Why I Chose to Homeschool My 13 year old Daughter

Real life experience

Reading Time: 10 minutes

As I begin to write this on a beautiful, frosty November morning, I am mulling over an article that I have recently read regarding children’s attendance at school – one that I can’t get out of my head.

An advertising campaign by East Sussex County Council urges parents to ‘Get a grip‘ when it comes to keeping their children off school, particularly for minor ailments such as a cough or cold. Sounds fair enough right? Wrong. Not only is the language used offensive (‘don’t be mugs’ it tells parents) the campaign suggests that there is ‘no excuse for missing school’.

Oh yeah? What, then, about the death of a loved family member or recovery from a major operation or treatment for a life threatening illness or experiencing major anxiety/panic attacks, or major bouts of depression, which research suggests are at a record high amongst secondary school aged young people??? I could go on.

I have 3 daughters who are now aged 17, 13 and 11. When my 13 year old, ‘M’, had completed year 7 at secondary school she received a certificate and recognition in assembly for 100% attendance, alongside a handful of other children. Watching, were children who did not have 100% attendance – amongst them a 12 year old boy whose dad had died completely unexpectedly only a few months earlier and a girl whose mum had taken her own life and the friends of a young man who had been off school for most of the year due to having a Cancer diagnosis and under-going treatment…just a few examples, there are many. I was fuming – we should be pleased about M’s ‘achievement’, we were told – pleased about what exactly?

We threw the certificate away – she was embarrassed by it, as was I. Ironically the following year (2016-17) saw M take a reasonable amount of days off school (although attendance never dropped below 95%) due to struggling with anxiety and this is really where our life changing year began.

It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.

– L R Knost – 

Prior to joining the A Life Loved team, I was a teacher for the best part of 15 years (including time off for maternity leave). Throughout this time, I taught Psychology at ‘A’ Level. I became a teacher to make a difference. Sounds so cheesy, but that was truly my intention.

One of my favourite films as a teenager was Dead Poets Society. I dreamed of being the female equivalent of John Keating (Robin Willams’ character) and yearned for students to stand aloft their desks and recite Whitman’s ‘Oh Captain, My Captain’ just for me. Totally indulgent, I know, and not quite the reality that I was presented with.

Don’t get me wrong, I feel very privileged to have worked with some young people who have made a huge difference to my life both personally and professionally, as I hope I have to theirs. For the most part the experience was a positive one, but over those 15 years, things changed. My work load became more about developing skills to impart to students about how to pass an exam or get high grades, threatening my love and passion for the subject…

The educational system was and is draining teachers of the love for their subjects due to heavy work loads, league table analysis and an obsession with high grades, as well as often being expected to take on the role of parent, social worker, counsellor, mentor etc.

I spent a number of years battling with my own reasons for being a teacher and feeling very strongly that I needed to stay true to myself; I was no longer able to make the difference I wanted to due to the constraints of the job and unreasonable expectations and simply not being given enough autonomy to make choices about how to teach the students – (there were so many opportunities to take the students out of school to experience something that would have educational value, but unless it was directly related to the specification or would have a significant impact on their exam results, it was a flat NO). So, in April 2017, after an extremely difficult few months, I decided to leave my job and leave teaching in mainstream school for good.

This decision was partly fuelled by some personal issues I was experiencing but also by my utter disillusionment with the ‘system’, which was no longer something I wanted to promote or be a part of. I was no longer proud to be a teacher, I felt sad and powerless and (dare I say it) bullied.

The decision for me to leave my teaching career was not taken lightly and it prompted lots of discussion in my house – one such discussion was that of homeschooling (something we had always talked about but never really saw as a reality due to the work commitments of myself and my husband). Only a month later (after LOTS of research, conversation and reading), the decision was made to write the de-registration letter to school and embark on a homeschooling journey with M. Already, 2017 year was proving to be quite the changer for my family as a whole, what with me embarking on a new job role working from home, which enabled me to consider homeschooling M in the first place.

It is surprisingly easy to take your child out of school – I had visions of the police knocking on my door and taking me away or being dragged out of the supermarket in handcuffs for ‘irresponsible parenting’. But no, I simply had to write a letter that comprised of about 3 sentences explaining that I would like my child to be taken off the school register with effect from a particular date, and that was it! I know many others who have been contacted by their local authority and have been asked to show evidence of teaching and learning, but not us. We have been left in perfect solitude to navigate this new and exciting venture ourselves and although this wouldn’t suit everyone, we are more than happy with this arrangement.

