School is drawing to a close and I am reflecting upon how I feel about this term. It is a measure of how far we have come as a family that I feel more inclined to consider M’s progress at school than our learning at home. I am by no means immune to the occasional anxieties surrounding our choice to home educate, or the fear that I can not be enough to help my child grow. Sometimes I am I blinded by the glare of mainstream education; everyone else goes to school, what’s the problem? But now I am confident enough to know that schools do not offer the same experience to children that a freer way of learning can. That is not to say schools cannot offer that experience, we are simply living through a depressing era of testing and measuring, which breeds stress and inflexibility.
I want desperately to see the joy in M’s time at school, and here are the good bits: I have a positive dialogue with both the class teacher and the head. They have worked hard to respond to M’s needs when it became clear that she was working well outside her year 2 curriculum. M is now extended through her spellings, reading and numeracy, and after Christmas will be working on some research projects (similar to those she does with us at home). I really appreciate the extra work the teachers are putting in – the only thing that delayed the extension work being put into practice was the rigid assessment requirements. I am providing some work for M to do at school and am following their numeracy strategy to ensure continuity. I think all of this shows a healthy, rounded education for M, and demonstrates that learning takes place all the time, not just in the classroom. M has enjoyed the collaborative opportunities – the drama, the choir, the playtimes. Even I, with my tribe of many daughters, can’t put together a football team. M bounces in and out of school, happy and busy. There is much to be grateful for.
The downers: there’s a lot of sitting about and lining up: this does not appeal to the rebel in me. On days when the sun is shining, or the sky is wintery and pink I want to creep into M’s classroom and smuggle her to the beach, where I race across the sand with my home-educated daughters. I miss my girl at times like this, and those are the days I struggle most to agree that school is the best option for her. I want her to twirl seaweed around her head and collect shells in her blue bucket. There seem few opportunities for children at school to work on their own initiative. Literacy has become a blur of phonics, spellings and hideous grammar. designed to confuse the most imaginative writer. Modal verbs and relative clauses at primary school – really? Life gets hard enough as we grow up, why ruin the innocence of youth?! I want M to have time to breathe, to write poems or stories or read about pirates, not know what a subordinate clause is. The timetable is too filled with academic requirements so there is very little music, art or PE. This is a real shame, especially for those kids who express themselves best outside of an exercise book.
M is very tired now. The rehearsals for the school play and jam-packed days take their toll on our children. Every parent, without exception, tells me their child is ready for a holiday and a rest. Am I alone in wondering whether we should wait until our kids are so knackered they have to be woken at the last minute to get into their uniform to have a holiday? When we first started home educating, I used to feel guilty when we had downtime at home. I had this frenetic urge to ensure the girls were always occupied. How little I knew. Over the years I have learned that learning takes place not in the form of a rigid timetable, but in peaks and troughs. Many days are hugely productive, but sometimes B will just need to lie on her bed and read quietly, or tinker on the piano, or run on the beach. Rest is valuable, and in the age of always being ON, it is a valuable to teach our children that doing nothing or being quiet is ok. We are not robots.
B is still adjusting to learning more on her own now that M is at school. Her relationship with the two little ones is lovely to watch, and she enjoys playing with them. Over the last few weeks, B has been immersed in a local youth theatre production. Watching her confidently run about the stage, A and I were bursting with pride. The little girl who sobbed behind her xylophone during school plays a few years ago has grown into an enthusiastic performer. Next week she takes another singing exam and performs in a dance show. Her watercolour paintings are many and varied, and she has done an in-depth history project with her dad. A has the kids every Tuesday, and it has been positive for everyone; I escape to work, he steps away from his business and the girls hang out with their dad. Walks with Grandad feature heavily, as does sewing with Grannie. B’s maths is well up to speed, and any spare moments are spent with her head in a book. The other day a friend phoned her, and she squirrelled herself away for a a giggly chat in the bedroom. Confident, friendly, sociable and interested. The words could be applied to both of the older girls, so different but both making their own ways in the world.
Little M, currently not attending reception year at school, continues to embrace her little forest nursery. She has done a project on cats and is starting to read cvc words and write her own sentences. We don’t know what will happen next year, but I am happy to keep my little 4-year old away from school for now. Time to play and time to just be is working for now. She and baby F spell trouble and they can’t wait for the day when they share bunk beds. I’m not keen to release baby F from the cot yet, but that day is not very far away.
So a bit of an update on where we all are. In my heart I am happy that M enjoys school, but I wish mainstream education was different. As B grows older and her educational needs become harder to meet, will school work for her or will we find a way on our own? I love this journey, it challenges and engages me and forces me to ask questions. Just what education should do…