25 January 2009

Schooling decisions (and un-decisions)

Hmm, well, random and probably not very coherant thoughts in answer to some recent questions...

Will Jenna go to school? Why haven't I put her in school so far? Why do I call what we do "unschooling" or "homeschooling"? Was I homeschooled myself? What was my own education like?

Well the answer to the first question, the only honest answer, is "I don't know!" I think she probably won't. But she might. I can see *some* advantages to it for her, especially as she gets older; or perhaps that's just my usual lack of self-belief, that I worry I can't provide enough for her and won't know where to go for more... I would quite like, at some point, for her to experience school, I think. There were times when I loved school, and could use what it could give me, and had the self-confidence to defy the system when it was preventing me from moving forward.

I actually liked school a LOT when I was small. Infant school answered my questions, made me feel capable, fed my interests. As I got older I was looking for something different. So I suppose it seems topsy turvy to want Jenna to do things the other way around... But the thing is, I don't see schooling in the next couple of years as being able to fulfil those positives that it did for me any BETTER than I can at home, and, just possibly, it won't even do that. And then if I chose to withdraw her, I not only have to battle the system but also her new schooled habits.

I feel, for me, the most frustration and difficulty I had at school came at the point when I hadn't yet learnt how to USE school, and instead let the institution go about trying to pour things into me which didn't fit or had already been learned out of my own interest. Maybe, just maybe, starting school later will give her more power to step outside how things are and get what she needs. I hated most of secondary education. I had had enough time to become bored and frustrated, and felt like for the most part I was going around in circles for the convenience of "keeping the class together".

What small children do, when left to their own devices, is unschooling. What all involved parents do with their children for some or all of the time is unschooling. It isn't something special that I do differently. Unschooling is just living a full life alongside my children and giving them chance to experience the world. Unschooling is trusting that my children can follow their own interests and learn everything they want and need.

They taught themselves to talk and walk. I didn't teach them. I shared my speaking and doing with them, they watched me, sometimes I gave them support or tried to help them without pushing them faster than they were ready to go. As we've been roughly attachment parenting these last four years I'd go even further and say this. I didn't teach them to sleep at night. I didn't teach them to be independant. I let them grow, let them move on when they were ready, but I didn't do anything special to teach them any of the skills they now have apart from just being present. I shared my life, my waking and sleeping, my moral code, my interests, my faith, my pleasure and my sorrow, and they grew and learnt - in the most surprising ways.

I say we're homeschooling, even though Jenna isn't at compulsary school age, because it's easier than saying she isn't starting school "yet". It leaves me with space to decide later, if and when I need to change what already happens every day, and leaves people with generally fewer questions! I say we're unschooling because homeschooling gives the impression to people who don't know much about it that we do school work at home; I write the timetable and teach a curriculum. Which isn't how it is and probably won't ever be how it is for us.

I learnt about learning by watching my children and reading about child development (a wonderful book I can't remember the name of about unconventional approaches to children and mathematics was a major push for me, as well as the usual John Holt et al). I heard the phrase unschooling on radical parenting forums, and was at first very sceptical. I follow this pattern a lot:

"I would never do that!
Why would anyone do that?
Is there really something in this?
I need to know more about that...
I think somewhere along the way this started to make sense to me...
I am now actively doing this."

Other random relevant history: My mum is a teacher (primary ages) and says she would have homeschooled us all if she had her time over. My youngest brother learnt at home at secondary age. I left school a few months early because I was struggling with depression, and self-taught the last few units before my exams. I did better in those tests than any others. I wondered for a long time why I hadn't been allowed to study on my own sooner, when I had asked to do so - and whether doing so might have avoided a breakdown that changed so many of my future plans...

Really, I think what I'm doing right now isn't about educating my children. It isn't about what I want them to become, or how I want them to learn, it's about me and how I am learning and growing as a person. That sounds incredibly selfish... I am unschooling myself, learning to trust myself to find things out, finding my own path to get there. For a while my life was just about surviving, and in the last few years since Jenna was born, the world has opened up more than I ever believed possible. I feel a little robbed by years of depression, and I'm enthusiastic about exploring new things and gaining skills. And the children, as ever, are hungrily filling themselves as they work alongside me.

So we didn't really choose at all. As long as we're all finding learning together and experiencing whatever is on offer to be so fulfilling, I probably won't be looking for something or someone else to educate my children. They are educating themselves and I'm fascinated by it!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, what fascinating reading, you're making me think now - thankyou


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