The past few weeks have been filled with the joys of Spring and we’ve all been doing our best to make the most of it – the weather is getting warmer, the sun is gracing the sky more often and our environment is awakening and blooming all around us – what’s not to like?! The children have been practically living outside; Maddy up a tree with her nose in a book and Brendan making some marvelous contraption under said tree, with the occasional ‘Hey, aren’t you glad we’re not in school?!’ thrown in for good measure. Their days are so happy and fun-filled it’s sometimes hard to believe they’re actually learning anything at all, but then I remember that learning is supposed to be fun!
At this time of year it’s hard not to love home educating. There’s so much to see and do together, so much to learn and experience. The children have always been barefoot, wild at heart nature lovers and since we began home educating in December the natural world has been our classroom – and that has been all-round awesome! In the process of a seasonal change our classroom is bursting with excitement, and the new life that the vernal equinox brings has given us plenty of opportunities for learning and exploration.
One sunny Wednesday was spent hiking to our favourite spot by the river, picnic in hand and dog off-lead. The children did as children do, laughing and exploring and observing – constantly driven by their curiosity, and constantly learning. They took up their chosen tools and set about understanding what was happening around them, and it went something like this; ‘What’s that growing over there…what can we use it for?’ ‘Is that a hard or soft wood?’ ‘Why does the water in the river look different to the water in it’s contributory stream?’ ‘What on Earth is that and how is it jumping on water?!’ ‘Oh, so the lens can make heat…can we make fire with it?!’ ‘Ah, baby lambs…why do animals have babies in Springtime?’.
They spent hours in the field (literally!) investigating the answers to these questions and many more, much longer than a school day could afford, and continued with their research closer to home over the next few days. One trip can inspire such a varied and thorough quest for knowledge it really is astounding to behold, and such an honor to be involved.
We also took advantage of the improved weather to put some of our indoor learning into practice, taking our work on forces to the great outdoors. ‘Forces Day’ began with a 6k bike ride, and what a ride it was! As we meandered through the countryside shouting back and forth about centrifugal force and inertia, how Maddy’s riding position was effectively reducing drag, and how Daddy’s adjustment to Brendan’s gears was causing more friction than fire-starters, we probably embodied the ‘Mad Hippy Home-Ed’ers’ stereotype pretty thoroughly, but hey – why not?!
After our rather unconventional ride we were all ready for some time on the water. Kayaking gave the children the perfect opportunity to put their understanding of buoyant force to the test, and this they did – along with drag, aerodynamics and thrust. Brendan also had a particularly interesting lesson on equal and opposite reactions and the impact of sudden cold on the body when he capsized! Despite getting a soaking Brendan had a great time learning a new skill, and it was clearly a huge bonus that this skill could be converted to speed – his newfound dream of being a sprinter is still alive and well. Having kayaked before, Maddy was most at ease on the water. That said, Maddy has a wonderful way of ‘pin-balling’ her way around any given course in any given vehicle, but boy does she own it. She loved every second and, with one-to-one instruction from a professional, was cutting straight lines in no time. By the time we left the water the children had learned far more than we expected, and perhaps the most valuable of the days’ lessons were not about forces at all; but rather the persistence and resilience which they both demonstrated beautifully. The character building continued with stamina as the focus on the return journey, we were certainly less vocal on the way out!!! I for one was thankful when a family of buzzards gave us a good excuse to stop and rest, and yet another opportunity for observation and learning. We watched the two adult birds and one young hovering, manouvering and diving over the field a few hundred yards from where we stood, prompting the addition of another branch to our project on forces and an entirely new fact-filing mission.
In between all of this we have attended home-ed groups, experimented with solubility, played with friends, foraged, cooked, learned about chromatography and colour psychology, spent an unnatural amount of time willingly working through maths (thank you Khan Academy!) and generally absorbing any information they can get their hands on like little sponges. It exhausts me just thinking about it!
Along with the sunshine, blooms and babies, the equinox also appears to have graced us with a fresh chapter to our home-ed journey. The children seem to have rounded that dreaded ‘deschooling’ corner and are definitely getting into the swing of autonomous learning; using their initiative and trusting that their own questions are as worthy of investigation as an adult’s. Reaching this milestone has been a tough haul for both children, but especially for Brendan. Maddy gained her trademark assertive confidence some years ago and I think this helped somewhat with the whole school-to-home adjustment period, whereas Brendan began his childhood with a confidence that was soon to be eroded by his experience with school, and that made the process a little trickier for him. It’s surprising how institutionalised a child can become after just a few years of school and I’m happy (and relieved…hugely relieved!) to see them both adjusting so well to their new found freedoms.
Of course, they now have another set of obstacles to overcome and another drastic lifestyle change to adapt to as we move into our final month of ‘normal life’. The arduous task of sorting and packing is now well underway, and though that may sound simple and mundane, to a child it runs much deeper. This is the first time that their grasp of true value is really being tested, and it’s been tough on them at times. Giving up some of the things that they own – many of which they have chosen and paid for independently – was a bitter pill to swallow when we first broached the subject some months back; but they soon began to realise that they were unduly attached to inanimate objects, and that this wasn’t good. They understood the practicalities of packing for a trip, knew that they couldn’t possibly carry their ‘stuff’ as well as the necessities, and couldn’t believe they’d let that strange attachment cloud their logic. Since then their knowledge of true value has strengthened immensely but I expect this final phase of preparations to be hard on them regardless, it’s bound to be – it’s tough on us adults too! I have to constantly remind myself that, in a years time, I won’t be crying into my tea over my beautiful dressing table that’s now gracing the bedroom of a lucky Cheshire farmhouse, nor will I miss the amazing dress I bought but would never wear that’s currently jazzing-up the wardrobe of someone more suited to it than I. So yes, it is hard, but it’s undoubtedly worth it. If the children gain as much insight into their priorities and principles as I have from this experience, their world will be better for it.