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School doesn’t fit

It is January 2015. My daughter is almost 4 years old. The deadline for primary school applications in our area is in 6 days. I still haven’t chosen a school for her.

I haven’t even visited any schools to look around them.

In fact, come to think of it… I don’t even know anything about any of the primary schools in my town. We moved here 9 months ago, and I just never got around to it.

But I’m not stressing. I won’t be applying.

For some reason, the closing date feels as if it will be a sort of milestone for us. Despite having decided a long time ago that we would not be applying for a reception place for her, it feels like the deadline will be somewhat significant. As if it will somehow confirm our decision. Make it final. Make it definite.

But in reality, next Thursday will come and go just like any other. As will the 2nd September, when most children born in the same academic year as my daughter, will begin a new journey that will continue for the next 13 years. Instead of beginning a new journey for learning, my little girl will simply continue the one she started when she emerged into this world almost 4 years ago (or a little earlier, if you count her time in-utero). Another day learning. Another day growing. Another day living life.

A teacher by profession, and a parent by the grace of God, it wasn’t until I returned to my teaching career after maternity leave, that I realised that there was something that disturbed me about the prospect of sending my little girl to school. I had just spent 12 months with her: nurturing her; cherishing her; and loving (almost) every moment of it. OK, there were difficult parts. There were days I thought I’d never cope with motherhood; days when I desperately needed sleep, or space, or downtime. But on balance, and with the benefit of hindsight (and perhaps some nice rose-tinted specs), there’s not a thing I would have changed. I was parenting instinctively, following my own maternal gut feelings, taking or leaving the advice I was given, depending on what my heart told me to be right.

Although I had no idea at the time, I have since learned that I was practising what some people call “attachment parenting“. I never needed to enrol my daughter at a nursery or childminder; in fact I only ever placed her in the care of very close family members, and even then only ever for an occasional couple of hours, when I couldn’t take her with me somewhere. It wasn’t that I was being over-protective; simply that I never felt the need to leave her. We came as a package. She went where I went. On the few occasions I did leave her with my nearest and dearest, her anxiety (and for ‘anxiety’ read ‘terror’) broke my heart and felt instinctively wrong.

“You should leave her. She needs to get used to it. It will be worse for you than it will be for her. She’ll forget about you as soon as you’re out of sight!”

As if this well-intended advice was meant to somehow make me feel better about walking away from her, leaving her screaming and flushed, with real tears streaming down her hot cheeks. Thank goodness I read somewhere about attachment parenting, otherwise I could have ended up turning my back on my instincts and doubting my parenting choices.

So when the time came for me to return to my job (I was the main earner and we had mortgage payments due, plus I was already expecting number two so I was thinking ahead to another paid maternity leave), my husband gave up work to be with her full time. For 4 years she has been in the sole care of one or both of her parents. In a very stable, very supportive, very nurturing family environment.

And how she has flourished!

Not that children who attend nursery or paid childcare do not flourish. I know from my own experience as a teacher that they do. But I just could not imagine it for my own child. It wasn’t for us. It just didn’t fit.

In those first 12 months I watched her learn to feed, smile, listen, watch people, reach for things, grab at things, roll over, wriggle and crawl, get someone’s attention, eat, communicate with gestures, walk, talk, clap, sing…

And for none of these things, was she sat in a room with a group of other children the same age, being shown how to do it by someone unfamiliar and detached from her. Instead, she learnt by watching; copying; trying things out; failing; trying it out again; finding out what worked best; trying more things; copying a bit more…

More recently, I’ve watched her learn to draw; to solve jigsaws; to construct elaborate buildings with mega blocks; to write; to read; to count to 50; to add using her fingers; to sing Christmas carols by heart; to swing herself higher and higher on the garden swing and to play all manner of games on her tablet. A couple of weeks ago I watched her patiently figuring out the notes for Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on her toy piano. All of this was unprompted. All uncoached. All unschooled.

Everything she has learnt has been her own idea.

If she wants to do something – she watches how others do it.

If no-one else is doing it – she will figure it out for herself.

If she wants to be shown – she asks someone to show her: “Can you write the letters in your name please Mummy, for me to copy?”

She picks things up and runs with them.

This is how she learns.

I do not know if this is how all children learn. I do not know if this way of learning is the best way for all children. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, an expert on learning. Or teaching. And I do not believe that home-educating is right for all families, or all children. In fact, I feel sure that for a lot of children, school education is the very best choice, the perfect fit, and I have seen in my own career that many children thrive in school and are very successful.

I am not an expert on education.

But I AM an expert on my daughter. Or at least, more of an expert than any other teacher that she would have in a classroom could EVER be. And for us, and for our daughter, I firmly believe that school is not the best way to learn. I have watched how she learns. I have lived it. And I just don’t think school will fit. For us.

This is why, 6 days from now, when the deadline for school admissions comes and goes, I won’t be stressing. I will smile inwardly, knowing beyond doubt that we are making the right choice, before I get reabsorbed in whatever our family are up to on that day.

Yes, it may be a milestone. But when you learn through every-day life, and each day brings new discoveries and revelations, every day is a milestone.

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