Through Play, Strewing and Natural Rhythms
By Rachel Faith
Is it time for you to de-school too?
Once upon a time, a few centuries ago, home-schooling was the norm and play was considered not just natural but necessary for the proper development of a child. Families had close bonds as they spent a lot of time together – playing, learning, working, and growing alongside one another. Emotional needs of children were taken care of, siblings hung out, and children spent time with other children of all ages in their local neighbourhood. And everyone was generally much less stressed. Sound familiar? It certainly does to longer term home-schoolers. We got this memo and we’ve not looked back.
It does take courage to step away from the norm and do something different but it is made even more difficult when parents/carers who have children with additional needs are told by the school body they are really doing the wrong thing by taking their child out of school. James Mulhern, an educational historian wrote in 1946: ‘The masses of the people in any great society can be held together, over a long period of time, by the method of keeping them in fear and ignorance...’ I was certainly ignorant of what home-ed meant and I am a teacher. There were all sorts of myths and criticisms floating around the staffroom which I bought into. Not any more.
De-schooling is the process of recalibrating a child’s AIM System (adrenals, immune, meridian) post exiting an educational institution. The institution may have trained the child’s body and mind to respond to bells, comply with rules, follow timetables, study fixed curriculum, and strive for results in assignments and assessments. The child’s brain may have been trained to cling to facts and figures to later regurgitate at test-time, their bodily functions given the green light to expel only at certain ‘convenient’ times of the day, and their gluteals numbed to endure copious hours of hard plastic chair sitting. De-schooling is the first component in the process of recalibration of the child back to their natural state of curiosity, charisma and charm.
The child’s adrenal glands, immune system, and meridian lines may be exhausted, over-whelmed, and under-functioning due to the stress of tests, social dis-ease, lack of socio-emotional support, pressure to conform/please/succeed, and possibly by the sheer volume of noise and numbers of people. Not everybody digs a rave. Add into the mix a teacher they don’t like who they are stuck with for a year or more, or worse, a teacher who doesn’t like them, and the child’s AIM System will be utterly hammered. Go figure! The intent of de-schooling is to de-traumatise, de-stress, de-systematise. The positive flip of these: relax, rejuvenate, recalibrate.
Within weeks of her home-schooling journey, I could see Emily was on the improve.
Our Personal Story Of De-schooling
Unenrolling my eldest daughter, Emily, from school in year 3 was a winner. Her immune system was shot as she’d contract flu after flu in the classroom and her behaviours were unpleasant as she was stressed out from the competitive environment, regular testing, and some bullying. And I noticed how often she was putting herself down which really had me concerned. The unpredictability of playground socialisation was sometimes confusing for Emily too. Having an autism spectrum aspect meant she needed guidance and support for social interactions.
Within weeks of her home-schooling journey, I could see Emily was on the improve. There were factors contributing which were already in place: her younger sister, Jade, at home already home-schooling; regular contact with home-school families on the same page; and plenty of time to play in our large yard with trees to climb and a swimming pool. Emily had time to dive into her passions which included: reading novels, anything Star Wars, Lego (which in my daughters’ younger years became more girl-centric), and that amazing inground pool. She was able to sleep in when she needed, which was most days. She was catching up.
I noticed Emily’s self-worth and confidence had been adversely affected by her schooling experience, so I called in for reinforcements, i.e. loads of confidence boosting. The adults in her life increasingly gave her compliments and made a fuss when she wanted to present something she was proud of. We gently brought her awareness to her comments which were particularly comparative. I suggested she replace phrases such as: I’m so stupid’, ‘I can’t do this’, ‘I’ll never get this’, ‘X was always better at this than me’ with both neutral and positive comments: ‘I’ll get this in time’, ‘I know I can do it, it’ll just take more practice’, ‘I’m great at X, Y and Z’, ‘It doesn’t matter that I’m not great at A because it’s not my talent area anyway’. In time, Emily was becoming more self-assured and less self-derogatory. What a relief!
We all tend to be good at what we really enjoy doing and as such by the mere fact that Emily had plenty of time involved in those activities meant she was loving herself more. The authentic positive feedback from others was encouraging which led to positive self-talk occurring naturally and more frequently.
It took around 9 months for Emily to really sink bank into herself and become carefree once more. By then most of her behaviours, which included some tics, had resolved and she was a calmer, happier person. Then the sisters and I were ready to regularly enjoy play dates, excursions, Drama class and Sport activities alongside other home school families without Emily getting burn out.
For the next 7 years Emily was home-schooled where she experienced a quality home-ed Plan with regular activities which she enjoyed. For a couple of those years, we were part of a home-school learning hub with several other families. The parents revolved the program around the children’s interests, we scheduled ample time for play, and hired tutors passionate about their lessons. We have some great memories of those times and some friendships have endured.
Be patient as your child reconnects with their natural cycles
The First Steps To De-Schooling
It was fantastic to say farewell to early morning stress attacks of lunch-box prep, sock finding, homework finishing, getting Emily out of bed before her circadian rhythm would have her up, and travelling. No more yelling down the hallway: “Get up for goodness sake! You’re going to be late!” It’s a no-brainer that we de-stress alongside our children. I certainly feel calmer and nicer. Embrace that which helps your family to experience less stress. It could mean letting go of some extra-curricular activities too, even if just for a while. And you will find time opens for opportunities which are more in alignment with your child’s needs. As we, the parents/carers, become more relaxed, our children can’t help but feel that.
