Starting to home educate 2020: Uneven road ahead
My earliest visions of home education (HE) looked a lot like an impressionist painting – beautiful from afar, but kinda blurry up close. I thought we would read literature in the shade of a tree a-la Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. I thought we would create art and make up stories about the products of our artful imaginings…
But the early reality of my HE life looked like a little boy who wanted me to read to him endlessly, who refused to engage with playdough, scissors, glue or *gulp* a pencil! When his little sister came along, he showed a passing interest in her finger painting, but sibling rivalry was not enough to persuade him to show any interest in developing his own fine motor skills.
So, he wouldn’t write. He clearly loved stories. I would teach him to read. Ha! Like beating my head against a brick wall. Day after day after day we went over the phonics books and played hand-made games. Until one day he decided he wanted to play…video games… He was off reading Legend of Zelda text like a pro! Parents have asked me how I managed to teach my son to read so well. I honestly have no idea. I tried the same tactics with little sister. I’m still beating my head against the brick wall of phonics. Sadly, she has little interest in video games or anything else that really requires reading. Perhaps I shouldn’t have encouraged the art so much…
My children still do not write the amount that school children write. They panic when ‘tested’ by well-meaning relatives and, yes, strangers. When asked what they do all day they usually reply with, “We play.” I love that answer. I also loathe how others perceive that answer. I’ve learned to feel proud and embarrassed at the same time.
The biggest bumps in our HE journey though, have to be the threats I’ve made to send them to school when the days were particularly hard. There were days they dragged their heels on everything, when they laid on their papers instead of writing on them or stared out of the window when I was right next to them speaking. Then there was the shouting. Then the threats. I’m ashamed to say it, but I would get so frustrated at their complete lack of gratitude for the opportunity to HE and the sacrifices we all made to make it work that I used school as a potential punishment. This is so wrong on so many levels when you really think about it. I mean, my kids aren’t punished for anything. And at some point my son was very aware of that fact and no longer reacted to my threats. Cue the amplification of said threat. I printed out registration papers and started filling them in. My son wouldn’t speak to me for three days.
Growth is a process
That’s when I twigged that this decision wasn’t mine to make. The education my children want and need has always been the priority. While I have the means to do so, to school or home educate will always be their decision. The frustration, the tears, the dragging of feet and refusal to do work were never the problem. They were symptoms of an education that wasn’t right for them in the moment. As the adult, it wasn’t, and still isn’t, my job to threaten them into a ‘good education.’ It is my job to recognise the symptoms, diagnose the problem with them, and facilitate appropriate adjustments.
Your hand hurts when writing? Shall we try cursive, typing, dictation? Your idea is too big and daunting? Let’s see how we can break it down into baby steps. Tired today? Here is what I had hoped to achieve today, but what do you think you can cope with? Maybe we’ll move the PE to tomorrow and read tomorrow’s History today so you can rest longer.
HE is, without a doubt, the weirdest job I have ever held. It is so unlike work or school. There is so much that is not within my control. There is no way to be ‘good’ at this. But I have learned to compromise at a United Nations level. I have mined the depths of my patience. I think it may actually be bottomless where I once thought it was so shallow. The sailing is never smooth in raising and educating children. They change. All.The.Time. Parents have to be on their toes. All.The.Time. It’s exhausting!
So, my HE journey doesn’t look like an impressionist painting. Do you know what it looks like? Caterpillar soup. Did you know a caterpillar turns itself into soup in the chrysalis to become a butterfly? Yeah. We’re definitely caterpillar soup. But sometimes I can see the butterfly we’re becoming – an organic creature more beautiful than any man-made painting.