Autumn + No School = Awesome
The spectacular hues of Autumn leaves have a special way of commanding respect, regardless of how much we want to curse the season for stealing away those last wonderful long summer evenings. Sensing our disappointment, Mother Nature puts on a final show as a peace offering before she retires for the Winter, forcing us to acknowledge Autumn’s necessity if we also want to celebrate the first green shoots of Spring in a few months’ time. All the external signs tell us that Autumn is a season for snuggling in, getting cosy and storing provisions for the bleak months ahead. Internally our circadian rhythms also adapt to the shortening days- our hypothalamic master clock responds to the creeping darkness by increasing our levels of the sleep hormone melatonin earlier and earlier each day, priming our bodies to rest and recharge.
As my own and countless other home educating families across the northern hemisphere celebrate not going back to school next week, it occurred to me how strange it is for schools to start the new academic year at a time when the whole of nature is winding down. Children aged 5 to 16 are made to sit down indoors during the scarce daylight hours, with the only relief coming from short breaks spent in a concrete playground, and a couple of outdoor PE lessons (where to be honest, much of my time was spent resenting the well-wrapped teacher shouting instructions across a frozen netball court or lacrosse pitch at my shivering, inadequately dressed body… not that I’m bitter or anything). The in-built need for young children in particular to run around, explore, and invent their own games for hours on end isn’t restricted to school holidays - it exists during term time too. But if they spend the precious few daylight hours of Autumn and Winter inside the classroom, and parents’ legitimate safety fears prevent them from playing outside after school, we are left with another contributor to the ticking time bomb that is childhood obesity.
Don’t get me wrong- perhaps it’s a bit selfish but I actually really love having all our favourite play spaces to ourselves again when most children go back to school- you can’t beat the feeling of going to the swimming pool/ museum/ soft play when there are no queues, no crowds and no premium fees. It just strikes me as rather sad that thousands of schooled children are book-learning about the changes they can see out of their classroom windows, while home educated children everywhere can be outside every day fully immersed in the free multi-sensory experience that Autumn provides: the feel and sound of crunchy September leaves underfoot, the unmistakable smell of rotting leaves as October’s rain expedites the inevitable process of decay, and the pristine blue sky of a clear November day, when the sun warms their flushed cheeks and illuminates their every breath.
As airy-fairy as it sounds, being free to follow the daily rhythms dictated by the season and our bodies, rather than following a static schedule every day of the school year, helps create a feeling of synchronisation with the natural environment around us. Even better, it releases the pressure that many parents feel to have some magical “quality time with the family” during the brief but hectic evening period once tired, hungry, sticky-handed children have been collected from school or childcare.
So yes, I am sorry to see the all-too-brief summer fade away for another year. But I’m also looking forward to turning on the central heating as the nights draw in, extra cinnamon in my hot chocolate, and family snuggles on the sofa where I will inevitably end up with the children’s elbows and feet in my ribs. Bliss!