Eldest son has been worrying me of late. His teacher has been on and off sick practically all year, necessitating his class being shared around the rest of the school - sometimes for days on end. Add in the fact that he changed schools in April, and it's fair to say he hasn't exactly thrived academically this year.
This is a worry.
The idea of homeschooling had come up already this year, when - in his budget - State Premier Colin Barnett (Hairnet) decided to charge those on a 457 visa (us) a $4,000 school fee from 2015 (read my take on it here), which would mean I'd have no choice but to home-school all of them (living nightmare). So, by way of preparation for such an eventuality, and to see if it might benefit the eldest boy, I decided to attempt a two day trial with him.
“Oh please no,” groaned DH,“next you’ll be breastfeeding him and knitting him cardigans out of hemp!”
This, I felt was a little unfair; it’s true that until that moment I had considered home-schoolers to be poncho-wearing hippies who ate their own placentas, but faced with concern for my son’s education, I was having to reassess this judgement.
Anyway, what is hemp?
The first morning of the experiment dawned brightly, and I leaped from my bed full of enthusiasm for my new role. I suspected I might turn out to be a pretty amazing teacher, a sort of cross between Robin Williams in ‘Dead Poets Society’ and Michelle Pfieffer in ‘Dangerous Minds’. In no time at all I’d have my son reciting Latin phrases and scribbling algorithms on the white board in empty college classrooms at night, after he'd finished cleaning them (or was that Good Will Hunting?). I was about to create a boy genius! And the fact that I don't know Latin and or what an algorithm is did not diminish my enthusiasm one jot!
I hadn't actually organised a lesson plan, or studied his curriculum, instead I figured I'd just teach him things as they occurred to me - you know, let him learn organically - after all, how hard could it be? Besides, I have an impressive collection of books - ancient Greek drama, sociology, Shakespeare, the entire collection of Jodie Picoult novels - there was bound to be something educational in there.
|This should be on the curriculum|
Turning to the bookcase I scanned the shelves; my eye fell on Trinny and Suzannah's 'What you wear can change your life' - a book containing what I consider to be vital information for life, and I mean vital; until I had understood that narrow A-line skirts are the only style I should consider, I had actually gone around in skirts cut on the bias *shudder* the memory still haunts me.
Moving along the bookcase, I spotted ex-Spice Girl Gerri Halliwell's autobiography 'My Story', which although an inspirational and ultimately uplifting tale, was unlikely to launch my son onto a path of academic excellence. Pity, a bloody good read.
Surely there was something worthy of study among all these books? My eye fell on a grammar book, excellent, grammar is a vital component of a comprehensive education, and the fact that I am a qualified teacher of English to a speaker of a second language (TESOL) must mean that I know this stuff inside out! (And the fact that my entire career as teacher of speakers of a second language entailed making animal-themed masks with my students, or teaching them 'head, shoulders, knees and toes' didn't sway me from this thought.)
|I may need this...|
Opening up at a section on restrictive clauses, I quickly read through to the bottom of the page understanding nothing. I tried again, still nothing. Do people actually know this stuff? Surely nobody needs to know this stuff? I returned the book to the shelf, telling myself I can always hire a tutor for the stuff I don't know.
I found a book about Vikings and Celts - aha, perfect! - and got him to read aloud for several minutes. (Actually it was quite interesting; did you know that the Vikings originated from Germany? No, me neither.) After that we drew some Viking ships for several minutes before running out of Viking-themed things to do.
Time for a geography lesson, I decided, pulling out an atlas. I like atlases, I find the way imagined borders not only result in differing customs, costumes, cultures and languages, but often physical differences too. Endlessly fascinating! Opening to a map of Europe, I prepared to quiz my son on some capital cities:
"Capital of Denmark?" I asked him, eyeing the map for the answer.
"Err...Germany?" he replied.
"Capital of Scotland?"
It was worse than I thought, the child knows nothing! I instructed him to study the map while I made some coffee and gathered my thoughts.
Refreshed, I tried again:
“Capital of Denmark?”
"Um, Germany?" he countered.
Closing the atlas I decided to move onto life-skills. If he was to be a useful member of society he needed to be able to cook. Plus a future wife would thank me for creating a well-rounded, modern and thoughtful individual. We were going to make some bread!
Forty minutes later, our loaf emerged from the oven, rock-hard and inedible (I guess yeast was vital after all), and I was beginning to have doubts about the entire experiment.
I phoned DH, "This is hard! We're not really making any progress at all; honestly,he's simply not trying!"
Hanging up, I thought I'd try once more. "Shall we try some Japanese Haiku poetry? That just might be your thing!" I trilled brightly.
“Mum, can I go back to school tomorrow?” my son asked suddenly, eyes pleading with me, and I'll be honest, I was a bit relieved, this teaching lark is harder than it looks. Defeated I agreed – our experiment was at an end, only several hours after starting. I had failed.
My son may have learned nothing, but I certainly had: teachers do an amazing job, it takes real vocation, skill, planning and most of all, patience to teach a child, and is not something just anyone can do – not even placenta-eating hippies. And any parent who successfully manages this at home, well, I take my proverbial hat off to you!
Of course, come 2015 I may find that I have to home-school - perish the thought - and if so a mere browse of my bookshelf simply won't suffice, more's the pity. For now I’m going to leave the teaching to the teachers and confine my involvement in my children’s education to the safe territories of shape-appropriate clothing advice, and animal-themed mask making...