The title of this piece is ‘Why I decided to homeschool my 13 year old’ – there are two parts to our story really. One is what I have alluded to above, (as a teacher) my disillusionment with a mainstream teaching system that is robbing young people of experiencing education as a positive and creative journey that offers opportunities that are appropriate to each and every individual. And the other is my daughter showing signs of stress and anxiety that had started to become overwhelming for her.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that there are (and I have worked alongside) many teachers who are excellent facilitators of education – sadly though, in my experience, these people are few and far between and many of these individuals experience some kind of ‘burn out’ eventually.

I was once told that I ‘care too much’ when it comes to teaching – this is one of the reasons I trained as a teacher in the first place, because I care and wanted to make a difference. I am not alone in this – before I decided to take the plunge and walk away from a career that had dominated my life since leaving university, I did some research online to see if there were others in the same predicament as me – there were many! Research published in The Guardian in July 2017 suggested that…

Almost a quarter of the teachers who have qualified since 2011 have already left the profession, according to official figures that have prompted further concerns about the pressures on the profession. Of those who qualified in 2011 alone, 31% had quit within five years of becoming teachers, the figures show.

– The Guardian Newspaper –

In my mind teaching is in crisis, and the education system in this country is in crisis. According to Labour over 600,000 pupils in the UK are taught by unqualified teachers and Laura McInerney claims that children could soon be taught by undergraduates being paid £3.50 an hour, such is the extent of the teacher shortage. Grrrrr – but more about that later. Let me tell you a little bit about M first…

M was born in the month of March. My pregnancy was straight forward and I gave birth to her naturally at 6.16am on a Monday after a short labour in a midwife run unit. It was quiet and the sun was just coming up and I can remember feeling a sense of calm, elation and togetherness that was quite overwhelming. I had a mental conversation with her as she was entering this world, telling her that we are on this journey together and that I was holding her hand all the way – she arrived peacefully. Don’t get me wrong, it was pretty painful but I felt such a sense of protection over her and that we were in it together – those feelings kept me feeling in control and feeling strong.

M is the middle child of three girls. She has a very positive relationship with both of her sisters and always has – phew! However she was noticeably different to her siblings as a toddler. My eldest and youngest daughters were easy going as they were growing up, but M was not, she was quite difficult between the ages of about 18 months and 4 years. She was the child who would have a hissy fit at the slightest thing, throw a tantrum in the shop or refuse to eat her tea – I put it down to typical toddler behaviour but had always wondered why she behaved differently to her sisters.

It is all the more fascinating to me as once she had left the toddler stage, she became almost like a different child. Today, at 13, she is articulate, compassionate, thoughtful, philosophical and could easily hold her own in a conversation with adults about most topics – a far cry from the tantrumming toddler that now seems like it was someone else. Cue the discussion regarding the nature/nurture debate…I guess that’s for another time though.

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Homeschooling was first mentioned in our home when M was at the beginning of Year 7 (if you’re not yet a parent – this is the first year in secondary/high school). She had found the transition from a small primary school to a large comprehensive rather overwhelming and her anxiety seemed to be getting worse with every day. At first we joked about it – ‘let’s just run away and live on a commune and grow our own vegetables!’.  Fast forward one year and things had got significantly worse. M was frustrated that she wasn’t making much progress as much of the teachers time was spent dealing with disruptive students (I can vouch for this, having worked in the same school).

She also struggled with the idea that everyone was encouraged and expected to be an extrovert (standing up reading in front of a class may seem like an easy task to some but for those with anxiety it can become like a prison, from which escape is impossible.) M is naturally an introvert and in a world and educational system where being social and outgoing and confident is prized over many other things, being quiet and contemplative are seen as inferior qualities, no matter how hard-working you are. I feel strongly about not trying to change my child’s personality and outlook as this is what makes her the wonderful, compassionate, capable person that she is.

Sadly, in our experience, mainstream education hasn’t quite grasped this yet. Susan Cain has written passionately about ‘‘The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking‘ and I would urge anyone with an interest in this area to read her work or simply watch her Ted talk

The decision was finally made in April 2017 – a number of things had changed in our circumstances, mainly that I had recently handed in my notice and was about to embark on a new job that was based at home (hello, team A Life Loved!). All of a sudden there were less obstacles to us going down the homeschool route. Initially our conversations began looking at alternative forms of education such as the Steiner system.

We did some research and found that there are very few Steiner secondary schools in the country – our nearest one was about 150 miles away. I also did some research into the Steiner system and felt that the overall philosophy was not quite what we were after (again, a fascinating discussion for another time) and so the idea that we could homeschool M ourselves became the main discussion point again. I’m generally rather a private person, making decisions without much consultatation of others but this felt different.

