If anyone had said to me that the idea of homeschooling my children would ever appeal to me; I would have never believed them.
Growing up in Kenya, there was not a single one of my friends who was homeschooled and so I never had any chance to flirt with such an idea.
When my daughter was born, I remember wishing that I could somehow make her learning experience more pleasant and enchanting than mine was.
I don’t ever recall going through any of the panic first-time parents experience about the choice of school to send their child to.
I seemed to enjoy putting together some kind of learning program for her, which I immensely enjoyed rolling out to her.
I was happy to keep going with the ‘home-school’ but I never had a shortage of reminders from concerned people that I needed to jostle myself out of this fantasy that I could defy all norms about conventional schooling and choose instead to provide my daughter with an education from home.
Oblivious to the curious onlookers, mostly family members, who, out of sheer respect, didn’t voice their reservation about my choices, perhaps because they all hoped this would be a short-lived phase, well, I soldiered on and even started imagining making our home fit the bill a bit better.
What I never saw coming was that the most pressure would actually come from my own daughter.
You see, whenever, we visited friends, etc., she was always asked a series of social questions, one of which was, “what school do you go to?”
As a result, my daughter longed to go to this place, which everyone asked her about. She had even made up a fictitious name for her school along with an imaginary teacher.
There was a part of me that wondered whether the decision to homeschool our daughter was the best one and I wasn’t opposed to finding out how ‘school’ compared to ‘home’.
Just shy of her 4th birthday, my husband and I decided to enrol our daughter into formal schooling.
Well yes, it was more pre-school, but to me, it was still formal.
And just like that, life as I had come to know it, changed for us.
We officially entered the rut-race.
Where you are re-acquainted with your own schooling days. The early mornings, long commutes, striving to find where you fit, making new friends (and I am not just talking about my daughter, but my grown self).
I was constantly rushed, my days seemed shorter and my to-do lists, longer.
Yes, I enjoyed the company of other humans- the parents at the school…
When your life has mostly revolved around your children and not to mention your profession also being mostly skewed towards children, you find yourself quite literally starved for adult contact.
…but not so much the lack of depth that punctuated most of the interactions I had.
Perhaps it was me.
Was I not fully subscribed to this new way of life; for both our daughter and myself.
My husband wasn’t having as hard a time, except for the 700 times or so he would bring up the issue about the amount of fees we were paying for a mere toddler.
I made him understand that the early years are the most important in setting children on a trajectory of successful school experiences including academic excellence.
I enjoyed the socialising- actually, it seemed like there was a lot of this for my daughter because every other week, I was buying a birthday gift for a party my daughter had been invited to.
I joked with someone that I needed to set aside a budget for gifts.
The school also had a large field where the children would get to play.
Trouble in paradise
Actually, if I can be completely honest, this was about the only thing I really liked about the school and not to mean there weren’t many other good elements about it, but for me and the standards I had thought up about my children’s education, this school and many others I had interacted with fell short for me.
And the few that came close, fell short on 1 or 2 other fronts- like the amount of fees charged or the culture of the school, which sometimes is dictated by the make up of the families in the school.
I continued to have an inner battle with myself about whether we should continue with formal schooling.
Our daughter had made good friendships, but that was about all.
Her school work, which at this point wasn’t a focus at all, was acceptable. She had exceeded the expected parameters set for language (Literacy) and Numeracy, but if I can also be honest, most of what she was doing was from what we kept instructing at home- her writing her name, sounding out, rhyme knowledge, segmenting knowledge, etc.
Not one to just throw in the towel without giving it a good go, we kept at it.
By this time, our daughter had done 2 terms, I had attended at least a dozen birthday parties in this period of time, accepted that I knew nothing about throwing exotic birthday parties and I had officially become an expert birthday gift buyer and could make on the spot recommendations for appropriate gift options for various aged children.
It was honestly brilliant and pathetic at the same time.
We also enrolled our not yet 2 year old at the same school. Not entirely my choice, I should add, but it felt at the time, the best decision after being
coerced convinced of the rationality of that decision.
In the British system of education, apparently, age is not just a number. My son’s birthday happens to fall in the month of August, which means he would always just have turned the cut-off age for his class a mere month before the start of the term, which is September.
I tried pleading with the school that I wouldn’t mind my son being the oldest in his class. There is extensive research on the pros and cons of a child being the youngest/ oldest in their class for the early years and specific research regarding boys particularly.
