Wednesday, 18 July 2012

To school or not to school

Proud as punch of his colourful crab – a WilderQuest Discovery activity in
Wyrrabalong National Park

We made the decision a while back that Luca wouldn't be going to school next year. It didn't take us long to decide. In fact, my heart knew in an instant.

I'm really grateful that it was an easy decision.

We want him to have a long childhood. We want him to have more time to play and have fun. There's a lifetime ahead of systems and institutions and rules. I'd rather all that wait for a little while longer. Truth is, I'd rather put it off for as long as possible.

It really was very easy to decide. Especially when I started reading about the Finns and how they've reformed education in their country. Hearing that children don't go to school until they are 7 was music to my ears. Particularly when theirs is such a success story – the country has one of the highest performing school systems in the world.

The Finns are, apparently, fans of the 'less is more' approach. They do extended childhoods. They like simple and they like common sense.

I'm quite a fan of the Finns. Heck, I'd even move to Finland if I didn't think another move round the world would kill me.

Seriously, though, I think it's all very good. Luca turns five next year and he'll be doing pretty much what he's doing now. Two or three days at a preschool that genuinely embraces unstructured, play-based learning and the rest at home.

Trouble is, we're looking ahead to 2014 when he turns 6. We don't know where he'll be going to school. Have I looked into schools properly? Not really.

You see, one of the main reasons for keeping him back is because Luca is a highly sensitive child. (I might do another post on this trait, because I think it could help a lot of parents who might not know they're raising a highly sensitive child.) He wouldn't cope. The world can be a bit too much for Luca most days – and too much for us, as a result! There's the fact he needs a lot of downtime (he still naps). I just know, as his mother, he'd go to pieces in a school playground.

Maybe the reason I haven't started looking at schools is because I don't think the school system, as it stands, is where Luca will thrive. Not in his early years, anyway.

We've been talking about homeschooling. A bit strange, given that I've always ruled us out as a homeschooling family.

Keeping him back was the easy decision. It's knowing what to do after that.

Do I want to homeschool? I don't think I do. But then I'm speaking as someone whose days are filled with endless bickering. Toddlerhood will be past us by then. But I still need quiet on my own every week.

How will I homeschool and work at the same time? I've heard that you only have to do three hours a day when you're teaching children at home. But does that work in practice?

There is a huge homeschooling community here on the Central Coast, which is comforting to know. I know the resources are there, and I know it can be a much richer way of learning.

In fact, from the little information and insights we've gleaned so far, we both agree it would be perfect for Luca.

This is how he'd thrive. This is how he thrives now. He's infinitely curious, questions everything. I fantasise about all the different projects we could do, walks we could take, trips we could go on.

I think about all the gardening he wants to do, and how he could carry on really indulging his creativity and his love of drawing.

But I don't know if I could do it. We know what's best for him, but are we committed enough?

Maybe we'll homeschool till he's seven, and make a decision then.

Or maybe I'll find this elusive small school that I've set up in my head – the one that couldn't care less about results or about homework. The one that doesn't tell parents what they want to hear. The one with a proper fruit and vegetable garden that isn't just there to give parents a warm, fuzzy feeling about where they're sending their kids every day. The one that lets children learn at their own pace. The one that does school three days a week, so I can homeschool and watch him learn the other two.

Have you seen it?

I have no idea what to do. But we have time still.

If you're a parent facing a similar predicament, what are you doing? Have you found a school that fits the one in your head? Or do you homeschool? How do you homeschool and keep sane keep everyone happy? I would love to hear from you.




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34 comments:

  1. While so much about homeschooling appeals to me, I just know in my heart that I couldn't do it. I am not a teacher. And I loved school as a kid and even teenager, so I have faith my kids will thrive in "the system". That said, I'm excited that as a result of our country move, Lola will start kindy next year at a tiny village school with less than 100 kids. Seems like a nice middle ground. It's high school I worry about... A few more years to worry about that x

    PS After all the angst, we haven't regretted for a minute our decision to not start Lola this year, by the way.

