From the outside looking in you see children not in school. You see children laughing, playing, having fun. Splashing in rivers, climbing trees, playing in parks and enjoying the sunshine with friends. From the outside looking in it could be easy to think “what are they possibly learning?” “They arent being educated, they are having fun.” “They wont get an education playing in the river.” I can see that, I can understand how that might be a very easy assumption to make. Society has reached a point where the common belief is that children learn by sitting at a desk in front of books. There is a level of acceptance amongst most *some* that this can be done at home (though I still come across parents saying “I am not clever enough to teach my children!”) but the general assumption seems to be still that learning, education and fun are completely separate entities and that they can not over lap. I wonder why this is? Why is it assumed that if children are laughing with their friends they cant possibly be getting an education at the same time?
Two years ago I had angry, hurt, distrustful children who suffered with low confidence, poor self esteem and struggled in social situations with groups of people and people they did not know very well. They were in school, they were learning at their desks and doing their work and sitting in their classroom. But education is about providing young people with the tools that they need to survive as adults in society, and neither of them were gaining those tools in school. Yes they may have continued through school, gained some GCSEs if they were lucky and may not have lost their love of learning so much that they chose to continue on to further education. They may have over come the bullies and the difficulties and worked through their anxieties as adults and got by, many people do. I know a lot of people, my self included who struggled at school not with the learning but with the people. Who have experienced anxiety as adults. I didnt succeed in getting GCSEs in school, I did go on as an adult to repair myself sufficiently to get my degree but I dont give my school years any credit for that. I had to jump through hoops and fight those anxiety issues that came as a result of years of being bullied before I was able to move forward.
Yesterday I watched my children playing in a river, in their swimwear, with friends and with some children who they had never met before. I watched my 11 year old ASD son engage in conversation with a young man who was at the river with his girlfriend and they practised skimming stones together. There was a small argument between my son and another boy, but that boy was taken away by his mum and came back having been told off and made to apologise and my once angry young guy gracefully accepted his apology, apologised for the way he had responded and shook hands before running off together to enjoy the rest of their afternoon with no grudges held. I observed the children working out the easiest and safest way to get down the steep river bank to the water and how to move against the current to get back up to the top of the small weir to ride back down again. I saw one of them hurt themselves on a piece of a shovel that some caring citizen had littered the river with, and them getting it out and moving it out of the water to prevent anyone else getting hurt. Unprompted, just done. I saw them working together figuring out how many people could go down at the same time and working together, taking turns, to keep everyone safe.
In the past two years we have done a number of classes, lessons, workshops and outings. We have done formal learning at computers, we have watched documentaries and I have no doubt what so ever that academically the children are thriving. But the other stuff at this age is so much more important. They are leading and taking control of their learning. Learning valuable life skills, not out of a book from the safety of a classroom, but out there, in the real world. Learning about forming friendships based on common ground and shared interests rather than when you were born, solving disputes and getting on with people who think differently, because being different is not a bad thing! Having the confidence to stand for what you believe and to try the things that scare you.
Friendship is an important part of life. Being able to make and maintain those bonds of friendship is a life skill in itself. Something that has come up quite a lot recently is the relationships between siblings and opposite sexes. It seems to be common amonst school children that there is this idea that if a boy and a girl play together they must be boyfriend and girlfriend, or want to be. They cant just be friends because they get on. It has also come up how socially frowned upon it is in the school environment to play with children not in your year group. Can you imagine the outrage in a school playground where two boys were friends and at playtime one decided he wanted to go and play with the other ones younger sister?! But why is that so frowned on?! As adults we do not ask for a potential friends date of birth before working out if we can go for a drink with them do we? And for the record a number of my friends are also friends with my older brother and vice versa. Thats just how it is out with home educated children, age and gender are not issues. Children either get on with someone or they dont, if they do then great we plan events and activities together, if they dont then hey ho, they dont have to hang out and they certainly dont have to spend 6 hours a day 5 days a week at a table with them.
We will continue with the organised workshops, the guided tours, some formal “learning” and the social events, but most importantly we will continue to have fun, enjoy each other and remember that whilst it is all good fun, it is so so much more.