I’d never considered home education. Even though my oldest friend home schools her two children and she’s relatively normal (although she IS vegan), my mental image of home educated families was that they are, you know, a bit hippy, anti-establishment, knit-your-own-granola type people. Eccentric. Different.
But it’s estimated that over 50,000 children are home educated in the UK and the figure is rising by 80% per year, and they can’t all be weirdos, can they?
Turns out that deciding to take my eight-year-old out of school this year was the perfect way to find out.
When Harry started in Year 3, I found that, while he was keen to learn, the curriculum was moving too fast for him. He started asking at home “Can we learn more about the Vikings? Can we find out about Mary Seacole?” So we visited museums and looked stuff up online and got books out of the library, but there was never really enough time.
We tried home educating part time, one day a week (it’s called Flexi Schooling and has to be approved by the school and, most likely, the Local Education Authority), and planned to have Harry home for two days a week from September, but once Harry finished school for the summer, he said he didn’t want to go back.
Over the holidays I fretted and read and talked to friends. Could we really give up school completely? Could I really home school? I’d always envisaged it as school at home, i.e. sitting at the table and doing schoolwork, which I didn’t think would work for us.
Not just because of the time implications - I work from home and have a three-year-old - but also because simply working through one sheet of homework with Harry would often end in shouting and tears (sometimes from both of us) so I figured home schooling him would be impossible.
But then I discovered unschooling, which can be described, very basically, as learning through living. No one teaches the child, the child is free to follow his/her own interests with the parent(s) acting as facilitators. Everything I read about it sounded right to me and I felt it would be brilliant for Harry, but it’s just so radical.
It’s scary to step away from the norm - the thing that my parents did, I did, my husband did. But what made the decision easier for me - and certainly for my husband - was that, even though it IS a big decision, it’s not an irreversible one.
I kept telling myself that if it didn’t work out, Harry could go back at any time, but I suspected I’d regret it if we didn’t at least try.
My husband’s main concern was socialisation and it was something I worried about a bit too - those preconceived ideas about home education also extended to the children either being horribly precocious or socially awkward.
Ross Mountney, who literally wrote the book on home education in the UK (when I first started researching home ed, her book Learning Without School was the only one I could find), says: “I’m always surprised when people are concerned about ‘socialisation’. Because it assumes that schools are the best place to become ‘social’ and I dispute that! Plus it assumes that children only ever find friends inside those school gates, also untrue.
“Children make friends at school because they happen to be at school. When they’re out and about in other communities like home educated children are, they make their friends there. There are thousands of home educating families and the community grows daily. With all the online networks children soon find others to connect with.
“Aside from that children make friends at their vocational clubs and lessons (football or dance for example) so there are always others to hang out with. ‘Socialisation’ is not an issue at all when you home educate as long as you are prepared to mix in the normal way you would in life anyway.”
We de-registered Harry at the beginning of September and I can honestly say we haven’t regretted it for a moment.
I love the flexibility that home education brings - on a sunny day we can go to the beach (one day last year, Harry told me they’d been learning about the seaside at school and I thought how much nicer it would be to learn about the seaside by going to the seaside, rather than from a book in a classroom).
On miserable rainy days, we don’t have to leave the house at all. We have much more freedom than we had when Harry had to be at the same place at the same time five days a week.
But the most exciting thing for me has been not only spending more time with my son, but also watching him learn - and learning along with him.
The American blogger Penelope Trunk, who home schools her two sons, sums it up for me: “I love seeing how excited I can make them with the world around them... I want their whole lives to be like that... I want to teach them how to make that for themselves.
“In the meantime, they give that to me. At least once a day. And I think that is really why I’m keeping them out of school. So we can all have more joy, each day, together.”
‘More joy, each day, together.’ Nothing weird about that, is there?
Are you thikning about homeschooling your child? Read our guide, here.