Let’s Journey the Wilderness Together, by Dr Jo Sweetland

Watching our oldest child’s interest in learning slowly disappear and their curiosity and creativity dwindle became the motivator to us choosing to take all three of our kids out of the state system. It was not that their school was bad, or that the teachers were poor, or that the leadership team were without vision – the school and the team were exceptional (albeit only ‘good’ in Ofsted’s eyes). Our decision was purely based on feeling we were losing our children, it was like they were fading before our eyes. Having home educated now for four years I would not return our kids to the current UK education system. I also recognise that home education is not for everyone. In my dream world we would have a myriad of educational choices for our children; as parents, with our children, we would be able to choose an educational journey that suits each child’s unique passions and gifts. We would be able to craft an individualised learning plan that enabled our children to flourish.

Removing our children from school was not an easy decision; it felt overwhelming and isolating. I read many posts on different home ed Facebook groups, other people also seeking guidance and advice; the path is not always clear and taking “the road less travelled” can “make all the difference” (The Road not Taken, Robert Frost poem), however, in the moment the choices can be discombobulating. I remember clearly feeling unsure of what to do.

I love reading Brené Brown books; her research-based observations and insights are fascinating and regularly challenge me. This quote below resonated with me as I reflected on our home ed journey:

“Standing on the precipice of the wilderness is bone-chilling because belonging is so primal… Choosing the wily outpost over the security of the city gates takes a true act of courage. The first step can take your breath away…

But I have discovered something beautiful; the loneliest steps are the ones between the city walls and the heart of the wilderness, where safety is in the rear-view mirror, new territory remains to be seen, and the path out to the unknown seems empty.

But put one foot in front of the other enough times, stay the course long enough to actually tunnel into the wilderness, and you’ll be shocked how many people already live out there – thriving, dancing, creating, celebrating, belonging. It is not a barren wasteland. It is not unprotected territory. It is not void of human flourishing.
The wilderness is where all the creatives and prophets and system-buckers and risk-takers have always lived, and it is stunningly vibrant. The walk there is hard, but the authenticity out there is life.”

Braving the Wilderness, Brené Brown 2017

When you start to see education in a different way, when you step out of the system, it can feel like you live in the wilderness; a place of the wild and free – vibrant, authentic, and rich. For some home educators the journey is like a well-planned expedition; researched, equipment/tools for the journey packed and a team in place to journey with you. For others, like me, it is a reaction to school not working, not necessarily a spur-of-the-moment decision, but not a life choice from the start. The first steps literally take your breath away.

I come from a family of teachers and school was never something I questioned. Although I had met the odd home educator, I never explored the thought as an option for my family. It was only when my son started school that something started to niggle… it took five years to actually make the decision, although only in the final year did the ‘shall we home ed?’ question become part of regular conversations at home. I remember leaving school on that last day, walking home with the children; within me an exhilarating feeling of freedom and excitement. I remember in those early days my big questions were: How do we find friends? What did people actually do with their children at home all day? What resources did they use? The reality was we had started our journey ill-equipped and unprepared.

We took six months to ‘de-school’ and as I began to explore available resources, I also got insight into how expensive they can be – how did people know what to use? I felt sorry for the home educating parents I met in those early days as I would bombard them with questions, hungry for answers. I often used to think it would be great if there was one space where you could go and read about resources others use and learn about how they spend their days… Where social media platforms offered some answers, not being very tech savvy, I would find myself getting lost in different groups unsure where I fit, how to gather information and glean wisdom from those who had gone before.

The desire to build community and support home educators, is where Streams came from. With two local friends (Matt and Sian) we connected with Juliet English who had carried a similar vision for nine years. In those early months of our UK Lockdown, our dreaming and planning began and, the vision for Streams was born.

Streams has a mission to encourage, equip and connect home educators. Our vision is for all home educating families to thrive and find a place to belong. Our site has gone live with the first part of the mission; a place to share stories and reviews of resources. We all know how powerful it is to read a story; whether it is a good news story that lifts our spirits or a real story of the challenges we face – they warm our hearts, and we connect with each other in this place of vulnerability. We want to grow this collection of stories to collectively be a powerful testimony to the impact of an alternative form of education. As the UK government actively reviews the freedom we currently have in the UK we feel even more passionate about collating our stories in one place. If you home educate, or are connected to home educators, we would love you to come sign up and submit a story and review (or more than one!).

Reading a review of a resource that another home educator has used is so helpful as it enables you to think about if it could work for your own children. Our reviews will help equip people for their own journeys. We ask people to share as much as they can in the reviews – the more that is written, the more helpful the review. Anyone who signs up on the site as a member will receive a monthly newsletter and be able to join us for some webinars which Juliet will be holding. Juliet is also offering mentoring sessions for people who want to learn from her extensive experience as a home educator. This mentoring service will grow as we recruit other experienced home educators to join our team.

Over the months ahead we will develop the site further. For a small monthly cost, members will be able to access the ‘connect’ part of the website which will enable them to find friends locally, discover events happening locally to them, access a safe online chat space where questions can be asked and connection made with others, receive discounts on resources, listen to webinars as well as a monthly product promotion where there will be opportunity to ask the resource creator questions about their product and receive a discount for buying it. This is just the next phase; our ideas keep growing and we would value yours as well. Help us grow Streams – come and join us and shape what it could be.

Streams is underpinned by three strong values:

Courage: We’re brave, we boldly communicate, we’re willing to be vulnerable, we’re prepared to take risks.

Integrity: We’re true to what we believe, we honour ourselves and each other, we’re open and honest.

Community: We’re inclusive, we appreciate difference, we know we’re stronger when we journey together.

As my home ed experience has grown, one thing I have come to love is that all our children are different with their own unique gifts; as a community, we all do home ed differently and there is no right way. The freedom to home educate is a gift we treasure and will stand united to protect. Our hope is that Streams will bring another layer of connectedness and strength to our ever-expanding community. We invite you to join us. Whether you home educate already, are exploring home education or at a form of alternative school, I simply want to recognise and celebrate the courage you have shown to walk into the wilderness, to take the road less travelled.

For me it is a privilege to live with others who are also wild and free, thank you, collectively we have a louder, more passionate, and more powerful voice in the ever-increasing clammer for educational reform. I believe united, in whatever stream of education we choose, we can keep pushing for systemic change to benefit all children in our global community.

Follow Streams

Website: https://www.streams.education/wp/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/streams.education

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