Friday, June 10, 2011

To school or not to school... one year on!

Chicken pox arrived in our house at the most opportune of times. Our school-going son is daily questioning his school going, and as a wanna-be home schooling mama, and wanna be writer, I find myself completely torn. I shared the agonising decision almost a year ago about whether or not he was going to go to school here...

I am sure I am not the only parent in this dilemma - some have gone down their chosen route without a doubt and with a spring in their step, or without questioning, it is not a decision... for me, for us, it really is... and neither option quite fits any of us...

I have read a huge amount about home education, un schooling, flexi schooling and various school education options over the years. I have a bulging book case on the subject. So I am not looking for information. But we do need to decide one way or the other - though as I said last year, and as my friend MF says, no choice is forever...

I write this with an awareness that my readership is split between home educators and schoolers, and I am very clear that I do not want to disparage either's choices, or make this a battle ground of ideologies. Let there be no mud slinging here please! This is a space for dreaming aloud, and so it is with this intention that I am sharing my own dreams and struggles... I would really like to hear what the deciding factors have been for you in your own lives, and where your struggles have been rather  than any blanket judgements or proseletysing one way or the other.

The issues FOR US - if I went into detail on each this post would be VAST! So forgive me for just listing them:
  • Family approval/ acceptance - it shouldn't matter but it does and none of the parents are particularly supportive of home-ed
  • Energy/sanity - I NEED headspace as a Highly Sensitive, and am looking forward to pre-school and school as allowing me to have more.
  • Myself as a writer and person, beyond mother and teacher - This is a big one for me. Having had my first child at 25, and had three in close succession, and being a creative minded person, I really feel the NEED for my own work and creative headspace. Other homeschooling mothers have said I can do it whilst the kids are at home, but with all due respect they are not writers themselves and so do not know this. I can do the sort of bitty writing I do now, but I want to be able to get more concentrated time. I am not hugely attracted to unschooling as an approach, therefore home ed will require more of my time and energy.
  • Our family income - I like to be able to contribute to our family income. It matters to me.
  • What about later? Exams, getting back into the system - what if he is academic like us, his parents, I don't want homeschooling to limit what/ who he might be and pushing him towards creative work being his only option...
  • Isolation..Being the odd one out - him and us on the estate, in the village, we are already very different by religion and hobby choices, and lifestyle, I don't want him to be stigmatised because of our choices.
  • Not being comfortable with unschooling approach -  have read a lot about it, seen it in action, and for me it is not really the answer either... I have seen a huge amount of maternal anxiety over it... it is not, I don't think, the path that I would want to take.
  • Mother as teacher - When discussing this earlier in the year with another mama who is a very hands-on do loads of stuff at home mama, but has also chosen the school route, she said, and I agree, that our role with our kids is mother and trying to shift into the teacher role is challenging for both parties.
  • But he gets it at home anyway- Both of my parent's attitudes is that what happens at home is most important, and that my kids already get lots of good stuff at home, and so what happens at school is of less importance. I agree to a point, but if school is dominating home life and routines, if school is a large chunk of his day, if we could do better and he could be happier at home, then shouldn't we...
  • Biological equilibrium- going to the toilet and eating when he needs to are a big deal. As is being able to rest when he needs to. School does not allow this.
  • He is a highly sensitive child - needs time alone. School ahs really helped him to gain social confidence - but it taxes him beyond comfortable limits. He often returns totally drained.
  • What did you learn at school today? "Nothing" is his standard reply.
  • fairness with all my kids - I have three children, I don't want to give my first born something that I am unable to offer all three
    My own limits of knowledge, child development and educational stuff - I am, like any parent, concerned about being judged by others: parents, authorities etc... and deemed a failure.
  • Providing a really good education... this goes both ways
Irish- school wins
Other modern languages - we win
Outdoor education -we win
Acctive learning - we win
Team sports - school wins
Reading and writing and maths - we would do it differently but equally well we would do it with more creativity, school with more efficiency
History, geography, humanities, science - we would win on creativity, breadth and tailoring it to his interests and for in depth project learning
Art, creativity - us,
 Home economics- that'd be us again
Spiritual/ religious education - don't even get me started there
Music - us
Morals and love - ummmm , us!
Sense of independence
Sense of community...

No more school means:
No more inane work books, time filling, queing, being silent, putting up hands, making him do pointless homework, stickers and stars as rewards, packed lunches, early mornings, money spent on uniforms and school stuff - probably about 600 euro this year, planning all activities around school, endless birthday party invites to Go Safari,  early to bed school nights, worrying about what goes on in the playground...


No more writing mornings and possibly less writing evenings

More kiddies fighting, driving to after school clubs to "fill in the gaps", mess, noise, planning, DEMANDS ON ME.


More time with kiddies, learning together, rewarding learning experiences seeing him grow, providing him with individualised learning, sense of self as learner,  sense of pride in work and ownership, being known and really appreciated, the removal of competitive learning and comparison which he is very sensitive to. Setting him up for a life of learning.

