Opting out of the education system

Over the last few months, probably since Daisy turned three, I’ve started to feel less like Home Education is something we’re PLANNING to do, and more like it’s something we ARE doing. Part of that is to do with the fact that her contemporaries are, without exception, regularly attending nurseries, now, complete with government vouchers to pay for it.

Someone I was chatting with today seemed vaguely surprised that I considered nursery to be formal education, and was therefore choosing not to use it – since all her son does there is play, sing, and hear stories. For my own part, I never considered sending Daisy to nursery. It’s the beginning of the system I’ve chosen to avoid, as far as I can see, however play-based and informal it may be – and with the introduction of the new Early Years curriculum, I suspect it’s about to become less so.

Teachers? TV logoPretty much every government edict on the subject of education makes me just a little bit more pessamistic and cynical about the system. Sometimes, for a laugh, I watch Teachers’ TV, but mostly it’s as an excuse to shout abuse at the telly. It seems to be a dedicated propaganda channel, for the government to pass edicts from the Department for Schools and Families to ordinary, hard-working, over bureaucratised teachers. The problem seems to be that every time government senses a “problem” with education, they try to do something extra to address it. They never, ever, ever say “Something we are doing is causing this problem. Let’s find out what it is and stop doing it.” It’s just not how they think. So, at the last count, children were expected to spend an hour on literacy, an hour on numeracy, an hour on exercise, an hour on “culture” (whatever that means – no doubt the guy who’s idea it was had specific ideas, but I’ve got degrees in culture, and I know that McDonald’s and EastEnders both count…) – there are only five hours in a school day. One more edict, and there’ll be no time left to actually learn anything! There’s already very little time for creative, imaginative, thinking-outside-the-box teaching, that engages children according to their individual temperaments.

But that’s me ranting about a system I’ve already decided not to use.

What I’m currently concerned with is twofold – the challenges of successfully managing the education of a three to five year old, and the decision-making process surrounding what to teach Daisy, how formally to do it, how thoroughly to do it, and how early to start.

Pre-school education is so ingrained in British culture, now, that there’s actually very little else. It’s a unique age-group. When she turns five, all manner of extra-curricular activities open up, of the type Rainbows (which is baby Brownies – they weren’t about in my day), etc. At the moment, she’s too old for the toddler stuff (a fact that became blindingly apparent at Musical Minis last week, when she pushed a child over who was half her size – I was utterly humiliated…), but too young for the school-age stuff. The reality is, nursery is about as much formal activity as most children can handle in a day, so there’s very little demand or (consequently) provision for children of this age outside of traditional nursery/playgroup situations.

That’s a challenge. In some ways, if she’s still home educated by the time she’s five, I think we’ll have done the hardest bit. But, I’ve got her signed up for pre-school swimming lessons, which is the exception to the rule, apparently, and I’ve agreed with a friend today to make a regular playdate with her little boy, who does nursery in the morning, but still has energy to make friends in the afternoon (he’s four, so has a bit more stamina than some…).

The other thing is about learning to read. Daisy is only three. One of the swearing-at-the-telly things that I get hung up about is the absurdly high expectations that we have of very young children, over formal education. Many, many children aren’t ready to read before they’re six or seven, but I’ve a sneaking feeling that if you’ve not already got it by that age in our educational culture, you run the risk of having missed it – no one will ever actually try to teach you to read again. One of the advantages of opting out, is I don’t have to conform to government expectations of when Daisy should be able to read.

Except she’s ready. At three. She’s interested in reading, she likes books, she’s spotting letters when she sees them out and about, she’s absorbing the Beeb’s “Fun with Phonics” segment like a sponge. She’s totally ready.

Jolly Phonics HandbookSo, against my own better judgement, this week, we started some formal phonics work. We’re loosely following the Jolly Phonics handbook (which I acquired, rather than bought), and we’re making a Sounds Book – every day we’ve written a letter in, and pasted pictures of things that start with that letter. I think she’s getting it. She doesn’t really get blending, which is the fundamental step between “t-a-p” and “tap”, but according to the book, that’s the second step. This week is about getting six letter sounds in her head, so we can start to play with them.? As an aside, I typed tap into Google, to find a picture of one for the book, and she either read it, guessed it, or recognised it, so maybe that’s closer than I realised.

My instinct is that she’s more of a phonics child than a look-and-say child – my friend this morning said the opposite of her son, so I don’t think I’m presuming. I like Jolly Phonics – it’s just structured enough for me, without feeling like a straightjacket. I’m totally prepared to stop, if it’s not working – she may be too young after all. But I’ll let you know how it goes…