We are drawing to a close, our official first year of home education. Had (A) been in school, he would be finishing up Primary 1 at the end of this month. I have to say it has been a remarkably quick year, and I’m not sure who has learnt more, him or me!
Looking back over this school/academic year to see where we started (See Blog post here from previous blog life) to where we are now, it is clear that we have changed our style quite dramatically and are now on what could be called an “unschooling” path.
Pre-officially HE-ing, I had read up and agreed with the view that formal structured education ought to be delayed until 6/7 years of age, as is the case in most other European countries (who incidentally have better quality education and exam pass rates in later years), instead focusing on play and a relaxed pace. However, come August 2015, I had bought workbooks (!), was planning our week with some structure built in every day (planned to do 1 page per day from a different book), I had a diary to record everything he did, stapled the receipts of every educational place we visited (including swimming) into the diary, printed off lists of words from a site that had a list of 200 words kid should be able to read according to age, had a folder all split into subjects to record what he had learned/completed, listed every single book borrowed from the library, started on projects (first one being about sharks because he expressed an interest in sharks) and so it went. Why did I do all of this when it went against everything I had envisioned our initial years of our HE experience to be? Because I had to prove he was learning. To whom? No-one official actually, (some friends have to do some/all of the above as they do have show evidence of learning to their local authority, but I don’t) but to myself and my mother. I think, if I am honest, that despite knowing that (A) will pick stuff up when he is ready (as he has proven repeatedly), and knowing that play is what children ought to spend their time doing, I was, I admit, worried that he would fall behind his school peers. It was crazy and more importantly, not working! (A) was actively resisting and we spent more time arguing and stressing. I have lost count of the number of times I thought about registering him for school, thinking, I can’t do this or I don’t have the patience or I’m failing him (also known in HE circles as The Wobbles). What I needed to do was actually back the hell off, go back to trusting what I know and trusting him and his learning style (which is in development, constantly evolving).
Having realised that what we were doing wasn’t proving to being conducive to anything other than increasing
my wine consumption stress levels for all concerned, I turned our path around and instead focused on what was working : following his lead. (A) was already a competent reader before August, he couldn’t write very well, but could read and spell well beyond his years. So I dropped the work books and we haven’t touched them since. I don’t believe that I’ve picked up that diary since before Christmas, and he gets as many books out of the library as he wants, on any topics that he wants (turns out they are all encyclopedias but hey, he is reading and learning about stuff that interests him and is choosing the books to read himself) and I am no longer compiling a list. The Shark project remains incomplete; he may go back to it, he may not, it’s not important. What is important is that he is choosing to learn more about certain topics and is fully engaged in researching more and more about his interests, be it via the library, or google or BBC iplayer or Netflix. He uses an online site for maths which he will take notions for, now and again, sometimes with 2 months in between each notion, BUT THAT’S OK – as he remembers what he did the last time. He will sit quite happily for an hour doing various different maths problems as there is no pressure and it’s fun. The academic stuff is not important right now. I am in no way concerned about what he doesn’t know or what he cannot do, like write on the lines, because he is 6!
What is important and has shown to be absolutely crucial in our journey so far, has been navigating the tricky waters of friendship and the most hated word in home ed circles, “socialisation” dun dun duuuuun. We go to a club every week, now twice a week where he has made pals, best pals, and has really grown that side of his personality, which took a little longer than some, being as he has no siblings to figure this stuff out with. As he has grown and his friendships have blossomed, I have been able to relax too. Now I find that I am no longer channelling my Mother Meerkat instinct, on perpetual high alert for situations to help resolve and only half listening to the conversation I’m engaged in. Instead I’m more relaxed, level headed and able to finish a sentence or conversation without bolting off mid story. I have made wonderful friends myself and we can actually get a blether too while the kids are busy doing whatever they are doing : crafting/playing/arguing/exploring/re-enacting dinosaur battles. Mama pals are equally as important and vital (as are the mama meets, sans kids and with wine / gin).
Upon asking (A) what his best bits were of the past year, he instantly replied “playing with my friends of course!”. Like, Duh! Handy that since, we just spent 5 hours yesterday at the beach with his and my friends; our wee home ed family.
Obviously this photo ^^^ was not at the beach….
Home education, in our home anyway, is not broken down into terms and holidays, so while most of the children in the country will be excited for the imminent stretch of free time that is the Summer Holidays, we will be carrying on as we are, living our lives, going to weekly groups and meet ups, chill out days, chores and food shopping and of course playing, as usual. His life is pretty free most of the time anyway; there is nothing to escape from. Life continues and come August, (A) will not be commencing Primary 2; I will not have forked out for a new uniform, school shoes and new school bag. I most definitely will have, however, bought more stationery though, because, well, stationery!!
With our first year now under our belts, challenges, changes and all, we are ready for our second. We have no set plans in terms of what (A)’s going to learn, preferring the freedom and flexibility of following his interested subjects. Each family has a different setup / routine and it is fascinating and inspiring to learn how other people “do it”, trying new ideas and sharing successes and mistakes. I love learning from other people’s experiences. So how do you do it round yours?
Thanks for reading