Or is it that a village needs children, along with every other sector of society to be a village in the first place?
I’m not sure, but I am very confident in the ability of this village, our village, to help us raise our children.
I’ve talked here before about how we Home Educate Dragon and Star and touched on our reasons for doing so. Our educational philosophy does not sit tidily within traditional education methods, formal or curriculum based learning or indeed institutionalised education. It relies on passions and interests, flights of fancy and going off on tangents, conversation (lots and lots of conversation), walking round experiencing the most we can from all our senses, constant questions, meeting a wide variety of people and staying alert, curious and interested for every single one of our waking hours. Not putting education into a tidy box with specific folders for various subjects and only opening it for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week during term times.
Friends and family have mentioned their concerns that this style of education worked well for us when we lived near to a couple of cities, had access to many resources and workshops and other Home Educating families but may prove harder to pull off on a remote island. They expressed concerns at the lack of other children (Dragon and Star are two of only five children who live on the island full time – another two commute fortnightly from the local school on the mainland, coming home for weekends and holidays.) and mentioned the potential lack of opportunity for socialising and learning.
As ever we employ a ‘suck it and see’ approach to education – and life in general, open to almost constant reevaluation and discussion. Our lives are still in a state of flux and although I believe there is much to be gained from going with the flow and seeing where it takes you I also like to have a nod towards a bit of a plan too so we have been talking and plotting and deciding on a bit of a rhythm to our lives for now and we’ll see how it goes from here.
Ady is the early riser in our family, always has been (we have larks and owls and all inbetween) so he is the one who gets up, takes Bonnie and wanders up to the croft to let the chickens and ducks out first thing. He enjoys that hour or so to himself (animals excepting) and often returns with tales and photos of deer and other wildlife spotted as he surveys the land. Meanwhile the rest of us get up, breakfast and get dressed. Ady returns and we have some dedicated one to one time – one parent and one child, swapping over each day. The idea is that Dragon and Star drive this time to get help with whatever project they are currently working on. At the moment Dragon is creating two books – one is a ‘write your own story book’ he spotted and asked for, the other a totally made up story he is writing and illustrating for a friend. He has all the plans in his head, he needs a little assistance getting them down onto paper so he is using his one to one time with either parent to cover that. He is also keen to improve his handwriting, spelling and grammar so has been working on that alongside it. Star is keeping a River Diary documenting what she has seen and caught in the river near our croft complete with illustrations. She is also working on her reading and writing so spends some time practising that with help from us.
Everything stops for Popmaster at 1030am – a Wondering Wanderers Institution (Monday to Friday anyway!).
After that it all depends on the day of the week, the weather and what mood we are in. If it’s a ferry day (summer timetable means Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday) we meet the ferry to check for any deliveries, frequently there are at the moment, be it tools, livestock, food (for us or livestock), stuff like fencing. It’s like Christmas four times a week as the whole island turns out to check what has come. If we have stuff to do on the croft then we head up there – so far that has included making bird housing, putting up a fence, erecting a washing line, starting to mark out where we plan to put things. Once our bushcutter arrives (hopefully this week) we’ll be up there strimming and making paths, we have drainage ditches that need digging back out to get them running again and we have pig fencing to put up ready for our pigs to arrive. Once the land registry forms have all come back complete we’ll be able to start applying for grants for half the cost of larger projects such as a polytunnel, shed, compost loo etc.
We have general stuff to be doing in the village too – laundry and shopping, checking in with the IRCT to check for any Odd Job work (we are the Odd Job Person for the trust and do stuff like change over gas bottles for the campsite showers).
We are making the most of all the wonderful events laid on the the islands Ranger Service and so far have attended a couple of walks and talks (we’re off to another one first thing tomorrow morning – rocky shore biodiversity) and intend to make the Shearwater Rum Dolphin & Seabird experience a weekly diary date having been on the last two. A two hour boat trip between Rum and Soay with our own ranger, supplying binoculars, spotter books AND all his expertise in identifying and spotting wildlife along with the amazing skills of Ronnie the skipper on the Shearwater.
We have a little library on the island, housed in the old dairy building but with an impressive stash of books. It is in need of a little love and attention, some cleaning and some alphabetising of titles, maybe a stock take and a freshen up of the stock but what an amazing resource here just a stroll into the village away. My initial contact with the main branch library included an offer to send across relevant material if we let them know the sort of authors and books we like to read so I’m looking forward to a very tailored bookstock sometime soon.
We have a very rich and diverse island here – wildlife inlcudes otters, seals, whales, dolphins, orcas, sharks all coming close enough to the shore to be seen from land, let alone out on boat trips. We have colonies of rare birds including shearwaters, red throated divers, great northern divers, guillemots, razorbills, golden eagles, sea eagles and more. Not to mention the red deer, subject to years of research and with two resident researchers living on the island and happy to share their knowledge with us we’ve already learnt more about these huge mammals in the last three weeks than any book or documentary could teach us. We have Rum ponies, lizards, bats, butterflies and many, many midges ;).
The island is geographically and historically interesting and we have plenty of knowledgable residents here to share what they know along with an almost constant stream of visitors coming to spend time on the island. If rocks and fossil or history and pre-history of mankind is of interest then this is a living museum with a lifetime supply of finding out beneath our feet, out of our windows and beyond. We also have the folly of a museum that is Kinloch castle – subject to many a book, TV programme and speculative tale of excesses, eccentricity and fabulousness and venue of daily tours to show off the faded splendour that exists within it’s walls. People travel across the sea to see it, we live here and can wander round whenever we wish.
Rum is home to a small but very vibrant and diverse group of people. We count within our fellow residents postmistress and shopkeeper, bakers, butchers, stalkers and hunters, rangers and researchers, artists, painters, writers, musicians, carpenters, mechanics, gardeners, poets, crofters, farmers, scientists. We have people here from all over the UK and the rest of the world. So far Dragon and Star have learnt how to bind a book, identify a kittiwake, spot a goose nest, find carnivorous plants, stock the shelves in the shop. They have heard tales of swimming with sharks, training dogs, canoeing round the island, exploring the mountain bothies, where to find the best beaches and uncover the rarest stones. They have been to their first ceilidh, explored secret camps, paddled in the rivers, spotted wildlife, engaged in a full on water pistol fight and welcomed livestock onto our land.
In three weeks Dragon and Star have made 30 odd new friends, with a further several thousand due to come across on the ferries over the coming months. They are learning from every single one of them, far, far more than any classroom or book could ever teach them. There are no limits to the educational value this island and this community can offer them – it’s persuading them to slow down, stop and eat, drink and sleep that is posing me the biggest challenge so far!