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    1. Funny you should say that Greer, because school for me wasn't a happy place overall (both in Egypt and in England). So I guess part of me is worried that Luca will go through the same thing. And yet, you had a very positive experience so it's lovely and right to assume your kids will have the same. I guess what we do is always shaped by our past... Oh, and we're not teachers either. Something else on the cons list. But then, how do other homeschooling families do it... They can't all be teachers?...

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  2. Dear Vanessa,

    Good on you to decide to keep Luca home for another year, or more ;-)

    Our boy got really bored at daycare and wanted to go to the big school. We let him go but I am not happy with it. Especially as school is changing him (in terms of growing up) so rapidly and I am not realy happy with the school and many of their policies.

    I would have loved for him to enjoy his childhood a bit longer, instead of being pressed with home-work and having to learn how to read and write, why the hurry? Unfortunately, there is not much choice in schools where we live. I would have preferred a small or Montessori school, but nothing close by. And honestly, I couldn't get him into home-scholling, he needs other kids to learn and play with. And having to drive two hours each day to get him to and from a more open-minded and creative school (Steiner for example) was not feasible with two working parents.

    Coming from the Netherlands where we have so many choices school-wise, and all close-by, makes me want to go back, but alas... So we just make do and try to make school as fun as possible and try to educate our boy in the areas where we feel the school is lacking. He is in general very happy and is eager to learn, so I guess mum should learn to let go ;-)

    Good luck with what ever you decide!

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    1. Yes, I agree a long drive wouldn't be a good thing. You have a great attitude Anna...

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  3. Hi Vanessa

    It sounds like you guys are making the best decisions for Luca that you can, it is fantastic that the home schooling community in your area is large as this would be a fantastic support. We did the norm and sent Christopher to school at 5 but he really wasn't ready and in fact his year 1 teacher felt that he was one of those kids that really wasn't ready to learn until he turned 6. Even now, knowing he is heading to intermediate next year (going from a school of 500 to the largest intermediate in the southern hemisphere with a roll of approx 1200 and growing)it is very daunting, he still struggles academically but socially school has been a wonderful experience for him. Good luck with your decision, Im sure that you will make the right choices for your family, in fact it sounds like you already have! If I could turn back time I wish I had cherished that time with our babies so much more!
    Much love
    The Moorfields xxx

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    1. Thanks Michelle for this. So great to hear that school has been great on the social front. This is my concern...

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  4. Oh the whole school thing is just so scary. We just moved back to the UK from Oz, so my summer born three year old will be starting school next year. I can't believe it and it just doesn't seem real. Good luck with what ever you decide. x

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    1. It is quite scary, but then I know some children who are ready and very happy to go to school at that age. Hope you're beginning to settle down again...

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  5. I love the sound of your school, I would so love to home school but Im afraid its just not in me, if we lived on more land maybe id reconsider but at the moment our house is so small, we are always on top of each other as it is so I know I wouldn't make a very patient teacher. There is a Steiner school at Ourimbah, I wanted to send my boys there and Im still considering it but it is far from where we are, in peak hr it would be over an hour and 1/2 round trip. It looks like such a beautiful school though.

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    1. Yes the Steiner school is quite far from us too. I love so much about Steiner but there's so much that doesn't sit right with us. Like you say, I think you need oodles of patience to home school. My mum would have been a fantastic homeschooling teacher, but I'm not sure I can consistently give off the same calm energy day in day out. Ours is a small house too - that's a good point you raise.

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  6. When you find it, please let me know. From one highly sensitive mother with a highly sensitive darling boy ;)

    I did hear whispers of a montessori school starting up on the coast? I know there's a pre-school at wamberal that i'll probably go with for Judey. x

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    1. So you understand my anguish too! Yes, I've heard the montessori at wamberal are starting up a primary school, but I think there are planning issues. I have visited the preschool and attended a few of the parent/child playgroups but it wasn't for Luca.

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  7. I think you should look at the Montessori in Wamberal it sounds like Luca would fit in perfectly there.

