My son, started at EKS in April this year. I’m Lisa, his mum, and a relatively new staff member at EKS.
Shortly after my son’s second birthday, we took him to Peppa Pig World theme park. I wanted cute pictures of him riding serenely on Grandpa Pig’s boat around the duck pond. He had other ideas and rode the log flume eight times in a row. I stood at the bottom of the flume clutching the buggy and nappy change bag tightly whilst his tiny legs clambered up the tall, tall metal staircase to the top of the flume with Daddy and listened to his screams of delight upon each descent. I had never felt the words ‘my heart was in my mouth’ so keenly. And so, aged two we discovered his philosophy is that: if you go safely up – you will always come safely down again too.
My son has just turned eight and we’ve now visited many a theme park and fairground. Whilst I (long term sufferer of vertigo, motion sickness and hater of heights) watch from below I see him wholly unafraid – he sees only the fun and the adventure. He once talked me into going on a rollercoaster with him when he was six. When it was over, I burst into tears of relief to which he remarked, ‘I know mummy! I’m so sad it’s over too!’.
Despite his love of rollercoasters, he does have fears: he’s afraid of the dark; ghosts; witches and daddy-long-legs. But his love of rides and fairgrounds and rollercoasters has taught him to trust; to seek the fun in things – not the fear and to always try new experiences. He knows that we will always assess the safety together and if we decide together that it’s too high, or too fast or maybe one for when he’s nine – he’s ok with that.
Before choosing EKS for our family I did what I think all parents of self-directed children seem to do: I read; researched; asked questions; wrote essays on and talked to everyone I could about Democratic and Self-Directed Education and The Sudbury Valley Method. I’ve been an educator of children for twenty years and it’s my ‘thing’; my ‘thing’ I want to get precisely right for my children because I’ve seen the catastrophic impact it can have when it’s ‘wrong’. And that’s a lot of responsibility for one tired mum to shoulder. My son was happy in his lovely, local primary school and moving him felt complex and almost unnecessary. Children only move school when they are unhappy, right? But we joined, we wanted freedom, we took a leap-of-faith and soon after we began to see him stand up straighter; take up more space in the room; ask more questions and look adults in the eye when he spoke to them.
However, relatively recently, I had a moment where I felt I was once again standing at the bottom of a dizzying height, looking up at my tiny child climbing high, high above me and I felt fearful and mistrusting and afraid of the places he was going without me. But this time the log flume was Self-Directed Learning, and the destination will be one that will stay with him forever. What if he never learns to tell the time? What if he doesn’t go on to university and he’ll blame me for it? What does he DO all day? I was worried and he asked me what was wrong:
‘This feels like a giant leap-of-faith. Do you feel like we are doing the right thing with your education?’
And his reply, stood in his Minecraft PJs, toothbrush in hand, was so profound it will never leave me:
‘Mummy, remember I’ve done the ‘Leap-of-Faith’ climb before at ‘Clip and Climb’. Where you climb up the high tower and then jump across to the bars? The scariest part is the climb, the journey to the top because you don’t know what to expect, but once you are up there and you know the safety harness has you and you can get down again safely it’s so fun mummy! It’s just the unknown part that’s scary’.
Self-directed education is the unknown for most of us. We don’t know what to expect along the climb to the top. None of us can predict what the future will hold for our children (within any educational path that we choose) but we can look to others who have succeeded on this journey before us; take that leap-of-faith and above all – listen to and trust our children.