National Home Education week is coming up (November 21st-25th of November) and to help spread the word I am going to be doing a series of Home Ed based blog posts that will explain our home ed journey as well as providing links and resources. For more information on National Home Education Week please visit the Australian Homeschool Network. They will be running free online chats about home education as well as park days and get togethers during Home Ed week where you can find out more about home education.
All of a sudden I was home with 4 girls all desperate to learn. Some days felt overwhelmed and wondered if I would ever have a life outside the house again – but at the same time it was exciting, rewarding and joyful. I no longer had to drag overtired children out of bed, try to get them fed and dressed before dashing for the bus (we don’t drive and the school was the next suburb over). I no longer was screaming my head off first thing in the morning. My girls were happy. I was happy. Everything seemed so different.
It seemed the person who said “Don’t assume the child you send to school everyday will be the same one you will teach at home” was right. My girls (who were already pretty cool kids) were more mellow than ever. Things were done in their own time. We took breaks. We went to the park in the middle of the weekday – and had it all to ourselves. We discovered their was homeschooling excursions and camps and park days and play dates. We met new people from all walks of life. Our girls became even more a part of our lives going shopping with us and helping out around the house. My favourite time of the day became lunch time. Not only was I having breakfast and dinner with the girls, but we were sharing lunch. When dad got home at the end of the day they couldn’t wait to share what they learned.
Our family was surprisingly supportive. I told my Nana first – who had not only been a preschool teacher for 30 odd years – she had been my preschool teacher, my brothers preschool teacher and years later my cousins preschool teacher. But given how long ago she started working, my nan is a surprisingly modern thinking teacher. She wished me luck and that was it. My mum I expected to be less supportive – but she was also happy for us.
The person I dreaded telling the most was my mother in law (who for the record hates me). After he told his mum on the phone she said she would need to sit down and have a talk with us…but that conversation (that I ended up having to have alone with her) went well too. She was supportive and glad she no longer had to see the girls after school or on weekends (not that she ended up seeing them any more than before).
it seemed like everything was going fairly well.
I was not doing so well. The girls being home had temporarily shifted my focus making things seem easier for a bit…but I was in trouble. I spent most nights crying, thinking about self harm and generally majorly depressed. I wasn’t able to finish the outstanding work I had and the charity I ran – that relied on me to do just about everything – was in trouble. I couldn’t manage the workload and I couldn’t handle the demands on me from every direction. I received nasty emails from people who thought I wasn’t working hard enough (after killing myself for 5 years and every week spending more than 40 hours on admin ect.). So I sent off a resignation. I gave up the one thing that meant the world to me. The thing I worked so hard for. The work I truly believed was my lifes purpose. 6 hours later I was admitted to the local psychiatric ward having suffered a major nervous breakdown.
A few weeks before my doctor, who had been treating me for depression for years, had diagnosed me as having bipolar disorder. In those few weeks I had been on a roller coaster with new medications and the stress of work which eventually led to me breaking down completely and in fear of what I might do to myself (after having a history of suicidal behaviour) I voluntarily admitted myself to hospital.
I spent the first few days doped up to the eyeballs on vallium as whenever I wasn’t I was absolutely distraught. I felt I had failed, yet again, to manage my depression effectively and wondered if my life would ever have any sort of normalcy.
While I was in hospital the girls father was at home with them all day everyday. They took a big break from formal education while I was in hospital, instead focusing on talking about what was going on, snuggles late into the evening when they were worried and upset. While everyone around us (including doctors, nurses and various therapists and social workers) were making a major push for the girls to go back to school, it seemed like the worst thing to do at that moment. They needed to be able to come visit me through the week – not just on the weekend. They needed to be at home with their family through the ordeal. Others may disagree – but for our family it was the right decision to make.
The barrage started on day 2 of being in the psych ward. One of the nurses had heard we were a homeschooling family and that it was only recent. She took the time out of her day to come in to see me and tell me that a person who had a mental illness like me had no right to take my children out of school and that she thought I was quite possibly the worst parent she had ever met to do something like that. Later on another nurse came to let me know quietly to let my husband know he may get a call from DHS as that nurse had taken it upon herself to report us for neglect. We never did get a call or visit – but when you have just had a nervous breakdown its the last thing you need. I was only visited by the nasty nurse one more time before my psychiatrist requested she not speak to me any more. She came in to inform me that the best way to cure me was through electro shock treatment. She had met me twice and I guess browsed my file. Not long after that conversation my psychiatrist had to be called in because I was completely freaking out because I didn’t want to have ECT. The psych was really curious as to where I got it in my head that would happen to me…as she had only recommended going onto an antidepressant and a mood stabiliser.The nurse ended up in big trouble and I never spoke to her again.
I was what was called a low risk compliant patient. I took my meds, I did as I was told and mainly kept to myself reading when I wasn’t sleeping. So I was told I had to opportunity to be interviewed to go to a recovery facility which was more a share house with staff 24/7 and the ability to go out without asking permission, cook my own food (after 9 days of hospital food that sounded awesome) and have my own room with an en-suite and a door that locked from the inside. The staff that interviewed me were lovely and decided I was an ideal candidate. The next day I left the psych ward to head to a new facility where I would spend almost three months at slowly adjusting to new medication under supervision as well as transition back to my “normal” life. Here my children could visit me – we could play wii in the family room or have fish and chips at the parkland that backed onto the facility. I saw the GP regularly for side effects, they helped me sort out other health issues (mainly my teeth and eyes) and found a psychologist local to my home to see so that when I left I would continue seeing the same person. I went on day releases home at first. Then overnight, then weekend, and before I knew it I was home. A friend loaned her beach house for a few weeks so we could head down there for some r&r as a family before heading home. To be with my children all day was wonderful. The sea air was refreshing and I felt, finally, strong enough to come home.
