It’s July 2015, school year end, and I am in despair. I’m looking at my 7yr old son. We have survived another year, but every year is costing us more and breaking us. For three years I have been fighting for his needs to be acknowledged, understood and met and yet we are still struggling, I know we can’t go on. My gut tells me there has to be a better way to live and educate than this.
It was at that this point that I decided to de-register him from his school and mainstream education. I was taking back the responsibility to educate, and thus began our journey into home education.
My son is diagnosed with conditions including autism and bilateral hearing loss. The sensory stimulation, busy, crowded and noisy mainstream school environment fundamentally didn’t fit his neurological makeup. Whilst some teachers were knowledgeable, or at least willing to learn, others simply were neither, it was a lottery each year.
The more the mismatch between his needs and the environment the more disruptive, aggressive, stressed and anxious he became. The school blocked a move to a Special Provision, and the resulting EHCP (Education, Health & Care Plan – new Statement of Education Needs document) was not going to change the core problem. We were trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
I had been researching home education for a while. I had met up with other home educating families and talked to local people who used very different educational philosophies: some structured, some totally unstructured. I had joined national and local Facebook groups and knew my legal responsibilities and the various processes.
This was not a snap decision. It was however, still terrifying, this was such new territory. Myriads of questions swam in my head: what if I failed him, what if I’m not enough, what if I don’t know something, what about his social skills, can I meet his additional needs, what about exams … so many worries and questions.
Several things I noticed fairly quickly after deregistering: the utter relief, a huge weight off my shoulders, the feeling of having stepped off a relentless high-speed train, that the home education community was extremely varied, very knowledgeable and supportive, and the slightly terrifying free fall feeling of “what now?”.
Being a person who likes a plan, a plan is what I created. I decided that we would de-school until after Christmas, then start a semi-structured child-led learning approach where we would formally cover Maths, English, Science and IT and the rest child-led topics. I was happy with that as a plan. [De-schooling is a recommended period of time after de-registration where there is no formal learning, a time to de-stress, heal, discover interests/passions, get back that innate love of learning and get out of school learning mentality.]
Well, New Year came and the planned implementation of semi structured learning got under way. It proved to be a disaster, we recreated school stress in our own home. I was panicked as to what had gone wrong and bewildered as to what to do next. Support came rapidly from the home education community and lots of research online.
Two things became clear, we needed a LOT more de-schooling and that whilst semi-structure may work well for me, it was not what my son needed – back to the drawing board feeling thoroughly out of my comfort zone.
The reality was that it took over a year to de-school – for both of us. For my son, to come down in a morning excited and passionate about the day ahead that he had planned. He was happy, relaxed, intrinsically motivated and truly alive. For me, it meant challenging everything I had previously believed about learning, education and even parenting.
The year had given me time to research what learning style was going to work for him, not for me. It took me that whole year to (in the main) stop stressing about “keeping up” with his schooled peers, what he was learning, passing exams etc and to accept that we were on a truly different path. For us, finishing de-schooling did not signal the start of formalised lessons and school type learning, but the start of self-directed education.
We are now over 2.5 years since school de-registration. My younger son is now also home educated, having never been to school.
Our lives have been completely revolutionised. We are happier, more curious, we have a more even and respectful relationship between us. We go with the flow, living our lives and learning along the way rather than forcing learning.
We have built a small group of like minded home educating friends who we see regularly and go out to trips/excursions with. We are building more connections and friendships in the wider local home educating community. We attend formal groups to develop me skills and knowledge.
I now love getting up in the morning and seeing where the day takes us and what we may learn. I love learning with the boys and researching questions that are beyond my knowledge set. My thirst for learning has returned. I have watched the boys grow and develop at their own pace following their interests and passions. I have watched their relationship utterly blossom. The difference in my son particularly is staggering.
No longer judged on his deficits from his peers but his own personal growth and development, he is thriving (not something I ever thought I would say about him).
My focus for both boys is all about skills acquisition, knowledge can be learned at any point in your life. Education for us at the moment is about equipping the boys to have the skills to think, be creative, articulate, to be able to evaluate, be intrinsically motived, develop their sense of personal identity, self-esteem, confidence; to become the very best versions of themselves.
Home education offers the opportunity to create the perfect environment for your child to thrive and grow. We are only 2.5 years in, I feel we have only just begun and I am so excited to watch our journey unfold.