Friday, August 03, 2007

Let's talk about home ed...

... (since this is a home ed blog!) and the day-to-day difference between my currently 4 year-old daughter who has never been to school or nursery and my previously 4-year old sons and daughter who all did.

The older three, at Lyddie's age, attended a village school of 70ish children. It had only three classes and at the age of four they'd have been in the nursery class, which was like being at home but with about 15 other children. Even we mothers were encouraged to stay with them, and I usually did.

So, lots of things to do and play with, absolutely loads of socialisation, a great environment, an excellent teacher with lots of experience. I did know about home education but I still thought I was doing the very best thing for my children by taking them to this school. I even still thought so until quite recently, when Lyddie became the same age they'd have been when they started attending. (The school we later deregistered from was much bigger, with a completely different ethos.)

BUT I've been amazed, this year, at the differences between my (then) four year-old schooled children and my (now) four year-old unschooled one.

The schooled ones were up and down throughout the day, energy and mood-wise. They'd be very sleepy in the mornings and for the first hour at school. Then, for the most part quiet at school. There were noisy children in the class, but these were the four or five who were exhibiting challenging behaviour. My three tended to just get on with their day. They picked at lunch and, if old enough to stay for the afternoon this went much as the morning had.

All the children in the nursery class were one-to-one attention starved. How do I know this? Because I would sit and read stories with them all day and they all constantly asked me to do this. They were hungry and thirsty for it. In those days you were allowed to sit a schoolchild on your knee for a story and I could tell that for some children, this was the only time in their lives that they got this kind of attention. I really wanted to just read with my own children, if I'm honest, but some of the others needed it so much more. And this was by no means a down-at-heel residential area.

My own three accepted that they had to share their mother (and their teacher, the NTA and whichever other mothers happened to be there) with the other children in the class. They were just glad to have me there, I think. But we'd get home and they'd slump like zombies in front of the TV, more or less until suppertime, bath time and bedtime. I thought I was doing well for them, I really did. I thought their passivity was just normal for children of that age: I'd never known any other kind of children.

Fast forward over a decade. I now have a four year-old whose natural sleep patterns are not disturbed, and whose autonomy is rarely infringed upon. She is still peaceful - sometimes! But she's so much more engaged with everything she does. I read a story to her and she's free to go and bounce on a mattress or a trampoline while she listens. Then come back and she asks about the pictures and the words. We exchange looks of trepidation when we get to certain bits and sometimes stop for a conversation halfway through. She makes stories with her drawings and conveys messages and information to us by them too. She can go outside whenever she wants to: paint, construct things, set up fantasy doll/castle/car worlds, make music, sing. She sings! And skips everywhere a lot. I didn't know it was possible to have such a happy child.

Didn't the older children do those things? They did a pale imitation of those things. The shadow of them. There were books, toys, craft and music facilities of course, at home and at school. But I'd say my older children made about 10% the use of them that Lyddie does. We read some books together, but there just wasn't the time to read as many as they, or I, would have liked. And they were too tired and inhibited to be really creative or to use their initiative in exciting ways, even though they enjoyed as much autonomy as the schedule and system allowed, both at home and at school.

I'm not beating myself up with guilt over this, because although I did know about home education being legal and I was in a position to provide it, I honestly didn't know what a phenomenal amount of difference it would have made to them to not go to school. OK, a very deep instinctive part of me did know, but I ignored it because I believed the thing about socialisation and conforming. I weighed it all up and I made the best decision I could at the time, given all considerations, which is all any of us can ever do.


Anonymous Clare said...

Do you feel that with Lyddie you are more confident about you're approach, having something to compare it with?

About once a week or so I question our plans to HE even though I *know* in my heart it's the right thing to do, and even though I can see our autonomous approach has made toddlerhood so much easier than I've seen in other families; but I have nothing to compare this situation with within our own family. Our children have never been to nursery; they've barely even attended toddler groups! Mopsy has only ever known HE groups.

Reading your post about comparing the difference with your own children, and blogs from families who have taken their children out of school, give me the most confidence that what we're doing is right.

10:48 am, August 03, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Gill,

Thanks for this wonderful post. It confirms what I think about nursery etc and why I don't take my son to pre-school.

He's 2.5 and he really just loves doing his own thing and hates it when he has to share the local playground with other children. He loves reading, scribbling painting playing all when he wants to do it....ok - sometimes I drag him to the shops a little unwilling, but he's generally ok when we get there!

So many people ask "is he going to playgroup/preschool" I say "no - I don't beleive in it"....and usually they reply "I know what you mean, they start children so young at school these days..."

A slow revolution I feel.

Anyway, my point is that we all do what we think is best, and I'll be starting him with HE groups soon enough. It was very interesting your description of your 4 year old. That is just what my son is like. He's only unhappy when he's hungry and he skips about, sings, plays and is 99% of the time a very happy little boy.

I took him to a toddler group for about a year, but he soon grew out of it and whenever we walk past the building where it is held he grabs me and says "no playgroup today"....

Needless to say, I never take him in now!


1:41 pm, August 03, 2007  
Blogger Elaine said...

JR has started skipping everywhere it''s great to see 'late but great'

1:47 pm, August 03, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

"Do you feel that with Lyddie you are more confident about you're approach, having something to compare it with?"

I think so Clare. Once your consciousness has been raised, and all that! I think after seeing how much the older ones needed to recover from being schooled, I couldn't possibly go down that route for the younger ones. Well, you live and learn :-)

"A slow revolution I feel."

Maybe, J. I don't know which way things will go! Sometimes it seems like more people are stepping out of the rat race, but it seems to get increasingly (and suspiciously) hard to do so.

Elaine - ah, she got there in the end :-)

3:49 pm, August 03, 2007  
Blogger Tech said...

I'll testify to that - JR is a totally different girl to the JR of a year ago, it's fascinating seeing someone else's child go through that process and come out the other side - a privilege in fact :-)

4:23 pm, August 03, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

I thought so, just going from the photos! :-)

6:05 pm, August 03, 2007  
Anonymous Lucy B said...

Lovely post Gill, thankyou.

It's funny, some of the stuff you described with how your older 3 were in the day completely corresponds to how A and M are at the moment. We had to stay at my parents' home for 3 weeks in July, while we were between houses. My mum and dad are lovely, but the atmosphere was generally much more restrictive, though not in any specific put-your-finger-on-it-way. A and M started whining, hitting, slumping, and generally being pretty hard to be around! Now we've been 2 weeks in our own house, but most days our friend has been here (was our childminder but for a few weeks he's our handyman and then he's off abroad to be a teacher). He's a lovely chap but, because we paid him to child*mind*, he does a lot of very exciting, very interactive 'lets-all-do-this-together' type things with the girls .... which they seem to love at the time, but which certainly has ramifications later on, as they lose their own rhythms and autonomy ... even the dog goes barmy! Anyway, today (our friend's had 2 days off) we suddenly noticed things are much improved. It's the first day in 5 weeks that I haven't felt almost literally at my wits' end. The girls are getting on with each other better, following their own wishes and wants, and everything feels much calmer. Big phew! Lucy

1:15 pm, August 04, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

I'm glad you got some peace at last Lucy! Goodness me, those are quite some upheavals you've had there. I know exactly what you mean, though, we all get niggly here when that natural rhythm gets disturbed. But.. it keeps us on our toes ;-)

1:35 pm, August 04, 2007  

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