Our story and journey into Home Educating
By Karin Riley
When I was 20 I had major surgery, which led to me being informed that I would never have children, at the time, it did not worry me, I wasn’t ready for kids, this led me to spent the next 17 years leading a very non child friendly lifestyle, until 1986 brought huge changes. I accidently reversed in to a car, attended A&E & was sent home with whiplash in my neck & 4 points in my spine. Over the next few years my condition progressed & in August 2000, I was moved into an adapted flat, by 2001 my boyfriend moved in with me & was caring for me. The same year brought the discovery of a previous misdiagnosis, it turned out that the whiplash was actually 4 slipped discs. Because I spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed, my circle of friends became smaller & smaller, until finally I only had my boyfriend & our families in my life.
You can imagine how surprised I was, when in 2003, 5 months before my 40th birthday I find out I am 9 weeks pregnant, 20 years after being told I cannot have children & then immediately being told I can have a termination due my health issues. Even with the knowledge that I would become a wheelchair user during the later months of my pregnancy & even though I was warned that I may be in the wheelchair for life, a termination was not an option, this was the miracle baby I could not have, so as petrified as I was, I knew I would have to cope. To make the whole thing even scarier than it already was, at 8 months pregnant I was told I have a lifetime condition called fibromyalgia, which basically meant there was no chance of any operation to correct my spine & I was told I would have to learn to live with it.
Valentine s’ Day 2003 became the turning point in my life; my beautiful, healthy baby boy was delivered by planned C-section & I had been blessed with a very overactive miracle baby. As he grew older, I knew I would not manage well in a wheelchair, or struggling on a walking stick, as by now he was totally hyperactive, so, with a lot of hard work & determination I was able to defy the doctors again & start walking without any walking aids.
By the time Daniel reached pre-school age, 2006, Daniel already knew his ABC, could count to 10 by rote, make home-made cards at Christmas & he loved me reading to him, I’d got so used to spending the time together, having fun making things & learning together. I hated the thought of losing him in the mornings 5 days a week, but thought it would make Daniel more independent, so I tried pre-school, thinking he would love it & it would train him ready for school. He was so unsettled, so I started voluntary work at his preschool, did a child care learning & development course & by the end of preschool I was working there full time, with Daniel attending with me. By this time Daniel was well ready to start reception, but we missed each-other so much, I even considered becoming a teaching assistant & working in his school, but although he wanted me to, I thought it would be unfair on him, so I decided it would be better to give him his independence.
In 2008 my nephew left school at only 12 because he was being so badly bullied, so I looked in to home educating him, but I couldn’t find any guidance & I had no idea of where to start, so we didn’t pursue it. Daniel was loving school, my health had improved tremendously, I’d handed back my blue badge & in 2009 I got a mad idea, I entered Southend half marathon, it was the hardest thing I’d ever done, 5 hours & 57 minutes of walking, then I turned the corner exhausted & what an amazing sight, there was my Daniel looking so grown up, standing with my mum cheering me on to the finish line. I was on an adrenalin high for days, during which time I made a life changing decision, if I can come this far, I could help others’ with fibromyalgia & spinal injuries, as I have first-hand experience of both of these fields.
This was the start of a whole new life for us, I started training as a gym instructor & got a job in a gym, but Daniel had started showing signs of unhappy behaviour, then hyperactivity had become worse & he was developing some odd behavioural patterns. I talked to him & he said he was being bullied at school, so I questioned if I should keep him there, or change his school, by this time I had completely forgotten all about the option of home education. After weighing it up, I decided moving him would probably be more damaging, so left him there & it seemed to settle down.
In the years to come, my studies went well & I started a degree, seeing me working at home made Daniel unhappy, he just wanted to be at home with me all the time. I thought he would settle back in & it would pass, but somehow he went from being the child that everyone loved, to the dork that got bullied, it was awful. This coincided with the timescale of Daniel being diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) & ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder). I was very reluctant to medicate, but reluctantly agreed to it on a trial basis.
The next year brought constant illness for Daniel & a lot of A&E visits, often being rushed from Southend hospital, to London by blue light ambulance at 120 mph, often theatre would be prepped ready to operate, it was an awful time. We had zero support from the school, instead they hassled me about his absences. As Infants ended, I was seriously panicking how Daniel would cope with junior school, I felt he wasn’t anywhere near mature enough for this step, but the school kept telling me I was being over-protective. I really tried hard to get him in to a special needs school, but the school wouldn’t help, insisting he’d be fine with them. Reluctantly, I went along with it & after the summer holidays I returned him to junior school. Bad move, Daniel’s first day of juniors he came home crying, because on their return an assembly was organised to inform all the children that the head teacher of the infant’s school had died in the summer holidays. This was first thing in the morning to the teacher said he’d been crying all day, yet no-one called me to collect him, I was disgusted, as the older boys saw him as weak & they started to bully him.
