Our home-educating adventure began when our youngest son (now 11) was bullied (for want of a better word) in his primary school. He was so young, just 4/5 years old, and it was heartbreaking to see a child change so dramatically. He went from being a happy-go-lucky, confident, always smiling sort of boy, who was the first into the classroom every morning eager to learn - to being incredibly withdrawn, hardly talking to anyone, lacking in self-confidence and with such a sadness in his eyes. At the time he wore glasses and had an eye patch for a lazy eye treatment, and he was receiving speech therapy for speech dyspraxia - thus making him an easy target for the "bullies".
I tried talking to the teachers, and I had numerous appointments with the head mistress of the school where I tried to discuss my concerns. All had noticed a change in his personality, they mentioned how he didn't seem to be so happy and he had gone so quiet in class, but no-one would admit to there being a problem. The teachers were handing over broken glasses to me 2, 3, sometimes 4 times a week, but not questioning how or why it was happening. It didn't make sense to me, and I was exasperated. It got to the point where my son was actually being physically sick on the way to school - enough was enough - he was only just 5 years old.
I started looking elsewhere for help. I spent hours on the internet searching for "Bullying" and "School Phobia", and Education Otherwise kept appearing at the top of the searches. At the time I didn't know that there was a legal alternative to the school system. I thought that all children had to go to school, certainly that's what my mother had always told me when I didn't want to go! I didn't know anyone that home-educated, and it seemed such a huge responsibility to take on. After a great deal of research (and a few more trips to the Opticians to repair broken glasses), I (with my husband) made the decision to de-register our son from school. Initially it was a temporary solution. The plan was to home-educate for a few months and re-build the confidence that our son had lost. However, it worked so well for us. It fitted in with our lifestyle, and we noticed a change in Joseph (for the better) within weeks. We decided to de-register our daughter (then aged 7) and teach her at home as well. Not for the same dramatic reasons as her brother, she certainly wasn't bullied, but we had a few niggles about the system that we had previously tried to ignore. Knowing that we had another option open to us, we didn't have to ignore them any longer.
Home-education works very well for us. We are now a very close family unit, and I feel that the relationship I have with my children is a lot closer than it would be if the children were out at school all day. When we first started out on our home-ed adventure, my husband worked nights. With the children at school, they hardly ever saw their dad. Out of school, they could spend far more time with him, which has benefitted us all. I'm NOT anti-school by any stretch of the imagination. I am well aware that some children absolutely thrive in the school system, and I have always made it clear to my lot that if they ever wanted to go to school I wouldn't try to persuade them otherwise. But, school doesn't suit everyone - just as home-education wouldn't. We should be allowed, without criticism or judgement, to choose what we feel is best for our own families.
When the children first came out of school, we tried the structured, timetabled, "school at home" approach. I wanted to make sure that we fully covered everything they would be taught in school. I got upset and frustrated when our days didn't go to plan, and it wasn't long before I realised (or maybe admitted to myself) that playing at schools wasn't going to work for us. I started to relax. I did a lot of research into how children learn, different learning styles, and different ways of home-educating. I realised that we didn't have to sit at a table from 9am-3pm, reading and writing, for my children to learn things. Instead, they learn in many ways - discussions, from books, the internet, television, places we visit, people we talk to, the clubs and associations we belong to - to coin a home-ed phrase - the world is our classroom.
I now have 4 children. They are aged 13, 11, 7 and 4. The youngest two have never stepped foot in a school. The 7 year old is a huge reader, ravishing book after book. Her favourite author at the moment is Enid Blyton and I'm amazed at her reading ability. I haven't sat with her and "taught" her to read. She naturally started to read as she wanted to. We don't own the reading schemes used in schools, or do worksheets explaining phonics or any other method that might be the latest "thing". My 4 year old is following suit. They have been surrounded by books (our house could be the villages second library!) We have had family reading time most days, where I will sit and read a chapter of a book aloud as the children listen - and then the children will read aloud any book of their choice if they want to. I don't force them, I find that my children learn far more if they are able to follow their own interests. This doesn't mean that I let them play on the Playstation all day, or chat to their friends on MSN for hours on end, but rather that I facilitate their learning. We discuss what projects they want to do, and I do my utmost to come up with interesting ways to study their chosen subject. Currently we are just starting a family project on "The Earth", an interest that was sparked by an Usborne Geography book that I picked up cheaply from a charity shop. Our projects are cross-curricular, encompassing lots of subjects. I envisage lots of related crafts, experiments, as well as the necessary reading and writing.
We often find ourselves the "talk of the town" when out and about. Very often we are stopped and questioned about the children not being at school - and reactions to the home-educated response are mixed. Some people are curious, asking lots of questions and being quite positive about it. Others are very negative, and tell us how they find it disgusting that we are allowed to do it, and how I'm ruining my children's future lives because of it. When I get such remarks I only have to look at my happy, smiling children and I can soon shrug them off. I soon realised that I needed to gain a fairly thick skin though!
Of course, the home-educator lifestyle isn't always rosy. As a mother of 4, I rarely have time to myself, and many people have commented how they couldn't cope with having the children around almost 24/7. I was one of those mums that missed my children and relished the time with them in the 6 weeks holidays, whilst other mums were counting down the days until the schools reopened :o) I learnt a long time ago that my house was never going to be as clean and tidy as I would like it to be (although admittedly, my 3 year old springer spaniel has a lot to do with that!) but it's a sacrifice that I'm willing to make.
To see my children so happy, thriving in this environment, with a real thirst for learning, and so close to each other - as friends - as well as siblings, answers all the doubts that I could ever have.
And my eldest son? The child I have to blame for putting us in this situation *grin* - well he is one happy boy now! His speech is more or less normal, his speech therapist has said many times how the home-education has been a huge aid in his progress. Receiving so much one-to-one time from me is something that would never have happened if we were working around school hours - and I am so proud of him and all he has overcome. He still talks about his time at school, but not with so much anger now.
I can't see our lifestyle changing in the near future, not by choice anyway. It works so well for us all. I am so glad that I looked into things in more depth when Joe was struggling at school. I am very grateful to the local home-educators who talked me through things in the early stages and took me along to the local home-ed group. Suddenly it didn't feel quite so weird to have children out of the system. I am pleased that we don't have to rely on a system that fails so many, but instead can take full responsibility for the childhood and education of our own children.