Welcome to Around the Thicket

Hi, I’m Amy, and I have seen one too many pins on Pinterest with home-school curriculums for preschoolers that center on worksheets, complicated activities, and parent-directed teaching.

Learning in the early years is near and dear to my heart. My husband, Carl, and I have two little boys, N. age 2 and G. age 1 (they are 16 months apart to the day). I’m at home with the boys full time and we plan to home educate. One of my first questions when Carl and I were seriously considering home school was, ‘When do we start?’. Most kids will start some sort of a preschool around the age of three, kindergarten or reception around age 5 and then school a year later. I’m a planner, and started investigating online.

After reading about several educational philosophies and styles of home schooling (Montessori? Unschooling? Should I just follow the National Curriculum? Why does Scandinavia get so much attention?), I came across the Charlotte Mason philosophy and found an approach to education that incorporated a broad curriculum, time outdoors, and my Christian faith. I read carefully her direction for the early years:

[T]he chief function of the child–his business in the world during the first six or seven years of his life–is to find out all he can, about whatever comes under his notice, by means of his five senses; that he has an insatiable appetite for knowledge got in this way; and that, therefore, the endeavour of his parents should be to put him in the way of making acquaintance freely with Nature and natural objects; that, in fact, the intellectual education of the young child should lie in the free exercise of perceptive power, because the first stages of mental effort are marked by the extreme activity of this power; and the wisdom of the educator is to follow the lead of Nature in the evolution of the complete human being.

Charlotte Mason, Volume 1, pp. 96-97

Education for the earliest years, at its core, is simple. Kids should be outside, often, and allowed to discover the world around them.  Finding mud, puddles, trees, plants; learning how they feel, taste, smell, change; running and climbing or lying to look at the clouds; these are the key experiences children need in their earliest days. As a parent, I do right by my kids when I make sure they have ample opportunity to get to know nature, and by safeguarding their early years from ‘academic’ lessons (Charlotte Mason’s students started proper lessons after the age of six). With the benefits of forest schools (increased confidence and improved social skills to name a few) and the achievement of students in places like Finland where the school starting age is later, this approach simply makes sense.

It’s not easy, though. I’m not great at going outside, especially in temperamental British weather, and especially when getting two little boys out the door takes so much effort and time. Plus, while I know I don’t need to be printing worksheets, surely I should have some hand in their learning! What is it that the best early-years educators know that I don’t? It doesn’t seem right that ‘play-based learning’ means ‘hands-off’ learning.

So here I am: on a mission. A mission to thoughtfully raise my kids to be creative, confident, and brave. A mission to cultivate the strong family relationships that they’ll need to be successful in life.A mission to get my family outside more, to help my kids love the outdoors, to love it more myself.

Around the Thicket is my place to investigate these questions, to learn how kids learn and to help that happen at home. I will have personal stories about our journey, book and article reviews, and practical tips and ideas on early learning outdoors and at home. I’ll also be looking at parenting, sibling relationships, and family.

Around the thicket there are places to explore, places for the imagination to run rampant, places for curiosity to be indulged. And in the heart of the thicket there is safety, comfort and warmth. I hope you enjoy your time here.

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