A home-ed journey
Through tears, joy.
I hoped and prayed for my son for 10 years before he arrived.
My son was born brilliant and funny and ravenous to learn. He hit milestones much earlier than was typical, but as a new Mum, I didn't realise how unusual that was. He spoke his first word at 3 months (hello) and a 5 word sentence at the age of 8 months (I want to go down). Sleep seemed to get in the way of his learning. But more than that, he had acute sensitivity to just about everything, touch, sound, sights. He didn't sleep through the night until he was 4.5 years old waking in precise, 90 minute cycles.
I lost my job. They refused to give me the flexibility of working from home for part of the week, so that I could meet his needs.
We entered the recession. Part-time work disappeared from view. My journey into entrepreneurship started here as this was the only way to earn and meet his needs.
One day,I returned from the school run to learn that my then husband was leaving, giving us less than a day's notice.
It was several more years before my son received a diagnosis of autism - it was masked by his great social skills, high achievement and hunger for life. When my son hit early puberty, his neurological differences became more noticeable. We call them his superpowers.
I conceded in 2019, after many years of trying, that school was a poor fit for my son and worse, was squandering his talent and high ability by allowing him to drift in boredom, refusing to accelerate him.
Aware of the frightening statistics of children with a profile such as this, where depression, suicide and prison are higher than average probabilities,the decision to home educate my son was an act of child protection. To save him from feelings of despair, agonising boredom and hopelessness. The education system does not recognise high potential (formerly referred to as giftedness), as the special education need that it is.
My son, our journey, it's been the greatest gift. Enormous challenges, enormous rewards.
The Diagram That Changed Everything
I created a spreadsheet into which I plotted the next 5 years of my son's education. I timetabled in which GCSE subjects he'd do in which year and off we went. I decided to start with maths and physics as these were his favourite subjects.
Nightmare moment no. 1
We both found the AQA text books really difficult to comprehend. Felt stupid until I realised that whoever wrote these books must have been trying to sound clever by deliberately obfuscating the material! Once my son and I cottoned on to this, we began by carefully de-coding the principles for each topic, then my son would get to work answering. Perfect. He was sailing through, getting 100% on everything.
Nightmare no. 2
My son began to look terribly dejected and sad. He told me that the work was boring and brain dead and 'why do I need to learn this?' - the common refrain of school children.
Slowly, I closed the books and put them back on the shelf. My son needed something else and I didn't know what.
Having previously read about the early years of Einstein, Da Vinci and Isaac Newton, I had searched for clues to their formative years, their creativty and how their brilliance was unleashed. What they all shared was a need to discover and create. They all hated rote learning with a passion. This got me thinking.
The way we educate our young is a fairly recent project, with the aim of supporting the industrial age. It is widely accepted now that exam success is the same thing as intelligence. It is not. Not by a long way. We all swarm towards the best Universities for our children, who confer a mark of approval and 'intelligence' on them. Western school systems recognise an extremely narrow cognitive style and force a diversity of human potential through narrow turnstiles.
I decided to do something different. Something that would open my son's eyes and blow his mind.
We embarked upon schematic learning. I sat down and drew the diagram above. Starting at the big bang, I drew all of the strands of learning that came out from this point. It felt right. My son approved. We're LOVING it.
How it works
We are going to do an overview of the entire universe. We'll explore creation vs the big bang theory and discuss both. My son will understand that every star in every universe is made of one or more of the 118 elements so far discovered on the periodic table. He'll understand the different thinking of how space and time came to be; the various ages of the universe; the roots of biology and where biology began. He'll understand when civilizations became a thing, and who the great thinkers were. We'll uncover the 'hidden' histories that colonialism has white-washed over, so that the richness of humanity's heritage is known to him. We'll follow all of the strands, until he has a very clear schema in his head of where every one of his GCSE subjects fits in the great schema of everything.
My son says that he thinks he'll do much better in his GCSEs once he has this schema in mind.
It felt quite radical and risky putting down the text books in favour of this. But when I had my periodic home-eductor's visit from the local authority, I was given an enthusiastic thumbs up for this approach which, I was told, is 'exactly the right approach' to learning.
I slept well that night.
COVID-19 school closure projects
Children are naturally curious. I select some topics as projects, where my son can explore and research online. I'll ask him to present a summary of his findings and then we talk about it. My son loves these periods of discussion and idea sharing.
If you're here because of school closure/lockdown, and you're looking for ways to keep your child's learning fun and interesting, you could adopt this schematic learning and set projects from any of the areas shown. Don't tunnel too deep to soon though. That's what school does. You want them to make connnections between different bodies of learning; about what was going on across the planet, within the sciences, and in maths, music, or literature at any one point in time. Help them connect up and make sense of the different subjects and how they all weave together. Here's a nicer version of the same diagram. You can of course, add to it and note that there isn't a separate box for history, because history is implicit in every topic area. Each has it's own history which can be explored at will;
Explore Strengths and Passions
This period of lockdown is a great opportunity for your child to indulge in their passions and areas of strong interest, uninterrupted.
The late Sir Ken Robinson, the greatest advocate of our time for the reform of the education system, speaks here in the most watched TED talk in the history of TED talks, with an estimated 250 milliion views. This video is worth watching: