Hazel Davis and her fella are home-educating their kids. This week is all about the importance of biggerstangs and doobries.
When I lived and worked on a Mull sheep farm, I was a hapless teenager with little sense of my own purpose or place in the world. I was a bit of a pillock. I didn’t listen to instructions and hadn’t been raised to be useful.
I still remember with utter shame the day the (long-suffering) farmer told me to walk miles across some fields, get to the other end, open the gate and leave it open. I was so ditzy that after a few minutes (this was before mobile phones and common sense) I had forgotten whether he’d said to MAKE SURE IT WAS OPEN or DEFINITELY SHUT IT.
I panicked all the way back and nearly burst into tears. He didn’t seem that bothered and it’s taken me, ooh, about 22 years to realise why. He was sending me on an errand to make me feel good about myself. To make me feel useful. (Or possibly to get me out of the way.)
That field probably wasn’t even in use. It probably wasn’t even his field, come to think of it. It took a good few more exercises like this. “Katy-Morag [they called me Katy-Morag, it’s a long story], could you varnish this boat?” Pretty sure they never used the boat. “Katy-Morag, could you go and plait some fog?” That fog REFUSED to lie still long enough but I tried my best.
People like to feel useful. People NEED to feel useful. If they don’t, how are they going to develop a sense of their place in the world? And children, I am told, are people too.
So the other day when I overheard this exchange in the garden, I smiled to myself.
The children’s father: “Youngest child, come over here and hold this.”
Youngest child: “What is it?”
The children’s father: “It’s a biggerstang.”
Youngest child: “What does it do?”
The children’s father: “It holds the doobry up.”
Youngest child: *holds it patiently for a good long while*
“‘Katy-Morag, could you varnish this boat?’ Pretty sure they never used the boat. ‘Katy-Morag, could you go and plait some fog?’ That fog REFUSED to lie still long enough but I tried my best.”
The children’s father and the oldest child then went off to water the garden/finish levelling some paving slabs. It might have seemed a cruel trick BUT when you have two children, one of whom is too young to do certain tasks easily, there’s a tendency to make them do something else altogether or tell them they can’t join in. This way, the youngest felt she was part of something and held the stick until she was satisfied she’d done her job well.
The youngest is starting to read and write in her own way and she’s picking up a fair bit by osmosis but she’s not quite up to the ‘proper’ exercises we’re setting the oldest. We tried to give her three-year-olds’ exercises but she’s not having any of it so we have taken to setting her some ‘placebo’ tasks alongside her sister’s, a slight tweaking of the existing ones so that she understands them but with no real benefit to anyone.
To not do this is to set her up to fail and to exclude her completely is to make her feel inferior. We don’t give two hoots (for now) whether she gets the answers right. What’s important is that she feels involved; that homeschooling isn’t something that happens to someone else.
Now the youngest is in charge of biggerstangs and doobries and she feels pretty special about it.
Me? I’m still trying to remember whether he said shut the gate or make sure it’s open. And wondering whether all those sheep escaping was actually an accident like they said it was…
Read all of Hazel’s adventures in home-edding here.
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Hazel Davis is a freelance writer from West Yorkshire. She has two tiny children but the majority of her hours are taken up with thinking about Alec Baldwin singing sea shanties and the time someone once called her "moreishly interesting".