Matilda’s Gap Year

Woman and child reading


Part One

I’ve been putting off writing this post for a while now.  I’m not sure how to tell you without making you thinking I’m totally bonkers.

See, this thing is, this year, when Christopher Robin trots off to Grade One, at our local Catholic Primary, Matilda will be doing Grade Four.

At home.

With me.

A few months ago, I was sitting with Mr Knightley on what we lovingly call our front ‘porch’.  Those of you who have visited me physically (and not just virtually) will know that this description is rather generous, but we love the chairs and table squished up next to our front door very much indeed.  As we sipped our coffee, we watched Matilda playing in our front yard, lost in her own happy world.  I sighed.

“I just don’t want her spirit to get crushed.”  I announced suddenly.

Mr Knightley looked at me and looked across to Matilda.  It’s not unusual for me to burst into a new topic of conversation like this.  I didn’t need to explain.  We both knew what a rough year Matilda had suffered.  The constant undermining and alienation from a group of girls who, while I’m sure are lovely individuals, seem to create a toxic culture when put together.

Tilly isn’t your typical eight-year-old girl.  She is an individual.  While she is articulate and has well-developed social skills, she would probably prefer to attend a political rally than a One Direction concert.  At my birthday party, after getting fed up with all the bonfire smoke blowing in her face, Matilda disappeared inside briefly, only to reappear nonchalantly sporting a pair of swimming goggles.  She was the hero of the party and pretty soon the other kids sent her back inside to fetch goggles for them too.  She wouldn’t have dared to stand out so much with her group at school.

It wasn’t often these days that we saw her relaxed and cheerful like this.  Over the course of the year, Matilda’s confidence had plummeted whilst her anxieties soared.  The school had valiantly tried different strategies, but none had worked for longer than a week.

The lowest point came a few months ago when Matilda confided in me that some of the girls in her group had accessed hard-core fetish pornography on their computers at home and were describing it in graphic detail over lunch time.  When Matilda objected to this topic, she was branded a baby.  Eventually, she made some excuses and nicked off.

I tried to write a post about this when it happened, but it was just too difficult.  Besides, I try hard to keep this blog PG-rated and I don’t think that would have been possible if I’d gone into any more detail than I have here.  It’s not that I’m prudish and think that eight-year-olds shouldn’t be curious about sex, and I’m happy to answer any questions (Matilda thanked me politely but said she didn’t feel she was ready to learn about sex yet.  She promised that when she did she would come to me, and not YouTube…), but I find it deeply disturbing that they have access to such damaging misinformation as porn.  It also struck me that, while I can go nuts with passwords and filters and monitoring screen time, I have no control over the boundaries that Matilda’s peers have with their computers.

Of course, I spoke to the school and the school spoke to parents (and I felt like a rotten snitch) and everybody was very shocked.  But a few months later, the girls were still talking about it, only this time, they banished Matilda from the conversation so that she wouldn’t dob on them again.

Mr Knightley sipped his coffee, “We could always try homeschooling,” he suggested.  I laughed.  Mr Knightley had been extolling the virtues of homeschooling since before Matilda was born.  But this was no off-hand comment.  Mr Knightley went on to put forward some very convincing arguments for giving Matilda a year of homeschooling, to give her a break from the stress, to challenge her gifted brain, to lean in to the relationship, and to give her back her childhood.  But it wasn’t this that convinced me, nor the excitement I felt bubbling up as I thought about curriculum and excursions and the fun we could have together.  A classroom with one student who itched to learn.  There was something else, quiet but persistent.

It was God.  He was poking me.


45 thoughts on “Matilda’s Gap Year

  1. Amanda Martin (writermummy)

    I loved this post. I worry so much about my daughter at school. Already I see how friendships affect her, and she’s only in Reception class. I’m not a confident person and have adcidentally raised her to blend in, follow the crowd (by saying things like “do your friends wear short white socks in winter? Okay then I guess it’s okay.”)

    I was always separate from the crowd at school, never quite fitting in with the geeks or the sporty ones or the popular group, although I was on the fringes of all of them. Even now I only have a couple of close friends. I envied close knit packs and dearly want my daughter to have that inclusion. However I suspect all I’ve done is set her up to be vulnerable to just the kind of situation you’ve described.

