I feel like so far I've talked more about my fears and concerns about homeschooling and less about why we want to do it in the first place! I guess I still feel a bit defensive about taking a step that's so far removed from the mainstream. But now we've decided to go for it, I think it's time to focus on the positive.
In the course of making our decision Noel and I have read study after study proving time and time again that children learn best through play and do not benefit from formal learning before the age of seven.
Actions speak louder than words, if we want to prioritise play then we need to structure our lives in such a way that play can take centre stage.
2. Time outdoors
Linked to the above, time outside is not only one of our highest priorities, it's something that both children seem to actively need. I suppose the more time outside they get, the more they come to depend upon it. It's my hope that time in nature becomes such a fundamental part of their childhood that it's practically written into their DNA. I want my children to know and understand themselves as part of the natural world, feel a deep connection to it and have respect for it. The physical, emotional and educational benefits of a strong connection to nature don't need to be repeated here, any Google search will tell you what most of us already know instinctively.
3. Natural learning
I'm a huge believer in children as natural learners. Over the last four and a half years I have become more and more convinced that children really need very little in the way of formal teaching, and instead a great deal in the way of connection, unconditional love and support, and guidance. Children are programmed to want to learn, as a species we are biologically wired to chase the next step. We're not content with crawling, we want to walk. We're not happy making noises and babbling, we want to talk. We don't allow others to feed, wash and dress us for the rest of our lives, we want to do it for ourselves. And so it goes on.
A child surrounded by literacy and numeracy will not be content with being read to and having calculations made on their behalf, they will want to learn to read, write and understand and manipulate numbers for themselves. A child whose questions are considered and used to spark discussion, hypotheses and fact-finding missions will not be satisfied having their parent find out information for them, they will want the tools to find information for themselves.
I genuinely don't believe I have to put my children in a classroom for this to happen. Involving my children in everyday life is enough to spark their natural curiosity and desire for mastery. And once a child can read, write, has basic numeracy and knows how to find information, there is no limit to what they can learn.
I don't want to teach my children, I want to help them learn how to learn.
4. Depth of learning
Noel and I are faddy. One month we'll be rampantly into something, the next month it's forgotten and we're headed down another avenue. And children are no different. They go through fads and phases, they get really into something and want to do that thing or play with it or watch it or whatever it may be, take it to its natural conclusion - and then they move onto something else when they are ready.
Sometimes - rarely - something will prove so fascinating and compelling it becomes a lifelong passion. Most of the time, the information and experiences are digested and become a part of the great bank of knowledge and experience and memory and sensation that make up our unique selves. We may come back to them at various points in our lives, we may not.
Home educating means that we can stick with interests, deepen and broaden them, until they have come to a natural conclusion, and then we can move on and we are all the richer for it.
5. Core values
As Cherry and Violet get older I have found my values around childhood and parenting tested more and more. When Cherry was a tiny baby it was easy for me to proclaim that things like time outside, free play, self-esteem, creativity and so on were important to me as a parent. Now she is older I can see how easy it is to let these values slide for the sake of convenience.
For example, I really want to cut down on car use but we live at the top of a fairly big hill, we're at least a mile away from the village, Cherry's preschool and other conveniences, and walking anywhere with a four-year-old and an almost three-year-old takes FOREVER. It's much quicker and easier to just hop in the car.
I see it as my responsibility to continue to find solutions even if they are not necessarily the easiest or quickest. (In case you were wondering, a combination of their bikes, our bike trailer and allowing more time seems the best solution to the getting around conundrum)
School would certainly be easy and convenient for us, but if I think about my core values as a parent and my deepest wishes for my children and ask myself honestly if school would help us achieve them, at this point in time the answer would have to be no.
I would prefer Cherry and Violet to socialise with children of all ages, abilities and backgrounds and with whom they share a range of interests greater than a year of birth and a postcode. Socialisation with adults is also important to me and I would prefer the children to develop more authentic relationships with adults than viewing them as authority figures who must not be challenged and always know best.
