Monday, March 16, 2015

The journey from unschooling to school

Playing at Auckland Zoo.
A while back I mentioned that I was captivated by the idea of unschooling and was planning to test how it went with L.

L turned five in September last year, which is the age that most Kiwi kids start school. By that time, we had been playing around with the idea of unschooling for most of a year and knew that there were upsides to doing it for a little bit longer, but that ultimately L would be better off in school.

In New Zealand, children are eligible for 20 hours of free preschool education until they are six-years-old, which is a big part of the reason why we delayed starting L at school when she turned five.

We were able to continue L at her excellent preschool for three days a week, which gave her access to friends, arts and crafts, toys and other teaching resources. It also left us with two week days to go on family adventures and do activities like gymnastics and swimming.

I loved the freedom and flexibility we had with this approach. We could go on family holidays whenever they suited our family, rather than waiting for school holidays. If it was a nice day, we could head to the beach or the zoo. It was a lovely, relaxed time for our family.

However, I came to realise that I am not passionate about teaching, so L was going to miss out on learning if I kept her at home for much longer.

I think to do unschooling well, you need to be able to prioritise it above other things. But for me, housework and cooking always come first.

I find it hard to sit down and read stories,  play games or do puzzles with the kids when the house is a mess. And with kids home all day, the house is always a mess. The three days when L and S were at preschool were my sanity days, as they gave me time to properly clean the house and get a bit of breathing space in my day.

Being a 50/50 introvert/extrovert, I need alone time to recharge my batteries. So having kids around all the time is incredibly draining for me. Once L turns six, those three pre-school days come to an end and I would never get that much-needed down-time.

I also realised that I didn't want to be the only/biggest teaching influence in L's life. I see L one way - through my eyes. And often my insights into her are wrapped up in how I see myself, how I think she reflects on me as a parent, how I was parented, etc, and those aren't always good things. I don't want to unconsciously damage or limit L by my own preconceived notions.

I like the idea of her being mentored and taught by a variety of different teachers throughout her school life. Teachers who are passionate about teaching, who know how to teach, and who will not take things so personally when they go right or wrong.

For all these reasons, we enrolled L to start school at the beginning of this year. We decided it would be beneficial for her to have a full Year 1 (instead of waiting till she was six and starting her in Term 3). This gives her a full year with the same teacher and classmates.

The first couple of weeks were a shock to the system for L, as she realised her play-time would be severely limited at school.

Now, however, she is into the groove of it. She knows what the routines are, what's expected of her, and she has made some lovely friends. Her teacher is fabulous - incredibly on-to-it and passionate about teaching.

Already L is bringing home so much knowledge, and it's nice for me to know that there is a system and logic to the way L is being taught. It's not higglety pigglety bits of learning here and there like she would get at home with me, but learning that builds on itself and makes sense to L.

We had parent/teacher interviews recently and L's teacher told me L is the type of girl who is made for school, and school is made for her. She asks great questions, participates well in group activities, manages herself and her belongings well, and is engaged in her learning.

That was a lovely reassurance to me that we have made the right decision by sending L to school instead of keeping her at home.

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