Way back before my kids were born I began thinking about homeschooling. I had this idealised version of what it would be like in my head and it was beautiful. What homeschooling actually turned out to be is totally not that.
We would turn the spare room of our two bedroom flat into a little school. There’d be a blackboard, little tables and chairs. Everything was going to be bright and cheerful. Also, the kids were going to do exactly what I said when I said it – like I said, I didn’t have kids at this point.
The whole thing was very Little House on the Prairie.
Turns out my actual kids don’t learn like those imagined ones do. They weren’t interested in sitting still for a full day of workbooks and reading. They wanted to be up, walking around, trying things and leaving dirty handprints on everything they touched.
As our eldest was getting ready to go into prep I did all the things I thought I was meant to did. I requested prospectuses from the various schools in our area and narrowed it down to two. One was a private, Christian school that we couldn’t afford, but it had the best reputation, small classes sizes, great teachers – all the things you want in a school. The other was a Montessori school that was well out of our area, but it was amazing and, unfortunately not for us by virtue of location.
We’d make that private school work.
Time came to put in our application, but I didn’t.
I’d filled it out, even put it in an envelope with a stamp, I just couldn’t post it. There was no real reason that I could put my finger on, nothing solid at least, just this thought that Eldest wouldn’t thrive, or even cope well with a mainstream school environment.
Let me backtrack here for a minute.
Eldest was an “extreme prem” (that’s actual a medical term), born at 26 weeks, she was the smallest surviving baby our major hospital had ever had at that time. She had global developmental delays, had trouble relating to other children and other issues that meant her first 5 years were incredibly stressful and difficult.
There was no way she was ready to start school full-time. So we decided to wait another year and teach her at home for prep.
Next year never happened. Somewhere along the way we decided that homeschooling was Eldest’s best option and that’s what we did.
At first we got right into it. Bought a printer and a laminator and downloaded the whole internets worth of worksheets. We made lap books, created beautiful projects, bought The Story of the World and a massive collection of Osbourne books.
And, by “we” I actually mean me, because Eldest wasn’t interested. We’d sit down to do book work and within five minutes she’d slip off the chair to go do something else.
She liked to fidget and move around so we bought a blow up, camping pillow – half inflated – for her to sit on. Theory being, she’d be able to move a bit, but was still sitting down – also it made her taller so she could see the table properly.
Okay, maybe letting her stand while doing book work was the key?
What if I let her walk around and answer verbally. This kind of worked, but it was exhausting. Constantly drawing her attention back to the work, trying to get some kind of answer. She wasn’t enjoying it. I wasn’t enjoying it.
No one was learning anything so we quit, temporarily.
It was nothing like anything I’d ever heard of before. The idea was that you could trust your children to learn what they needed to learn, when they needed to learn it!
Completely different from traditional school, mainstream or not.
There was no curriculum. No workbooks. No textbooks. No daily battles to get three questions of a math worksheet done.
It took a while for me to get used to it.
Even though the philosophy behind unschooling made so much sense, I couldn’t get past the idea that I was just giving up and that Eldest would pay for it. It probably didn’t help that we had child development “experts” telling us that all Eldest needed was to go to school. School would sort her out, she’d learn to sit still and focus. You know, because there are no children in mainstream schooling who have issues sitting still (yeah, I might be a bitter about that).
Stay tuned for part 2.