So why do we home educate? At its simplest, just because we can. I’ve never been into explaining that decision – home education is (still) equal in law to school education, so at its simplest, we just chose that option.I’ve never asked someone why they chose to send their child to school, and I’ve always resented the implication that we need to explain our choices. Of course, there is curiousity about why people ever choose the road less travelled, whatever the context. So for us, that decision was based around the needs of a sick five year old. Having had major surgery as a baby, Hannah had a relapse in the few weeks before she was due to start school, and then developed septicaemia after a bout of tonsilitis went badly wrong. She was already enrolled at the local school – the best in the area apparently. And one completely incapable of dealing with the fact that she could barely stay awake for more than two hours at a time, or needed to drink 2 litres of water ever day, on the orders of her renal specialist. I think I knew it wouldn’t work out when they told me it was impossible for her to be allowed a sport’s bottle on her desk, and that the school auxiliary would measure out the requisite mls of water she needed every hour and come to the classroom to deliver it and ensure Hannah drank it.
And then there was Hannah herself. I had gone back to work two days a week when she was 18 months, and she went to a local nursery. Articulate from 11 months, Hannah informed us on a daily basis that she didn’t want to go. Firmly, and relentlessly. I was assured, of course, that she loved it the minute we’d gone, but most evenings when she was picked up she’d not be doing the socialising I was assured she did all day, but would be sitting in a corner with a book, her teddy, and her thumb. Around three, she worked out that when kids left nursery, they went to a place called school, and from that moment she started a war of attrition, informing us, her grandparents, the nursery staff, her paediatrician, random shop assistants, and anyone else who enquired, that she would not be going to school. Not ever.
The final straw came when the school informed us that our traumatised five year old, just out of hospital again, could not take her teddy to school with her – apparently it would mark her out as different, Effectively, they were telling us our child would be bullied, and they would do nothing to stop it.
Having worked with travelling families, I knew that HE was an option. Everyone told us it was my issue, the longed for only child of older parents, who couldn’t cut the apron strings. Nursery suggested family therapy to deal with Hannah’s separation issues. Both sets of grandparents were horrified. For us, we kept coming back to the fact that no one could promise us that we’d still have her in year’s time – did we really want to think she’d spent that year in a place she didn’t want to be – a school with a 1000 pupils.
We went to open days, I worried all that summer, and then we went away in our caravan for 6 weeks, and suddenly away from home, with Hannah gradually regaining some strength, we decided to go for it. At 10 pm in the evening the night before school started, we hand-delivered a letter saying “Thanks for the offer of a place, but over the summer we’ve decided to make private arrangments for Hannah’s education, which we feel will be better suited to her needs at the moment.” Hannah had stayed up and insisted on seeing the delivery of the letter -she whooped with excitment as we looked at it on the mat. I felt sick.
The next day we took the requisite “first day at school” photos at the door, with Hannah complete with teddy, and Bob, like thousands of other dads, off work for the day. We had planned to go to Arran for the day, but the sea was so rough it wasn’t possible, and we went to the Science Museum in Glasgow instead – to discover city schools were off for another day, and we didn’t stand out as much as I had feared.
I had some daft idea that we would play schools all day – I certainly bought enough resources in that panic striken first year. We still fully intended that Hannah would go to school at 6, so we bought the reading and maths schemes that the local school used. I’ve written before about my embarrassment when Hannah was trying to explain the symbiotic relationship between feeder birds and elephants, and I shrieked excitedly “yes, elephant – and what sound does that begin with?” But we rubbed along – I took a career break, and then Bob went back on shift, and that made it all much easier as he was around for two days during the week, and I worked those days. At six, we realised that the classes would be reconfigured at school when the kids were 7, so it seemed sensible to wait till then. At 7, it was working so well that we decided one more year….Bob went back on days, so we found a lovely childminder, so I could carry on working.
By that point, we were throwing the reading schemes etc out, and just doing what interested her – a schooled family in the next caravan one summer were aamazed to see Hannah sitting listening to Greek Myths – the boundaries between work and not-work became blurred, and eventually disappeared completely. We carried on pretty much like that for 5 years.
Hannah is now a young woman. At 13 she is bright and mature. She is starting to do more “school-type” work again. She reads everything from National Geographic to Jodi Picoult novels, to the pack of the cornflakes pack. She has a passion for history, and is more than comptetent in maths. Her writing and spelling is probably not as good as they would be if she’d gone to school, as we’ve never done drills or busy work, but she CAN and does write competely legibily. She is learning Spanish and Latin, and wanders through sciences as the notion takes her. She makes and sells jewellery fairly successfully, plays keyboard, is learning violin, and is a keen athlete. She’s won multiple medals for field events, is in netball club, and loves Guides. She is still quiet, but confident and capable, frequently earning money to go to various residential camps.
She says she will never go to school, and I feel slightly sorry that she will never have that experience in common with others – she will always have that gap on job applications, will always have to explain her “weird” upbringing. Sometimes (not very often) I wish I’d never hear about home ed. I wish I could have a day to myself. I wish the house wasn’t always covered in half finished projects. I’d like my dining room back (never a school room, but annexed by Hannah a few years ago for “stuff”), I worry about socialising -not socialisation, not at all, but we’ve never had a local HE community, and I envy others having that. We’ve never had the chance to do HE groups or outings. In those early panicky years I got all my support on line from the Muddle Puddle list and camps – something I will always be grateful for – and for knowing all those women who were walking the path as well. Their humour, kindness and support meant such a lot – I’m assuming you know who you are ;-), but there has not ever been anything which offered Hannah that same sense of normalcy.
But at the end of the day – I consider it to have been an absolute privilege to have spent so much time with her.