It's that time of year again: Facebook walls covered with two main subjects: parents boasting on their children's unfailingly glowing school reports, and the onset of school holidays (viewed with great rejoicing or trepidation, depending on your age and/ or viewpoint).
I was going to write a "end of term report" for my boys, but all I could think to comment on was their 'creative' approach to school uniform, swinging as it does from PJs to Sith apprentice garb, to full-on nudity (what can I say? It's been hot!) Don't get me wrong: we've had a great year, I just don't have it in me to go back into teacher-mode as measurer of the unmeasurable (learning). So no 'school report' here this year.
One of the other phenomena familiar to home educators is the glut of new people considering HE at this time of year. It's like the 'back to school' signs which are already in the shops before the holidays have properly started have prompted some to say "Enough already! No more will your new books, sharpened pencils and pristine school uniform tempt me to send my child back to school". Their children's relief at the onset of the school holidays just shows how exhausted and discouraged they have become. Obviously not all... some thrive in school - but many don't. So this post is for those who may be considering Home Ed: to try to answer a few of the more common concerns, before the holiday is over and you fall for that malignant hope "maybe it will be better next term" (reality check: sorry, but that's unlikely).
There is an important difference between socialisation (learning crucial social skills) and socialising (hanging out with their friends)
Your child will not experience socialisation (first definition) in school. They learn to run in a pack. They learn about peer pressure and conformity. Some (more than we care to admit) learn about bullying and victimisation. A child learns social skills primarily by the example of their family, and secondly by being given opportunities to mix with people of varying ages, abilities, passions. That is a definite strength of Home Education.
They may well have more opportunities to socialise (second definition) in school, and for those sociable children (like Eldest) who thrive on being with their friends every day, HE can take some adjusting. But in most parts of the country there are plenty of opportunities to meet and play with other home educators - just type your area into Facebook or Yahoo and you'll see what I mean.
PS If your child is not the obviously sociable sort that thrives on being with lots of friends, forcing them into a large group is more likely to make them even more introverted than bring out a previously unseen social side. Some children - and adults - are happier with the company of a few others at a time. That's OK.
Home Education does not have to be expensive. Some of us (I hold my hand up here) don't always succeed in resisting the many bargains listed online by the Book People or in shops like The Works... and if you want to follow a certain programme (whether single subjects online or whole-year printed curriculum), then the cost can add up. BUT it can be done at very low cost: you just need paper, pencils, and somewhere to store their "work". A library card is a must-have, and I would find it very difficult to do what we do without an internet connection and printer. But other than that, the rest is really up to you. No uniforms, shoes, PE kit, lunch bags, school trips to pay for. You may even save money (and don't forget, we get to take off-peak holidays... not to be sniffed at)!
Whose? The child's? It is perfectly possible for a child to be educated at home and still gain GCSEs, A-levels etc, if that is what you/ they want. There are plenty of people out there who have done just that and can help you to do the same. On the other hand some have skipped the qualification hurdle and gone straight into their area of interest/ expertise. No other education provides so much scope for being tailored to the child's individual needs and skills, right up to adulthood.
If you (or those around you) are concerned about your own lack of qualifications to teach - don't be. You can do it. Home Education is just an extension of good parenting in my opinion. You get to know your child: who they are; what their strengths are; how they learn best... and you do what you can to help them grow. If, as they get older, they reach an age where their abilities have outstripped your ability to learn with them, well that is what tutors are for. As long as you are interested in them, the rest just kind of flows. And don't forget, there is a HUGE home ed community out there, just itching to help and encourage you if and when you hit a sticky patch.
I used to think (and say) that the parents who missed their kids when they went to school were the ones who were the most natural home educators. And that may still be true, to a degree. But a close friend recently confessed to me that they were always relieved to see their child go back to school - and I was confused because in my opinion that person is a great parent. Then a conversation with a friend helped me to see that my view had been too narrow. Yes, it can be stressful being 'on duty' all the time - pretty much every home educator I know dreams of having a couple of hours off every now and then. But the stresses of home ed are NOTHING like the stresses of parenting a child who is unhappy in school. From my experience (and the experience of others I know), when a child is struggling in school, it changes their personality - and that in turn changes the whole family's home life. When we took Middle out of school, within a couple of months he was a completely different person - relaxed, more confident, less "difficult", much less likely to argue or get upset. My relationship with him changed from one where I was always trying to manage his behaviour, to one where I just enjoyed hanging out with him, and got to see all his lovely qualities again. So although I never really experienced the relief of sending your children back to school (maybe because that always meant I was back at work too), I understand how people can feel a sense of gratitude for not having to deal with all the stress full-time. It's just that once you home ed, it's never the same. Life is so much more chilled now... and that's coming from someone with three young, very lively boys, and a husband who works long hours away from home. Stress schmess - I wouldn't miss my kids' childhood.
So those are the four obvious areas that seem to come up often. I'm sure there will be others that are more or less significant for different people, but as I said to a friend earlier, if you are getting stressed out about the negatives, you need to focus on your vision for your child. What is it that you want for them? To be relaxed? confident? free to follow their interests? Happy? Is their school experience helping them on their way? If yes, great! If not - then maybe Home Ed is for you... worth further consideration at least!
PS If further consideration is what you are after, I can gladly recommend Ross Mountney's excellent book "Education without School". As I have said before, it was the first book I ever read specifically on home education - it answered all of my immediate questions, reassured me that it was a viable form of learning, and encouraged me that I could do it. And if I can do it, you can do it too! Go for it!