At a home ed group we attended recently Violet wandered over to a group of much older children playing with Lego, watched for a while, then plonked herself down in the middle of the group and began to build. The older children shuffled around to make space for her then continued with their own projects. It's very difficult to imagine something like that happening in school, where children are immediately segregated by age and rarely mix outside of these artificially constructed groups.
I am also happy that Cherry and Violet get to continue to spend so much time together, and that I get to continue to have so much time with them. Of course this is also one of the challenges of home education too!
Learning is supposed to be fun - why else would we do it? OK, to me quadratic equations aren't fun (look at me pretending I even remember what a quadratic equation is, let alone how to do one) but I'm sure they serve a purpose and are satisfying in their way. The point is, if we can make learning fun, then why not? Or to put it another way, who said learning had to be boring?
There seems to be this perception that at some point life has to stop being fun and become serious, that so-called frivolities have to step aside for 'the real world'. Who gains from that mentality?
Home education allows us to take things at our own pace, to learn about the things that truly matter to our individual children. It allows us to be really hands-on, to prioritise skills and experiences over facts and figures. It gives us the freedom to learn and have fun at the same time. It also allows us to help them understand that sometimes they may not be gripped by what they are doing right now but if they master it, they will then be able to do something far more compelling.
And it allows us to use this precious time, these years that are really still so very short, for the things that really matter to us as individuals and a family.
This month we made no real changes to our lives as a result of our decision to home educate. In a way we don't need to, as home education is really just an extension of what we've been doing already. Lots of time outdoors, lots of play, a few trips and groups, a few structured activities and lots of reading.
We had a couple of notable events this month. Firstly we hit the library and a few charity shops to update our book collection, which was getting a bit tired and in need of some new additions. I picked up a few Enid Blyton books, including the Faraway Tree series as I have been hoping to introduce chapter books but had no luck with any Roald Dahl. We started The Enchanted Wood and Cherry was instantly hooked - in less than a week we've read about two-thirds of it. Violet is enjoying it too but she tends to play quietly while I read, however she's talking about the book and characters so is clearly listening and taking it all in.
This month also both Cherry and Violet have created some impressive pictures, collages and other artworks. Cherry completed a solo project turning an old egg box into a 'computer' and also created an exciting-looking present for Noel for Father's Day. Violet loves cutting, sticking and glueing and continues to have fun with all the materials, which are freely available all the time.
Despite the near-constant grey clouds and rain we have been out and about as usual, going to home education groups and getting up close and personal with wildlife as some of these pictures show! We took a trip into nearby Sutton by train which was hugely exciting for Cherry and Violet and really reminded me how day-to-day life is packed full of experiences and learning opportunities.
We've been picking raspberries and blackcurrants at the allotment and Cherry came up with this way of storing and sorting them which I found very charming. It reminded me of the sort of 'invitation to play' challenges I often see posted on Instagram, where parents set up play provocations for their children, only this one was entirely self-directed.
One thing I have noticed since we took the decision to home educate is that I tend to worry a bit about 'making it educational'. I am conscious I could start to pressure myself to add value to every experience, enrich it and really wring out every possible learning opportunity. I am equally conscious this is not only a cast-iron way to take the fun out of everyday life for all of us, it's also at odds with my views on children as natural learners.
It feels like part of a bigger issue, the issue of needing 'proof' or reassurance of learning.
At school, you have tests and exams and homework and exercise books and assignments and book reports and ticks and gold stars and reams and reams of other paperwork that provides concrete proof that children are doing something and, hopefully, learning and progressing.
While I have no plans to replicate that kind of busywork at home, I am conscious that both Noel and I will want to have some kind of reassurance that Cherry and Violet are learning and progressing. It feels like something we will work out in due course or more realistically, something we will relax about. But for now this is all still very new to us and something I have to be mindful of.
As ever my solution is to continue to read and learn myself, and to think and talk more with Noel about our goals for home education, what we want to prioritise and what, if any, measurement we want to use.
Overall at the moment I feel like I've shed a few nerves. June was tough at times and I had a lot of doubts but at the end of the month we are more certain than ever before that this is the right choice for our family, and excited about the opportunities ahead, for all of us.