When we came to London we had no idea where our kids were going to end up for school. We thought we’d probably get them into a public school wherever we landed and I was excited about school uniforms and British accents and good manners. We also knew there was a chance that it would be hard to find a spot mid year and that we’d end up homeschooling. And I was excited about that possibility too. I feel like homeschooling has been beckoning me for quite a while now. I’ve wanted an excuse to take the plunge and give it a try. There was something so attractive about really being in the middle of my kids learning. About seeing the world unfold for them and being a central part of that. Something appealing about structuring our days at their pace, paying attention to their creative and curious minds, stimulating them in ways formal schooling doesn’t always do.
Once we found a place to live (which we all know wasn’t easy) we looked into schools and found a lot of options for Emmeline (free publicly funded preschool for everyone!), but none for Hazel and Charlie. So I’ve been throwing together Mommy School for the big kids ever since.
And boy has it been a challenge! My goodness, I have so much respect for people who do this day in day out for years. I’m sure taking this on at the same time we’re adjusting to a new home and country makes it doubly challenging, and I’m also sure it gets easier with practice, but I’m not sure how long I could do this. Whenever I’m not trying to teach and experience and learn with them I’m planning teaching, experiencing and learning. It’s exhausting to be on all the time and to have 4 kids in tow wherever I go.
But, surprisingly, I really love it. I am learning so much, not only about my children and about mothering, but about history and science and nature and the world.
After reading through a lot of different homeschooling approaches and getting really wise advice from good homeschooling friends we have decided to take a really gentle route for now. We don’t have a curriculum. We have a morning and loose weekly schedule just to keep some structure. But beyond that I’m trying to learn to go at my children’s pace. To see what engages them and to help build their curiosity.
My friend Darcie (who is totally amazing) gave me this advice:
“If you do absolutely NOTHING but slow down enough to allow your children to BE and experience the world they are seeing for themselves you will have been an amazing teacher.”
This really hit a chord with me. While we’re here across the world I want more than anything to really connect with my children. To slow down and look deep into them, to know who they really are and what they need and how they tick. We are all processing so much as we step into this new world and the only way my kids won’t learn a TON here is if I get in the way by pushing them too much. Sadly, I’m sure I’m not getting this right a lot of the time….while life is slow at times here, and while we’ve pealed off so much of what distracted me from my children back in Boston, other weeds have crowded in and most days still seem to be spinning at way too fast of a pace. There is so much to see and do and so little time…..
But, slowing down and simplifying is still the goal.
I’m sure if we were doing this long term I’d change a lot of things, but since we’re only here 6 months and my kids are young and get things quickly (I’m not too worried about them falling behind) I’ve decided not to worry about what they “need” to be learning and instead help them engage in what we are experiencing here.
On most days I make sure Hazel and Charlie read and write and do some sort of math. They write or dictate stories, write postcards, write in their Journals, write lists. They read to me, to each other, to themselves. I read to them. They measure and calculate and sort and count. . But on other days (like today) they spend the whole morning sewing and designing clothes for their stuffed animals and the whole afternoon playing in the cricket pitch and at the playground.
On most days (also as advised by Darcie) I try to make sure they get outside. Sometimes we just play in the back garden or run around the cricket pitch for 15 min. Other days we go for walks in the woods just down the street to collect snails or worms (and measure their length….record so far is 7.6 inches), climb trees, play villages (hazel’s favorite game), look for wildlife or patterns or signs of spring. We bring our little field guides and try to identify trees or bushes or birds (ok, that’s mainly what I wish we were doing, but I’m the only one interested for more than 5 minutes). Once we brought our sketch books and tried to sketch something we found beautiful. I do believe that nature and fresh air and physical exertion feed the brain.
Our mommy school room is stocked with minimal (haven’t found the craft store here yet) arts and craft supplies (some water color paints, old paint brushes, paper, recycled materials, tape, crayons, markers, a sewing kit from the dollar store, some homemade playdou) and somehow the kids create all kinds of things in there. I tell you, kids don’t need much to create. Just some time and space and a few things to get them going. I don’t really plan art into what we’re doing often enough, but somehow they just make it happen. I think it’s soothing to their little brains. They’re taking so much in, I think it gets all processed and comes out through creating things.
The bulk of our “Mommy School” consists of experiencing life where we are. We go into London on a “field trip” at least once a week, usually twice. And we try to go on a countryside fieldtrip once a week. We visit museums and parks and castles and monuments. We read on the tube on the way in and talk about what we’ve seen on the way out.
The museums and historical sites here are AMAZING! Every single one has incredible little trails or hunts for kids to follow to help them engage in what they are seeing. There are hands on exhibits, child-friendly guides, dress ups, crafts, opportunities to touch and handle artifacts, people dressed up and acting things out and talking to kids in a way that makes everything come alive to them. The other day at the Tower of London there was a man dressed and acting like a leather worker from Tudor times who showed Hazel and Charlie all about how he made shoes and shields and told them the (now) unforgettable story of Robert the Bruce and his little spider. They’ve held swords and chainmail, shot bows and arrows, handled Roman artifacts, laid in a midshipman's bunk, watched artists sketching, had a few time outs in the stocks. History is coming alive for them.
We made a giant time line and put it up on our Mommy School room wall. We’re adding new illustrations and information as we learn things. I LOVE our timeline, I wish I would have had one, huge and made by me, in my house growing up. I feel like it’s helping us fit things together, we’re all getting a better sense of the landscape of humankind.
I have loved watching their little world which once consisted mostly of Malden MA suddenly open up. I love watching them connect things together in space and time, relate things to their own lives, understand their place in history. We’re feeling small, but also enormously lucky to live where and when we do. Charlie had the realization the other day while we were visiting a replica of a Norman castle from 1066 that he lives a life far more luxurious than even the richest king did in those times.
I’m sure a lot of this learning will fade quickly for them, but I’m also sure it will weave its way into the fabric of who their spirits are. That, even if they can’t remember all the details, it will impact how they view the world. I feel like they’re putting all kinds of little hooks up in their brains where they can hang new information as they go through their life long pursuit of education.
Wow, this all looks pretty good down on paper…. don’t get me wrong……Mommy School is not all rainbows and butterflies around here. In fact, there is a LOT of frustration and yelling and resistance (by teacher and student alike). There is plenty of urging and pushing and still not getting things done. Hazel doesn’t always respond to me as her teacher (that’s putting it nicely). Charlie is often totally unfocused and its not unusual to suddenly find him in his underwear with a blanket cape round his neck jumping off the couch onto a pile of cushions. I thank my lucky stars that Emmeline is in school three days a week because she adds a whole new dimension to mommy school (and it normally aint pretty). And me? I’m often exhausted as I lead us through all this learning and I’m finding it really really hard to stay on top of things with so little downtime to plan and organize. Oh, and our house is a mess most days (my guru Darcie told me not to worry about house keeping while I’m here and I’m totally taking that advice to heart).
But, all in all, somewhere amidst the chaos and craziness the synapses are firing like gangbusters. Their little brains are alive and saturated with rich new learning that is soaking into who they are. And I’m right in the middle of it, with a front row seat, watching it happen. When I remove myself to see this (and write about it) I realize that it’s nothing less than thrilling.