THEN :: Years and years ago, when my babes were babes – small and easily entertained.
I know I have forgotten the sleep deprivation, the endless bitching these two undertook, the amount of patience it took to get them dressed and out of the house, the endless toilet training, bathing, feeding and changing. I have forgotten their fussy eating, and the fact that most days were spent entirely in PJs. Goodness, I know for a fact I have forgotten the amount of NOISE that can leave the faces of two littlies – talking every thought they had, making crazed dinosaur/train/lion noises, jumping and running and bouncing and breaking…. I have forgotten it all. All I remember is their littleness, their ability to sit on my lap and be read to, their utter contentment at having me sat on the floor playing with them. It was intense, yes, but I miss it so much.
I knew before I had kids that I would homeschool. It was one of those things that was never up for negotiation, and even though I sometimes have meltdowns and think school is the ‘answer’, something deep inside of me utterly revolts at the thought. Homeschool is not something I have ever regretted.
Socialised, as we are, into thinking ‘school’ is the way to educate, I began our homeschool life thinking of curriculum and subject matter. Phonics. Maths. Literacy hours. Posters on walls. Snap cubes and all manner of things NEEDED to TEACH … Then somewhere along the way, other mamas who were on the homeschool path alongside me started offering me alternatives – Montessori, Waldorf, Steiner… and after a little research I found a path that made sense to me – but that journey had to begin by de-schooling myself and trusting in the innate wisdom of ‘windows of opportunity’ and the rhythms of growth. There is Islamic hadith that clearly states that you ‘play with a child till he is seven, educate or instruct till fourteen, thereafter become their friend and advise until 21, then let them go’. Landing on the gentle approach of Waldorf we stopped any attempt to ‘teach’ the children and we implemented a natural play-lead path, full of nature walks, reading books together, garden play with mud, water, sand, and a huge junk box full of things to make, as well as an ever increasing library full of books on every subject under the sun (thank goodness for thrift stores!), as well as all the usual craft and art supplies you can think of.
It turns out children are sponges and blot everything you provide them up. They no more needed me to ‘teach’ them to ‘learn’ than they needed me to learn to walk and talk. Provide the resources and the learning just happens.
In the blink of an eye things change; they grow; their needs are different. As they get older thoughts turn to exam years, which are looming, and fledging for life outside the family. Those thoughts saw us take a different path in the last couple years – we dropped the endless learning through play and got ‘serious’ about school. For a couple years we were lucky enough to find them a Montessori maths tutor, and after that a science tutor too. Last year we took the plunge and enrolled the Eldest in an internet school – thus relieving me of the burden of having to plan All The Things and teach my children Everything There Is To Know. I felt a rock being lifted from my shoulders and the Eldest loved it. Finally I felt like I wasn’t failing him constantly. Because even though I wasn’t, the mama guilt will say otherwise, no matter what we do.
But we lost something. I put it down to my kids growing up and thought no more about it, but something was definitely lacking.
At the end of the academic year it was clear that there were issues that would need addressing before exam years could be tackled. These weren’t new to us, but we thought a formal approach in a schooling environment with ‘experts’ would have helped iron them out and give him a better chance of over-coming them. Their opinion was that he needed one-on-one and this couldn’t be provided by the school. So, we faced a choice: put him in mainstream schooling and hope for the best, or do it ourselves and tackle things head on. We chose the latter.
And I felt the familiar stress of having to teach All The Things resurface, and the inadequacy I felt, and the guilt of failing them re-emerged, and I found myself floundering at the prospect of Doing It All once again.
But somewhere a quiet, calm voice said, ‘return to centre – cut out the outside noise and listen to what your family needs and do that’. What DID my family need? Well, as mamas that is a constant juggling act, isn’t it? Families are forever in flux, being that they are alive and not dead pieces of wood you can shape into convenient round pegs. I am always readjusting things here, tweaking things there, realising when some things have to go and other things need to be found. It seems my eldest needs new skills and help with old issues. We need to work again as a family around one table. But mostly? Mostly, for me, we need to ditch the curriculum, stop learning by worksheets and get back to the gentle approach of learning hands on, full of creative, imaginative play and story telling – model making – art – real life, and genuine interest-led learning opportunities. It is true there will be some serious and consistent maths and grammar going on and no amount of interest-led issues will circumvent the fact that that will include so. many. worksheets, but hopefully there will be more than just that. Education, as the saying goes, is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire. And as much as we need to prepare them for wage slavery outside the home, I am not content to reduce their prospects to simply eating, sleeping and earning money. There are subtler things that need to be nourished too.
And, yes, the boys are older, things have changed. We will revisit old things and will bring to them a new angle. They have outgrown some things, and grown into others. There will be old tools used new ways, and a lot of room for more new things too. I’m mixing it up and doing what works for US. I’m not stressing about grades and levels and years and tick sheets. I am not getting uptight about getting my children to fit a curriculum-shaped hole – and I’m not going to care what others think – if they think I’m wrong, then fine; if they think my kids should be doing astrophysics, then fine; if they think everything I do and everything we accomplish doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, I’m OK with that. Because my focus is my children and doing what is right by THEM. And if your way of National Curriculum and worksheets and grades and testing works for you, then congratulations, I’m happy for you. It just doesn’t work for us.
And it occurred to me, as I have been busy relocating resources around the house, finding homes for new and old things, working up a new scheme of work and finding just the right things for it, tweaking our living arrangement for this new/old work ahead, that I think I have found what we lost last year: it was us.