This is not radical

As I walk past the school on my way to an outing, I can’t help but notice that I am going in the opposite direction to everyone else. The parents and children all going in the same direction, speeding up as they look at their watches, desperate to get there on time.

Later, I pop to the shops and while I am there, I am asked almost every time why my child is not in school…. and I am struck by the feeling that I am doing something radical. Something so unusual and ‘out there’ that people are surprised by it and have cause to ask me about it. Every. Single. Day.

Except that this isn’t a radical step at all. This is normal life for me and my daughter. This is the day-to-day life for us and between 45,000 and 80,000 other people.

There is nothing radical about learning every day as we go about our business. There is nothing radical about choosing not to put my child into a class of 30 other children of differing needs and abilities, to be taught (and expected to learn) the same things at exactly the same time, for 6 hours a day.

And don’t get me started on the fact that that 6 hour day is probably taken up by just over 1.5 hours worth of actual learning per day (I love this blog on the subject).

Sure, to choose not to do what the majority does is unusual. Only up to 2% of children are educated in this way. However, we are not unusual people. We are ordinary people doing what works for our children in an ordinary way.

Home education is a valid choice. It is calm. It is gentle. It is sociable. It is fascinating. It is exciting and fun…. But it is not radical.

Can You Work and Home Educate?

I hear this question a lot from people who are considering home ed. There is a belief that home education is expensive (more about that in a later blog post) and that you won’t be able to work while doing it either. Neither of these are true. Home education is as expensive as you want it to be and you can definitely work while doing it – you just have to be creative.

However, I’m not going to say it is easy – it isn’t – but raising children can be difficult anyway and we’ve managed to do that so far, right?

You will need to make sacrifices. Instead of arranging childcare around your work, you will need to arrange work around your children. Self-employment or freelance work is probably the best type of work for home educators, simply because of flexibility, but it can be done if you work away from the home, too.

In my case, I am self-employed. I work for an hour or two in the daytime, whenever W is otherwise engaged in play or an organised activity, and then I work from the time she goes to sleep until I am falling asleep at my computer, usually at around midnight. I am lucky in that I can be very flexible in the daytime as I don’t have appointments or (many) deadlines in my line of work, but I find that simply fitting the hours in can be a struggle. For example, tidying, cleaning and cooking has to be done in the daytime when W is awake. I don’t get the chance to clean up after bedtime as that is the time that I am working. I very rarely watch TV in the evening, but this is the sacrifice that I made to home educate W. I do realise that it isn’t for everyone. It is difficult – very difficult – sometimes, but I do strongly believe that the benefits of home education far outweigh the costs to my free time (and the loss of the money I could earn by doing something else if W were at school). I get to spend hours a day at the park, in museums or seeing our good friends (see my post on socialisation here), so this ‘sacrifice’ is definitely worth it for us, by a long way.

In a two-parent family, you could tag-team, in that when one of you comes home from work, the other can work from that time. It takes a lot of organisation and again involves unsociable hours, but it can be done. I know of a few families that work in this way, with one partner working two or three nights a week and the other partner working in the day. Again, it involves sacrifice. You will see a bit less of your partner, so the time that you do have together becomes all the more precious. If you find that this is the best working pattern for you, do make sure that you can fit in just a little bit of together time now and then. Savour the moments that you do have.

I have spoken to many home educators on the subject of work. I know editors, people who teach languages online at home, transcribers, bloggers, eBay sellers and many, many other freelancers. I know people who have had high-powered jobs, but have given that up when making the decision to home educate their children. I know single parents who home educate, some working and some not. I also know many people who are fortunate enough to survive on one person’s wage, within a two-parent family. Every family’s situation is different and it is important to make the decisions that are right for you, as a family. It is about looking at where you are now and what you want your future to be.

Questions to consider:

Do you have extended (or nuclear) family support to cover for the hours that you will work?

If your children have grandparents, aunts, uncles or other trusted extended family that would love to have regular time with them, take them up on their offers. Your children will love the time and attention from them and you will have space to work for a little while, when the opportunity comes up.

If not, are there other hours that you can do when your children are asleep or occupied at workshops, groups or lessons?

If your child is old enough, and ready, there are many and varied lessons or workshops that your child can do without you needing to be present (subject to all of the relevant DBS and qualification checks, of course). You would then have an hour or two to do some work while these happen.

Are there working from home opportunities that fit your skill base?

Try searching for local or national jobs that can be done from home. These are very often lower -paid jobs, but can be much more flexible in terms of hours. Be careful to never pay anything up-front and to check that any company is a reputable one before you commit to anything.

Is it possible to work fewer hours at your current place of work, or to ask for more flexibility with the hours that you do have?

Often people think that they cannot change their hours or request to work from home, for fear of upsetting their employers, but it might be worth an ask, at least. Explain your situation and your reasons for doing this. If you have an approachable boss, you might just be lucky.

I do realise that this is not an option for many people, simply because the job that you do needs you to be present at work for all of your hours, or because your boss is not approachable at all….

If you have a partner, can you work opposite hours to them?

Draw up a plan of how that could look for your family. How would you feel about it and how would your children feel about it? Could you trial it for a while and see how it works for you?

Have you researched local groups or lessons locally that your child will benefit from, while you can also work?

Check local Facebook groups and email lists for all the current activities, clubs, lessons and groups that your child could do. At this point, I have to say that it is important to not book in too much, especially if your child has only just been deregistered from a school environment. Make sure you have plenty of down-time and free-play opportunities in between organised activities.

