We are hitting that stage when lots of friends are looking into nursery / preschool places for their toddlers. I have seen discussion amongst friends, acquaintances and people who I went through my pregnancy with regarding enrolment into preschool and nursery places and I know that the question will come up.
In fact the subject already has come up on a number of occasions, in the last 22 months that we have been home educating family members have made off the cuff statements “when he goes to nursery…” without much thought. Making the assumption that he will attend nursery as it has never occurred to them that maybe he wont.
It is of course an easy assumption for many to make. After all, we chose to home educate the older children following failures within the school system and to ease their own anxieties following issues with bullying. Both had previously attended pre schools, nurseries and schools fairly successfully so why wouldn’t I let the small one give it a go and see if he got lucky and escaped the torment and experiences that his brother and sister had suffered? His dad enjoyed school, he had no problems and did well, even today his attendance and conduct awards have display space on our shelves. Maybe small would be the same? We are not against school, we have many, many friends whose children attend school. Many enjoy it and are thriving and it is certainly the best option for those families, so I would hate for anyone to read this and feel I am in any way judging those families as I am not, any more than I would expect to be judged on my decision to do what is best for my family. But I do feel that I need to express my views on what is best for my family and my reasons for those views, as I realise that this is a subject that will come up again, and I know that for many others the idea of home education is a promising and positive idea but that they too are tormented by well meaning family members who believe that the traditional schooling is the best and only option.
So, first off, I will not be sending my toddler to nursery or preschool at all in foreseeable future unless something major changes in our family situation. My reasons for this are many and varied, but ultimately it boils down to one thing, I honestly, in my heart, do not feel that it would be the best path for my family. My older children really have suffered at the hands of bullies. This affected their self esteem, their confidence and their faith in the world. This was pretty heart breaking and was ultimately the reason behind removing them from school. However what I have since come to realise is that the damage went far deeper and began way before the bullying!
With school came school uniform, so suddenly the unique and crazy combinations of clothing that I loved to see my young children experiment with, the enthusiasm for choosing their clothes and dressing themselves in those early years very soon vanished as pressure to look smart, keep your jumper safe, wear those black shoes, sit still and let me do your hair, hurry up we must be ready to leave took over. With uniform the splashing in puddles, climbing trees and not caring that the slide was wet before sliding down it disappeared as it was replaced with “don’t do that in your uniform you’ll ruin it!”
With school came rigid time tables. Come rain or shine we had to be out the house and to the school gates. If it was snowing and the children wanted to play they could not do so on the way to school for fear of them spending the whole day in cold, wet clothes. If it was hot and sunny we could opt for a day in the park splashing in the river with the fishing nets, instead they still had to sit in the classroom looking longingly out of the windows at the wide expanse of green taunting them. On the times when we were able to get out crowds flocked to the best places, they were no longer “fun” when full of bustling and boisterous children all trying to make the most of what precious free time they had.
With school came forced learning. Children who got so engrossed in a set subject that they were thoroughly enjoying learning about it, only for the teacher to tell them that they were done and had to move on before their curiosity was satisfied. Children made to sit still and focus on a subject that did nothing to engage them or spark their imaginations.
With school came “set reading” gone was the freedom to choose what they wanted to read, instead came the need to read specific set books in order to work their way up through assessed levels. No consideration for interests. With the set reading came my son being told he couldn’t read, that he was below average. At home he was reading “The Hobbit”, as school he couldn’t move past the colour that he was on because he wouldn’t read it to the teacher. She knew full well he could read, she praised a brilliant piece of creative writing he did on greek mythology, but she was “unable” to mark his reading ability as any higher until he read that damn set book!
Homework, tiredness, stress, lost belongings, constant demands for money for this trip, that trip, this charity event, non uniform day etc etc etc…. it all caused arguments within the house. Children angry at each other, and at us. The love for the school holidays always tainted with the anxieties and preparation for return. And I am sad, sad at the rushed years, the mornings that we didn’t have time to marvel at the beauty of the frost on the spiders webs together. Sad that I couldn’t take them out on some of those glorious summer evenings to watch the sunset because they had to be in bed ready for school the next day. Sad at the missed experiences, the things that I never knew my children could do until their teacher told me. Sad that the children lost their first teeth at school, that it was their teacher who gave them a tissue to wrap it in and helped them to wash their bloody mouths out with a cup of water.
The passion, the curiosity, the natural spark was all well gone before the bullying began. It sad but it was only after they came out of school and were rebuilding themselves was I able to look back in hindsight and see all of this. I had been so busy, caught up in the day to day demands of life and children that I just didn’t see it happen. It was normal for children to come home from school in those early days and be so tired they fell asleep before dinner wasn’t it? So perfectly common, not a warning sign. It was perfectly normal for children to play up in the morning and not get ready for school wasn’t it? Again perfectly normal for children to sulk when they “should be reading”? or to cry when you walk out and leave them somewhere? Everyone tells you how normal it is, and how they will be ok, and you float along living it and just don’t stop, don’t realise those signs all adding up that you are losing someone so very precious!
If my children had not been bullied, had I not felt that my hand was forced in taking them out of school I am sure they would still be attending, and quite possibly even doing very well. But I don’t think that they would be my happy, helpful individuals that I am lucky to share my home and my life with. I do not think that my daughter would have the motivation and work ethic to work voluntarily 2 sometimes 3 days a week while studying for exams that she is choosing to take. I don’t think my son would be demonstrating the passion for drawing, photography and wildlife that he has been able to embrace. Most importantly I don’t think we would be as close a family as we are, the stress of every day school runs, time restrictions, no natural body clocks etc was breaking us apart. People are amazed now that I can drop my children off for ice skating, or swimming or climbing and that they enjoy doing these things, will go off and do them together safely and sensibly with no trouble. That they are both able and happy and willing to do some chores around the house and will pick up their books and sit together at the table to choose to do some work on a rainy day. I don’t hear complaints of “Im bored” or “there’s nothing to do”, they are both happy and able to keep busy without needing my constant supervision, input and monitoring and a lot of people find this strange, comment on how “lucky” I am and how nice it is. But that’s the thing, they are able to see their friends, they are able to spend time doing their own things and following their own interests, they are able to sleep when they are tired, eat when they are hungry and don’t need to ask permission to use the toilet, and when they are able to make these choices, they are able to choose to be nice, helpful and kind without being overwhelmed by a huge to do list and over tiredness.
So small one may not be bullied, he may love school, he may do very well and achieve highly, but he may also lose his passion, his spark, his natural curiosity that makes every learning experience a fantastic adventure. I want to see the look in his eye when something clicks, I love watching that moment when he learns something new! I want to be there when he writes his name for the first time, when he learns all the colours of the rainbow, when he watches in wonder at the life cycle of a frog!!
I am lucky enough that I do not need child care during the week days, I am very fortunate that working during the week is not something that I have to do, I am able to work on a Saturday and be at home with my children Monday to Friday. I attend lots of social gatherings with children of all ages within the home education community so I do not feel that my toddler is missing out on any interaction. In fact it is the opposite. He is very happy to mix with children of all ages, he is already gentle with babies and can be running around quite boisterously playing “it” with the teenagers. Add to that the sensory play that he does, the exploration out of doors, planting, painting, drawing etc, he isn’t missing anything so preschools and nurseries aren’t necessary.