Challenging Stereotypes

Kirsty James

We like to laugh about the stereotypical home educated kid: those poor unsocialised darlings who will never get a job, make friends, or learn how to line up. However, I think the more dangerous stereotypes are the ones against which we measure ourselves. 

When you read HE blogs or articles, it is easy to feel that everyone else is doing a better job. Their kids are self-motivated, personable, and intellectually curious. They spend their time volunteering, teaching themselves to read or play the violin, and completing Open University units. Naturally, they are also engaged, respectful, and love to spend time with their siblings doing wholesome activities like hiking and playing board games. As for the parents, how fantastic are they? Patient, energetic, and organised, spending quality time with each child, but still managing to colour code their craft supplies and run an eco-friendly business on the side. 

Of course, many kids and parents are doing these things – well some of these things, some of the time. But at other times, kids may be irritable, anxious, and unable to recognise the plethora of opportunities available to them. Parents may be lying awake worrying that their child would be better off at school, reminding their child (for the fifth time) to finish their maths, or wondering why there doesn’t seem to be a single pair of scissors in the whole house. 

During fifteen years of HE, I have been fortunate to find many supportive friends. They are all lovely people, but very different in their approaches to home education, faith, and parenting. One thing they have in common, however, is their willingness to share their worries, parenting fails and home education disasters – along with their knowledge and support. As a result, I know I’m not alone. I know that it’s OK to change your mind (or curriculum), that it’s normal to wonder whether your child will ever work out what they want to do, or hate every single spelling programme in existence. 

We all want to encourage other home educators by showing the positive side of home education. Yes, it’s a great choice for many families. Kids do go on to university and careers, they make friends and even learn how to line up, but their path to success may have been a bumpy one – and it’s important to acknowledge that. When we chose to home educate, I felt rather smug. Our children would never be anxious, dislike their siblings, or behave like a ‘typical’ teenager; imagine my surprise when things turned out somewhat differently. In fact I had to continually reassess how I parented and educated (because the two things are inextricably bound). I asked myself what I was doing wrong because my children didn’t have a ‘passion’, why I was so grumpy, why my kids were addicted to screens, why we had so many ‘write off’ days where nothing went according to plan. This was not what I had signed up for! 

Just as school parents respond to any despondency by saying ‘Just send them to school’, those who espouse a particular philosophy sometimes suggest that if only we followed their approach, or were doing things ‘properly’ everything would be ok. But HE is like parenting – there is no one right way. For many people, it is a matter of trial and error (in my case with the emphasis on error). Having four children has given me four opportunities to get things wrong is so many different ways, but as Goethe said, “By seeking and blundering we learn.” 

For years, I have vacillated between doing too much and doing too little; always searching for the perfect balance. I started as a ‘natural learner’, then tried all manner of curricula (with varied results) to cover areas that I felt were important for that child. I have a cupboard full of unfinished projects and curricula – to be honest, some of them were never even started. I have felt overwhelmed, angry, anxious, scared and despairing more times than I can count. But I still come back to the fact that overall, home education has been a positive experience for our family, even though one of my children has chosen to attend high school and much prefers it. 

I would tell my younger self to be more relaxed, that everything would turn out OK– but I know I wouldn’t listen. And anyway, maybe the reason things did work out was because of all the effort I put in. After all, some of my plans and efforts did bear fruit. My worrying and soul-searching sometimes led to an epiphany, and wonderful friendships were forged with those who helped me through tough times with sympathy, advice, and, on one memorable occasion, a family sized block of Dairy Milk. As I near the end of my HE journey, I know that, at the very least I have taught my children how to nurture friendships, learn from failure, and deal with the unexpected – and that’s not a bad foundation. 

So, if you are struggling, reach out! Join a group, connect on Facebook, or invite a friend over for coffee. When things are going well, remember the times when it seemed that nothing was working, and don’t be afraid to share those memories and challenge the stereotype of the ‘perfect’ home educator. 

Otherways 161

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