I contacted my parents and my in-laws and our siblings and some friends (some teachers, some not) and asked their opinion of whether I should homeschool M  – much to my surprise and relief, they were all very supportive and the overwhelming opinion was to go for it. M and I talked at length about the intricacies of how it would work – what would a typical day look like for instance? I had to take into consideration my new work arrangements, but that was ok and we acknowledged that both of us like and seem to thrive on routine, so rather than completely ‘Unschooling‘ (an educational method and philosophy that advocates learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning) we would create a daily timetable of ‘lessons’, based on subjects that we agreed would be beneficial to her and her interests. These lessons were not set in stone but gave us some sort of guidance each day.

I also used online communities (such as Homeschooling UK on Facebook and other local homeschool Facebook groups to ask questions.) These were an invaluable resource at the time and now and I spent many hours chatting with people and finding out the experiences of others. One week later I wrote the deregistration letter to school and that was that.

So began our new journey. We are currently 8 months in and things are going well. I work in the mornings and late afternoon, during which time M does various things from exercise (yoga, running, trampolining) or reads or engages with some pre-arranged self-guided study. During our homeschool hours (approx 3 hours per day) we study English, Psychology, and Art and Design. M also has a private Maths tutor who she sees for 2 hours a week.

She has gone from dreading maths and feeling ill with anxiety to looking forward to her weekly one -to-one sessions where she can learn at her own pace and truly be herself. She also uses an on-line site, Duo-Lingo, to teach herself German. She spends Wednesday afternoons volunteering at her sisters primary school, helping the reception children with their reading. Her motivation and willingness to work independently astounds me every day. I also recognise that I am learning so much from her – I know that not all children would be so self-motivated and this is one of the reasons why we ultimately decided that homeschooling was a good option for M.

I feel it is important to also say that I have 2 other daughters. My eldest is 17 and went through the mainstream school system, she did not particularly have a positive experience for all of the reasons discussed above, but she tolerated it. In her own words ‘secondary school toughens you up and I guess I could deal with that in a way others might not be able to’.  My youngest is 11 and is in her final year at primary school. So many people have asked if we will homeschool her and my answer is that it is unlikely. She loves school and she is far more sociable and outgoing than her sister. She is quite the extrovert and loves being involved in dramatic productions or sports – I have asked her is she sees homeschool as a option and she said she would prefer to go to school. This is absolutely fine with us and reinforces the notion that all children are different. We will support her as best we can when her secondary school journey begins…

Just because my 3 girls have come from the same gene pool does not mean they are the same – they are not. They are different and the way that they learn is different and I feel very lucky that a collision of changes in circumstance has led us down a path that enables us to support all of our children emotionally and educationally in a way that suits them all as individuals. I am also so very proud of how my girls have supported each other. I was worried that my eldest would be annoyed that she was never offered the option of homeschool, but no, she says she is thrilled that M is happy again – how nice is that!

The smell of leeks is wafting through from the kitchen as I write this. It is 11.10am on a Friday and M would usually just be finishing PE – a session she found unbearable due to the competitive culture, instead she is making leek and potato soup from scratch and whistling while she works.

My heart could burst.

Camilla x

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  • This is so interesting! I started the article thinking I’d never consider homeschooling (not judging, just honest!) and ended it on a complete 180, thank you for sharing your reasons, it sounds like it’s really well matched to your middle daughter’s requirements. Secondary school definitely ‘toughened me up’; for various reasons I spent most of Year 7 having lunch in the head of year’s office to avoid the overwhelming crush of that first year, and then things got better. But your routine sounds wonderful xx

    • Hi Joelle, If you’d have told us a year ago that we would be where we are, I would have laughed in your face! It took loads of research and a sort of ‘dawning realisation’ that it was ‘ok’ to do things a little differently. I’m sorry to hear about your experiences in Y7, but pleased to hear that things got better for you. I have been known to describe going to secondary school as ‘throwing my babies to the lions’ – a little extreme perhaps, but it is a difficult situation for some children to navigate successfully. My main concern is and has always been the ‘one size fits all’ approach to education and with schools being so big these days, I hold out little hope for that ever changing. Cx

  • Wonderfully written, Camilla. You have just eradicated so many stereotypes in one short article. M sounds like a mature, thoughtful and sensitive young woman. Thank you for giving us an insight into your life and giving hope to introverts x

    • Ahhh Taylor – thank you so much. I am here sharing these comments with my girl and the smile on her face means so much. Introversion is the future I say! 😉 Cx

    • As her Auntie, I can confirm IRL, she truly is. So proud to see my sister here today homeschooling her daughter. I know what a huge leap of faith it was for her to leave a secure career last year to follow her heart.

