Well, I already knew homeschooling existed, but I had no idea what a wide world it was. I had always thought of it as ‘school at home.’ I hadn’t much enjoyed school, and the thought of doing it all over again was less than appealing.
When my son was three, I began a nursing course. My son had to go to nursery, pretty much full time. No one in my house during that year was happy. Most days were a struggle to get him up, fed, and dressed. His shoes were usually put on during the car journey. When he came home, he was tired, filthy, miserable, and despite a full year of interacting with other children, had not overcome his shyness. (Secretly, or not so, I am happy about this.)
My sister-in-law had recently made the decision to home educate her 3 children. We all poked fun and said, ‘don’t you want to have a break from your kids?’ She just sat there, coolly confident, with knowledge I as yet did not have. No, she didn’t want a break from her kids. She enjoyed her children and wanted as much time with them as possible. I could understand that. Being away from my son for most of a year had made me appreciate my time with him.
I decided to defer for a year, until it was time for my son to begin school. But I was worried. The schools in our area are not ideal. Teachers, too weighed down by paper work and targets, don’t really seem to care; bullying is rife; and children are often stressed due to rigorous exams and the demands of the national curriculum. This probably applies to most schools in the UK. I was worried about how my son would cope. Home education began to cross my mind.
At this time, I was in the US visiting my family. I still had every intention of returning to nursing after a year. But, just for fun, I bought my son a preschool workbook. Two, actually. He loved them. He begged me every day to do his workbooks, and best of all, he was learning. Even more amazing, I was enjoying it. Slowly, I began to think I just might be able to home educate.
When I returned to the UK, I decided to take two years out, instead of one, and give it a try. My sister-in-law kindly took me under her wing. She lent me The Well-Trained Mind, Homeschooling: the Early Years, and a talk given by John Taylor Gatto on CD.
My eyes were opened. I loved it, and I was hooked on home education, not just for a year, but till the end. It was like opening a door to a hidden world. I discovered that there are many methods of homeschooling, it’s not just about recreating school at home, unless that’s the path you wish to follow.
I began researching the different methods. It’s a bit like shopping for a car. Cost, comfort, ease of handling, fun factor, and style all need to be considered. Each one had appealing aspects, but I always felt there were big gaps. Classical education sounded amazing, but could I do it? Did I want to? Would my son grow up to be a bookish snob who wasn’t able to relate to people? Wouldn’t we be hideously bored? Charlotte Mason was great, but there was just no way I could spend 4-6 hours of every day outside. But I definitely wanted to incorporate as much nature study as possible. Montessori uses some fantastic learning manipulatives, but I can’t afford to buy them, and can’t always make them look good when I make them, and don’t agree with miniaturizing everything in my home. When I heard about unschooling, I shuddered. How can you not have any structure? No lesson plans, no goals? But when I looked into it for myself, I was pleasantly surprised.
However, my worry with unschooling is this: If children only study that which interests them, if their entire education is ‘delight-driven’ aren’t we giving them the message that life is delight-driven? We all know it’s not. We all know that many times we have to work hard at something that we may not necessarily enjoy, but the rewards are worth while. Life isn’t always fun, hard work is often required, and this is a lesson best learned before adulthood. By putting in the hard work, the delight aspect is often more enjoyable, more appreciated. Isn’t a cup of tea more enjoyable after coming in from the cold?
Having said that, children are only children for a short time, they have their whole lives to work hard and learn; let them play. For as long as possible, let them play.
In the end, I came full circle, back to Classical Education. After endless reading, yahoo groups, discussing, and thinking, I’ve come back to classical education, but my approach will be different. We will use some of those great manipulatives, albeit home made and not quite perfect. There will be delight, lots of time to play, plenty of time outside. I want my son to have some choice in his learning and I want it to be as fun as possible, especially in the early years. Copy work is not going to be fun. Memorization will probably not be fun. But lots of other things will be, and should be. And if he doesn’t want to learn something now, that’s fine, we can do it another time.
My son is 4, and would be due to begin school this September. Right now, he’s playing. In September, God willing, he will still be playing.