Taking Your Children Out of School
Once you are convinced that home education is the right choice for your family, consider taking your children out of school as soon as possible. Every family circumstance is different, but generally speaking, if you have made the decision that teaching at home is best for your family, there is no point leaving your children in school any longer. There is little to be gained by leaving them to finish the term or the year. Perhaps if they are committed to a sports team, the school play or some other such activity, then it is right for them to stay on to fulfil their commitments, unless there are other adverse circumstances that warrant their immediate departure from school. Some parents may have paid fees in advance and do not wish to forfeit them. In such a case, you could try to negotiate a refund. If this is not possible and you have a reasonable relationship with the principal, you may consider taking your children out anyway and negotiating that the balance of fees be used for your children’s use of the school’s library or sporting facilities for a certain period of time.
Once your children are at home, a period of “unschooling” is recommended. This means spending a period of time with your children without doing any formal schooling. The term “unschooling” is also used to describe a whole philosophy of education, which is explained in a separate article. While this philosophy of home education may not be the one you wish to adopt in the long-term, it is an excellent tool for a short period of time as you embark on home education.
Unschooling allows time for the formation of a closer relationship between parent and child. This is a time to be together, talk together, read together, do things together, have fun together, and grow together without the interference of a structured academic timetable. Go for nature rambles; read aloud under a big tree in the park; discover how the local library is set out; visit museums and art galleries; bake or teach the children to cook; learn a new craft; start a veggie patch. The books you read and the things you do will help to arouse curiosity and rekindle the desire to learn.
It is also a time to set goals, organize household routines and chore responsibilities, discuss the details of the academic timetable that will eventually be set in place, research and decide on materials to be used. Unschooling is not a long holiday during which you do your own thing and the children get used to the idea of being at home. Rather, it is a period of meaningful interaction with your children, enhanced by doing things together, entrenching sound relationships that form a firm foundation for the learning years ahead.
The level of activity and the length of time spent unschooling will vary from family to family, according to their means, needs and interests. To achieve the right balance in the activities you choose to do, remember that the activity is not as important as the “together”. And remember, you are embarking on home education, not “in the car” education.
Whether you unschool or not and how much time you spend unschooling, will depend on your background and personality. Spending time without workbooks, especially outside school holidays, is an idea foreign to most parents. If you are uncomfortable with the idea of unschooling, don’t do it. It is desirable, but not compulsory.
Once your children are at home, it may also be necessary to allow for a time of social adjustment. At school they were surrounded by people all the time, while at home there will be only their siblings and you. Some children will obviously miss their friends initially, and for those who have been taken out of school against their will, adjustment may be even harder. The best way to ensure a smooth transition between school and home is to make staying at home desirable. If the children are enjoying themselves at home, they are less likely to hanker after being at school. If your children still want to keep in touch with their school friends, make arrangements for them to get together in the afternoons. Unless for some reason you consider these friendships undesirable, there is no reason why they shouldn’t continue. Encourage new friendships with other home schooling families, but especially encourage siblings to be friends with each other.
The Lord intended the family as the basic building block of society. It is within the family unit that our children should learn all the basic socialization skills before practising them in other situations. I think we all know from experience kindness, patience and co-operation amongst siblings does not, generally speaking, come naturally! We have to teach them these skills and encourage them to treat each other in a way that glorifies the Lord. Often at school, friends were considered more important than siblings were. Thus children have to learn to value their siblings again. This relationship building obviously takes time, but they will eventually see each other as desirable friends and companions. This does not mean that siblings necessarily take the place of other friends, but when siblings are friends they will be satisfied with each other’s company in the mornings when old school friends aren’t available.
Another way to ease the transition is to allow your children to play a part in the planning and decision making. This gives them a sense of involvement. Drawing up chore lists, planning a timetable and setting short-term goals are all possibilities. The level of involvement obviously depends on the age of the child and their interest in being involved in such decision making. The only decisions some may want to make is what their reward should be if they finish their chores on time!
One of the difficulties of your children having been at school is the change of authority figure. Many of you may have had experience of a child saying, “But my teacher says…!” Some young children slowly move to a position of believing that everything that is taught at school is correct, considering their teachers a greater authority than their parents. When these are brought home, their parents have to re-establish their authority. Time will turn the situation around again. Be patient when you hear, “But we didn’t do it this way at school.” Compromise if you think it’s wise to do so, but if necessary, gently point out that you have a God-given authority in the home. Some older children may even question their parents’ abilities to teach because they are “unqualified”. In this case, never pretend to know more than you do. They will eventually see that you are more than “qualified” to look up anything you need to know.
Many parents who have taken their children out of school express regret that they did not do so sooner. I am one of these. I wish that we had known about home education a long time ago! It might have been so much better if my children had never gone to school. If they had been at home from the start, they would not have had any “school” conditioning – I would have had a blank slate to work on, so to speak. After six years at home, I see how much can be achieved in comparison to what was achieved at school. Need we worry about those wasted years? No, I don’t think so.
In every situation the Lord’s timing is always right. It was He that directed another homeschooler across my path; He that convicted me as I read books about home education (6 books in 2 months!); and it was He that influenced my husband to agree to my teaching at home even though it was way outside his comfort zone. If the Lord had wanted me to teach at home from the beginning, He could have made me aware of home education much earlier. But He didn’t. Therefore I can rest in the fact that it was the Lord’s will that my children spent a few years at school. I am just grateful that He led me to teach at home when He did! So, to begin with, do not fret that your children have spent time in school. He who has led you to teach at home will surely guide you in the years ahead and help you overcome any difficulties that may arise. Besides, school was for many of our children not a bad experience. Rejoice in the positive experiences your family had at school, and be grateful that the following years at home will help rectify the negative experiences.