I went into town over the school break. I do sometimes emerge from my hermitic rural idyll and brave civilisation. Although I forgot it was the half term and likely to be packed.
That was a huge advantage of home educating. We could go out when the town centres were quiet and have the swimming pool and parks to ourselves. Selfish but useful!
Nowadays, since I’m not so involved with small beings any more I quite like going in the holidays and seeing families enjoying their time together.
I got a bit of a shock; there were hardly any at all. It was empty. Unpopulated. Almost deserted in fact.
Where was everybody? Odd!
I went again a few days later, expecting to be manoeuvring round restless children and fractious mums and dads trying to get jobs done with kids in tow. But it was still the same.
Where are all the children?
I went into Waterstones and spoke to my friend in the children’s book section.
“Is it me or is the town a bit empty?” I asked as she was free to talk – there were few customers.
“It’s dead, quite worrying really,” she agreed.
“I expected the town to be full of families like it normally is during the holidays, where are they all?”
She twiddled her thumbs as if holding a gaming console.
Please tell me it is not the case that they’re all indoors gaming. But she agreed, since the popularity of such easy entertainment has risen the town centres are not nearly so busy in the school holidays as they were. There are certainly not so many little hands in the bookshop.
And our town centres are radically different. With the rise in gaming and online shopping they are emptying, partly because you can shop online and partly because it is much easier to sit a child in front of a game than to take them out, and the price of a new one is the same as a trip somewhere.
I’m not knocking online shopping or gaming, we do both in this house.
But the emptiness of the town over the holiday has made me worry. Worry about the learning opportunities that are lost through children not being out and about. Opportunities to observe and chat, speculate and question, things they don’t get to do much in school but which extend their education dynamically. That increases their understanding, language and intelligence.
This is what being out with adults does. Even discussions on the dullest trip round the supermarket can do that. It’s as useful a part of their education as sitting in class or learning passively.
As our town centres empty, will our children be emptying of these experiences too? Emptying of opportunities and experiences which extend their education beyond what any kind of system, classroom or curriculum can do? Worrying!