This is homeschool, part two.

Interested in our journey in home education?  Have a read of this introduction to what natural learning looks like for our family….

What is that?!  Is it LEGAL?!  But you don’t know anything about child development (better leave it to the experts).  Oh I could never do that!  You must be some strange breed of parent!  Oh I just couldn’t give up my career!  What if the kids want to go to university?  Education is important to us, we could never homeschool.

People say the strangest things don’t they?  Above are real reactions, comments or questions from friends or strangers when they ask why the kids are not in school, and they hear we are homeschooling.

So, what’s it all about?  I didn’t think I’d be homeschooling when I became pregnant with Luna, I didn’t really think that far ahead, it’s years away after all.

What shaped our path?

For better or worse, it was pretty obvious that my career in arts and education was over when I became pregnant.  I was working two casual jobs (that I LOVED) along with taking on a couple of creative projects a month around my flexible hours of work.  While I was pregnant I went for a part time permanent tutoring contract, though a contract position, they needed someone who could “commit” – after I mentioned I was pregnant (how many men would jeopardise their employment prospects by telling a prospective employer they would be a dad in a six months?  But I digress…).  Wages are/ were pretty low, childcare expensive and inflexible, and being casual there was no real job to return to, though I did work a little before Blake was born.

Then there was the fact that by the time baby was on the scene, it really was years since I had been living and working a nine to five lifestyle, the idea of working to a time frame decided by the school term, let alone my child’s days dived up in to periods of learning, play time, home time, homework… just made me shudder.  It was the flexibility we had, and I was not so keen to let go of, that allowed us to enjoy our days together and make the most of family time – and creative projects.

The direction our parenting journey was taking us was further and further away from mainstream ideas and ideals.  I remember one dad said to me, “You just want them to fit in, really, that’s what you want.  No nonsense”.  I was a bit stunned, I was thinking, “I want my child to be happy, to explore, enjoy, experience, be themselves, be happy in themselves, live their dream……Life is short” I was thinking.  We were…are doing our best to be responsive rather than controlling, we want our children to have the freedom to explore and be a part of real day to day activities, learning skills as they go.  I gave birth at home, breastfeed on demand, went nappy free, let our babies feed themselves real food rather than purees.  It was more about ‘doing with’, or supporting autonomy rather than ‘doing to’ our babies.  Not so much a stance in oppostiton to the ‘norms’ I saw around, more of a ‘hey this is great, it works well for us’ approach.  This felt good, and I started to see children more as capable beings with great potential, needing more respect and less ‘moulding’.

It still feels good, we have our good days and bad days, but like other parents who were brought up with physical punishments it requires some effort not to repeat those patterns I want to change.  Recently, Luna has started to talk candidly about how she’s just like me, she is going to be like me, and she tells me ‘some things we like the same and other things are a bit different’, like “You and me eat different things mum, I eat meat and you don’t!”  Then, “When I grow up, I wont eat meat either, like you”.  If ever I needed a reminder to be a good role model, that was it.  Gulp.  No pressure.

I shed the popular behaviourist practice of using rewards, praise and punishments to manipulate behaviour.  It was a big one, taking a leap of faith that my kids want to please me, were not sent to ‘test me’ or push me to my limit, and are doing their best. That mostly they need leadership, fair boundaries, acceptance of shortfalls and they need me to trust them – not to mention the importance of good role models.  Giving a child a smartie for putting their toys away or rolling out the “Good BOY!” for clapping was the last thing I wanted to do.  And when you’ve done a bit of reading on some of the major criticisms of using rewards, praise and punishment, it gives a bit more perspective.  Do I want my child to tidy up their toys so they get the chocolate, or because that’s one way we take care of our things, and have respect for a shared space? Do I want them to focus on what may happen to them (punishment) or what they get out of a situation (reward/praise) or do I want to foster a deeper sense of co-operation and responsibility?

Alfie Khon has been going on about good reasons to avoid praise, rewards and punishment for years, you should check out some of his work.  If you need some more to get you started, rewards and praise undermine creativity, collaboration, and foster risk averse attitudes, you’ll do the minimum to gain the reward, say, an A grade, rather than developing a deeper understanding or really mastering a skill.  If you’re in school, everyone is a threat, higher grades might be scarce, so you compete with everyone.  And if they work, it’s only short term, and we’re in this one for the long haul – hey I can remember weighing up whether a plan I had was worth the risk of punishment – if I got caught, see they even foster covert behaviour and dishonesty!

I was also really interested in attachment, and how crucial to learning strong relationships are, indeed how crucial strong relationships are to happiness.  I enjoyed listening to Gabor Mate‘s talks (check out Hold on to your Kids on Youtube) and reading some of his books (Hold on to your Kids, why parents need to matter more than peers, and When the Body Says No, the cost of hidden stress), he has years of experience working with people who’s attachment relationships have been broken, and advocates getting back to, or recreating that traditional ‘village’ that we humans need to thrive.  One of his key issues is with with kids spending vast amounts of time with peers rather than adults (they love) and who love them.  This provided much to think about, and I really question/ed the way we do things now, and whether separating a family – kids off to school, parents off to work leads to strong relationships and life long learning and a happy life….

I also wanted to breakdown the idea that knowledge is something that is distributed or filtered down to us all via authority figures, and that we need approval from such figures, and that we need to prove our knowledge and understanding. Knowledge is everywhere, it is a matter of having time, connecting with resources like clubs and libraries, meeting and spending time with knowledgeable enthusiasts and experts.  It is this that I have observed in just a short time already, when I see Luna mastering writing, and owning writing, she has taught herself, mostly, and that is empowering, and she will not forget it.  That is exciting and a gift.

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