I was once like you and worried about the whole home-schooling thing, overwhelmed with the new direction our life was taking but we had little choice as the school was insisting they medicate her for “compliance” (boredom was actually the issue) – stuck between a rock and a hard place – a child that was struggling and everyone trying their hardest to get it to work. A team of professionals for years and then a string of letters in “official diagnosis”, ASD, ADHD and ODD and then we removed her part way through Grade 4 as it was all too obvious how she was broken, and that the classroom wasn’t an environment that was working for her.
I struggled emotionally with leaving behind my dreams for her – I thought that because she was bright (like me), she would find school fairly straight forward (like me), and that eventually she would show her abilities and skills (like me), and head to tertiary education (like me), but I had to let that go when we conceded defeat with the school system, and started home education. Initially I thought home education needed to be like school as she would be returning to that system one day, as I had no knowledge of education, learning styles, abilities and I wanted to ensure she did not “miss out” on anything. So, we followed the school curriculum and then we tried to tailor it to her interests, but it wasn’t overly working as we still had battles. I needed to learn about education to see how our school system is quite limited and confining and does not suit many (if not most) children. I needed to get to know my child so I could work out how to help her learn best. I needed to learn that while the National Curriculum is seen as ideal for many, it truly is not what is needed for our children to thrive as young adults and more.
I learnt that my daughter did not learn like me (evidently her brain worked more like her daddy’s). I learnt that she had many other issues including self-esteem and confidence problems which stemmed from the way they approached learning in the mainstream system. We had many hurdles and as I did parent in a fairly authoritarian way I had even more personal hurdles to get over. We had many bad days at home trying to “emulate school” and while I knew those days were still better than bad school days (where I had met with teachers weekly or more frequently) I wanted more peace in my home. We brought our 2nd daughter out of school 6 months later (she was struggling with the pack mentality in the playground but was “top of her class” in Grade 2) and my 2 boys have never been to school.
I am forever grateful to Beverley Paine who helped open my eyes in the homeschool facebook groups to other ways to connect, educate and be with my children. Beverley ever so gently pushed me in the right direction to investigate more. Others shared their personal stories of how unschooling worked for them and so slowly I did learn more – it took me over 1.5 years before I decided to start trying some aspects of unschooling and slowly let go of control and then to fully embrace the “philosophy” of trust and connecting with my children over instructing them. Focusing on their strengeths and guiding our family to learn through adventures and life has resulted in children who are engaged with many activites, sports and interests, and also have many friends and a lovely peer group.
We grew and trusted and connected and played and generally changed our lifestyle to one of more harmony and learnt how to be inclusive and to negotiate and explain and truly hear each other’s needs. They play, play and more play in all aspects of life, and we play with them too. We celebrate life and get out and about in our community and are enthusiastic about life. We engage with new resources and tools and follow interests and paths of learning about everything. They also sleep all they want, play online all they want and generally have more freedoms than I thought I would ever allow and its working and they are thriving. I learnt that what is important is to support and be connected, over my feelings of “if I’m not telling them what to do, I’m not doing my job properly”. Things have changed dramatically over a couple of years. My teens are lovely where as I thought I was going to have real trouble from eldest girl as she was so strong-willed (like me) and challenging (like me) most of her life, till we embraced unschooling.
We are now at an exciting point where my eldest is 15 years old and is taking on the world. She decided on a path to university and is completing what she needs/chooses to get there. This week she completed a Certificate III in Information, Media and Digital Technologies, it was a full-time course at TAFE over the last 6 months and she loved it. She had assignments due regularly, found a group of friends while there (like minded souls as they meet regularly and play Dungeons and Dragons). Her performance at TAFE has been above my expectations as she has achieved what they set and more while being the youngest in her male dominated class. She has been self-motivated and learning what she needs when she needs it. The end of last year she wanted to check her academic skill-base and so completed some online tertiary prepatory courses in Maths and tertiary writing, all voluntarily chosen by her with our guidance and support.
A few days ago we discussed her next steps to finalise her enrolment in the Diploma, which starts in 2 weeks. Her intention is to finish the Diploma in IT next year, where she would be halfway through Grade 12 if she was in school, and then enter University undertaking and Engineering Degree in Mechatronics. As the Diploma is quite expensive she undertook the ACSF Test (Australian Core Skills Framework) on her own to achieve what she needed to take a VET loan. She proudly shared with me that her results from the test was Level 5 in English (highest grade you can get) and Level 5 in Maths, astounding to me as I know how little she has done in terms of Maths and while she loves to write now, she refused to write for 4 years, till we let her be in control. Also astounding as she really hasn’t been tested in anything for 7 years (apart from the Prep courses) and that she independently took the steps she needed and the self-confidence to do the test on her own. I had suggested she do some practice tests or find out what the test entailed before undertaking but she went ahead and passed it that afternoon independently. She also liked to share with me how those before her who have completed the same Diploma she is starting are now on $85,000 per year in our local area, and how she likes that she will have a practical degree for job employment as well as a path to Engineering.
It was only a year ago that my hubby and I were discussing when should we step up our expectations and when should we push her some more to do “something” – at the time I declared she was only 14 and we could reasonably wait till she was 18, and so we continued to guide and support and not insist or threaten, and I am so glad we did wait till she was ready as she has taken control and is thriving on her own. She was/is a typical teenager and sleeps late after staying up late, plays games, can cook her own meals and helps out when requested without any fuss.
I learnt that no matter what style of home education you choose that if you connect with your children and be their guide and support they will thrive. If you give them a safe base at home and see and work with their strengths and help them to learn in whatever way is best for them, then they will “turn out ok”, and if you can let go of control and trust and believe in them they may turn out amazing! They want to be independent adults with lives and careers, so just support them to find what works best for them and they will be fine.