On the first day of the school year in 2019, when my boys were entering grades three and two, I dropped them at school, went home and cried. After six blissful weeks of summer, the complaints about school and the horrible mornings were back. They attended a beautiful Montessori school and we had made a lot of sacrifices to keep them there. But they were both miserable and bored. It seemed that as much as I loved the idea of the Montessori methodology and the lovely community of the school, it just wasn’t working for them.
Once the tears had dried, I did what I always do when I have a problem: I researched. I had briefly considered home education when my eldest was approaching prep, but I put those thoughts aside when he was assigned an understanding and gentle teacher. By that time, we had realised that we were dealing with anxiety, sensory processing disorder and giftedness. An understanding teacher was a gem.
So, home education wasn’t a new idea to me; but it was a big, scary, delicious, impossible idea.
My research on that January day brought me to the Australian Homeschooling Summit – two weeks of illuminating and encouraging presentations. On the last day of the summit, I gave the school our notice.
With a notice period of two terms, I had six months to research, plan, question my decision, strengthen my resolve and map out a meticulous timetable (that I threw out after the first week). The boys couldn’t wait; they told everyone they knew that they were leaving and would be home educated. It was probably harder for me to leave the school than it was for them. However, within weeks, it became clear that we had made the right decision. Long before we had settled in, and to be honest, I still feel like we’re settling in, it felt right. Just a few weeks into it, my anxious nine-year-old told me that he didn’t feel as stressed any more; that he was much happier. We all were.
So, what have I learned over two terms of home education?
I’ve learnt that as much as I knew intellectually that I needed to de- school myself, it’s tough to let go of the instinct to compare. Are we doing enough? Are they learning enough? Are they falling behind? It’s a school day, we must learn today! This is not my boys’ problem, they’re fine. The onus is on me to not have knee-jerk reactions to those doubts, to remember the big picture, to remember that it’s a long game.
I’ve learnt that my role is not to teach but to facilitate, to ignite curiosity, to foster creativity, to coach, to nurture and to model. And to parent, that never stops. Also, I’m learning alongside my boys and experiencing the world with them, and what a delight that is.
I’ve learnt that learning can look very different to school. We learn from many teachers: books, television, YouTube, Google, board games, video games, other
adults, other children, after- school activities, excursions, nature, trial-and-error. School can’t dictate what students remember, only what they are taught. When we learn in ways that suit us, we are more likely to remember.
I’ve learnt that there is one thing that is more important than how many hours of bookwork we’ve done today, what page we’re up to in maths, what curriculum we’re using for science – and that’s our relationship. Everything flows from a strong relationship with my boys and honouring that. Coercion, grumpiness, anxiety and tiredness are not conducive to learning. Off days (and sometimes weeks) happen just as they did before and they don’t mean that we should quit home education, but a day off or a day out might help. Or maybe a hug.
I’ve learnt that the best curriculum for us is the one that requires no planning, the one that doesn’t feel like work for me. We use a variety of different resources to cover the subject areas. We have had to ditch a few because they didn’t work for us and I’m yet to find an art program that is just right.
I’ve learnt that free trial periods are my friend. And so are op shops, markets, bazaars and buy/swap/sell groups. And the library and the park and ABC ME…
I’ve learnt that the best laid and most careful plans cause the most resistance (them) and the biggest meltdowns (me).
I’ve learnt that I don’t have to elaborate to strangers what we do or why we do it-the comments and questions are almost always the same anyway (three guesses as to what they are). On the other hand, friends who are interested often end up inspired by our journey. And my boys have worked out that it’s easier to answer with a number when asked what grade they’re in.
And, speaking of grades, I have learnt that they are arbitrary. Forget fixed grades and fixed timelines, a child’s time is precious and with home education, their time belongs to them to learn at their own pace. Algebra at age seven? Can do! Sometimes we arrive at basketball training and I realise we’ve probably covered weeks of school curriculum planning on a topic in that single car journey, triggered by a question from one of the boys.
As we embark on our first full year of home education, I scroll through my Facebook feed and see the endless back-to-school photos from my friends and home education still feels as big, scary and delicious as it once seemed. But it’s no longer impossible. The hardest part is getting over my insecurities (and getting time alone, it must be said). Those same old doubts that every home educating parent has come back from time-to-time, but when I pull out my Julie Bogart book or revisit my summit notes or chat with other home educating parents, I remind myself that I’m still deschooling and then I feel better.
My boys are happy, growing and getting lots of outdoor time. They’re more than fine.
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