I left school at 16. In the UK this isn’t an uncommon practice, but we lived in the US so I am officially a “high school dropout.” I’m actually an “unschooler,” and if you’re interested you can hear the full story here. My life began when I left school. I had spent years feeling out of place, and like a failure within the system. I dread to think what might have become if I hadn’t had supportive parents who (unsurprisingly) fully understood what I was going through and supported my decision to leave the system.
Because of my own experiences, it never really crossed my mind that I would enrol my own children in school, and when Adeline bounded into our lives, I lost sleep over the thought. The truth is that Anthony and I sleepwalked out of the pandemic. When it came time to enrol Adeline I was still in the midst of grief fog, doing my best, but admittedly struggling to be present as a parent to Adeline while I so desperately longed for what I had lost as a daughter.
As luck would have it, we found a beautiful little school nearby, which runs under the leadership of a head who is fully committed to the type of education that Anthony and I advocate for. Even so, I cried for 24 straight hours the day before Adeline started school. Thanks to the pandemic we had missed out on two years of toddler classes – ballet, or football, Monkey Music, or swimming – and at three years old Adeline was mostly feral. I couldn’t stand the thought that school would take away her wild spirit. As it happens, my fears were unfounded. The class she joined was magical, and over the past eighteen months she has grown and developed in ways I hadn’t anticipated thanks to the guidance of her dedicated, passionate teachers. And she’s still wild at heart.
Still, there have been two voices in my head that I have been trying to silence. They were quiet at first, but have been growing and growing, until this past December when I had to say them out loud.
The first: “She’s only four. In most other countries she wouldn’t start school for at least another year, and in some countries not for another three years. She will never get to be four again. I’m worried she is growing up too quickly.”
And the second: “I haven’t been fully present for the past two and a half years. We haven’t had the time together that we both need to form a strong foundation together. We will never get this time back again.”
These thoughts were amplified by a feeling of just being different from other families we were meeting. We aren’t panicking about the year six exams yet, we aren’t focusing on GCSE’s yet, or university entrance. I shocked a group of parents the other week when I said we would let Adeline decide if she wanted to go to university. I didn’t say we’d ban her from going, I simply said that we wouldn’t make the decision for her, and as she is four years old, we might wait a few years before bringing the topic up with her. I was met with looks of horror.
The truth is that for the past two years my secret passion has been buying and hoarding home-schooling resources. In August I bought a Back to School Megapack, despite the fact we had no formal plans to homeschool at that point. I’ve always said “I would love to homeschool, but we can’t.” and then over Christmas this one little thought crept into my mind. A little thought that couldn’t be evicted once it was in. I little thought that just said: “but we could.” And then a little later: “and what if we did?”
And so now we are.
In the books I am reading on homeschooling, written by other homeschooling mothers, I am finding a tribe of women who seem to share a vision that resonates deeply with me. A vision that inspired Anthony and I to found Nevergrey. A vision of grabbing life with both hands and living it to the max. What that means is different for everyone. For some it might mean running at every opportunity imaginable, to live a life that is bright and loud. For others it means to slow down completely and cherish the small moments.
For us – we have a young family, and we are still developing our family culture, but I know that it means time together. For me – I need to slow down and appreciate the day to day. So much of grief has been wishing for the past and racing through the present. For Adeline – it means protecting her childhood, not racing through it. Embracing the chaos, the messy, the spontaneous, and allowing her space to explore and grow naturally.
Over the next twelve months Adeline and I will be following her lead. We’re going to go slow and play. We’re going to take twelve months of play based, child led, passion driven learning. And I’m going to write about it right here, in this little corner of The Creative Revolution. I hope you’ll join us for the ride.