The bullying (which by the way according to the school, there was no bullying problem) got worse & worse, eventually leading to more stress, more illness & more accidents, each one getting progressively worse & all Daniel wanted was to be at home with me. I was climbing the walls because the last two accidents were broken bones, he broke his finger in school & was made to sit through till the end of school & then he broke 3 toes at home, it made me wild because I had no call re-his injuries, yet if he went in with even a tiny bruise it went in ‘the book’. By now I was constantly up the school demanding investigations into why they were failing in their duty of care to my child, there was a row every morning to get Daniel out of the door & a row every day when I collected him from school, he went from eating healthy foods every day, to losing loads of weight because he wasn’t eating properly at all. He felt ill all the time, tummy upsets, being sick, high temperatures, virus after virus, even swine flu & on top of all that, his sleep pattern went right up the wall, so he became very clumsy & even more accident prone child & still the school were giving me grief about his attendance.
I’d already left my job & my own health was deteriorating due to all the stress & worry, but to make it even worse, by this time, Daniel was only a matter of weeks off breaking up from year 5 & the time was fast approaching for me to choose his high school. I was petrified, I knew there was no way he would cope with high school & he was terrified about it & was constantly begging me to let him stay at home with me. I tried to get a SEN assessment thinking I’d send him to a special needs high school, but his school told me there was no way Daniel would he get in to a special needs school, which I have found out since, is complete rubbish. In the end life became unbearable, I was constantly on the phone to parent partnership, who took my side all the way, then one day I found a lady who wanted to exchange her house for mine, but when I informed the school we were moving they got even worse about his attendance & that we would be leaving hallway through the academic year, it was so much pressure all the time.
One morning I awoke to Daniel crying & saying his life wasn’t worth living, I called the school & they said that’s no excuse not to send him to school, I couldn’t believe it, my child is suicidal & I’m really going to send him to a school that can’t even call me when he’s broken a bone, not a chance. I called the LEA & asked what would happen if I pulled him from school because of all the issues, I was told as I was due to move out of the borough there would be no action taken, so I decided to pull him out that day. I told my mum said she was surprised I hadn’t considered home educating him, as I had considered years earlier with my nephew, so I called the LEA back & they guided me through filling in the online application, then I collected my pack from them, then came straight home & informed the school that he was no longer their responsibility. The school protested & arranged a meeting, which I attended without Daniel, as I was still unsure if they could force me to send him in & at that meeting I was told they disagreed with my decision & because he had special need he had been referred to social services. I was fuming, funny they refused to accept his special needs before I pulled him out, I went straight home & called SS only to be told the school had already been informed that there was no case to open. I must admit, I was relieved, not the best time for a visit, as we were packing frantically to move.
From 05th feb 2013 Daniel left school & came off his medication, he was only on it to help him focus at school, so no longer needed it. The down side I found was there were no guidelines to how long I needed to educate, what I should be educating, or where the groups were & no-one seemed to know who would know. It caused me a lot of worry & uncertainty & made social interaction for Daniel quite difficult, especially being as on 07th march 2013 we moved 20 miles from our home town. Eventually I found & joined some groups & stated attending various meetings & learnt what I needed to know & now I have the pleasure of helping to build this new website, to help clarify all these issues. Daniel & I are so much happier, there is so little stress in our lives & this both our health has improved, enabling us to go out & about a lot more than we ever were when Daniel was at school. Daniel loves reading & our 3rd bedroom is an office now, we tackle English by concentrating on what will benefit him in later life, handwriting, punctuation, spelling & we play mental maths games. We research everything Daniel asks questions about, no matter what it is & this research often covers history, geography, religion, as well as English & maths. We find by amalgamating all subjects through research, we get more time to study other things, cookery, science, chemical reactions, even knitting & sewing, which he would have been bullied for doing at school. Since the start of our Home Ed journey, Daniel has been attending St John Ambulance as a Cadet, we meet up with loads of other Home Educators to enjoy activities, or sometimes just to enjoy the play time together. Daniel’s been sailing, horse-riding, bungee jumping, on the Tall Ship Atlantis, on bouncy fun days, milked a cow at marsh farm, been on nature walks, dressed up in Tudor gear & joined a mini-bus full of other home educating families in their Tudor attire & attended Kentwell Hall Tudor school for the day, it was amazing, Daniel even learnt archery there. But best of all we recently attended the fantastic hesfes (Home Education Summer Festival) an 8 day festival, packed with activities for home educated kids of all ages.
I’m not saying we don’t have our moments, but who wouldn’t, being together 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but overall there is harmony in our lives again, we smile much more, home educating has enriched our lives, Daniel & we get to enjoy all of these learning experiences together. I have learnt so much myself, the adults learn whilst the children learn, you don’t need to be a teacher, or have a degree, anyone can home educate, as long as you just enjoy the journey of joint discovery, which has allowed the bonds between Daniel & I to grow again.
I’ve got to admit, I’m dreading how I, a now single mother, (since just before Daniel started pre-school) am going to juggle year 4 of my degree with home educating Daniel, but I plan to set Daniel some activities to do, whilst I study & I’m sure it will all fall in to place event, as the rest of our home education journey has eventually done so.
Overall, I can honestly say, since the start of our home education journey Daniel’s confidence has grown, his education levels have grown & there is a noticeable increase in Daniel’s maturity levels, so to be perfectly honest, although I had glitches & nerves at the beginning, I cannot see this path changing in any other direction than to become more positive for us & I hope this new website will remove the early day stresses & the uncertainty for all new to home education. Whether you are new to home ed, been home educating for years, or are somewhere in the middle, may your journey be a positive one & if it is not, we are all here to support you.