Making the decision to homeschool

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The hardest thing about homeschooling was the decision to homeschool itself. This statement came from blogger Rebecca Beesley, who writes at The Beesley Buzz who took first step into the homeschooling world. Here she shares her story to be able to reassure others who are going through the same decision.

“But you’re not a qualified teacher! Are you even allowed to home-educate them?”
“Don’t you get fed up with having your children at home ALL the time?”
“Poor kids – do they get to socialise with anyone whilst being homeschooled?”

These are just a few of the questions I used to hear when I was home-educating my children. And in case you want to know the answers to the questions, it’s Yes, No, and Yes.

Home schooling, or home education as it is sometimes referred to, is gaining popularity in the UK. It is estimated that around 48,000 children in the UK are being home-educated and it is entirely legal to do so.

It was around this time of year, 7 years ago that we found ourselves having to make one of the hardest decisions we’ve had to make about our children. Our eldest, Joshua, had attended preschool with no particular problems – just a noticeable absence of playdates, party invites and Christmas cards. He then began reception year at school where we were soon told that because of our ‘poor parenting skills’ Joshua was not listening and was badly behaved at school.

We struggled through that year regularly meeting with the school and being told of the trouble our son had caused. By then we’d started to get a glimpse into Josh’s levels of intelligence. As he was our eldest we had no idea that it wasn’t the norm to be able to count well beyond the number 20 when you’re aged just 18 months old, nor that it was unusual to be able to add and takeaway whole strings of numbers in your head when you are just 3 years old. By the age of 4 he was doing multiplication. This wasn’t anything anyone had taught him, he’d just figured it out himself. Yet at school all we heard about were the problems and behaviour issues he was having.

This just didn’t add up. Although at home his behaviour was challenging, it could be managed with appropriate strategies and techniques. Yet at school, those we trusted to be more experienced and knowledgeable were unable to support him. So we went down the route of diagnosis to see if there could be a medical explanation for this. Joshua was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome – an Autistic Spectrum Disorder – along with Sensory issues (Sensory Processing Disorder).

We felt such relief. Now we could put things right. It may have taken over a year of struggling in the education system but finally with a diagnosis we hoped that his school could now enable him to reach his academic potential. Sadly, we were wrong. Things didn’t improve at school.

We tried a change of school and to cut a long story short, things went from bad to worse.

Enough was enough. We knew we couldn’t carry on like this. Our 5 year old son was coming home from school stressed and distraught every single day. We would be called over to see the teacher at the end of the school day to be told of all his bad behaviour – right in front of him! That goes against everything I’ve ever learnt about positive behaviour management.

And yet what choice did we have. The school had applied for, and failed to get, a statement of special needs (now known as an EHCP) and without it he wouldn’t be entitled to apply to attend a school with specialist provision. A change of school to another mainstream school also felt like the wrong choice as how many times can a kid be moved school to school without it impacting on his wellbeing.

We knew the only ‘choice’ we were left with was home-education. And yet it felt such a big and scary choice to make. Were we doing the right thing? We’d had our confidence as parents ripped away from us with the school blaming us for ‘poor parenting’ causing our son’s behaviour. As he was such an intelligent child, would we be putting his entire future in jeopardy? What did we know about teaching, or the education curriculum, or what they should be learning in each key stage?

All these worries and more were flying through our minds. And yet we knew there was no other choice.

So we wrote a letter to the school and stopped sending both our sons to school (our younger son Daniel had just started reception year by that point).

The way we justified it to ourselves was that we would see how it goes over the coming term and if it didn’t work out, we would apply for another school place again.

That term went well. In fact, it went more than well as Joshua felt relaxed in his home setting and we could tailor ‘school’ work to fit his topics of interest. All of a sudden the daily stress and anxiety he had been experiencing was removed and he was a much happier child.

We continued the following term, taking it a term at a time. And because our days seamlessly blended between term-time and school-holidays, there was none of the stress associated with that. So, no, I never got fed-up of my children being at home.

In fact, my own stress-levels were vastly reduced as we no longer had the meetings with school and the 16 professionals who would meet together to try to make school work for Josh without success. We applied for a statement ourselves, this time ensuring that all the correct documents were enclosed (which his previous school had omitted to send) and he was awarded a statement of special educational needs which would have enabled us to apply for a place at a specialist school. We decided not to. Because quite frankly we were all having a whale of a time homeschooling!

Some days our homeschooling routine would be predominately based at home with schoolwork and worksheets and textbooks, whilst other days would be packed full of picnics and outings. We’d take holidays during term-time which was perfect for Joshua who struggles with overcrowded places during school-holiday times. And we’d enjoy days out at theme parks without the crowds and queues.

I’d occasionally wonder whether they were ‘keeping up with’ others in their respective year groups but then I’d remind myself that every child is unique and needs to go at their own pace of learning anyhow so it was an irrelevant worry to have.

During our years of homeschooling, our daughter Trinity was born. We would never have contemplated having another child whilst the boys were at school experiencing all the stress that went with it. She has been such a blessing in all our lives and it is because of the decision to homeschool that we have her in our family. We also birthed our blog The Beesley Buzz as a way of recording our homeschool and family adventures – To this day I’ve kept the ‘Home ed’ page of some of the resources that we found so useful during our home educating days – just in case they prove useful to someone else starting out!

So, one term became two, two terms became three and before we knew it we’d been homeschooling for several years. We found that there were local homeschool groups that met regularly and there were so many social and educational activities that we could dip in and out of to suit us. Socialisation was never an issue.

After 3 years of homeschooling, the time felt right in all our lives to move onto the next chapter. We enrolled Daniel in our local school and Joshua was offered a place at a school which offered a mix of a mainstream setting with a specialist unit attached to it.
Both boys thrived and continue to do well. Without that time at home I’m not sure Joshua would ever have coped with school successfully.

I am writing this because I still hear of people grappling with that decision – Should I homeschool my child? I want to shout and tell them to go for it, they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. That their kids will be fine. That the decision does not have to be forever. That longterm outcomes for homeschooled children are just as good as, if not better, than children attending school. There are SO many advantages to homeschooling.

Yet I remember just how hard it was to make that decision myself – In fact it the hardest things about homeschooling was the decision to homeschool itself. I know it is a decision that each parent needs to make themselves – but I hope that by writing these words, it will be a way of me standing alongside you, as you make that decision.

About the author. You can read more from Rebecca Beesley at The Beesley Buzz and on Twitter: @TheBeesleyBuzz

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