Home schooling is on the rise. Here our very own Hugh describes his own experiences of educating his children away from the classroom.
A new term starts and, across the country, children stream back into school.
But not mine.
My children are homeschooled, which means at the same moment thousands of their peers were trudging back into classrooms last week, they were sat on the sofa in their pajamas, deciding between cereal and bagels for breakfast.
It’s not that they don’t have a routine, but it’s certainly more relaxed than a school timetable. But while homeschooling can mean easier mornings, it is also fraught with anxieties. It is not a situation we entered lightly, but we think it is the best decision for our children. So how and why did we become home educating parents?
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First day back: Just imagine drowning and then someone hands you a 5ft. tall, 230lb stack of #homeschool books. Yep, it went THAT well. 🤦🏻♀️ Second day back: Girl, I GOT this! #nobigdeal. Yes, the days were epically polar. 🤷🏽♀️ A new day can make a huge difference. Don’t define an entire experience by one moment (or even one day or one week). Things ebb and flow. Some days you’ll be killing it while other days you’ll be looking for your phone while you’re talking on it.
Every homeschooling parent will have a different reason for their decision. By the time we made ours, it was really pretty simple. Our son, then seven, had to be dragged into school every morning, crying and screaming. He would lie on the kitchen floor and refuse to leave the house. When we eventually coaxed him out, he would run away and hide.
Luca had been happy, loving and cheerful. He hadn’t loved infant school, but its nurturing environment suited him and he attended without complaint. The switch to junior school, with its stricter and more intense academic schedule, felled him. He became upset, fearful and angry. Every morning the battle left his mother and me exhausted and broken hearted.
We persevered for two months, until it felt too much like we were harming our son. The situation didn’t get better, coming to a head one day when we sneaked a look into his school playground one lunchtime and saw him standing alone, miserably lost in his thoughts. At that point we took him out of school and resolved to educate him at home.
Our daughter, three years Luca’s junior, had no such problems with school, or at least nothing out of the ordinary. But with Luca at home, she understood that an alternative to school existed and it became increasingly difficult to deny her the opportunity we afforded her brother. So 18 months later we became a home educating family.
Home schooling can start from anytime
Other home educating parents never send their children to school, while some are like us and withdraw their children after upsetting experiences. Some homeschooled children have been bullied. Some have learning difficulties, like dyslexia. Some parents simply distrust an education system that sometimes seems stuck in the 1950s, with children rewarded for rote learning and chained to a curriculum that appears solely concerned with narrow exam success.
So that’s how we got here, but how do we cope? To answer that question, I’ll try and address the many questions we have been asked over the last five years or so.
Some parents simply distrust an education system that sometimes seems stuck in the 1950s
What do you teach and how do you teach it?
All homeschoolers do it differently, but we focus on a small core of subjects and try to teach them well. My wife Nichola is a qualified literacy teacher, so she focuses on English and literature. Neither of us has an aptitude for maths, so our children spend an hour a week with a maths tutor, supported by ‘self-directed learning’ online (i.e. an online maths course).
Luca is teaching himself coding through an online course and Poppy attends drama classes and loves art. A group of home educated kids in our area come together for a weekly Italian language lesson, while basic history and science are taught through books, TV programmes, online resources and museum visits etc.
It’s not a wide curriculum is it?
No, but it’s as wide as we can make it in the time we have available. The core is English and maths – after that it’s stuff they’re most interested in. I remember doing RE and technical drawing at school. I find it hard to say how either has benefited me in any way.
Do all homeschoolers do it like that?
No. Some home educators label themselves ‘unschoolers’, which seems to mean that they never formally educate their children at all, and let their children decide what they want to do day by day. We couldn’t be like that. At the other extreme, some follow a strict and regimented timetable. We couldn’t be like that either. Most home educators operate somewhere between the two.
Do your children have any friends?
Yes. They have friends who are also home educated and my son’s best friend goes to school. However, it’s fair to say that they don’t have as many friends as peers in formal education. Then again, looking back at my own childhood, did I have loads of friends or were most of them just kids I was forced to interact with because we were arbitrarily thrown together at school?
But aren’t schooldays the best days of your life?
No. I guess they might be for some people, but I was quite sporty at school, and reasonably popular, and I still found secondary school a struggle. I don’t look back on it with any real fondness. Research has recently found that British children are unhappier than they have been in a decade. Academic pressures, bullying, social media, keeping up with peers: the school system amplifies them all.
So homeschooling is the answer?
For us, yes. But we would advise anyone considering home education to think long and hard before committing to it. There are serious downsides.
First, we are often wracked with anxiety about our children’s progress. As Luca gets older – he’s 13 – we understand that we will have to start preparing him for GCSEs. We have little to compare his academic attainment to and no real idea of his likely readiness for GCSE exams in three years time. Having said that, if he has to delay taking an exam for a year, what’s the harm?
Second, my wife has to spend a significant part of the week teaching our children. This severely limits her earning potential. Home education hits you in the pocket. On the flipside, you do get to go on holiday during term time, when prices plummet.
There’s far more to home education than I have room for here, but this is a brief summary of our experiences up to now. It is by no means an easy path, but it is the one we believe is best for our children.