Deep within most of us, I believe, there is a yearning for community. To be part of a group of people who do life together, who “get it”, who can empathise with our struggles because they also have them and who can celebrate our joys because they understand how hard won these are. Despite being surrounded by people, home education can often be a lonely journey because, although the number of home ed families is increasing, there are still relatively few of us around.
Our early years of home education were, on one level, quite lonely for me. We live in a small rural community and when we started out (our eldest is now 21) there weren’t many other home educating families around. We have some wonderful friends in our town, for whom I’m ever more thankful as the years pass by, but all their children were at school, so it did feel like we were going it alone. Gradually we began to build a network around us and even gathered enough families to hold a monthly home ed group for a while. However, we’re a diverse and strong-minded bunch, and while this can be a strength of our UK home educating community, it doesn’t automatically lead to deep soul sharing friendships. For me it was not until a particularly tough season where our ideals for home ed came under increased pressure, that I stepped out again and joined the Bristol Christian Home Ed group. This was a turning point for us. We were welcomed with open arms, and to this day I’m grateful for the warm friendship that was offered to both our children and myself; it felt like we’d found our tribe; people who understood and encouraged.
Since then, I’ve found community in many different ways. We don’t live in Bristol, so are unable to join in weekly activities, but have built up some precious and much valued friendships from this group, including Helen, my podcast buddy. Together, we started up Mended Teacups Home Ed Podcast a few years ago, with the hope that we could be voices of encouragement; to cheer you on from the sidelines. In this last year I’ve had the huge honour of working alongside a group of amazing home educators as we compiled “Another Way to Learn?”. This is a new UK focused book on home education released in September 2022.
The concept for the book had been lying dormant for a number of years, but in early 2021 I finally built up the courage to approach some home educators across the country to ask if they’d be interested in writing a chapter for a book. I had a potential publisher in the sidelines, which gave me the confidence to begin reaching out and to their credit they said yes! And so began our joint journey towards the production of a book. We set up a WhatsApp group and the messages soon began flying back and forth. Some of us knew each other in person, but many of us had only met online. However, one of the beautifully unexpected bonuses of this journey has been the sense of community we have formed and the deepening friendships that have developed. I’ve had the huge blessing of getting to know home educators I hold with the greatest of respect, like Streams’ Director, the amazing Juliet English.
Below is an extract from a blog post I wrote in anticipation of the book launch. I hope it will spark your curiosity to get hold of a copy. It’s available from our publisher , any bookstore or through Amazon. Or, you could consider requesting a copy for your library so others can read it too?
“We have written a book for you! You have made, or are considering, a most exciting, life-enriching and direction-changing decision for your family. It will lead you along meandering paths where you can become immersed in the beauty of the natural world, the richness of good books and delights of soulful conversations. It will take you to the vast plains of freedom to explore, question and develop critical thinking. It will at times take you to cliff edges where you will need to take a leap of faith and trust the parachute is there to catch you. Sometimes you’ll walk alone, and this can be hard. Other times you’ll enjoy a depth of friendship which only those walking a shared journey against the current can know. Many of you are already some years down this path, and we want to cheer you on and encourage you in the profoundly important journey you have undertaken for both your family and future generations.
All of us who have contributed to this book have experienced the exhilarating highs and soul-searching lows of this home education adventure. Also, the many ordinary days in between speckled with beauty and laughter in the midst of the mundane. We don’t know your individual circumstances, but we do have an idea of what you have sacrificed to give your children this unique education, the vision you hold in your heart for your family, and the juggling and tenacity you need to walk it daily.”
“Another Way to Learn?” is divided into eleven chapters, plus an introduction, conclusion, and afterword. Helen and I are going to be discussing each chapter in turn on our podcasts over the next few months. Why not form a book club with some others in your area and read along with them? All you need is the courage to reach out with an invitation and the ability to make some hot drinks! This could be an evening event, but as this might be harder to arrange, you could just get together for a play date and grab what snippets of conversation you can while the children do their own thing. Who knows what friendships this might lead to?
I believe we all have a desire to belong. Sometimes, community will come to us, but in my experience more often it’s developed as I’ve reached out to others. In the same way that building of community flowed out unexpectedly from our collaboration, so it would be lovely to learn of new friendships and support networks being built through the reading of “Another Way to Learn?” We’d love to know how you get on!
May you be strengthened and encouraged as you boldly and bravely build up the foundations of the next generation. Have the courage to reach out and build community, it can start growing in unexpected places.
Molly Ashton is mum to four children (her two boys now grown up), host of Mended Teacups podcast and Editor/co-ordinator of the book Another Way to Learn.