How we came to Home Education
Apologies this is long!!
It has just been pointed out to me that I’ve not done a ‘how we came to HE’ piece. I’ve even started to forget myself, so should get it down so I can remember in 20 yrs time when E quizzes me on it!!
Recently I keep seeing references to school phobia, and books on how to overcome it etc. Then the other week I was asked…probably by a well-meaning HE-er…why I hadn’t tried either a nearby Steiner school or taken a job helping at E’s school. I’d begun to think that maybe I had rushed into HE too easily without exhausting every other school-based avenue first. Had I gone about it all wrong? Was there some magic answer I just couldn’t see?
I was talking to my Dad this evening and he was saying I should write down our story from the beginning as the blog is proving a fab way of recording what we’re doing on a daily basis, so hopefully will allow us to look back and see progression, or even changes in the way we order our days or change our ways of looking approaching our learning. He then reminded me about all the things we *had* tried in order to reduce E’s daily distress at going to school.
Although I had considered HE before the school application process, we decided to try the school route, mainly because our local school was being built to open in September 2008, when E was due to start in Reception. Initially we were told there were only going to be 15 places, so it seemed a really exciting opportunity to be involved from the beginning in a brand new school, particularly with such a small class size. As the start date crept closer things started to go a little off-plan. First it became apparent that the school was not going to be ready in time, so a temporary classroom was found at a nearby school, a terrapin hut in the playground (!), which the reception only would attend. The class size by that time had doubled, so the thoughts of a nice, small class had also disappeared. The kids were to be bussed to and from the other school, with parents accompanying.
E was initially excited at the prospect of school, and she loved the idea of school uniform – an extension of her love of dressing up! It became quickly apparent once school had started that very few of the parents were accompanying their children on the bus, most were happy to wave them off from the kerbside. There was no way E would let me do this, so we carried on going with her, until one by one all the parents stopped going, and I was the only one!! By then she had got to know the teachers (this 1 reception class had a whole school’s staff working with them!!), so eventually she got on the bus on her own everyday, with the teachers coaxing her on. The bus went from outside our front door so the journey wasn’t too bad (!) but there were a couple of occasions when she ran back in the house and refused to get on the bus!
I had my first parents evening, and was told how well E was doing, and that out of her whole class, she was one of only 8 children who could write their name when they first started. E was the youngest in her year, being a July baby, so this surprised me! They also told me that E was an auditory learner, so struggled to keep concentration on the ‘teacher’ at the front when they were introducing new concepts. That sounded about right to me!!
Things changed markedly when the new school building finished, and after half term they left their nice hut and moved to the big school, and a day later the years 1 and 2 started too, and then the junior school. This was a big shock I think after their isolation! The worst bit was them having to line up in the playground to walk into school with the teacher. We were heavily discouraged from going anywhere near the line, and from coming into the classroom with them. If we wanted to speak to her class teacher we were to make an appointment, rather than informally talking to her at pick ups and drop offs. Also they were now on full days, rather than their initial introductory hours which E could cope with quite well. Full days were a different matter!
There were so many rules, I’m quite averse to authority and attempt to rebel at any given chance, so I was finding it quite suffocating. E refused to join the line in the morning without me holding her hand and walking her in, and day by day it got worse and worse. Things would start badly from the night before, even mentioning that school was next day led to tears and distress. Mornings were a nightmare as she would refuse to get dressed, knowing that we couldn’t go to school until she had her uniform on. I tried all my usual tricks to get her dressed, and soon found it normal to be dressing her myself, I would forget that she could do it herself as weekends showed! There were days when her distress made me really upset, and I just didn’t know what to do for the best. I should have just let her have a day off every now and then to let her have a break, but I stupidly didn’t. One morning I was late, and fighting back tears while dropping her off. Luckily there were few parents around so no witnesses, until I was trying to escape out of the gate and was spotted by the head who asked if there was anything they could do to make things easier. She said that they could try reward stickers if she came in with a happy face…!
Tiredness was playing a big part in E’s distress. The teachers would tell me she had been allowed to have a nap in one of their offices as she was so tired, but this had made E more upset as she couldn’t actually sleep, and just felt more awkward. She wasn’t settling well at night, she was mentally exhausted, but not physically, so we would drag her out to the park every afternoon after school to attempt to tire her out, which worked, but exhausted the rest of us in the process!
Food was another big issue. To start with she was on packed lunches, which was working ok, and then the school introduced school dinners. We decided to give these a try – I’m all for the easy life – but these did add to E’s misery. They had to pick their meal during morning registration, so couldn’t just choose what they liked the look of at lunchtime, which from an admin point of view I can understand, but for a 4 year old child who maybe can’t visualise a meal from its description, was hard. It soon became apparent that she wasn’t eating them, and this was making after school time worse as she was tired AND hungry, so we switched back to packed lunches to see if that made a difference. She would eat bits of it, but nowhere near what she was when she first started.
