Wednesday, 30 January 2008

A day in the woods

Some days things just don't go to plan. Usually I can blame uncooperative children and my bad organisational skills (I'm easily sidetracked), but today I can definitely put it down to 'unforseen circumstances'.

The original plan for the day was to have a 'Winter Woodland Warmer' at a nearby private woodland. A bunch of us home edders and their families were to get together to do some work in this woodland - in this case the 'work' was to burn old cleared wood on a bonfire. Unfortunately, a petrol station blew up in front of the house where the lady who held the key to the woodland lived! She and her house were ok, but very soon the whole village was evacuated and all roads closed, so no chance of getting the key and making it to the woodland. It seemed that on one of the rare occasions I had actually been responsible for organising things, it was going to be a real bummer of a day.

BUT...on to plan B! Lots of phoning around and emailing later and we were all heading off to Shotover to the natural sandpit that lies in this lovely nature reserve. I'd rummaged around in the garage to find two disposable bbqs and stuffed the already-packed picnic lunch into the car. For once kids and dog seemed enthusiastic and the weather actually looked as if it might be good.

Well, the frozen vegeburgers were kinda black on the outside and a bit chilly inside after their stint on the bbq. Then of course they got a bit sandy in the 'let's get them off the bbq before they go up in flames' panic. But, hey, they were almost edible. Various children's hair was adorned by dribbles of sticky melted marshmallows, but we managed to get through about 5 or 6 packs of the things, so I guess they were popular whatever their condition! The kids made dens in the trees, using some of the netting we got from the local Scraptstore. Then they just ran around like mad things. Ditto the dogs (it seems most of our network have dogs now). Poor old jack was exhausted by the time we finally packed up about 5 hours later and joined the tired wailing toddlers being reluctantly dragged back up the hill to the car.

The weather had held out and it had been a lovely day with great company. I think around 11 families came with around 26 children, quite a feat for an impromptu change of plan. Al Fresco home education at its best.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

My toy arrived

p.s. I forgot to say in the last post that my new toy has arrived - I now have a laptop. It's all shiny and untouched by small sticky hands.

Learning beyond the classroom:education for a changing world

The above is the title of a book by Tom Bentley that I stumbled upon accidentally while browsing on Amazon. It arrived a few days ago ahead of all the other 'home education' books that I've ordered and today I managed to get a swift look at a few pages.

I know nothing about the author, but just from the introduction I feel the book might have a few nuggets to interest a home educator. While he is primarily looking at how education within the current school system can be improved so that children become fully functioning adults within society, he seems to be only a few steps away from the conclusions that some home educators come to: that school can be for some children a pointless experience and for others an outright damaging experience.

Here is a quote from the introduction:

'At the heart of the argument is the recognition that learning can take place in any situation, at any time, and that to improve the quality of education we must overcome the historical mistake of confusing formal, school-based instruction with the whole of education. This does not mean that learning is easy. Developing understanding and the capacity to thrive is challenging and difficult, and to do so successfully requires discipline, rigour and consistent effort. But if we continue to focus our efforts to improve the abilities of young people on the institutions which contain them, we will soon reach the limits of progress. If we want a quantum leap in education performance, we must be prepared to think more radically, and to develop young people's capacity to learn in society, rather than at one remove from it'

he continues later..

'Young people are not empty vessels waiting to be filled with the wisdom of ages. From the earliest age they begin to convert their experience into assumptions and theories about the world. Their learning should incorporate and reflect these assumptions, and challenge them to become deeper and more sophisticated. But too often, school-based instruction encourages them to place what they learn in a narrowly-bounded category, failing to give them the means with which to compare it to the other assumptions and experiences that make up their world view. Overcoming this failure is partly a question of good teaching, but it also depends on direct experience: the chance to test out formal knowledge in a range of circumstances, to observe other people using such knowledge in varied and valuable ways, and to learn how conflicting perspectives can be reconciled.'

Recently I've been discussing autonomous education with several home educators. I say, recently, but it's a recurring topic, particularly at our fortnightly pub evenings. While some of us - including me - lurch from autonomous to a more controlled/controlling form of home education, there are others who are so firmly convinced of it's benefits, that they have wholeheartedly taken on an autonomous approach.

At the Museum

Personally my gut instinct tells me that an autonomous approach to education is right, is natural, is surely what must work best. After all, what better way for a child to learn than by following his/her own interests, developing at their own pace, learning things when they need to, because they need to. I should, in theory, be nothing more than a facilitator for my children's education. But - and there's always a BUT - I'm not sure how much it works in practice for us.

Chalk drawing 'bugs' on our
front path one evening

There are periods of frustration and doubt, fears of how I might be failing my children, when I feel the need to impose some sort of educational regime. This is usually as a result of an encounter with an overenthusiastic parent and their 'genius' child(ren). I call all children who apparently have more knowledge than my children in key areas a 'genius'. I'm guessing this is more due to my own insecurities and the need to label these children with something that excuses my children for their 'lack' of knowledge. Anyway, for whatever reasons, the doubts flow. 'What about maths???! What about spelling?!!! If so and so's child can convert digital to analogue time, knows their 9 time table and can draw a dodecahedron, then why can't mine?