  • What a brilliant article, so moving and thoughtful. I am the adult ‘M’, I wished I could have been home schooled and actually throughout all of my education the trips my parents took me on and the extra-curricular tasks that my dad set me (both my parents are Uni lecturers) have stuck with me in life and I feel have rounded me as a person. I left school at 15 after 4 years of bullying, depression and basically just a mess and have created my life perfectly without any of the requirements of degrees etc that school almost force you towards.

    • Oh Claudia – so sorry to hear that you had such a rubbish experience at school (although sadly, it doesn’t surprise me). It is so inspiring to both me and my daughter to hear stories such as yours – creating your own success in your own way…just brilliant! Your parents sound pretty ace also! Thank you for sharing your experience and giving us that much needed nudge of confidence to accept that we are doing/have done the right thing! Cx

  • I was really interested in this article as I am considering flexi-schooling for my 4 year old. She enjoys school but I am not a believer in the system and want her to have more time for independent creative learning. Your home education routine sounds like such a wonderful environment. I will check out the links you posted. xx

    • Hi Sara, I would definitely have look at/chat with alternative schooling in your area. Even if you don’t homeschool as such, I found that the more I talked to people online and in real life who had opted out of the ‘system’ for a million different reasons, the more my confidence grew in realising that it was ok to do things our way. Sometimes, we just don’t know what potential options we have – best of luck. Cx

  • Fantastic article, Camilla! I don’t have children but my own experience of secondary school (a large comprehensive) sounds similar to the situation you describe here i.e., classes being taken up with management of disruptive children, the loudest students getting the attention etc. Add to that the distraction of boys, trying to act ‘cool’ to impress friends (which didn’t include speaking up in class!) and very little of my education actually happened in the classroom. My parents lived in a tiny village so when I was home I was stuck there – which meant I did a ton of homework (encouraged by my mum who was very engaged in my learning at primary school and continued to encourage me through secondary education, particularly in art and English). Most of my learning happened outside school hours through self study really. Which set me up very nicely for Oxford where you HAVE to be self-motivated to succeed. Now I successfully work from home and thrive in an environment where I can manage my own time again and work at my own pace. No doubt there were character-building benefits to having to struggle through the challenges of secondary school but I tend to see it as something I managed to negotiate without too much damage, rather than the system that got me where I am now!

  • Thanks Alice – it is such a familiar picture for so many when reflecting on experiences of secondary education. I suspect that some folk had a very good experience but they haven’t made themselves known yet! (and sadly many of them will probably be from fee-paying schools…excellent education for all I say!). My eldest daughter didn’t particularly enjoy school, but like you, feels that she benefitted from the character building aspects that the situation dictated – the struggle is real! Also, success is such a subjective notion – for many young people, going to University or getting a very well paid job will be the pinnacle of success, but for others this may not be the case…I just hope that one day society catches up with this idea and encourages young people to pursue what works for them and makes every individual feel valued, regardless of whether or not they got A*’s at A Level…Cx

  • Camilla, that is such a good article and I totally agree with your decision to homeschool. I could no longer continue with my role in a Secondary School for exactly the same reasons you mentioned (I will contact you separately to share my experiences). I am currently supporting a homeschooled 15 year old boy who would be in Year 11. He is doing great and is happy. He wasn’t happy in school, he struggled in lessons therefore he misbehaved and was often getting in trouble. Nobody took the time to look at his skills and qualities, he was always seen to be a nuisance. He has private Maths and English lessons and is accessing unpaid work experience. He has a huge wealth of skills and qualities and is truly an inspirational young man. He has impeccable manners, excellent timekeeping and attendance and zero behaviour issues! Just before Christmas he was diagnosed with Dyslexia, school failed to pick this up! He has a bright future ahead with an Apprenticeship offer looking very likely. School is not for everyone. Thanks Camilla for sharing your story. Mandy x

    • Hi Mandy – how many times have we heard stories similar to the one you describe above. It’s an utter tragedy that so many young people are being failed by a school system that focus’ on grades and league tables. It really boils my blood. I hope the young man you talk of has a wonderful and bright future and even though he has taken an alternative path and probably experienced a lot of stress on the way (for not fitting it), it sounds like he now has the support and encouragement that he needs. It’s no wonder mental health problems are so high amongst secondary school aged people – of course there are other factors that may contribute to this, but for so many, the school experience is such a destructive one, that for many, haunts them right throughout their adulthood. People are precious and deserve better. Thanks for commenting Mandy. Cx

  • Such a fascinating read Camilla, thank you for sharing you and M’s story with us.

