|It all started when I first had my sweet,
precious little bundle of joy. Three weeks prior to his birth I
was a teacher in a state primary school. I enjoyed my job and
thought that I'd return after my baby's birth, at some point. Once
Lewi entered the world, however, my thoughts drastically changed.
I couldn't imagine handing my precious little bundle over to
anyone else. Surely no one could love him as I did?
From very early on I thought about Lewi's
education. As time went on I realized that I couldn't just hand
him over to any old school at the age of five.
By the time he was three, I started
seriously thinking about where on earth I could send him to
school. I looked into all of the local state schools and realized
that I no longer had the same view of the education system that
I'd had only a few years before. At this time I was also doing a
little bit of private tutoring (which I'd been doing for years as
a teacher). I felt the need to stop as I didn't really feel I
could reach the kids I was trying to help. They improved in terms
of the system's demands upon them but they weren't developing the
love of learning and passion for knowledge that my three-year-old
boy had. What was wrong? I wasn't sure at the time. I now know.
I looked into Montessori and its approach to
learning. I found elements of this that appealed to me. I pursued
this option. I visited the school. I went to its open days. I met
the teachers. I questioned them all. Something didn't feel right
there, for me.
My search for the best school for Lewi
continued. I started looking into homeschooling as an option. It
felt good to me in many ways but it was a relatively new concept.
As a teacher I felt homeschooling to be a strange choice for
parents to make (I take that all back now!) Due to the negative
feedback I got whenever I mentioned my thoughts about possibly
homeschooling Lewi, and also the amount of unanswered questions I
had about the whole concept of not going to school, I put the idea
aside and continued on my search for the right school.
By the time Lewi had turned four I was
agonizing over whether or not to send him to preschool. In my
heart it felt wrong but all his friends were enrolling and he said
he wanted to go. After many conversations with the staff at the
local preschool, and due to my thoughts that he'd probably be
going to school the following year anyway, I reluctantly sent him
along. He loved it. He had lots of fun and developed a lovely bond
with his teacher.
At about the same time I began looking into
the Waldorf Steiner philosophy for learning. I went to open days.
I talked to teachers, I spoke to parents of children already at
the school. I spoke to friends who were going to send their
children there. I surfed the net looking for information. Although
there were elements of the approach that I really liked, it was
still a system of learning. It was a school situation with lots of
children, where everyone had to do similar things at similar times
every day - 6 hours a day, five days a week.
During my research into the Steiner
approach, I began looking again into homeschooling as an option.
It was then that I fell upon unschooling and natural learning. I
became intrigued by the philosophy that children learn best when
they are given the freedom to choose their own learning for
themselves. I learned more about the nature of learning in a few
short months than I ever did as a student in the school system and
later on as a university student.
Giving children the opportunities to
self-direct their own learning and self-regulate their lives was a
new concept to me. But looking at Lewi's life and realizing that
he was learning all he needed to learn right then and there,
regardless of a school system, felt empowering and wonderful. This
is what I felt was missing in those years of my teaching career.
No wonder students needed so many incentives and rewards to keep
them going. They were learning, but they were learning what I
wanted them to learn (or the Department of Education wanted them
to learn). They weren't learning what was important to them. They
weren't given the freedom of choice (very rarely). They weren't
able to dream and devise and hope and discuss their own paths.
Their paths were chosen and that was that. The more I looked into
natural learning the more I loved it. This was what I'd been
searching for. Lewi had been natural learning all of his little
life. It felt right.
Looking at the results of natural learning
in Lewi's first four years of life, I could see a passionate
little boy who had an all-consuming thirst for knowledge and
learning. He was a lover of books. A lover of nature. A fanatic
about anything he was interested in at the time. He was motivated
and self-directed and loved to play. There was nothing, the
unschooling approach explained, in need of change. Nothing needed
implementing. Nothing needed to happen to Lewi at the age of five
for him to suddenly switch on to learning - he was already there,
doing it, living life to the fullest.
