Its a year today since we declined Joseph's offer of a school place. I left it until the eleventh hour to hand back the forms, and even had a phone call from his allocated school reminding me that they needed to be returned! I was nervous about declining, it felt such a huge decision and I dreaded having to answer the "What school is he going to?" question, with "He's not" and then feeling compelled to explain our decision.
My Mum works at the school Joseph had been allocated, and a year ago today I met her at lunchtime as I often did on a Wednesday. She offered to return the forms for me, and as I handed them over she asked what our decision had been, knowing that we were considering home education. I told her we were declining and she didn't look disappointed or shocked, so that was a good start! As I drove the boys home that afternoon I remember feeling like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders rather than feeling like I had burdened myself with greater responsibility as I had half expected to. Once the decision had been made final it felt instantly fantastic. I knew we had done the right thing, and one year on it is undoubtedly one of the best decisions I've ever made.
So here we are a whole year on, and life is good. All three boys are happy and healthy and constantly surprising me with their fascination in the world and desire to learn about it. Deciding to home educate hasn't required that I do anything much differently than before; I spend lots of time with them, watch and get involved in the things they enjoy and help them expand these if they would like to. On the days that we stay at home, we are often buzzing around the house following a trail of their fabulous ideas before we are even out of pyjamas! Learning is something that all three of them do spontaneously as a result of going about their lives and being in the world, rather than something that anyone else makes them do. Joseph was asked recently "So come on then, what have you been learning about?" and he looked at the questioner as though she were from Mars! Learning is not separate from anything else Joseph and his brothers do, and Joseph already seems to understand this.
The decision to learn without school was about more than education, it was about prioritising our life together as a family and the relationships within it. The boys are fortunate to have one another, and we want them to grow up really knowing their siblings, rather than having their morning games disrupted in order to rush them out of the door, and then being reunited exhausted, at the other end of the day. Relationships outside of the home are really important to us too and we are fortunate to have a network of wonderful family and friends close by that we continue to spend time with regularly, along with a whole range of new families we have met as a result of deciding to learn at home. It has been wonderful to spend time with other families who have taken the decision to learn without school, and to learn about their lives and motivations for taking the decision. We are lucky to be part of a thriving local home-ed community with a constant stream of lovely trips and activities to take part in. This feels like a good and healthy way of life, and there is something really wonderful about families coming together for the purpose of supporting their children to learn, engage with the world and make connections with others.
I'm not at all worried about discussing our decision with anyone any more and will happily tell anyone who asks, whether they be a friend of a friend or the cashier at Sainsbury's! As I told a friend only yesterday, when we decided to learn at home we knew no other families who had taken this path, and so being open about what we are doing and how we are doing it seems really important to me. It's not that I want to 'convert' anyone to home-ed (as I've said many times before this is a decision based on what is right for our family and not what I think is right for anyone else) its simply that the more people who know someone who home educates, the more 'normal' it becomes, and the more possible it might seem for anyone who is considering it.
Joseph has become aware that some of his peers now go to school although he has no interest in following them. He sees himself as having chosen to learn without school and wonders why other children don't also make this choice. This has initiated some interesting chats about choice and the extent to which it may or may not be available. About one of his friends who attends school, Joseph recently said "I could help her learn at home, I have lots of good ideas!" I love the fact that for Joseph what matters is not what you know, but how you learn!
Thank you to everyone who has been supportive over the past year, and to everyone who has taken the time to read this blog and understand the choices we have made for our family. There are times when the decision is a challenge, when I'm tired and Ollie is working away and there are three small boys who need my attention and interaction, but I never regret that we chose this path. This is a great way of life for us, and although there will no doubt be challenges ahead I am excited for the future! Thank you to all who play a part in our life, and makes it as rich and interesting as it is for our children.
If there is anyone who reads this and feels that perhaps learning without school could be a good choice for their family, I would say explore that feeling and look into it. The ability to enjoy my children for the whole people they are, rather than seeing them viewed through the narrow focus of the school system is a joy I would not be without!