In the end, the decision to home educate and to make a change to your working hours or overall employment lies with your family only. Only you know what is best for you and your family and no-one can tell you what to do for the best. Have a think about what life would be like if things stayed the same. Would things be better or worse with a change? You can’t predict that, of course, but sometimes it is better to make a change, than to keep things the same, for fear of making the wrong decision. Maybe this could be the change that you all needed. Maybe this could be the best thing for you all and you would be a happier and more relaxed family because of it. You will never know until you make that leap….

Socialisation and Home Education

Whenever I talk to other people about home education, the socialisation question almost always comes up. Actually, it is a bit confusing for me as I wonder where people have got the idea that home educated children don’t see other children. Where did it come from? It can’t be that all these people know some home educated children somewhere who sit at home and see no other children at all, because I’ve never met any and I’m fairly sure that this mythical family doesn’t exist…

Is it from the media? It is certainly true that there have been a couple of cases where the children in a family have been held captive and haven’t been allowed to see the outside world, but these are extreme and incredibly rare cases. It is estimated that there are between 40,000 and 80,000 home educating families in the UK. Is it the popular belief that all of these families are hiding from the world at a desk at home?

The truth, in fact, is that us families see each other. A lot. The friendships that home educated children have cross all age ranges, social strata and are neurodiverse. They form friendships according to common interests and not simply because they are exactly the same age or ethnicity etc. Schooled children are made to sit with the same people of the same age for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week. The potential for these children to find other people who like similar things and play in the same way is drastically reduced as the ability to mix with a varied range of children is almost completely closed to them.

I would like to suggest that actually, us home educators are as worried about socialisation as much as anyone (because we are questioned about it so much, perhaps), and because of this, we go out of our way to seek groups and play opportunities for our children in order for them to form many friendships. It has to be the case that our children are having so much opportunity to mix with children with common interests, that they could be forming more varied and meaningful friendships than those children who happen to be in the same class, age (and often gender) at school.

So, if you are new to home education, or have been doing it for a while and are worried about socialisation, here are some tips for how to get your children out there and forming lasting friendships:

1. Join as many home education Facebook groups as possible.

I have found that the vast majority of meet-ups are advertised on local Facebook groups. Just search for “home education [your area]” in the Facebook search bar and it will bring up groups local to you. Try searching by county and also towns local to you. You’ll find a range of meet-ups and groups at various dates and times available to you.

2. Don’t worry if you’ve been to a meet-up and your child didn’t play with anyone.

As is the case for adults, children also need to find other children that they ‘click’ with and have the same interests as them. Don’t be disheartened if you have been to a group (or a few) and your child hasn’t engaged with many people. It will come. Keep going to different meets until you find your ‘tribe’… Those people that ‘get’ you and your children and welcome you for who you are.

With more reserved children, it may take a few visits to the same groups for them to ‘warm up’ and step outside of their comfort zones to talk to other children. I find this especially true for those children who have found school stressful or difficult socially. They need time to adjust and to regain their confidence for making friends. For some, school settings can be damaging socially (it certainly was for me, but more about that in a future post), and it takes time to undo the fear that some children experience when walking into a busy room full of children again. Give it time.

3. Chat to the parents!

When you go to meet-ups, make sure you chat to others. It can be daunting, but I have found that there is a big sense of community amongst home edders and they are happy to share knowledge and tips with others as they have been where you are too.

Other parents can tell you about the social meets and groups that are not advertised on the Facebook sites. These meets are many and varied and are often arranged by a group of friends whose children get on well together. If your children have common interests with the others (and even if they don’t), they will be welcomed along and you will have a full social diary in no time!

4. Go to your local park in the daytime.

Do your children play with other children at the park? If they do, walk over to the children’s parents and chat to them. If your child is playing with another child for a long time, go and say ‘Hi’ to their parents and introduce yourself. Parks are very busy after school, but if you go in the daytime, it is much easier for your children to play with one or two other children and have the space to run around. I have found other home-educating families this way and have made some great friendships, for me and for W. It is a bold step to go out of your way to meet people in this way, but you and your children could end up with friends for life, who live very near indeed.

5. Go on organised trips.

Organised trips for home educators happen all the time. In fact, they are so frequent that I have to pick and choose only the best ones for W to go on as there is so much choice.

Ask other parents at regular home-ed meets to join you to email lists and Facebook groups that are advertising trips at the education discount rate. It is not expensive to go on these as home educators can get the schools rate when they go in a group. Adults are often free and children’s tickets are at a drastically reduced cost, often with workshops included in that price too!

Search on Facebook for ‘Home education trips’ to find some of these.

When you are there, you will meet even more families similar to yours, especially if you are going to s specific workshop for a specific interest.

6. Relax

Try not to push your child to mix with others if they are not comfortable doing so yet (especially if they have recently been deregistered from school and are still finding their feet). Our job is to provide the opportunities for them to play with others, but not to push them into it. If a child feels pressured to do something, it is less fun and less meaningful for them than if they had done it under their own steam.

Model the behaviour you want to see in your child. Talk to others (adults and children) and show that being with others can be a fun experience. Take it easy, though. It takes time to step outside of your comfort zone, just as it does for our children.

We have all been there. We have started the home-ed journey with nerves, trepidation and doubt. We all found each other somehow and have the common goal of doing the best for our children. Taking the first step of de-registering (or even deciding to home educate before school age) is a huge decision to make, but we did it. And we did it with our children’s best interests at heart. And that is the point of all of this, after all.