I had finally reached the place that I
needed to get to make the best decision for Lewi's education. So,
after five days of preschool, I pulled him out. Much to my family
and friends' surprise and some disapproval, I had made the
absolute best, heart decision I'd ever made. It felt right. It
felt normal. It felt peaceful for Lewi to just stay at home and
not enter a system to be institutionalized, to stay at home and
keep doing what we'd always done.
That year I read and read and read. I
grabbed at anything to do with unschooling and natural learning. I
joined discussion groups left right and center. I printed out
reams and reams of fantastic articles on all sorts of related
topics. I bought lots of good books form great authors on this
approach to learning. I found John Holt and John Taylor Gatto. I
learned about how children learn. I learned about how they fail. I
learned the most I've ever learned about learning and the
education system in that single year. I felt armed and ready.
By the time Lewi turned five, I knew I'd
have some explaining to do. The questions poured in at me from all
angles: Why would you choose to homeschool? Won't he get bored?
What about socialization? What about you, how will you get
a break? How is he going to function normally? How will he make
friends? How will he fit into society? Tell me you're not going to
do this for the high school years? What about university - aren't
you depriving him?
At the time I had some answers - now I think
I have most of them. It was a daunting time. I felt a real lack of
support. So I decided to make a concerted effort to find some
like-minded people. I knew that both Lewi and I would need this
type of support and social outlet in our lives. I rang around
searching for anyone in our local area who homeschooled. To my
relief I found some. On making the initial contacts and attempting
to get some get-togethers happening, however, it felt as though
regular contact was not going to be possible. I started to feel
despondent and concerned that we wouldn't have the support I'd
really hoped for.
One day, last year, this all changed for the
better. On arriving home from an outing, there was a message on my
answering machine. It was a local family trying to make contact
with as many homeschoolers as possible. They wanted to homeschool
and asked if we would all like to get together and meet to discuss
homeschooling. We all turned out to be natural learners! Who
would've thought? This was the beginning of a wonderful, wonderful
group. We now meet once a month and have great raves about
learning and our children. We also meet with other homeschoolers
once a month and have fun outings together.
Life for us is great. No hurried mornings
trying to get to school on time, no "I don't want to go to
school" comments, no "I don't want to do homework",
no bullying, very little peer pressure, no tired and cranky child
at the end of the day (well, not most days at least). Our days are
spent enjoying life. Lewi is free to choose whatever it is he'd
like to do. There are no schedules to follow. No deadlines to
meet. No changing of topics when he's right in the middle of
something fun or important to him. No pushing him to do something
he's finding too hard or boring. No having to stop when a bell
rings. No having to ask to go to the toilet. No waiting to eat
even when you're starving. No lining up. No hands up to talk. No
staying in late. No detentions for talking in class (actually,
talking is encouraged!). Lots of time to play and dream; laugh and
run; swim and ride; read and listen; and talk, talk, talk. He gets
to experience real life with real people. He's learning to
interact with the world safely and confidently and with room to
grow and change in a natural way.
He's learned to read and he's developing his
writing. He loves most things to do with numbers. He's telling the
time. He loves to draw, and paint and make things. He loves to
construct and build. He's passionate about the natural world and
the sciences. He's enthused about the history relevant to his
interests. He's confident on the computer and can surf the net. He
loves riding his bike and swimming and exploring. He likes to kick
a ball around and have a game of cricket. He loves playing with
his friends and having fun. He loves to be outside and explore
nature. He loves delving into his imagination and making up
fantastical stories, characters and worlds. He's doing all this
freely and in a self-directed way. His learning is his own.
And, when it all boils down to it, he's just
a normal child doing normal things. He loves his life and he loves
learning. He's happy and content. He loves this way of life. What
more could anyone want for him?
The further I travel down this unschooling
journey the more I see the need for freedom and uninterrupted
learning time. I am working hard at trying to establish this even
more for Lewi as I deschool myself and fight the education system
that is so deeply entrenched within my veins. The more I read and
learn and reflect, the more I relax and deschool, the better
facilitator and parent I am for my child.
So, why have I chosen to not send Lewi to
school? There is no need. He has it all right at his fingertips
whenever and whatever he chooses. Now I'd like to ask the
question: Why send any child to school?