One of the things I’m incredibly conscious of as we embark on this unschooling journey is how important it is that Arthur has good role-models for learning.
The way I see it, there are pros and cons for the social aspects of traditional schooling.
I am ambivalent about the most basic level of socialisation – the interaction with other people in a general sense. Arthur is shaping up to be a very social being, and in the course of our days and our weeks he hangs out with people of all ages. If he were attending preschool regularly he would definitely spend more time with kids his own age, but then he might not be exposed to quite such a variety of social situations.
One thing I’m really not convinced about is the competitive nature of same-age groupings. I watched it unfold as a teacher (and if I’m honest still remember it as a kid myself): the popularity contests, the bullying, the shifting your sense of self to fit in. I get that these are all things we need to navigate as we get older, but I don’t think I want to expose Arthur’s emerging personality to these stresses quite yet.
There is definitely something to be said, though, for learning in a communal environment: for bouncing ideas off others, and for being exposed to the infectious excitement that comes from beginning to master something new.
Without a conventional classroom to immerse Arthur within, the responsibility for modelling learning falls to me and Leigh.
I thought at first that this might mean a degree of feigning the joy of new discovery as I introduced Arthur to knowledge and concepts, but it is actually surprisingly unchallenging to find enough wonder in the world to not have to fake it at all if you allow a three year old to set the agenda.
Beyond that, too, it seems that we are pretty good at embodying the lifelong learner thing which I truly believe is the real crux of a life worth living. I have used the general upheaval of becoming a mum to launch my life off in several new directions, and even more significantly than this Leigh has spent the last five years realising a childhood dream to make his way through medical school.
It has been tough – all kinds of tough – but in a strange way I love that Arthur has been witness to the long hours and closed study door. He won’t quite be able to compute what it all means, but he knows that Daddy has had a goal, and that he’s been working hard to achieve it. And he knows that Daddy has now become a doctor.
We’ve been celebrating intermittently since the end of Leigh’s course a few weeks ago, and Arthur has known that there’s been something pretty momentous going on. Then this week, it was graduation day: we took Arthur, with both sets of Grandparents, and when Dr Daddy walked onto the stage in his gown and hat Arthur stood up and applauded.
There have been many lessons learnt in all of this: the value of perseverance, the importance of following your dreams whenever life presents you with the opportunity, the joy of celebrating success in learning with the people that you love.
Whatever path Arthur’s life follows, and whatever his dreams might end up to be, I hope that he takes these lessons with him and knows that learning is not something to be put into a box constrained by time or space but something that is an honour and a privilege – and one of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves.