Our Journey

Our Journey

Prema Saraswatil

Our journey should have started when our only child was four. But looking back on it, my ingrained schooling experience, friends, and family persuasion allowed me to brush it off for another six years. 

I was working fulltime and our three-year-old was in full-time day care/kinder. He loved every day of it. There was constant play, games, and creative outlet in any form that he desired. He came home telling me of the day’s adventures, what was for lunch and who he played with. Even at an early age, he had complex play skills and an overactive imagination and his day-care centre followed a strong play-based model which allowed him to thrive. 

With the excitement of his peers, he was enthusiastic to start school. But after the third day, my little four-year-old came to me and asked, ‘So … how long do I have to do this for?’ My reply crushed his soul, ‘Another 12 years.’ 

From that day on, he told me less and less about his day. He could recall nothing he learned and was exhausted, grumpy and apathetic. The only thing that brought him joy was lunchtime and recess when he got to PLAY. 

Then came the academic issues. He was given a level five reader (one being the lowest and 25 the highest—at which point they no longer require readers). He was never moved up from that level five reader for more than six months because in reading assessments he made too many mistakes. Strangely enough, at home he was reading short chapter books about Star Wars, and superheroes with almost no errors. 

Finally, at mid-year of Prep, he asked his school principal if he could make a speech at the school assembly. He read a long speech, which I had typed for him, about signing a petition to the government to label Palm Oil products and save the Orangutans (that he read about in a book!). The next day he went on to a level 22 reader. Perhaps he was bored rather than slow. 

By the end of Grade one, he was getting into trouble in class, not completing his work, and the saddest part, not following the instructions in art class. Sad, not because he didn’t follow instructions, but because there WERE instructions in art for six-year-olds. 

We relocated to regional Victoria the following year and thought a sea change and new school would be just what he needed. Though he loved the school friends he made and his fun teachers, he still found the whole system of school boring and dull. 

It was at this point that a few things changed for our child. Firstly, he was assessed at having an IQ of 130*, and from that same test he was diagnosed with ADHD (inattention). Finally, so many things fell into place. He was bored and not interested in anything they were teaching him and therefore had no ability to maintain any focus or concentration to learn the uninteresting and boring things they were presenting to him. I would have taken him out of school right then, except that family pressure, well-meaning friends’ advice and my own hardwired school brain, soon talked me out of it. 

Instead, after a year of restrictive diets, occupational therapists, and a psychologist, we took the route of medication to assist him in remaining at school. The teacher saw a miraculous change in him. Glimpses of my happy child returned as he began to be able to complete his work at school and not get in trouble. But the cost was anxiety attacks, low self-esteem (teachers started to like him more on meds than not) and increased agitation. By the end of the year, he wanted to stop. 

It was at this point I remembered something a psychologist said to me. ‘You just have to get him through primary school and high school, he will thrive at university doing what he loves.’ He was in Grade four now and HATED school, there was no chance he was even going to make it through high school, let alone university the way he was going! 

I must be the only person to ever say this, but thank goodness for COVID. We had the chance to try ‘home-schooling’, and it would be amazing, and we would do it forever. WRONG. Remote learning was not ‘home educating’, and it was terrible. 

Luckily, we had a second lockdown. This time, I let him do whatever he wanted, if he just turned up to the morning Webex class for compliance. He relaxed. He didn’t do any of the prescribed schoolwork, instead he made music with a GarageBand App and hand-wrote 22 pages of a novel based on the Da Vinci code. He researched real monuments in real places and created a twisted plot of intrigue, well beyond his years. WOW! Who was this person? And where has he been hiding all this time? 

From there everything went very quickly, I contacted Rachel, our amazing Geelong go-to for home education support, and I quizzed her for two long hours on every possible scenario I could think of. She connected me with HEN and our local Facebook group, where I was warmly welcomed—even though I wasn’t quite ready to commit. 

I spoke to my husband who was not keen and clearly expressed it. I spoke to my son about the idea and told him that it would always be his choice. He instantly loved the idea, but didn’t want to do it because he was back at school and would miss his friends. If friends were his only issue, then all we had to do was make new ones. 