The school put up a convincing point- I was told if I didn’t take up the very last spot left in my son’s rightful class, I will be forced to imagine doing school drops and pick-ups to 2 different schools.
Thinking about my already hectic schedule, I just couldn’t allow for such a thing to happen.
And that is how I buckled to pressure.
Now, with 2 children at school- 1 barely a toddler, my already hectic schedule became further complicated.
I had different pick-up times for both children because my son was mostly in playgroup and my daughter was at this point starting to be introduced to afternoon classes.
Having my cake and eating it too...
To make this drop-off and pick-up schedule for both children, I decided my son would only attend school 3 out of 5 mornings and my daughter 4 out of 5 days and I decided she would not attend afternoon sessions.
This kept me sane at least, but it made me contemplate my original idea of homeschooling the children.
They were after all being homeschooled part-time.
I focused on making the most of our school experience, but I did struggle.
I knew there would be gives and takes but I struggled with a lot of things.
Starting with the long commutes, the little to no time left to other activities we wanted our daughter to experience, the pressure I was getting about being clear about which prep school to consider for our daughter- apparently, most prep schools with any reputation closed off their enrolment for Year 2 students about 2 years before the date they would commence.
So, by the time our daughter would be 5 years, we should have narrowed in on schools if we didn’t want to have a last minute scramble and very few options.
I just couldn’t decide. I panicked about this more than I think anyone should about enrolling a child into primary school for crying out loud!
I knew I was losing perspective, but I was so swept by the moment, the lack of clarity and very possibly, lack of sleep.
I was eventually able to find my mind in all the prep school madness and other self-imposed pressures.
I made a decision that I will stop worrying about my daughter’s future school options. Well, this came after I had gone on I think 3 prep school tours and put down non-refundable deposits at I think 3 of the schools.
Yes, I was losing my mind.
All this though was somewhat within my control, the straw that broke the camel’s back for us was the lack of control over the other issues we deemed important for our children’s education.
1. The lack of time for children to get into activities, sports, music, etc
Due to the long commutes, it increasingly became difficult to engage the children in other activities because we were all pretty knackered most of the times.
2. The lack of focus on the children’s self-esteem
When you live in Africa, you can expect that if you have the ability to enrol your child into an international school, that there will more often than not, be a large population of expatriates. Expatriates would usually be people belonging to different races.
The school that our children went to had a significant number of expat families as well as Asians; mostly Indians. Kenya happens to have a large population of affluent Indians who choose to enrol their children into private or international schools.
And yes, I know it was a choice we made to put our children into a school that had less African children enrolments, but these private schools offer the closest you can get to ‘standard’ education.
Anyway, because of this disparity in enrolment numbers of African children compared to the other races, our children became very aware of race quite early on.
I also got to learn from some of the other parents that some of their children had formed labels such as ‘peach’ as well as associations of this label with beauty, wealth, etc.
I was shocked to learn that the African children were made to feel inferior to the other races; perhaps not directly, but the experience made them have questions around skin colour.
3. The lack of individualised learning for each of the children
4. Departure from the vision we had for our children’s learning
Formal schooling for us fell completely short of the value system we had hoped to instil in our children.
And I realise, it may have been the choice of school, but still, when you are in a school that does not necessarily have like-minded parents, then it becomes difficult to enforce values in your own children that are not being enforced in the other children by their parents.
Your children will inevitably borrow from the other children’s behaviour, so it helps if you are somewhat sure that their parents have comparable value-system to your family’s.
I struggled with the massive birthday parties, the consumerism, the lack of emphasis on giving truly personalised gifts.
I had hoped to instil in my children the joy of giving from the heart, which at the stage they were in could only be realised through them making their friends the birthday cards, gifts, etc. instead of mama going to buy the gifts for their friends. I felt this detachment to the birthday process wasn’t right.
Perhaps I needed to be more creative with how I weaved this lesson, but I was finding myself more and more being inducted into a way of being that I felt bore little resemblance to what I had intended.
And so, just as swiftly as we had jumped onto the mainstream education bandwagon, we made the very considered decision to ‘homeschool’ our children..
The start of our journey
This was 3 years ago now and we have never looked back.
I am less anxious, more conscious and we are enjoying living our lives on our own terms.
Of course there are still challenges, but we navigate these with consciousness, with introspection and with calmness.
Read more about how our homeschooling journey continues to unfold.