When my mom was a Kindergarten-aged child in the late 1940s, she regularly skipped class.
No one kept attendance, it seems. Or if they did it wasn’t as rigid as it is today with automated phone calls and amber alerts all over media…
For added perspective: try to imagine a small city in Switzerland, near the metropolitan city of Zürich, during the late 1940s and early 1950s…kids in general were not really parented in the way that we do it today.
I think most of us know this. 🙂
So anyway, here is my mom as a child, with long, brown braids, marching off to Kindergarten every morning while her mom tended to several younger girls at home.
Except, on some days, my mom didn’t go to Kindergarten at all. Just decided it was much more interesting to hang around anywhere else. 😉
I don’t know where her Kindergarten was located but I grew up in that neighbourhood too. The house my mom grew up in I knew as my grandmother’s house and it is still in the family today. My aunt, my mom’s youngest sister, now lives there.
The house is located very close to the train station. Just a few walking minutes away.
The train station, like all train stations in Switzerland, had a big clock.
The Swiss 🇨🇭 take their on-time performance very seriously. 🕛🕒🕢🕘
So. There’s my mom, age 5 or 6, wandering around the town, and intrigued by all the things around her. There’s shops and office buildings, apartments and houses with flower gardens, there’s little kiosks with candy and cigarettes for sale, there’s the train station with the bike racks and the bus stops, and there’s lots and lots of people coming and going.
Paradise for a small child. A small, unsupervised child.
I don’t know what she did when she was supposed to be in class, but I do know this: my mom taught herself how to tell time.
How did she do this without teachers and books, lessons and demonstrations?
Well, it was quite simple, actually. In Switzerland back in those days (perhaps still today), lunch time for the working people (husbands mostly) was at least two hours long, from noon to two o’clock. The home-makers, wives in aprons and with their hair perfectly sprayed into place, cooked the main meal of the day to serve to their husbands at 12:30 pm for lunch.
Mittagessen, is the German word for lunch.
The husbands would come home, eat their lunch and after perhaps take a little nap before returning to their work.
My mom, as a five or six year old child, would know this because she, too, was expected home in time for lunch. Kindergarten let’s the kids out at that time as well so they can go home and have their meal. Z’Mittag ässe is the word in the Swiss German dialect.
So, while loitering around the Bahnhof all morning, she would begin to notice a pattern after a while. When a sudden influx of men in business suits populated the gates beside the train station, she would glance at the clock and realize, it must be lunch time.
Kindergarten is out when the men appeared on the train platform, so she better get home too.
To my knowledge, her mom was never aware her eldest daughter played hookie. 🙂 And, the teachers didn’t seem to really care, either. There were no frantic phone calls, or automated systems to contact the parent in a panic if a child didn’t show up for class.
This is what I imagine unschooling is all about.
Part of me thinks about this story when contemporary public education gets me all worked-up, and not in a good way . 🙄
I realize it’s not practical to do these things today. The world has changed, the societies have evolved. School has, one the one hand, become a commercial business event. Stores create back to school sales with tv commercials enticing people to shop for their kids’ school supplies.
It’s so very different today.
Still, a small part of me thinks about this carefree time from yesteryear…(was it really that carefree? We all know appearances sometimes defy harsher realities…)
It feels like a crucial part of education has gone missing in today’s childhood. Everything is designed, outlined, planned, demonstrated and taught to the kids from an early age on. In some cases, perhaps this is the better way.
But in other cases, I almost think we’ve taken it too far, this endless hovering, teaching, organizing, planning…just look at how I parent my kids.
I’m a product of this new society.
I’m challenged with finding a middle ground between the contemporary ways and the more laissez-faire ways of years gone by.
Yet, unschooling seems to be making waves in certain parts of the world again. It’s branching out from the homeschooling word, which, incidentally, is illegal in some parts. Germany for example does not allow kids to be homeschooled. The law is strict and rigid and people may even face jail time when keeping kids home from state-led education. I know this because my (Canadian) friend is raising six kids in Germany and her greatest wish has been to homeschool them. She couldn’t with the first who is over 20 now, and still can’t today with her seven year old.
I’m not saying I want my kids to homeschool, or unschool. I’m simply remarking on how much things have changed over the years. In some cases, things have changed for the better (in terms of widespread extreme poverty, food programs, special needs awareness, etc) but in other cases? Things are not necessarily better at all.
Kids are handed things today at every turn. Kids have money. A lot of money. Kids get driven everywhere ‘for safety’s sake’. Kids have parents guiding their studies, their hobbies, their playtime.
Everything is structured.
It’s good and it’s not good. It’s both, and neither.
We do the best we can with what we have. For those of us with options to change our minds about how we want to educate our kids, we’re the lucky ones. If at any time I decide to homeschool, or unschool, my kids, my country (Canada) makes allowances for this.
For those who struggle within the confines of a rigid system without options, I’m sorry. I have no answers.
But that image of my mom as a small child, staring at the clock at the train station, that’s priceless.