Monday, January 28, 2013

Unschooling a 9 month old

I have known for years that I wanted to home educate my children, when I had them. When dh and I got together we discussed it and he did some reading up, and he came on board wholeheartedly.
Now let me make something clear – and I am only going to say this once.  Home education is currently top of our list of options, but we remain open to other possibilities. We will home educate Daniel and any other children we have in the future IF we feel it is the best way for them, and for us as a family. If at any point we feel it is not in their best interests, or if they want to try school, we will re-evaluate, and if they decide to try school and it doesn’t work out, they can come back out again. Home education does not work for everyone, just as school doesn’t, and a decision we make now does not have to be binding for ever more.
I find I am desperate to appear rational and reasonable to people who don’t really understand what HE is about, and I have heard myself recite that very obvious proviso so often that I am becoming utterly sick of it. So here it is, on record, and at least on here I don’t have to say it again.
So why HE? This is a question I’ll probably keep coming back to on here, but I’ll do my best to start answering it.
I want Daniel to be able to learn at his own pace, rather than being made to feel like a failure if he doesn’t fit with the government’s timetable. I want him to be able to use and develop his natural passion for learning (which every child is born with), instead of having to abandon his interests because the timetable says it’s time for something else. I want him to learn how to interact with people of all ages and backgrounds, in a variety of everyday situations. I want his emotional needs to be met so that he grows up happy, contented and emotionally literate. I want him to see learning as part of life, not as something that happens between 9am and 3.30pm, Monday to Friday. I want him to learn things properly, not divided into subjects, not shut away in a classroom, not tailored to pass an exam. I want him to have the space to grow as an individual so he can interact with his peers with confidence instead of losing himself under the group pressure.
Apart from my own schooling (more on that another time), in the past 6 years I have worked in a special school, and in mainstream preschool, primary and secondary. The more time I spent in the system, the more I felt that no school (with the possible exception of some of the rare alternative schools) can possibly give my child these things better than I can.
I’m not a qualified teacher, though I have a fair amount of experience in various kinds of teaching. Do I think that I can do the job better than a trained professional? Well, yes. But before every teacher out there reaches for their pitchfork, let’s look at what that question means. If I were being asked to teach the National Curriculum to 30-35 children at a time, keeping to a timetable, while coping with all the paperwork and pressure to tick boxes and produce results…then no, I probably wouldn’t do nearly as well as a lot of very dedicated, talented teachers out there who work in frankly appalling conditions. But can I educate my child/children better at home than the system can in a school? Yes, I believe so. 
Not so long ago, I spent a large part of my time feeling impatient for Daniel to grow up and reach the magical age of 5 when I could finally say “We home educate”. But then I suddenly realised – we’re already doing it! Compulsory school age may start at 5 years old, but many many children now are in nursery from just a few months old. At 9 months and still with me full-time, Daniel is in a rapidly dwindling minority, and by his first birthday he will be part of a rare breed, especially as a first child. I know more mums who decide to stay at home with their second child because childcare fees for more than one child make working no longer economically viable. The expectation for first-time mums, though is that they will go back within the first year. I’m not saying that they necessarily want to – many feel very torn – but a combination of financial need and social pressure compels them to return. The government spends huge amounts of money and hot air subsidising nursery places and giving tax credits to working mothers. I only wish they valued a parent’s role enough to give the same support to those of us making the sacrifices necessary to stay at home and raise our children rather than handing them over to the system to be brought up by other people.
And so I now feel I can describe myself as a home educating mum. Instead of waiting impatiently, I am enjoying every moment of Daniel’s development, watching as he explores the world around him and being there when he needs help or encouragement. At 9 months old, we may not be doing the kind of things that first come to mind when I think of HE, but we are laying the foundations.
We both feel that the approach we’re most drawn to is autonomous/unschooling. Essentially, that means being there to guide and facilitate, rather than to impose formal teaching. It’s what we do naturally at the moment anyway – let him try things out for himself, even if it means risking the odd bump or two, because that’s how he’ll learn best. I can easily imagine that carrying on as he gets older, though we’ll see how it all goes and what works at the time.  For a really good explanation of what unschooling is, have a look here
In our home educating journey, we have had a busy couple of weeks. Daniel has suddenly learned to crawl, and over the space of a few days realised that he could use this skill, first to get to me across a room, and then to come looking for me when I was in a different room. He can cruise along furniture, and is working hard on mastering stairs. Cupboard doors were thoroughly investigated at my parents’ house, where they have handles, and he has transferred this to our kitchen, where they don’t. Once he had learned how to open and shut them, the contents of the saucepan/baking tray cupboard were carefully removed onto the floor, and the resulting crashes were much enjoyed.
Food is also becoming more interesting. We have finally made the step to regular mealtimes, although I still breastfeed whenever he wants it. At the moment we are gluten-, dairy-, meat-, fish-, egg-, citrus- and nut-free, which presents rather a challenge, but with so many allergies in our family I would rather go through the hassle for a few months now than trigger allergies that I then have to deal with for years. Lentil bolognaise with gf pasta went down well, as did squash risotto. We are starting to relax a bit on the gluten front and so far, so good (he had an allergic reaction a few months ago when we first tried it). He has small amounts of apple juice in a Doidy cup and is really getting the hang of that. He loves sitting at the table with us and joining in the conversation – it’s lovely to see him naturally developing those social skills by watching us and copying what we do.
We’re using the Baby-Led Weaning approach, and so far it’s worked beautifully. In my search for finger food recipes, I found a website which informed parents that babies moving from purees to more textured food will ‘always’ have difficulties at first. We have completely bypassed that by missing out the purees altogether. I can’t honestly think of a single food Daniel has tried so far that he hasn’t liked, and he’s perfectly happy with a whole range of flavours, textures, shapes etc (he was a bit perplexed by spaghetti the first time, but ate it quite happily after he’d investigated it a bit). He uses his coughing reflex well to deal with pieces which are too big to swallow, and considering he still has no teeth he can chew remarkably well. Things like kale, lettuce and apple peel are a bit difficult without teeth, but he’ll have a good go. It’s messy, but that’s what washing machines are for!
Now I’m off to make a cup of tea and contemplate how glad I am to be tucked up warmly at home on a miserable, blowy, wet day. Stay dry and smiling!


Post a Comment

<< Home