    As someone who plans on having a family in the near future, and having an ex-teacher friend who plans on homeschooling her son for the similar disillusioned reasons you’ve mentioned, home-schooling is definitely something I would consider and this article has been really useful in my understanding of how it can work. (Me and my husband day-dream about us sharing it – him taking the child out to learn about nature and the outdoors while I prep English and Art lessons, etc)

    I too have a complete lack of faith in our schooling system, and I want my child to feel comfortable in their own skin, to question everything, speak out, and to not have their education wasted ensuring they pass a test and nothing more.

    You often hear great things about Montessori and other alternative education for younger children, but it’s great to hear such a wonderful success story from a child once they reach secondary school age!

    • Thanks Carley and how exciting to hear that you would consider to homeschool your own children. I wish I had been brave enough to question my options years ago when my girls were teeny…I wish you the very best of luck! Cx

  • I don’t have children, nor do I have any experience of education but this was a really interesting and uplifting read, thank you for sharing.
    I couldn’t help but think that M, along with your other daughters, is very lucky to have as her Mother.
    Good luck to you both for the rest of your homeschooling journey! xx

    • Thank you Rachel – I can’t tell you how inspiring and uplifting it is for me to get comments such as yours. There have been countless sleepless nights since this journey began and it’s so good to know that we are supported by the wider community. Many thanks. Cx

  • Such a good article but,as a teacher, it makes me so sad. I work in a tiny rural school where we regard ourselves as a ‘dysfunctional family’! We have a number of children who were going to be home schooled until their parents met us and saw that we would move heaven and earth to help make their children happy at school. We have elective mute children who ended up leading assemblies, very nervous shy children who have become more emboldened as time has gone on and many other children who were so geographically isolated that they were shy and introvert. What makes me sad is that we know that we have to throw these children to the lions when they go off to secondary school. Why can’t secondary schools get it right?
    Good for you that you know your daughter well enough to do what is best for her and lucky her to have parents who are involved enough to home school! Keep us informed about how she (and you!) get on……x

    • Thank you Ann and THANK YOU for being part of a primary educational system that empowers and encourages young people who may not fit the mould. My girls were (and my youngest is in Y6, so still there) lucky enough to go to a small rural primary school where individual needs are more easily met. As you say – secondary is a whole different ball game. I Will absolutely keep you posted as to where this journey takes us…Thanks again Cx

  • This is so, so lovely. If the reason you got into teaching was to make a difference to kids’ lives then MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. This strikes me as education in its purest form and is a credit to both of you (and all your family). I hope it continues to work for you and M x

    • Oh Harriet – you have made me shed a tear! Thank you for your kind words. Today has been overwhelming; to have received so much support after many months of self doubt and general worry has made us feel, quite frankly, on cloud nine! Huge gratitude Cx

  • I wish you could have whispered your whole ethos in my parents ear when I was M’s age- secondary school was a total shock on every one of my senses and the fear of speaking ‘to the room’ and having to be a certain ‘confident’ way to be accepted in society never left me forcing me to realise later on life that I was always trying to squeeze that particular shoe on when it never really fit my personality. What a wonderfully written piece, you deserve to feel such pride at taking a leap of faith and being different to the obvious benefit of ‘M’.

    • Thanks for your comment Victoria. So sorry to hear that you too had a negative experience in secondary school. Describing it as a ‘shock to the senses’ is very familiar both for me as a teacher and to my daughter. I hope you have found your path and the peace that comes with that? I want to believe that we are not defined by our experiences at school, but sadly, I’m not totally convinced that this is the case…as we grow up, we mould, and undoing these deeply set expectations is extremely difficult. Cx

  • What a great article Camilla! Your love and responsibility towards your daughters and the other children you have taught just shines through. Particularly your comments about schools prizing confidence and extroversion and not valuing quieter students particularly rang true for me. I’m not sure whether or not homeschooling would have been for me, as I always found making friends difficult and think I might have isolated myself even more – but I will probably never know! School was a happy medium for me as I was in a fairly small (fee-paying!), all-girls school with small classes, were academic achievement wasn’t punished by peers as much as it can be in some schools. In a larger school under more pressure, I probably would have struggled a lot more. But when did being shy become a negative trait?

  • Such an interesting read Camilla – as you know Lily and I are doing homeschooling of sorts as we travel which is totally different from your situation but I’d never really thought much about homeschooling before we set off and it does make you reassess the schooling system and whether it is the best thing for kids. I’m just wondering does ‘M’ miss the social interaction of school at all and does she get to see a lot of her peers through other activities? Lily is quite extrovert and sociable and the biggest issue I’ve had with her as we travel and homeschool is how much she misses her friends.

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