A while ago I was reading over on Note From Lapland about the Finnish Schooling System. Finland is oft quoted by the home educating community as a paragon of virtue; they start at 6 or 7, learn to read at this age rather than earlier, have a holistic and charming (Chalet School like!) schooling ethos and are rewarded with some of the highest literacy rates in the world. Reading Heather’s post, I’m struck by the overwhelming sense of respect, common sense, aspiration towards comfort and joy, trust, community & family.
I’m struck by the idea that had I been bringing my children up in Finland, I would almost certainly have sent them to school. I’m impressed, envious even, that a country can make such bold and innovative concepts as the above work and they actually benefit children and promote learning and ability and achievement.
Except that they aren’t bold or innovative really, are they? If I had to write a description of our home educating life, couched in language to pretend it was a school, it wouldn’t be so different, albeit with the lack of open fire, ballroom dancing & teacher with masters degree. In fact, the junior school I went to, a Charlotte Mason small private school, was run on similar lines, in so much as that was possible. Our teachers pulled us on to their laps and hugged us, we read what we wanted, wrote what we wanted, had long playtimes which were extended indefinitely if snow happened or we’d been stuck inside for a few days. The teachers tailored the lessons to suit the class, we curled up for stories each day and we enjoyed educational freedom of a sort I’ve not heard of in any state school here.
Nothing I have heard of about our junior school system here leads me to suspect there are schools that come close, though I admit I could be wrong. What astonishes me more than anything else is that when a model of education is proven to work so well in a neighbouring country, we persist in screeching ever more desperately down a different avenue. More tests, start earlier, remove more power and responsibility from parents. But heaven knows where you start to reverse the process; we’ve got a couple of generations of re-education to do first; educating a swathe of parents to know how to parent, how to read, how to add up, how to feed their kids, how to take responsibility. It’s not a job I’d want.
MochaBeanieMummy wrote the other day about how her child is being expected to ‘do reading’ each day at home with his mum. Now, great, really. Get those parents involved, get them taking responsibility, get them part of the process. Except he is barely three. Except it is a chore. Except that forcing a child into ‘literacy’ isn’t the way to make them love books. I’ve got total confidence that I’m right about this. I tried to make Fran read early, partly because I did and it worked for me and partly because I felt I needed to prove I ‘could’ home educate successfully. I nearly ruined it for her and I’ve not made the same mistake again. I haven’t MADE Maddy, or Amelie or Josie learn to read and I’m currently in possession of children who have not only perfectly age appropriate literacy levels, and in Fran’s case a significantly higher reading age than she actually is, but also love books, love to read and think they are an excellent way to further their education.
While it pains me to link to the Shaley Smail, this article is depressing in the extreme. No one should need to do this. No school system, teaching method or family lifestyle should require children of under 10 to be getting up at 5am in order to feel they have a chance at a decent education. I HATED being coached through my 11+ exam. While my girls would not have passed the one I did at at 10 with the style of education I have given them, Fran has proved that at 13 she has got entirely age appropriate skill levels, more than appropriate information levels and has retained a joy of learning. I call that a result, without a tutor, a 5am learning session, a literacy hour or a ‘could do better’ in sight.
All of which might make you quite reasonably ask why I am happy for her to be in school now? Well, one thing is the school itself. It’s a school with an ethos I quite like, with a sense of enabling kids to achieve at being people, not just at exams. It’s got a broad opportunity level, loads going on and it isn’t only interested in academia. It’s the only school I felt could be right for her and so far that seems a good call. But I think she is doing well there just as much BECAUSE she was home educated as anything else. The place has come at a time when her slow paced but enjoyable childhood has fitted her for exploration and challenge. I’m not blind to the fact that home ed has left some gaps and things to be learned (but she’s only 13, even the best educated of us has GAPS!) but what I love is that she’s well equipped to spot those and deal with them. She’s involving us in homework and happy to get guidance, she goes and looks in the library for extra books when she wants more information on something and she made me very proud yesterday when she went to her maths teacher after class and asked for a some practise papers because a particular format of numeracy test is bamboozling her a bit.
We’ll gloss over the fact that one thing I never beat out of her was the ability to procrastinate and leave her blazer in a heap on the floor. See how normal she is? 😉
There are worse ways to find yourself equipped with the skills for enabling yourself to do well through life; to have learned them curled up on the sofa with a book, playing in the garden with your sisters, having long holidays with both parents and endless crafts. Learning to BE by watching great dvds and tv programmes without worrying about going to bed early enough for getting up for school, going on trips and camps with people of all ages and walks of life and having time, sheer, unadulterated TIME to become the person you are meant to be.
It makes you wonder why on earth, as a country, we spend so much time, effort and wasted energy on trying to build something so very different?