It is just over a year since we withdrew our eldest child from formal education because the stress was intolerable for him. I was tentative about our decision. As a successful ‘product’ of formal education, I had never considered homeschooling, let alone the child-lead unschooling adventure we have embarked on. But we did it because we had to, and over the past year I have discovered real joys and benefits of home educating my three neurodivergent children.
Here’s my top 5:
1. Finding our own rhythm
We don’t have the stress of waking up and rushing off to school. We have no homework, extra-curricular activities, sports days, school fairs, and birthday parties.
We can wear pyjamas all day, read books on beanbags, or go for an early morning swim. We can watch 20 episodes of Transformers, or make a mud pie restaurant in the backyard. Creative projects can be picked up and put down many times over weeks. We can stay home for days or visit museums and playgrounds with friends.
Don’t be mistaken, life with three young children is chaotic. But we don’t have to live on a school timetable. We don’t have to see anyone and we don’t have to rush anywhere. This gives our neurodivergent minds plenty of downtime to process experiences. We have space to find our rhythm and go with it.
2. Our curriculum, our way
All children have a unique developmental trajectory. My children with their various neurocognitive and body differences, simply do not fit a one-size-fits-all education system focussed on core curriculum and standardised testing.I trust that my children are developing in their own unique way. In our family we value play as the foundation for development. This past year, I have observed my children engage in wonderful child-directed play: fingerpainting, drawing and videography, mastery of physical skills like swimming and tree climbing, dress-ups and role plays, and exploring interests in particular topics. My children spend all day together, playing, sharing and problem-solving, and are practising social and emotional skills in a safe and supported environment.
3. Living neurodivergently
When we unschool, we are free to be our neurodivergent selves.
We stim all day, in our different ways. We can constantly move, bounce and wriggle if we need. It’s OK to get distracted on the way to doing something, or focus intently on a single idea or task. My children spend hours deeply engaged in special interests. Sharing information about something we are passionate about is valued.
My children can follow their moods naturally and stay in their room under the covers and watch movies all day, or have five playdates with friends in a week. If clothes or shoes are uncomfortable, we don’t have to wear them. We communicate however we want to – my kids can talk fast, speak using scripts, or AAC, or point to what they want. We can meltdown or shutdown without judgement and with space and time to recover. Our house is mostly free from sensory assaults like background noise or fluorescent lights. There is no pressure to engage with others. We are living neurodivergently (What?! More on ‘neurodivergently’ here)
4. Friendships and family, without the trauma
My children are spending their childhood together, playing and hanging out in each other’s company. We are connected with other home schooling families, and friends who go to school. We see grandparents and cousins most weeks. If we don’t want to see anyone for a few weeks, that’s OK.
We can choose to connect with families whose values align with ours, and whose kids connect with our children. My children are less likely to experience bullying, exclusion or violence for their differences. This isn’t about ‘smothering’, it’s about preventing trauma. There’s plenty of time to build confidence, self advocacy and safety skills during their childhood, without needing to expose my children to nasty, ableist people.
5. We are happy
My children are able to follow their interests, move as they need, learn how they want, spend time with people that care for them, have lots of downtime, and build healthy relationships. Their unique needs are accommodated and they’re supported.
This year has been great. I’m happy to report we took a chance and stepped in to the unknown, and life is good.