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Negative experiences of home ed groups - making me doubt home ed.

(24 Posts)
doubtfulMonkey Thu 02-Oct-14 15:08:26

I really think I'm going to get criticised for this and I am sorry if I upset anyone. I really don't mean this to sound critical about all home ed kids/parents. I suspect I've had some bad experiences which might not be representative, but they've raised doubts in my mind.

I planned to home ed even before my oldest child was born. I worked in the education sector and we had so many doubts about the education system in this country - both what and how children are taught, behaviour in schools, poor teachers, exam pressure etc. We both loved the idea of our DC having the freedom to follow their own interests and being able to focus on them, 1 to 1. I've spent the past 3 years reading about curriculum, gathering ideas, really enjoying helping my DC learn. Learning at home is going so well, both oldest DC and I are loving it.

Oldest DC recently turned 3 and I decided to get involved in local home ed groups - both for social time for DC and because she was at last old enough to join in. We went to two different groups last week, revisited one this week and tried another new one.

It has been horrible. Really awful. The other parents have, on the whole, been either unfriendly or indifferent. I've never had the experience before of trying to make small talk with person after person and been met with silence or a sigh or a one word answer and turning away. I don't expect people to adore me and be desperate to chat, but I'd say 4 out of 5 were plain unfriendly. I was obviously there for DC not me, but it made me feel uncomfortable.

Quite a few of the DC were the same - unwilling to interact with me or the DC. A couple were actively unpleasant to DC - pushing, kicking, hit with a stick, called my DC an idiot, threw an item into DCs face then laughed as DC cried - this is 3 different children in 2 separate groups. Only one parent stopped their child (which had been my experience 90% of the time in toddler groups), 2 ignored it even whilst looking at their child. One I had to actively block with my arms from hitting my DC and he then shoved me and called me stupid, and started lecturing me on why my DC was annoying him. When I raised my voice and told him not to do that to me or DC, his mother gave me a filthy look and still didn't do anything.

Even putting aside the aggressive, bullying children, I couldn't behave the general poor behaviour. I've worked in a similar context and never seen children so unwilling to listen to or interact with a group leader (non-home ed, external event). It was literally chaos - shouting over him, racing off in different directions, doing their own thing and not listening. Nobody batted an eyelid. I was just taken aback by it, I don't see how anyone could have learned a thing and it was just so rude to the instructor.

Add to that, I met a person this week who told me how unhappy she and her siblings had been whilst home edded, and how they all feel they could have achieved more in school. She was lonely, even meeting up with other DC 2/3 times a week. Again, maybe not representative, but it has worried me.

Plus, oldest DC is showing so much interest in school. DC longs to make friends. We walk past schools and playgroups, and DC is desperate to go in. DC chats to everyone and is hugely sociable, friendly and exuberant. I think he would do well in school.

I have mixed feelings right now. I'm not hugely enamoured with the local schools - one reasonably good that I'm quite sure I could get into, the outstanding ones are too far away (and no chance of moving, house in neg equity and house prices not rising in our area). But I wonder whether trying schooling and seeing how it goes might be best for us.

I just don't know what to do. I don't know whether to persevere with home ed groups and try to focus on the handful of lovely friendly people + DC I met, but even then, I'm not sure if that's enough social time for DC. I'm not sure if I'm looking to home ed because I want to home ed, rather than it being right for us.

I'm sorry that it's such an essay, I think I needed to work through my feelings in writing this! My intention isn't to criticise home edders. We met a couple of lovely DC as well, I'd be proud if my child grew up to be as kind, enthusiastic and articulate as those children. I just have to acknowledge that my experience was overwhelmingly negative.

streakybacon Thu 02-Oct-14 15:24:21

You're not alone. I've had some unpleasant experiences with HE groups as well, similar to yours - unfriendly parents, rude and undisciplined children etc. There is a lot of 'free range' home education and not in the nice way. It can be difficult to find a group you gel with and sometimes it doesn't work at all.

BUT ... You have much more control in HE than you do in school. If a situation is poor, you can leave it. If your child isn't getting on with other children, you can address it there and then, having seen the circumstances, and work through it. In schools you may never know the full details of an incident that's upset your child and you'd have to fumble your way through it.

