Schoolwork in Summerland.

Once again I’m sitting in a cafe with one child while the other does a maths exam back in our rented home – this time it’s Declan’s end of Year 5 exam.

In so many ways schooling has been the toughest part of the last year. The boys would, surprise, surprise, rather just skip the whole thing and so we’ve often had to force the issue. It would have been so much easier and more pleasant to just let things slide. But we took the view up front that it was important that they stick with maths and English throughout the year, and we’ve made a real effort to follow through. That has meant the occasional bout of tears and many stern looks; and it’s had the boys doing their schoolwork in an enormous range of environments ranging from cafes to airports.

Realistically it hasn’t been all that tough for them – although they would say it has. They do between half an hour and two hours of work a day. Some of that is stretched out because we only have one computer they can do maths on so there’s a bit of waiting about. We keep pointing out how this contrasts with their peers back home. The trade-off is that they do have to do schoolwork every day with no weekend breaks – although that’s been a handy, and usually calming, routine. Every day starts with schoolwork before we go out.

Having a formal maths program via the Internet has been brilliant. It removed the need for us to structure a curriculum and provided external feedback and encouragement. The program Callum has been doing for the last few months is also so clever and funny that he’s laughed his way through his maths lessons.

English has been more free-form and also harder; I’m not sure anyone wants a professional editor as their writing teacher, at least not when they’re your parent as well. I fear we may have been too tough on them about their writing, but equally I fear we may have been too easy and they’ll have issues when they rejoin the mainstream.

Outside of the formal maths and English the boys have learnt an enormous amount just through exposure to the world. They can say some basic things in a range of languages and have a grasp of basic French. They have an amazing knowledge of slices of history and an insight into how others live in the world. These are all invaluable things. I think they’re both more confident, self-reliant and flexible.

Now as we look at returning home and the boys returning to school our angst about their schooling goes up. It would be great not to have to deal with the real world, but that’s not, er, realistic. So they’ll have to go back to real school and we’ll have to see where they stand and how we’ve done as teachers and parents over the last year. My guess is that from the boys point of view the biggest challenge is going to be to remember they’re in a formal classroom where they can’t just shout out, laugh aloud or jump up and go to the fridge for a glass of milk.