    Hubbie and I talk about all different types of schooling, from private (lots of cool activities and sports, lots of confident kids, the risk of being bullied because parents are more working than upper class!) to democratic schools (where kids rule themselves and go to class when they want) and none seem right. The idea of homeschooling terrifies me for a hundred reasons but mostly because my daughetr would rather poke her eye out than learn from me or think I know more than her about anything.

    But, like you, I am attracted by the potential, by learning together and finding a path, with one happy, switched on pupil (although I have zero experience of teaching children!)

    So, I will follow Matilda’s gap year with interest and, possibly, with hope!

    1. katelikestocreate Post author

      Thank you so much for this beautiful comment, Amanda.
      I’m still second-guessing myself of course. I think whatever we do with our kids, we’ll worry that it’s not right. I’m sure whichever decision you make will work out.
      Like you, I never quite fit in at school (and sometimes I’m plagued with guilt that I might have passed on an ‘uncool’ gene somehow!).
      Thank you so much for being so supportive!

  2. Sheila

    You can do it, Kate! We home-schooled our children (who are now 35 & 33 years old). Back then, folks really thought we’d gone off the deep end, as it was so new. I can’t tell you it was always easy. In fact the first 2 years Mario would come home to a sobbing wife, crying kids, and books piled in the middle of the floor, ready for a bonfire!

    But we stuck it out, each year got easier, and looking back, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Our kids are confident, able to think for themselves, not afraid to break society’s rules, and very successful at what they do. And just think–that was with all the mistakes we made!!

    They both now home-school their own children, although our daughter put her 2 oldest in school (upper & lower secondary schools) for a few years to learn Italian (they moved back here a few years ago). It was horrendous. Exclusion, being made fun of, and a lot of the kind of stuff you’ve described, even teen-aged boys pulling their jeans down in front of them. I’m with you–a certain amount of curiosity is normal, but getting ‘flashed’ right on school grounds is out of bounds, if you ask me.

    Homeschooling often frightens parents, because they wonder “Can I do it?” Well, you taught your kids a language & you potty-trained them, didn’t you? Trust me–both of those things are harder than homeschooling! But we tackled them because they’re just part of life. Schooling is much the same. Kids have an innate desire to learn & know.

    But the main thing is that you can raise them to know they are loved, protected, and cherished. Personally, I’d rather have my children be uneducated laborers (no shame there) who are confident, caring & responsible, than a super educated professional person who has none of the above qualities!

    So, to both you and Amanda–you DO have experience teaching children. Every mother has!!

    1. katelikestocreate Post author

      Oh, thank you SO MUCH, Sheila! Your beautiful comment (and Amanda’s, too) outweighs the raised eyebrows and forced smiles I encountered at the supermarket yesterday, when I awkwardly explained my plans to some school mums I ran into. I agree with what you’re saying about confident, caring and responsible children. There is so much focus these days on producing children who are academically successful and have a ‘head start’. We always pray for children who grow to be ‘happy, healthy and holy’, especially holy (good, whole, loving, etc). Any other success is secondary to this.
      Thank you so much, Sheila – I needed the pep talk!

  3. vftmom247

    Girl, you’re doing the right thing for the right reasons. ‘Giving back her childhood’ ..what a beautiful way to put it. The bullying and pack mentality is why we chose to take our daughter out of school in America in 5th grade. We homeschooled for a few months (went fine) , but then she went to a lovely example of one room Catholic schooling at it’s finest. This school sustains her through the days in her German middle school when she gets looked askance at for being an individual – for liking history,for being openly and proudly Catholic, for playing soccer with the guys, for having no time at all for the catty girl games.

    You are doing the right thing, and will have a great time most days doing it. Other times, you will be tearing your hair out trying to figure out why you got into this. But your daughter and you will be richer for the experience. Promise.

    1. katelikestocreate Post author

      Oh, thank you so much! I was feeling so apprehensive about writing about this, but your affirmation is exactly what I needed to hear. I’ve just been writing my next post (“The God Who Pokes”) and reflecting on how God tends to hold back a bit before we take that leap of faith, but afterwards sends us lots of affirmation that we’re doing the right thing.
      In a way, I’m overreacting a bit – this is just homeschool after all – you listened to God’s call and ended up in a whole different country!