Plus, I don't think either setting is perfect. You will definitely read on here about parents having similar situations at class-mates' parties so it's certainly not confined to HE. There are awful people wherever you go and we all have to just deal with it, our children included.

Don't forget, if you choose not to send your children to school that doesn't mean you HAVE to only be involved with HE groups. There are loads of community activities you can get involved with - leisure centre, sports clubs, Scouts/Brownies, drama etc and you can pick and choose how and when you interact with people. Some schools are keen to engage with the wider community and allow access to after-school clubs to children who aren't on their roll, so it's worth making those enquiries too.

You say you met some nice children too - perhaps you could cultivate those smaller friendships and make your own network of 'nice' home educators that way. You don't need to be part of the whole group. You can choose how much or how little you get involved - it doesn't need to be all or nothing.

doubtfulMonkey Thu 02-Oct-14 15:38:21

Thanks streakybacon for not being angry with me! That is a great point about knowing about problems and being able to manage it better than if I had half a story from the school. And there being similar children at school is also a worry, which is one of the reasons I'm so unsure.

I just worry that if I don't interact with home ed groups, DC will be lonely if we just go to non-school groups (Scouts, swimming etc) - I don't remember making any firm friends at those sort of groups as a child, and I was hoping home ed groups would give my DC access to making the sort of friends I made at school.

I'll admit to liking the idea of cultivating a few nicer friends, but I would like DC to make their own choice of friends from a big group.

I really appreciate the reply, it's food for thought and it's nice to know not every home edder is a super 'free-range' type.

sezamcgregor Thu 02-Oct-14 15:46:31

I have a friend who HE her son. She's had some bad experiences and some FANTASTIC MARVELLOUS experiences with local HE groups.

It's not you, it's them - just keep trying different things.

Perhaps they have a lot of newbies and they take time to get to know people. Perhaps try meeting with one or two at time to make some friendships before you tackle The Group.

Good luck, I think HE is amazing if you can do it.

Sezam, with DS in school

streakybacon Thu 02-Oct-14 15:52:49

My son had a lot of difficulties when we first started HE. He has autism and ADHD and was NOT accepted by the existing children - right from the outset he was an outsider, however hard he tried, and there was some actual bullying. BUT I was able to monitor situations and help him get through them, point out other people's behaviour and how he should respond to it, and learn the lesson of 'You can't control what they do to you, but you can control how you deal with it'. In school, he'd been left to his own devices and suffered dreadful bullying, because there was nobody there to guide him with learning these social niceties. THAT is the beauty of HE - you can walk hand in hand with your child, every step of the way, and because of that they will learn that not all people are nice but they can't always avoid them. Instead they have to learn strategies for coping so that everyone gets on reasonably well. In schools, it's much more 'sink or swim' - great for children who have innate social ability but awful for those who don't and need a bit of extra help.

Part of the difficulty with HE groups is that in most cases there is no overall facilitator who takes charge for a universally agreed 'appropriate' level of behaviour - each parent is responsible for their own child, and they all have different rules. It can be utterly chaotic if you have one family where there are boundaries and limits, and others where children are allowed to explore and discover unfettered. There are bound to be clashes and, as you've found, not all parents have a hands-on approach to addressing that. I found it better to stick to HE groups that were arranged by parents but run by organisations (eg museums, leisure centres etc) so that there was an agreement on what was accepted and what wasn't. Then nobody is directly pointing the finger at someone else's parenting - it's the facilitator who sets the rules.

Personally, I think it's a good idea to have as wide a social net as possible, and from there your children can choose which ones they want to spend more time with. Restricting opportunities will limit that choice. I'd just take a deep breath, then step back and look at your situation objectively. Think about meeting separately with the nice people and avoid the daft and freaky ones (which you'd do anyway, even if your kids were in school, right?), and develop your network that way. AND keep in mind local groups like swimming lessons, gym class, dance etc so they have lots of people to mix with. I'm sure that you'll catch more fish with a wider net. Good luck smile.

