Thursday, 2 September 2010

A case for Home Schooling

September has always been my favourite month. In Australia it is Spring and as the days grow longer and warmer and the air fills with the sweet and sometimes overwhelming scent of jasmine in bloom the anticipation of a long and sultry summer has not yet robbed one of the expectant joy that comes with breaking out the shorts and sunhats.

In England September holds still longish evenings of fading light, crisp mornings and balmy days. The summer may have been oppressively hot or perhaps as is more often the case, leaden and grey, or even, let's be honest, wet and cold, but a mild and sunny September is almost a guarantee. The sky is blue and cloudless, the air clean and pollen-free, the grass lush and green. The city is full of relaxed, tanned people returning with smiley faces from their long vacations in warmer climes, clad in crisp, white trousers and strappy sandals, sporting fresh haircuts, as if it they were still in Sardinia or Majorca.

September is also the beginning of the new academic year with all the attendant excitement and flurry of activity that it involves. Everyone seems hopeful and optimistic. The sleep-ins and the long days without obligation have worked their magic and the eager feet skip happily back to the school yard, faces glowing and fresh and rested.

And the children don't seem to mind turning up either.

The youngest of the Off-Spring joined his brothers in big-boy real school today. The uniform of tie, cap, long trousers and blazer suited him very well. Like a business man though, after a rough day at the office, he was quick to remove the tie once the school gate was out of sight this afternoon, his cap and blazer flung into my waiting arms. I almost expected him to ask for a beer, so like a mini-man did he look.

When I was a child I recall my elder brother lamenting the long years of education that children face. I did not really understand his regret about the situation. I always loved school and never imagined being anywhere else between the ages of 5 and 17 - or indeed 22. Yet, my middle son proposed that he stay home for the rest of the year, despite a good first day back, on the grounds that I could teach him all he would need to know. I knew better than to answer him at any length...

Nevertheless, as one gears up for the early wake ups, the routine, the homework, the extra-curricular activities and the endless round of party invitations, one does feel a pang for the heady freedom of those long summer days in the garden with nowhere to go and nothing to do but explore, play, read and be free. Yet we would hardly appreciate it if it were always summer.

Our communal garden is seeing the summer out with a talent show this weekend.

In theory a talent show is a wonderful idea. We all beamed with joy and eagerness at the thought.

But as the day looms the prospect is now more akin to a fancy dress party with an exam at the end which one is not prepared for culminating in one of those recurring dreams when one has to go on stage not knowing the act one is about to perform, naked. The issue is not that I am scared of performing - indeed - followers will be well aware by now that I love the spotlight. No, the problem is my parlous lack of talent in all areas capable of lending themselves to public performance.

Which is not to say I cannot hold a tune. And I am a rather dab hand at all things Wilde and Shaw, but the wide age ranges of the audience, the wide parameters of what talent may mean for 3 year olds, together with a self-imposed standard that at all costs I must be funny, leaves me in a veritable quandary.

So while the Off-Spring rehearse the Macarena, turning cartwheels and telling knock-knock jokes interspersed with a tuneful medley of top 40 pop tunes featuring Beyonce, Black Eyed Pees and Justin Bieber, I am racking my brains for an original take on my many talents.

A debate perhaps? Topic - That a communal garden brings out the best in everyone! I could prevail on Mr Springgirl to argue the affirmative.

A brief demo of Master Chef as interpreted in my kitchen when feeding a lacto-vegan, a carnivore, a picky rabbit and a lover of all things spicy and fiery?

A rendition of our favourite hymns? The soundtrack to a "Sound of Music" or the "King and I" performed in my trumpet imitating voice?

A reading from one of my favourite books - starring Winnie the Pooh of course!

An expose of my push-ups, warrior 2 pose and plank?

An impression of someone in the garden?

Hamlet's To Be or Not To Be - reworked of course, for the modern multi-age audience - perhaps a "To Perform or not to Perform" - or an "Ode to Talent"...

The mind boggles at the options.

I will be buying wine, a soft cushion, a warm shawl and a waterproof jacket to prepare for my time in the audience. If one thing is clear, from my subtle questions in the garden this week, it is that everyone has a talent to showcase. From dancing to acting, magic tricks to belching, gymnastics and potty juggling, public speaking and bubble blowing, heckling and feats of tree climbing, tennis serving and tennis net hurdling.

I woke last night with a the kernal of an idea evaporating from my unconscious dream like thoughts. It eludes me still; a glimmer of a spark of inspiration, not quite in my peripheral vision. More like a long forgotten punch line suggesting itself in a moment of deja-vu.

All of which is to say this:

First class honours in law, a history degree, a long career as a debater, a masters degree, a long track record in professional services and a business and a book to my name and I still have less discernible talent than the black cat from Number 2. So the idea of skipping a formal education starts to resonate with me now.

Most of the skills the Off-Spring use and take the most pleasure and pride in are those developed at home or away from the school house - tennis, swimming, dancing, singing, running, arguing, negotiating, manipulating...

Where did all my book-learning really take me?

Hold on - I just had a thought. Would Mr Springgirl play the part of the host of Mastermind and quiz me on my pet topic? Parenting while dealing with crazy women, high-spirited kids, absent (working abroad) husbands and thwarted aspirations to write best-selling novels?

For example - name the four biggest impediments to a good night's sleep?
Feeding babies, watching too much tv, vomiting kids and pregnancy.

Is it boring? Obvious? Unfunny?

Maybe I could do an impression of a famous actress being interviewed for her views of juggling career and family, shedding light on how to choose really weird and unkind babynames, how to eat only superfoods shipped in from the Equator after discovering lovably cute orphans from similar climes to adopt, while grappling with the potency of fame and recognition during those trying months of trying to lose the baby pounds with only three personal trainers and a private chef to help. All the while extolling the virtues of home schooling.

Now I am on to something. Best of all it is good clean family fun and may break up the juggling and magic tricks nicely.

Which leads me to reconsider the whole home schooling question from a new angle.

Depending on the calibre of resident, the quality of interaction and the preparedness to throw oneself into things, together with access to the internet, living on a communal garden can conceivably offer all one needs in terms of education.

Enough of the school fees and schedules. Live on a garden square with lots of children and nice friendly families!

All of the ancient disciplines are on offer in our garden.

Rhetoric, logic, grammar, citizenship, arithmetic, philosophy, gymnastics, wrestling.

Fine arts and sports are a speciality - sand sculpting, harmony and tune holding, gate swinging, gravel kicking, bike and scooter riding, football (if the anti-football lady is not home), basic toileting - of the behind a tree and potty variety, gardening and tennis court marking, ball throwing, cricket, skipping, hopping and following the leader, freezing, catching, hiding and seeking and tree climbing, bug catching and identifying, animal husbandry (at least cat, snail, bird, fox and squirrel), airplane identification and jumping from benches, to name but a few.

And social skills get plenty of attention as well - sharing, negotiating, appropriate use of swear words, manners and diction, getting along with all sorts, mucking in and tidying up after oneself.

Safety is not neglected either. Strangers are still strangers even if they share the space. A stray cigarette lighter is not a toy. Gravel rash hurts. Put down the stick. Get out of the shrubbery unless you want to be covered in insect bites tomorrow.

I do think that the Off-Spring have learnt more in the past 6 weeks in the garden than in the whole previous year at school.

But alas, the real world does exist outside the little commune and no one stays under 10 forever...

Still, it puts the whole holiday camp industry into perspective. And - I think I may have an act for the Show after all!

1 comment:

  1. Recitation of your recently penned "Ode to Our Garden"?