Autumn is my absolute favourite time of year. Normally September brings a delicious feeling of fresh starts and a new focus. This September did bring all of the above with the official 'start' of our homeschooling adventures, but it also brought a hefty dose of doubt. Overall, it was a tough month and I am glad it is behind us.
What took me by surprise this September was how hard Cherry not starting school turned out to be. I deregistered her at the beginning of the month and as we headed to our favourite home education groups in the glorious late-summer sunshine I was full of confidence and ever-so-slightly smug that I wasn't swapping horror stories with friends about the last-minute rush for appropriate footwear in Clarks.
But the two-week festival that is Back To School really took a toll on me - and to my surprise, on Cherry too. She wasn't privy to the relentless stream of photographs of school uniforms, but she was well aware many of her friends were starting school, she was with me when we bumped into mums of her friends and asked after their progress, she knew this time was significant for children of her age and she knew it was something of which she was not a part.
We bought her a bag, filled it with pretty stationery and told her it was her 'homeschool bag'. We talked to her about her learning journey and goals. All of this pleased her, but it didn't really produce the same effect starting school would have. There was no fanfare - and she likes a fanfare.
On what would have been Cherry's first day of school, we packed up the car and headed off for a few days of camping with some friends from one of our home education groups. I put huge pressure on the trip. It was a lovely few days, Cherry and Violet made some nice friends and had many photogenic adventures in glorious sunshine.
But I think I had hoped the trip would basically justify our choice to home educate - and when I really think about it, I'm not sure how it could have achieved that. I expected something that could never happen, and I stressed and beat myself up about it the entire time we were there.
Then we all came down with colds and coughs and spent a grizzly week at home, then the car broke down and we had yet more enforced time at home.
This unfortunate chain of events basically led to my worst fears about home education manifesting themselves - all of us stuck at home, bored and irritable, the children incapable of entertaining themselves and with no company as, of course, everybody else is at school.
At any point during this time I could have happily phoned the school we originally took a place with and told them we'd changed our minds and Cherry would be present the next day, in full uniform.
Instead on our sixth car-free day I loaded us all onto the train and took us to a home education group and the tides turned. They were always going to. I know enough about myself by now to know that doubts pass but convictions remain.
It wasn't all bad. We actually had some glorious days, involving project work and nature study and wonderful outdoor play and deep connection and all the lovely things I wanted home education to be. And as soon as we were back attending groups, I felt happy and involved and purposeful. And grateful. This is an adventure I am eternally thankful to be a part of. It could so easily have not happened at all.
Some highlights of our month were: the camping trip; finishing our solar system and hanging the planets in the living room (initially led by Cherry and Violet, which produced some interesting results, then subsequently led and managed by Noel which produced stunning results!); a lovely Not Back To School picnic with friends; a riotous and farce-ridden day out in the woods; unexpectedly discovering a skateboarding club just down the road from us; and watching Cherry and Violet's interest in and knowledge of nature really begin to blossom.
Cherry also became more focused with drawing, she's always loved to doodle and scribble but she is becoming much more adventurous with what she draws. She is very eager to learn to write so we have had some self-driven sessions of writing practice which she seems to enjoy so far.
September really was all about finding our feet. It wasn't easy by any means but I hadn't expected it to be. In all honesty motherhood, or rather the kind of positive, peaceful and respectful motherhood I aspire to practice, has never come easily to me. I am not 'a natural' and things that seem to come so instinctively to others remain hard work for, and require conscious effort from, me.
I suspected it would be the same with home schooling. It's something I have to consciously work at, or rather I am something I have to consciously work at, and I would have been highly surprised if I took to it 'like a duck to water'. Perhaps I am being overly negative but knowing what I do about myself, I wasn't anticipating an easy transition.
As we moved into October I felt a far greater sense of purpose and clarity than I did at the beginning of September. I gave a great deal of thought all through September to what I want to achieve from home education - what success would look like. Noel has made his hopes and fears clear too, and from this I am beginning to build a picture of exactly how our version of education will work and an environment to match.
Although I am a big fan of unschooling, I can see that our priorities and Cherry's personality both point to a need for some structure and formality.
Our ideal approach then looks to be project-based, with skills acquisition happening naturally as a part of this as opposed to being the focus. We have had success with project-based learning in the past but now I am hoping to really build this into our weekly rhythm and I will be devoting time and resources to it in the coming months.
Cherry is also attending a drama class and a sports class, both of which have proved hugely successful so far, so she is having a taste of class-based learning. Add to this nature study, groups and of course, as much unscheduled unstructured free time as possible and already I genuinely don't know how we will fit everything in! As I said before, I am profoundly glad we are doing this, and the more I think about it the luckier I feel to be a part of something so exciting - something so life-changing, for all of us.