A while back I spoke of an important decision that Kevin and I were in the process of making. We’ve now made our decision and I’m free to share all.
Our three oldest children are currently in mainstream education, but a few months back we seriously considered removing them from school and home educating instead. We weighed up all the pros and cons, and in the end decided against it. I want to talk through our thought process, in order to show that it may not be for our family at this moment, but it’s certainly an option that people should be aware of.
I first thought of home educating our children when I read an article on it. I hadn’t realised how widespread it had become in the UK, and the more I read, the more I wondered if it would be something that would benefit our children. I broached the subject with Kevin, and was surprised when he readily agreed that we should investigate it further. I began trawling the internet, seeking out home educators and contacting our local authority for advice. We also bought Learning Without School: Home Education by Ross Mountney, which we both found really helpful. This wasn’t a decision that we were going to take lightly – this was our children’s future!
There are so many positives to home educating, the biggest one being that you can take whichever approach works best for your family. For a few this will mean recreating a school setup, having formal lessons for each subject and sticking to a rigid timetable. For most families, however, the only limits will be their imaginations. The idea of my children learning about subjects that they would choose really appealed to me, as did the thought of making use of museums/parks/theatres as classrooms. There would be a much smaller pupil:teacher ratio, plus their individual learning styles would be more easily catered for. They would be able to learn in a positive, comfortable environment, with no scope for bullying or peer pressure.
Being a qualified teacher, I had no doubts that I would be able to educate my children at home. Formal training isn’t required for home educating, but I felt glad that I wasn’t going into it blind; that I knew what I was doing. I knew that I would be confident in assessing their learning at all stages – formal or otherwise. Kevin and I have between us a wide range of skills/knowledge, so our children would have a wide range of subjects to explore. Anything which needed a specialist teacher (such as music) could be outsourced, just as children who attend school will have extracurricular activities.
One of the first things people ask when home education is mentioned is “how will they learn to socialise?” Most children will make friends wherever they go. The advantage of home educating is that instead of being grouped with people of the same age, they will meet and interact with people from different age groups and from all walks of life. There are local home education groups, where families can get together for support and for socialising. These groups are just as important for the parents as they are for the children.
People also ask how the children will sit exams and gain qualifications. These can be studied for in the same way as they would be at school, but in a more tailored learning environment. The downside is that we would need to pay for any exams, as well as find an exam centre where they could sit them. The upside is that they would only need to sit exams in subjects of their choosing, rather than because they are compulsory.
The future for each of our children is what we had in mind the whole time we were weighing up our decision. Although the pros far outweigh the cons, there were two particular points which we couldn’t ignore and which eventually swung it.
The first was when I went to see Andrew perform as part of the school choir. Watching him on stage with his peers I saw just how much he contributed to the school community, and how happy he looked at being a part of that community. I thought of how well Julia and Keira have settled at school too and how much they enjoy going to school. I thought back to everything they have experienced thanks to mainstream education, as well as how much they potentially have to look forward to.
Many parents decide to home educate because their children have been bullied, or because they haven’t had a good experience with the school. The school our children attend is excellent: the teachers are supportive and innovative; the pupils all know and look out for each other; there are a variety of extracurricular activities on offer. Parents are kept informed about the day-to-day running of the school and are frequently invited in to talk to pupils or take part in schoolwide activities. In short, there was no urgent reason for removing them from school.
The second reason is a more practical one. We are currently fortunate enough to only be reliant on one income, so there would be no need for one of us to have to give up a position of employment. However, there are things we want to do for our family and experiences we want our children to have. These will all cost more than one income will allow for, so we need to think about what we would be sacrificing as a family in order to go ahead with home educating. Having things is not so important to us, but we are set on building our own house one day, as well as seeing a bit more of the world. We would also like to be able to help our children get a good start on their futures, whatever they decide to do. For these dreams to be realised, I’ll need to go back to work once Jessica starts school, so it wouldn’t be fair to remove the children for a couple of years, only for them to have to reintegrate themselves back into mainstream education.
We were open and honest with our children throughout the whole decision-making process. It’s their education, so of course they were entitled to a say in it. They were all really enthusiastic about being home educated, but understood the reasons for not going ahead with it.
Making this decision was slightly bittersweet, as it had so much potential for being a wonderful thing for our family. However, we know we’ve made the right call and it’s made us more aware of what we can do to supplement our children’s education at home. I’m currently putting together some literary projects for the children, which I can later adapt for teaching when I go back to work. Kevin tends to do the science and technology activities with them, the latest being making their own animations using Lego and other toys!
If you think that home education could be for you and your family, I’d definitely recommend looking into it more. If it’s not for you, then have a look at what you can do to enhance your children’s learning. I’m aiming to write some more posts on education in the very near future. Please let me know in the comments section if there’s anything in particular you’d like to read about.