The one where Merry gets back to the point.
I think this year has been the most significant yet in terms of our HE life. It’s been the one where i let go of some things and picked up some others that i had shed because i listened outside before i listened inside, an acceptable side-effect of looking at all the ‘options’ of home ed before your children are really fully formed, or indeed your own parenting style is fully formed. It’s been significant because it has been the year i had least expectations of, yet it has been the year that most has happened in. It’s been significant because this has been the year in which i truly believe we have reached our HE ideal, one that suits us all.
Central to how i feel about HE now, is ironically a phrase bandied about regularly when we talk about LEA involvement: age, aptitude and ability. An odd one really, given that most people, and indeed i to some extent, feel somewhat negative about the LEA. But for me, it’s been useful, not only (in fact almost least) in terms of education, but also in terms of parenting style and the wider issue of parenting versus personality of child.
The key to life here is the rather enormous difference between my childrens’ learning personalities, something i have fairly clearly defined in my head now. Fran does not like to be pushed and i’m fortunate that my early fervour was lackadaisical enough not to have seriously damaged our relationship. I’d like to kid myself i was listening for her cues without realising, but in truth, i was just fervent but lazy 😉 Maddy likes to be stretched but doesn’t want to acknowledge it but without a fair bit of guidence and chivvying, she atrophies and gets upset. It’s a fine balance with her; she is a bright girl, a sociable girl but one who finds it hard to take the first step into things. Amelie doesn’t only deserve to be stretched, she asks for it. She’s definitely bright, the only one to be asking at 3 to know how to write her name, or do sums and she’s as quick as water into a piece of kitchen towel, a proverbial sponge. Part of that, i daresay is simply sibling placement, part of it is her; i see a lot of my mum in Amelie. She is also disruptive at times, a bully at others, manipulative at best. Keeping her well occupied is undoubtedly going to be quite important because when i see her behaving in those ways, i can ALWAYS see that she is doing it to get attention and a reaction from me. Her behaviour is an excellent barometer for how family life is at any time.
Age (this is more a parenting one) – well, call me old fashioned but i’m going back to the old version of childhood and i’m not going to worry about it. I fretted so much about playing with toys at 10 (and at 15) when everyone else was having sex and smoking (so it seemed.) Since my children have an opportunity to do it at their own pace without peer pressure, i’m going to let them. I’m not going to hold them back, or seal them off, or keep them in age order even, i’m just going to let them be their age. THEIR age. So if Fran is still happily watching CBeebies now, i’ll let her. She knows where the other channels are and she doesn’t bother. It’s no longer a case of not letting her watch things, or vetting her viewing – she seems to have no interest in them. Likewise with lots of the rites of passage which seem to be so immediate for other kids i know. At HESFES, at other camps, it’s not been a case of me not letting her go places, or stay out late; she hasn’t really asked. She got the full level of her requirements at HESFES, she never once asked to stay out late and i didn’t hold her back from anything she asked to do, even if i had to gulp hard to do it. She went as far, for as long as she asked and she never once asked to do more. I still have to persuade her to speak to people in shops, or go out of sight for this or that, though she seems perfectly able and confident when she does. She isn’t afraid, she simply doesn’t seem to have an urge. I know that at 7 i was pestering my mum to be allowed to walk to the local shop; Fran has never asked and in fact, she did it once at a friends house and then the next time, she saw the friends go and didn’t want to go with them. I don’t know why, but she doesn’t really want to. She’s still very much a self-contained, little, child. Whether nature or nurture, i have no idea, but i’m going to trust her to give me the cues. Certainly Maddy does, she is much more gung-ho about things and as soon as i can rely on her to remember her name/my name/ a direction/ a basic set of rules/two instructions in a row, i daresay she’ll be doing all sorts. At the moment, most of those things are quite difficult enough; she completely lacks the common sense that Fran has and would fail to operate in an emergency of any sort, even just a “I’m lost in a shop” sort of one.
