Time for another Jacinta-blog. There will be rambling and written stream of consciousness-free-flowing-figuring-it-all-out-as-I-type-and-simultaneous-breaking-of-every-guideline-for-good-blogging-ever-to-exist. But it’s my blog and I’ll ramble if I want to. You have been warned.
I’m coming out: I am Home School Curious.
It’s a dirty little secret I’ve been harbouring for years now, and recently the intensity of my curiosity has risen to the point where I am unable to stop myself bringing it up any time I’m in the company of anybody who happens to have ears. So, really, it’s not so much a secret any more. And yet, it still feels totally naughty.
I live in England. Homeschooling (HS) (or Home Educating, as it is referred to here) is not really a done thing. Yes, of course, some people do it, but not to the degree that it is widely done in the US. Growing up in Hong Kong there were several HS kids in my youth group. Now as an adult I have several friends who HS their children, but the majority of them are in America, or are American families living elsewhere.
My ears first really pricked up at the thought of HS my own two children when a couple of my most respected, nay, adored friends took the plunge. Then we happened to travel and ended up staying in the homes of a couple HS families. Until then HS for me was something I accepted as what some (if I’m honest) weird or ultra conservative Christian or earth-mothery families chose as an alternative lifestyle. But when people I trusted and respected talked me through it, and invited me to witness the reality of it, things started to change.
On top of all this, we used to live in Hong Kong, where unless you are happy/able to put your children through the local schooling system (which is affordable, but academically gruelling from the get go, and in Cantonese, mind you) then you can expect to have to find some way to first, get your children a place in an English-speaking school (may God be with you) and second, come up with the means to pay the extortionately high debenture and monthly school fees. This is manageable if you are a teacher and get to pay lower rates, or if you are just very wealthy. Alas, we aren’t either. So the idea of HS had been tossed around a fair bit over the years in light of all that.
Meanwhile, we moved to England, where children one and all are entitled to very decent schooling, usually a short walk from home, for free. The schools are lovely and the people who I’ve seen working in them are good people as far as I can tell. The school here is a hub of the local community and full of many good things.
Bottom line: It ain’t broke, so why mess?
This is what my internal imaginary panel of advisors asks me as I devour book upon book of HS exposition and methodology.
As I watch the collection of HS-related literature grow on the bookcase (that I actually ordered and then assembled in order to house said collection), I wonder if what is actually at play here is the most elaborate and potentially catastrophic wolf-in-sheeps-clothing form of procrastination in which I have ever indulged.
I have a PhD to write. And I will do some more work on it, I swear. Just as soon as I have read every book ever written on Charlotte Mason and all the books by all the people who think she’s the bees knees. While I’m at it I will grab myself a quick overview of the philosophical principals undergirding the Classical method of educating children according to the trivium of grammar, logic and rhetoric. Then after a skim over the various approaches to maths I will do my homework.
But I’d like to think I’m too lazy to do this much work in order to avoid some other work, work that I voluntarily elected to do, and am paying rather a lot of money for the privilege of doing.
So, then, for reals, what’s up?
My son didn’t get accepted into the same school as his big sister for September, and this is where all the HS thoughts resurfaced. I don’t love the thought of two sets of school runs, two separate school-based communities, and two lots of PTA meetings to feel guilty about not going to. Apart from the obvious inconvenience for me, the facilitator of all things family, I’d hoped Layla and Dylan would grow up together, enjoying shared experiences for most of their waking hours.
Voice of reason interjects – surely there’s a chance a place will open up and then all this will just have been a storm in a teacup. Yes and no.
Yes, we are on the wait list and yes an offer of a place might just change everything, but no, in that, this whole palaver has opened up an area of exploration that isn’t just going to go away. The not getting of the place was permission for us as a family to look up from the assumptions of everyday life and consider all the options, and now that I’ve considered a couple of them so thoroughly, the decision to accept any offers of a place will not be as straightforward.
There are pros and cons no matter what choices we make in life. I have looked hard at the pros for HS in a macro sense and more closely, in the Charlotte Mason/Classical methods, and I am starting to believe that they outweigh the pros for sending my children to school.
I am very excited about tailoring a life of pursuing passions, setting good life habits, experiencing the world through (off peak) travel as well as day to day local living, having time and energy to revel in great literature together, expose them to an array of art, music, food, language, sports, volunteer work, craft, nature appreciation, free play, outings to museums etc… I could go on..
It all sounds idyllic.
The purpose of this post is not to convince non-HS families that they are doing it wrong – I think HS would be a terrible idea for some people – or to try to gain approval from the HS world. It’s just me working things out in words, and then publically posting them for vanity to share with anyone who might be interested in what in the world is going on in my head these days.
Side note: a month and a half has past since I wrote the above. Everything beyond this point is fresh out of the oven.
SO… I did my research, I drew up many a spider diagram, I filled pages of free printable HS resource blank calendars I got from Pinterest just to get a hypothetical idea of what our lives could look like should I choose to push the matter to stage two: Convincing of the husband.
