Saturday, August 22, 2009

Choosing School, Part 1 (long!)

So often when people have asked in a panic, "What should I do if my child wants to try school?" I have given advice...but when it happened to me, I didn't follow my own advice as well as I might have.

For one thing, I was so eager to seem supportive (of my child, not of school), that I agreed instantly. I didn't push for further information as to what it was about school that they particularly wanted to try. I have always thought children should choose for themselves, but I was wholly unprepared for it.

For J-Man (aged 10.5 yrs), he wanted friends, he wanted something else to do with his time because our lives have been tipped rather upside-down lately. He was also curious about what went on there, what it was like, would he be good at it? I knew all these things because we have discussed this before, a few times.

Princess (nearly 7) was a different story- for her, it was all about the lunch. Honestly, you wouldn't believe how many directions could be given about the preparation of a school lunch. She was terribly excited.

J-Man's first day had been very interesting. For one thing, I had been unaware how small the local school was. There were 22 children. He was in the senior class with 8 others (and 8 computers). He had even seen a show- a boy much larger than him had been playing with a matchbox car in class, and when a girl told on him the teacher snatched it, and he proceeded to have (in J-Man's words) a "tantrum like a toddler". This escalated out of control apparently, until this child was throwing furniture!

Well, nothing I didn't see myself at school- but still, quite an eye-opener for J-Man. He has been worried about the school maths, but was amazed to find it was "Princess Maths". In other words, very easy. He saw right away that everyone in the class could write better than him, but he also discovered he quite liked writing (well, that didn't last- but he was quite buzzed about it for a day or three).

They had two trampolines which he enjoyed, and when they played sports, he asked if he could stay inside and keep writing his e's (I'm not kidding). Because he was only on a trial, they allowed it. I'm not sure if he would be able to avoid sports forever, but I didn't say so.

The children were friendly, and curious about him. The teacher was kind, and he felt the work was easy (which didn't make him wish it was harder, just be glad he hadn't looked silly). When I picked him up, kids came to ask me if I was J-Man's mum, and told me he was very clever, and a very fast runner to boot.

When Princess started, she was given a worksheet to do which the teacher thought she would need help with- but didn't. In fact she completed it before anyone else, and the other children were all saying, "Wow! She's really smart!" I think that was probably wonderful for her confidence. Where J-Man has never doubted his ability (even when possibly he could have- thinking particularly of when he was small), Princess doubts herself all the time. It seems quite out-of-character considering she is a very confident, sunny, happy little girl. For example, J-Man never doubted he could spell, never asked how to spell anything. Princess, otoh, has asked me how to spell "Happy Birthday" at least a million times. It had to be right with her. She eventually did start writing words for herself, and I was pleased because to me it seemed like a step up confidence-wise.

Anyway, she enjoyed her day very much, and was keen to go back on the Friday.

Meanwhile, I was struggling. I had no friends, no computer, no phone really (though I had some fabulous friends who texted me often), and it felt like my world was falling apart. dh seemed really tickled about school, and slotted straight in to "school Dad mode", trying to get them in to bed early and mediate with the teacher about the problems J-Man had (in what seemed like an attempt to keep him there). When one friend commented I would need to change the name of my blog, I felt crushed. Suddenly I felt like we're the same as everyone else. If the kids are in school, I can hardly be an unschooling mum any longer- and because that was what I had been for so long (and indeed what I imagined I would for a long time to come yet), I suffered a bit from an identity crisis. This was all exacerbated by the fact that I didn't want my children to realise I was devastated- I wanted them to make their own minds up without feeling pulled by wanting to please me. I was supportive of them, and listened well (I think), and when I needed a moment, would go outside and bawl my eyes out as quietly as possible. Only Tombliboo saw, and asked, "What's wrong Mama- why are you sad?"

I was very encouraged by my friend Cally (ex-unschooling Mum- with 4 grown boys), who reminded me that in all her years of this, she had seen many children try school- only those with very strict homes (she calls them section 59 homes, lol), or those children with very clear educational goals stayed longer than 6 weeks or so. I also knew that our life at the moment is utterly different to what it was, and what it will be that I didn't blame them for wanting something different. But there remained a nagging doubt that maybe they would prefer school to home. I couldn't see how that could be possible- what school child would choose school on a Saturday?

There is so much that is wrong with school, and it wasn't at all what I wanted for my children. I wished (briefly) that I could be one of the sugar-is-poison-and-so-is-school/mummy-knows-best mums and insist it was not an option...but I knew that I would no more keep my children home against their will, than I would force them to stay in school.

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