high functioning autism parenting made me realise how much of a wide spread problem school is for our kids. How utterly overwhelmed they get. How heart wrenching it is watching their peers sail past them in so many ways, leaving ours behind. I’ve heard from many families over the last few weeks that have almost identical stories to ours, and they have all said the same thing over and over again.
“Remove the stress of school, and watch your child flourish”!
So after MUCH to-ing and fro-ing and dithering and worrying, hubby and I made the decision to not send her back to school after half term. We notified the Head that we were de-registering her on the first day of term, and had an email in reply wishing us all the best.
I’m not going to lie and say that our first week was a complete breeze because it wasn’t. It was a mixed bag of emotions, but it was always going to be. Overall it was a massive improvement on what it had been like just before half term. I don’t think the need to de-school can be under estimated at all, so from now until Christmas my biggest priority is keeping life as stress free and calm as possible.
As for ‘the stuff’, I think I was just looking at it all wrong. Now that I’m not living my life according to the school day, and entire evenings aren’t being written off to after-school meltdowns, I have more time on my hands for everything else. More on that and what our days look like in another post though.
For now I’d like to thank everyone that has shared their stories with me, and offered their words of wisdom and encouragement over the last six months. The blogs Ross Mountney’s Notebook, Live Otherwise and Free Range Family, plus Ross’s books Learning Without School and A Funny Kind of Education have been hugely inspiring.
It’s high time my family stops surviving and starts thriving.
We can do this!