Monday, 7 September 2009

A Mission Statement

When I started today's post, it was going to summarise all the reasons that we will be educating our children away from the school system.

Although our boys are only one and three, we made the decision not to send them to school so long ago now that it seems like we have been a part of the home ed community almost forever, and it almost seems odd to be writing about why the boys will be learning outside of school when I almost feel as though everyone already knows all the benefits of home ed. This isn't the case, of course. Maybe instead it's just a positive sign that, on the whole, we are surrounded by a fantastic support network.

Now that Sprout is going on four, lots of his friends have started, or are going back to, school today, and the question is cropping up more often than it did before: "When's he going to go to school?"

Now, while I will never feel the need to justify to anyone our decision to let them learn out of school (just as I would never expect a parent who sends their children to school to justify that decision to me), I would like to share our reasons for doing so, our vision for our children. Just so that anyone who feels so inclined can understand a bit more about it. And also so anyone who thought there must be another way, but just didn’t know what it was, might find an amazing new world of possibilities for their children.

Now, when I started to write this post last night it summarised every reason they wouldn't be going to school, listed and explained. Reading it back to myself, however, it was incomplete. Actually no, scrub that, it wasn't incomplete, it was just unnecessary. All it was was a list of ways in which schools fail our children, and people already know that, although their lists may be slightly different.

So what I am putting here today, instead, is our Mission Statement.

Now, if this was the world of business, the shorter and snappier the mission statement the better. The Holy Grail of all mission statements is Nike's "Kill Adidas!". If we were to go down this route, our mission statement for our children's education would be "Let them be". The reason being, children are born with an innate desire to learn. Some of the first things are crawling, walking, language, how to feed themselves, but that ability doesn't suddenly wither away once they are some magical age, at which point we must send them to school for information to be thrown at their brains in order for it to go in. No, that desire stays with them, if we let it.

However, "Let them be", while being snappy, concise, and pretty much summing up what we will do, doesn't really share the amazing vision that we have of how we intend our boys' childhood to be. So instead...


Our children will be free to learn what they want, when they want, whether that is building a lego train at 6 in the morning, reading a book while they eat their lunch at half ten, sitting in the garden watching a bee, getting me to tell them the name of every single country on the map, dancing to each other’s ‘compositions’ on the piano, playing football in the park, counting the chocolate sprinkles as they put them on the buns they made, watching a dvd, jumping around at gym class, talking to their grandparents about their childhood, or… well, you get the idea

They will not have their learning restricted by any curriculum, let alone one devised by someone they have never met.

They will not have their socialisation impaired by restrictive age bandings or peer pressure. They will be free to interact with people of all ages as and when they please, whether this is us, their friends, children at their groups and classes, family, neighbours, shopkeepers, people at the bus stop, librarians, musem curators... again, you get my drift.

We will facilitate their learning in whatever direction they want to take, and with all the multitude of resources available to them: at home, books, toys, internet, cds, dvds, musical instruments, the garden, our extended family, our friends; and outside the home, libraries, museums, farms, playgrounds, home ed groups, friend’s houses, parks, woodlands, shops, and, well, life.

Our children will have the freedom to eat when they are hungry, talk to adults without raising their hand, and use the toilet when they need to, unrestricted by a system schedule unconcerned with their individual needs.

We will never allow anyone to attempt to measure or test their learning (if such a thing is even possible), and use those results to compare them with other children, groups of children, or nations of children.

My children will not have their self esteem conditional on arbitrary grades assigned to their learning.

We will love and support our children, whatever they choose to learn and whatever direction they decide to take.

And there you have it, our commitment to our boys. And to anyone that knows me, if you do still ask me, "But what about socialisation?!", I will refer you back to this post with a flea in your ear :)

Thursday, 3 September 2009

So, hi :)

Well, best to introduce myself first I guess!

Until our first child was born three and a half years ago (is that really all it is? It seems like we've known him forever!), I was, I think, a very conventional twenty-something woman. I worked (too much) as a hospitality manager in a premium health club, and lived with my boyfriend in a rented house on a so-so estate. Eventually, we thought, we'd probably get married, maybe even have a kid five or so years down the line; but for right then, I was climbing the career ladder, we both had comfortable incomes, we had plans to travel the world in the next eighteen months, and that was pretty much all that mattered.

