I've been trying to write a few words on this ever since I wrote To school or not to school. But the words never came, at least because I didn't feel I had any answers. I've been torn, confused, anxious and generally unsettled.
Should we homeschool? Could I cope? Are mainstream schools the right place for Luca? Which school? Will he get to make sense of the world through his creativity as much as he does at home? Would he thrive with a curriculum that leans far too heavily on literacy and numeracy? Is there such a place where creativity and literacy are regarded as being equally important?
These questions and more have been whirring around my head for months. But we have resolved one thing: we've put the homeschooling idea away for good now. Despite the lovely emails I've received from homeschooling families hoping to encourage and inspire me and despite the amazing blogs I follow from homeschooling mothers, it's not the right path for Luca or for us.
I've had the courage to explore and really delve into other options, because I believe there are always more choices besides the straight-there approach that is often presented to us. The strong tendency I have (don't accept unless it feels absolutely right) is serving me well here.
One day as we were driving behind a school bus, he was eager to learn about who gets on school buses, why parents don't get on, what the roads would look like if there were no school buses, how much fun they are... Then out of nowhere,
Luca: Why do some children go to school when they're five?
Me: Because they're ready to go.
Luca: Why didn't I go to school at five?
Me: You didn't feel you were ready for big school yet.
Luca: When will I be ready?
Me: I don't know, maybe when you're almost six? (Hoping, praying, with fingers and toes crossed, that I'd said the right thing.)
Luca: Yes, when I'm six. But can I come and visit the schools with you to see which one I like?
I felt an instant wave of relief, and I felt happy. Happy that we put school off and happy that we haven't pushed the school issue. The mere mention of big school has made him frown and turn inwards; sometimes it's a desperate 'I don't want to go' and other times his behaviour over the course of that day and the days that follow says it all. He had no wish to join friends that had started school this year.
All this has changed now. I'm breathing so much better and we're talking about the prospect of school.
He knows I've been to visit several schools already. I've called and made appointments with the Principals and asked for a tour each time. I feel my way around the school, and note how it measures up based on any flutters I feel and information I glean. We've narrowed it down to two schools but we're not in their zones. If, despite all my efforts, he doesn't get in (and there are only ever a handful of out-of-zone places on offer), we're prepared to move at the end of the year so that he does.
Just like my mum – who was told by the one school she wanted in the south of England that all classes were full for my year and my sister's year, and that she'd have to take us elsewhere. She made an urgent appointment and marched into the Principal's office with both of us by her side, impressing upon him that we'd be an asset to his school, waving our Egyptian school reports in his face and demanding that he find room for us.
I'll do the same. I'll show them his incredible works of art, the way he interprets stories on a page. I'll talk endlessly about his beautiful spirit, his thirst for knowing and his kindness towards others.
I have faith that it will work out and I have faith we'll make the right decision, but I need to have faith that the system won't deaden his imagination and creativity. Right now, that's my main worry.
Education isn't about getting on that school bus and sitting in a classroom all day (like I did as a child). I know that our job, as parents, to educate won't be any lighter come next year; it'll be more important than ever if we want to nurture his spirit and that wonderful individuality of his.
Do you struggle with the traditional approach to education for your children? How do you compensate? How do you keep imagination alive when they're at school for five days and come home tired?