So I panic and we lurch into some brief period of formal education and lots of resistance. Fortunately the panics seem to be getting further apart, so I guess that must be a good sign, yes? Alternatively it might just mean I'm beyond caring anymore! Well, whatever, the kids are always much calmer when we're 'autonomously educating'. I'd like to say I'm more relaxed about it too, but I'm not so sure. Underneath all those years of formal education nibble away at my new-found beliefs. After all these years I'm still deschooling...

Making a 'fish' from empty cups-->

Thursday, 24 January 2008

So, what about socialisation...?

One of the most frequent questions I am asked about home education (after 'Is that legal?' and 'Are you a teacher?') is 'So, what about socialisation?'

Well you know that's always a tricky one to answer. There are lots of tempting - but cheeky - replies that cross my mind, but I generally resist. After all, what would anyone whose kids are in school understand about socialisation? Is socialisation spending the majority of the day sitting in a classroom with 25 other children the same age as you, not being allowed to talk, make noise or interact as a child would normally do with his peers? Is socialisation the 15 minutes of running around in a restricted environment at 'play time' (or for some running and hiding somewhere so the kids who don't like them can't find them)?

Nah, socialisation is what us home edders and their kids seem to do best.

When I look back on the past 2 weeks it has probably been a good example of how sad and lonely my poor little home educated kids are - NOT! What with ice skating, climbing, wading through flooded fields, playing on scooters out front with the neighbours and having lots of children over to play in between, it has been non-stop socialising!

Thursday last we took a friend to ice skating, then ds1 went back to hers to play and we had another family with 3 children visit us in the afternoon. Friday we had a museum visit with a large group of home educated children - took one friend and came back with 3! All 7 children crammed on the sofa to eat chips and watch a DVD in our lounge (ok, unhealthy I know, but how else was I supposed to feed 7 kids who all liked different things?)

Tuesday this week we spent the morning on the allotment clearing up after winter and then went on to the local Scrapstore to talk to the people who volunteer there and hunt out fascinating treasures. Wednesday we went to a friend's house, ate wonderful pizza and chocolate cake and took 11 children and 2 dogs out for a walk which ended up with most of them wading through a flooded field! And yes, they did all get Very Wet! And then today we took the kids climbing on the local climbing wall. Well there were 6 familes and around 15 children (I've just done a quick count and I figure that's right). The toddlers went into 'Energizers' the toddler gym session, while bigguns just wore themselves out on the climbing wall. Again, the boys invited a friend back to our house for the afternoon.

So, next time someone asks me about socialisation, what am I going to say? Well, you know, it's still a tricky one. I suppose I'll just have to say that we're so busy socialising to stop we really don't have much time to answer daft questions like that!

p.s. forgot to say. My freecycling and selling going well:
sold the Sindy stuff (£60), freecycled the camping mats, packed up a bundle of stuff to recycle in the clothes bin, passed on some kids toys to a friend's fostered child (plus wellies and hopefully a mac and leggings soon), gave away some david attenborough DVDs, some unused language CDROMS (to go soon) and freecyled the large gym mat and some leftover washable nappies. Also got rid of most of my old camera stuff over the weekend (sad, but it's gotta go). OOOh all this space I'm making...

Unfortunately now got huge bags of scrap from the scrapstore...

Thursday, 17 January 2008

2008 - oh no not another new year's resolution!

Well, according to the Blog it's been nearly a year since I last posted. Perhaps that should tell me something about making new years resolutions...let me think.
Ah well, to hell with it. Let's start that blog thing over again, shall we?

So, er, well 2007 all went in a blur (not totally an alcohol-related blur, but the occasional beverage certainly helped a few evenings pass I'm sure).

And on to 2008!

Well today dd1 learnt to ice skate for the first time. I mean properly SKATE, not just hang on to me knackering my back and making me grumpy for the following week because I need painkillers just to get out of bed. She skated for the first time on her own and, I must add, very competently. Even more amazing because I haven't taken her skating for at least a year and she's only ever been on the ice 3 or 4 times that I can remember. So, this event could be a nominee for 'smug mother event of January' award.

Or perhaps just as worthy is the fact that dd2 has taught himself to read. Actually taught himself. I have had minimum - if any - input. And there he is reading subtitles and the listings for digital tv (ok, got strong motivation for that one), plus billboards (do they call them billboards in the UK or is that just an americanism?), food labels (don't read my diet coke one please...) and even, occasionally books. Ah...maybe I've got this home education thing all wrong and should just sit on the sofa all day and let my kids get on with it, it seems to be working just fine - dare I say it even better - without my parenting input!

And the decluttering process continues.

Removals in the past few weeks include:

several sacks of stuff to charity shop/clothes bin,

baby sling (sold it),
washable nappies (sold them),
dressing up clothes (went to preschool),
toddler bed (went to a friend in need, dd1 moved into ds1's 'big bed'),
old dome tent and a few videos(took to swapshop)
glass fishtank without a lid (freecycled). Profit = £35

And due to be picked up soon:
lots of boxes of 1970's Sindy items (selling),
large wooden toybox,
foam camping mats,
sack of boys' clothes,
and 3ft square gym mat
pair of old curtains (all freecycle) Potential profit = £55

AND planning to get rid of:
a few boys' toys from loft (to friend)
board games in the boys' room that they never play with
Freebie David Attenborough DVDs
The huge whiteboard that is taking up a large chunk of the garage
Some language CD Roms that I no longer use
The sack of stuff for charity shop sitting for a week already in the footwell of the car
More old curtains from the loft