I was really excited about home schooling my kids as we traveled. Letting them break free from the restrictions of the classroom; exploring new things alongside them as we went on an educational journey together, and other naïve rose-tinted fluff like that. The title above was what my five-year old wrote in her scrapbook about Phra Ram Ratchaniwet palace in Petchaburi. We had, in fact, had a great visit here. She just couldn’t be bothered to write anything about it. This pissed me off for a couple of reasons, the first was that in my imagination, Newt would have such a wonderful time exploring new places that she would rush home to stick and scribble and draw in a frenzy of learning. The second reason was that it brought me to the realisation that, despite thinking that I was totally embracing my new-found child-centred approach to education, I hadn’t really changed my mind-set at all.
When I first realised that I would have to do a fair bit of home schooling on our travels, I had a picture in my head of correspondence courses, work packs and structured programmes. I couldn’t get past the idea that I would basically be doing what Newt did in the classroom, except somewhere foreign. Then I had a wee look on the internet and I changed my mind pretty quickly. I discovered unschooling, the Waldorf method, classical home schooling and lots of other types of home schooling (or not schooling if you prefer), all with different approaches and theories. I was fascinated. I watched TED talks, I read academic papers, I spent far too much time on forums and it became very clear to me that my children’s education was just one more thing that I really hadn’t thought through before. I will spare you my new insights, but I just wanted to say this. We worry a lot about education in the UK; we worry about getting into the ‘right’ schools. We worry about what the inspectors say about our schools. We worry about where our schools are in the league tables. For some reason. It seems that we worry a lot more about the results that are coming out of our schools, rather than what the schools are actually teaching (or not teaching) our children. Do not get me wrong, I am not anti-school in the least. My daughter loves going to school, it suits her and I am sure she will continue to go as and when she can, or wants to. However, I have definitely moved away from my previous default position that the school system alone is the best way to educate our kids for the future.
As part of trying to change my mind-set on education I have also been trying very hard to embrace the truth that all parents know, but that none of us actually believe. That truth is that academic success does not guarantee happiness for our children, a chance of a higher salary maybe, but happiness, definitely not. Maybe, just maybe, if we did all embrace this together, we might be brave enough to just relax a bit about education, just a tiny bit, take a bit of pressure off ourselves, the kids and our overworked and overloaded teachers. We might all have a bit more fun as well.
Anyway, back to being pissed off. It turned out that despite congratulating myself on being all down with my new ideas about developing creativity and encouraging flexible thinking, I was just a turgid old Victorian school mistress after all, wanting the kids to do what I wanted, when I wanted and most importantly, how I wanted. I really didn’t know how to do anything else. The great thing about home schooling (or road schooling) is that you don’t need a framework for it. You can do it any way you want. That is also the scary thing about it, especially if you are just starting out like us and stepping into the unknown. So I decided to take the ultimate leap of faith in my daughter and just stop what I was doing. I stopped mentioning school work, I stopped getting her books out, I stopped pretending that I was her teacher, and instead I just concentrated on pulling whatever learning we could out of the things we were doing every day.
It turns out it was the right thing to do. There was no more butting of heads and no more cheeky sentences in the scrapbook. The most surprising thing of all was that Newt now asked me to get her books out for her, she asked if we could ‘play’ with her numicon tiles and look all sorts of facts up on the internet. By giving her some space and letting her choose what to do, I found out that her favourite things to do were maths and science. Something you would think that I should already know about my child, but I didn’t. It seems that I had long been projecting my own preferences on her and assuming that, like me, she most enjoyed English and reading. In contrast, given the choice, Newt didn’t want to read at all for a long time. This was particularly hard for me because, as many mums will tell you, reading is a bit of a competitive sport in the UK, with other parents trying to wheedle out of you what book band your child is on as some kind of gauge of their own parenting excellence or the superiority of their genes. In the UK I actually used to concern myself with reading levels. Now I realise how ridiculous that was. I can say with some confidence that my daughter will not grow up illiterate, despite her relaxed attitude. I was amazed that when she went back to sitting down and reading after a couple of months, it seemed she had actually progressed leaps and bounds without any formal input from me whatsoever. The thing is she had never stopped reading really. She was just reading everything around her rather than the mundane adventures of Biff, Chip and Kipper.
So, after a little bit of practice, sprinkled with a small amount of rebellion, I am a lot more confident that the whole home schooling thing is going to work out just fine for us. I am also ready to ditch the pretty heavy pile of educational materials that we brought with us, in favour of a more streamlined approach of downloading, or picking stuff up as the notion takes us. At this stage all we really need to carry is paper, pencils, a stick of glue and a computer to do what we need to do. As far as the content goes, it can just be inspired by what we see and do every day. I just have to remember to avoid those pesky boring palaces and I think all should be well.