Deciding to home educate your children is exciting and wildly terrifying at the same time. There’s been soul-searching and sleepless nights. Worry and fear about what could go wrong if you leave school and if you don’t. You’ve spent a long time thinking about home education and now you’ve made the decision, you just want to get on with it.
Here are my top five steps to get you started.
- Deregistration letter.
If your child is registered at a school then you need to get their name removed from the school register. It’s important you do this in writing. For a useful template with the appropriate legal wording, visit this page and scroll down to ‘confirmation letters’ near the bottom.
If your child is not yet at school or doesn’t currently have a school place then there is no need to tell anyone of your decision to home educate. Parents are legally responsible for ensuring their children receive a suitable education “either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.” (Education Act 1996).
School is an option. A choice.
- Make contact with other home educating families.
Hopefully you were able to make contact with other home educators during your research. Or you may already know other families who’ve opted out of school. That’s great, but it’s a wise move to meet a range of people with different experiences and knowledge. There are many approaches and styles of home education, and many varied reasons why families choose this route.
Taking a step into the unknown can feel scary and lonely. You may not know anyone for whom home education has been a part of their life, anyone who has ever considered it, or even anyone who realises it’s possible. But the home education community is growing and there are lots of us out here.
You can find local, national and international home education groups on Yahoo Groups and Facebook. Useful search terms include home education and home schooling, along with your town, region, country, any educational approaches you’re interested in, or personal circumstances (maybe you have teens or tots, or you’re a single parent household).
Consider the kinds of groups that might be helpful for you and get searching. Start making contact with other home educators and you’ll soon discover a whole other world out there waiting to welcome you.
- Attend some local events.
Find out about meet-ups organised by the home education community in your area and go along. Wherever you live, there will be a home education group locally. If you live in a rural area, consider joining groups in the nearest towns and cities. They may meet up more regularly and have a higher membership. And if you go along to an event, you may meet others who’ve travelled in from your local area.
National events, like conferences and camps are fun to attend. And a good source of information about what might be happening locally too – more experienced home educators may know families in your area or suggest groups and resources they’ve found helpful.
- Look for the joy.
Deciding to home educate is a huge decision. Give yourselves plenty of time to adapt to your new situation, especially if you, or your child have been to school. Often referred to as ‘deschooling’, this period of adjustment is thought to take at least one month for every year that a person has been involved in the school system – this might not be that long for children but for adults who went on to college, university or employment in education, then parents of children at school, the time begins to add up.
Deschooling is an opportunity for everyone in the family to reflect on the reasons you’ve chosen home education and consider what to do next. If you left school following difficulties or stressful circumstances, like bullying, allow time for healing and for individuals and relationships to recover from any negative experiences. Even when time at school has been largely positive it’s still important to think about how learning at home can be very different to school.
Home education offers the opportunity and privilege of spending lots more time with your children. This time is precious and valuable, make the most of it. Relax and have fun. Enjoy being together, nurturing your relationships and learning more about yourselves and each other.
Consider what you love to do as a family and do more of that. Make joy lists with your children and find out how they would like to spend their days. Notice the moments when they seem happy and comfortable, enthusiastic and energised. Encourage and embrace wonder and joy. Become a tourist in your local area and take this opportunity to visit places you’ve always wanted to go to but never got around to.
Hopefully you’ve spent plenty of time on steps 2 and 3 and discovered that there are so many different ways to approach home education, as many, perhaps, as there are families themselves. You may be reassured and inspired, keen and eager to explore the infinite array of possibilities, nervous yet excited. Or consumed by doubt and fear, overwhelmed and anxious by those same possibilities. Or like most of us, a jumbled mix of them both. Be kind to yourself and your children. Remember this is a learning process for you all. Take it slowly and carefully. Reflect on the knowledge and experiences you’re gaining, and gently test out new ideas. Focus on building your relationships, having a good time and learning about home education in all it’s varied forms. You don’t have to have everything figured out.
- Relax and trust.
Now you may be thinking, this is all well and good but when do we get to the actual educating bit. Please don’t under-estimate the value of making connections with others – not only will they be a useful resource for you and your children. But they will also be a source of inspiration, support and friendship through the good times and those times when things take a more challenging turn. There are bound to be difficult moments and having a supportive network to turn to, can really help us navigate those tricky times.
Deschooling is widely recognised as an important step in the transition from school to home education. Allowing enough time and space for this to play out thoroughly will benefit you all, and strengthen those bonds of love and trust. Skip those earlier steps at your peril!
So, the day-to-day reality of home education? Where do you start and what must be done? There are no definitive answers. What works for you and your family may be vastly different to what works for others (again, why it is so important to meet other home educators!). You may have very clear ideas about the path you wish to follow or you may feel totally lost, there seems so much to think about, it can seem impossible to know where to start.
Whatever the age of your children, I urge you, not to panic or rush into anything too soon. For some parents with teens, it may feel like the clock is ticking and time is running out. But the reality is that once you leave the school system and its prescriptive regime, then so too can you ditch the arbitrary time frames it imposes. There is no need to take exams by a certain point, to go to university at 18 or ever. There is no one magic age at which it’s best for all children to learn to count, or to read, or to write, or to swim, or play guitar or tie their shoelaces. You and your children can now organise your own schedule, make up your own timescales, dream big and focus on what you want to do not what you believe is expected or required by others.
It’s perfectly possible for young people who are home educated to take exams when they are ready, before or after that magic number of 16. As a home educating family you have responsibility for the organisation and cost of exams but there’s so much information, advice and support available for those who choose this route. And many do, extremely successfully. Young people may study independently, in local study groups or access online support. To ease the financial burden, there are increasing opportunities for young people to attend further education colleges from the age of 14. A small number of local authorities now offer some financial help with exams and evening classes may be a relatively inexpensive option in your area.
BUT, a big but, there is no need to rush. Exams can be taken in January, June and November depending on the exam board and qualification. Passing exams at the ages of 16 and 18 has become such a massive focus in schools, to the detriment of so many more important areas of education and learning that it can feel like they’re compulsory and necessary for a teen’s very survival. This is most certainly not the case. There are so many paths that young people may follow once they are free from the rigid constraints of school and have the time and inclination to explore the possibilities.
It’s so important for now to concentrate on building supportive and nurturing relationships, to relax into this new reality and trust that as you learn more about the wonderful world of home education the path ahead will gradually become clearer. It’s so tempting to rush ahead, spend lots of money on curriculum and a myriad of equipment, book exam centres and fill your children’s time with impressive educational activities. But if you can fully embrace the deschooling process and give yourself and your family time to look for the joy, relax and trust, possibilities and opportunities for learning will reveal themselves all around you.
It’s reasonable to expect that most of us will return to steps 2 to 5 on a repeating loop throughout our home education experience. As we learn and grow, adapting and responding to the needs of our children and following our own unique home education path.
For now, get the kettle on, relax and enjoy the journey. There is so much loveliness to come.