A Funny Kind of Education

  “Not in school today?”

“How can they learn without going to school?”

“How will they know anything if they don’t do tests?”

“Won’t they have no friends?”

“Don’t you worry it’ll make your kids weird?”

These are just some of the questions you get asked when you home educate. How we dealt with them and what the answers are, plus all the other things that get thrown at you as a home school family, can be found in my new book ‘A FUNNY KIND OF EDUCATION’.

But don’t think this is an educational tome! For despite the word being in the title, this is less of a book about education and more of a family story; a story of what it’s really like to home school.

It contains all the ups and downs of any family’s life, the laughter and the fun, the decisions and the excitement, and the loving way in which it’s possible to raise and educate children without them going to school. And still have them turn out okay!

Most of all it’s a book intended to move you, make you laugh and cry. And help the world see education, and most particularly home educating families, a little differently.

It’s about time!

Here are some random exerts to give you a flavour…

…We had talked about Home Educating but when I suggested it was crunch time to Charles I thought he was going to turn round, open the cupboard door, climb in and hide. He stood there, hovering, clearly not knowing what on earth to say. As usual, I filled the huge gaping silence by gabbing on.

“Well, we’ve got to do something. We can’t stand by and watch both our kids have their personalities totally crushed by school not to mention their desire to learn wiped out. And it’s not as if switching to the other local school is going to solve anything. They’ve got just as many problems.”

More silence. He fiddled with the cupboard latch wearing the kind of look he might have when going for testicular surgery. I perched on the table and gabbled on.

“I mean look at them; Chelsea’s constantly ill with infections and she’s totally miserable and unhappy which is probably why she’s always ill. Charley can’t stand the noise and hubbub and there’s no way she’s going to cope with the boring stuff when she needs to be doing practical things – she’s already being kept in for not doing things that are totally inappropriate for her. They’ll be sticking some awful label on her soon and she’s only five, for goodness sake.”

“I know. I hate to see it too,” Charles said, standing there looking like a dejected dog clearly hoping that the problem would have just gone away by now.

“But you don’t see the most of it actually, that’s the thing; in the mornings when the girls say they’re ill but I know the real reason is it’s just they hate it. And I have to keep convincing them that they need to go because school’s important and it’s good for them to go, when actually I think most of what goes on there is a whole load of shite!” I was that angry I’d be foaming at the mouth soon.

“I know, I know! You’re right. It can’t go on.” His face was cloudy and grey with concern.

“So what are we going to do? What on earth are we going to do?”

He actually turned away then and undid the latch. Typical man I thought, hide away from the issue and it’s not as if this is the first time we’ve talked about the girls’ schooling. But I was wrong; he wasn’t climbing in the cupboard he was only getting out the potatoes. He tipped them into the bowl in the sink and started peeling. This way he had his back to me and I couldn’t see his face but I sensed he was stewed up when he spoke.

“I just feel worried I wouldn’t know what to do if we Home Educated. It’s alright for you; you’ve worked in school. My experience was only when I went and that was pretty dire,” he said.

“Exactly, and look what happened. School totally failed you and now it could do exactly the same to our kids. You want that to happen? Besides, you know when I was working in schools much of what I saw going on there I felt was bad for kids. I don’t want them continually subjected to that, do you?”

“Course not! I just worry that it’ll mostly be on your shoulders while I’m at work.”

“I know that. But, I’m not expecting you to know what to do. I don’t either and I know most of it would be up to me, but anyway we’d be in it together – we’ll learn together and with your work schedule you’ll have time at home to be involved. From what I know most Home Educating parents enter into it from the same point, they have to learn as they go along. It’s a new journey for all of us.”

“But do you think we can do it?” He stopped peeling to think. He could never multitask.

“Well, it’s got to be better than what’s happening to them now. I reckon the girls will be far happier and consequently learning a hell of a lot more from being Home Educated than from being in school right now. I mean look at them, they’re not the happy little people they used to be. They can’t learn if they’re miserable and they’re just miserable all the time and falling out. They never used to be like that.”

“I know. I hate it. It’s like our real kids have disappeared.” He’d hit the nail on the head with that remark. The truth of it rattled round the silence. The potatoes were nearly finished. He was going to have to face it in a minute.

I took in a deep breath. “Well perhaps we could just give it a try. It’s not forever. But I don’t really think we have an alternative, if we’re both agreed we don’t want it to go on like it is.”

He chucked the last potato in the pan and turned round.

“I certainly don’t want it to go on like this.” A hopeful grin spread across his face as he looked at me. “Do you think we could?”

“What choice have we got, if we don’t want the kids to hate education as they’re learning to?”

“Perhaps we should then.” He wiped his wet hands on his jumper. “It’s got to be worth a try.”

We stared at each other and both started grinning, as if a little seed of something new, naughty, but still to be treasured was growing.  We clamped our arms round each other and hugged in celebration, his damp hands on my shirt. Least I think we were hugging; we might have been just clinging to each other in terror…

… That evening, rather than running round the table whooping for joy and throwing the school skirts in the air as I felt like doing, I put on my most sensible parent voice.

“Your dad and I have been thinking”.

They ignored us.

“We think it best you continue your education at home for the time being.”

Two pairs of eyes switched from the telly and locked into mine.

“You mean, not go to school?” asked Chelsea, sneezing suddenly. I had my suspicions it was school that had that effect. It got up her nose so much.

