Fabulous columnist Stacey Solomon explains how she and her sons - Zachary, 10, and Leighton, 5 - have made a huge change to their lives
While I've been away lots of people have been asking why I've taken my children out of school and whether I’ll be expecting a fine when I get home.
The truth is that they no longer go to school. Last September, the boys and I decided that we were going to try homeschooling.
Before I get started, I would like to say that every child is different and therefore responds differently to methods of teaching. Also, this wasn't a decision we made lightly. It’s one we've been pondering over for a few years.
Both of my children - Zachary, 10, and Leighton, five, - have been in school since the age of four and Zachary went to the nursery at the college I attended as soon as he was six months old.
They've both enjoyed their time at school but, as they got older, there were a number of things I began to question.
When Zachary was halfway through Year Two he began to lose some of my favourite parts of his personality.
Before that, he was often cheeky and making jokes, he never worried what people thought of him. He was a happy-go-lucky child, always inquisitive and wanting to know EVERYTHING about everything.
We couldn't even go into the supermarket without him asking about every product and where it comes from.
But he would come home from school embarrassed to make jokes and be silly and he became very quiet and a little sad. We spoke about this a lot and he explained to me that his behaviour was deemed naughty and disruptive by teachers and not cool by his peers.
He said when he asked questions, he felt they were silly. One stuck out for me in particular. They were studying the Egyptians and he asked “but where did the Egyptians come from?” He was told to ask a sensible question.
Now, before anyone jumps to the conclusion that I'm school bashing or teacher bashing it’s quite the opposite.
Teachers are amazing. They are underpaid and overworked and I can absolutely see why extra questions and cheekiness is intolerable and messes with the routine.
The average school class has 27 children, with one teacher and one support teacher. Sometimes I struggle to get my two to sit and study for 20 minutes so I can't imagine how difficult and stressful it must be for teachers to try and teach up to 30 different children with varied needs for six hours a day.
As time went on and Zachary got older it became uncool to be clever so his grades started dropping and his attitude rising. Yes, even at 10. I didn't want to believe it started that early either but apparently it does!
That’s when I thought, “OK, what are we doing here?”
Credit to: Staceysolomon Instagram
Homeschooling has always been at the back of my mind, because whenever I am with the boys and we are out in different environments their senses heighten and their enthusiasm to learn is at its best.
At first I thought it was just because they were with me and they would have been excited to be with me no matter what we were doing.
Much to my dismay, this wasn't the case.
It didn't matter who took them to the museums or for long walks or to the observatory, they responded the same way.
This was one of many thoughts re homeschooling.
Another being, “What are they actually learning?” There are so many things I think are imperative to my children’s learning that just aren't a part of the curriculum and lots of things I PERSONALLY don't think are necessary on there.
So we decided to homeschool and our adventure began.
It’s not easy. School is actually really convenient. You drop your children off and head to work and pay for the child care in between.
Childcare is ridiculously expensive – it’s enough to make you consider not working because you have to pay so much – but I am in a very privileged and uncommon position.
My mum is incredible, she is able to be there whenever I need her and I am extremely lucky. I wouldn't be able to do it without her.
Also my job allows me to have more time off with my children and I realise not everyone is in the position to do that.
Once I knew I had childcare in place, I had to work out what they would be learning and how.
Tutoring is very expensive, so I only have a tutor once a week to follow the curriculum for Maths, English and science.
You don't have to follow any curriculum at all if you don't want to but I have decided to keep up the core subjects just in case the boys want to go to secondary school at some point.
This means they will be able to take GCSEs and A Levels if they decide they want to do that.
Other than that one day, their learning is fluid and geared towards things they're interested in and excited about.
At the moment that consists of Astrophysics (Space haha), Biology, Technology, and Mandarin.
We do lots of space projects and visit the observatory regularly because they love it and while they love it they may as well learn it.
For biology, we take lots of nature walks and they LOVE learning about the ocean so we are often seeing my sister Sam, the marine biologist of the family, for lessons on all things ocean.
For tech, Apple run weekend free classes for kids to learn coding and my brother works in IT and is trying to show them how to build apps and create things online (I have absolutely no idea so I'm learning with them!)
With Mandarin we have ventured into online videos because we haven't found anyone in our area who teaches it but we are still on the lookout. The younger they learn a language the better, and as Mandarin is the most widely spoken language I think it would put them in good stead.
Credit to: Staceysolomon Instagram
One of the biggest misconceptions about homeschooling, and the ones my friends seemed most concerned about, is that children won't socialise and will have a limited ability to communicate when they get older.
I can honestly say this is a myth. There are so many homeschool communities all over the country, where you can socialise and even arrange group lessons at a much lower cost but still a very small ratio of students to teachers.
My boys socialise with plenty of kids their own age, including friends from their old school as well as the many children we meet through the homeschooling community.
Also, socialising with adults isn't a bad thing. When my little brother was born, we were all grown up and he learned to communicate at a staggering rate because he talked to adults. The boys are extremely sociable – in fact, I can't shut them up and I wouldn't want to.
I have to say, I had mixed experiences at school.
I LOVED learning but I also loved being the class clown and you can't do both. So I went with class clown, because that got me more friends, but I ended up being removed from my first school because I was disruptive.
In my second school, I was still the same but the teachers responded to me differently. They challenged me and gave me extra work to keep me occupied – they even let me sit extra GCSEs just to keep me quiet hahaha. I responded really well to this but I realise that the school was exceptional and I am so grateful to those teachers and staff who allowed me to flourish.
However, I would also have loved to learn at home.
I would have loved to have left school with more ‘life maths’ - knowing about interest rates, what APR meant and how to pay taxes instead of Pythagoras theorem.
I would have loved to have studied politics, and I wish it was compulsory, because most teenagers aren’t interested. But now that I’m older I feel disassociated from politics. I want to be able to decipher the jargon I hear on Question Time or make an educated decision on who to vote for.
I also think children need to learn more about nutrition, where food comes from and sustainability, as well as how to cook.
Don’t get me wrong, I know we are incredibly privileged to live in a country where education is free to everyone, no matter what their background.
That is amazing and schools do a brilliant job. It’s just that, at the moment, homeschooling is the right choice for us.
Yes, it's controversial and not everyone will agree with me but parents have to make their own decisions. No-one should judge them and you shouldn’t feel judged. When it comes to raising your kids I firmly believe everyone should do it their own way and not judge what everyone else is doing.
Luckily, my family have all been very supportive and have respected our decision and, while some friends have questioned it, they have been understanding.
Ultimately, I have no idea how this relatively new step in our lives will pan out, but right now my children are happy and healthy, enjoying life and learning and that’s all I can hope for.
Everything I have ever done and with my children is with their best interests at heart and I think that that is all parents ever do.
Every single child is different so you just have to go with it and do whatever you can and that is enough.
You’re all doing an amazing job, and I don’t think it matters what anyone else is doing! You do you! We are all winging it and there’s nothing wrong with that.
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