Guest Post: Lessons in the Loungeroom.

Yes, another guest post! Hooray!

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, But Rebecca, we thought you’d given up on guest posts? And to that I would say, ‘Not at all!’ In fact, if you are a regular reader and would like to write on path: ethic as a guest blogger, please let me know!

This week’s post is by Sophie Childs. Sophie is a home educating mother of five who lives in the Welsh Valleys and loves being able to spend so much time with her children. She is an author and freelance writer, and you can find out more about her work at her website www.sophiechilds.com.  Her latest book, We Just Clicked, is available now on Amazon.

I remember when I first heard about home educating. I was a teenager and there was a documentary on about a home educating family whose children were all geniuses. I recall thinking how cool it was and how, if I couldn’t be home educated, then at least my children could be. School wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience for me and I wanted better for my children.

Luckily for me, when I met my husband, he’d been equally miserable at school and we agreed that home education was the way to go. That’s when you discover that the best laid plans go out of the window when you have children…

My oldest son was born in 2003, followed by his sister in 2004. In 2005 we decided to immigrate to New Zealand, where two more daughters and a final son quickly followed. The immigration was tough on my oldest and we eventually received a diagnosis of Asperger’s for him, which explained his struggles in dealing with other children and adjusting to suddenly being on the other side of the planet.

In New Zealand, you don’t have to send your child to school (or officially home educate) until they’re six, but most people send their child when they turn five and a fifth birthday is a big event at kindergarten, since children can go to school from that moment on. We decided that our not-very-verbal son was best off staying in kindergarten for as long as possible, which had one unexpected consequence:

He asked to go to school.

His kindergarten was next door to a school and he wanted to join the children playing soccer. He seemed to think that all school children did was play football and we did explain that it wasn’t quite like that, but he was determined to go and, since we’d always said we wanted to be child led, we agreed.

Had we stayed in the UK, I don’t think we would ever have bothered with school, but we’d not been able to build up a decent social network in New Zealand and, concerned about our autistic son’s social life, we looked around for the most appropriate school in the area and settled on one with a strong reputation for accommodating special needs.

Unfortunately, six months is all it took to put our boy off school for life. It’s a long and sorry story, but the short version is that we applied for an exemption to home educate and have never bothered with school since.

We returned to the UK in 2010 and it’s been interesting comparing our home educating experiences in both countries. In the UK, you don’t need any special permission to home educate or be on any kind of register, but you don’t get any financial support either; in New Zealand, you have to put together a detailed education plan and be granted permission to home ed, but you get money towards the cost of education supplies. There is also a correspondence school, free for those too far away from school or with special needs, and available at a cost for those who feel they would like government support in teaching their children.

In New Zealand, home education is relatively commonplace, since many children live too far away from a school to be able to attend. We lived in Auckland, however, where distance isn’t an issue, but there was still a thriving home ed community. Aside from distance, the biggest reason I encountered for people choosing to home educate was religion. In one woman’s words, she “didn’t believe you could get a good Christian education in school.”

When you are not Christian, it was difficult to find many home educators to socialise with because so many people couldn’t understand not including religion in your curriculum. When I mentioned we were covering evolution to one woman, she told me that, naturally, I had to teach the religious side as well. My immediate reaction was to ask which religion, which resulted in a bemused look, before confirming that she meant Christianity, of course. She was not happy when I replied that we wouldn’t be covering the Christian creation myth (or any other myth for that matter) any time soon and certainly not as part of our science lessons.

Coming back to the UK, we’ve never had anyone mention religion to us and it’s interesting to note that the two main reasons for home educating here are bullying and/or special needs. Home education is far less mainstream and there are still lots of people who don’t even know that it’s a legal option. We’re constantly being asked “no school today, then?” and the children always laugh at the puzzled look that appears when they reply that they don’t go to school.

The biggest criticism we always get of home education is “but how are they socialised?” It seems that this is the one thing that people cannot comprehend. How can a child be socialised if they’re not stuck in a room with 30 other children all day?

All I can do is look at my highly social children and wonder how could they be socialised if they’re stuck in a room with 30 other children all day? Home educated children don’t live in a bubble. In fact, they’re out in the real world all the time, which means that they’re socialising all the time and not just at play time. We have clubs and activities on every day of the week and my children have friends, not just locally, but all over the country and beyond. My oldest daughter spends her time Skyping with her best friend whom she met at a home ed camp when we first came back to the UK. The two of the bonded immediately and wait all year to see each other again. Now, thanks to the internet, they get to talk every day and are planning their future, when they’ll be renting a flat together and hanging out all the time.

I know that some home educating parents have to deal with negative attitudes from friends, family and strangers, but I’ve never encountered anything like that. Indeed, it’s actually my children who’ve faced it on occasion. My oldest daughter is part of a swimming club and when they arranged a social event, it came up that she’s home educated. Instantly, she was surrounded by a group of children wanting to know how it could possibly work and she’s had a few comments thrown at her by one or two children who call her “weird” for not going to school.

My daughter’s response? “Deal with it, woman!”

And that’s one of the things I love most about home educating. Not only does it mean that I get to spend loads of time with my children who, let’s face it, will be flying the nest far too soon at the rate the years are flying past, but they get to find out who they are without the limitations of school. Our approach to home education is semi-structured. We want to make sure that our children can all read, write and add up, but beyond that, the children get to follow their passion and we have a house full of filmmakers, chefs, swimmers, dancers and superheroes as a consequence.

Want to be Iron Man for the day? No problem! Want to spend hours in the garden? Let’s get muddy! Want to figure out how to build a bird house? I’ll fetch the hammer!

My children are strong willed, passionate and individual. They have the courage to be themselves and the ability to research any interesting subject to achieve their goals. I love watching them grow, filling every day with childhood memories that will last a lifetime. Home education might not be for everyone, but neither is school, and there’s no doubt in my mind that my children are getting the best start in life. One day, they will conquer the world.

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