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  8. So lovely to hear your approach to school, it is very similar to ours. As a family we started homeschooling at the beginning of 2011, however it didn't last long! We weren't prepared and fully ready for the challenge it would be (especially hearing what family and friends thought of our decision!) and I strugged as my PND came back :( So we are battling through the school system, wishing we could find another way. We visited the Steiner school near Noosa and I feel in love! However we are part of such a GREAT community of friends here that it would be hard to uproot and leave. Having said that though, we believe that it would be worth it as a balanced, wholesome, child-led and creative education is our biggest dream for our children. But the logistics of that dream? Hard! I see that school you described too, it's in my daydreams and my longings for a better way. And now I'm also seriously considering moving to Finland!!

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    1. That's it right there. Trying to work out the logistics of a dream...

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  9. Why hello! Glad you found my blog! I'm glad I now have found yours! Yes, similar predicaments, felt lack of choices for many years. We moved our family across the State for a school for our children, it fits two of my babes, but not sure about one.. hence the thoughts ever more on homeschooling - it just isn't 100% and never has been, that is why they are in school. It is an independent small school of 250 children from Prep to Year 12. xxx Rach

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  10. Sorry for the long post :-)

    We kept our son back this year so that he will be 6 when he starts next year. Best decision ever. He too is a highly sensitive child and is doing so much better this year socially at preschool.

    I'd love to home school but with only one child, it's not an option for us as I need to go back to work next year.

    As for schools, we've looked high and low for the right fit last year. But ironically though I was first attracted to a small school that was very much into child centred learning (Australian Developmental Curriculum) they did little on bullying or for children who were creative and a bit sensitive. We however did find a more mainstream local primary school (only 300 students) but the teachers are a bit more flexible (they offer lots of lunchtime programs like art, music, gardening & are very family oriented) even though it is a traditional curriculum. They are also hugely sensitive to different kinds of children to the point that the principal is happy to spend time with children individually, and taking them around getting to know school rooms etc before school starts if that's what they need (our close friend had a child who needed this as he found groups overwhelming).

    But recently after watching TED talks by Sir Ken Robinson, reading his books and reading a book called Real Boys, we've decided that we will also encourage and home school the things he loves and we want for him alongside school. At 5.5, he is passionate about being outside, gardening, art, inventing, acting & drama - and we are lucky that there are so many opportunities for these things in our local community.

    And for us this may include pulling him out for holidays or interest based days with us - to take him to things we see as important. I think there's more to life than mainstream and alternative schooling.

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    1. I like this approach too. Home schooling alongside school sounds great, if you've found a great school, which you have. Very encouraging, thank you.

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  11. Oh Vanessa, thanks so much for linking this thoughtful post to the POTMC. Best of luck with working through it all. You might like to contact Lauren at Owlet who 'unschools' her children. She's very knowledgeable. J x

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  12. wow-quite a decision. but as you said, if it was an easy one for you to make, then you know it is the right one for your child at this time. As you said, it does some of the Nordic nations no harm (the opposite) to start formal education later in their childhood.

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  13. Well that explains alot of things. I just went and had a look at the Highly Sensitive page and suspicions confirmed. Our 6 year old ticked most of the boxes. He started full time school this year, when he turned 6. Last year was Kinder (Tassie) and that was only 3 mornings, and just play based with structure to get them ready for big school.

    If we had been in NSW I would have probably sent him to full time school last year and I can see now, he just would not have coped.

    He is absolutely thriving now. His teacher picked up on his sensitivity the first week and it's been smooth sailing since then.

    I have 4 sons, and I wonder about the youngest one being sensitive also. He is not yet 2 so a bit harder to diagnose from that test.

    Great post!

    (Popping over from PoTMC).

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  14. Good for you for following your gut :) I don't know if there are different types of schools for different types of kids in your area? Montessori was definitely good for us in the early years. Good luck with your decisions ahead :) XOLaura

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  15. Good for you for keeping him out of school until you think the time is right. Our daughter cried every morning before school for the first two years and two weeks of her school life and I can honestly say it was one of the worst times of my life. As a mother you are there to protect your children and I felt helpless. We tried everything but it wasn't until the second week of her third year that the crying stopped. My son was completely different and was happy to go. I don't agree with the school system here in the uk, starting school at 4 as some children are, is far too young, they are after all still babies. I too think that the Scandinavians have the right idea. Good luck, I hope it turns out how you want it to.

