Its a Start

I actually started blogging on this site about three months ago, but have been very busy making preparations for setting up how to go about home schooling my 3 year old and getting ready to move into an Edwardian era house that we’re completing refurbishment on. So, I have old saved drafts of topics I can always address later, such as why we came to the decision to home school– the journey towards that decision; posts about what I intend to tell Wigan Local Authority, should they come knocking; various socio-politics surrounding home education in England; and just my thoughts and observations on these. None have been so pressing that I’ve felt the need to publish them more than I’ve felt the need to remain quietly observing, learning, and mastering this new lifestyle choice. But I know I’ve a few friends who are curious about how its all coming along, so I thought I’d post something to that effect.

Perhaps once rhythms and routines establish themselves, I can carve myself time regularly and then perhaps not. It may seem strange to friends and parents in the US to start home schooling at age 3. The reason I’ve done this is because in England, while compulsory age for education doesn’t start until the first term after a child turns 5, local authorities (think: city councils that are an extension of the national government) start sorting out registration for reception year (think: state funded pre-school) and reception begins usually in the September after a child turns 4. So that means, about three months ago, we started getting letters from the local authority to enrol my son into reception.

At that time, I already knew I had growing discontent for the circumstance around public education in England. Perhaps I had higher expectations going in what with growing up in the US with the notion that schools in England were world class, indeed their private schools and universities are first rate. The summer before last, I actually looked into becoming a teacher. I researched it extensively, was in very serious talks with some very good people at Edge Hill University and that path was barred because I hadn’t had enough consecutive years residency in England to qualify for resident pricing– and the pricing for international students is very cost prohibitive in comparison to just waiting a year until I had enough consecutive years banked. But in that year, I connected myself to industry news and information and social networking from the inside out and I wasn’t satisfied at all with what I saw.

Truth be told, the situation with state funded education in England has gone beyond desperation. Get to the heart of what Sir Kenneth Robinson and Sugata Mitra have to say on their TED Talks and then spend an afternoon trolling The Guardian Education section and anyone will be able to get a sense for what I’m talking about without me having to go into a long elaboration on how its all fallen apart. I decided I didn’t want to teach in that. And I certainly can’t send my kids into that. So we were getting these letters from the local authority to enrol A into reception.

We did have the thought of trying to see if A would get into one of the local ‘good’ schools, but unfortunately all of the ‘good’ schools have faith-based criteria that where I come from would be called religious discrimination. Chances were, A would be selected against, funnelled into one of the poor performing schools, and then we’d have to go through the pain of de-registering him and telling the local authority to leave us in peace (they’re usually pretty desperate about keeping kids since students = funding with a touch of nanny-state thrown in to the point where it can become very invasive to family life), uprooting A multiple times to come to the practically inevitable result. So my husband and I made the decision to not enrol and set up a date for when we’d remove A from nursery and I’d stay at home with him and begin his education. I still have V in nursery. At this time, she’s still flourishing there. A wasn’t doing as well for reasons I might find time to blog about later. But it is my intention, to keep things ‘fair’ if nothing else, to take V out of nursery the summer before her 4th birthday and begin her home education then.

A and I have completed his first week of home education. For the most part, we’re doing what’s known as de-schooling… finding our feet without the structure of an institution telling us where we need to be or what we need to be doing. I’ve been focusing on A’s and my relationship and reinforcing it. I’ve been observing him closely and I’ve created a hand written journal of his daily activities and moods. My goals are to deepen and maintain our bonds of trust and observing when in his daily cycle I’ll be able to make the most of his attention and energy. However, its not gone without learning. He continues to play with learning apps on his tablet, I’ve introduced him to some online learning games, and I’ve been assessing his life skills, identifying gaps, and helping him make improvements there.

I believe building trust between A and I is the most important thing on our home education journey. This is because I want him to lead the way for his learning and I want to be the facilitator for making that happen. Its a huge divergence away from traditional education and parenting that I’m certain just about all of my friends have at least heard about. I believe all children are, by nature, explorers. I intend to leverage that natural curiosity. And with having the ability to create our own educational experience, we’re not tied to what someone else thinks is best, in the order that someone else thinks is best, with the limits of… essentially having to consider crowd control. Amazing trans formative life affirming things happen when children are empowered to take the lead in determining their future.

It requires a great deal of time, consideration, and trust to make that happen. Our first week has met my expectations. Many parents who start home educating report how quickly their child’s attitude changes and I’ve witnessed these changes in A as well. He’s more relaxed. He’s not over-worried (with exception to losing Woody’s Hat… Woody toy from Toy Story, with a silver dollar sized cowboy hat that is lost and found daily… I hate that toy!). He’s less stressed out. He’s not over-stimulated. He’s smiling so much more and I’m hearing a lot more deep belly laughs from him. He’s been more polite. He’s not objecting to things I need for him to do quite as much. When we do encounter conflict, he’s not escalating things as much as he used to. Even when he’s unhappy about something, he’s minding me more often. He’s sleeping later in the mornings and having longer afternoon naps (where before while he was going to nursery he was up at 4am without a nap during the day).

Overall, our days are so easy to manage by comparison to when I used to dread weekends. Sometimes I still dread evenings when V comes home and is over-stimulated from nursery and out of sync with the rest of the household, but my husband and I have a plan for that and hopefully we’ll get some better results. I don’t know when I’ll start ‘formal’ learning for A. I have access to his EYFS notes from nursery and a number of other published standards from various schools that I compare him to and will continue to make monthly assessments against, but at the same time I’m at a crossroads to simply reject those for now. I have to wonder what with starting education so early, if there’s been some sort of ‘creep’ over the years with goal posts for milestones being moved too early. For example, while I can’t remember what I was doing at 3 years old, I can remember what I was doing at 5 years old. I certainly wasn’t counting to 100; I think I had just started recognizing that there were words and that they meant something– In fact, I didn’t learn to read until 2nd grade… that I remember clearly. That’s seven or eight years old. And yes, literacy is definitely a gateway to giving A so much more autonomy in his learning and I am eager for him to learn how to read. But how is it that milestones for literacy halved in 30 years? In a Charlotte Mason context, formal education begins at age 6 at the earliest. Norway doesn’t start formal education for their kids until age 6 and their PISA scores are on par with their peers in the US and UK. So I’m just not convinced that the early start is developmentally appropriate, much less child-centric.

For now, I can commit these things to A’s learning. He will be learning how to do crafts, to develop his creativity, his motor skills, his confidence and his grit. He will be learning how to do chores and how to take care of his personal grooming to develop his sense of responsibility and self respect. He will be learning animal husbandry so that he can develop a healthy respect for pets and animals. He will be going to the park to develop his strength, endurance and agility and also to observe nature. He will be learning to grow his own food and how to prepare delicious and healthy things to eat. He will be playing with other children of all ages and be interacting with all sorts of people in real life scenarios daily. He will be travelling to libraries, museums, cultural sites, and historic sites. And most importantly, he will have a childhood.

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