I guess the first thing most people want to know is why we started home educating, and why now? That’s an easy and a hard question to answer. Easy because once I knew this was right for us, it made perfect sense. Hard because it was quite a journey to get here. As I’ve aged, I’ve become more self aware and aware that I’m a little non-conformist. Almost seven years ago as a single parent, I took my kids out of school and packed us all into an old camper trailer. We saw half the country in three months and returned home. It was the best thing I’ve ever done, and the kids would probably agree. They learnt so much on the road, grew so much, and we as a family grew so close together. Even with this great experience behind us, home education was not on the agenda until more recently.
I understand that many people change from the education system to home education later based on negative experiences with school. Ours was kind of like that, but also not. I am currently home educating my younger two daughters (aged 15 and 11). Both these girls were relatively happy and comfortable at school. This had not been the case for my eldest daughter (now 19).
My daughter is academically very bright, but she doesn’t learn the way schools teach, and she spent the senior years of high school feeling ‘dumb’ despite best efforts to support her. I began considering home education but mostly just Dis- tance Education, as that was what I knew. I wasn’t really aware that there were so many more options for how to home educate. I, of course, assumed there was only one path to complete education, and that meant following the curriculum through VCE and beyond. I needed my daughter back, she needed room to breathe. I pulled her out of school and al- lowed an entire year to ‘de-school’ instead of doing Year 12.
This was the catalyst for home educating my other daughters. I did more research, found an information session relatively local and was inspired by the options, the openness and the possibilities for us. I talked to my girls about what I wanted to do for us and why. I planted seeds and talked about options. They were not convinced at all. They had concerns, mostly around missing their friends. Miss 15 had concerns about my ability to teach her. So did I! We approached it gently, and the decision was ultimately theirs, but by now I had decided that this was what we needed to do, this was right. It took six months to convince them to give it a go. It was a ‘trial’, and they always had (and still have) the option to go back to school if that’s what they wish. I hope they don’t, but it’s their journey too. We are coming up to a year in, and I feel like we are settled now, but it wavers – I have doubts, they have doubts, but we continue.
I know now how silly it is to ask, “Will they have a social life?”, but it was a genuine concern. We made a special effort to continue friendships with their best school friends on weekends and holidays. We didn’t even consider home education until I’d found some local groups to visit. It was easy to find groups with younger children, and Miss 11 would have been satisfied, but Miss 15 is quite social, and really needed to find kids her own age to spend time with. We have been lucky enough to find exactly the groups we needed within the HE community and, despite a slow start warming up to the idea, Miss 15 has made some genuine friendships and is happy socially in these situations now. It was a bit harder for her, changing from the school-based social style to the HE style (yes, there is quite a difference), and she rejected this at first. I notice that she’s a much nicer person around the HE kids than her school friends. There is less ‘trying to fit in’, and more just being herself. She’s a great kid, full of personality but also loads of self doubt, and it’s been wonderful to see her find her place without the peer pressure to be something she’s not.
This is a challenge for us. Some people just don’t understand home education. Most people expect us to just be doing ‘school’ at home. This is not why we chose this path – it would defeat the purpose for us (although I recognise that for some, this is exactly what works for them). Whilst most people are supportive in a kind of ‘good for you, I couldn’t do it’ sort of way, there are some who give the impression they are just waiting for us to fail. I try to ignore this as much as possible, and give them the benefit of the doubt – perhaps they just don’t understand, and that’s okay – neither did I.
Am I doing enough?
This is a constant worry that comes and goes. A bit like parenting in general, right? Am I screwing my kids up? Will they be good adults? There are specific concerns that come with home educating a teenager. Mostly centering around if I am providing enough of the ‘right’ kind of education, am I leaving them ‘behind’ their peers, will they be ready for life/uni/work? I find myself constantly balancing between trusting my gut, and insisting we do some specific ‘work’ because that’s what we should be doing. I keep a very brief diary with notes about what we do most days. This helps me to see the learning in the small and big things. I seek out courses, classes and interesting excursions. Most often I am met with ‘no thanks’, but that is beginning to change. My kids are more open to programs now and say ‘yes’ more often. Miss 15 is trying out courses in possible career areas, and independently job-seeking because she wants to. She’s thinking about what sort of person she wants to be. She is much more mature than I was at her age. She has the freedom to do this at her own pace. There is an abundance of opportunities out there for home educated teens. They are not disadvantaged simply by virtue of our chosen path. This is comforting.