Once I was home I tried to jump straight back into formal schooling – but it just wasn’t working. The girls needed me to just be with them. So once again the books were put down and we were just together. Some days I was too tired to leave my bedroom so in would march 4 little girls with their own books to read or things to colour. Sometimes we would watch movies or some tv. It was peaceful and the girls and I bonded again and felt safe. Safe that I wasn’t going to leave again any time soon.
But there were still our critics. My mother in law, who had been my biggest supporter, withdrew her support and decided it was time they went back to school. She was driving us home from somewhere once and took the long way to drive past a local school to suggest that they attend that school and that she would help with school pickups ect. When I informed her the girls wouldn’t be going back to school anytime soon she became angry and told me she would take it up with him directly then. I don’t know why she thought he would be any more interested in what she had to say. Homeschooling has, and always will be, a joint decision made by us. I would not homeschool without his support and he would never send the girls to school without my support.
But I also had my supporters. The ladies on the forums, the homeschool families we had met in person and even people that now knew us as “the homeschoolers” at the shops.
We had our children back. My daughter with severe anxiety no longer needed her psychologist. She was sleeping and eating again. Her eyes were sparkly and happy again. My twins, who were never at the social age they “should” be were happy too. They would play with kids that shared interests, rather than age groups. My middle daughter, who happens to have aspergers, was making friends. She had a small group of friends who, funnily enough, were all on the autism spectrum too. She had met them at various park days and playdates – never planned – they all just sort of flocked together. She had friends who understood her and her boundaries and she understood them. My eldest stopped trying to be a teenager at ten years old and instead went back to playing with dolls and make believe. My girls were happy.
But I was still worried. Had putting the books down for almost 6 months meant they were falling behind? The only “formal” learning we had done was the two eldest participated in something called NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writers Month – where you free write for all the month of november). My eldest would cry every time we tried any writing or english work. I discovered a teacher had made fun of her in front of the whole class for being a slow and messy writer. NaNo was perfect for her – she feared being too slow, that her spelling was bad, that her story writing wasn’t good enough. So for 30 days she wrote (some days it was dragging here kicking and screaming through it, other days it was quite) at the end of November she had written 8000 words. She hadn’t been humiliated because she took longer (some days she wrote from after breakfast all the way through til bedtime) or because she misspelled a word. All of a sudden I had a daughter who no longer feared writing. Our other daughter, with a natural talent for story telling and writing had so much fun. The twins were upset they didn’t get to have a go. I also discovered my girls were reading….a lot. It wasn’t just in the 15 minutes before bed we had allocated as quiet reading time. It wasn’t just the 10 minutes they assign in school here and there. They were devouring books. Books on every subject. Even though we hadn’t been formally schooling the twins had learnt to add large numbers as their big sisters had shown them. Our middle child became interested in birds and their behaviour and learnt to look them up on the internet. Our girls had figured out email. And word. And spreadsheets. We had to purchase a granny trolley to bring home books from the library – we would take home anywhere up to 60 odd books and a week later every single one had been read. My middle child had explained how to figure out how many protons, neutrons and electrons were in any given element using just the periodic table and a basic formula – she then showed our eldest how. They had been listening and watching and learning as my brother (who was in year 11) explained his advanced math, physics and chem homework. After a trip to scienceworks and the planetarium they could point out constellations. They would beg us to go over to the oval and lie in the middle to point out stars to us.
All of a sudden I “got it”. Everything I had been told by homeschool vetrans who said I would come to rely less and less on “curriculum”. Learning didn’t happen in a vaccum. The girls were learning every single day, every hour, every minute. A walk to the local blue light disco at night ended up in a discussion about eclipses. A trip to the bank ended in a discussion – with the super helpful wonderful ladies at westpac – about how interest works. Which led to the girls actually coming home, sitting down with a calculator and working out how much interest they would get on things. Shopping turned into discussions on where food really came from, what was in rice crackers or ice cream. How dinner doesn’t just end up on the table – we have to budget for it and it has to feed 8 people. A simple recipe doubled or halved to feed the right amount of people is a lesson in fractions. All of a sudden the world was our classroom and it was absolutely thrilling and liberating. Our girls hadn’t stopped learning when we put down the books…instead they were learning more about everything. The books had just constrained us to one topic at a time. All of a sudden I wasn’t homeschool in fear.
For Christmas that year the girls asked for books, and science stuff and more books. The bookshelf we had, that had been practically empty since getting it was now exploding. The girls little bookshelf for their picture books was now overflowing with chapter books and books on birds and science and maths and history. I discovered our eldest had a passion for history and devours books on the subject and loves historical fiction. One of my other brothers came to visit and the girls ended up with a 6ft dobsonian telescope for xmas from their uncle. Now they could look at craters on the moon themselves.
The new year was celebrated with new friends. 3 other home ed families joined us to celebrate. Kids played wii and ran outside to look at fire works, adults chatted on every topic from education to their favourite books. One of the mums had self published her own poetry book, another was writing a book on finances. Home education had spread from teaching their children – to everyone learning and finding their passions. It was inspiring – and fun.
We were finally finding our own dynamic. Our children were happy and healthy. They had friends. We had even made some ourselves. Life was good.
stay tuned for homeschooling camp, excursions, links, books and styles of homeschooling