The next thing we tackled was her uniform. She was desperate to wear a skirt, whereas at the beginning of term we had chosen pinafores and what I thought was a skirt, but turned out to be a skort. We went and bought a skirt, and more tights so that she would feel happier and more comfortable, and also had a choice of what to wear everyday, in the hope this might help with getting her into the uniform in the mornings. Again, this worked for a few days, but the novelty soon wore off, and we were back to square one.
At the same time, they were being sent home with more and more homework: a set of keywords we were to help her memorise, and then the start of the Oxford Tree Reading Scheme. Due to E’s tiredness we didn’t really attempt the keywords on a daily basis, as recommended by the teacher. Every time we did, it ended in frustration and more upset, so we decided it wasn’t worth it for the time being. None of the words really meant anything as none of the OTL books had words in beyond ‘The’. We would ‘read’ the books, but we only had them for a short while, as soon as I recorded that we had read it in her book diary, it would disappear and be replaced by another one. I soon stopped making such an effort to read them straightaway, and would save them for a quiet evening, when we were having some chilled out time together. They were intently boring for me, and for E, as she is used to me reading to her everyday she was adept at taking her well known and read picture books and reading them almost word-perfect back to me, as she knew them so well! I soon started gathering ‘comments’ in the book diary like ‘if E practised her keywords more often, she would be on the next stage of OTL books now’, and ‘no book change today’ because I wouldn’t have read it by changeover day.
I was feeling guilty about my lack of obedience with the reading, but soon discovered by talking to other parents that they were feeling the same way. Even those with an only child were finding it hard to fit it all in.
We were heading towards the Christmas break at the end of the first term, and I started to really evaluate what school was providing. I had met a mum whose son had started in reception at the new school, and hadn’t been to the hut, so she had experience of how other schools operated. In the other school parents came into the classroom in the morning, and could talk freely to the teacher. She said she’d found the lack of communication with the teacher really hard, and it meant there was no link between school and parent.
I started looking at what E had learned during her 3 months at school, where she was supposedly ‘learning through play’ and it astounded me how much they had managed to cram into them – learning to write (cursively) and recognise all their letters, and all their phonics. Learning to write and recognise all their numbers. There didn’t seem to have been any time given to reflect on what they’d learned. They’d have 3 or 4 letters they were learning per week at the beginning, but it became apparent that these were forgotten the moment they started on the next set the following week. I also noticed that although E was continuing to write her name, her letters were now malformed. 2 letters in her name were now incorrectly written: her ‘s’ was back to front and her ‘e’ was upside down. How could she have unlearned how to spell her own name correctly while at school?!
During advent calendar season it also became apparent how her counting was being affected. I’d ask her which number window were we opening today, and she’d have to count from the beginning to find the right one e.g. yesterday was 9th, so today is the ? What comes after 9? E would have to work from 1 all the way to get to 10, rather than automatically knowing what number came next. Meanwhile H would be standing behind her chanting ‘ten-ten-ten’!
B could clearly see how unhappy we were when he got back from work, and I was used to getting daily text messages of support from friends, asking how school had gone that day, as they knew that each day was getting tougher.
It finally all came to a head, and we talked seriously about HE for the first time. B had been quite blasé about it in the past, almost paying lip service to my interest in it, but recently had stood up to people, including my parents, who had said that HE was something that normal people just wouldn’t even consider – just think of the lack of socialisation 😉 HE is for those parents who just can’t let go etc. He found himself arguing the case ‘for’ HE!!
I gradually got him to think through his school life and come up with pros for school, and pros for HE. By the end of this exercise, it was quite an interesting trip down memory lane for both of us, we came to the conclusion that there was very little that school could offer E that we couldn’t do at home, and definitely more we could do at home too! Things like learning the recorder, studying romulus and remus – I still haven’t found a use for that yet! – and the other random topics that the curriculum covers we could do, or we could choose whatever E expressed an interest in, stemming from something she sees, reads or hears. I started to think how interesting it would be to watch this learning process, and how fab it would be to see what happened in the future, would she be able to think in a different way to her schooled counterparts? Would she view life in a different way?
B’s main hang up was how long we would HE for. He couldn’t get his head round people never going to school, yet still be able to go to university the way he had. He decided to email everyone in his company to see if there was anyone who had been HE’d who would be willing to have a chat with him. He had quite a response, and met with a young graduate who had been HE’d from 6 yrs, and had eventually chosen to go to college at 16 to get qualifications to enable him to go to university. This seemed to settle his reserve, and from then on we didn’t look back. He contacted the school, as he was a school governor he had the best relationship with the school, and explained that we were thinking of withdrawing E from school, and wondered if they had any comments/advice or would discuss the matter with us. The head was understandably taken aback, and suggested reward stickers (!) and later starting time or earlier finishing time to the school day. I had thought about flexi schooling, so did consider this, but the head was only offering 45 minutes latitude, so it wouldn’t have made a vast difference to the length of the day. B was all for trialling this in the spring term, but by then I couldn’t face the thought of another term. We had to make a decision one way or the other, and not keep dragging it out. B finally agreed and the official letter was written to remove her from school, and here we are!
WE ARE SO MUCH HAPPIER!!!!