Friday, 28 March 2014

A stark contrast

Two articles here providing starkly contrasting educational ideas, this one on how unschooling reflects current cognitive research, and this one outlining our Government's idea that further and tougher primary school tests to be introduced in 2016 will ensure higher standards. Have a read and see what you think!

Monday, 24 February 2014

Continued Creativity

I almost had to pinch myself today when our eldest son appeared to be sitting at his laptop writing! Yet I was not mistaken. After some time, I was summoned to read his short story. I was secretly thrilled. As I read the page of text, I was pleasantly surprised. The story was well constructed and very creative. The spelling was not bad. I took the opportunity to explain the use of 'their' vs 'there' (which I don't think he'll forget) and we talked about a few punctuation marks. This was the culmination of a quiet day's absorption creating his own Warhammer army. Warhammer has emerged as the latest craze for our eldest boy, and various figures have been acquired, carefully assembled and painted. The Codex (guidebook) has been duly read and the rules absorbed. Various like-minded friends - of all ages - have been discovered and are regularly telephoned and met with to engage in battle. All this very independently. So today it was great to observe him utilising figures he already has to customise and create his own army. He explained that one of his Warhammer 'mentors' had told him his army must have a story behind them, hence the writing. All this spontaneously and without a word from me.

Just spotted this timely, relevant post on Intense Interests as Gateways from Project-Based Homeschooling.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Natural Learning

Task-oriented me, living in the land of limbo, waiting - still waiting - for a moving date, yet trying to sort out, clear out and pack up .... has stopped driving the home education for the moment, allowing the boys to follow their own interests and amuse themselves to a greater extent than I might normally. It has been a slip into 'unschooling', an experiment if you like into autonomous learning with the major obstacle (Me, always me!) conveniently distracted. So, what have they been getting up to? Well, our third son - now aged 8 - had been showing a real interest in the Lone Ranger and the Wild West. I think this sprang from a Lego kit originally, but we have supported his interest in a number of ways. I was in the library when I noticed an Usborne book of True Stories of the Wild West, which we have been reading. More of a hit were the Internet quicklinks from the book to various relevant websites. There, he watched with fascination the dramatised story of Billy the Kid and others. He and his older brother have tirelessly acted out stories of the Wild West in costume, and built an entire town for their Lone Ranger figures out of Lego, starting with the purchased kits, but developing and creating their own models from ideas online. Grandpa provided a DVD of the original Lone Ranger televised episodes in black and white, which held the boys captivated. We have baked corn fritters and are enjoying reading the first of the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The Usborne book of Cowboy Things to Make and Do has also provided some topical things to make and do. There have been a few WANTED posters up around the place, as well as foil-covered Sheriff badges and wooden pistols carefully made. We even had a Wanted poster birthday cake! All this stemming from a little boy's interest in The Lone Ranger ... A good example of how learning can flow from a child's own interest.

Another such example of autonomous learning through play came from our second son who is very interested in his tablet, and discovered a Star App where he can look at the night sky and zoom in, clicking on objects in the night sky for more information. This led to him and his younger brother setting up a space station under the dining table where they had their laptop and tablet with which to research the galaxies. They produced several pages of self-directed information sheets about various stars and planets and had a great ongoing game of space exploration whereby they would emerge periodically telling me, "We're exploring the Andromeda galaxy" or some other such place they had discovered.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Lessons from the Boxes

As my house descends into the chaos of sorting and packing for our forthcoming move, I have learned two important lessons.

My husband has told me we have to be ruthless in sorting out all the clutter which surrounds and stresses us, and that I really have to sort out and get rid of stuff as we pack up. I agree with him. There is much truth in the idea that the more we have, the more stress comes with it ... A bigger house means more space to fill with more stuff, which then needs to be sorted and tidied and cleaned. I am the type of person who likes things neat and clean, so I do struggle to manage the mess as a home educating parent. On the one hand, I do not want to be so particular about the house that I limit the boys' play and creativity. On the flipside, in terms of my own wellbeing, I have come to realise that clear, tidy surfaces mean calm and peace of mind. What to do?