Nigglenaggle Thu 02-Oct-14 19:43:09

I guess it must vary from area to area but we've been overwhelmed by how many nice people we've met - and it is chaotic and rules differ slightly from family to family (as they would in school) but we haven't encountered anywhere near the level of bad behaviour towards other children you describe (respect for property has maybe been more of a sliding scale!!!) In general if there is bad behaviour that a parent hasn't seen, the nearest adult will intervene. Don't be disheartened and keep trying - maybe go a little further afield if possible to avoid the same crowd. Are there any groups that advertise that they welcome beginners? I think a scouting or similar group is a good idea too - it's good for them to learn to mix with schooled children as well as home edders.

StripyBanana Thu 02-Oct-14 19:52:43

We were planning on home edding. Behaviour and the other parents was one of the things that put me off. Then we decided to try pre-school half days as I'd heard such good things about it, run by older mums, high child-adult ratio, etc and I couldn't believe how much good it did for her.... and I was a bit converted. My daughter is now in yr1. I've often wobbled between wondering if I'd home ed if she was unhappy or hadn't settled but as she's loving the stimulation and is learning so much it would be a shame to pull her away. We still do home ed type stuff int he holidays and its fun, but I'm aware how much more she gains from school.

I still would think about home ed if she had significant dificulties with school, but for now she really thrives on it, and would be horrified if I pulled her away from her best friend!

StripyBanana Thu 02-Oct-14 19:53:38

There's a "can't say no to your child" and a "let them sort things out themselves" type educational ethos which I couldn't quite get to grips with in reaity.

morethanpotatoprints Thu 02-Oct-14 20:03:58

Hello OP

I have experienced a bit of this, but it was only a very tiny group. There were a couple of parents who were nice, but similar to the indifference you mentioned, so I know what you mean.
I don't understand how this would put you off H.ed though, there are plenty of groups your dc could attend where there are a mix of all different types of educated children.
There are lots of opportunities for dc to mix at all ages, you just need to find what suits, it didn't put me off H.ed and we always manage to find at least one H.ed dc at activities our dd attends.
We haven't been to any H.ed groups since that first time as there are no more near us, but dd has managed fine and has lots of friends all over the NW.
Now in our third year I promise you it isn't a problem.

ommmward Thu 02-Oct-14 22:22:53

It's worth bearing in mind that a lot of children who have difficulty interacting socially at the usual level for their age end up being... home educated smile I certainly do a lot more running interference around my children at HE groups than one might expect would be needed around (say) 7-11 year olds, because there are enough of those children whose social acuity is pretty limited. And then, gradually, I can work out which children are likely to make a terrible gaffe, and which are going to sail gracefully through building a friendship (and I am not at all claiming that my own children are always the sailors!!!)

doubtfulMonkey Thu 02-Oct-14 23:07:58

Sorry for not replying sooner, had a minor crisis to sort out! I'm going to read through properly and have a think tomorrow. I really appreciate all the replies, and just from skim reading, it seems it's not just me (was beginning to wonder if I had ridiculous expectations or something!).

maggi Fri 03-Oct-14 10:50:41

Only been HE for 2yrs. I have already seen an amazing range of family types/reasons for HE. Luckily I have found only 1 family unbearable. Luckily that family was on the fringes and didn't attend much.
Generally I'm always impressed with how well the children get along and how well they welcome new comers. I've seen so many playgroups and school playgrounds over the years where children hunt in packs upon the weaker ones.
It was so refreshing to witness the home ed group for the very first time. Children of all ages working together. Yes, there were some occasions when children did stuff which I'd rather they didn't, but it was usually a safety issue that made me cringe rather than a social fallout.
My advice is to keep trying and perhaps... wait a little longer? Toddlers and preschoolers can be terribly violent towards each other (in any setting), which is one reason why ratios of carers have to be greater for younger children. I would continue explaining or putting up a barrier (arm etc) between your child and attackers. If the parents are giving you dirty looks it could be that they are embarrassed and trying to hide it. But if you consistently show them how to address the situation they may begin to learn how to do it themselves. I know it is a pain, but sometimes it helps to remember that everyone has to learn how to parent, and nobody is going to learn if everyone else gives them no signs that they need to change what they do. - I'm not saying that their behaviour (or lack of) is your responsibility but it may just help keep you from getting depressed if you know you can do something.

