It is now a year since I started writing on this blog. It’s been a good year, and I have enjoyed taking time to reflect upon it, both the serious and less serious issues surrounding parenting in general with a specific focus on the home education of young children.
Life moves very fast. Sometimes we don’t take enough time to celebrate an achievement, a milestone, a habit defeated, an obstacle overcome; instead we can replace one current ‘problem’ with another. I endeavour not to do this. Early I posted about the value of an attitude of gratitude, and I have had reason to ponder those sentiments on many occasions over the past year!
A year ago, my youngest was two months old, utterly helpless and dependent. I was waking every hour or two through the night to feed him, still recovering from the difficult pregnancy and delivery both emotionally and physically, and the days often passed in a blur. Now, I have a sturdy young lad, who tries to join his older brothers in every way, and who can eat the biggest breakfast out of the whole family. The older two have also developed enormously, and I am frequently astonished by some of the things they say and do.
A year ago, I hadn’t really spoken much about home education to others, partly because there seemed no need, but partly also because I was admittedly anxious about how others might judge us. I was starting to get asked which school I had put my eldest down for, and whether we would be starting the ’15 hours’ of free preschool which is currently provided for in the UK. Now, we are more open. I don’t make statements such as ‘we will never send our children to school’, and even am a little reluctant to call it ‘homeschooling’ as I know it will conjur up stereotypes among many (for example, even see this article I stumbled acrosson the BBC website this morning!). But I am more confident in giving our perspective and to outline some of our motivations and the advantages in such a method of education.
As with all years that we live, there have been encouragements, and also challenges.
· * Growing confidence that what we are doing is right; yes, as with all children there are difficult days, exhausting days, and times of frustration, but more and more we are starting to see real evidence of their development and thirst for knowledge.
· * Seeing the development of self-directed learning. Often it starts with a question, such as ‘How do you make breadsticks?’ and leads on to what could be described as an informal module on the related area – getting books from the library, perhaps watching a youtube clip if we are somewhere with sufficiently fast internet, learning about yeast, making a range of recipes, doing creative things with the dough.... Elsewhere I have posted on the diverse range of subjects which are covered through by following a curriculum of ‘daily life’, and pursuing the interests of the children.
· * The clearly distinct personalities, preferences and learning styles of the boys. This reinforces to me that all children are different, and that a ‘one size fits all’ curriculum delivered to a class of 20 to 30 students is far from ideal in helping each child maximise their potential whilst overcoming their weaknesses.
· * Meeting several other families who share our perspective and are choosing to home educate children of similar ages. Much of the literature on socialisation, and the plethora of blogs available to support home educators, speak of the value of networks and community. We have both the wider home educators network locally, and a smaller, more intimate group of Christian families with the same basic worldview. Networks both online and face to face have been a great encouragement.
· * A ten week trip to rural Africa to serve in a mission hospital; this was practically possible largely because of the choices we have made regarding the childcare and education of our children. I was astonished at how formative these months were for the boys, and have seen them grow in understanding of different cultures, communities and worldviews; they understand what a missionary is, and why those of us who believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died for our sins and enables us to have a restored relationship with God see it as such an important role. During this trip, we were really able to function as afamily unit, and it brought encouragement to all of us; this has raised some interesting possibilities for the future.
· * That my eldest has learnt his letters and some basic reading and writing without us ever sitting down and ‘learning letters’; I knew from what I had read that children learn through day to day experiences, through talking about things, through interactive play, but it was still encouraging to see this to be true!
· * Their delight in learning languages. They are unusual for three year olds in that they speak some Chichewa, a little French and Swiss-German, can sing Christmas carols in Mandinka, and know one or two greetings in Jolla. We chose to focus on Spanish as our major foreign language because it is widely spoken and we have good friends who are fluent. It is just incredible to hear them master words and phrases which would take an adult far longer.
· * That we have a strong family unit, strengthened by the choices we have made regarding lifestyle, education and work. More and more I see people who are outwardly ‘successful’, however you may wish to define that, but are deeply lonely, craving community or family. I believe we are giving the boys an important secure foundation, which I hope will be of lifelong benefit to them.
These are just some examples that I jot down as I write....
Of course, there have been challenges also.
· * Loneliness remains a problem. I find it easier to network online than face to face – often routines and schedules differ (for example, nap time, or families who eat together when the breadwinner returns from work compared to those who eat separately) and even when I am physically in the same place as my friends, I am often quite involved in supervising the boys and conversations are often snatched in between darting off in different directions. However, I already see changes. The older two are increasingly content to wander slightly further ahead of me on the paths we walk, and will explore the undergrowth together and talk about their findings; it is increasingly possible to have more of a chat with another person – if I can find a person who is willing to venture out on long walks regardless of the weather, and that is not always as easy as it sounds! There have been a few times over the past year where I would have valued having more of a ‘heart to heart’ with a friend.
· * I have family members who have made their disapproval of our lifestyle very clear. It’s interesting, because some really object to the fact that we will spank our children when we consider the discipline issue in question to warrant it. For us, there is a clear biblical precedent, we never smack in anger, and we are always quick to praise and reward good behaviour. Yet, some (who themselves DID spank us as children!) seem to think we verge on abusive, and that the only disciplinary measure a child should ever receive is ignoring bad behaviour, or at the last resort, sitting on the ‘naughty step’ for several minutes. That is a major one which we have spoken of, but there are other more subtle disapprovals. The boys should be in nursery to socialise. We are depriving them by not having a TV. We are cruel for not allowing unlimited biscuit consumption. The boys aren’t happy (you should see my boys; they radiate joy much of the time!).... I know that the opinion of man counts for little, and it is to God that we ultimately must give account. But it is not easy!
· * Few people really seem to understand us. That is for a whole number of reasons, and I don’t think I could say it was just our views on education. Rather, our views on education are simply the end result of our worldview and attitude towardslife. I think if you go through anything different, whether that be an unusual size or shape of family, a traumatic life event or a major success in an area, anything really, then you have fewer and fewer peers, and there are increasingly few people that you can really talk to about anything. I suppose that overlaps with my comment on loneliness... Increasingly I am seeing how our faith is utterly fundamental to how we live, and the passages of the Bible which speak of being ‘strangers and pilgrims’ in the world resonate deeply. At times, I can see this as an encouragement too; as a young Christian in the University Christian Union, I remember somebody commenting that if we never faced opposition, criticism, trial and perhaps even some level of persecution, it might be because our lives were so similar to the world around us that nobody noticed any difference.
· * Not having many other adults with significant regular input into the boys lives. I don’t think a stranger could do things better, but there are times when I do feel as though anybody could make a better job than the mess I am making! I tend to feel that way when the boys are tired and a little unwell (you know that kind of whingy-not-sick-enough-to-be-properly-sick, but just irritable stage). And when I think about it for more than a couple of minutes, I am thankful on those days that I am not sending them out to school or somewhere as they really do need stability, love, kindness, rest, nutritious easy to eat food and plenty of reassurance when they are like that. If in a nursery or school environment, I would have to choose between keeping them home (quite a bit it would seem at this stage!) or sending them out knowing they would struggle quite a lot.
Many of the challenges I face seem to be recurring themes, hence my post about ‘spiral curriculum’. I imagine there are certain areas which continue to be difficult, continue to be challenging, and continue to be areas of vulnerability. This reinforces once more the need to reflect on the fruit in the childrens’ lives, to celebrate the small achievements and victories, and to remember the fundamental reasons for making the choices we have.