Head First Into Home Ed

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Head First Into Home Ed

Nabeela Fathima Wahid

It was a chaotic start to the morning, a frenzy of activity dotted with the clatter and noise of each family member trying to cram in a multitude of chores into a single moment. The announcement of an unexpected visitor threw a spanner into the works and despite the dejection and frustration, we knew it was a matter of just getting the job done.

We had been up since the crack of dawn, and by midday we were all spent. Wearily, I walked up to my room and summoned my son to accompany me. As we slid under the covers, I pulled out our read-aloud book for the day and declared with a grin, ‘Well, looks like we will need to school in bed this morning!’ He looked back at me with confusion that quickly turned into a cheeky smile and his eyes lit up. ‘I love homeschooling!’ he announced, as he planted a massive sloppy kiss on my forehead. My son, who is my youngest, attended kindergarten for two years followed by four years of institutionalised education.

My eldest is currently thriving in the schooling system and my second born is in the process of transitioning into home education for high school.

I can so clearly recall my son’s first day of school, filled with nervous laughter and mighty expectations. The anticipation was building and he couldn’t wait to walk through the gates, his siblings by his side, proud to have graduated to being a ‘big school boy’. A milestone that is documented in the stacks of photographs and videos, meticulously archived and stored for convenient viewing at the click of a button.

Though it was a moment we all cherish, it didn’t take long for things to go belly-up. It was a first for me too, as the older two had settled into their school life without any hiccups. Like clockwork, what started in his first year, was replicated throughout his remaining years at school. The same concerns, complaints, phone calls and conferences with his teachers. It became a running joke in our household, that if I did not receive ‘the call’ within the first two weeks of every term, something is amiss!

Initially my knee-jerk reaction was to blame my child, to have a stern word and convey the message from his teachers – that he is disruptive, naughty and a nuisance in the classroom. He needs to flick the ‘magic switch’ and turn into the obedient, disciplined and cooperative boy he is expected to be. But as time rolled on, between the to-ing and fro-ing from one mundane task to the next, I allowed myself the time to step back and assess our situation. The picture of my child that was painted by his teachers at school was unlike the child I knew.

Thinking back, I could confidently say that this was the moment the seed was planted when I toyed with the idea of home education.

Home education was not an alien concept to me. I know of families that are home education veterans and are doing a splendid job of it. I admire their commitment and zeal, and deep down I yearn for my children to be just like the ones they are raising. However, a nagging voice in my head always told me I wasn’t built for it. I didn’t trust myself, or perhaps I wasn’t brave enough to admit that I was afraid of it turning into a monumental failure that somehow would be irrevocable. I always made excuses to push back my thoughts into the depths of my insecurities and continued to try to fix my child so he could fit into the mould he was expected to fit into.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to adopt remote learning and this became my opportunity to be a silent observer. I was finally allowed a glimpse into the aspects of my child’s life that for the most part, had remained obscure. As the days flowed into weeks and the cracks were laid bare, it was hard to miss the gaps in his learning, the wonky foundations. On the flip side, the remote learning environment seemed to have a positive impact on him. I can only explain it as watching my child emerge, like someone who has been stumbling through fog to have finally found a clearing into warm sunlight. He was happier, far less frustrated and was churning out his assigned tasks like a well-oiled machine. The teacher too, was pleasantly surprised. This was the nudge I needed to seriously consider home education. I pacified my fears by convincing myself that it would be an understatement to say that this school year would be a write off, so if I pulled him out and ‘experimented’ with home education, I had nothing to lose!

What if I could not offer him all that he needs? Would staying home deprive him of the social interactions and mental stimulations a school environment can provide? What resources will I use? How can I trust myself to teach him better than a professional? What if we hit a dead end, will I have a safety net to fall back on? It was like a Pandora’s box had opened up in my mind, and the self doubt crept back in and plunged me into a muddled haze.

‘Think about it, you’re going from a 24:1 ratio to a 1:1 ratio. What could possibly go wrong? You’re winning already!’, my spouse casually remarked, as I unleashed my barrage of questions upon him. I do have a tendency to work myself into a knot and having a supportive spouse who believes in me and encourages me is a huge blessing. Having children definitely strengthens the spousal relationship, and no one truly understands the angst of parenting better because they’re the one wearing the other shoe on their foot!