  4. Bianca Cooper

    You know I support you no matter what! You’re a wonderful mother and you’re children are beautiful souls. Shiela I love your comment that we have taught a language and potty training (I’m still trying to master that subject with my son) to our kids, Ive never thought of parenting and my teaching career and the parallels that exist! Kate your nerd gene is what made me adore you and love you and i know Matilda will find a friend as awesome as I am one day! I’m always here to help just ask and I know some lovely grade 4s at my school who I’m sure would love a penpal

    1. katelikestocreate Post author

      Aw, Bee – you’re the best! You might have come to love my nerd gene in the end, but I’m sure it was a stumbling block in the early days! Potty training is the worst – I feel for you on that front! I hope against hope that one day Matilda can find a friend like you! xxx

  5. Anna Eastland

    Hi Katie,
    I totally support you trusting your instincts about what is best for your daughter, especially when it goes against the grain. My oldest daughter goes to grade two, but I decided to homeschool my 5 year old, just to try it out, at least for kindergarten. I was afraid to bite off more of a commitment than this, despite my interest in homeschooling. I thought I couldn’t do it; that I wasn’t organized and disciples enough, that I’d mess it up, that her three younger siblings would be too distracting…
    Well, half way through the year now, I have to say I am enjoying the time spent with my daughter so much, and it is a constant joy to see her so excited about learning. We just spend a little time each day, maybe 1-1/2 hours or so, and she is reading really well, can sound out almost anything, loves science and geography, and is fast catching up on her older sister’s math abilities. But most of all, she is very happy.
    When I asked her to tell my friend what she liked best about homeschooling she grinned and said, “Everything!” She tells me things like, “I love learning with you, Mummy.” Instead of things I’ve heard said by my school going daughter like, “Books are boring. I don’t want to do my homework. Math is too hard. I have to work all day at school, now I want a break.” But over the Christmas break my homeschooler kept asking if we could do some homeschool. Take a break from parties and learn already!
    Kids have different personalities and strengths, but for a bright, sweet kid who’s not into the stupid social stuff that comes up at school, homeschooling is a wonderful option. There are soooo many great resources. Maybe I will do a post about my favourites on my blog Just East of Crazy Land: Adventures in Parenting. I’ve been a little shy writing about homeschooling, too, as I also get the looks of, “Are you nuts?!”
    That’s when you need to answer, “You betcha, and life’s a lot more fun this way!” As my homeschooling coach told me, “There’s no one better to teach your child than you.”

    1. katelikestocreate Post author

      Thank you so much, Anna! I would love it if you posted about your homeschool experiences on your blog. I was shy about posting about it too, but I’ve been overwhelmed by how many of my blog friends are homeschoolers or former homeschoolers! It’s been very affirming. Thank you again!

  6. mathairfiona

    Oh my gosh! I have been wondering about you lately. I very rarely check out my reader and I haven’t seen anything in my Newsfeed until today! I am so sorry to hear about what is happening with your little girl. She sounds super resilient though! I have become interested in homeschooling, as well, but for different reasons and I have years before I will actually be doing anything. The Man in Plaid is against it, but I am working on him. I’m learning all about Charlotte Mason because her educational philosophy is rigorous and beautiful. I am a little infatuated right now. I am praying about it and remaining open to the possibility that the path is public schooling, but I LOVE CM. I wish you the best on this new journey and so hope those parents handle the exposure to porn well. That is terrible.

    1. katelikestocreate Post author

      Thank you, Meghan! I think you would make an awesome homeschooler. I haven’t heard of Charlotte Mason, I will have to look into that. At the moment, my approach will be a mix of traditional methods (inquiry-based learning) and a Montessori approach. But I’m keeping it loose until we find our rhythm…
      On another note, I think ‘the Man in Plaid’ is the best alias EVER…

      1. mathairfiona

        Aww shucks 🙂 Thanks for the compliment. I will have to tell the hubs you like his name. He wasn’t sold, at first.

        If you are curious about CM, check out Ambleside Online. You can find everything you ever wanted to know and free curriculum!

