Right now, a lot of children are being homeschooled because of the pandemic. Many parents are treating this as a horrible inconvenience with no upsides.
But while there are real costs economically and timewise to manage homeschooling, it can really pay off for the kids when done right. We were forced to homeschool years ago before the internet worked as well as it does now. We were broke and overworked and tired. So believe me, I know the challenges.
My three children all attended public school here in Canada. It was a small rural facility, with grades 1 to 7 in the elementary, and grades 8 to 12 in the high school. None of our three thrived in these schools. Our boys in particular had a really hard time.
Rural living isn’t always the idyllic, happy utopia to grow up in that everyone thinks it is. You’re trapped with the same 20 or 30 kids all the way through, just like Harry Potter was trapped with Malfoy. And it seems like there’s always at least one Malfoy, if not several. In our little school, my kids seemed like they were the victim from the first day of school until many years later.
Bullying was rampant, and the teachers either couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything about it. Our boys both started causing trouble over the years because they couldn’t deal with the stress. So at different times, we decided to take one of them out of public school and home school them for a full year.
It was hard. And it was the best thing we could have done.
Lying, stealing and acting out
Our first son was mercilessly picked on and pushed around from day one. A group of bullies made him their pet project. There was no escape. He wasn’t able to stand up to them, and the situation wasn’t solvable by the school’s staff.
“My pain may be the reason for somebody’s laugh. But my laugh must never be the reason for somebody’s pain.” — Charlie Chaplin
He fought back by stealing things from everyone he didn’t like. There was a lot of lying and sneaking. It was making my whole family miserable, especially when we got calls from the school about missing electronics or other items, only to find them in his room. We were really worried he was learning some bad things.
My wife spearheaded the idea that we keep him home for the grade 5 year and get his behaviour straightened out. At first, I wasn’t on board, because I didn’t think we could get the work done with how busy our family was. But she was adamant. She didn’t want our son staying in that nasty bullying environment and heading down the wrong paths any longer.
He spent a year at home.
The next son was bullied too
Years later, it seemed like it was all happening again. Our second son was always being attacked and getting into fights. There were five children in his class who just wouldn’t leave him alone. His life was hard. Although he wasn’t blameless, the teachers never clued in that when he was in a fight, it was 2, 3 or 5 against just him. He got beaten all the time. Violence was ongoing.
“School administrators can’t say it’s up to the parents. Parents can’t say it’s up to the teachers. Teachers can’t say it’s not their job. And kids can’t say, “I was too afraid to tell.” Every single one of us has to play our role if we’re serious about putting an end to the madness. We are all responsible. We must be.” — Megan Kelley Hall (author)
He ended up in emergency with a broken hand trying to fend them off one day. All five bullies had him cornered. One of these was a girl, and three were from “good Christian families,” so put those stereotypes out of your head. We knew most of the parents, but talking to them hadn’t made any difference. Their angels were innocent. Our son was labelled as the troublemaker, and the principal went after him. The kid that ended up in emergency was suspended.
That time, our son got kicked out of school for the rest of the school year, but his tormenters got to stay in class. School staff wouldn’t listen to our son, or us. It was a heartbreaking travesty. Five large bullies won and a boy who was a lot smaller got sent home in shame, with a broken hand from defending himself.
We pulled him out and he had homeschooling for the entire year of grade 8.
One year of homeschooling was like a reset
We didn’t know what would happen if we took our children out of school. It was a learning experience for all of us. I wish we had internet-based learning, resources, modern systems and tools like Zoom back then.
In both cases, we found and worked with a school (with no connection to the local one) that supported remote learning. This made it a little easier for my wife and me because we didn’t have to come up with the curriculum.
We printed off all of the lessons and they were done on paper. It was a huge amount of effort to teach our sons at home. I will forever be grateful for all of the time my wife put into it.
I helped where I could, but I had a full-time day job and she worked evenings. That left her doing most of the day-to-day schoolwork. She took care of education, and I worked on meals and cleaning while she was at work all evening. We were flat out, head down, tail in the breeze.
The bullying got shut down
The biggest effect was immediate relief from their day to day struggle. They didn’t have mean children calling them names, pushing them around and destroying their self worth for most of every weekday.
