Friday, 19 September 2014

Not Back To School!

My son's never been to school so this is his 9th year of not going back to school in September (supposing he would have started when he was 4).

I can't believe how quickly those years have gone by, and I still feel I'm transitioning from home educating a little kid to home educating a teen, with all the losses and gains which that encompasses.

I've been thinking about the whole non-school life we've led and yesterday, I came across some notes I scribbled down 9 yrs ago, when he would have been starting his first day of school in 2005. On that day, I'd organised a 'Not the first day of school' event at my house for all the other little kids we knew who were also not beginning school. We made a big brick wall in card in our living room and all the kids could graffiti on it and express how they were not just another brick...and it was generally a big day of play. I have very fond memories of that day and others like it which we've had over the years.


Here are the notes I wrote down on that day:
J laid in till 9am, I had a cup of tea, sat on his bed while he told me about his dream - playing with a load of kids at The Mother camp. We took lots of time - unhurried - precious space to talk about dreams and wake up gently...
Made juice. Made a flying fish for our 'school'. Made a brick wall poster. People arrived at 11am. Kids breastfed, played with toys, drew on wall, ate beans on toast, ran in the park, ate muffins and vanilla soya dessert, talked and laughed... 
Free play, free time celebrated, no timetable, no prescribed learning, no uniform... 
Remembering that day makes me smile and feel grateful for the choice we made to home educate and that we live in a country where we have a legal right to home educate (even though there are sporadic attempts to undermine or attack that right, which we need to be ever-vigilant about).

But remembering that day also makes me a little sad. Remembering how it was all ahead of us - a childhood, the ways we would be parents - all the idealism, possibilities, intentions...

It's quite easy to look back and see how we compromised sometimes, or let some unhelpful parental patterns slip in, or let outside pressures and judgements influence us so that we sometimes lost touch with those deep ideals. Or just let days slip past too fast without our full awareness within them.

Meaning sometimes we've shouted or criticised or not taken seriously or imposed.

Meaning sometimes we've had days of autonomy, sometimes we've had days which featured having to do maths...

Meaning our son has learnt that we're just another human variety of imperfect and that he'll undoubtedly be able to agree with the rest of the population that 'parents screw you up' but hopefully in his case, not too badly.

Sometimes I want to go back and start again and be better. Other times I'm more compassionate to ourselves and think actually we've cobbled through alright, under sometimes very difficult personal circumstances. It's easy to forget all the stuff you've done right, especially as having a hugely different attitude towards the education and treatment of children in this society than most of the population can quite often feel like swimming against the tide. Less so now, since so many more people are choosing to home educate and respond more assertively to their children's unhappiness in school (if it arises).

We've never had timetables (though we've made plans). Interestingly this September, I actually felt like I needed to make a weekly timetable! Purely for my benefit really, and one that is open to being changed as the day or the week progresses. And parts of it will be wildly different each week due to different events popping up and monthly groups etc. But I felt like I needed that skeleton of a structure to hang the passing of time on to, and make me feel more organised. And almost at the end of week one it's working! I do actually feel like I know a bit more where our time goes and what it's made of.

Here's a peek at our timetable this week (click to enlarge):

It's not really accurate for what we actually did because most of the 'animation' and 'comic' gave way to more game-making this week, with bits of guitar thrown in. And it fails to mention Minecraft and Skype and me going upstairs to make him stretch occasionally, or persuade him to come out on his skateboard round the park with me and the dog. Talking of the dog, it also makes it look like she had only one walk in the whole week! The 'Kitchen Chemistry' is an online course we signed on to months ago and have only just got around to doing. There wasn't much enthusiasm until the lesson turned out to be apparently learning different ways to set fire to your house using familiar household objects like toasters and tea-bags. Fortunately such a crisis was averted but we've definitely been reminded that hot air rises!

A timetable, though fulfilling some strange structural need I have at the moment, reminds me how much 'education' falls outside of any such timetable. It doesn't include the sudden phone interview for a local newspaper. Or unexpected late-night book reading. Or the maths involved in working out how much money you still need before you can buy the Occulus Rift. Or the impromptu local history lesson while eating our picnic in the harbour. Or the conversation about substance abuse and alcoholism because it's affecting our experience of walking through the park. Or...

No timetable can contain even a fraction of our learning, but sometimes it can just help provide a bit of focus if we need it sometimes.

So it's exciting! We move onwards into another autumn, another year completely outside the system of school rules and uniforms, delving deeper into what interests and motivates and inspires his passion, however far those things are from my own interests, passions and expectations. A year of further loosening my hold on such expectations, deepening my acceptance that everything changes, and of celebrating and supporting the educational paths of our son, wherever he leads us.

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