This photo appeared on my Instagram feed last week, captioned it “Back to school hell.” I imagined the noise, the jostling and the hot, stuffy atmosphere as frazzled parents waited to have their kids’ feet measured.
When your child has overexcitabilities (OEs) a simple shopping trip can be a full-on sensory assault, even without the crowds. Life is a lot easier if you can visit stores when everyone else is in school.
Of course, avoiding busy shops isn’t the only reason I home-educate my intense and sensitive children. Here are a few other reasons I’m glad my kids won’t be going back to school next week:
1. I don’t have to explain my children’s complex needs to new teachers
Overexcitabilities are unheard of in most schools. I’d never heard of them either when my kids were at school, but I knew that each time my son and daughter changed classes we were in for a bumpy ride as we waited for new teachers to get them.
It started on my 4-year-old’s first day in reception. Cordie came home distraught, which surprised me as she’d always enjoyed nursery.
“Miss Bellamy made me stand in the corner because I wouldn’t put away the Barbies at tidy-up time. But I didn’t play with the Barbies. I hate Barbies! She should’ve let me tidy the dressing-up clothes.”
That night my little girl had a nightmare.
“I dreamed the Wicked Witch of the West cut off my legs and made me stand in the corner,” she sobbed.
Off I went to the school to try to explain my daughter’s profound sense of justice to a well-meaning but skeptical teacher.
My twice-exceptional son had an even bumpier ride.
After a relatively smooth start, his teacher went on maternity leave. She was replaced by substitute teachers whose job-sharing arrangement prevented either of them from getting to know my son as anything other than a nuisance.
My kids have been homeschooled for six years now. While I still have to advocate for them, I’m deeply grateful for the freedom we have to choose coaches and tutors who understand and appreciate their intensity, and to walk away from those who don’t.
2. My kids are free to learn what, how and when they want
One of the biggest advantages of homeschooling is that non-average children don’t have to work at grade level for all their subjects.
Once they’ve mastered material, they needn’t waste time going over it until their classmates catch up. Equally, there’s no shame working on a skill they’re struggling with even if other kids their age have already mastered it. And delays in one area don’t have to impact learning elsewhere.
So instead of being held back by his difficulties with the mechanics of handwriting, my dysgraphic son can record his thoughts quickly by typing or dictating to me.
And his mild dyslexia is an opportunity for me to read aloud while my kids engage their psychomotor energies crafting, drawing or playing with magnetix. Yes, there are interruptions, usually in the form of spirited discussions about what we’re reading – or something utterly tangential – and that’s a good thing.
3. They can play outdoors whenever they want
Everyone knows that exercise and fresh air are good for us, so I was stunned when my son was punished at school by being made to stand by the fence during playtimes. Did his teachers really think that was going to make him behave better?
Another afternoon he was told he wasn’t allowed to play in the class garden for the following three days because he refused to come inside the moment the teachers told him to.
At home my kids benefit from being able to play outside whenever they like. I admit I’ve been known to feel irritated when my son runs off to the trampoline in the middle of a maths problem. But when I look back I usually realise he’s done us both a favour.
Time out gives everyone a chance to clear their heads and return better able to focus on their learning goals.
4. Learning is flexible, quick and efficient
When my daughter gave up school to make time for her extracurricular interests she didn’t, of course, give up academic learning. In fact she probably learns more at home. Being able to work at her own pace plus not wasting time shuffling between classes means homeschooling is very time-efficient.
And if your child throws herself into her passions with the intensity of an Olympic athlete, you’ll probably both appreciate her being able to take some unscheduled downtime now and then. When you’ve spent the weekend hiking with Scouts, a lazy Monday paves the way for a much more productive week than having to get up at the crack of dawn for school.
5. We can accommodate and engage overexcitabilities
It’s difficult to learn when you’re constantly being triggered by uncomfortable sensations.
Little things like hunger, thirst or needing to use the bathroom all deplete the willpower kids need to manage their OEs. Scratchy school clothes, the chatter of other students and the flickering of lights can all contribute to a state of overwhelm and hyper-reactivity that’s unconducive to learning.
At home, kids can wear comfy clothes and go barefoot. They can work in silence, or with the dog in their lap, or while listening to relaxing music. In this calming environment my children can channel all the good things OEs bring – intense curiosity, energy and imagination, for instance – towards their learning goals.
My friend’s photo reminded me of this picture I took shoe shopping with my kids three years ago, just after the school term started. Back then I knew nothing about OEs or why my kids were so sensitive and intense.
What I did know was that homeschooling was the right choice for us.
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Do you homeschool your children?
What are the biggest advantages for your family?
I recognise that homeschooling isn’t an option for every family. If your kids do go to school, do you have any tips about how to support them?
I’d love to hear from you. 🙂
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