I read somewhere recently that lots of home educators ‘de-school’ their children for one week per year they have attended school. I have always thought this was a great idea; after all the environment of school just isn’t right for so many children and it’s no surprise that they leave at best feeling ambivalent about learning and at worse, completely switched-off to it. Then there are the routines and habits to get rid of – thinking that learning takes place only at set times, in a set way. And the rest!
So many teachers have said to me in surprise (and I’m paraphrasing here), “Isn’t it funny that children learn best when they don’t realise they’re learning?” Why this hasn’t led to more exploration and a chance to develop interests of the children in school I don’t know, but that’s by the by. For this post at least.
Anyway, Jasper has never been to school so we haven’t done any de-schooling. We have just carried on playing and exploring in exactly the same way as we always have done. As I have said in earlier posts, Jasper is very keen to start some formal learning of letters and numbers so we have been doing that. But there have been no routines to get out of, no habits to break, no confidence to build back up after it having been destroyed by teachers or simply the institution of school itself.
Or so I thought.
Jasper may never been to school, but I have. And not just as a child either. I have taught in schools for the last 6 years (sometimes full time, sometimes part time) and school-type learning seems to be much more ingrained in me than I’d realised.
When we decided to home ed, I was so excited about the opportunity to avoid recording for the sake of recording, sitting down at a table with books in front of us just to prove we were “learning”. Now, I haven’t quite fallen into that trap exactly, but I definitely am still stuck in my old school ways.
Although I’m determined to make sure all Jasper’s experiences are meaningful and relevant and that he gets a chance to explore the outdoors – for example by our weekly sessions at The Wood School in Didsbury, Manchester, I still have this almost uncontrollable urge to sit at the table and learn.
I’m not making Jasper record everything we do because let’s face it, all he’s doing there is providing proof for someone else that he has learnt or experienced something. He isn’t learning anything new. But I’m recording it. Everyday, I type up records of our visits; what we have learnt in terms of reading and letters; things Jasper said or expressed an interest in. I have files on my desktop, paper folders with neatly organised sections; photographs and videos; if we have played a game, what educational experiences I thought Jasper had got out of it; I make plans of what I think we’ll have learnt by this month, by that day; topics we might want to focus on. I even write down how many times we go to the park, do a jigsaw or see friends to convince myself he’s getting enough of everything. It’s getting ridiculous.
About an hour ago I had a revelation. I have a lot of these. They hit me like a brick on the skull and I am known to utter a loud sigh and shake my head at my own stupidity. I was sitting down at the table, waiting for the mackerel to be cooked (a nice change from toast to cheer us up in this wet weather!) when Jasper came and sat next to me.
“Mummy?” he asked. “Can I do some adding with my letters?”
“Well of course,” I replied, ready to jump into maths teacher mode bombarding him with ‘mathematical language’, “Shall I help you?”
“No thanks.” he said
I had a quick scurry around for my pen and camera in case he did something “of note.” (There’s the EYFS vocabulary again.) I passed him the tub of letters and he spent about 20 minutes sorting and adding different numbers of letters together. He arranged them like a rocket on his whiteboard and looked for the letters he thought might be in the word rocket. He then decided to make them into a circle and wondered why circle started with the letter c when it sounds like an s.
Then it really hit me. Me sitting planning about which letters we are going to introduce on which day, which word blends we could find and where we would be up to with phonics compared to children Jasper’s age who attend school nursery is completely pointless. Yes, he probably needed that initial input from me to spark an interest in letters but that was so much more likely to have come from all the sharing of stories and poems, both from books and made up, than from me sitting at the table saying “Let’s learn these letters!” So what that I hadn’t written on a piece of paper what I’d introduce and what I’d suggest, what I thought his learning outcomes would be. And guess what? He was still learning, arguably more so!
So I have made a vow. I’m going to de-school myself. Yes, we are going to still have some structure. It works for us. But when we sit down together to look at letters, numbers or whatever it is, I am going to make sure I give Jasper the time to explore by himself with my help only if he wants it. I am going to ban the words “compared to children in school” and I am going to follow the same rules as I follow for Jasper. Recording only when valuable. Yes, I’ll write down things of note and take pictures but I am only going to use them to constantly adapt what we are doing to make sure it is the best for Jasper. In 20 minutes he has shown me what I knew all along really. Children are always learning and more than that, they learn what they want, when they want. And I need to relax and allow that to happen!