“Yes.”

“What? No more school?” asked Charley, her tear tired eyes brightening.

“Yes. I mean not go to school, just for now. You’ll do all your work at home, if you prefer. What do you think?”

The glimmer of developing hope in their faces said it all.

It only took a second before Charley exploded. She flung herself off the settee, lobbed herself at me and clasped her arms tight round my waist. She pressed her face into me and the desperation in her voice was shocking.

“Oh, thank you mummy, thank you, thank you.”

I could hardly speak for the emotion constricting my vocal cords.

“Are we allowed to do that?” Chelsea asked, ever the conscientious nine year old. How she suffered in school with her teacher pleasing.

“Yes, darling. You’re allowed to learn at home if it suits you better. And we think it will at the moment.”

Then I saw the beginnings of that old familiar smile. Tired looking and drained from her infection, but familiar; a glimpse of something that used to be. She came and joined in the cuddle.

“I’ll work hard, I promise,” she said.

“And I will too, I’ll work ever so hard,” added Charley.

That’s not what I wanted them to worry about.

“Well, we’ll sort all that out soon enough, you just need to get well for now,” I said. Just get rid of all those awful scabs off your face, I was thinking. They were crusted round Chelsea’s nose, mouth and eyes with her latest infection. And as for Charley; she needed to get rid of the scabs in her spirit. We left them to talk excitedly.

Charles and I couldn’t keep the excited smirks off our faces either. Or was it nerves twisting up our lips?…

… My legs trembled a bit as I took in the deregistration letter.

“Is she ill again?” asked the Teaching Assistant seeing Chelsea wasn’t with me. Still feeling a bit wobbly about the magnitude of what we were doing I wasn’t brave enough just then to explain or discuss our decision so I edited the truth; after all, she was genuinely poorly.

“Yes, she’s got another infection.”

“Aw! I hope she feels better soon. Tell her I’ll miss her.”

She was a terribly sweet lady and I knew she thought the world of Chelsea. She once told me at a parent’s evening that if she had a daughter she would want her to be just like ours. I guess she probably told that to all the mums. But then I watched another mum screaming at her monstrous kid and thought; perhaps she didn’t.

“Thank you,” I said. Then another thought struck me. “Chelsea seems to be ill an awful lot these days. Do you think she’s happy at school?”

The TA thought a moment before answering.

“I don’t know. But I have noticed she doesn’t seem to have that lovely smile anymore.” That’s the saddest thing I’d ever heard – we’d definitely made the right decision.

I handed my letter in at reception and had to prevent myself from skipping back down the path and out the school gates kicking my heels with relief and excitement.

On second thoughts, perhaps I should have just gone for it!…

… On our first Monday of our first week of our life without school I was still in a state of trance-like excitement. It was Monday and no school! I hadn’t had such joy about anything since they were born.

I had a permanent sense of holiday even though I knew it wasn’t. Even though I knew there would be worry and planning and decisions and strange challenges like explaining to the lady at the swimming pool why our kids weren’t in school.

That aside it felt like the world was at our fingertips. The world was our school. Our curriculum was our life. Our approach would be tailor made. Possibilities seemed as broad as exploring space.

Taking them for a swim was like having our own private pool. Just a few old folks swimming sedately up and down with wrinkly arms and rubber swathed heads. Even some of the men. Those without the rubber smelled of extreme hairspray. Although it was a bit weird without any young people in there, sinister almost.

The afternoon had the girls doing some beautiful art. It’s almost as if their inspiration, their creativity, their motivation to do other things than just watch the telly has suddenly been reignited.

I saw that and regretted not doing it years ago…

(Available from Amazon – click here).

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23 thoughts on “A Funny Kind of Education

  1. Pingback: You’re not finished yet | Ross Mountney's Notebook

  2. It seems there’s a real gap in the market for books about home educating – and a really good idea to write it like this more as a story for other parents (and others) to really identify with. All the best with it!

  3. That could be a clip from our life Ross. Our son was ‘crushed’ and was not ‘the child we knew’. Also when I took him out a teacher there said ‘He’s not been the happy little boy he used to be for a while has he.’ so why when you have parents evenings etc do they insist on saying ‘He’s getting on fine!’ argh Thank you Ross fills me with confidence and calm. Sam xxx

    • Thank you for moving comment Sam. You’d think that with so many teachers identifying with the fact that children aren’t happy any more they’d realise that it needs to be different in schools. Although I suppose the teachers probably do – it’s the politicians who are slow on the uptake! 🙂

  4. Love this! So glad I’ll be able to read it in full soon! Just downloaded your other book on my kindle but there was not the option to pre-order it on there. May have to wait a while for that. Will read the other one while I wait 🙂

  5. I am really looking forward to the book being published. Will it be an ebook to? Your conversations at home sound just like the ones that took place in our house six months ago.

  6. Can’t wait to read it! Well done for writing it and sharing your experiences with the other home educators. Home ed is definitely working for us – A is so much happier and relaxed and is learning far more than he ever did at school.

    • That’s good to know Gaina as I wanted to write something that would have a much wider appeal than just for home schoolers in the hope that it would increase understanding. Apart from trying to make it a real good story! So thank you!

  7. I’d love to read this, and I’m not even a parent never mind a home schooler! It seems like it’ll be a really good read for a wide audience :).

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