I remember quite distinctly the day that Davies did not start school. It was just before his fifth birthday and was a real landmark day as it marked the beginning of our official Home Ed journey. The same is true of the day Scarlett didn’t start school. Over the years we have marked the first day of the new school year in September a few times with Not Back To School Picnics. Indeed during a particularly politically active period back in the days of the Badman review we were part of some high profile events covered in the media protesting at Westminster, holding mass bubble blowing flashmob events and large picnic gatherings.
These days the start of a new school year largely passes us by. In Scotland the terms are different to England anyway and having never really got my head around the year groups (I don’t care what P7 means, just tell me how old the child is!!!) I have utterly failed to grasp the Scottish system. But I did realise yesterday that Scarlett would be about to start secondary school in the next week or so if we were not home educating. This feels like something worth marking – neither of our children ever went to primary school, we have home educated them both to secondary school age.
I don’t wish to compare – it would be impossible to try. Had they attended school they would be very, very different individuals to who they are today, having trodden very different paths through life already and had very different experiences. They have not and now never will do but instead I just want to reflect a little on what they have had instead following the path we have traveled together.
Freedom. I think the biggest gift we have given our children is freedom. Freedom to be who they are naturally. Freedom to get up when they wake naturally, wear the clothes that they are comfortable in and reflect their personal taste, style, personality, lifestyle. Never have either of them followed fashion in terms of hairstyle, clothing or accessories. Aside from brief periods in uniforms for groups such as Rainbows, Scouts or Badgers they have only ever selected their own clothes and worn them in whatever way they see fit.
Passions and interests. We have never restricted TV or console use although these days we do not have a TV and very limited electricity so these things have become self limiting. Both children are very discerning at what they watch or listen to, not for them mindless channel flicking or constant gaming. Their passions and interests remain very similar to the things which captured their attention as small children – art, drawing, storytelling, films for Davies. Wildlife, the natural world, animals for Scarlett.
We made the most of the childrens’ early years living 10 miles from Brighton and 50 miles from London, close to large Home Educating communities with easy access to museums, art galleries, theatre, cinema, beach, nature reserves. The children took swimming lessons,gymnastics and tumble tots, were members of RSPB Wildlife Explorers, Guides, Scouts, St Johns Ambulance, Young Archaeologists Club. We made full use of the local library, had monthly visits to London for museums, had an allotment, kept chickens and ducks. We had membership of local attractions including zoo parks, educational centres, went to the circus, the theatre, the cinema, saw pantomines, musicals, plays, Shakespeare productions, science shows, ballet, orchestral concerts, puppet shows. We had family holidays camping, in holiday cottages, youth hostels, went through the Channel Tunnel and visited France and Belgium, saw the ice museum and rode through Bruge on a horse and cart. We went to theme parks, history festivals, national trust properties, kite festivals, safari parks, Legoland, ice skating, group holidays to Centerparcs. We had snowball fights, made sandcastles, took trips on boats, trains, rollercoasters, were part of the team of testers for the opening of Heathrow Terminal Five. We went to parties, hosted parties, made fancy dress costumes, had Easter egg hunts, took part in nativity plays with life animals, sang at carol concerts.
When Davies was interested in dinosaurs we went to the Natural History Museum, visited the coast in Sussex and Dorset and found fossils, joined the archaeology club and met experts, collected many, many plastic toy dinosaurs and learnt all the names, lined them up in families, baked dinosaur cookies, played with kits to build dinosaur skeletons, bought the lego T rex kit, watched Jurassic Park. When he wanted to learn about space we drew the solar system to scale and had it adorning our lounge wall for months, went to the local planetarium and gazed at the night sky to identify Mars. When it was Wallace and Gromit we scoured ebay and car boot sales for the memorabilia, watched all the films endlessly, had a themed birthday party, won a cookware competition with our themed cupcakes, met the costume characters, made papier mache and soft toy and needle felted Wallace and Gromit toys. When Davies wanted to do more art we encouraged, ensured he had decent art materials, secured display space at three local libraries for him to display his art work, assisted with the set up of a small business selling his postcards and artwork.
Scarlett’s love of animals has dictated her every birthday and Christmas gift – she has been zoo keeper for a day, seen dolphins and whales in the wild, watched every documentary David Attenborough has ever made, hatched ducks, chickens, bantams, quails from eggs, had a pet hamster who traveled the whole of the UK. She now lives on a National Nature Reserve with access to natural scientists, students studying wildlife here, the home of one of the longest running animal research projects ever, a community ranger, the place where white tailed sea eagles were released back into the wild in the UK, a marine protected area of sea abundant with seabirds and cetaceans, home to a quarter of the world population of manx shearwaters. She regularly volunteers for monitoring projects including shearwaters, bats, cetaceans and has breeding poultry and pigs here on the croft.
Our Home Educating status enabled us to take our year off in 2011 and travel the UK volunteering. We stayed at 14 different hosts all over the UK giving the children an amazing insight into how other people live. We stayed with families, communities, couples and individuals and lived in a campervan, tent, yurt and houses. Davies and Scarlett have learned tolerance, respect, an appreciation of the beliefs and lifestyles of other people. They have amazing social skills and are experts in relationships, conflict resolution, negotiation and discussion. They have strong views,opinions and are able to debate and hold conversations at all levels. They are patient, understanding and mature. They are respectful, appreciative and polite. Their lifestyle to date has given them maturity and capability along with a broad world view and a strong sense of environmental and ecological responsibility.
Both the children have a range of practical skills from chopping firewood and lighting a fire to growing their own food from seed, animal husbandry, running a house including baking bread and cooking a meal, managing a budget, dealing with emergencies, survival skills and excellent communication skills. The modern world has not passed them by and they have good IT skills and as all self respecting teens should they are far more adept with mobile phones and computers than their parents are! They both have a very broad general knowledge on all subjects from politics and geography to music and history. They are curious and love to learn, interested in the world around them and interesting people to talk to. Both have strong personalities, are very funny and engaging and able to hold a conversation with anyone they come across.
It has been an unconventional journey to secondary school age it is true. It is not the path we first set out on on that first day that Davies did not go to school back when he was five. They are not on track to be announcing their clutch of GCSE results in the next 2 and 4 years (although should they wish to do so I have no doubt whatsover in their ability to) but I do not think it could be considered lacking in any way, shape or form. I know that Ady and I have certainly learned far more than we would have done if they had been in school!
Bring on the secondary – if primary was anything to go by there is a whole lot of learning ahead!