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Educational Paradigm Shift

Today I finally came to grips with the fact that I’m about to be a homeschool/unschool/life-school mum. In my head I always imagined my children learning from home, but I guess I never really saw it happening. As an educator I had come to believe that the best place for learning was in the school.

Yesterday as I collected my sons belongings from his class, I felt a mixture of feelings. I was excited for our new adventure but also felt incredibly sad. It wasn’t until I really tuned into those feelings that I realised that it wasn’t sadness at all, it was fear.

Fear that taking my son out of school would some how leave him disadvantaged.

Fear that I wouldn’t be able to teach him everything he needs to know.

Fear that we would start learning at home and it wouldn’t work out.

Fear that we didn’t have it all figured out financially.

Fear that he will miss out on the social aspects of school.

Fear of change, the unknown, and of something new.

But the more I thought about it, the more I was able to release those fears.

I realised that being able to follow interests instead of prescribed lesson plans was an advantage.

I reminded myself that if there is something I don’t know, we can learn about it together.

I affirmed that if it doesn’t work for us, we can try something else.

I let go of my financial worries knowing that for now, we are actually ok.

I asserted that just because we learn from home, it doesn’t mean we stay at home. We can and will make new friends.

As we step into the unknown it may feel scary, but it could also be the best decision we ever make.

These last couple of months at home have really helped us see that school just wasn’t working. This was hard for me to understand because my son was at a really great school, it had it all. As a smaller rural school they offered opportunities that many other schools can’t. They put a large emphasis on respect, empathy, kindness and play based learning. Each child was able to take their bike to school to use on a purpose built BMX track and they also had a shipping container filled with bikes for children that didn’t have their own. The children were able to bring their own tool boxes filled with saws, hammers and nails to plan and create tree huts and forts. They swam everyday in summer, and had outdoor only days with mud slides and fire pits. It was everything I had hoped for in a school.

I now realise that it wasn’t the school that didn’t suit us,

it was the school system.

So as we said our goodbyes I grieved. I grieved for all the things I had hoped for, all the things that could have been and also my own school experience.

REFLECTION of my school experience:

As I reflected back on my journey through school, lots of uncomfortable feeling came bubbling to the surface. There were aspects of school that I enjoyed, but for the most part, I hated it.

School for me was an undercover army camp disguised as a place of learning. It felt more like training than teaching. We lived by a schedule and were told what time to arrive and when we could leave. We were told when to work, when to play, when to eat, and when we could use the bathroom. Like Pavlov’s dog we were conditioned to respond to the sound of the bell. We had to wear uniforms, walk in lines, and do exactly as we were told (or we would get punished). The usual punishments were writing out lines “I’m sorry” 100 times, picking up other peoples rubbish or running lapses of the school field. To me school was a grand design put in place to house and control large numbers of children.

It started off subtle. Alot of the early days were fun. But during my days in primary school, even some of our male teachers looked and acted like drill sergeants. They had socks pulled up to their knees and walked with their hands clasped behind their backs. During lessons some held onto a meter ruler which was used as a pointing stick or to hit the desk if you were being disruptive. I was 6 when they officially stopped using corporal punishment in NZ schools (1990) but there were still a couple that kept it “old school”. If you stepped out of line you were made an example of or at the very least got your name on the black board naughty list. The teachers weren’t all bad though. It didn’t take long for us to figure out which ones were “mean” and which ones were “nice”. Then, as long as you made sure to follow all the rules and do exactly as you were told, things played out fairly smoothly.

A shift took place.

People started speaking up

and declared things had to change.

They replaced physical punishment with detention, timeout and the “thinking mat”. Many teachers stopped controlling children with punishment and began managing children’s behaviour through the use of rewards. (The thing is though, when you have been conditioned to work for an extrinsic reward, as you get older you keep chasing those extrinsic rewards; the praise, the acknowledgements, the promotion, the new car, the nice house or the latest phone, and you loose your intrinsic motivation). All external rewards - whether they are stickers, star charts, jelly beans, your name on the “good list”, school grades, certificates or gifts, also contain a hidden punishment. Because if you weren’t one of the ones to be praised and rewarded, there were feelings of failure. Failure to get the reward, failure to impress or please the teacher, failure to achieve. This often resulted in feelings of not being good enough and developed into a fear of failure itself.

With these being some of my most vivid memories, I guess it’s easy for you to see why I didn’t enjoy school. I hated it so much that I decided to become a teacher. I thought that I would figure this whole “school thing” out so that children didn’t have to grow up feeling the same way I felt.

I can see so clearly that this sense of total control I felt in school is still there. As hard as we try to let it go, it’s still there. In some schools it’s really visible while others just a little.

We have come a long way since I was in school, but we still have a long way to go in terms of children’s starting age, class sizes, ratios, set schedules, planned lessons and more. In some schools we still have teachers positioned at the front of the class teaching/instructing/directing, while children sit with their legs crossed, facing forward, trying hard not to move or wriggle. But there are some teachers that sit WITH their class in circles or small groups. In a more relaxed manner they have moved away from instruction, towards open discussions, group problem solving, research projects, play and interest led learning.

I might have alot of difficult memories surrounding school but through it all I learned what children need; because I remember what I needed. Above anything else children need freedom. Freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom to move. Freedom to learn, to ask questions, and live outside the box. Freedom to just BE. Children are mini scientists that want to explore and discover. They want to try things out and give everything a go. If you let them loose they just keep learning… But once you stop them from exploring; once you tell them what to think, how to think, when to think, and where to think, they are going to stop thinking.

When you stop thinking you stop asking questions.

when you stop asking question you stop getting answers.

All around the world the best teachers are waking up. They’re realising that things aren’t right and they are leaving the profession. Some are trying their hardest at what feels like an uphill battle, they fight for children everyday. They fight for children’s rights. For each child that has to be in school to have space and time, to move and play, follow their interests and create a love for learning. They fight for adequate resources, fairness and equality.

I often ask myself;

why are the teachers not being listened to,

why are they not being heard?

Some have given up the fight and are searching for a new way. A way for children to learn while being free, where they can go at their own pace, be immersed in nature, learn valuable life skills and contribute wholeheartedly to their community.

The way forward won’t be the same for each of us but for our family what we create will align with our values.

As an early childhood educator I firmly believe that children learn best through play, in a relaxed and homely environment where they have the right to freedom and are encouraged to be themselves. Where they have the opportunity to build strong, lasting and meaningful relationships with those around them and have a deep sense of belonging.

When we offer our children endless opportunities to investigate the world around them and give them space and time to make meaningful connections, they can take initiative and navigate their own learning journey with the support of trusted adults.

I feel that we need to protect each child’s way of BEing, celebrate creativity, perspective, individuality, and support their innate ability to imagine, while also allowing for the development of thought processes.

When we allow children to build upon their own strengths, interests and theories we empower them to follow their heart. This develops into a love for research and the acquisition of knowledge that forms their understanding. It is this LOVE for learning that will guide them as the grow and develop.

Learning is life.

Learning is not seperate to life,

it is the experience of life.

When I imagine what learning will look like for us I don’t see lessons, grades, or schedules. I don’t see one teacher responsible for many children. I don’t even see a classroom.

I envision a community of adults and children learning together.

I envision a kind of homeschool but not with just one family, with many.

Families together supporting each other; like Playcentre for all ages.

I envision Life Learning.

This is my perception, we each have our own.

What can you take from your past, that will help build a better tomorrow?

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