So here I am, swinging my legs on the fence. Knowing that both options have many positives. Knowing that I have a right to choose my own "career" over my kids and not feel bad. Knowing that his school is not really damaging him, it is a benign village school. Knowing that really it is all small fry, that it doesn't really matter.. and yet... and yet...


  1. I could have written this and I've been wondering how it was going for you after reading the earlier post. I wish you had more of a concrete answer/guidance I could learn from!

    I have these same ideological, practical and emotional issues here but I have no real experience of what school life will be like for us yet as my son starts this Sept.

    Like you, I want uninterupted time for my work and to improve our income, I want my son to make more friends, we have no moral support for home education from family or friends (there are NO groups round here although possibly some other families). I'm not hugely confident in my ability to teach either.

    However we haven't ever used nurseries or pre-school and I have loved our life for the most part this first 5 years. I want him to trust his gut, intuition and follow through his (usually briliant!) ideas and creative impulses. I detest reward charts and competition.

    We have signed him up for this year and so I think we're going to wait and see how it is but I think it would help me to draw a list up as you have. I await other comments with interest.

  2. Thanks Hannah - I realise I have left lots of stuff off, like the fact that I am a trained teacher, that he is an academic and creative boy,that he has done really well at reading and writing, that there's a little bullying, that we have a home ed group here that I don't feel close to, that he and I often don't Work well together.... so many considerations

  3. Yes I'm there too at the moment Lucy! Note I say 'at the moment' because I fluctuate between saying a definite NO to home schooling and seriously considering it. I'm seriously considering it right now but how will I feel at the end of the summer holidays when new baby is about to make an appearance?! I think i know!

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Leigh, 3 words for you - you and me! Three more: home school together! Go on, you know you want to!! Except yup, small matter of new baba!! But... wouldn't it be fun...

  6. i often feel drawn to homeschooling because i want to be a Homeschool Mama. maybe you get caught by this desire to fit a style slot, feel righteous and cool. it's NOT a good reason to homeschool. of course.
    i think mamas like us, who have high needs for alone time, need to just suck it up and accept that school is FINE. and yes, if the time at home is rich and joyful, it will trump all. If you love your kid unconditionally, the teachers' gold stickers will not tear down his ego.
    and what a better mama are you when you get a break? me, i am TWICE the mama when i get a real break. twice as patient, twice as truly appreciative. twice the good stuff.

  7. I think you're right CJ...I know you are... and yet...

  8. I'm having this sort of conversation with myself about pre-school as we speak! Agree with pretty much everything you say, and with the being-better-for-a-break bit too. I'm also never sure if flexi-schooling (which I recall isn't an option in Ireland?) is helpful either, when it comes down to it; Quercus's mother was a primary-school teacher and said that children whose parents did that were just disadvanted both ways, simply because the teachers found it difficult to know what was covered unless a proper curriculum was going on at home etc etc.

    I don't know the answers either, but thanks for sharing the decision-making.

  9. Thank you for joining too Earthenwitch - yes you're right flexi schooling isn't an option here and interesting to know what a teacher's perspective is too - that was the Head's concern at T's school.

    We don't have the prob with pre-school as we have the most incredible one just round the corner, which I seriously considered sending T to for an extra year and missing the first year of proper school! He keeps asking why we didn't do that! M is really looking forward to her chance to start there this Sept - it is education as it should be - wonderful teachers, yoga, free play, nature adventures, gardening, picnics watching combine harvesters, art... it's just wonderful and school is such a let down for the kids after it.

  10. I'm 100% FOR homeschooling. I believe it's many times better than school. I believe that school can, and too often does, kill creativity, individuality, free-thinking......


    Many things are brilliant, in theory, and no matter how much you support the theory, no matter how much you embrace and love the ideology, it all comes down to one thing.

    Will it work for us?

    I've made no decisions, she's only 3. But what I know at this moment, is that despite believing in the above, plus having a degree in psychology and education and knowing I'm perfectly capable of 'teaching', despite wanting the freedom and all the advantages of non-schooling, is that I am not a full on hands on mama. I need my space to be a full human being and a better mama.

    So there's a very high chance that she'll go to school. The main thing I can do then is find the best school that fits my ideologies - perhaps Steiner or Montessori, or just a small school of high parent involvement, something that was better than most. Something like the pre-school you guys have.

    The other thing, just or more important, is to continue to cultivate a wonderful, intimate, bond with my daughter. So that our home and family remains the bigger influence in her life.

    In all honesty, I can visualise doing wonderful crafty, academic, and learning things with her IF she went to school. On a daily 24hr basis, I would be running on empty most of the time. But with space between us, I would be recharged and motivated to spend our time doing wonderful things.
    We just have to be honest about who we are.

  11. "In all honesty, I can visualise doing wonderful crafty, academic, and learning things with her IF she went to school. On a daily 24hr basis, I would be running on empty most of the time. But with space between us, I would be recharged and motivated to spend our time doing wonderful things.
    We just have to be honest about who we are."

    And that's my feeling too, in your words... thank you, dear women, for helping me to come closer to a conclusion, to closure, on the issue.

