Several different elements of our family life seem to have recently evolved, and conveniently collided in a thought provoking cocktail of circumstances.
After the much needed rest from the summer, Leo seems to have developed a pretty productive mindset and seems very busy, creative and invested in anything I present him with- for which I am intensely grateful.
Secondly, he's suddenly looking Very Not Tiny and it's quite befuddling to people that we meet while out and about. People can see that he's definitely school age now, and many ask him if he's yet to return to school directly.
Relatedly, the last thing, is Leo is getting bold with talking to other people, and so, responding to this apparently continually occurring question, he is content to give them a big beaming smile and say,
"Actually, I don't go to school! I learn at home with Mummy, and in lots of really amazing places, like the library, the museum, the woods and the beach, and I play a lot of games, and do a lot of art, and it's really good!"
And it occurs to me, that although we have had some people try to contest and debate the topic when we've responded in the past, more recently people have been a great deal more encouraging and interested.
At first I had to celebrate at the thought of times changing, of people understanding that there will always be alternative routes to the mainstream, and that they are valid and legitimate options. That people understand that school simply won't suit every child, and some families are placed in circumstances where they can select how their children learn, and the environments they do so in.
I do believe this is the case, slowly and steadily, getting there, kinda.
But recently I had another moment of epiphany on the subject. Why the shift in attitudes when we respond to the schooling topic...
Because he's the one replying, not me.
When I reply, and tell people that I educate my son, people are sometimes ready to be inquisitive, and to assess my capabilities, my agenda. Other parents have become defensive, as if their own choices have come under fire with me sharing my own, differing choices, as if condemnation plays any part at all in what I do with my child...
But with Leo replying, the full package is on display and ready to shine, in glorious representation of the choice.
He articulates well, in spite of a mild speech difficulty, how excited and engaged he is for his learning lifestyle, and it's clear that he is equipped with plenty of learning under his belt already.
This kid is doing well. This kid knows stuff. This kid isn't questionable.
The Mamabear in me is, frankly, quite smug about this on some levels. After all, firstly it's reassuring to me that he's on a good enough track that he wants to share it with people who ask. He may not be the most switched on or inclined to explore, but he does love what we serve up for him, and that's more than enough for me to work with. This isn't a conditional deal, after all.
Plus, it's satisfyingly positive in reflecting my efforts. Thanking you kindly.
But what it's not, is fair.
Leo shouldn't represent all of home education to a single stranger, although it's healthy representation, and now at least that person might have a better perspective on the topic of home learning.
What if a home educated child who felt uncomfortable responding was asked?
What if a home educated child who wasn't as engaged was asked?
Or even, what if Leo was asked, ten minutes later, when he was tired, hot, and getting grouchy over Mummy not packing the right snack?
Would home education as a whole then be circled by that person as a poor option?
The answer from lots of portals and experiences that I've had and read of, is often, yes. Yes that's enough to colour the demographic to some people.
So hey, here's the thing, and this is just a subtle reminder- typical school has a combination of engaged, introverted, struggling and grouchy kids too, but I expect their responses to the same question wouldn't cause scrutiny over their learning provision.
Don't get me wrong, I am HAPPY that the people who meet Leo have a shift in perspective, or take interest, or encourage us after seeing Leo respond so charmingly. I hope those people have an opportunity to light a fire in others when the debate comes up. Perhaps they'll have an opportunity to apply it to their own lives as a choice, or suggest it to others down the line.
But i hope people grow to understand the legitimacy of home education from a stand point of the benefit of the individual child, and not about how many scholars and sweethearts we are likely to produce to gauge our validity and efforts.