And the parks, swimming baths, roads, museums and shops are busy with families! We're used to everywhere being nice and quiet for us ;-) There is a tendency, certainly at our house, to batten down the hatches and to stay even more home-based than usual in the summer holiday weeks.
Anyone who volunteers as a local contact or who is 'known' locally as a home educator will probably notice a sharp increase in enquiries from people thinking about home educating and wanting more information or advice. And from people who are already home educating - often have been for years - and suddenly want to know what's on offer by way of meetings and activities locally. And (sometimes) to complain when it doesn't seem like enough. Sometimes they respond with gratitude to your careful and time-consuming efforts to supply the information they want; more often they don't respond at all.
(One caller this week bad-temperedly hung up on me after she'd asked how did I home educate my children? So I briefly explained how I do it and was going on to say, but of course that's just one way of doing it and there are many others... when she snapped: "Oh no, that's not what I'm looking for at all," and ended the call!)
It's a time of change: for every family at the start of their home ed experience, there's another coming to the end of theirs, one way or another. Some have fallen out with the idea altogether and wish they'd never embarked on it. I've seen posts on some lists and blogs to that effect, blaming problems with or lack of local networks of home educators and/or being disenchanted with whatever learning method they chose because it didn't provide the results for which they were hoping.
My family does tend to be somewhat cocooned from these ups and downs, but they still affect us. They show up on our radar and make us think.
Someone once referred to us as a 'poster home ed family', which made me laugh, because we're far from being that. Yes, we blog and yes, we unschool and yes, there are quite a lot of us and yes, we've done it for a long time and I suppose I have waxed lyrical from time to time about the benefits of living this way. But only because it's seemed to be under attack from the mainstream so much and so the instinct is to speak out in its defence, though I hope I haven't sold this option too well, giving the impression there are no drawbacks involved. Everything in life has its drawbacks, home ed included.
But my three teenagers (16, 18 and 19, all still officially home educating) haven't taken any exams and have no plans to. They work in their own time on their own projects, eat when they're hungry and sleep when they're tired. It is now highly unlikely (but not impossible should the mood take them, I suppose) that any of them will emerge from Oxbridge with an honours degree or even secure a paying job that requires qualifications.
Do I worry about this? Actually, no. I still don't. Everyone I know who has that kind of job for which they needed those kinds of qualifications, hates it. Most of them are stuck in grotesque attendance cultures, in which they're forced to travel through rush hour to sit at a desk in an office. Spinning work out for a whole day that they freely admit they'd be able to do in an hour or two at home, if they were promised the rest of the day off as a reward. I've never laid down any specific ambitions for them, but I do not want that for my children any more than I wanted them to be tied to a desk in a school classroom every day of the week for the duration of their childhoods.
Yes, sometimes it's been difficult. There wasn't a perfect set of home educating local friends always available to them and some of the meetings weren't exactly to their liking. (We ended up starting our own meetings, to be sure of being able to attend the kind that we wanted.) And sometimes it has seemed like they weren't doing much at home. But they kept looking at college and university courses and not finding anything suitable because, to be honest, nothing compares to the complete freedom of being able to follow your passions in education. Especially not some of the lifeless, unenthusiastic tutors and lecturers we've spoken to along the way. They weren't exactly inspiring.
And I hear now that the unemployment rate is rising and every advertised post is being chased after by at least 50 applicants which means that even after jumping through all those academic hoops, the average young person is still doomed to rejection upon rejection and feeling like a failure. And when a job is eventually secured, there is ongoing assessment and evaluation. The feeling of not being trusted to get on with things. A lifetime of continued stress and pressure. I mean, if they want to go down that route then fine, but I do not want that for my children. (And it looks like they didn't want it for themselves either, or one assumes they would have started working towards it by now.)
But we are talking about the future here this week, in common with many other families. Especially in relation to Tom, whose home education officially comes to an end on his 20th birthday, which falls in six months' time. He has to be bringing in some money by then, because we didn't get the eco house built in time, unsurprisingly. So there's still a mortgage and bills to be paid here and we'll be missing his share.
Their time at home, while their peers were beavering away at exams, was not wasted. Far from it. The boys have both developed saleable skills, doing things they enjoy and find easy. Tom, for example, has been installing and maintaining the computer networks of friends and relations for years now, as well as providing instructions for people where needed. His patience for this work is endless, and his knowledge and experience is now extensive. He already has workshop space, testing beds and equipment. All he needs to go into business is a website and/or some advertising. He's going to spend the next six months looking into start-up grants to see if there's anything useful for him but if not, he'll just start up anyway. He's also got to decide whether to register as a sole trader or to set up a limited company to trade under. Or whether to deliberately keep his earnings sufficiently low so that he doesn't need to register with the tax man.
It seems ideal. He enjoys the work. It's not tieing or limiting, and he can put in as few or as many hours as he likes, depending on how much money or spare time he wants that week. We don't think there will be a shortage of work for him, especially if he's offering competitive rates. We've been surprised by the number of people who can't build or repair their own systems. Apparently it is a rare skill.
Ironically, Tom's abilities in this field came about because we were home educating and the children wanted computers but we couldn't afford them, so they built their own out of scrap parts. Then, for a specific game they were playing, they wanted to network the systems here so they had to learn how to set one up and they've always had to source and use the cheapest parts. Tom can process information and make decisions about the compatability of dozens of computer parts faster than I can think about what to cook for breakfast.
He might change his mind again before the six months is up, but working for yourself seems like the best kind of employment to me. There's no boss breathing down your neck, no attendance culture and no job interview. From what he's said so far, I think Ali will make the same kind of decision when he's 20, and Zara probably will in her time too. But I've always said that I don't mind what they do, as long as they're happy. And they've all indicated that they see their economic future in those terms: finding gaps in markets and plugging them on their own terms. My parents, by virtue of me being 'the intelligent one' wanted me to get a degree and some kind of an executive position, but it wasn't for me and I've never regretted the life decisions I've made - only the pressure they put me under to make the ones they thought I should.
I sometimes wonder if my brood will ever resent me for not putting them under pressure. But there are no signs of that yet: all three say they're still very grateful that I didn't. Freedom is perhaps a way of thinking that needs to be learned through experience from an early age, in much the same way as its opposite does also.