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  16. Hi Vanessa, I stumbled upon this post from a link from a more recent post and thought I would tell you how we are going with our journey... I knew Everly was very different from the first week she was in our lives, and at 16 months of age she ticks every box on the Highly Sensitive Child questionnaire (except the talking ones). I discovered Steiner when she was only very little and did lots of reading. Lots of it didn't sit right with me at first, but as I did more and more reading, and as Everly grew older, I knew she wouldn't do well at all in a 'normal' school setting and I began to understand the Steiner curriculum more. Visiting our local Steiner school (a stream in a public school not far from home - we are very lucky) confirmed my thoughts. This school is only primary levels though, so we are currently planning to move to the country where there is a lovely private Waldorf school from K-12. It will be a massive change for us, but I honestly can't see Everly coping in any other environment. I have considered homeschooling, and I will probably consider it again and again during the next few years, but currently I do not have the patience! Maybe things will change... I look forward to hearing how you go with Luca's school journey.

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    1. Thanks Jess. I can't see Luca coping in a conventional environment either. We seem to have ruled out homeschooling recently (I need to do another post on this) so we have just over a year to find the right school. So much to think about!

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  17. P.S. If you haven't already, read 'You are your child's first teacher'. It confirmed so much for me!

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    1. Thank you - I've just ordered it!

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  18. Hello - I just found your blog and this post. I relate - I am not sure I will ever settle into a "home" per say. Regarding schooling - I completely understand your feelings and thoughts. I am currently homeschooling my 2 boys (12 and 9) but always said I would never homeschool. I am simply doing so while my husband finishes his 3rd year of med school here in the UK (we are from the states). We want the flexibility to travel and explore not being bound by a traditional school schedule. It is hard and it is trying - but worth it in the end. There are so many resources out there. Previous to our 2 years in the Caribbean and the year here the boys attended school. Our oldest started out in the US public system and it just did not satisfy him or us. We moved and they both attended a Montessori school - WONDERFUL. They are both sensitive in their own way. Number 2 I really had to make sure we had a teacher that would connect with him and appreciate who he is - and it was wonderful. I strongly believe in the Montessori approach - they agree children should be older and it follows a child's development. My grandmother was trained by Marie Montessori herself and so there is a family history. I would also suggest you check out Waldorf schooling. As I am learning now one of the hardest parts of parenting is finding the right way to educate our children that allows them to succeed and grow and blossom. I also find it is a little different with boys - sometimes they are misunderstood. I also suggest reading the book "Raising a spirited child" - it really helps to understand your child and where they are coming from. Sorry for the long comment - just wanted to share some of our experiences on the path of parenting. Good Luck and you will find what works for you as a family. You have a wonderful blog!!! Chey

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    1. Thank you so much Chey. It really is one of the hardest things: knowing how best to steer them and educate them. I'm just going to trust that we end up doing what's right. Thank you for dropping by and for your lovely comment

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  20. Just found your blog via Pink Fibro and found this post too! Highly sensitive - yep. BTDT!! Great work following your gut to put off school for a year. Having two highly sensitive kids as well, and one boy who after several years in the school system (despite me holding him back a year) was riddled with anxiety and depression, we found ourselves homeschooling.

    Please consider it. It took one comment from an online friend who had a similar child to convince me it was worth a go. We have never looked back and even sceptical relatives are now convinced as they see how happy and relaxed he now is.

    I wish I had followed my gut from the start. Homeschooling seems like such a huge step, but it really is an amazing educational option that works so well on so many levels.

    PS: I am also a Discovery Ranger and we just did our first Wilderquest activities these school holidays and the kids just loved them! So happy to see that photo!

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    1. Hello there, thanks for stopping by, and for sharing your experience. I had almost ruled out homeschooling before reading your comment. Very unsure about what we'll end up doing!

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  21. Thank you for sharing this post with me, Vanessa! I empathize with your journey of selecting a school path for your family...it's something I think about a great deal. I believe strongly in supporting the public school system from a social justice standpoint, but I also really struggle with the idea of public school for my family. Thank you for sharing your journey!! (And I'm so glad to virtually meet you!) xo, Emily

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