My five year old was meant to start school today. She was meant to be wearing a uniform, carrying an over-sized pack on her back full of school-approved snacks, blank workbooks and pencil case with her name on it. She was meant to be wearing appropriate footwear, meant to sit at a desk for eight hours…meant to learn her ABC's.
Instead, she went swimming. It wasn’t even her first time swimming. But today, for the first time ever, she wore a pair of goggles. I can’t even begin to describe the look on her face, the first time she lifted her head from the water. Her whole world had changed. Expanded. Become infinitely more exciting. She wasn’t even at the beach. She was at an indoor swimming pool. But oh! The possibilities…the potential that was etched upon her face in that moment. She could see under water.
Most of us have probably forgotten what it was like, the first time we put our goggles on. For many of us, maybe it was even under sufferance. Luckily, for my daughter, it was her choice and she made it willingly – if not a little tentatively at first, cautiously dipping her face into the water, tasting, testing, exploring the very shocking possibility that maybe…just maybe…she could push a sense she already took for granted into a whole new realm of awareness.
“I could see, Mummy!” she said, afterwards. “I could see everything! I felt like a fish!”
Do you remember what it was like to feel like a fish? As a five year old would feel it? I think I do…almost. But probably not. You see, I can only think now as an adult, remember as an adult remembers, with the years of my own experiences squashing the trueness of that first, intense moment down to the bottom of so many pools. I do remember the feeling of wishing I was a seal or dolphin. To be able to swim, effortless, beneath the sea, to be one with an environment beyond my understanding and to experience it on a scale unfathomable to even my surest imaginings. But to feel like I was a fish? I think I have relegated that joy to the vaults of memory for which I so long ago lost the key.
We like to wax so lyrical about the joys of childhood. Why? As a society, I’m not sure we really mean it. I mean…do we? Yes – we love our children. We value the innocence of their insight into our tarnished, adult world. We spend countless hours and many more dollars trying to provide them with things to make their childhoods joyful. And then, at four years of age – or sometimes younger – we relegate them to the polar opposite of everything from which they need to obtain that joy, that fulfillment. We confine them, their childhoods, the entire experience of their most precious years, to the classroom.
Seeing the world through goggles. Putting your blinkers on. Such negative phrases. They consign to conformity, to the mundane: to the narrow tunnel. And from an adult perspective, yes…perhaps we are all wearing goggles. Foggy ones. Old ones. Goggles that limit our vision, that leak and let in far too much salt and force our eyes tightly shut.
But you know what…I think maybe we have it wrong. I think, somewhere along the line, someone just handed us the wrong pair of goggles. I saw that today. Putting her goggles on was, for my five year old daughter, the least limiting, least prescribed thing I have ever seen in my entire life. It was freedom! It was joy on a scale that pushed her whole world so far beyond the sterile, prescribed classroom experience of learning that, in that one moment, I have never felt so grateful that we unschool.
There is so much learning in everything. Even in a cheap pair of plastic goggles. And what learning! What joy! What an amazing, thrilling moment in my daughter’s life – the instant she realised she could be a fish. And I was there to see it.
My five year old was meant to start school today. She was meant to be sitting at a desk, asking permission to use the toilet, not speaking, maybe even working quietly on a worksheet about fish. Or numbers. Or her ABC's. Or whatever else deemed vital to her education. Perhaps she might have dared to raise her hand, to ask her teacher what it might be like to be a fish. Perhaps she might have stared out the window and wondered in silence. Or perhaps, weighed down by her over-sized backpack full of homework about fish, she might never have wondered at all.
Today, my daughter put her goggles on. Today, she felt like she was a fish. And her world got a whole lot bigger.