Deciding to home educate your children can be exciting and wildly terrifying all at the same time. You may have spent a long time thinking about home education and having made this momentous decision, now you just want to get on with it.
Here are my top five things to get you started right now.
- Deregistration letter.
If your child is not yet school age or they do not currently have a school place then you don’t have to inform anyone of your decision to home educate. As parents we are legally responsible for ensuring that our children receive a suitable education “either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.” (Education Act 1996) To find out more about the law, see our useful links page.
If your child is registered at a school then you will need to have their name removed from the school register. It is important that you do this in writing. For a useful template that provides the appropriate legal wording, visit this page and scroll down to ‘confirmation letters’ near the bottom.
- Make contact with other home educating families.
Hopefully you will have had the opportunity to make contact with other home educators during your initial research. You may be fortunate and already have friends that home educate. This can be really useful, but it can also be a wise move to meet a range of people with different experiences and knowledge – the way that one family do things may be very different from the way your family operates or the way that you would like to do things.
Taking a step out into what is often the relatively unknown for most of us can feel scary and lonely at first. You may not know anyone for whom home education has been a part of their life. You may not know anyone else who has ever considered home education, or even realises that it is a legal option. But the home education community is a growing one.
You can find local, national and international home education groups on yahoo groups and Facebook. Useful search terms include home education and home schooling, of course, but you can also add your town, region, country, educational approaches you are interested in, or other particular circumstances (maybe you have teens or twins, or you are a single parent household). Consider the types of groups that might be helpful for you and get searching.
To get you started you can also take a look at our useful links page where we have put together a list of websites that provide information on local groups. Start making contact with other home educators and you will soon begin to realise that there is a whole other world out there waiting to welcome you.
3. Attend some local events.
Find some local meet- ups organised by the home education community in your area and go along. Wherever you live, it is likely that there will be a home education group not too far away. If you live in a rural area, consider joining groups in the nearest towns and cities. They are likely to have more regular meet-ups and a greater number of members, and if you go along to an event you may find others who have travelled in from a similar area to you.
There may also be national events, like conferences and camps that can be fun to attend. These can also be a good source of finding out what might be happening more locally to you – more experienced home educators will often be able to point you in the direction of families they know in your area or tell you about groups and resources they have found helpful.
4. Look for the joy.
Making the choice to home educate is a momentous decision. Allow plenty of time and space for you and your children to process this huge change in your lives. If your child has been at school then they are likely to need some time to adjust to this new chapter in your lives. This period of adjustment is often described as ‘deschooling’. It is generally thought that deschooling can take at least one month for every year that a person has been involved in the school system – this may not be very long for children but for adults who may have been to college or university or been employed in the education system, and then had children who attended school, the time begins to add up.
Deschooling provides an opportunity for everyone in the family to reflect on the reasons you have chosen home education and consider what their priorities are moving forward. If you left school because of difficulties or stressful circumstances, like bullying, then it is important to 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 is still important to make space to reflect on how learning at home can be very different to school.
You now have the opportunity and privilege of spending lots more time with your children. This time is precious and valuable, make the most of it. Give yourselves permission to relax and have fun. Enjoy your time together and focus on nurturing relationships and learning more about yourselves and each other. Consider what you love to do as a family and make space for more of that in your lives. Spend an afternoon with your children drawing up some joy lists – this can literally just be a list of the things that bring you joy but you can also have lots of fun with this and make it a really creative and decorative project.
Concentrate on how you can make life more sparkly and joyful. Take some time to think about what your children love to do and bring more of that into their lives. Become a tourist in your local area and take the opportunity to visit places you have always wanted to go to but never seemed to get around to.
Hopefully you will have taken plenty of time on steps 2 and 3 and you will have discovered that there are as many different ways of home educating as there are families. Depending on your point of view this can seem like an exciting opportunity to consider an infinite array of possibilities or it can feel really daunting and paralysing. Remember this is a learning process for you and your children. Take it slowly and carefully, look for the aspects of other people’s approaches you love and test these out. Focus on building your relationships, having a good time and learning more about what home education can look like. You do not have to have everything figured out straight away.
5. Relax and trust.
Now I know what you’re thinking, this is all well and good but when are we going to get down to the actual educating bit. Please don’t under-estimate the importance of making links with others – not only will be they be a useful resource for all things learning, both for your children and, perhaps even more importantly, for yourself. But they will also be a source of inspiration, support and friendship through the good times and the 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 to navigate those tricky times.
Deschooling is widely recognised as an important step in the transition from school to home education. Allowing sufficient time and space for this process to play out thoroughly can be hugely beneficial for children and parents and strengthen those existing 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 you do? There really is no definitive answer to these questions. 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 actually have very clear ideas about the path you wish to follow or you may feel totally daunted and overwhelmed, there just seems so much to think about, it might seem impossible to know where to start.
Whatever the age of your children, I urge you, please don’t panic, and don’t feel the need to rush into anything too soon. I know that for some parents with teens, it may feel like the clock is ticking, ‘they have to get x, y and z done and we’re running out of time’. It can be difficult to get to grips with 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 requirement to take exams by a certain point, to go to university at 18 or indeed at all. There is no one magic age at which it is 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 now have the wonderful opportunity to dictate your own schedule, make up your own timescales, dream big and focus on what you want to do not what you believe is expected of you or that you must do.
It is perfectly possible for young people who are home educated to take exams whenever they are ready, before or after that magic number of 16. As a home educating family you will have responsibility for the organisation and cost of exams but there is a lot of information, advice and support available for young people and their parents who choose this route and many do so 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, there are a small number of local authorities who provide some financial assistance with exams and evening classes may be a relatively inexpensive option in your area.
BUT, and really this should be a big big but, there is no need to rush. There are opportunities to take exams 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, dare I say to it to the detriment of so many more important areas of education and learning that it may feel like they are compulsory and necessary to a teen’s very survival. This is most certainly not the case. There are so many paths that young people might decide to follow once they learn more about the possibilities. There are many options and much more flexibility than many initially realise.
It can be really beneficial to concentrate for now on building those supportive and nurturing relationships, relax into this new found reality and trust that as you learn more about the wonderful world of home education the path ahead will gradually become clearer. It can be so tempting to rush ahead, purchase curriculums and lots of equipment, book exam centres and try to fill up your children’s free time with ‘educational’ activities. If you are able to fully embrace the deschooling process and allow yourself and your family time to follow your joy you will begin to see possibilities and opportunities for learning all around you.
During this time you can begin to collect and collate ideas about how to move forward with your family’s unique journey on the home education path. It is reasonable to expect that most of us will need to return to steps 2 to 5 on a repeating loop throughout our home education journey, this is all part of the process. For now, lovely people, get the kettle on, follow that joy and please, try to relax.
In future posts we will talk more about some common approaches and styles of home education and how you can start writing an educational philosophy that sets out your beliefs and intentions around supporting your children’s learning.
Let us know in the comments if you have any specific questions or concerns about home education, we would love to hear from you.