When your children start school it’s a huge milestone – but if you decide that the education system isn’t right for your child and that you’d rather homeschool them, whether you've already applied for primary school or you're considering what would work best for you, Chaneen Saliee explains where to start, with her own experience of homeschooling her daughters (3 and 5 years old).
I recently started homeschooling my daughters. At the beginning of the year I decided that there was only really one way to find out if homeschooling could work for us and that was to march up to the gates of my girls school. Slap down a letter of resignation. And pull my girls out. Not to make it sound dramatic or anything, but it really felt dramatic and intense for me and I questioned myself and my motives a lot.
Getting to where we are on our homeschool journey, we have already learned and experienced so much. With this article I hope to introduce you to a ‘new way’ of doing things and share with you the very beginning of our journey.
Why I decided to homeschool
Parents choose to homeschool their children for a wide variety of reasons. From a lack of choice when it comes to good local schools, to religious reasons or disbelief in the education system.
I am a certified English teacher, once-upon-a-time-mainstream-school-student and now, I am also a mother to two girls who are 3 and 5 years old, at the very beginning of a life I only recently learned I have the power to shape how I see best.
Having experienced and witnessed first-hand just how subtly detrimental the mainstream education system is on children’s mental health, creativity and spirit, I decided the best thing for my children was to opt into the homeschooling / unschooling model of raising and educating children.
To be completely honest, I only learned about the terms homeschooling, unschooling and deschooling after the pandemic hit. To many, ‘homeschooling’ is a pandemic-induced nightmare, which saw thousands of families co-working and ‘homeschooling’ in the midst of a lock-down.
“Homeschooling was an intense time for all of us,” Charlotte, mum of 3 boys tells me, “ there was so much aggravation, confusion and out-right craziness. Everyday. I don't think I could homeschool again.”
Each time I speak to a parent who has children older than my own, who had to homeschool during the lockdown period, something similar to Charlotte's statement comes up. I get it; 2020 was a crazy time for us all.
But let’s just get a few things straight, that ‘homeschooling’ experience that you may have heard of during the 2020 pandemic was not what homeschooling is like in the slightest. I have explained the whole ordeal very clearly by comparing it to working in a bread factory.
The explanation goes something along the lines of, if you have never been in a bread making factory, and you were given the keys one day and asked to go in and make loaves of bread, would you know how? Would you know where you go to find the ingredients? Where’s the oven and how do you work it?
You wouldn’t have a clue without the right guidance. You might figure it out but that would come after some trial and error. Many parents were not used to engaging with their bread, (I mean their children) at home, during school hours, while working and parenting at the same time. Those who had to help educate their children at home in this way, understandably found it a struggle. It was an intense and somewhat traumatic time on so many levels and that is why homeschooling has gotten a bit of a bad rep.
Homeschooling is actually a very beautiful alternative to mainstream education.
How to homeschool UK
Legal homeschooling requirements vary from country to country so if you are reading this outside of the UK, please check on your countries guidance. Within the UK, there are no legal requirements for you to home educate your children. If, like me, you didn’t know this sooner and your children are already registered in a school, you simply have to write a formal letter deregistering you children from school, the letter should be addressed to the head teacher. They then will inform the local authorities who will take your child off of their systems.
The local authority may get in touch when they realise your child is no longer in school to find out how you plan to educate them, however, it’s ultimately your responsibility to ensure your child is educated while they are of compulsory school age, as the deputy head reminded me when I let the school know of my intentions, “Once your child is unregistered from school they are 100% your responsibility."
I think she wanted me to rethink my decision to homeschool. The look she gave me told me she thought that I couldn’t handle it. Her comment, the way she said it, the lack of support sitting on the undertones of her utterances, is the reason why I am here sharing these positive experiences, or at least these positive perspectives of these challenging experiences.
Way too often, a mother’s intuition is overthrown by a modernised, one-size-fits-all, perspective on how raising a child should be done. When I told anyone about my hope to homeschool my children, I was met with judgement and questions. People aren’t used to homeschooled families, they can’t imagine a child who hasn’t gone to school, and been socialised in the same way as every other child. It makes them question the validity of this ‘new’ approach, usually in comparison to the systematic education most of us received.
I went through a period of questioning myself initially, before reaching out to other homeschool mothers. I sat and thought about how families might have raised and educated children before the introduction of schools. I read articles and books and watched YouTube videos. As I began to immerse myself in more empowering conversations and settings, I felt surer than ever that I was making the right decision.
I finally stopped questioning myself, I stopped talking to people about what I hoped to do, unless it was with Bola, my husband, because I needed his approval too. Most importantly, I took action. I took the girls off the school register, and began planning out what I would like our days to look like.
Can I homeschool my children?
There’s a lot to think about when it comes to home schooling, from the process of removing your child from school to all the resources you’ll need to give them the best education possible.
To homeschool is to go off the beaten path. To find a way that works best for your very unique and complex family and pull together to make it the best experience you could have.
When January 1st 2023 came around I was not ready. The first day was unplanned and I gave myself grace. The next day was similar and so was much of the first few weeks. It wasn’t until I learned about the term ‘deschooling’ and accepted that our homeschool doesn’t have to look like school at all, in order for it to be effective, that I began to feel ready and prepared.
What is deschooling?
