“Please don’t make me stay.”
“But mum, they won’t let me read my book.”
“He isn't badly hurt but you might want to come and get him because he is refusing to move.”
“You do know he is naughty all the time?”
From my son being three years old, until I deregistered from school at the age of eight to educate him at home, I heard these kinds of things daily. Three years on, my son is about to have his twelfth birthday, surrounded by a small group of friends of various ages, both boys and girls, who he sees almost every day. Some he met through the activities he attends and some are local children he has known for years. They choose to be his friends; they accept him and his quirks.
I did what most mums do: I sent my child to nursery thinking it would be good for him. He was an extremely bright, energetic, happy child. At school, he was already three years ahead of his peers, but the school refused to give him ability-appropriate work until his behaviour conformed to their rigid requirements.
The school was determined that my son had ADHD and that I was a bad parent. It was adamant that this was why my son preferred to read a book than play football, why he would rather stand than sit on a cold floor, constantly made noises, ignored demands from teachers, asked questions and refused to get ready for PE.
My beautiful little boy would cry and scream every day when I left him at the school door. His teachers would tell me that he always settled very quickly; it seems this was not the reality, though. A friend, a dinner lady, explained how he would often sit in the corner of the playground sobbing, kicking out or biting other kids. He was often made to stand facing the wall for all his break times because he had refused to put his coat on, or had pushed to the front of the line.
After a lengthy battle with the school to recognise his issues, which were supported by paediatricians as being autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) and sensory processing disorder, I was becoming concerned about my son’s health, so I visited our GP. I was told that my six-year-old was depressed because of school.
I thought my only option was to find another school, so off he went with an educational psychologist’s report recommending how to get the best from him. Things started well, but he began to show signs of depression again and the school were refusing to listen to the educational psychologist.
He was in that school for two years before I heard about home education. Within three days I had sent the letter to school saying that he would not be returning. He hasn't set foot in a school since. I had no idea that school was not compulsory, that as long as he was receiving an education, that was all that mattered in law.
Freedom to learn
My son often needs to control his environment; he can be overwhelmed by a noise or smell, or he may need to create a noise or movement. Home educating means he can. He can have his iPod on while working on a maths book, he can tap his foot if he is concentrating on a science experiment, he can stand up to discuss the Cold War or he can lie in bed while reading Everything You Ever Needed to Know About Physics.
My son needs 12 hours sleep a day and often struggles to switch off at night, so being able to wake up when he is ready means he is happier and more alert throughout the day. He will read whilst eating his breakfast or play Lego with his siblings. He loves books and is usually found with one, whether he is eating, out shopping, in the car or in the bathroom. He is free to pick which book he wants and has hundreds to choose from. He will read the same book a few times before moving on to another and is often heard correcting someone or adding some interesting information to a conversation from a book he has read.
When I first deregistered him, he refused to put pen to paper. This was a concern the school had expressed for many years, but as he was continually being told he wasn’t neat enough at the age of five, it isn't surprising that he was reluctant. I didn’t put any pressure on him. I would write for him if he wanted to do a workbook; if he wanted to write a story, he could type it instead. Now I have to make sure I take the pens away from him because he is often found late at night filling in his diary or writing out rules for the “secret group” he and his brother have. He will often take the pen off his brother and do the writing for joint projects now. He is allowed the freedom to do things at his own pace, without anyone demanding he do it, and without the pressure to conform.
Home educating my children means that when we go on outings we can take as long as we want to look around. I can take the time to talk my son through the new experience and he can talk to the museum curator for as long as he chooses. If he is scared, he can hold my hand. If he needs to run around, he can. My son is free to learn as much as he wants from the place and leave when he has had enough.
My son’s “issues” are under control most of the time now, because he can choose what he is going to wear – so no annoying tags or socks that don’t feel right, as he is usually barefoot at home. He can eat at a time he is hungry, choosing food he is happy with.
My son has confidence again; he is happy with whom he is, and content with the life and freedom he now has. The educational psychologist agrees that home education suits him (and his siblings). His music teacher is amazed by him and his commitment to learning the piano (an interest he didn’t have in school). He is academically ahead of his peers and he loves maths, chemistry and physics. He is likely to be ready for his GCSEs before he turns 14, if he chooses to sit exams, and he has already shown an interest in a maths degree with the Open University.
My son smiles every day; my son hugs me and tells me he loves me every day. With counselling, and me to love him, he recovered from the depression that had eaten away at him. It took a couple of years to get my happy little boy back, but he is back.
Many support groups for home educators can also be found on online social networks.