  12. We unschooled. Our kids are 24, 18 and 17. My daughter worked as an art teacher at a private academy here, until the birth of her son two months ago. She and my son-in-law, who was homeschooled, plan to follow the needs of their children, as they grow. :) As for my other kids, one son plays guitar, both classical and jazz, and the other is a writer. I worked as an artist during the years that our kids were home, but being home with them and facilitating their needs as they learned and grew was rich with creative opportunities that went far beyond doing my artwork. Looking back now, I wouldn't trade those years and the rewards of unschooling for anything. Here are a few of my portraits: Good luck with your family's choices.

  13. I'm only anonymous because my comment wouldn't post with my google account. :)
    Laura Parrish

  14. Thanks Laura, you're tempting me back the other way!!

  15. Hey Lucy
    I promised to do a piece on home Ed on my blog then life got a bit in the way. Was down in Brighton for our best friends wedding and it was a half week trip!
    So lots to organise before going away and lots of partying for four days with a bunch of old dear friends. You really are having a hard time deciding aren't you darling?

    Ok, well short answer is that both options are good.
    Instead of seeing only one of the options as a good or bad choice, simply see them as different. This isn't a 4 legs good, 2 legs bad situation between home Ed and school in spite of some extremists at either end of that debate.

    Yourkidscould potentially 'damaged' by elements of either type, and there is a cost to you either way. There is guilt whether you HE or not. Parental approval or disapproval shouldn't be factored in. It's not their turn to make parenting choices for their children,, they've had that time already. It's your turn. You are in charge. You don't have to be perfect to homeschooli..... School is not perfect.and you don't have to choose one and only one style of home Ed and stick to it every minute of every day. You can do formal academic stuff most of the time and when it suits, or you need to work, use some back up stuff like really good quality documentary educational DVDs or educational software or self- directed whatever. You don't need to be so rigid about it being definitely one approach all the time. At times when you need to work, there are ways to incorporate it. When you need some time off from each other, could you do a child swap once a week/ month? Having a couple of extra kids for an aftrenoon is surprisingly refreshing for all every now and then as the kids run round in a pack and are almost self entertaining. Could your husband have the children every Saturday morning for a few hours? Is there a teenage home Ed kid in the group/ a nice girl in your village who could hang out with you once a week for a few pennies? or babysit once in a blue moon so you can have some alone time with hubby? And if you did decide to home school, if your mother really couldn't get on board after a few months, do you really want to spend the rest of your life living things out only on condition that your mother approves of every choice? There comes a time when they need to grow up enough to respect your choices and support you because that's what parents do when we give healthy love to our offspring. Surely?

  16. And......There Are creative ways to do anything. Home Ed can be super flexible. In my own case, if one of the children asked and asked to go, I'd lay it all out on the table and respect their decision 100% but I can't see myself sending them no matter how full-on some days can be.

    All I would say is that you are still young so have plenty of years ahead of you to write and have me- time. they are only young and this needy for a short time. It will pass and there will be new problems and challenges but you won't feel so stretched to your limits in 6 months, a year, 2 years etc etc..... It all gets easier.

    Also, you answer to no-one but your family and your child. If your decision is threatening to others either way, that is strictly their problem/ hang up/ issue. Don't worry about offending/ disappointing/ rubbing up anyone as this is your decision and not your neighbours, friends, mother, whatever. None of us lives your life, has to crate for tour family dynamic. Only you do that on a daily basis. Don't apologise to anyone for living your life how you want.

    If you did decide to home Ed, make your choice and do it with gusto. Review, review, review, change tack if you need to tweak, accept that you will slip up here and there, and give yourself a break on the being perfect front. It is not a legal requirement to be practically perfect in every way, and never raise your voice. School may be a little more sterile in terms of human expression but home Ed does at least allow for real emotion. In a classroom everyone has to bottle their emotions rather than express them so in some ways it's perhaps home ed is healthier as everyone is being real, no matter how ugly that may feel on some days!!! As long as you allow for euphoria and unhinged madness and delight at other times you'll experience the extremes of everyone's moods rather than living in a sort of anaesthetised version of permanent, perehaps rather repressed sort of stability which is what school can be.

    With regards to your home Ed group, well in my experience, this is not a static thing. It changes and new people come along and some parents are like work colleagues you tolerate but aren't super close to, some will be nice enough friends, and others will be really special friends for life. They won't all be your best buddies any more than the school gate mums are.

    Ultimately it's up to you to make yourselves happy, so do what makes you happy and stuff everyone else's advice, even mine!!!


  17. Does it have to be either/or? I sent my kids to Irish schools for all the reasons you outline, but never hesitated to take days off to go to the beach, park or whatever. There were also many weeks taken off to go back to the Uk to see my folks and to take up travel opportunities. Really, it's only in the last 4 or so years that they need to have unbroken school to follow the curriculum and spot for exams. It was the best I could do as a single parent that needed to work. Btw they are now 25 (scientist & banker), 23 (electrician) and 22 (nurse).



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