Yesterday, a friend asked me what I’d been up to, which is a question that paralyses me at the best of times. This time, all I could think to say was, ‘School.’
She commented on what a big thing it is for little people to take on, and it is, but not only for him. The beginning of our son’s school life has been a major thing for all of us to contend with. It’s been wonderful, very hard, a bit confronting and vulnerable and mind-expanding, all at once. I had no idea it would be such a seismic shift.
While we loved the childcare centre our son went to, it was still just that: a place he went to. School is a major institution in society, and engaging with it feels a lot more weighty and intensive. Especially when you don’t have a lot of contact with other institutions (shout-out to secularists, introverts, outlaws and freelancers in all your combinations! I’m sorry for shouting!)
We’re almost at the halfway mark of our first year now, and it feels like we’re finally settling in and adjusting as a household to the ways that school shapes our lives. We’ve chosen a ripper of a school for our little fellow, and in doing so, we’ve actually freed ourselves from a lot of the bureaucracy and other commitments that normally come with it. We don’t have uniforms or strict schedules or NAPLAN, bells or lines or homework or exams to deal with, as a start. I’m aware that a lot of great mainstream schools do have all these things, and I have no intention of denigrating them. We’ve just found an alternative that works for us, and it operates a little differently.
The school we’ve chosen asks something different of us. It asks us to make school a greater part of our lives than the place where our child spends his days. It asks us to engage as individuals, as parents to our child, as a family and as community members. It asks us to show up on a philosophical level, a personal level, and in a collaborative spirit. Bringing these kids up in this way is a partnership, and that entails a little give and take. It’s a long game, and we’ve got to be patient. All going well, we’ll end up with a happy child who loves learning, who is curious, creative and empathetic. But it’s not a race, and there are no rules.
As people who are not really joiners, this community approach was challenging at first. With a child who experiences anxiety and finds comfort in structure, this type of schooling is still challenging. It’s a beautiful mess, because that’s what freedom looks like. It’s loud and chaotic, because that’s what kids are. There are ways to find a corner of calm in the chaos, but it takes a while. The nicest part is, there’s no hurry. Nobody is tapping their feet and looking at their watch, waiting for us to fall into line or shoehorn our child into any particular slot in the system. We’ve been given time and latitude to find out how to make this school work for all of us, and to find out how we can work for this school. One of us is starting school for the first time, but we’re all getting educated, and it’s bloody great.
Roll on semester two (sunglasses emoji).