According to EducationalFreedom.Org.UK ‘Deschooling is not so much a method or philosophy of Home Education as a transition period from school education to Home Education, almost always used for children who have recently left a formal school environment.
It is time for the child to adjust to learning without the rigidity and formality of the school system, and for the parents to take the time to try out different methods and styles of Home Education to find the best fit for their family – something which evolves quite naturally once the notion of what you thought education should be is unlearned.’
“I have everything I need,” I told myself. “I have eyes, ears and language.” All of the first families taught and learned through oral stories and practical application. So now our family learns through lots of oral communication, practical work, social interactions and occasionally book exercises.
Our method of teaching and learning is still adapting as we work through this season of deschooling. I find it absolutely hilarious that both of my daughters have requested a desk in a row and a whiteboard set up. I obliged, there are still a few drops of mainstream teachers in my bones so this is what I am used to as well.
While I want us to move away from traditional schooling, I am happy that we now have a classroom school set up in our home. We have used this room in this way a handful of times, but most of our lessons have been done at the dining table, at the library, on the plane and even out the playground. Lessons are usually conjured up in the moment and the children can really go at their own pace.
We can lie in until 9am on weekdays, cook meals and eat together, read quietly at the table and sit in on business meetings with colouring and pencils, while absorbing all of the entrepreneurial lessons that these moments have to offer. We can take affordable trips abroad during term times and meet up with playmates in the evenings. We can live a life that we are shaping for ourselves, learning together, working together, growing together.
Homeschooling has helped my relationship with my daughters, their relationship with each other and even the relationship between myself and my husband. Since releasing ourselves from the rush and hustle of the school runwe have more time to listen to and respond to each other's needs. The girls have more time to help and therefore learn practical life skills; in turn they become more empowered to manage their own needs and we become less dependent upon. It has only been a few weeks since the start of the year, but we have already reaped so many benefits of transitioning to homeschooling.
Our educational focus
For the first few years our educational focus is really to help our daughter gets to a place where they can manage all of their own needs such as getting bathed, dressed and feeding themselves. Creativity and movement is also high up on our priorities, painting, singing, dancing, swinging, speaking, swimming are some of the experiences that I am being intentional to introduce to and encourage my daughters in.
Academically, literacy and numeracy are our only curriculum-based focus and we do much of this through reading. Ocean, my 3 year old, is now able to read (level 2) books which is above what is expected of her at this age. This is because I have been able to create a genuine love for books and reading. Our reading sessions are snuggly and often and now the girls take it in turns to read pages.
Both of my daughters are also excelling in numeracy, compared to where they ‘should be’ against mainstream standards. I know this already, but the girls’ excellence is often noted by other parents we hang out with, and of course it makes me feel good, like I am doing something right.
How will you afford it?
You don’t get any financial assistance to homeschool your children, so of course affordability comes into it as it might mean you have to stop working full time or change your career so you can focus more time on educating your children.
Personally, I currently run a business where I work from home. I can work with or around my children so that is what I am going to continue to do. I know many homeschooling families move into starting their own businesses if they’re not already running them, but there are many homeschool families who work jobs and split child-care with other friends and family members.
How will your children learn to socialise?
My children have a wealth of friends in neighbours, clubs, and friends and family groups. We are also expanding our circle of friends to include more homeschooling families. My girls will socialise with adults and children, individuals and groups in a variety of settings and they will learn how to best behave in each scenario.
How will your children obtain their formal qualifications?
This question is one that I will work out with my daughters closer to the time. At 3 and 5 years old formal qualifications are a long way off and whether or not they’re necessary is another question entirely.
If you'd like you can choose to follow the national curriculum and your children can choose to take their GCSEs and even A-Levels. However, you don’t have to follow any sort of curriculum.
Will you use the same curriculum as the ones in schools?
No. I’ll only focus on what I believe is essential to their development; such as numeracy and literacy. The rest of our learning will be organic or holistic, meaning that we will learn with and about the real things that really come up in our lives.
Do I need to be qualified to homeschool?
This is a common concern for parents, but you don’t need any qualifications to homeschool your children. This is because delivering a lesson to around 30 children and having to follow the national curriculum is a lot more challenging than teaching your own children. As long as you have a good understanding of the topic you’re teaching so that you feel confident talking about it and teaching it to your children, that’s all that matters.
The most important thing is to suss out your child’s learning style. Do they like to learn by taking notes? Or do they prefer to be active in their learning style? The key is to experiment and get to know what works best for your child.
I’d say the only qualification you need is the determination to do the best you can for yourself and your children and off you go.
The library: for books, CDs, DVDs, reference material and computers if you don’t have one at home.
Your local council: They sometimes offer access to learning resources.
The Department for Education: you can access the National Curriculum and use it as a guide for your lessons if that’s what you’re looking to follow.
Museums: They’re a brilliant fun and educational day out for the whole family and you might even get a discount if you mention you’re a home educator.
The BBC: offers a huge range of video and radio resources from languages to A Levels which can all be accessed online.
Home education groups: Having a support system around you, especially when you’re new to homeschooling, is a great idea. You’ll be able to seek help and advice from more experienced homeschoolers who’ll be able to recommend good resources and materials.
It’s also nice for your kids to be able to have play dates with other home schooled children to make sure they can socialise with other kids.
LETS is a brilliant service where you can exchange goods and services with other homeschooling parents in your area.