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Young people, mental health & how home education can teach us a thing or two

Home education is a hugely emotive subject at the best of times with its very presence capable of causing untold offence, so I want to preface this blog by saying that its purpose is absolutely not to judge or attempt to persuade.
I realise that it’s not easy or even possible for some parents to just pull their kids out of school & crack on, & that many either don’t want to or their kids aren’t up for it. There are many factors to consider & each family has individual needs, which I completely respect.
That said, as is often the case with ‘a different way of doing things’, people are quick to criticise & condemn. Not just others, but themselves, & with this comes massive self-doubt, a feeling of needing to justify their actions, & for the outcome to be some kind of perfection, even when the conventional way of doing things is hugely flawed.

So as ever, the minority viewpoint deserves a voice as well as some reassurance & empowerment, & that’s where I’m coming from with this.

This is for anyone who is considering, just deciding to, just started doing, has a relative or friend that’s doing it etc, & has doubts or questions.

I have to be honest, writing this is bringing back some slightly bitter memories, when in the beginning I took on some kind of misplaced guilt at doing something that despite clearly helping my kids thrive, was for whatever reason making many people feel uncomfortable… Whilst at the same time the world & his uncle seemed to find it perfectly acceptable to grill us to within an inch of our lives with endless ‘but what about…’ or ‘but have you considered…’ questions, taking on an equally misplaced responsibility for the educational & social welfare of my children now that they were no longer in the government’s ‘safe’ hands.
I’ll let that go now.

I’m writing this now, for no doubt obvious reasons. There has been a steady deregistering of children from the school system since the expectations to wear masks, social distance, santisise etc came in, & at the time of writing, schools are shut & an announcement will be made shortly re.their reopening. Today’s ‘news’ tells us that there is ‘no evidence that schools spread lots of coronavirus’, so I guess we can rest assured all restrictions will be lifted along with the guilt, fear & perceived responsibility that’s been dumped on our children’s shoulders about potentially killing the elderly, especially given that the heroic vaccine has now been administered to the ‘most at risk’.
Surely they wouldn’t increase current restrictions & bring in more, such as testing or vaccination?
That would be curious, wouldn’t it?
Either way, in many parents’ eyes they’ve already gone too far & a lot more people are now choosing for their kids to learn at home.

When home education comes up in conversation with people who are considering it, there are things I often hear, & things I want to say but rarely do – probably for fear of sounding like a naive hippy, a smugarse know-it-all or anything in-between. (I come from a family consisting of 2 teachers & a Cambridge graduate, so my transition to home education was ‘well-questioned’ shall we say.)
I’m over that now though, & I’ve actually found that generally, when I drop the people pleasing bs & tell it like it is, people tend to deflate with relief… When I came clean with one friend about our lack of curriculum based maths she actually fell to a heap on the floor & yelled ‘THANK YOU!’ before rising with renewed vigor to focus on things her kids were actually interested in.
So, for anyone interested in home education, here are the things I’d like to say about it, & I hope they offer some level of reassurance.

These are the things I often hear:
‘I don’t know enough.’
‘I couldn’t keep up with the curriculum.’
‘They wouldn’t listen to me.’
‘They’d drive me insane & I’d end up locking them in a cupboard.’
‘I couldn’t work.’
‘I’d never get a break.’
‘They’d stay in bed all day.’
‘I’d stay in bed all day.’
‘My relatives would give me gip’.
‘They’d become socially isolated & stop washing.’
‘I’d drink too much gin’.

These are my responses:
No.1.
Own your decision.
Whose kids are they? Who makes the decisions? Who knows what’s best? Who’s juggling a million things in their & their family’s lives to try & do what’s best for everyone?
You.
Whose business it is other than yours?
No one’s.
Yes you’ll see a lot more raised eyebrows than usual but they’ll get over it. Let’s be honest, it’s 2021; there are stranger things to look at than children ‘out & about’ between the hours of 9 & 3.

No.2.
Let go of the urge to over-explain.
My partner Graham has a tendency to say to anyone asking questions, ‘they teach themselves.’
I used to cringe & jump in to explain how ‘we facilitate rather than teach, & just last week they learnt all about…’ but now I just watch their response as they process what he’s said & either light up with interest or start short-circuiting.
When it comes to people asking questions, it quickly becomes very obvious who wants to know more in a genuinely interested way & who just wants to be a pain in the arse.
Trust your gut, it’ll be right.
I’ve lost count of the number of times my kids have been presented with the loaded & expectant ‘not in school?’ question from nosy people in shops. The best response I’ve heard to this was a 12 year old girl who, having had a gutsful, nonchalantly answered “No, I burnt it down.”
It shuts down the ‘conversation’ with the same vigor of the equivalent loaded question of today;
“No mask?”
“No. No knickers either.”

No.3.
The ‘rules’.
You don’t have to ask permission of anyone to home educate, you tell them. You just have to write to the council to deregister.
You don’t have to accept the offer of support or submit a report on your child’s progress when the nice people from the council tell you they’re coming to visit you.
You don’t have to follow the curriculum.
You don’t have to have a timetable.
They don’t have to sit exams.
They won’t spontaneously combust if they turn 16 without having sat GCSE’s. They can be done at any age if desired or required, spaced out to suit needs & chosen to follow interests & career direction.

No.4.
Don’t know enough?
Firstly, enough for what? To fill your child’s head with facts that they’re unlikely to remember by the end of the day, let alone when they’re 45?
Secondly, if you went through the school system yourself & feel inadequate to teach a 10 year old geography, what does that say about the school system? You can take this as the most reassuring reason to home educate & throw it in the face of anyone giving you earache over your decision.

