Wednesday, 19 July 2017

An Academic Year of Home Education

"I have used the words "home schooling" to describe the process by which children grow and learn in the world without going, or going very much, to schools, because those words are familiar and quickly understood. But in one very important sense they are misleading. What is most important and valuable about the home as a base for children's growth in the world is not that it is a better school than the schools but that it isn't a school at all. "
John Holt -  Teach Your Own

Today has been a strange one for me. Full of bittersweet emotions. I watched my nieces, who I've grown up with, graduate from university. Beaming with pride as they move onto the next stage of their lives. Part of me wondering how I will feel when my girls are 21. Will university be their chosen path? Will they be travelling around the world? 

I looked over at Big Bean walking along a wall with her doll in her hand, talking to herself about all sorts of beautiful nonsense, and I realised. Today would have been her last day of year 2. Her last day at infant school. 

Today I have been home educating her for a full academic year. 
Big Beans' name means 'like a bird'. Which is perhaps why she struggled so much with the concept of school. She cannot fly in a cage. If you need a definition of the words free spirit then my beautiful daughter is it. 

She struggled with school from the start, and over the last year has blossomed into herself once more. She has gone from a shy, introverted, nervous little girl, to a brave, adventurous, mischievous one. 

Her days are free to do the things she loves like climbing trees, and painting, and snuggling with hot chocolate and books which she 'reads' to herself by looking at the pictures. 

If I get down to the stuff that other parents seem to fret over, but we're not really bothered about any more, then yes by school standards my girls are "behind". I really hate this term - like all children are exactly the same and all should be equally educated at the same standards by a certain age. They are human beings too, just like us adults, they are all different and all learn at a different pace and in different ways. 

So Big Bean still cannot write more than a sentence. But she can write what she needs to be able to at 7 years old. 

No she cannot write 2 sides of A4 about Florence Nightingale. But she can tell you a ton of facts about her she has memorised by heart from bedtime stories and living books. 

She illustrates blooming amazing picture books about beards, fruit and poo, complete with labels and sentences. She sells these books with her sister in a bookshop they made together. She can write letters, cards, and notes in her diary. She can write about things that mean the world to her. She writes when inspiration strikes, or when she needs to. Not when she is told to. 

My daughter doesn't like to do "maths" and hates any form of worksheets and workbooks (I put this down to school trauma). Little does she realise that she is doing "maths" all the time. When she's adding up her pocket money to see if she can afford the doll she wants, weighing ingredients to bake the cake she loves, measuring animals with a tape measure and comparing the sizes, or using the clock to figure out how long until daddy is home from work.

So yes she would probably have scored very low marks on her year 2 SATS had she been at school to take them. But I know she has the maths skills she needs in her day to day life right now. 

My girls are also keen scientists. Since home educating them, their vocabulary has changed a lot. They ask so many questions about a million and one things. I don't answer their questions for them. I'll say things like "I'm not sure. Where can we find that out?" or "Let's see if we can investigate why that happens".

They regularly set up experiments, or dig for books, or ask me to google something. "We're just investigating mummy." they'll joyfully declare. They look at toenails, teeth, bugs and flowers under a microscope. They raid the kitchen and bathroom for supplies to make potions. They play with ice, they measure rainfall, they grow mould and see how far a heart can squirt blood across the garden. 
They question everything. 

At school children are taught at and aren't this free to explore alone. Their questions are met with direct answers that children just accept as the truth, without being allowed to question the why or how. 

Imagine if we went through adulthood this same way, never questioning, never finding out. Life would be pretty dull. 

They are free to climb trees, roll down hills, splash in mud. They never hear the words "no you can't do that."; because they are free.

This freedom is making my children thrive. They are alive and free. Not stuck in an artificial environment, under artificial lights, being told how to think, how to feel, how to sit.

Big Bean is an artist, never is she happier than when drawing or painting. She will often set herself up with her easel and paint away for hours. 

My husband and I were talking about art the other night. We were saying how at school all of the children's' art looks the same. If no name is on the back the staff literally have no idea who did the picture. Even down to the materials they use, and the colour paints available. 

That isn't art! 

  1. the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.

By it's very definition schools are failing when they 'teach' art. Art isn't something that can be taught.

This photo brings me so much joy. Oh no she's mixed all the colours! Well some kids like brown, I like the colour brown it reminds me of autumn, it's the colour of my hair! Oh no she's getting paint everywhere! Well after I took this she proceeded to paint her whole body, face, hair, everywhere! 

When Tracy Emin does it it's prize winning art. When a 7 year old does it shes making a mess and being disruptive.

I also remember the times in year 1 when she would sob in my arms about how other girls would leave her out of games, or say things like 'you don't know the password you can't play with us'. 'we already have too many in this game'. 

This kind, gentle, sensitive soul didn't understand. She just wanted to play.

Home edding has allowed her to repair her confidence. She has made strong meaningful friendships with children of mixed ages. They socialise on their terms, without the pressures of competing within the pecking order on a playground with hundreds of other kids. 

We don't socialise with friends every day. Children don't need to. Just like adults, sometimes they aren't in the mood to. They meet friends at least twice a week, and spend whole days playing and exploring.

I don't believe the common misconception that home educated children  aren't socialising enough. If anything they are better at it. They are capable of socialising with multi ages from newborn babies, to the elderly. And when they do socialise they are doing so meaningfully, through play, tea parties and trips to exciting locations; not running around a concrete square screaming and making each other cry. 

She also has the best friend in the world at home; her little sister. No way would they be this close if they had been seperated at school. Yes they fight like all siblings. But the majority of the day they are immersed in imaginary play together. I feel so privileged that I get to participate in their world. 

If you ask Big Bean, one of her favourite things about homeschooling it is being able to wear whatever she feels like. Some days that's PJ's, some days its a Harry Potter outfit or a princess dress. She does not miss her school uniform at all. I hate that children get sent home from school for a "radical" haircut or the wrong colour socks. Like this affects their ability to learn. Surely in 2017 we should be more tolerant and encouraging children to express themselves through their appearance. Telling an adult to look a certain way is discrimination/bullying. Telling a child at school is ok. And before the old argument about uniform preventing bullying, if that was the case surely bullying wouldn't be at it's highest level it ever has been. 

Another argument is that children need to know what is acceptable to wear for when they start work (because lets be honest that is all school is for). My daughter quite happily bikes around in her swimming costume, but she knows that isn't appropriate to wear for church. Equally she knows she cannot wear a dress to go rock climbing. She has learnt this without wearing a uniform. Maybe if children were allowed the freedom to express themselves from a young age there wouldn't be such high levels of depression amongst teenagers.

My once shy, introverted little girl, who gave things up so easily, now pushes herself to the limit.

She rock climbs, overcoming her fear of heights to reach the top. She has taught herself to swim. She has participated in obstacle courses and charity runs. She will now introduce herself and talk to other children. Home Education has given her the confidence to try new things. A safety net that has brought her well and truly out of her shell.

At school when she tried her hardest, it was always criticised, marked, tested and told to "do that writing again". "Please try harder next time". How damaging and disheartening are these words to a young child?

So today I celebrate an academic year of home schooling. She doesn't get a graduation or end of term report. I don't receive a thank you card or present. 

But what we all get is something worth a million good reports. 

The gift of freedom. 

Free from testing, free from uniform, free from coerced learning and shoddy rewards systems. 

We eat whatever we want, whenever we want, because we can. We play whatever we want, whenever we want, because we can. We learn whatever we want, whenever we want, because we can. 

So no my daughter didn't get a year 2 graduation photo today, and no I don't feel sad about that.

You never graduate from the school of life.


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