I lived through the same types of bullying years before, in the exact same school. It’s disgraceful that as a society we still let this go on right under our noses!
Children gaslight adults all the time. Bullies learn how to manipulate teachers. The wrong questions get asked. And in some cases, prejudice is the root of it. The adult goes along with the bully because they fit that individual's profile of a “good” child, while the “bad” one is of a different race, religion, or group.
We could see them start to relax and develop confidence that we knew would change their lives. We found and encouraged friendships with other children. These weren’t fairy tale perfect interactions, but they never had the same toxic negativity that they used to get in that other group.
They had to do the work
Both of them were way behind in actual learning when we started teaching them at home. Because of all the other issues, they were always distracted and upset. So, it’s no wonder that their schoolwork was suffering.
When you get labelled a troublemaker, teachers don’t always try very hard to get through to you. Especially in the case of the second son, the bully children were great at pulling the wool over the teacher’s eyes. Those poor little innocents were having their lives ruined by our evil son. So of course the teacher would be against giving him any special treatment if he was struggling in class.
They were grateful
Our sons were grateful to not have to go into the hell that was school. They really appreciated being rescued, and they seemed to understand how much it took out of their parents to do home learning instead.
But eventually, this became the same old same old. After a few months, they started missing “real” school.
We spent some time as the year progressed reminding them about the good things school did have to offer. We pointed out gym class and sports, and fun on the playground. They both loved reading, and they started wishing they could go to the library every day like they used to.
By focusing on these things and talking about them, we helped them see the good things that school had. That way when it was time to go back to public school, they were ready. They were grateful for the good parts of it.
We built stronger relationships
We spent a lot of one on one time with both boys. This just wouldn’t have happened if they didn’t homeschool for a year. All of that time wasn’t fun, but it did build a solid relationship.
This is what they needed from us. They needed us on their side. They knew we were there for them, even to the point of sacrificing a ton for their well being.
From our point of view, we really got to see what worked and what didn’t for each of them. They weren’t peas in a pod. Their learning styles and interests were totally different, so teaching them had to be approached differently too. It was a deep dive for everyone involved.
Previously, they had been bringing home stacks of papers and work that had to get done each night, or else. It was like they were working a full-time office job, with how much paper the public school was making them process! And with all of that work, they weren’t even seeming to learn very well anyway.
Once we were in charge, we arranged it so they didn’t have to work all evening to get work done. It’s a no-brainer. Work smarter, not harder. Don’t make them hate school.
And guess what? They learned everything they needed to in less time than if they were spending all day in classes, too.
There were times when they fell behind schedule and had to do work a little later into the day. Both of us as parents knuckled down with them to catch back up. We felt that free time in the evenings was super important, something that the local school didn’t seem to value much.
They showed pride and self-confidence
Finishing work at home gave them pride in their work and built self-confidence. We showed them that they could help set the schedule and decide how they would do their work. They learned to focus and get it done, so they could move on to other activities.
Their writing and math improved. Both of them thought they were “dumb” because it hadn’t been going so well in public school. They started to realize they were smarter than they thought. That really boosts the self-image, when you start to do well at schoolwork.
I still think so much of this has to do with not living in fear, torment and frustration for hours on end. And not worrying all night about how bad the next day of bullying was going to be. It’s hard to learn and take pride in your work when all you can think about is being held down by bullies at recess, or having them threaten you in the hallway all the time.
Going back to public school
At the end of the year, they got enrolled back in their old school. The transition was a little difficult, but they managed to fit in and get into the groove.
They were both glad to start getting more social interaction, so they were really eager to make it work. In both cases, their behaviour was so much better from having a break that they weren’t getting in trouble anymore.
The bullies were still there. Short of moving, we couldn’t fix that. But what we did fix was that our sons had more self-confidence and had learned a few new coping mechanisms. They still had some real trouble at times, though.
Their year-long absence was like a hard reset for everyone. The school staff, the bullies and our sons all got a break in the action. When they returned, it was just a bit different. Everyone treated them like the new kid. It was almost a fresh start.
Would we do it again?
Absolutely. And I would have done it sooner, for longer. Looking back, I should have found a way to be there for them and help more with all of this bullying. I let myself get trapped in the way things always were, with teachers who also let themselves get trapped. We let the kids down and enabled bad behaviour by accepting it.