Friday, June 24, 2005

What is Life Without School Like?

We don’t set aside time for lessons. That’s what suits us best for now (I believe it is the right of every family to do what suits them best. Each family is as unique as the individuals in that family.) Things might change but for now it enables us to live in peace and harmony, meeting the many fantastic challenges that a wholesome life can bring.

“What,” you might ask,” do you do all day long?” Our days are full. We each have our individual interests as well as shared interests. We follow our hearts desires. I understand that this is difficult for some people to fathom. This regular column written by myself is especially designed to help you imagine what life without school is like. It isn’t something that can be described in less than 500 words. Your questions are welcome.

A few weeks ago I did a day’s supply teaching. I hadn’t done so for eight years! The teachers on staff had heard I’m a home schooler and were keen to ask me questions. I was surprised by some of my responses as I realise they would differ from what I might have said five years ago.

One of the questions was, "If you’re not following a program, how can they (the children) keep up with the school curriculum?” My response, “I don’t value the curriculum in the way that I used to. If anything, ours is a values curriculum. The children are learning about themselves, the community and the world through their experiences. The skills of reading, writing, maths computations, etc are being learned through our daily living. They are still learning these things, but they are not our primary focus.”

The next comment to pop up is, “Well it’s alright for you to do it. You’re a teacher.” But no! I believe that anyone who chooses to be a home based learner is able to do so. Sure, it means a big difference in the way that people will do things, but I consider that to be an advantage. Imagine the different society we would have if the majority of people were living the way they believe is best for them rather than living the way they think they should live.

If our children were enrolled in a school, the eldest would be doing her last year of primary school. There’d be a certain level of excitement and anticipation as she mentally and emotionally prepares herself for the ‘leap’ into high school. The middle child would become our oldest child at the primary school and the youngest would be in her second year of primary school - and I would hardly ever be at home because I want to be with my young children.

We were able to enjoy sunny, dry weather for a week. It was almost enough time to dry out the lawn - but not quite! What a welcome relief the change in the weather was. We’ve discovered, through our son, that fungus and bacteria can grow on your fingernail - as well as the furniture- causing the nail to die! Ah! But things are never as devastating as they first seem. As a result of that nail gradually being separated from the finger, we watched the new nail slowly emerge. The timing of the process is amazing. The changeover took three months and never left him with a naked fingertip rich in nerve endings. We treated the finger with twice daily applications of tea-tree oil.

Easter time saw us camping alongside a river in the dry country for ten days. The children ventured out, sleeping under the stars each night and returning for food. We discovered that through osmosis, the children had learned to play Canasta (a card game). The only time we adults ever play is when we’re camping and the children drift in and out, sitting beside us, observing the game. This time, when they sat beside us, they were asking (in hushed tones) questions about how we played our hands. One day the older girls (10 11) asked us to help them play the game. All it took was one adult sitting with them, clarifying the rules and they were off. Within two days, they had also taught the 7 and 8 year olds the rules - and we had to race them to be able to play a game! The 4 and 6 year olds were also sitting at the table; welcome to join in the game whenever they were interested. No one was ever told, “You’ll have to wait until you’re older.”

I guess that’s one of the basic philosophies in our family. The children are welcome to join us in whatever we are doing. We don’t tell anyone that they’re too young to be able to do something. Each person is encouraged to experience things in their own way. It helps keep us all honest too! When I am in conversation with the children, I treat them as my friends rather than someone to be served or tolerated. Children have such a curiousity about their world that everything through their eyes is fresh and exciting. Look at how they can turn washing the dishes into such an opportunity for discovery and pleasure.

Have you ever monitored your every thought, word and action? It really does require tremendous effort, both mentally and physically. It can be quite disconcerting for those around you too. Suddenly you’re not responding in the way that they have grown accustomed to, you’re not making the same sort of jokes, you’re taking longer than usual to respond, you have less to say - because you’re busy monitoring what you’ve just said or done or felt. It’s worth the effort though! Each time I do it, I became aware of what my underlying thoughts and values are. I see how I am creating the circumstances in my life. I realise just how many judgements I make, unconsciously, in a day.

There is a certain amount of structure in our days. I find routine helps me achieve my goals yet at the same time, the routine allows alot of freedom. We all have daily household chores. Monday mornings are known as housecare day, other things fall on other days. We read together every day - purely for the pleasure of enjoying a story together. Sometimes we might read through a selected encyclopedia together, our attention being drawn by the illustrations. These past three months we’ve enjoyed Harry Potter by JK Rowling, Pigs Might Fly and High Valley by Colin Thiele (All highly recommended by us by the way.) amongst numerous other smaller books selected from the town library as well as our personal library.

The children have been collecting Yowies. They were inspired to make a Yowie Paradise out of paper mache. It took three months to complete, not because of the size or complexity, simply because they just worked on it when it occurred to them.-Usually they worked on it for a couple of days at a time, then nothing for weeks. But it’s ‘complete’ now, looking fabulous and in daily use.

I became involved in a community project - to make a love seat out of ferro cement and tile it with mosaic tiles. The eldest child has joined in too. The other two come along with us and play in the park, keeping a casual eye on what we’re doing. In between times, I grow vegies and put SSHED together. Ideally, I could set aside one day a week to develop its content and business even further but that doesn’t fit in with the constraints I’ve placed on myself for now. Soon that will change but that’s another story!

"We must be careful not to use every do-er's question as an excuse to turn life into School, to Teach a lesson, and then give a little quiz to make sure the lesson was learned. There is the old story of the child who asked her mother about something, and, when the mother suggested that she ask her father, said, "I don't want to know that much about it." And yet I do not mean that, if asked a question, we should answer once in a take-it-or-leave-it spirit and then say no more unless asked again. We need tact here. Whenever we talk to another person, child or adult, we must watch for signs that we are not being understood, so that we may try to make ourselves more clear. But we must also watch for signs from the questioner that whether he understands or not that he has heard enough and wants to let the matter drop." ~~~ John Holt

© Grace Chapman.