The Reluctant Homeschoolers
Recently I've had a few people asking me about home schooling. Not in a judge-y way, I don't think anyway, but more in a curious way. Or just a "are you a mad woman" way. Maybe both, actually. And it's been a surprisingly tricky topic to write about, given that I am neither particularly for or against it. I'm not a stereotypical home school kind of Mum, at least I don't think I am. At the same time, I'm not totally against the idea. I've just never had any inclination to find out more about the home schooling movement. Not when I was working full time in the UK and could afford an excellent early years education for my two rat bags anyway. Singapore has changed all that though, hasn't it?
I mean we could afford some sort of pre-school/kindergarten arrangement, for a few hours a day anyway, but we'd still be looking at paying the guts of $10k a term. For mornings only. And aside from the social side for the kids (and the peace for a few hours for me) it's a hella lotta money for the basics. So after much thought (not very much at all) we came to the decision that we (I) would home school the kiddo's for a year or so. It's one of those decisions that I constantly go between feeling incredibly happy with, and very guilty about. I'm not a qualified teacher for a start, I have never shown any signs of wanting to become a teacher, and yet here I am completely thrown into a situation whereby I am now a home schooling teacher/mother hybrid. There's been a steep learning curve as a result of this, and it's not the children's knowledge expanding. Oh no. It's most definitely me.
Probably one of the most interesting things to come out of this, for me at any rate, are the memories of my own early years education being dragged out. We've dug out the Enid Blyton classics that Mrs Evans read to my class in Upper Infants- The Magic Wishing Chair, The Faraway Tree, The Enchanted Wood, Mr Pink Whistle...you know the one's. And if you don't know them, you should! A chapter or two a day is perfect wind down time (if you can get past reading aloud stories with children called Dick and Fanny without having a good snigger that is). And yesterday, as I sat with Finn, a maths worksheet and a pile of counters I had a flashback to being about six and counting out sums myself. As Finn struggled remembering to check the sign to know whether to add, subtract or multiply I felt such a strong sense of understanding. His frustration with himself was mine, but twenty something years later. We got through the worksheet together, his sense of achievement was a shared one. Would he get that level of attention in a traditional school environment? Obviously I don't know for sure, but I somehow doubt it. And, just as Mrs Maciver gave a fruit pastille from her special drawer when we did exceptionally well (this was in Lower Infants), Finn had a fruit chewy sweet. There are some memories that are so deeply ingrained in us, and so cherished in later years, that it's a joy to bring them back to life.
And then there's teaching the kids to read as well as listen and enjoy a story. Phonics are the bane of my life right now. How Mrs Hurley (Kindergarten teacher) had the patience to sit and listen to years and years of stuttering kids spelling out c-a-t over and over again before looking up at her and hopefully announcing DOG, I just don't know (I actually did this to my Mum, as she likes to remind me). Whether my children will reach adulthood fully able to read and with a mother still just on the right side of sane is yet to be determined, but at the moment it could go either way. Not to sound dramatic or anything. And I haven't even got started on the pain that is writing, especially with my little left hander and her weird way of using a pencil! Even just watching her mark over dots blows my mind. I'm a righty, in case you hadn't guessed. I would never ever force her to use her right hand, of course not, but at the same time I can understand why kids were put through that ordeal. Being left handed creates another level of complexity for which I am completely inexperienced and ill prepared. But you know, as with the rest of it, I'll google the crap out of learning for left handed children and give her more one on one teaching time and more carefully adapted teaching styles than she would (probably) get in a class of thirty other kids at a regular school.
Home schooling is not my idea of fun, I'll be totally honest. It's been something of a slog getting to a point where I feel like we have even half an idea what we're doing with it. But for what it offers us in terms of personalised learning (subject matter and pace), and the flexibility of no set school day (or uniforms to fret about), it simply cannot be beaten. I have no doubt there is an awful lot of stuff my kids don't know about which they would if they were at school, but they do know a lot of other things. And most of all, they know how to be kids still. They play, and explore, and spend days in the sunshine and fresh air using their imaginations. They're not limited by classrooms, or time tables, or keeping their uniforms neat. They're wild and free and learning about the world in their own ways, soaking up information like sponges and taking everything in. And at their young ages that's exactly how it should be. They have a lifetime of being defined by structure and routine ahead of them if they want it. Taking them out of the formal schooling system and completely redefining our approach to educating has been liberating, and for the most part, SO fun.