Like most couples Tom and I are very much on the same wavelength for many things – non-negotiable necessity for creative outlet, unwillingness to do soul-destroying work, muted sense of adventure, growing appreciation for old-people things like fruit cake and gardening, enjoyment of thoughtful and clean interior decoration and styling…
And, like most couples, we are from different planets in other areas – necessity of stacking the dishwasher just so, adhereance to good-blogging word count guidelines, willingness to follow recipes, size of (his) shoe collection, appropriateness of chocolate as a morning food, emotional response to prospect of instant noodles for dinner, volume level of general speaking voice….
So I was really preparing myself to have to give Tom a very persuasive Why-We-Should-Explore-Home-Education pitch. I assumed he would need a lot of convincing, and then might only reluctantly agree to give it a go for a set amount of time, on the condition that I fulfilled certain expectations that might or might not have included getting qualified as a teacher.
In my vision I would then tire myself out trying to win him over to the point that it wasn’t worth it and just throw my hands up in despair. (This technique of letting me arrive at “my own” conclusions has been used in the past when, in his wisdom, he knew that resistance would only fuel my drive – I was pretty sure this would be his plan B).
But no. I was wrong. Tom asked me for my three best reasons to HS the kids followed by three best reasons to keep them in school (to check that I was balanced) and then proceeded to completely bamboozle me by saying “Yup, I think we should give it a go.”
I was not prepared for this response. It threw me into a tizzy and I have been in one for most of the last several weeks. The idealised dream of HS disappeared quick snap, and I was left with the sobering thought of, crud, what will we actually do? Every. Day. Forever. And evermore. Amen.
When will I do my own work? Will I ever get to go out alone again? When will I do my marathon training (should I decide that’s what I might want to do one day, you never know…)? How will I nurture my introverted soul? What if people think I’m a hippie? What if I get hit by a bus and my kids no longer know how to function in a school setting?
Then I re-read all the books: a very important thing to do once the dreaminess of the fantasy has worn off. The books calmly told me what life would look like and reassured me that yes, I can actually do this, and yes, I am in good company. I’ve been all over the local and national HS facebook groups and am relieved to find I’m not alone with my cold feet.
A few weeks ago the kids and I accompanied Tom to a large church camp that he was booked to lead worship at (something we’ve not been able to do since school started). During some free time we stopped to watch a group of teenagers taking turns on the zipwire (flying fox, if you didn’t know it was called that either). This was one high up in the trees that they had to wear safety harnesses for.
We all watched in anticipation as one girl climbed the tall pole to the platform where she would start her ride. She got up to the top and with the help of a waiting staff-member was attached to all the right bits, then the crowd below started cheering and counting down to help her launch.
But nothing happened. She froze. She was having second thoughts like no one I’ve ever seen before. We all chuckled and said understanding things like, “poor thing, it is very high…” We all just stood and waited for the nerves to pass and for her to take her inevitable leap. We waited, and waited. The understanding comments gave way to “oh come on, just get on with it” and eventually some of us took a seat on the grass as we verbally willed her to go, and mentally willed the woman up there with her to give her a shove.
30 agonising minutes passed as a staff-member on the ground explained to the impatient teens in the queue that it was important for the girl to make her own decision – something about not wanting to pressure her or cause trauma or lifelong sense of failure…
It was a very long and drawn out moment for all of us, but no one wanted to walk away. Her sobbing was audible from the ground but we could see that shimmying down the pole was not a much better option. Finally she went. It was the most anti-climatic thing I’ve seen in a long time. She zipped past us and rebounded off the rubber thing, was then lowered to the ground and detached. Her waiting mother gave her a big hug and then ushered her away from the crowd so she could calm down.
Anyway, all that’s just to say, cold feet. I get it. Sometimes things are really scary. I’m not scared of much other than the worry of something bad happening to someone I love, really, that and demon-possessed insects, the giant from Twin Peaks and the thought of sharks in unmarked swimming pools at night. But I have been feeling like that zipwire chicken girl for weeks now.
Yesterday I found out Dylan is number 9 on the waitlist for our preferred school. This is good. It means the scenario of them both being in the same school together any time soon isn’t very likely. This gives me courage. Other things that serve as confirmations have happened too but I can see that I’m over 2000 words now.
Layla is increasingly reasonable, and although she loves many aspects of school life (friends and monkey bars specifically), I am confident that she will love many aspects of HS life, and I’m sure she will benefit from the one-on-one learning side of things. But I’m not naïve, I know there will be very hard times as well. If you know me you will know I tend to get obsessive with my research on certain things (ask me anything you want about high powered blenders). I’ve done my research here.
We have made some good connections with people around here and between structured activities like gymnastics/swimming/football and playdates and hours at the playground nearby, I am confidant that our children will not suffer from social isolation. I’m told there is a strong HS community in East Oxford, so that can only make things even better.
I will have a think about how much I plan to blog about all this. I don’t wish to ruffle feathers but I do want to document it all for the kids, and for anyone else who wants to see how this all pans out.
Meanwhile, please rest assured, we love our kids and have no intention of messing up their lives. (but we will follow the advice of a dear psychologist friend who says to start saving for their therapy soon). If it doesn’t work out we won’t be too proud to put them back in school. We are not doing this for religious/afraid-of-the-big-bad-world reasons, or even dissatisfaction with schools. We are taking a positive step, (no, a massive leap of faith) out of a good situation, into what I wholeheartedly believe will be an even better situation for our family.
Watch this space!