No.5.
What about the curriculum?
What about it? Seriously.
Who decides what our children should be learning in order to get on in life?
What human being has the position of authority to make this decision?
No doubt he/she is highly educated (which I can’t write without pointing out is an entirely different thing to being highly intelligent), but the epiphany I had with the school system was exactly this – if I was to meet these people face to face, would I trust them?
These government advisors?
Would I admire & respect them & know without a shadow of a doubt that they had my child’s absolute best interests at heart?
Would I happily hand over my children’s innocent, pliable & curious minds to what these people had on offer to fill them with?
Would I truly believe that they knew better than me & better than my child as to what they needed in order to grow & thrive into a healthy, open-minded, happy, capable, kind, curious, resourceful adult?
Would I f@ck.
Out they came.

No.6.
‘They wouldn’t listen to me’
I have a quote on my wall that says ‘Learning can only happen when a child is interested. If they’re not interested it’s like throwing marshmallows at their head & calling it eating’.
So no, if you’re banging on about fractions when they want to make a robot, they probably won’t listen to you… & good for them, they’ll learn a hell of a lot more about fractions from building robots than from listening to you droning on about sharing imaginary pieces of cake.
If you facilitated the robot building & gave them actual cake however, different story!
It’s my firm belief & experience that children don’t need to be taught, they just need some guidance, help & resources to learn what interests them.
They don’t need a curriculum anymore than you or I.
They don’t need to ‘keep up’, they don’t need to be told what to think, & the world doesn’t need chopping up into different subjects in order for them to learn.
Children show us as babies & toddlers how much they love learning. They crawl towards something, point to it & look at us with curious excitement. We take that as our cue to help them explore what they’re interested in, & like the most unlaboured magic, they learn – & not only that, they enjoy it.
As adults our life experiences, inspiration & conversations lead us to read books, do courses, join clubs & research things if we want to learn.
Why do we believe that between toddlerhood & adulthood we need to completely turn these natural ways of learning on their heads, & force feed them facts & obedience instead?
Is it because we truly think it’s necessary, or is it because the government told us to?

No.7.
‘I won’t cope’
When they’re allowed to follow their interests, you will get a break because they don’t need to be & won’t want to be with you all the time.
Life becomes more fluid & flexible because you’re no longer pigeonholed into trying to cherish time with your tired & grouchy child between the hours of 4 & 8pm when all they’re interested in is carbohydrates.
This isn’t their personality, it’s their post-school personality, & it can extend to weekends & holidays too.
At home if they’re tired they can stay in bed.
If you’re tired or need to do some work they will adapt.
I’m not saying it’s easy, I’m saying it’s doable, & this is coming from someone who likes a tidy(ish) house, runs their own business, doesn’t have family nearby, doesn’t have loads of money & doesn’t cope well with overwhelm. It’s a learning curve, it feels like a leap of faith & there are days when it’s all too much & Graham comes home to find us all sulking in different rooms &/or crying, but it’s worth it a million times over…
If for any reason it didn’t work however, school will still be there if they needed to return. Nothing has to be forever.
There is loads of support, plenty of resources online & I’d highly recommend the book ‘Home education – a notebook’, by Ros Mountney for down to earth sanity.

No.8.
The ‘S’ word
Socialisation is to home education what polio is to vaccination; the ‘trump card’ thrown at you by people who want to tell you you’re wrong.
Home educated kids socialise. There are loads of them. We meet up for entire days & kids of all ages charge around together, teach each other things & learn skills from willing adults. They have friends who go to school, who they see in the evenings. They write to each other, hang out in cafes or go shopping on a weekday, we go on holiday during term time, they make new friends & have plenty of healthy communication with adults who treat them as equals.
Imagine how much socialising could happen if everyone who ‘only sends their kids to school to socialise’, didn’t send them to school to socialise.

No.9
‘But kids need to be prepared for the real world’
I couldn’t agree more, but if a child needs to spend 6 hours a day in a compound, being fed information from the government & made to comply against their will, what kind of world are we preparing them for?
Given how far we currently have to look to answer that, I’d argue that what the world needs now is a wave of innovative, creative, free-thinkers with intact right-brain hemispheres, who aren’t afraid to buck the trend; not another generation of authority-phobic, obedient conformists.

Basically my message is this:
Kids are incredible.
They are hilarious.
They are innovative.
They see through shit.
They are honest.
They have endless creativity.
Their imaginations are an absolute inspiration & they have the ability to teach us more than we could ever teach them.

I know most of us have been somewhat preoccupied during the last year, but as cheesy as it is to say, children are the future & it drives me insane how they’ve been treated throughout this craziness.
I hope the focus will now be on them.
They need encouragement & acceptance to be themselves. They deserve respect, love, consideration, empathy, to have their individual needs met & to spend time in healthy environments.

I’d invite anyone with kids to just be open to the idea that they might not have come here just to be indoctrinated for 16+ years by a sinking government now on its knees in an increasingly exposed pool of corruption, but to teach us a thing or two about what it means to be human… A lesson that in my opinion we are currently in desparate need of.

If your gut is telling you to give it a go, trust your instincts, dive in & cut yourself some slack.
We might mess up but let’s be honest; the government is setting the bar pretty low at the moment – it won’t be too hard to feel like Mary Poppins by comparison.