  7. Mary Rose

    Kate, you know your child best. You have her best interest at heart. Do what you know is right for her. It’s a brilliant decision. Come visit us while you’re at it (although come during our summer, not our dreadful winter!) for additional enrichment. Gerard’s daughter, Camille, lives near us and she’s 9 yrs old. She is a kindred spirit.

    1. katelikestocreate Post author

      Oh, that is so tempting! I was thinking of you during your awful winter (while we were sweltering away!), though Mum told me you were in Florida for some of it. I’ve always wanted Elizabeth to meet Camille as well. I hadn’t really thought about the flexibility I will have for travelling. Thank you for your beautiful, supportive comment!

  8. kw06

    Dear Kate,
    You are a very loved and loving girl and your children reflect this.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts about this year. You are a strong and wise woman and I value your opinions and any decisions you have made will have come after much studied research and great knowledge of your daughter.
    As Mary so beautifully put it, you are the one who knows her best.
    Your family supports and loves you.
    Enjoy the Journey.

  9. hollykaann

    I am proud of you! You saw your child and her needs and you are meeting them. You will not regret this. I have four, two graduated off and two still at home. We have done school in every form- home, private, and public. When my older two were in private in the early years, the environment was very different. Now, after having home-schooled for so long, I am convinced that the best place for the unique child is a home.

  10. Especially Made

    Very touching story! Homeschooling is not easy. I’ve battled with the decision myself, but it’s really because of my selfishness. In the end, though, when done for the glory of God, He will bless it tremendously!

    1. katelikestocreate Post author

      I’m sure you’re not selfish! There is a difference between being selfish and looking after our own needs by setting boundaries! I know I will have to work extra hard this year to make sure I get some time to myself to blog and get spoiled. When this doesn’t happen, I’m not the best mum – or person to be around for that matter!

  11. kyrstalenon

    Wonderful post! I love that you’re willing to homeschool your child even when it may not be the “easiest” option. Homeschooling is something my hubby and I have been going back and forth on for a while (I was homeschooled for a long time and loved it, hubby was always at public school and loved it. Our son is not yet 2 so we still have time to figure out our starting plan). It’s hard to know sometimes what the best option is. It’s our job as parents to take the role of parenting seriously, and it sounds like you’re doing just that. 🙂 Keep it up!

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  13. Sandy Louden

    I just wanted to add my congratulations to you for your unselfish decision making. I am almost 70 years of age and to read here of mothers who do honestly put their children first is so nice. I raised 6 children…the last to graduate in 1999…I never came across a problem until the tow youngest of my girls were still in school. When the oldest came to me one day when she was in 10th grade and the other was in 9th…she was crying and begged me not to make her go to school again. I knew she was having problems with others in school…more so than any of the others had. I did not realize it was to the extent that it was however. She was later in life diagnosed with dis-associative complex…she had always been shy…but so was I as a child. So without the information widely known of this disorder…as is today…I just did not feel it was a problem. I knew she had great potential for learning…but not at the same pace as others her age. She was faster in most areas and so would be bored for a period of time while the rest were catching up. And given her condition of diss-associative complex..this was a traumatic experience for her. She was in mental torment most days around others but when the other teens around her were cruel to her because she was different, not all but a few…and even one would have sent her over the edge…so this particular day, this is what happened. So there was no way I could make her return to public school. Private was not an option as we lived in a rural area. So home school it was. And I learned a lot in this process. I had never known the depth of my child. She was always one step ahead of me. She thrived in that environment and learned I am sure much more than she ever did within the public school. My other teen within the public school thrived because her personality allowed her too and also her potential for learning and being a part of society. I will always regret that because I was uninformed as to what was going on within my daughter that I had not home schooled her a long time before. But this experience which helped me learn taught me how really different children are and each has different needs. So my hats to all of you who have recognized this in your children and have taken the necessary steps for each in a personalized way!!! My girls grew up to be responsible human beings in a world where this is NOT the norm. The older one still has the problems with not wanting to go into public….but working on the internet as a source of her income…and having a loving and understanding husband has helped her to live her life to the fullest. And my other daughter is a manager within her company and very much in the close contact of the public….both of them happy in their fully producing lives.

