September: When the subject of going back to school is on every programme, every advert and every shop front.
A time of year when we felt such a thrill of sheer excitement that ours were not. That their life would continue as it had done all summer; full of interest, full of activity and full of learning. Because whatever the children are doing they soak up learning from it like a sponge.
I found myself saying ‘how do you know that?’ frequently, when I frequently found they knew stuff I hadn’t taught them or known they knew!
They’d quote me facts from watching programmes like Horrible Histories, or period dramas or science and nature programmes. They learnt about communication, language and cause and effect from things you’d think they’d learn nothing from like the game Sims. They developed understanding about the properties of various substances and materials through endless playing; understanding we could build on when the time came for more complicated concepts like molecules and chemical reactions.
Through endless play with water, plants, foodstuffs, mud, bits of wood, bricks and stones, containers, fabrics, plastic or card containers, art and craft materials, tools, they’d learn about resistance and materials, construction, strength, buildings, density and so on. And they found out so much through opportunities to investigate and discover from looking under stones to cooking to dismantling old technology. Sometimes they even managed to put it back together again.
Their little minds were processing and thinking, assimilating and developing as we talked about stuff on a walk, doing the shopping, on the way somewhere or during questionable programmes like Supernanny on the telly. Their thinking and doing skills developing all the time.
So it wasn’t long before I came to the conclusion, usually around September and the start of the new school year, that it was absolutely bizarre to take children away from real life where opportunities and inspiration for learning and education surround us all the time, and shut them inside a school only to ‘teach’ them about that life, usually through second hand academic and uninspiring exercises that tended to switch them off.
Walking the weirdly child-empty streets, parks or libraries at this time of year I can’t help feeling a little sad for all those small beings who don’t learn best that way.
And I still, even now they’re grown and continue to sponge up learning as they live their independent lives, have that sense of reignited joy in our decision to educate ours outside of school.