Stella talks about her experience of home educating two of her children. They have recently withdrawn nine-year-old Tobi and 12-year-old Poppy from school. Both children struggled with school. The family are doing a mix of self-directed style of education and some structured activities
“The reason I decided to home ed was mainly my nine-year-old. She was exploding when she got home from year 1. As time went on this increased. Every time I spoke to staff at school they said she was fine in school. Quiet, but fine. At home she is a chatterbox, so this didn’t add up. When she got to year 3 she really started refusing. She found using the school bus difficult and was telling me she didn’t understand things in class and that teachers were “too busy” to explain. This is when she started going to the toilets to cry, rather than ask. In the mornings she was running off the school bus (when I managed to get her on) and on one occasion she was kicking the doors until the driver let her out.
Despite asking the school for support, they basically said I was too soft and when they did offer help, they were totally inconsistent. We had sticker charts, bars of chocolate, craft activities, class pets. All of which were put in place for no more than a few weeks. As I took her in to school her outbursts got worse and I watched the colour drain from her as the bell rang and she lined up for class. After months of this and most mornings us both being in tears we agreed that she’d be better off at home.
My 12-year-old has always found school hard. She suffers with dyslexia. Despite this she is keen and diligent and tries as hard as she can. At primary school she was really well supported. She started school refusing in year 5, the pressure was put on with extra homework to get ready for sats and at the same time puberty hit. We worked our butts off and with a lot of support we got through sats, with pretty good scores too.
My daughter chose the secondary school where she felt most comfortable, and with fantastic support. Unfortunately, all her friends from school went elsewhere. So. We have puberty, a learning difficulty and a loss of support from friends. She was totally overwhelmed. She was withdrawn, school refusing, in tears every morning, self-harming and utterly miserable. She even told school she had taken an overdose so they would call me to collect her. I offered her the choice for a few months before she decided she’d had enough and wanted out. Her school were really supportive of Poppy but when I spoke to them about de registration they were relieved. They saw her mental health was fragile and school just wasn’t the right place for her at that time.”
What are your children like?
“Tobi is 9. I suspect she is on the autistic spectrum. She is very chatty, cheeky and is totally obsessed with cats. She likes being outside and active. She enjoys walking, climbing, swimming, ice skating and as of yesterday she goes horse riding. She doesn’t like social situations. She likes to be barefoot most of the time.
Poppy is 12 and although she likes a bit of peace she is very sociable. She goes out with friends a lot, both from primary school and secondary school. She also makes friends really easily. So each new home ed activity and group means she has loads more friends. She hates reading but loves maths and French and is really creative. She loves sewing, felting, cooking and baking. She enjoys trying new things and although terrified to start she gives everything 110%. Poppy would really love to learn to drive and wants to become a paramedic.”
What does home education look like for your family?
“I have been mainly unschooling. My aim is to correct the damage done, I had two wonderful girls who were broken. Their confidence and self-esteem were shattered. Every time we tried structured lessons they withdrew saying they couldn’t do it, they were stupid and rubbish. They felt like failures as they didn’t know the answers. I’ve been trying new things and pointing out what education actually is. It’s about trying things you don’t know, about research and practice until you can answer the questions or complete the task. We’ve also been going to different groups, finding the ones that we feel comfortable in. Now we have found the one’s that suit us we are putting more structured things in to fit around the groups. We’ve started horse riding on alternate Wednesdays, we have a fortnightly group on Tuesdays, forest school monthly on Mondays and we can fit lessons between these. They use online things like Khan academy and they choose the area of study. Tobi uses various literacy games and Poppy has a ten-minute tutor programme that I subscribed to. They use various workbooks, look things up, come up with mad challenges or recipes from YouTube and others. Afternoons will be ‘crafternoons’, so any practical experiments, crafts, games, cooking, baking will be after lunch.
The change has been huge. They are both more cheerful, happy, relaxed, confident. When we started the girls would both walk away from tasks they didn’t understand, they were used to asking for help and either not getting any or not understanding the instructions. Now they ask, and we chat about it and we find out it’s a lot easier than we thought.
I have four daughters. They are 20, 13, 12 and 9. As my 13-year-old is in a specialist placement I have decided to work with the local authority to organise a bespoke timetable for her. If this doesn’t work I may have to reconsider. I hope she will remain there as her Pathological Demand Avoidance and me asking her to work at home affects our relationship quite badly. I recently mentioned to my eldest that I would have liked to have taught them all at home. She said she really enjoyed school so it wouldn’t have been for her. From our experience as a family, we love home ed and all the opportunities it offers. We are lucky that we have a lot of local groups and tonnes of activities to choose from. This term we are going to forest school, horse riding, ice skating, climbing and a million and one other things. My youngest two love it but it really doesn’t suit everyone.”