Two blue lines on a stick I peed on changed all that. Well, three sticks if I'm honest. Erm, what??. Anyone who had known me any of my adult life would not have described me as maternal. Ambitious? Yes. Driven? Yes. Motherly? Nurturing? Er, no.

So, we came to the stunning realisation that we were going to be parents. Once we had crossed over that line it became easier, something I could be organised about. I would work up until the day I went into labour, have a detailed birth plan so that I knew what was going to happen, take 6 weeks off on maternity leave, then put the baby into a nursery and go back to work, having missed as little of the vastly important world of health club catering and events as possible. I read every parenting guide that I could find, and was duly horrified by parents whose children appeared to misbehave in public, whether it was playing chase round my restaurant or crying in Tesco. They should have read the books, I thought, then they wouldn't have these problems. I was assured by an acquaintance with a one year old (we didn't have any actual friends with children) that "babies only have to change your life as much as you want them to". Perfect. That would be not at all then.

Fast forward nine months, through a horrible induced labour during which the doctor shouted at me for crying and the nurses listened to Chris Moyles, to nine pounds of Sprout being plonked on my chest and changing the way I looked at the world. For that, I will be forever grateful to him.

His refusal to sleep anywhere but with me; his enthusiasm for round the clock breastfeeding; his absolute determination to go places and do things that saw him walking at nine months old and making sandwiches not long after; these are the things that made me forget those tomes of wisdom I had read while pregnant, and instead start listening to my instincts, to what he was telling me he needed. Now three, he is fearless, and wants to try everything and do everything, and has no qualms about standing up for himself and doing things the way he wants to do them, and working the whole thing out for himself.

Just over two years later, Squidge followed. Despite my determination that my second experience of labour would be better than the first, it was still far from what I would have liked, and, should we add to our family in the future, I would do everything in my power to not be bullied into anything I didn't know was right for me and my baby. Labour aside, Squidge came into the world happy and healthy and quite the 'cheese' to Sprout's 'chalk'.

Squidge spent the first year of his life sitting smiling like a little Buddha, with no desire to try out any of this crawling business, content to watch life going on around him, and smiling and laughing at anything that pleased him, which was, and still is, pretty much everything. The only break in the sunshine is if I have to leave the room for anything, and then, of course, he screams like the world is ending. He's enjoying walking now, and sometimes has a bit of a run around, but mostly finds walking useful for moving between various family members to cuddle and kiss them.

My soulmate, and Daddy to these two lumps of gorgeousness, shall, for the purposes of this blog, be known as Gruff. Somewhere between having Sprout and having Squidge, Gruff and I got married on a hill in the rain at sunset, in a ceremony that I don't think we would have had, had it not come after Sprout, in that we did only what we wanted, and nothing that was expected of us. A more laid back and kind husband I could not wish for, and I will always be grateful to him for supporting me in whichever direction I have headed off in each week, because there is always, it appears, a battle to be fought or a cause to further when it comes to giving my children the amazing life that we have envisioned for them.

I've already got used to people questioning the way we do things: the baby wearing ("Won't he suffocate in there?" "Er, no."); the baby-led weaning ("But you can't give that to him without pureeing it first!" "Watch me."); the plan to educate them out of school ("But how will they socialise?" "The school children? I know, it must be hard with all those restrictive lessons."); even the fact that they have autonomy over their diet ("But surely they eat sweets all the time!" "Sometimes, but then they also sometimes eat broccoli for breakfast so hey.")

Unfortunately when it's those in power who don't agree with our ideals, the fight is harder and all the more important, but that's a different blog post.

Last of all then, why this blog? A number of reasons, I guess. Number one, to give Gruff's ears a break from the stream of consciousness that I am constantly talking: the latest idea, political injustice, thoughts about what, why or how we are parenting and living (I know, he's a saint). Number two, because sitting here right now, wrapped in a blanket with a hot chocolate, in the dark except for the glow of the computer screen, writing, is just about my idea of perfection. And number three, because I hope that something of what I write about will make at least one person think, maybe change a perception, maybe make give someone else confidence that there are other people around who think like they do, because sometimes going against convention can be lonely.

I hope you enjoy reading, and I look forward to your comments :)

Oh and, in case you were wondering, I never did go back to that job. Funny how quickly priorities can change.