This Monday marked the start of our new year proper.
We moved to London at the end of October when Husbandman started a new job, so between him figuring out what work looks like and when his days off will be, between moving and unpacking, discovering our new area and two weeks in, grieving our late daughter’s anniversary – what with making new friends, trying new classes and then the build up to Christmas – our new normal life has taken time to discover.
There has been some rhythm, but there has also been a lot to digest, especially for Eldest.
This week, Husbandman goes back to work for his first full week, and we begin our new weekly timetable.
Something that I am excited about.
I love a good timetable!
We home educate our three children, unschooling them – which does not mean having no involvement in their learning and development, nor does it mean simply using more gentle and respectful ways of getting them to know and learn what we deem important – but it means we recognise that the whole world is a rich place for discovery, learning and understanding. It means we see that children are sponges of curiosity, hungry for knowledge and understanding and desirous of being a fully integrated part of society, but it also recognises that as each child is different, with different interests, skills, talents and ways of processing, that no one way will suit all.
Unschooling means allowing your children to discover who they are through play, questions, and opportunities to try new things, testing their strength as they mature.
It allows children to have the time and space to see how far they wish to pursue something without being either interrupted before they are finished, or forced to continue something beyond their capacity or interest at that point in time.
It’s really just an extension of the parenting you do with your baby and toddler – just as you don’t teach a child to walk, but you come alongside as they discover it for themselves- with unschooling, you provide opportunities to discover life and are on hand for when they need your help or encouragement.
This is a way of living and parenting that utilises trust above all – something that can be hard to do, particularly when you panic that your child is not developing in the way or at the speed you had hoped or expected. It also requires respect for your child as a unique person with their own unique perspective and timing.
It can be messy and doesn’t always go the way you expect, but it is a joyful approach to life, yielding many discoveries.
You are free to share your loves and passions with each other, without insisting that they are taken on, refusing to judge the validity of any interest or pursuit, but respecting the equality of each person in the family.
This equality recognises the freedom for anyone to stop and start, practising at their own pace, until they are confident, accomplished or have simply explored as far as they want to go.
If something you deem important has been dropped through lack of interest, the hardest thing to do is to let go, but trust that when your child finds they need it, they will come back to it and be ready to learn. If they don’t, then they probably manage to get along without it, in which case – it doesn’t matter.
In our family, Eldest is hugely verbally articulate, whereas our younger two have additional needs (most likely autism, although this is as yet un-diagnosed).
We have to navigate nappies, some sensory issues and varying degrees of verbal communication – or the lack of it – in amongst everything else, so having some sense of rhythm and flow helps me feel more confident that we don’t drift through our weeks. Shaping a week in order to meet such diverse needs, requires some planning.
Which brings me back to my timetable.
In order for Husbandman and I to have some individual time to ourselves, as well as a couple, we need to plot it in, or the time will disappear.
The same goes for adventures out, leaving plenty of free space for them to manage their time and creativity, and one to one time.
I had great fun making a weekly timetable that is colour-coded and tries to allocate time for what we need. It is now stuck to the front of our fridge.
This makes me feel a bit more focused and gives me a framework to hang everything on, but it also allows me the freedom to know what I am throwing out of the window, when the present offers something more pressing.
Mondays are the day when Eldest and I will go exploring.
Now that we are in London, with its excellent public transport and a myriad of free or inexpensive places to visit, it’s a home educator’s dream and I intend to take advantage of our surroundings. This week Eldest and I met up with a friend, and went to explore the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.
I don’t know how enthralled eldest was by the paintings, and she was a little put off by one exhibition which was both quirky and political, but she was able to articulate what she didn’t like about a couple of paintings and what annoyed her. I had a flicker of disappointment that she wasn’t buzzing from the gallery, but it reminded me that Eldest is still very young, and she doesn’t see the point in wasting her energy pretending that something is exciting, when it doesn’t appeal to her. Nor should she, I would rather she was honest, so long as she isn’t rude, which she isn’t usually.
Unschooling can be hard when you are naturally didactic, as I am, because if I am honest, it’s both my enthusiasm to share, mixed with the desire to hang on to the sense of control and authority that makes me try to ‘teach’ her, and learning to let that go is a challenge for me.
It is not my job to decide what she should like or know. I can only invite her to share my perspective and passions, and hold my parental authority lightly, respecting her autonomy and trusting that she will learn to value others’ in return.
When I butt in with a teaching moment, Eldest switches off, her eyes glazing over, and I will realise once again, that I am trying to impose my thoughts on her and circumventing her own learning process, which is far more effective.
Monday’s trip wasn’t a waste. Eldest happily bought an impressionist-themed colouring book with her pocket money, after which we walked around Convent Garden enjoying the historical buildings and street performances, eating lunch by the opera house and fending off the pigeons. It was lovely, cold, and part of the hustle and bustle of life.
Having the space to spend time with my daughter, discovering more about what she thinks, not only builds our relationship, but helps me to follow her lead more effectively. Knowing what you don’t like and why, is a major factor in discovering who you are. And through creating a rhythm in our week, I can fully give myself to these moments, without feeling that frustrating sense of guilt that I should really be doing something else.
Without rhythm we lack a sense of meaning, because it anchors us to each other and to our place in time. Why else do we come back to religious and family traditions, and relish the changes in the seasons? Even our hearts beat a steady rhythm at the very core of us.
But equally, without space to dream and stare out of the window, or to simply pootle about as time allows, it is very difficult to connect with our inner life and know ourselves.
If we are too busy to stop, how will we hear our thoughts and ponder our feelings enough to know whether we are truly pursuing what matters? How will we learn to hear what God might be saying to us, if we don’t stop long enough to listen for his voice?
On the bus ride home, eldest dived straight into her new colouring book and spent a good 40 minutes engrossed in her own art. I didn’t have to prompt her to make the most of the journey, she just got on with it, chatting to me occasionally. She knew what she needed, and I had space to ponder my own thoughts.
It was lovely. And we get to do it all over again next week.
Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.