  14. katelikestocreate Post author

    Thank you, Sandy! I never realised you had such a large family. It sounds like you did the right thing and the fact that they’re happy now attests to that. Thank you so much for your affirmation and support.

  15. Traci Matt

    You are a courageous mom! Those girls’ interaction is just another example of how “socialization” comes with an adjective. She was learning destructive socialization. During our 25 years of homeschooling we said we were going for controlled socialization with an emphasis on the family unit. And there is sure no ignoring the prodding of God! All the best.

    1. katelikestocreate Post author

      You are so right! In fact, you’ve reminded me of a whole section of this post I forgot to include. A lot of people have argued that Matilda would not be able to learn social skills if I “kept her at home”. This has worried me a little too, but then I thought of all the social skills I did not want her to learn, like changing who she is to fit in with the group, to bully others to avoid being bullied herself, and to hide her brains and stifle her creativity to avoid being labelled a nerd.
      Thank you so much for your beautiful comment, I’ve been really overwhelmed by the support and encouragement I’ve been getting from Blogland. I should have written this post ages ago!

  16. jack

    Wow! You are brave, I would never have the patience to do it. I am sure it will be great for you and Matilda. If there is anyone I know who can pull it off – you can!! I look forward to the progress updates.

    1. katelikestocreate Post author

      Thanks, Jack! I’m dying for a catch-up, by the way. Matilda is planning a small birthday party (half a dozen kids for a video night) and wants to invite Rainbow Dash. I might need to tap your creativity for cake ideas again!
      Thanks for the comment!

  17. kthorpe

    This was a great post. I feel for Matilda! Homeschooling can be wonderful. I was homeschooled for a lot of my childhood, and hope to homeschool my own daughter for a few years before she goes to “real” school, just so she can be little for a little bit longer. 🙂 Plus, they have so many curriculums to choose from now, I don’t feel as daunted as, say, my mother might have. 🙂 I’m sure you and Matilda will do great!

    1. katelikestocreate Post author

      Now that I’ve started, it’s a lot less daunting than it seemed at first. It’s great to have such a supportive online community who are willing to let me pick their brains and steal their ideas as well! Thanks for your lovely comment!

  18. susanssnippets

    Bullying through school was what caused us to pull our daughter out halfway through third grade and start homeschooling. It was the best decision we ever made. Her brother joined her a few years later and has actually never known anything but schooling in our home. Our daughter graduated from high school last year, started and continues to hold down a part-time job while attending college locally full time. You know your child best so you can make the right and best decisions for her. Congratulations on loving your daughter enough to do this for her! You will both be richly blessed on your journey.

  19. emilyofoldmoon

    You are such an amazing mother! I can feel your love emanating from your words- and what words! I’m so happy that I’ve finally had a chance to sit down and catch up on your blog. 😀

    1. katelikestocreate Post author

      YOU are such an amazing sister! I’ve missed you so much! This brief month when I get to spend some time in your company has been so precious! Thank you for your constant support and love in everything I do ❤ ❤ ❤

  20. Alma Mater

    Wow, I am so appalled by what third-grade kids have access too, and what their conversations are like. What a sad society we are becoming. I guess it’s been a good long while since I was in third grade, and times have changed a lot!

    I am sure God will bless your response to Him in this. I am a homeschooling mum, too. I think there is nothing better than having your child learn about academics and life right in the home with you. I am so blessed to have all this time to help my children grow in faith, character, and knowledge.

    God bless you, and all the best to you and your daughter as you journey through school together!

  21. christophersknifeblog

    Just to say, “Keep up the good work.” So glad you made the decision to take responsibility for raising your own child! Thank you for rescuing her from the prison of modern “schooling.”
    The more quiet and simple the life of the child,–the more free from artificial excitement, and the more in harmony with nature,–the more favorable is it to physical and mental vigor and to spiritual strength.

  22. Agnes from Melbourne

    Oh my Lord…I cried when I read this. I am so proud of all of you. I’m sad I haven’t kept up contact, but you are in my prayers almost daily (er…the almost is when my narcolepsy manages to nod me off mid-prayer). I am so moved and awed tha I’ve raced last the other comments to commit to this spur of the moment comment. My love to you all. I’m so glad God blessed your with children and your children with you. *slightly soggy hugs*


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