How to help your home educated child adjust to school
Home schooling is becoming very mainstream and increasingly popular, which may be why an increasing number of expat families are choosing to undertake a period of home education when they move. It gives the family time to settle into a new location and explore it together, avoids the difficulties of having to choose schools prior to relocating and can be a great option for culturally adjusting children of all ages.
Some short-term home schoolers love it so much that they decide to keep going – and it’s a valid option, there are loads of resources and support available to enable families to do exactly that, wherever in the world they are situated. For some though, due to financial considerations and parental commitments it’s simply not a long-term option.
We’re focusing here on children who have been out of formal education for a year or more and how their families can help them to adjust and move back into a classroom environment.
Home schooling is very different!
To assess the possible impacts of returning to school, we need to start by understanding the differences. Children who are home educated quickly become accustomed to a lack of formality in their lessons and may follow an educational plan that is different from the school curriculum. Far from being behind with their studies, they are often streets ahead in the subjects that interest them because those are often the ones that are pursued most actively.
They are often given the freedom to choose their own study times, to snack as and when they want to, to make the most of good weather by being out and about, to question authority, to develop their own opinions and mindset and to take ownership of their learning. In short, they have a far greater degree of freedom. There is a school of thought that suggests that home educated children may make excellent leaders because they are ‘trained’ to know their own mind and to influence others in the pursuit of their interests.
School, by contrast, has a strict curriculum, classes of around 30 children on average, lots of rules, set routines for breaks and lunches and a largely indoor based classroom environment where children are expected to listen and learn for up to 6 hours every day. When you put it that way it seems like a tough ask for any child!
The reaction to returning from home to school will depend largely on the character of your child but in general, if you know you’re not planning to home school permanently, then it’s a good idea to keep the conversation alive. Talk about schools frequently so the child doesn’t have any false expectations. Be honest and when the time comes for them to return, make the journey a joint one – view schools together, talk about the choices together, discuss any concerns together.
Five tips to help your child enter the school system
What can you do to make the transition from home education to mainstream school easier for your child?
Encourage and facilitate your child in building a social network that will include children they are likely to be at school with further down the line. Join youth groups, craft groups, sport teams and local leisure facilities and encourage your child to interact with their peers as much as possible. Returning to the classroom will seem much less scary of they already have some friends to share their experience with. Lead by example – get to know other parents and build relationships; as well as helping your child with the school transition it will help your whole family to settle into your new home.
Start talking to the potential schools as soon as you can about their entry criteria; document your child’s learning and be ready to share their progress to make these conversations easier. Find out if your child will need to be assessed for ability before being placed in the right year group and find out if there are mandatory requirements such as inoculations. Being prepared in advance equals no nasty surprises! It’s not all about getting in either, don’t forget to ask the schools what provisions they have that cater for your child’s interests – IT, sports, after school groups. These will all be important for the settling in process and the closer the match to your child’s aspirations the better the chances of adjusting well.
3) Be a leader
Don’t overlook the importance of parental leadership. If you are negative your child will be anxious. If you are stressed your child will be anxious. If you are anxious your child will… well, implode! Making a change is easier for a child than for an adult but they must be given the appropriate guidance in positive thinking and change management.
4) Keep curriculum in mind
Although it may seem boring, if you know you’re not home schooling for ever then try to make sure your approach to learning is structured and loosely mirrors the local curriculum. Many parents see home education as being about grasping learning opportunities when they arise and pursuing interests through ad hoc projects… but this will make it harder for your child to regain the concept of structured learning. Think of it this way – would you want to return to a 9-5 data analyst job requiring strict attention to detail after being allowed to set your own routine, work your own hours and only do the work that interests you for a year?
5) Have a routine
There are key ‘struggle points’ that you might find your returning child has difficulty with. Waking up early, travelling to school, rules (!), timekeeping and retaining focus through a full school day are just a few of the big ones. Is there scope to incorporate some of these school-based routines into your home routine? Obviously, we’re not suggesting you mirror the school day; that would defeat the object of home learning and detract from the joy of spending time together as a family. But some simple things, like a set time to get up in the morning and teaching your child to navigate local bus routes, can really help. Explore the possibility of a soft transition into school too. Could your child do a couple of weeks of half days or selected lessons to make it easier for them to adjust?
Remember that however convinced you are that this is the right decision for you and your child, it is a scary one. Your child will go from being educated one-on-one in a free environment, to being just one of thirty in a busy classroom where the teacher doesn’t have the time or the inclination to pander to their wishes. The scope for self-exploration and pushing boundaries that are celebrated in home schooling don’t exist in the classroom and your child may well feel stifled or suppressed.
Preparation and communication can make it easier but patience is a virtue you are going to need in abundance as you listen to their day to day adjustment problems. Try not to weigh in on their behalf too much though; this journey is about learning to stand on their own two feet and learn they will, but it takes resilience and time.
Choosing the right school for your child is one of the hardest decisions you’ll make as an expat parent when moving abroad.
There are many education options around for expats, and so much depends on your individual family set-up and child that there is no ‘one-school-fits-all’ solution. Each child is different and each country’s school system is different, even within the ‘generic’ international schools. Also, families differ in their requirements and aspirations, and even relocations vary greatly. What worked well for you all in one country won’t necessarily be replicated in your next move.
It’s easy to get very stressed at this point. Don’t panic! I’ve put together this book to help you kick-start your search for the best type of school for your child.
To get instant access to the key points you need to know right now, check out my abridged version eBook right here