In the end it was the enthusiasm and eagerness of my son that cemented the decision. When presented with the option to home educate he jumped at the opportunity without hesitation. What I presumed would be a gradual transition turned out to be a dive – head first!

 The first stage of de-schooling was an interesting one. I admit we didn’t follow the process by the book, rather I just lifted all expectations. I found this quote by Albert Einstein very inspiring, ‘Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.’ I decided to meet my child where he was at and together we paved the path towards what he wanted to achieve. In the short term I have noticed a paradigm shift in my child’s approach to his learning. Previously, there was reluctance, anxiety, tears and even refusal to undertake certain tasks due to a lack of confidence and fear of failure. Now there is phenomenal growth, mental and emotional stability, as well as an increased confidence and independence. My child is now able to savour the sweetness of his struggles, and it sure is addictive. He now looks at his failures with a growth mindset. In the long term this approach will serve as a perpetual propellant towards improvement and success. He will view the world as his classroom and every lived moment will become a transformative learning experience.

Over time I have exhaustively researched the different types of home education and found that I connect better with some than others. I have scoured the internet, read numerous blogs, joined a multitude of Facebook groups and tried to equip myself with as much knowledge as I can to make our transition as smooth as possible. I find myself staying up into the depths of the night bookmarking a plethora of enriching curricula, articles, resources and videos. It feels like swimming in an ocean without shores. We are still experimenting, and that’s the beauty of home education. You are not expected to have it all figured out from the start. In fact, I’ve had a lot of parents admit that even after a decade of home education they still haven’t deciphered it all! Home education is a lifestyle, it takes getting used to.

Every valorous endeavour has setbacks. I have endured my fair share of raised eyebrows and sly remarks. It has only made me stronger. Not everyone has to agree with my choices and that’s okay. I respect that everyone is on their own personal journey and their opinions and views are shaped by their limited experiences. I have learnt to live with these differences, as this is what makes us human. As long as I focus on what I can control and keep a level head, it will all work out.

 Though I still consider myself to be a home educator with my training wheels on, my biggest realisation so far has been the colossal shift of priorities. I am no longer weighed down by expectations and judgements. I am not frantically checking off a list of milestones my child is expected to achieve in a set timeframe. Rather, I am focused on cherishing the tender moments of joy, the warmth that gushes through my heart as I watch his eyes sparkle with curiosity. Not being locked into a pressure cooker environment has allowed him to thrive. This feeling is liberating and he is now able to immerse himself in his learning and enjoy this journey rather than be subjugated by a system that is result driven. Everyday is an achievement, a celebration. As a parent and mentor, I now have the choice to set the pace and approach. Every moment is a teaching moment and an opportunity to grow.

I am committed to investing in my child, entirely. I strongly believe that family is a unit of the community, and a resilient family will build a solid resilient community. As a home educator, I am nurturing a wholesome child – the entire child is my focus – his character and morality are of paramount importance to me. I want my child to become a lifelong learner. I want his learning to be meaningful. In order to be able to apply and share his knowledge and become a contributing member of society, understanding why and how he gained this knowledge is crucial. As a mentor too, how I teach is just as important as why I teach and what I teach.

We often reminiscence about our childhood and lament the golden years gone by. Dare I say, this journey of homeschooling has sparked my own curiosity and wonderings. I feel like a child once again. It has reignited my own passion to learn. We are all as unique as our fingerprints. We all have a unique talent buried inside us and only a few of us have found it. At first glance each grain of sand looks identical, but only those that take the time to ponder and look deep will notice the beauty hidden within. I am filled with nervous excitement as I let myself glimpse into the possibilities of where it can take me.

If I was to take the liberty and offer advice to those that are considering taking the plunge I would ask you to begin by assessing what truly matters. First establish ‘why’. I like to call it the ‘homeschool mantra’. Secondly, what is your vision? This will give you a sense of direction and purpose and keep you grounded when things get shaky (and boy – they will!). Thirdly, prioritise! Realise, that for every presumed setback, your child will be gaining so much more and you have the potential to give them even more. Trust in yourself, just as you did when you held the bundle of joy in your hands for the first time. They belong to you. Be there, present in every moment. View home education as an extension of the parenting process. Prepare to fall in love with your child all over again. Remember, it’s not a race, it’s a marathon. Your child has the potential to exceed all ‘set’ expectations. Give them the right opportunities to tap into it. Believe in yourself, you’ve got this!

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