Thinking2014 Fri 03-Oct-14 19:56:26

The last HE meet up i attended was fine to begin with then some older kids crashed into the soft play area and no one bat an eyelid. Things got a little too excited (3girls & 2 boys climbing on the top of the soft play equipment & chasing each other within this box room with small children trying to play) so I took my kids and left.

I didn't experience any rudeness or aggression like you did but witnessed a mum leave her 1 yr old several times whilst she went toilet/walked off outside etc and the fact that no one said anything to the older kids made me see the other side of some HEs, the more "hands off approach"...I didn't like it and no one spoke to me but were fine with asking my DD questions like had we heard from the LEA yet...but silence when I was in the room...it just isn't what I expected so may give that particular group a miss from now on...

It won't put me off HE though because there's so many other ways kids can socialise. Toddlers can easily socialise down the park everyday (from my experience of seeing so many mums & babies everywhere!) But my DD is 8 so the only people she can socialise with are HEs or old school friends...Currently only one still keeps in touch! hmm wink but I do still have a few other meets to try out so not worried really!

I wouldn't let it put you off but you can always try school and see how your DC likes it?

NettleTea Sat 04-Oct-14 20:38:02

In regard to facilitating Home ed groups - it is very very difficult.

The particular area I work in means that in an ideal world you would either work with the children alone, or you would work as a 'family' group where parents and kids were equally involved.

In practice this is not what has happened. There has been resistance to having 'just the kids' from parents, as they dont seem to want to leave the kids alone because they need to oversee anything we are doing (despite the fact that I am sure there are many activities that involve children doing things unsupervised, and personally I feel some unsupervised stuff/independant stuff is good for the child, but dont start me on that one!!) and if parents DO stay they either take over what the child is doing, telling them 'do this, make it like that' or they sit on the periphery treating the session as an informal coffee morning and chat with the other parents, and letting their kids run riot.

This results in kids who are not really supervised by anyone, and it can cause trouble because if there are problems then it isnt clear who should sort it out. If the parents dont do anything and one of our leaders steps in, then we often find the parent will come up and have an issue with our boundary setting (and I am certainly not talking shouting/bullying behaviour from us). This undermines the whole group and really means the dynamics of us facilitating the sessions is blown out of the water.

Its a tricky situation and one why we are actually reluctant to work with some home ed groups, even though I home ed myself.....

Some groups are lovely though, I must add.

Nigglenaggle Sat 04-Oct-14 20:58:36

Wow you are putting me off, and I don't have a single bad experience... I'm sure it can't be that bad...

NettleTea Sat 04-Oct-14 21:13:39

I guess we were recounting the bad.
There are many many threads recounting the good so I hope that reassures!

Thinking2014 Sun 05-Oct-14 00:54:46

Tbh if you're put off that easily then maybe HE isn't for you... I find that most of our life is spent together. I'm not a great socialiser so I spend more time with my kids then anyone else. We learn, we live, we play. Attending groups isn't a priority for me...my kids can socialise in other settings if they really needed to...we still go out, just not confined to a group full of people we don't really know but feel obliged to talk to just because we have one thing in common! grin

TinkerLula Sat 01-Nov-14 12:55:27

Interesting discussionsmile
I remember some of my first impressions of HE groups being negative too...........I also remember some very positive experiences. Of the negative ones I had the same thoughts, some unruly children who got away with whatever they liked, children who did not listen to instruction, unfriendly parents. BUT in other groups I found kids of all ages interacting like a big family, like-minded parents who I felt instantly at ease with.
Home Ed has bad elements & good elements. I think you need to explore more and persevere. Its like anything new, it takes time to see the woods for the trees.
HE can be socially tiring for the parents. I have lovely HE friends and my kids do to, but sometimes at groups I feel like hiding. The very nature of HE often means parents have to get out there a lot. Sometimes I just don't feel like making small talk with another new person or anyone actually. However, if I keep seeing that person at various things, it becomes less forced, more natural and we start to have things in common or friends in common.
I've met hundreds of HE families and I can seriously only think of two families that I would actively avoid. Mostly due to bad behaviour which goes totally unchecked.
HE groups are useful for initially finding your tribe. A selection of families who you get on with or your kids like. You can then drop the big meet ups or the ones which don't work so well for you.
As an aside, if you think the behaviour of school kids is that great I can assure you it is not! I have also been to an awful Beavers group where the behaviour was appalling! Its like anything, some things are just run badly and other things are better, same with schools or any community groups.

