I cry when my children go back to school...
A lot of mothers love it when their children start back at school. They celebrate with a ‘yeah me day’ full of coffee dates or lunch with friends, clean the house or just go to work without the stress of finding alternative childcare somewhere else before they have to go to work.
I’m not that person. As usual, the days and night before my children go back to school find me in a sleepless sweaty mess unable to function very well and going over my life decisions and existential angst about how and why I’m doing what I do and why isn’t my life different by now? How have I magically not made millions and my children are not living in some Enid Blyton fairy tale farm house running amok amongst chickens and poppies with lashings of ginger beer?
Alas I’m not there yet. (Note to self: try harder with the manifesting - or the work, that will also help)
I love looking at other people’s ‘Back to School’ photos on social media of their first day at school.
I just never post any of my own.
And when I dropped my children off at school this morning, I unexpectedly burst into tears. No monumental first days, no losing the youngest or any particular milestone (apart from both facing SATs years), I just did. And I could have quite happily howled all the way home.
Well I never wanted to send my children to school, much less a normal state school.
Neither have I ever wanted to be a full-time home educator with nearly 100% responsibility for my child’s educational achievements, progress or lack of.
What I always wanted was a hybrid part-time alternative option to mainstream education more along the lines of Steiner, Montessori, Democratic, Self-directed learning, all of which exists in abundance in the States due to the fact that the USA had 2.3 million home schoolers registered in 2017-18 compared to 48,000 in the UK for the same period, a figure that has risen by 40% in 3 years in the UK.
But not where I live and not now when I want it.
I’ve wanted to move across country, uproot and start again in a place that does have those options and it hasn’t happened. Why? Financial factors and fear (again).
I’ve wanted to home educate and haven’t found the courage to commit to juggling self-employment and home education with my mental sanity intact. Am I my child’s best teacher? Probably not. Do I need to ‘teach’ them? Probably not?
I have real genuine fears about pulling them out of school.
Not for them. I trust that they will self-direct and learn all sorts of things about life and gain a much more holistic education. Children learn through play and will really learn when they’re interested in something, which is what home education gives them the opportunity to do. (SATS isn’t on that ‘interested in’ list in our house, or any house come to think of it). I know lots of people locally who do and their children are socialised and active in all the activities currently going on and are starting college and university and whatever life path they want to embark upon.
But for me.
Could I actually cope with juggling working and home educating?
Will I actually have a total breakdown trying to do that? How many more grey hairs will it give me (I already have enough thanks)?
Will I resent it and end up hating them?
Will I have to get a bigger swear jar?
What if I want or need them to go back into school and they don’t want to?
These are real concerns and the only way to resolve them is by doing it. Face the fears and do it anyway!
And last week I got closer than I ever did to home educating and just not going to school. My eldest didn’t want to go back at all but my youngest couldn’t wait. And that was the hard part. One in and one out of the education system is even harder than both in - or out. (This week we have the eldest happy and the youngest not wanting to go!)
And maybe the pain comes from knowing that in my heart I don’t want them there, but I’m not honouring that and that if I really trust in life, it always works itself out, albeit a lot slower than my mind likes….
Having researched all these options and started meetings with a local group of parents to try to set some alternative up where we live, I can’t sustain the lie anymore that education is the result of sitting static at a desk all day with 30 other children your own age, following orders and a restricted curriculum. The arts, crafts, music and sports which all children need are woefully lacking in our current national primary curriculum and instead a 1 size fits all test-driven, literacy and numeracy-based one is in place.
This is not going to prepare our children for the challenges this world is going to throw at them as most jobs we know now won’t exist (will the planet even?) when they’re ready to enter the world. Not to mention the creative and critical thinking skills they will undoubtedly need, and that school is doing a marvelous job of drumming out of them by over-testing.
Or that wearing the wrong coloured hair bobble results in some telling off or less than perfect learner award.
Or that your children are terrified of unauthorised absences (and so are parents, strangely…..) or being ill and - heaven forbid - taking a day off due to said illness because in assembly they’ve been lectured by every teacher that ‘unless you’re dying or really close to dying, Ofsted would like it if you came in please’.
Thankfully the existential annual wobble also exists in the Home Education world as a friend of mine confirmed as she admitted that she also has an annual one at this time of the year of ‘Would my children be better in school?’.
So no choice is ever going to be perfect. Or forever perfect.
It is not only the fault of the current education’s system (this is NOT a criticism of all the amazing teachers trying their best to polish a turd) , it is the whole set up of our society that makes us feel like we don’t have a choice.
We do of course, but it can feel a bit like the choice between stepping in cat shit or dog shit.
You either have both parents working full time to pay your mortgage and, if you’re very lucky have a reasonably comfortable life and have to put your children in every before and after school club going. Or one of you takes the hit to step out of the world of work to stay at home (see above fears and financial reasons making that impossible for a lot of people), loss of identity and doing it all syndrome. Or you both juggle part time home education and part time work and end up skint.
I don’t see being with my children as a chore (most of the time….) or facilitating their learning, but to find a balance that suits all the family is not easy.
And that needs to change. Full time school is exhausting for young children. Full time work is exhausting for parents. We were not meant to live this way.
Life itself is education and we need some real flexible alternatives to offer both parents and children that meet families needs. If you don’t have some alternative near you maybe it’s time to start one. There are lots of new projects like this emerging in the UK right now. Projects such as: The Hebden Bridge Democratic School, Free We Grow and East Kent Sudbury School.
One thing is clear the current system is archaic and fails many children who simply cannot cope in school and whose parents have to home educate (mental health issues and exclusion are two reasons parents give for home educating).
Our children deserve a childhood with less anxiety and stress and more falling in love with learning, at their own pace.
Maybe every year, I’ll continue with my pre-school wobbles. And they’ll stay where they are.
Or maybe next month, term or year we’ll be running round a farm somewhere buying up shares in the local ginger beer company.
Maybe my children will come home happy from their day. (They probably will in fairness, they have good friends and my daughter likes the school lunches. That surely compensates for the stresses?)
And maybe I’ll be brave and my children will stay at home tomorrow.
Maybe I just need to get a bigger jar.