When my eldest son was three, I was told by the local Education Authority that I would have to either move or home-educate as they were not going to help with his education if we stayed farming our island home. As so many families have been thrown in to home educating during the pandemic I wanted to pass on some tips that I have learnt along the way.
When we first came to Auskerry the beaches were littered with driftwood. Amongst the fishboxes and debris from shipping lanes, the boys often found messages in bottles. One day Rory found one from a girl called Mae in the Faroes and replied but responses don’t come quickly in Auskerry.
We receive and post mail in Auskerry once a month. It arrives in a fishing boat called the ‘Hopeful’. Sometimes we had two full sacks in a month as I would get a lot of mail addressed to Auskerry School as well as more personal items and bills. When the grey mail bag was handed over, bulging with letters and packages, the boys and I would sort through it all and the boys would be excited if they had letters addressed to them. One month a package addressed to Rory arrived from the Faroe Islands. It contained some traditional Faroese souvenirs including a puppet which now hangs in my bedroom, and this was the beginning of a long pen-friendship.
Rory also wrote letters to several helicopter companies and received all sorts of literature about their activities as a result, including stickers and posters and even badges to wear. A handwritten letter to a wildlife organisation, a football club, a theatre group, a famous author, or almost anyone connected with your child’s specific interest, might well yield some interesting results, and will help them with their writing skills along the way.
Twenty-one years ago the island of Taransay in the Hebrides was inhabited for a year by a group of randomly selected people being filmed for a programme called ‘Castaway’ . We watched the programmes as they went out each week with great interest feeling that their lives were similar to ours. The boys decided to write letters to the children who were living there, and we addressed them to their school on the island. It was very exciting to receive some lovely letters back from these ‘famous’ children.
I love receiving letters by Royal Mail. It’s a pleasure that lasts, unlike emails which are ephemeral. My mother, at 95, still writes letters to us all and each is treasured. The older generation are often those who are suffering the most from this lockdown, and I bet your friends, neighbours or relatives would be just as excited as we were at a letter landing on their doormat. It might brighten their day and be revisited again and again. The beauty of letter writing is that a child can make it as personal as they want with drawings and jokes. A hand-written letter is a very human interaction in a way that no email can be. With so much focus on the internet as being the provider of lessons, inspiration and contact with others, this is one way to keep your children in touch with real people rather than virtual ones.
Next time you are on a beach perhaps you could pick up a plastic bottle and send a message back to the sea. Ask the recipient to take the bottle home for recycling as well as to respond to your message. Maybe a lifelong friendship will result for your child, and at least you will have the fun of waiting for the postman to arrive to look forward to.
Home educating survival Guide Part 8