Well, a good sort out is actually a good start.
And I am trying to be ruthless, and pass things on to charity shops or to others who might find things useful. A few things I am selling! As I have been sorting, I have had to face the fact that my sons do not learn in ways which I would have expected them to, or in ways which I might learn myself. One sad truth for me is that they very rarely look at books. I love books, and accumulate many - especially those I think will be useful to us in our learning. But, in honesty, they do not get looked at very much. The boys learn in a myriad of other ways - some of which are surprising to me. But they do learn. So I am beginning to let go of the idea that learning must involve books. It is difficult for me. But I have managed to pass a lot of our 'useful' books on to others this week.

With modern technology, so much is available online now, and this actually reduces our need for clutter around us. The music on our CDs is now on our computer. I cleared out some old VHS videotapes, now obsolete. DVDs are going the same way. I have also found that, as I pack away and reduce the clutter - the books, toys, games, and general day-to-day stuff which we have managed to acquire - we actually need very little. My youngest son has played very happily all this afternoon with a cardboard box, giving it far more attention than most toys he has been given.

There are good life lessons in the sorting and the packing of the moving boxes!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Moving Chaos

I have entered the land of limbo ... We are waiting to move house. I apologise to followers of this blog that I have not written very much recently. There are seasons of life - and seasons in home educating - where it feels not a lot is being done. Rather, there are urgent things demanding attention ... dealing with viewings, surveys, solicitors, sorting out the sale of furniture, packing boxes. I forget that all of this is life, real life and the boys are watching and learning. Rather than being in school, detached from the chaos, the stress and the lessons of life, they are there with us, observing us, asking questions and, yes, learning. They will now know a little more about mortgages, selling and buying houses, extensions, surveyors, contractors, solicitors. They will be part of the process of sorting and packing and moving on. And I hope they will be better equipped to deal with these real life scenarios when they grow up, that these things will be less strange, less daunting, that they will approach change with confidence. I am trying to relax and to focus on the positives. It is not easy home educating through a move, but it is never easy moving. Instead of feeling I must do everything myself, I must look at these helpful pairs of hands around me and remember to work together. Instead of keeping my ponderings in my head "to protect the children from the stress", I must learn to speak aloud and let them hear how we work things through in our minds and work to solve problems. Instead of thinking about all the learning they are not doing because I am so busy, I must look at all the learning encompassed in this busy-ness. As usual with unschooling, I need to transform my own outlook and see the opportunities for learning which are right under my nose!

Fines for School Absence

This article caught my eye today as a couple are fined in accordance with new guidelines aimed at discouraging families from taking their children out of school for holidays during term time. I find it appalling that the government should punish families in this way, especially in the current economic climate. I think they are dabbling in affairs in which they have no business. Kay Burford, of Telford and Wreken Council, said that ‘Significant absence from school is disruptive to the child’s education and has a detrimental impact on attainment.’ But how do you balance the value of schooling and attainment against family time and the broader worldview a child obtains through travelling? In my opinion, there is no contest. Travelling with their family is bound to teach a child far, far more than a week in the classroom. Everyone knows that family holidays are significantly cheaper during school term times. Why should families be punished in this way for spending quality time together? It is another ploy to stamp on quality family time and relationships in the name of education. If you find yourself in this situation, you need to tell the head teacher of your child's school that your child is being "Educated Off Site" for the period of absence. This is allowed, because you, the parent, are responsible under the law for providing your child with a suitable education - whether at school or otherwise. Do not allow the state to bully you with threats. Know the law and stand up for the rights of families to take a holiday at whatever time of year is possible for them.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

The Christmas Lectures

It's time for the Royal Institution's annual Christmas lectures, this year entitled 'Life Fantastic'. Dr Alison Woollard from the University of Oxford explores the frontiers of developmental biology and uncovers the remarkable transformation of a single cell into a complex organism.

Watch on BBC 4 at 8.00 p.m. 28th, 29th and 30th December.