This post is part serious and part tongue in cheek and shares my journey around bad home education group experiences. If you run a home education group, please don’t be too offended, this is my story and I am sure not all groups are the same.
If you follow us you will know we made the choice to step into the world of home education a few years ago with our son.
It’s been a learning curve for us as a family, with some real ups and moments of triumph, finding our new normal, and also some struggles. I have no regrets but I certainly know more than I did when we started about what works and what doesn’t for us and our family.
One of the things I was told when I started home educating was “join some local groups”, “find some families in the same boat as you”.
I am generally not a group person. Ironically, I run groups for parents in the work I do, but I find groups, for myself, quite challenging.
But, because we felt like we were in a bit of a no man’s land, I have tried a few groups, to see if we could find families similar to us, for support and also for socialisation.
Home education groups are only as good as the families or people that run them, and each one will have it’s own style and flavour and the personalities in that group will determine how people fit in. Like everything else, in parenting, there are strong opinions about all areas of home education, by home education parents. How you home educate and the philosophy you follow, be it a free schooler, who doesn’t follow a curriculum, or a more academic traditional family, or if your child will do exams or not, are often hot topics. There are also schools of thought around special needs, vaccines, how much control the government has on our lives, and other lifestyle choices that can get a bit heated when discussed or opinionated on. It takes me back to when parenting choices like breastfeeding or not, or sleep training or not were issues that could cause offense or arguments, when my children were babies and toddlers.
We have tried three or four groups, a couple before Covid19 hit and a couple as we came out of Covid19 restrictions.
The first group:
The first group was a general meetup group, for a social time, with parents and their children. It was relatively informal, but after two sessions, I decided we wouldn’t be going back. I felt incredibly uncomfortable because there was a lot of discussion about schools and it wasn’t pleasant.
Because we have a child in school (our daughter) I am not anti the education system (although I do think the system is very broken for many families) and whilst I have strong feelings about certain aspects of the system based on our own experience, I don’t like constant negative talk about teachers or schools, and I won’t take part in that. I also felt uncomfortable because our daughter is happy and thriving in school and I don’t like being made to feel that somehow that’s a wrong choice according to someone else.
The second group:
Was run by a lovely lady but it was totally chaotic, and disorganised. She would say she was planning activities each week or things to do, but they wouldn’t happen or things would run very late. I am usually fairy tolerant of people and I know that sometimes life happens, but it was incredibly frustrating to expect to turn up to do an art activity and it wasn’t happening, or whatever was planned. After a while we stopped going, because it was getting too frustrating.
I avoided groups after that for a while. I also found that because I work, two days a week and we also slot in dance activities for kiddo, our schedule often didn’t fit local group timetables, so we stuck to meeting friends individually or going to booked events run by local organisations instead. We were part of a choir, a book group, a cooking class, Cubs and a local youth group, so he wasn’t exactly short for socialising or seeing his peers.
Then came Covid19 and our social life and everthing else was heavily curtailed for a long time.
The third group:
As we came out of things, I thought maybe we should start again, and I wanted to find a local group that did some academic work as part of their activities so I joined a small group of parents who’s apparent intention was to do maths as part of the group and we were going to club together to pay a tutor to come and help with some of the teaching, regularly. But that seemed almost impossible to organise. Some of the parents wanted it to be a tutor group where the children were left with the tutor and because I work in safeguarding as part of my job, I was reluctant to do that without some processes in place to check who the tutor was and if they had a dbs check or any references to make sure they were safe to work with kids. Then it was decided that the parents would take turns to teach the kids and I bowed out at that point because whilst I feel confident to teach my own son, one to one, teaching a group of children is not my idea of a good time, and not what I want to do.
And the last one…
The fourth group:
This wasn’t totally local to us, and was a bus ride away and was fairly large, with about twenty families. it seemed nice, relaxed and relatively informal and mostly activities for the kids and the parents chatted. But on our second visit, I happened to be chatting with a lady, and mentioned something about my working part time (16 hours a week) and she reacted quite aggressively, in that she seemed shocked that I wasn’t at home full time, educating my son. She asked me what we did with him when I was at work. I was tempted to reply that we left him with a supply of sugary fizzy drinks and violent video games to play, whilst we went to work, because I can be sarcastic like that, but my better self came through and I calmly explained that my husband works from home when i am at work, and we have organised tutor sessions for him on those days as well as independent work, to do, so he is occupied and learning.
Her response was “well, that’s not really home educating is it?”.
I didn’t really reply, as at that point someone interrupted us, fortunately.
Our next visit to that group, I happened to mention in passing to someone I was chatting to, about my son having a diagnosis of ADHD. Nothing came of it at the time, but shortly after we got home that day, I got a whatsapp message inviting me to join a group of parents who were using alternative remedies and methods to “cure” their children of ADHD and autism. I politely declined to join the group and wondered where that invitation had come from. The lady I had been chatting to had apparently shared my number with someone. I have quite strong feelings about that, and wasn’t happy about it. When I mentioned it to the group organiser, she was very apologetic. However when I next attended the group, I was cornered by the parent in question and asked if I wanted to talk about helping my son with his “issues”. I politely declined and walked away but after that, I decided we were done with groups for now.
I think we probably got dealt a bad hand with the groups we visited and I am fairly sure there are plenty of groups out there that run really well and are comfortable for all home educating parents but so far, for us, finding them has been really challenging.
Maybe, we will try again. I don’t feel too much pressure, because our son has a lot of activities he takes part in where he is with other children, but it would be nice to be with a group of other families I can relate to and get some support from every now and then.
For now, I am very wary of joining any home education group set up. Maybe one day it will change…
You can see why I have a bit of a home education group phobia. Have you had a positive or negative experience of a group? I kind of hope ours was just bad luck.