I took him out of school every Thursday for three weeks and went to the home ed group meetups. There were children of all ages playing together and he was welcomed almost instantly. With each visit, he connected more and more. It took some effort at the beginning, but that’s no different to anything new you try in life. 

The July school holidays ended, and he decided he didn’t want to go back to school. So, he didn’t. I left my four-day a week job and took up a six month contract working weekends., We would give it 100% for six months and see if it worked. 

Many of you seasoned home educators will know the answer to this … of course it didn’t! I took him out of school, and I educated him at home. He hated me, I strongly disliked him, and my husband said, ‘I told you so’! 

I got angry, I cried, and I tried something new. Maybe only an hour a day instead of six. Then maybe 30 minutes in the morning–just English and maths. He hates maths, maybe just English? They were all slight improvements, but just didn’t work. At the end of the six months, my now 10-year-old stated that after the summer holidays he wanted to take six months off schoolwork (WHAT!). I went straight to the home educating mums and cried! This went against every school-educated cell in my body: doing nothing! 

Over the summer, we went to lots of home education meetups and he played with his LEGO, drew thousands of pictures, and then out of nowhere, started asking lots of curious questions. We were not ‘schooling’, so instead collaborated to research and find answers. Some of the answers led us on to wild discoveries on related topics, and some we found the answers and moved on. But mostly we had fun learning together on his terms and for his enjoyment. He was beginning to love learning again. It was so much fun making friends with this awesome kid, I just didn’t want the holidays to end! 

We are only a year in, but happy to report that he is thriving and loves to learn. I still work weekends to be home with him during the week. It is exhausting at times, but we have found our happy place as unschoolers and I now enjoy collaboration rather than teaching. He has so much time to PLAY and because of that his creativity, imagination and innovation have all bounced back. He makes movies, builds LEGO creations, cooks dinner, and dances in the kitchen while he discusses world issues—just because he can. But best of all, he takes no medication and can concentrate for hours on any topic he is engaged with at any time. 

In March, we visited Canberra for a week, and as he devoured every inch of Parliament, The Mint, the War Memorial and all its history, he pointed out the school groups dragging their feet on a school tour, commenting on how much they were missing out just so they could look cool. ‘Mum, I am so glad I don’t have to do that anymore’. 

We have many more adventures planned: to visit Ned Kelly country (who doesn’t love a bushranger?), Coober Pedy and Naracoorte Caves. He plans the trips (with a frugal budget) and we just have fun. Learning comes along for the ride these days. 

Just last week he went to a high school open day to enquire about his options as a home educated person. He read the entire prospectus, asked questions, and observed intently what was on offer—because he had the CHOICE to go there. His school peers just followed their parents around, only looking up if they saw their friends, because they HAD to go there. 

I have come a long way on this journey, having faith in my child’s intrinsic ability to acquire the knowledge and skills he needs to do anything he wants to, when he wants to. I am eternally grateful for the support of my home education family who are so open and generous with their non-judgemental wisdom and assurance through every phase of our journey. I have come to realise that each child’s journey is their own, and to not compare him to others nor put my measures of success onto him. 

Our child dreams big now, socialises with adults and children of all ages and values their contributions to his life. He is kind, caring, funny and creative and most importantly free to be whomever he wants to be. A short word on High IQ. We had our son tested to check for anomalies in his cognition. That’s how we detected ADHD (inattention). The score being so high was a complete surprise to us as he was failing school. 

A high IQ does not mean your child will be the next Einstein. All the IQ test shows is their ability to process information quickly, form patterns and apply knowledge faster than the average child of his age. How he uses that ability is his own choice (often in the form of a giftedness). It could be maths and sciences, or in the arts. So many families I have met with similar children put a lot of expectation on these kids to be high achievers, focusing on their IQ and forgetting that they are kids. 

My son, as an example, is really good at maths, but he hates it. He is a budding engineer, but cares more about the aesthetics of his creations. He can play music by ear, but would rather dance. And that’s okay, because he is happy and free to choose his own path, and we are there to support him. 

My advice to anyone with children, gifted or not, is to expose them to many things and let them find their gift (we all have one). Mozart would never have been a great composer if his parents never showed him a piano! 

Otherways 172 (May 2022)

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