So, this week marked the start of the new academic year (Sept - July here in the UK). For the majority of children here that means new school uniforms, shoes, haircuts, pencils and school-bags; a certain excitement about re-uniting with friends not seen over the summer, but also significant anxiety over new class-mates, new teachers, new routines and expectations. But for those of us who home-educate our children it really doesn't mean any of those things!
For us not much changes. Many home-edders will have even continued over the summer without a second thought. Education for these people settles on a continuum with all of life. It doesn't stop and start with seasons or the calendar. For others, like me, who do choose to take a long 'break', it just feels like picking up where we left off ~ although in reality education just LOOKS different over the summer - it never really 'stops' for any of us!!
'Back to School' for home-edders doesn't mean a return to stressful mornings spent trying to chivvy reluctant, sleepy children up the road to a classroom full of other sleepy heads; it doesn't mean leaving our children (crying) at the school gates; it doesn't mean exhausted children returning home at the end of a long day, grumpy about the thought of the hour (or two) of homework that they still have ahead of them; it doesn't mean playground spats and verbal teasing (for whatever reason the teaser chooses to find) or picking up the pieces of shattered dreams & broken friendships; it doesn't mean choices and options that cannot change, but that are supposed to determine their 'entire' future; it doesn't mean 'making the grade', or performing like dancing seals to the expectations of others who don't love them and have no vested interest in them beyond this single year; it doesn't mean watching (and missing) the last throws of summer ebb away whilst sitting at a desk, inside four walls, and the skies having clouded over by break/home-time.
Not Back 2 Skool in MY house looks more like this; wake up naturally around 8ish (little ones are usually up around 7am), get ready, maybe empty the dishwasher if it's your turn, eat breakfast and clean you teeth and be ready to learn by 9am. (If you're not ready by 9 then whatever you were meant to be learning between 9 & 10 you'll have to catch up on later - your choice!). I will be up about 8.30 and busy about, doing washing and odd jobs, before I join the children in the 'schoolroom' (never managed to think of another label for it) at 10am to do Bible Study with them all. On Monday's though, which I think most people will agree is the hardest morning to get going, I am realistic about my abilities and instead of pushing myself to get up before I'm ready - making me grumpy all day, the younger ones join me upstairs in bed, with our Five-in-a-Row book, and we read and snuggle while we learn! I'm not a morning person, which is why this year I have pushed Bible Study back to 10am ~ because realistically I am more with-it and human by then! 9am just wasn't happening often enough.
By 11am it's snack time ~ and if the weather is fine the children run off outside. In fact they may already be out there, if they've taken the morning into the garden already. There are no rules about 'where' learning has to happen ~ garden, bedroom, schoolroom ~ they can choose for themselves. Even computer based learning is reasonably portable if the light is favourable for a screen (and now I've managed to install flash on our android tablets). My only rule is that any writing has to be done sitting in a proper position, but there's two tables in the garden, so that's fine!
After half hour free time, structured learning resumes for a couple of hours, then they get a full hour lunch-break. In the afternoon they just do one hour and we are done by 3.30. We have 5 'structured' hours each day, but only four days a week. Friday is a structure-free day. Sometimes one child or another may have something they want/need to finish off from the week, or that they simply 'skipped' in favour of playing a bit more at some point ~ so they have the whole of Friday to slot that into.
The beauty of having a structure like this is that when 'school' is done, it's really done! The children know where they stand. No home-work, or unexpected demands! The children have a couple of chores to fit into their evenings once or twice a week, and they have clubs and activities that they go to 'after school' ~ they do have demands on their free-time, but mostly these are chosen demands, and the rest of the time they are able to simply 'be'. Obviously, as the older teens' courses become more demanding, there may be research they need to do over the weekend, but I don't/won't police it. They are expected to take responsibility for making sure they make reasonable progress. The 'junior' children might have a few spellings to practice over the weekend, but again, I leave the responsibility with them ~ and they know that if they don't learn them, then the consequences might not be ones they would particularly enjoy (like repetition)!
And so here we are at the end of Week One of the September term. It went smoothly. Everyone was mostly happy and all the 'structured' learning got done. Stitch struggled to adjust a little to the increased demands on his time (although it's not a massive increase in reality), and I anticipate it taking him a couple of weeks to settle into it, but he'll get there. He really is a boy who struggles to concentrate and be still (unless he's on a screen), but some essential things just can't be learnt/done whilst running around!
We've had a really great week tbh. The weather has been lovely which has meant a good deal of outdoor time, especially when Daddy came home on Wednesday with a rope and began sawing off a tree stump (from an Ash tree he hacked down last weekend) ~ and announced he was making a swing! The children were thrilled! They have wanted a swing in the over-grown pear tree of the neighbouring field for almost as long as we've lived here. They've made make-shift ones with skipping ropes and even borrowed Paul's tow-rope once, but they've never had a 'proper' swing ~ and now they do ~ and some of them even had a small hand in making it!!
Usually at this time of year, when all the tiny (but perfectly edible) little pears have fallen and are rotting on the ground, the pear-tree is a no-go area because there are gazillions of gorging wasps, but oddly, this year there don't seem to be any wasps around and, although the place smells of fermenting pears, it is safe for them to play. So play they have ~ re-firing their imaginations. A couple of autumns ago they built a wigwam against the same tree ~ now they've lined it with ferns to keep the floor less muddy, and woven ferns up the sides to make it more den-like. They've climbed the tree and Minnie, who had already made a 'seat' up there, has sat in it to write a story she has been inspired to start. They've thrashed down giant nettles & ferns (with sticks and a spade) to reveal hidey-holes amongst uncultivated, rampant plum trees. They've swung. They've played. They've run. And now they are talking tree-houses and Paul is planning a 'bridge' across the fence (we cannot remove the fence, or add a gate, because the field doesn't belong to our landlord, but to our neighbour (and the two do not get on too well), but the children do have permission from our neighbour to play in there).
Having older teens affords us great babysitters for short periods, so when he got home from work, Paul bundled me in the car and took me off for an ice-cream treat at Snugbury's (seriously the best ice-cream EVER) and a walk in the beautiful sunshine! We chatted about us ~ the past, the present (yes, the kids) and a bit about the future. It was lovely :)