Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Putting childhood into context..

I am not really sure what the title of this post means, but they are the only words that I can think of to describe what I want to say. Having been a home educator for so long means that I have seen a lot of changes in what some of us laughingly call "the home ed community." (I say "laughingly" because the whole point of home ed is to foster and appreciate individuality and a range of learning styles and goals, so basing a community on difference is a bit of a joke.) But the context that I am talking about is mostly time, or Time!

There has been a wonderful growth in the numbers of people rejecting school. They do not all reject the school model of learning, as I do, but it has been nice to see more and more kids not having to live their lives according to school timetables and government agenda. However...here it comes...

Why do all of these new people think they have to do it ALL!? And RIGHT NOW!? Phew! I find some of them quite exhausting, and others just hard to get to know or to hook up with because they are all so damn busy. 

And it was the special circus skills class for 4-6 year olds which finally prompted me to write this blog post. Not that I have anything against circus skills. :-) In our home ed life, we have made stilts and learned to juggle. But for 4-6 year olds?

There are dozens of activities going on...which is a good thing for all of those individuals to follow their interests. But it does seem to me that it isn't the kids making the choices. It is the parents filling their time, worried that their child is GOING TO MISS SOMETHING! There is skateboarding, and ballet, and French and Spanish, and Montessori group, and Steiner group, and rock climbing, and gymnastics, and roller skating, and drumming, and art, and drama, and horse riding, and chess, and of course, circus skills. (There is more, but you get the idea.)

One of the observations I made of friends with kids while I just had the one, and was yet to make the decision to home educate had to do with the prevalence of the schedule. I knew so many kids who went to school and NEVER had down time. After school clubs included gymnastics, and horse riding, and art, and swimming lessons, and music, and French, and...and...and...

Does the list begin to sound familiar?

I thought it really sad that these children had no time of their own. No time to learn how to live with the thoughts in their head; to learn how to be bored; to learn how not to be bored; to reflect on all of the learning they had or had not done; to think about the books they might be reading; or to make up recipes in the kitchen; or to paint things just to see what paint does; or to tie knots in strings; and use fuschia flowers as money in play shops in bushes; or to just look at the shapes of clouds, and watch a snail climb a tree, and to experience the joy of just being. Just Being.

Kids need to play. They need to play A LOT! They need to get things wrong, and fall over, have fights with their peers, and to have free time. It doesn't matter that all of the things are fun. Who wouldn't want to do skateboarding and drumming? But really?! 4 year olds? 5 year olds? 6 year olds? Doing ALL of those things? They have got years. I know that the time passes quickly. But we do get to enjoy more of it if we are not keeping to a damn time table of activities.  They have got years.

Back when I used to work for EO, one of the themes that kept coming up was this idea of a broad and balanced curriculum. To the schooled mind, broad and balanced means having to do a little bit of everything, every week. So a weekly timetable includes English and Maths and Science and Geography and History and Language and PE and RE and Citizenship and Nutrition and all sorts of compulsory things. Nothing is done to any depth and so remains largely worthless. Broad and balanced is looking at the whole of the horizon at once, and only seeing what is on the surface, and from only one viewpoint.

To the unschooled mind, broad and balanced covers decades. It means you take turns submersing yourself in a variety of different things over the years. You find your natural talents. You find the things that interest you. You might go through a phase of reading everything you can get your hands on, or a phase of having family spelling bees, or a phase of really being interested in classical mythology, or wanting to memorize the capitals of the countries of differing continents, or want to learn German, or French, or Japanese, or watch a lot of Shakespeare, or a lot of musicals, or make messy science experiments in the kitchen, or look for things in the night sky, or make up line dances, or go to theatre summer schools, or fund-raise for Scouts, or bake lots of cakes, or climb lots of trees, or perfect your handstand, or try to jump really high, or do somersaults on the trampoline, or do calligraphy, or learn the piano, or the guitar, or the ukelele, or different kids of drum, or sing, or pick up litter in the street, or plant trees, or go sailing, or get really good at doing face paints, or take photographs, or write stories, or do workbooks, or make bhajis, or bake bread, or grow flowers, or grow potatoes, or re-enact history, or re-enact Jackie Chan films, or do your nails, or dye your hair, or knit, or sculpt, or hammer nails into wood, or watch DVDs, or play Magic, or Pokemon, or Minecraft.

All of these are things that my kids have actually done over the years. Notice again the word "years".  If you are just starting out on the home ed journey (which, like children, will not go the way you plan) you will undoubtedly be really excited and do lots and lots of things and just want to submerse yourself and your children in this wonderful and freeing new way of life.

But then, at some point, please stop, and take a deep breath, and notice how wonderful your kids already are. Let them be that way for a while. Let them take joy in learning to tie their laces, or count to 100, or make purple from red and blue, without trying to turn it into a worthy experience, or post on Facebook or Instagram about it, or decide that they are going to be a mathematician or a painter, and then take them to a class. If they want to drum, get out the pots and pans. They don't need a Djembe. :-) They are just little people, and can do without us turning them into blank slates upon which we have to pile lots and lots of experiences. Their brains need a lot of time to figure out the world and their place in it. Allow them that time. And take some for yourself!

Save your money. Save your petrol. Save your sanity. Spend the day in the park more often. Go swimming for fun and not for lessons. Make some new friends. Don't be afraid to be bored. Bored is good. It is the first step to being creative.

And if you get to the end of the week, and you say you accomplished one thing? Well done you! Because when you get to the end of your kid's childhood, the list will be a lot longer, and you will have had a lot of time together, just being. :-)