Saturday, October 21, 2017

Becoming a Full Time Home Educator

I never set out to home-educate my son, but as of September this year, this is what we are doing. I was so positive about him starting school last year, having spent a bonus 12 months together after we deferred his school entry on the grounds of him being summer born. Although I knew there would still be challenges, I felt he was ready to begin his formal learning journey, and to integrate positively with his classmates. What I hadn’t considered in any depth was whether the school was equipped, or indeed willing, to accommodate his needs. Of course I had met with them before he started, talking over potential stumbling blocks with the SENCO and his class teacher, who seemed to take on board my concerns. But it turned out that the mainstream school system, currently bereft of funding to support vulnerable and challenging pupils, and with a worrying lack of understanding about the needs of adopted children, is ill-equipped to embrace a complex little squarepeg such as mine. 



We tried for a year to make it work, starting with a prolonged phased entry that turned into permanent flexi-schooling (because there was apparently no funding for an extra support person in the afternoons). I found myself taking on the bulk of his literacy and numeracy basics at home, while he picked up social skills and other cognitive tools in the classroom. His teacher was truly lovely, and worked so hard to try and accommodate his needs, but the sad fact was that there really was no framework in place at the school level to ensure a long-term support plan for him. And I didn’t want him to be accommodated, I wanted him to be included, integrated; to thrive. The reality of the situation began to weigh heavily on my mind, and by the spring term it was clear, despite several meetings on the subject, that no steps had been taken to ensure a more robust plan for him going into year one. So rather than set him  up to fail, I took the life-changing decision to remove him from the system altogether, and make myself the only person responsible for meeting his educational needs.



I am thankful that family and friends have been hugely supportive of our decision to homeschool, despite it being a departure from the historical norm amongst our folk. Naturally people are curious as to what homeschooling actually entails, but this is a difficult question to answer, since there are so many varied approaches, and we are still in the process of figuring ours out. At the moment, we are going with a semi-structured approach, whereby we try and do 1-2 hours of formal-ish learning at home a day (I say “ish” because much of this is play-based), covering reading, writing and numeracy. There is no set curriculum we have to follow, and so we are wonderfully free to take a completely personalised route to achieving our goals. For example, at the moment, we are hardly doing any maths at all, because his reading is coming on so much and he is eager to progress. I would rather capitalise on this momentum than enforce an arbitrary ‘daily selection’ as is offered by most schools. The often ignored, but glaringly obvious truth is that children learn best when they are interested, and being able to follow the natural motivations of a learner is bound to lead to more effective learning. 


The rest of the time, we are out and about, going to groups and meetups (currently: drama club, forest school, social groups, swimming, trampolining) and pursuing whatever else interests him. We spend a lot of time outdoors, because that is where we are both happiest. We learn on the go when driving along or out shopping, seeking answers to his constant questions at the library or on YouTube. We decided to have a termly topic to give some focus to this exploration, and his term we have been discovering the Celts & Romans (his choice). This has taken us to hillforts, museums and castles, and on a train trip to discover Roman Londinium. I am learning loads alongside him, and feeling generally very enthused. On the down side, it is non-stop, physically exhausting, and it is taking a while to develop a social circle so I am missing the day-to-day support of Other Mums. But after just a few weeks I can already see the benefit for him. Aside from the odd tantrum or grumpy moodswing (mine and his), he is in great spirits and enjoying the new regime. The carefree sparkle that emerged in his toddler years has shown itself again, and we are rediscovering the special intimacy we enjoyed in those days. Occasionally there are wobbles about missing his classmates, but I think overall he appreciates the advantages of being homeschooled.





Who knows how long this era will last. I still have a daughter in school (and yes, there have been some jealousy issues there, but honestly it would be too much to home-ed them both), and perhaps her brother will decide to go back there at some point, too. But for now this feels like absolutely the right option for bringing out the best in him. It is early days, but most of the time I am feeling good about it, and it is certainly a relief to have the constant worries about school behind us. 
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