Here is my daughter, playing on the beach, on a family holiday to America. This was taken the September that she could have started school. She had just turned 4 years old.
The new school year is fast approaching and I've received a lot of messages about home education. Many have asked what led to my decision to home educate. It was a personal decision, based on the best interests of my child and our little family. This post is not intended as advice or judgement, but reading my story may help someone struggling with indecision, so here are my reasons...
1. Emotionally, my daughter was not ready for the separation.
At 4 years old, Bean was not used to being apart from me, other than short days with her Daddy, and a few hours here and there with other family members. She is a sensitive child, and is not all that resilient. She upsets easily and frequently, and does not respond well to the comfort of others. Starting school would have been a difficult separation for her.
2. Physically, she was not ready.
At 4 years old, Bean was still breastfeeding. She was still napping after lunch and wasn't sleeping through the night. She wasn't able to dress and undress independently, and wipe herself after using the toilet. Had I been planning for her to go to school, I would have prepared her, but it would not have been at her own pace.
3. The school environment would not have suited her learning style.
Bean is a kinaesthetic learner, which means that she learns through moving and doing. Even in the Reception year, which is thought to be largely play based, a good part of the day is spent sitting on the carpet and sitting at tables, looking and listening to the teacher. This can suit auditory and visual learners reasonably well, but can be a challenge for kinaesthetic learners.
4. Play matters.
I strongly believe that young children learn everything that they need through play. Free, unstructured and non-directed play. Most early years settings value play based learning, including many Reception classes, but once children reach Year 1, it's a very different story. Bean, at 4 years old, was especially interested in exploring sensory play, and I wanted her to have the time and space to do that.
5. Creativity matters.
I value creativity, and believe that a creative life is key to a happy and successful future. Bean enjoys arts and crafts, and her creative and imaginative skills are strong. Again, I wanted my daughter to have the time and space to follow her creative pursuits, something that is massively lacking in mainstream schooling.
6. Autonomy matters.
"What we learn with pleasure, we never forget" Alfred Mercier
I wanted my daughter to be able to follow her interests and learn at her own pace. Some children respond very well to learning to read and write at 4 years old, but many struggle. I was keen to support her love for learning in her own special way, free from pressure and expectation.
7. Nature study, outdoor play and physical activity are important to our family
With the rise in mental health problems and obesity in our children, there's no arguing that time spent outdoors, engaging in physical activity is good for the body and mind. When Bean was three, I qualified as a Forest School leader, and ran a weekly session for my 'mindees' with another local childminder. We both loved these sessions, and benefited so much from the time together, learning and playing in nature.
8. Freedom and flexibility is important to our family.
We like to rest when we feel tired and eat when we feel hungry. We like to be outdoors for most of the day in the warmer months, and we hibernate a bit in the winter. We like to celebrate our birthdays together. We like to visit Bean's Granny in Wales for long weekends. We like to visit our family and friends abroad. We like to have quiet days, and active days, listening to the needs of our bodies and minds.
9. We enjoy our time together.
Bean is an only child, and I am a lone parent, so our bond is a close one. She will only be a child for such a short time, and while she is young and living at home with me, we want to make the most of our time together. We make a great team. We have a lot of adventures together.
10. And last but not least, having taught in a Reception class for the best part of ten years, I know first hand the reality of that first year of school. The teachers are often amazing, and the support staff equally so, but the expectations of them are quite frankly ridiculous.
Their time and attention is spread too thinly between a class of 30 children (One blissful year, early on in my teaching career, I had a class of just 22, and boy did it make a difference!) Emphasis on reading, writing and math dominates, leaving little time for play and for meeting the very real needs of young children. I could go on, but I don't want to sound like I'm bashing school. The reality is that most teachers, support staff, and even senior leadership teams are struggling to make the best of a very tough situation. It is government that is the problem here.
There were some smaller factors that I had to take into consideration too. Bean had formed strong friendships with the three little girls who I cared for within my childminding setting, all of whom were due to start school the following September. How would I have managed the school drop off for her? I was faced with the prospect of a difficult separation with my daughter at school and taking all her little friends home!
So, in conclusion, I felt absolutely sure that she wasn't ready to start school at 4 years old, and that she wouldn't start school that September. In fact, I didn't even bother to apply for a place. We went to America to visit family instead, and when I look back at the photographs of her on our trip, I feel reassured that I made the right decision for her at the time.
In January, however, I applied for a school place for her for the following September, merely because I wanted to keep our options open. Bean is a 'summer born' (born in the summer term, between April 1st and August 31st), so I hoped to secure her a Reception place at compulsory school age. Sadly, she was a victim of the ridiculously unfair postcode lottery system that we have in our country, and all of our local schools said no. Had she started school the following September, she would have gone straight into a Year 1 class, missing the entire Reception year. I had found other schools that would take her, but not within our catchment area, so she didn't get offered a place. So we continued with our home education journey. I always planned to keep it under review, and I still do, but as time goes by, and now that we are so established in our local home education community, the more confident I feel that this is the right path for us.
With love and best wishes for your decision making, Rowan and Bean x