Let's just imagine for a minute that there is more to life than how 'successful' you are. That there are more important things than how clever you are, what you do for a living, how much you earn and what 'stuff' you have. We all know that these days don't we, deep down? Whatever we might feel we know, our society seems full of people rushing around convinced there is not enough time for any of the things or people that matter to them, constantly striving and desperately competing to stay 'on top'. I can't help feeling that in many ways our schools support and encourage this approach to life. Throughout their school days children are tick-boxed and tested against a limited criteria, and then labelled if they fall outside of the range of normality. In fact I often wonder whether what children actually learn at school is how to become submissive to authority, how to give the right answer and how to please adults. Stories about children's anxieties about school and their performance there are seemingly becoming all too common, as children become ever aware of what is expected of them and how well they shape up against their peers. This is not about criticising school though and I know that there are many brilliant teachers doing a great job, and equally there are plenty of parents putting a lot of unnecessary pressure on their kids. Its the system that bothers me and since I don't see the system changing in a way that would please me any time soon, we've simply decided to allow our children to learn outside of it. During the past year of thinking very seriously about learning, I've realised that there are particular hopes and wishes that I have for my children's learning that I feel will best served outside of the school system. Some of these may sound a bit bizarre because the idea of school is so ingrained in us, and please remember that this is what I want for my children and not what I think anyone else should want for theirs.
I would like my children to be able to learn about their bodies and listen to its needs. To sleep until they are ready to wake, eat when they are hungry, run around when they feel the need to use energy, and be still when they feel they want rest. This seems of massive importance to me when I look around and see how many adults are simply not able to do this for themselves, and the stress and illness it causes. I can't imagine having to wake Joseph in the morning (during the winter he was sleeping until 8.30am at times), rush breakfast and rush all of us around to be ready to leave the house to arrive at school on time. Just thinking about it makes me feel stressed and exhausted, I can't imagine how it might feel to a small child. And what would I be teaching the boys by allowing this to become the norm in our house? That there is never enough time? That the things they find fascinating and want to linger about doing aren't important? Living with three small children has taught me that they have their own clocks! They refuse to rush for anybody, and I've often turned up late to places because Joseph was busy collecting sticks, watching a spider make a web or happily stood by some roadworks, watching tarmac being laid! There is fascination in the world all around for children if they are given the time to look at it. Rushing does not seem natural to them and where this is concerned I think the kids have it right and we adults have it very wrong! I can imagine some may give a response like 'well how will they be prepared for the world of work?'. I don't that's something a small child should be concerned about.
The amount of learning that Joseph has done in his first four years is staggering, and I feel as though I have done little more than provide an interesting and stimulating environment, respond to his needs and interests and follow his lead in terms of what he was ready to do. When as a baby he began to hold things we made sure there was plenty around him to pick up and hold on to. When he began to speak we listened, responded and put his words in a context for him. It was natural for him, and natural for us. As time has gone on this has continued as he makes us aware of the things he enjoys and wants to know about and we ensure there is plenty of opportunity for him to experience them. In his book 'How Children Learn' John Holt says that for children, learning is as natural as breathing, and this is absolutely our experience. We see our boys learning all the time in everything they do, and they have so far learned all the necessary skills they needed to get to this point, in their own way and their own time. I don't believe that this will suddenly stop when they reach statutory school age. I trust my children to learn.
I would like my children to be given space. I have an instinct to leave my children be as much as possible and to keep interference to a minimum. Of course I keep them safe, but it feels natural for me to watch their play and ideas unfolding rather than trying to steer them in a particular direction. If it fascinates them then it's fascinating, and if they want to know about something then it's worth knowing. I think it's a real shame that the system makes judgements about what is worth knowing/doing and what itsn't at particular ages, I guess it's so they can keep track of children's progress. If I don't make value judgements about what my children learn when, I won't have to test them, and I therefore hope they'll grow up without a sense that it's bad to get things wrong. How many wonderful experiences are lost for fear of getting it wrong I wonder? There's an amazing world between black and white and right and wrong, I want my children to live there.
It makes sense to me that my children learn in the real world, in a real context. As such, I've tried to lead by example rather than 'teach' wherever possible, for example being polite and respectful towards them rather than nagging them about their manners towards others. I don't always manage it, but that's my intention! The idea of a learning environment where there are power relationships involved and the sense that all worthwhile knowledge is located in a teacher or other adult does not inspire me, and I doubt it would inspire my boys in the longer term. John Holt made what I believe to be a wonderful point, highlighting that in a classroom it's the teacher who speaks the most, while it is the children who need the most practise at speaking! In the brief time I've been a mother I've learned more from my boys than I could ever 'teach' them.
Some of the best ideas I've had, the most inspiration I've received and the most sense I've made of my knowledge has been gained in moments of stillness. Staring out of windows, walking or sitting in silence...daydreaming!! I'll make sure my children get plenty of time for that! Plenty of time to just absorb the world around them without anyone suggesting they should be thinking about anything in particular, or focussing on anything else. I want their minds to be their own, I hope they'll develop a rich and engaging internal world. I may never know, but that doesn't matter :)
Time, Space and Stillness. In brief, that's my hope for them.