Be patient as your child reconnects with their natural cycles – waking up in the morning when their body is ready; going to the bathroom whenever they need; eating when they feel hungry; continuing on and on with activities they are immersed in. Let them rest in bed in the morning if that’s what they need and avoid the rush of life. And remember that teens shift their sleep pattern to needing sleep later in the night but waking up later in the morning. Spending time in the great outdoors will help your child tune into the natural rhythms offered by the seasons, sunshine and stars.
I was introduced to strewing by a friend which is mindfully leaving out resources such as: books, games, toys, crafts, kits, recyclables, or audio-visual material that you find soul nourishing for your child to chance upon, explore and integrate. Strewing provides opportunity for self-directed learning (or just fun) minus expectations; the intent being to ignite curiosity rather than for a desired educational outcome. I find it really works and takes the pressure off the child to ‘perform’ or ‘succeed’. Board games which we had not used for years came back out of the cupboards, Craft projects resurfaced, book series’ were re-read, and bits ‘n pieces were turned into ‘useful’ contraptions. What fun! And mess. But worth it. And for those children who are triggered by anything which reminds them of school, strewing will come in handy for sure.
This is where the heart of home-education really lies, in your child’s interests. Time opened up for my girl to properly engage in what she loved to do. It is so important for children (and adults) to spend time doing their favourite activities as it gives us a sense of joy and accomplishment. I believe that a child regularly engrossed in their interest areas is far more likely to be happy and find it much easier to gravitate toward a vocation that is in alignment with their talents and purpose in life. They are more on-track. We revolve our home-school Plan around our children’s interests and as the years progress those interests change up.
There is always learning when we play, whether it be: the rules of the game, social skills of turn-taking, actively listening to others, gross/fine-motor skill development, strategic thinking, laying down neural pathways (grooving), multi-sensory connections, and so on. But even more important than the learning is the relaxation and joy we experience. Open portals of time to play as a family doing what the children truly enjoy rather than what your adult brain thinks they ‘should’ enjoy. Again, focus on their interests. When you feel ready, reach out to other home-school families to connect with and form friendships – not just for your children but for you too. And forget the guilts around how much time you’re spending having fun – this stuff is medicine.
But even more important than the learning is the relaxation and joy we experience.
Getting in touch with nature is important to de-stress the body and the mind. Green is healing, blue is cleansing and brown earths us into stillness and grace. There are so many little creatures to be witnessed for the wonder and delight they bestow. Trees have been patiently waiting with outstretched limbs for the children to come back and climb, and the birds always have new songs to perform. I involved my daughter in picnic packing, choosing a site (whether that was forest, park or sea) and headed off to explore. Our family was together in nature breathing in the fresh air while enjoying fresh organic food. Simple but magical.
Photos: Emily and Jade in trees (supplied).
Their stories will take you to newly created lands with creatures you’ve never heard of and impossible to pronounce.
Unleashing The Imagination
If a little bit of boredom creeps in for your child, do not despair; in fact, rejoice. For it is in boredom that the creative (right side) of the brain gets an itch. That itch leads to an inspired idea, and that idea turns into a reality with the right resources, support and space. When bored, the right brain integrates more effectively with lefty and together they begin to explore unchartered terrain. The imagination is let loose, given license to perform at regular intervals unbridled by bells of interruption, unhinged from over-crowded curriculum, unbothered by national tests. No more fight, flight, freeze, fawn, friction or fizzled out brain cells. Now it’s all: play, passion, and possibly puns. Step aside and begin to be entertained. Guiding your child/adolescent away from the temptation to launch into brainless escapism and passive forms of entertainment will certainly help the creative juices to flow. But they also just might need plenty of down time to relax in their own way.
Toys stacked away and untouched for fear of peer humiliation will resurface; your child’s sense of humour will have you rolling in fits of laughter; their stories will take you to newly created lands with creatures you’ve never heard of and impossible to pronounce. Fear not! Your child knows exactly what they’re talking about even if you don’t. Ideas burst forth from secret places within the child’s repressed Zone Of Ingenuity (something I just made up but the capitals make it look important). Don’t worry! We all have one. You have one too. It may lie a little dormant, having gathered froths of dusty discontent and all-consuming alliterations - but it’s there.
Is it time for you to de-school too? For me it’s like personal development – yet another layer of that onion, never quite reaching the core. Probably because onions don’t even have a core. Another aha moment. It’s the journey that matters, right? So, walk beside your child to shake off the dust and that onion stink. Step forth to places in nature where the unusual flora and fauna hang out to spark curiosity and know that it is in play that we reconnect with joy and wonder. But most of all trust that it is within a wholesome family where we truly stretch and grow.
Photos: creature watching (supplied).
My Top 5 Recommendations For De-Schooling
Allow your child to wake naturally in the morning and ease into the day
Provide plenty of emotional support with loving-kindness, being present, and active listening
Spend time in nature to restore your child’s AIM system
Provide lots of opportunity for your wonderful to deep dive into their interests
Allow for some natural learning with no agenda and nil assessment
And most importantly, trust in the unfolding of this process. Step forth with confidence knowing that your intentions are right and your resolve is strong. Hopefully, before too long, you will have your child filled with curiosity and charisma back.
Rachel-Faith Palmer is a home-school mum, primary and secondary teacher, meditation instructor and writer. Rachel created Micro Classes Australia (MCA) to share her model of home-school tutoring, for job creation and support for home-school families.
White doves image:https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White_Doves_at_the_Blue_Mosque_(5778806606).jpg
Mulhern, J. (1959) A History Of Education: A Social Interpretation; pp 14-15, New York. 2nd Edition.