One of my favourite writers about home education is John Holt. He wrote a lot about learning all the time, wherever and whenever we are and how children do this spontaneously. For them there is no divide between learning and living. Everything they do is part of their learning their world.
In our day to day lives we try to share this attitude of learning with our children by continuing to learn new things and to share the learning process with our children whether it be a new language, a new knitting stitch or a different way to grow vegetables. Last week, we took a family trip to the Pyrénées mountains in South West France and all tried something new together - Cross Country Skiing. That's right all five of us, from the 3 year old way up to the 41 year old!
None of us had ever done it before but friends had told us it was a better way to see the natural surroundings than downhill skiing or snowboarding which is what some of us have done before. When we went to rent the skis the man in the shop was skeptical about Lotta - she's too little he said and very generously lent us a sled so we could pull her around instead.
This attitude of surprise when we do things all together, from the smallest to the tallest is quite common. But look what happened...
Yeah! She got on her skis and got going. Afterwards I thought about what the man in the shop had said and why he'd lent us the sled. It was mostly because he was sure the skiing would be too difficult for her and that she would be slow and ruin our fun. He also suggested we could drop her and even perhaps Noah off at one of the village creches so we could enjoy ourselves more. He was very, very nice and genuinely wanted us all to have a good time.
And yet I found it desperately sad that as well as thinking taking the time to go at Lotta's rhythm would spoil our enjoyment, he underestimated her. If we'd taken his advice fully she wouldn't even have tried something she really enjoyed. This sort of thing happens to children all the time, adults assume something is too hard for them and don't even let them try probably to avoid disappointment. But just think about it for a minute - it is so discouraging. Children already feel very strongly their littleness, their lack of experience compared to us adults and each time we step in and do something for them or tell them something is too hard for them we crush their spirits, we really do.
I once read somewhere, when my oldest was a baby that the question as a parent was not what we should do for our children but what we should not do for them. Time and time again I've seen this play out. A child for whom much is done, does less and less for himself. And a child who is left to do for himself does more and more. Now of course that is not to say we should abandon our children to their own devices or anything of the kind rather that it's not a bad thing to let them have a try, see how they get on by themselves and step in readily when they look to us for help. I can tell you that is actually mighty hard especially if you're in a hurry, not wanting a mess to be made or feeling anxious about injuries. But it is worth it for the look of joy on a child's face whenever she masters something herself.
Now before anyone thinks we're saints, I must add that there were times during the week when Frank and I and Maya too would have liked to go a bit faster or a bit further than the two youngest could manage. And in order to satisfy Frank and Maya's need for speed, the younger two and I went to the baths on the last day while they went and spent the day on the downhill slopes. This balance is true in our day to day lives too, we try to make time for doing things together and time for letting individuals go at their own pace. Sometimes as well for example we are just in too much of a hurry to let the kids do something for themselves. What I try to remember to do in those situations is to explain myself - "I know you'd like to do this yourself but Mummy didn't leave enough time for us to get ready so I'm doing it for you to be extra quick." This way they know that this is about me and not my belief in their capabilities.
On the whole we had a great time being together and enjoying the beautiful National Park with its torrents and snowy peaks. It was inspiring to watch Noah and Lotta try, fall down, get back up and go on and master a new skill with grace and enjoyment. It was inspiring to see Maya go straight at it as if she'd been doing it for years too. Each time we went out together, we were all a little bit better. I don't think I could have had a better time without them. They reminded me to stop and build snowmen, gave me the opportunity to bird watch and scribble in my notebook while they went sledding and made it impossible for me not to give it my all because they gave it nothing less.