One parent reflects on her (initially reluctant) decision to home educate her daughter, who had been badly let down by the education system, and reports on the positive and healthy ‘outcomes’ of withdrawing her from school. An inspiring piece, we’re sure you’ll agree.
I home educated my daughter and it was the scariest and best decision I have ever made. My only regret is that I did not make the decision to home educate sooner. My daughter is a highly intelligent girl who has Asperger’s Syndrome. As a preschool child, she was relatively happy and inquisitive about the world around her. However, when she started school, at the age of 5, the problems started. With the benefit of hindsight, I now understand that, although intellectually able, she simply did not have the social and emotional understanding and skills necessary to cope with mainstream school. The consequences of being in an invalidating environment were devastating for her, culminating in overwhelming anxiety and a complete mental breakdown by the age of 12.
Parents are ultimately responsible for their children. However, ‘The State’ says to you, ‘give us your child from ages 5 to 16 as we want your child to be educated so that she can become a fully functioning and productive member of society’. As a law abiding citizens, you do as you are told. However, this means that between the ages of 5 to 16, your child spends more of her waking hours within the school environment rather than the home environment. The Education System takes on the role of ‘locos parentis’ (instead of the parent). Therefore, the parent, having handed the child over to The State, has every right to expect that the Education System will take great care of the most important person in her life (her child). However, you see your child struggling, frustrated and unhappy and you ask for help but are firmly told, ‘our resources are limited and your child is not a priority’ and her distress is put down to parental incompetence. What is the parent supposed to do? Should she leave her child distressed and unhappy until she is mentally unwell? Should she argue the point with the school until that necessary relationship of trust between school and parent completely breaks down, leaving the parent resentful and emotionally drained?
I did not choose to home educate. It was the only option left open to me when the Education System and other professionals could not present any coherent plan as to how to get my daughter mentally well and back to school. After 18 months of being passed from one professional to another, I withdrew her from school for my own sanity, as well as hers. It was at this time that I began to seriously look at home education and the Schoolhouse website was one of the sources of information I turned to. I found their suggested reading list helpful and ended up buying every book they recommended.
Learning about home education was a real eye opener for me. The books I read gave me a new perspective and asked such fundamental questions such as – what is the purpose of education? Is the purpose of education to enthuse children with the sheer joy of learning or is it to produce an educated workforce? Unfortunately, the pursuit of the latter can diminish the joy of the former. Books that described how children learn and why children fail were also interesting and thought provoking. I developed a new understanding that learning is life-long and is not something that ends at the age of 16 or 18 and is not something that can only take place in a classroom.
The brain is a very efficient organ that retains information which it considers useful and valuable and quickly filters out information which is of no interest or value. If we all reflect back on our school days, there will be information and skills which we retain because we need it and use it in our lives. However, we retain little memory of things we learned, many years ago, which no longer seem relevant or useful in our lives. Learning cannot be forced into the brain or spoon-fed to the individual. We seek out knowledge and understanding on a ‘need to know’ basis or are motivated by an inherent interest in particular subjects. Home education reflects the way we naturally learn. I did not educate my daughter. She educated herself and I was the facilitator. She became a highly motivated, self-directed learner and, ultimately, that is what you want – people who can think for themselves.
One of the most important things I learned from those who have experience of home education was not to try to establish a mini classroom within the home by setting timetables, buying jotters and school books as this can be a waste of time and money. Home education can be more free-form. It is like going back to the preschool days when your child learned through play and exploring the world around them. If you think about your child before the age of 5, they learned so much – how to walk, talk, feed themselves etc. These are complex skills and you did not sit them down and teach them how to do these things. They learned through encouragement, trial and error, observing and copying others, and persistence, within a loving and secure home environment. There is no reason why a child cannot continue to thrive and develop within such favourable circumstances. Have faith in you child and have faith in yourselves as parents as your child achieved so much while under your care as a preschool child.
The wealth of educational resources freely available on the Internet, and access to distance learning programmes, makes home education a viable option in the 21st century for those who decide to home educate. Visits to book shops, libraries, museums, art galleries and national trust membership to visit historical sites throughout Scotland, and beyond, stimulates interest and takes the child on their own self directed journey of discovery and learning. Go with their interests and aptitudes and broaden learning out through associated linking. For example, an interest in trains could link into learning about the transport network, geography and the history of the railways. Linking up with other parents who home educate, and organisations who support home education, opens the door to socialising with others and enjoyable group trips and activities. Work based experience, through voluntary work, can begin as early as 12 by linking up with the voluntary sector and facilitating opportunities to experience a variety of work based skills in a supportive environment.
As many home educators suggested, most children continue with a rather free-form education until their late teens, and then start to look to the future. At the age of 15 or 16, or perhaps a little later, and with some gentle encouragement, they start to think about what they want to do as an adult and are then motivated to engage in more structured learning. This proved to be the case with my daughter. At the age of 16, she engaged in a distance learning communication course (equivalent to standard grade English) with Perth College (now University of the Highland and Islands) and did well. This gave her the motivation and confidence to attend an evening class in Higher History at our local college – she got an A Grade! With increasing confidence, this year she is doing an Advanced Higher in History and Highers in English, Philosophy and Sociology and is coping well.
In conclusion, home education saved my daughter’s mental health – and mine. The decision to home educate is not an easy one and I would advise any parent to read widely, seek advice, and trust their own judgement. Take power back – you are the parent!