Anna Neubert-Wood talks about Free Range Days with her children.
In Scotland, in terms of ages, the schooling situation is the following: Children that are born in December or January end up being either the youngest or the oldest in their class. Parents and carers decide, with the recommendation of the nursery staff, whether to keep the child back a year, or to send them into Primary 1 early (at the age of 4 and a half).
I grew up in Germany, and started school at 7. Many studies have been conducted, stating that this is the more child-friendly starting age for school. In most Central/North European countries this is the case. Children get to play more,work on their social skills, experiment in and with nature, until they are physically ready to sit still, learn to write and read. This article is one of the many that say it is far too early in the British school system.
Here's a bit of historical background to the whole situation: In the Victorian times, the 1880 Education Act was introduced, which made school compulsory for children between the ages of 5 and 10. The motivation was to take children away from the working environment and provide them a chance to be educated. It made a lot of sense back then, when child labour was a prevalent issue.
But looking at our time in a modern society, with all the studies that have been conducted to show how precious childhood years are, how children need to be free, and learn much better as a result of it, and all the things, we - society - have learned about childhood since then… Is it not time to update the system to suit the modern needs?
Being the first-time mother that I was 9 years ago, not knowing the system very well, I sent Fergus to nursery at the age of 4 and a half, in order to do a part time job. Nursery staff recommended to take him to school early - he was bright, bilingual and ticked all the right boxes. Despite many doubts and sleepless nights over this issue, I caved to peer pressure...
Fortunately, he started at a small school, where he was lucky enough to be in a lovely class of 15 children. So he got lots of one-to-one time with the teacher, and his progress was monitored closely. He did great. Later, due to a move to a more popular neighbourhood, with lots of families with young kids, we ended up putting him into the biggest school in town, where the intake has been as extreme as 5 P1 classes last year, and the catchment area currently being reviewed as a result.
Despite the school being fantastic, with a good reputation within an active, caring community, he was suddenly one little boy amongst so many others. All of a sudden he seemed a bit lost.
He continued to be strong academically, as part of a class with 30 children, but something just didn't feel right. It dawned on me that to be ready for school meant to emotionally, not just academically ready, too. Inspired by my good friend and neighbour Sarah, who flexi-schooled her middle daughter for a year, I found the solution to our situation: Fergus needed some more time outside the classroom, when he could explore his interests at his own pace and spend some more individual time within the family unit.
So, an application to the Families Department at the Council, a supportive interview with a Council Representative and a School Psychologist, and we had the go-ahead for part time schooling. And so we began one day a week of home-schooling. The school was slightly apprehensive at the start, but now, teachers and staff are very accommodating and supportive. This was Easter time, 2014. For the first 18 months we free-styled our Mondays, made a list of things we wanted to see and, depending on the weather, went for a forage in the woods, made a fire at the beach, or visited the city farm. We turned Mondays into one of our most favourite days of the week!
We, that was myself, Fergus and our youngest, who was four at the time and is now in Primary 2, have since been spending a lot more time outside, have more free play.
We learned a lot along the way and enjoyed not needing a watch or clock to guide us, but simply the weather, moods, the sun and the moon.
By Summer 2015 we had done a few guided walks, talks and forages with the local Park Rangers at Holyrood Park, and decided that this gave our Mondays a nice focus. Through the Ranger Service, we found out about the John Muir Trust and the different level Awards one can do as a family (or school, individual, etc). Those are focused around spending time in the wild outdoors- discovering, exploring and conserving them. This was right up our street, and we went and completed the Discovery Award in November. Now Mondays had a purpose!
Since, we have begun the Explorer Award, and are looking forward to more wild time at our local Figgate Park in the next couple of months - planting trees, spotting wildlife (foxes and kingfisher are featuring high on our list), and building a community willow den.
So on our Free Range Mondays we do what we love, learn as we go, slow things right down and notice the seasons change. This way, I believe, I can give my children a bit of their childhood back, letting them be themselves, explore things in their own time, whilst getting mucky and wild. The system asks them to grow up too quickly, by making them fit in.
Maybe it is because I grew up in East Germany, before and during the fall of the wall, in a suppressed political system, that I question rules and ideologies. It encourages me to try and look at things differently. I am a firm believer that thinking outside the box is something that we all need to do a bit more of, so do get inspired, take a bit of wildness into your life, break your routine, question habits and rules, wind things down. Take time to listen to what's around you and go wild!
There is more to childhood and life than school, work, tests and reward stickers. Don't get me wrong, I still think school gives them a lot.
How long we will keep doing this? I don't know. We enjoy what we have right now. Who knows how long it is going to be great to hang out with Mama on Mondays? High School will be a new chapter in a few years’ time. We will live and and learn, and adapt our lifestyle to our needs. Until then we are grateful for this flexibility in the Scottish school system with the amazing option of Flexi-schooling. It is not an option that many families are aware of, yet we have already inspired 3 to follow in our footsteps and take on part time schooling.
Our guest contributor Anna Neubert-Wood is a mum of two boys and a writes a blog called Free Flow Brothers. Check it out, it's lovely!
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