7th May 2019 Monthly Columnist
I’m peeking my head out to see if it’s May now and the overwhelm of April’s Autism Awareness Month is over? Hurrah it’s May!
There is much to be excited about. A royal baby boy has been born, sunshine and spring is in the air, but for many of our children it’s the school term of SATs and GCSE preparation. For many autistic and SEN youngsters, this has serious mental health consequences. Which is why I chose to home educate.
The word ‘chose’ of course, being highly subjective. Despite appearances, I don’t have a privileged lifestyle to make this an easy choice at all.
I am a self-employed, single mum. I am the sole breadwinner, with childcare that can only take place in evenings or weekends due to my parents being younger and both being in full time employment themselves. I have no extra cash for childcare and even if I did, my daughter would not cope due to her anxiety. No pot of gold for long-term tutoring or taking part in the latest internet classrooms. If I looked at all the reasons why I couldn’t choose to home educate, I’d never have started. However, like so many parents of SEN children, in light of whatever reasons, sometimes it seems like the ONLY way to safeguard your young person’s mental health and happiness.
So, I started to look at all the reasons why I COULD choose home education. In all of this, what on earth could I offer my daughter?
After some thought, I realised I could offer the following:
- Previous experience of home educating her elder sister.
- Confidence – mainly from the success at GCSEs of her older home educated sister and the fact that the school system left me with no GCSEs at all!
- My time. Being self-employed, I get to choose who I work for and how. If a job is appropriate to take my daughter to but doesn’t allow my daughter to attend then nor do I.
- My office. As luck would have it, my small offices make great classrooms of sorts.
When my youngest was in mainstream school, she was getting 15-20% in tests and now she’s getting 80-100% in less than 5 months of home education.
Well, she can learn at a time that suits her. 5am or 5pm? We all have a time of day that suits our learning best. For me, it’s 3am and for my daughter it’s about 7pm. To learn, we need to be comfortable, happy and not in pain. So, what if the school environment leaves you uncomfortable, unhappy and in pain because of social and sensory issues?
We also learn by topic rather than subject. I have recently consulted with a tutoring company on the development of Learning By Topic Frameworks.
The prescribed one size fits all approach to learning often offers a great disservice to some of the most unique and focused mind-sets.
Traditionally we ask a student to learn a SUBJECT, be that maths, science, history and so forth without asking them what their motivations and ambitions are.
When we turn traditional thinking on its head and give the power to students by asking them what their favourite TOPICS are, the context of why and how to learn traditional subjects is clear. The learning by topic framework respects and works with traditional subjects whilst rightly giving the student the driving seat. This will not only help them to learn now, but to also have a growth mind-set that learning doesn’t take place in one room, inside one institution between 9am to 3pm but that learning is with us always, for life. I think, ultimately, that’s what home education (done well) can offer.
The social side
The biggest concern of home education may always be the potential lack of friendships. This was one of my biggest worries. We live on a family filled cul-de-sac in rural Reading. Luckily for my daughter, her friends in the street still knock for her come 4pm and she can play with them. A few of her school friends stay in touch and have sleepovers at ours or meet up for lunch in the holidays. That aside, we run youth groups ourselves and have reached out to the ever growing home education community also. My daughter has never had so much socialisation or happiness and I guess that’s the success story – happiness.
I know it will sting both her and I when September rolls around and Facebook will be full of photos of her peers dressed up for their first day at secondary school. But we have become de-sensitised to this feeling of difference already in the playground, parents evening, refusing school trips, residential school trips and large parties. This sting is not new. It is, however, better than a daily grind and erosion of her natural self, and I will preserve her natural self and all the wonders that she has to offer. Forever.
See you next month!
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