I know perfectly well that my own first trip into town alone at 14 was too late; i’ve no desire to replicate that, nor the frustration i felt with it, but i think i can say with confidence that they, and i, will know what is right when it is right. It doesn’t have to be the same for everyone. Just like there is no set age for reading, or getting interested in adding up, there are no set ages for needing to be out after dark. I’m only just coming to not feel internal threat about it. My children are really different to the child i was. Perhaps it’s because they know i probably wouldn’t say no, within reason. Perhaps it’s because they know they have to cross 3 major roads to get to the nearest shop; perhaps it’s because i’ve been honest and said “I trust you, i’m not sure i trust everyone else.” I think, if i lived in a little village where they felt safe and comfortable and so did i, they’d be popping down the road for milk by now, and learning the lessons that would give them. Sadly, we don’t. It’ll have to wait.
Aptitudes or their interests; Fran’s so clearly historical and her ability to empathise with characters moves me. I’d like to think she gets that from me, but others might disagree 😉 Maddy’s draws like i’ve seen no one else but my mum draw in our family and loves making numbers work. Pattern , including words and letters, is how she makes sense of her world, she is 100% in need of visual stimulus to comprehend life. Amelie is still unclear, but i suspect her imagination and creativity are going to be her strong point and she has a definite interest in science and how things work. I’m sure that is why she gravitates to my mum so much, she does it in a way unlike any other child i’ve seen in the family.
And this is where i finally get back to the point. I think quite a lot of people, unless they already had very clear ideas in their head, go through various phases in HE development. In nearly 5 years of list life, i’ve seen them happen to loads of people, myself included. There are various patterns, (give or take this and that and with no slurs intended on anything) and this is the one i’ve followed.
Wooooah… how can we do this?… we can’t, we can… i neeeeed a method… i’ve found a method and its Montessori/Steiner/Wardorf…. we can do it we can do it…. oh bugger they don’t really get it… bugger again this child won’t do what its suppose to…. argh…. all methods and curriculums are crap…. autonomy is the way to go… autonomy autonomy autonomy…. (followed in my case by a period of “go away and entertain yourself)… we can do this we can do this….. arrrrgh…. kids don’t really seem happy…. it’s not happening…. argh… maybe a curriculum then….. but.. but…but… okay, maybe some books from a curriculum… maybe 3 curriculums… but no maths scheme… never ever a maths scheme………wooooaaaaaaah…. okay… maybe a maths scheme…. bugger these children. How can they like maths?
And that, currently, is about where we are at.
My children don’t really like being left to it. Well, actually Maddy does, but it mainly involves her eventually going and wrapping herself into a blanket and twiddling her hair till i have to go and find the weeping child completely meshed in home grown keratin. *I* don’t really like it because it considerably narrows my retail therapy options, never mind my website browsing options. What we like, in this house, is a flexible approach to education, with a variety of ways of learning maths, a variety and ever changing way of learning to read, lots of books, lots of making stuff, vaguely organised into projects for a bit of cohesion, lots of trips out, lots of friends and lots… LOTS of holidays. And lots of time to play; play still makes up the majority of our day.
Flexible. I like flexible. I like child-led, no-one is ever forced to learn anything. Cue-based. Charlotte Mason when it comes to cohesion and little and often. No time table, no rigidity, lots of options, lots of time together. Lots of me thinking ahead about what might be interesting next, but not getting too hung up on whether we do it all. Skill acquisition based on need to know and usefulness, with a fair bit of “can we frankly be bothered or will it be easier to learn in a year?” I can’t think when the last time we struggled and fretted over a skill was – reading for Fran was a great learning experience. i needed her to be able to read, she desperately wanted to be able to. It was worth the effort, but i doubt i’ll go that way again. I sincerely hope not.
There is one ideal i read, a long time ago, that i hold very close to my heart. It’s as close to a philosophy as i come. It’s a Charlotte Mason ideal and it’s one i appreciated very much during my junior schooling. Its the notion that a child can be taken anywhere if you read to them and that no child need be limited by the skills they have so far acquired. I’ve overcome my dislike of reading aloud mainly because i want my late readers to be able to enjoy the books i was consuming avidly at Fran’s age, while they are still young enough to throw themselves into a Narnia game for hours at bedtime.
Books, holidays, skills and play. Is that a decent philosophy for life?