I have seen changes in my daughters since beginning this path, and I’m not the only one to notice. Other people have commented on how much more settled and mature Miss 15 is now. They also see the change in our relationship. It’s amazing how good spending so much time together has been for our family unit. Sure, we still have ‘days’, but overall we know each other so well now. That can be hard when you’re apart for six+ hours a day with school/work. The version of kids I have now is also much more pleasant than the after-school version, when they would suddenly be thrust back together and decompressing from their school days, much less tolerant of each other. We don’t have that now, they teach each other and help each other – and still annoy each other, but each of them has their skills and can ask for their needs to be met respectfully.
The pressure is off. Pressure to ‘perform’ at school, in every subject, every day, at the level of age peers. Social pressure is reduced – there is less trying to ‘fit in’ with the expectation of a large group of other children their age. Also, the pressure in our household has reduced. School mornings were never fun. Many mornings now the children aren’t even out of bed by the time we would have left for school (made lunches, showered, eaten breakfast, packed bags….etc – don’t even get me started on homework!) That’s okay, because we are learning at whatever time suits us, at our own pace. Some days have scheduled activities and these are easier to handle because the rest of the day or the other days are not scheduled, we can have downtime whenever we need it. Making our own pace means things still get done, but there isn’t the pressure to perform to someone else’s schedule.
Perhaps the biggest positive, particularly for my middle teenager, is the discovery of her self. My children now have the freedom from the ‘system’ and expectations about who they should be, to now figure out who they really are. What makes them excited? What are they good at? What do they like learning about, listening to, watching? Not because they have to try it, because they are genuinely interested. What are their strengths? What is their role in this family? If they could do/be anything, what would it be? It’s amazing, and sad, how difficult this was initially for Miss 15 to begin to work out. She had been conditioned not to know or like herself, because she wasn’t exactly like the other girls her age. She was an imitator, a masker, and probably afraid or doubting about herself. She was liked and, on the surface, happy, but I could see she really didn’t know who she was. I understand that this is also part of being a teenager, the transition from child to adult etc, but I felt she was stifled in her environment. It’s taken some time, but she is really becoming more truly confident in herself. She has an amazing sense of humour, is very outgoing, is kind and helpful and thoughtful. She enjoys cooking, makeup, horror, music, singing, sports, small children and challenges. She can and will repeatedly put herself outside her comfort zone for things she is interested in. She is genuinely happy now, that is obvious, and I couldn’t ask for more of my kids. Isn’t that the goal of parenting – ask anyone what they want for their kids and most will say they want them to be ‘happy’ and often ‘successful’. For us we are just redefining that ‘successful’ bit to basically mean ‘happy at what they do’. We don’t define it by standard thinking like income, status, material things.
There is also the network that I didn’t really anticipate when beginning our HE journey. I am so overwhelmed with the kindness and welcoming from the HE community. I look forward to our HE meetups for myself more than the kids! For the first few months it was the chance to speak with other parents who ‘got it’, who understood our feelings about school and supported and reassured me consistently about the decision I had made. They normalised this for me and allowed me to feel much less alone, and more than that – they became my friends. I really, genuinely like every adult in these groups, and I love their children also. Whether our kids are close friends or not, these parents are my allies, my friends, my support at times and a lot of fun!
In this new venture, we have alsohad many positives for my other daughters. Miss 19 has had a whole year to feel better about herself, and she is 100% happier for it. She still has a longer path to travel to find her career, and is very very wary of anything that
is too much like ‘school’, so we still have some trauma to overcome.
She has done some part-time work, continues to volunteer in a field she is genuinely interested in, and to satisfy my need that she be ‘doing something’ is taking part in job-ready courses. She says ‘yes’ often, and is learning to ‘adult’ at her own pace. She joins in family board games with enthusiasm, and helps teach her sisters when it’s an area she knows well, often supporting them with technology.
She is continuing with sports and putting herself in new and uncomfortable situations without a second thought as it relates to her interests. Most importantly, she no longer feels dumb and miserable. Miss 11 is thriving. She has anxiety which was becoming
an issue at school, but is well- supported at home. She is self-directed and basically teaches herself. She is the one who will choose a project and run with it. She likes to find new things to do and learn. She reads soooooo much! New social situations are
hard for her, but she warms up over time and has made some great friends. She has also kept in contact with some school friends and when they get together, their friendship is still the same. This child may have the benefit of more time to know herself from a younger age – as those who have always been home educated will.
I hope this makes the upcoming 5 teen years easier for her.
Whatever the challenges though, we will face them together.
Our family relationship is our priority and it is thriving.
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