IfNotNowThenWhen Sat 01-Nov-14 15:33:24

I only saw this because it came up on Active convos , and don't HE, but I can see why your experiences with the group put you off. I have a friend who home educates and every time I come across members of her circle I find that at least half just blank me- no smile, no chit chat, and if I speak to them they are borderline rude, maybe because I am clearly not one of them. Basically, they seem snobby and have zero manners.
my friend sent one of her children to school and he magically developed some social skills.
Look, I know where I am posting and I will get flamed, but I really don't get this thing about trying to control a child's environment at all times.
Yes, at school things may go on that you will never truly know about, but you child is a separate person to you. Being out in the world a bit, and negotiating things without you is often how they grow and learn. Difficult things will come up that they have to deal with, but that is how life is. That said I shall fetch my coat. wink

TinkerLula Sat 01-Nov-14 18:02:01

IfNot..........not flaming you but funnily enough your experience of home ed parents blanking you is something I have with schooled childrens parents at things like Brownies, football practise etc very cliquey, judgemental and downright rude as in all sitting in a circle and turning their backs on me.
As for controlling their environment I personally think home ed gives a child a MUCH more diverse experience in terms of people they meet and so forth. We go to a range of activities, many with close friends but lots with the wider community. Also I think it is short sighted to think school is not a controlled environment. In short, that's exactly what it is! Kids are watched all the time. At home ed groups I think my kids have far more freedom & yep they also go to groups without me.
A lot of village type schools with a very middle class catchment provides a child with limited diversity. I see it with friends kids all the time. The kids go to school together, go to each other parties, the parents are all on the PTA. I'd say that's a controlled environment.

IfNotNowThenWhen Sat 01-Nov-14 18:18:21

Oh, no that's true, school is a controlled environment, of course it is. But it's not controlled by the parent, which is all I meant really. It's good for children to be able to have experiences their parents are not involved in sometimes IMHO.
There are unfriendly knobbers everywhere, I agree. But I have parent friends I have made thru school who are from all walks, from a young mum in a council house, to the lecturer couple in a big detached. I am different to most people I meet, but haven't felt the total disinterest from anyone but the home ed lot. It makes me think they are just very insular. They are also very attachment parent, allotments and woodcraft folk, and have a certain wholesome, natural look, so maybe they are judging me for being more of a semi detached parent and wearing too much eyeliner!
I do admire people who can home ed though as I know I couldn't do it (don't have the patience! )

TinkerLula Sat 01-Nov-14 19:06:36

Yes I agree IfNot about kids needing experiences that their parents are not involved in. It is harder to find this in the HE community but not impossible. I personally feel it is an essential need for my daughter and so I have gone to a lot of trouble to ensure she has plenty of opportunities without me there.
And yes, there are knobbers everywhere, but you sound lovelysmile I wouldn't blank you!

IWipeArses Mon 03-Nov-14 11:58:37

Our Home Ed group is a real mixed bag. People really don't fit into stereotypes that easily. The eyeliner wearing mother has an allotment for instance. grin

Some of the children we've met have been badly behaved. Just like when DS was at school. The difference is I'm there, I can mediate, and if necessary take the decision to avoid those particular children in the future.

HerrenaHarridan Mon 03-Nov-14 12:28:05

Some people who he are rude ignorant knobs, some people who send their kids to school are rude ignorant knobs, done people who wear blue are rude ignorant etc etc

Fwiw my first experiences of he groups were awful, middle class snobs turning their nose up at me for being a single parent. Actively trying to lose is repeatedly throughout the day etc. but u basically took the attitude that as long as these people were advertising themselves as THE local home ed group if I just inflicted myself in them for long enough eventually soneone else would turn up who instead of being scared off by them could hang out with me.
I'm pretty hard headed when necessary and I can see that most people wouldn't be cake to deal with this.
Right enough it soon turned out at bigger meets that most nice people didn't come regularly because of those snooty bitches. So we repopulated the group. No coups or splinter groups just started being welcoming with each other
smile

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