Let's talk about home ed...
The older three, at Lyddie's age, attended a village school of 70ish children. It had only three classes and at the age of four they'd have been in the nursery class, which was like being at home but with about 15 other children. Even we mothers were encouraged to stay with them, and I usually did.
So, lots of things to do and play with, absolutely loads of socialisation, a great environment, an excellent teacher with lots of experience. I did know about home education but I still thought I was doing the very best thing for my children by taking them to this school. I even still thought so until quite recently, when Lyddie became the same age they'd have been when they started attending. (The school we later deregistered from was much bigger, with a completely different ethos.)
BUT I've been amazed, this year, at the differences between my (then) four year-old schooled children and my (now) four year-old unschooled one.
The schooled ones were up and down throughout the day, energy and mood-wise. They'd be very sleepy in the mornings and for the first hour at school. Then, for the most part quiet at school. There were noisy children in the class, but these were the four or five who were exhibiting challenging behaviour. My three tended to just get on with their day. They picked at lunch and, if old enough to stay for the afternoon this went much as the morning had.
All the children in the nursery class were one-to-one attention starved. How do I know this? Because I would sit and read stories with them all day and they all constantly asked me to do this. They were hungry and thirsty for it. In those days you were allowed to sit a schoolchild on your knee for a story and I could tell that for some children, this was the only time in their lives that they got this kind of attention. I really wanted to just read with my own children, if I'm honest, but some of the others needed it so much more. And this was by no means a down-at-heel residential area.
My own three accepted that they had to share their mother (and their teacher, the NTA and whichever other mothers happened to be there) with the other children in the class. They were just glad to have me there, I think. But we'd get home and they'd slump like zombies in front of the TV, more or less until suppertime, bath time and bedtime. I thought I was doing well for them, I really did. I thought their passivity was just normal for children of that age: I'd never known any other kind of children.
Fast forward over a decade. I now have a four year-old whose natural sleep patterns are not disturbed, and whose autonomy is rarely infringed upon. She is still peaceful - sometimes! But she's so much more engaged with everything she does. I read a story to her and she's free to go and bounce on a mattress or a trampoline while she listens. Then come back and she asks about the pictures and the words. We exchange looks of trepidation when we get to certain bits and sometimes stop for a conversation halfway through. She makes stories with her drawings and conveys messages and information to us by them too. She can go outside whenever she wants to: paint, construct things, set up fantasy doll/castle/car worlds, make music, sing. She sings! And skips everywhere a lot. I didn't know it was possible to have such a happy child.
Didn't the older children do those things? They did a pale imitation of those things. The shadow of them. There were books, toys, craft and music facilities of course, at home and at school. But I'd say my older children made about 10% the use of them that Lyddie does. We read some books together, but there just wasn't the time to read as many as they, or I, would have liked. And they were too tired and inhibited to be really creative or to use their initiative in exciting ways, even though they enjoyed as much autonomy as the schedule and system allowed, both at home and at school.
I'm not beating myself up with guilt over this, because although I did know about home education being legal and I was in a position to provide it, I honestly didn't know what a phenomenal amount of difference it would have made to them to not go to school. OK, a very deep instinctive part of me did know, but I ignored it because I believed the thing about socialisation and conforming. I weighed it all up and I made the best decision I could at the time, given all considerations, which is all any of us can ever do.