Not Back to School

September ... A time of mixed emotions for the home educating parent. In recent years, most children's return to school has heralded a time of glorious sunshine, and early autumnal warmth. It is such a great time of year to be out of doors. And there are numerous "Not Back to School" picnics being held in parks up and down the country in celebration. We attended one local to us today. As we watch other children return to school, September can be a time when we are at peace and in celebration of the freedoms home education brings. However, it is also a time of new beginnings, the time of curriculum appraisal, a looking forward to the new school year and thinking about what it is we are hoping to achieve. It is very easy to panic. And it is then easy to look around at curricula, many of them expensive, and hope that by introducing some expensive new set of resources, our home education will be miraculously transformed into the exemplary ordered and joyful process we so want it to be.

I do not think a curriculum will solve the problem. Usually the problem is in our heads. It is borne of our own confusion about what learning ought to look like, and about what our children ought to be achieving. This thinking is a product of our own schooling, and the process of unlearning it - of redefining learning - and of releasing control, is a difficult and sometimes painful journey. It forces us to ask questions, to evaluate and to change. Changing attitudes requires change deep inside us, and it does take time. We often read about the process of 'deschooling' - at least a month is recommended for each year a child has been in school. But for us, the parents, it is a far longer process, and if you have any background in teaching, well, give yourself even longer!

If I could recommend one book to aid you in your home educating journey, it would be Lori Pickert's "Project-Based Home-Schooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners". I intend to pick it up again this week, and re-read it. So much of what Lori writes - both in her book, and on her blog, resonates with the way I feel home education should look, and it is a very easy book to read. Recommended.

As I begin the process of attempting to reign back some order to our days - It has all been rather lax since our move six months ago - I have looked around for 'projects' for the boys. I found a website which I thought was full of great resources for my eldest son, that he could really delve into: Iggy. My second son is very enthusiastic about his Arts Award. And for my third son, I spent a minimal amount of money on a unit study with which we will journey around the world, learning about the geography of our planet, as well as lots about different countries. I figured that some time each day could be devoted to these 'projects' and bring some focus. However, as I reflect upon the Project-Based Home-Schooling idea, and the idea of autonomous, child-led learning, I realise I am beginning in the wrong place. A post on Lori's blog today reminded me that, rather than running with my own good ideas, I need rather to begin by looking at the boys, by really looking and by seeing what they are actually interested in, right now. And we need to start from there, in dialogue, giving them ownership of their own projects and supporting them in that however we can, in scaling the walls they want to climb.

My eldest son wanted to learn about the Crimea and the Israeli / Palestinian conflict, so that he can better understand what is going on in the world. He came home from his grandparents' this week knowing far more about the Crimea than I do. He is interested in history. He learns by talking to his Grandpa, and taking it all in. He retains it. He knows a lot about history. He is also interested in the building work we are having done on our house. He loves scouting and the outdoors. He and his brother are very interested in yo-yos and are looking for ideas for new tricks on youtube, then practising and practising to get them right. He is interested in playing tennis, in learning to confidently navigate our new locality .... Lots of things if I am paying attention. And these are not things which I have to try hard to engage him in. The motivation is intrinsic. Can I not just draw alongside him in these endeavours, and support and encourage him to dig in and deepen his understanding and skills?

My second son saved up so hard to buy himself an iPad. He wanted to use it for art and for music and did a lot of research before deciding it was worth the money. He is totally absorbed by this new gadget at present, and in figuring out what he can do with it. He is interested in musical composition using Garage Band, and in making movies with iMovie. He is figuring out how to connect with his friends using his new technology. And then there is yo-yoing, tennis, fencing (which he wants to try this term), baking (He loves The Great British Bake-Off), scouting. Both boys love Bear Grylls, and are watching and reading a lot about him.

Our 8-year-old loves Lego and Minecraft. He is just beginning to be much more confident about attending a few more clubs with friends. That's a new thing for him. He is reading more and chose a book about "The Wonders of the World" from the library with great enthusiasm. (I haven't even looked at it with him yet!) There are so many starting points if we will only stop to look!

So, having mentioned Lori's inspiring post, over to her blog for some timely advice: "Trust, Respect and Attention: How Not to Diminish Your Child's True Self". Enjoy September!

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