When we decided to move to Erraid for a year we also decided that we would home school our children. Having never homeschooled before this required some research I believed that my role as a home schooling parent would require a lot of imput from me. I wasn’t so thrilled. So, I took a slightly more alternative route and decided to try ‘unschooling’ or ‘radical unschooling’ as it is known in some circles. Roughly translated, unschooling means that you let your kids allow their own curiosity to take them down their own personalised path of learning. This could be through play, household tasks, creative tasks, reading books, getting out and about and so on.
We did not remove all limitation, for instance they only have 1 hour of screen time per week, but aside from that, the island of Erraid been a paradise. They have done all sorts, from helping in the garden, collecting seaweed, baking bread, helping fix things and true kids joy: trampolining. My daughter has made candles and written stories, and continued to love to read. My son has worked in the woodshed and played with Lego and also become an avid reader.
The closest I have come to traditional learning is to purchase some maths workbooks from Waterstones! All in all I thought the whole thing was going swimmingly well, until one day, my son, who had been playing with his friend (who does go to school), came to me and said, “Mummy, I want to go to school.”
I’ll be completely honest and say that this was a real shock to me. My perception was that they were having a whale of a time on the island, having a year off and being ‘unschooled’ and yet this was his simple request, to go to school, with only 8 weeks of the Scottish school term to go.
It’s quite strange, as I write this article, to know that tomorrow both of my kids will be going to school. It feels just like it did when they were 4 or 5 and I was taking them for their first days at kindergarten, I have that “first day of school syndrome” feeling again and it isn’t without a little bit of apprehension. It has crossed my mind to worry about whether or not my radical unschooling experiment has worked and whether my kids will be behind in class. What will the teachers think? Will they find them unruly or uneducated?
I suppose any new thing brings its own challenges and worries, but actually, when I settle myself I realise that I have no fears about it. I know my children are both bright, I am thankful that they are interested, engaged and curious in the world and I hope that our year on Erraid has supported that curiosity. The very fact that my son himself asked me to go to school, without prompting from us, seems to suggest this and once my daughter, who is 11, got wind of it, she of course, wanted to go too. So, here we are on the first day of school again, my kids are all kitted out in their crisp, new school uniforms, ready for the final 8 weeks of the school year!
Reflecting upon this experience I realise that perhaps this move into structured schooling was an inevitable part of their homeschooling education. We had never intended to homeschool beyond the year we were on Erraid, we didn’t feel one hundred percent confident that they wouldn’t fall behind. Also, recently I have been reading A.S. Neill’s works about Summerhill, the school that he worked at when he was a teacher. Neill developed an education system that meant the pupils would play and not be required to attend lessons. It is so interesting to me, this idea that what kids really need is to learn through play and will, gradually, eventually come to structured lessons and learning on their own. Just as the Summerhill pupils entered into more formal learning of their own free will, so my own children have expressed their desire to do the same.
In conclusion I simply love that my children have been able to play and play and play and though they love it, they want to attend school in its current form and experience all that the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence has to offer them. I feel nervous, but excited to see how their adventures at school unfold.