Friday, 27 January 2012

The Dilemmas of Change

Things are changing here and, as always, I don't know if we are doing the right thing.

Looking back at our education route so far we have dibbled and dabbled in a range of styles.

We tried 'school-at-home' in the early days and it didn't suit us. I mean it REALLY didn't suit us. It relied on organisation, preparation and willing participants. One out of three would have been good. We couldn't even manage that. With 3 small children, the eldest of which was very much his own person and resistant to most conventional educational techniques, it didn't happen. In fact most days it would take us an hour to get everyone's coats and shoes on just to get to the corner shop opposite our house. Home'schooling' was never really on the cards.

Some of the educational decisions we've made have happened through panic (OMG little Johnny next door knows his 9 times tables MUST BUY MATHS WORKBOOKS AND CATCH UP ON THE THREE YEARS WE ARE BEHIND), or desperation (NOTHING ELSE IS WORKING SO WE MIGHT AS WELL GO AUTONOMOUS) or the result of a tantrum (I GIVE UP. DINNER IS IN THE FRIDGE.  I'M IN THE LOFT).

Other decisions, usually caused by a child's changing needs, have been carefully thought through, weighed up and worried over. When you have 3 children there is never enough time in a day to consider everyone's individual needs all the time, unless they are all willing to sit at a table at the same time and work according to their level in workbooks (see previous comments for why 'school at home' didn't work for us).  So that means going with the path that suits the most children (or in most cases suits the eldest) at that particular time. In school I'm guessing at least two-thirds of the children in a class are having to follow an educational path that doesn't suit their learning style. There are worse things than home educating.

So our phases have swung from totally autonomous (child-led) to quite intensively project/theme-based (sometimes parent and sometimes child-led, but generally hands-on and multimedia) and everything in between. And then, at regular intervals (and almost always in moments of panic) we have made furtive and frustrating ventures into work books and curriculums, (usually Maths and English), that almost always end up being unsatisfying for all of us.

Some other home edders think I am anti-structure, because I'm so in favour of child-led education. I've never been anti-structure. I think structure is good if that is what a child wants or needs. What I am anti is bullying a child to do something they don't want to do. I've seen home edders tower over their children and reduce them to tears over completing some - irrelevant in the whole scheme of things - page in a workbook or similar. I am also anti children being dolled out with structured stuff just so the parent doesn't have to be involved with their child (surely one of the joys of home education is the opportunity to be involved in your child's learning, as much as they will allow you?)

Each to his own, and I'm not here to criticise other people's methods (I've done both the afforementioned crimes and I'm not proud of it). But from my experience using structured education as an excuse for bullying, or using structured education as a time-filling distraction to keep a child out of your hair never leads to a good place for child or parent.

I love the ethos of autonomous learning and while I may not achieve it on a day to day basis, I hold it at the very essence of what we do in our home educating lives. I think there needs to be some level of concensus when it comes to what we do as a family. Not everyone is going to be a happy chappy all of the time. I might choose to ignore a mild grumble or complaint, or adapt something to make it more appealing or interesting to a particular child. Or I may just ask the children to 'humour your mother'. But having been guilty of it more than once in our early home ed days I would now (I hope) never force a child to do something they really didn't want to.

So. What next?

Well I noticed over Summer we became more structured. The reason for this (I think) was that I had a heavy workload and needed to be more organised to fit in everything that I had to do. I didn't want to waste my time ferretting around for pencils, books, sheet of papers, a question-and-answer,craft materials, a topic-book, online resources etc. I knew that organisation and preparation saves time and makes life easier in the long-run, even if it takes a chunk of the sponteneity out of learning.

I also knew that ds2 was needed a bit more 'content' (as a home ed friend likes to call it) and I thought that actually they could all be stretched a little more than they had been. AND another plus for more structure was that I could fulful the promises I'd so flippantly made (and not kept). Promises like letting the kids cook more, going for bike rides, or buying x, y or z so one or other could complete whatever project/model/recipe they'd been whining about for months. It's so easy to let these things go. But if they were scheduled in, they happened. Although our structure over summer wasn't rigid (I put no time-scale on any of the activities) there was routine and forward planning and, for the most part, it worked fine.

Where are we now?

Well we are continuing to work through Story of the World Vol1, doing our own thing during the week and meeting up with another home ed family to do a few of the activities together. I've worked out a loose structure to it and we've been doing other associated activities (as you may have seen from the blog posts). So far so good.

Ds1 has been going to Geography sessions with a bunch of other home ed children. He may have the option to join an IGCSE Geography group in the near future. And though it shouldn't, the thought of this changes things. A year ago I thought it was unlikely we'd ever be looking at him doing IGCSE's. Out of desperation, I had predicted an entirely vocational route. Now, perhaps as a result of him maturing, or due to the exercises from the developmental optometrist, or may just as a natural result of things coming together, there is a remote chance that at some time in the future...Well, I don't like to jinx it by even mentioning it.

It's not a big thing, and yet I feel rather wobbly about it. I know if he is to be capable of jumping even the lowest of hoops (or keeping up with his 'classmates' on a weekly basis) we have a lot of catching up and filling the gaps to do. Yet if the offer is there I don't want him to miss out on the opportunity of at least having a go at the same material as his peers.

Mostly the obstacles are Maths and English. Of all the subjects these are the ones that home educators seem to get most obsessed about and these are the subjects that we have simply avoided declined to entertain as subjects (for various reasons, such as screaming, tantrums and all-purpose heel-digging-in).

In theory English and Maths should be the most straightforward to catch up with. But where to start? Ds1 is in agreement (at least at the moment - remember what I said about concensus) that it is time for a bit of catching up and filling in the gaps. And to this end I have got him the Galore Park 'Junior English Book 1' and some of the early 'topic' books from Maths Mammoth.

The English book is, well, pure comprehension (or possibly incomprehension). As my school experience taught me, comprehension is tedious even if you can do it easily. It's particularly tedious and doubly arduous if you can't.

But we need to start somewhere and being able to extract information from a passage and answer questions on it (including all those taken-for-granted school-learnt techniques like numbering your answers, writing full sentences and remembering capital letters and full-stops) seems to be an important technique that needs to be learnt for any hope of academic 'achievement'. For someone who until quite recently could read a question three times without understanding it, and has no apparent memory or technique for spelling, this is about as hard as it gets. (I don't like to tell him it's going to get harder).

Are we doing the right thing?

Truth is I don't know. We'll take it a little at a time and see how we go. This may be the ideal window to do all this catching up. Or it may be the wrong thing at the wrong time for the wrong person. The last thing I want is for home education to become a chore or a drag for any of us. Watch this space.


Ruth said...

It's difficult isn't it? I have one more than capable of IGCSE level work now but emotionally he is very fragile at the moment and I don't want to push it. I also hate the narrowness of it all but have decided to only do two subjects at a time ( English and Maths), if it is a go, so he still has plenty of interest based learning. We have nowhere to sit any exams here anyway but it would be good if he was able to in case. His twin needs to start at a more basic level and the GP English Bk 1 is probably the one I'd use too if he was up for it. However he's not. I can organise and prepare but he is not a willing He's 13 and I cannot see him knuckling down any time soon. He has his own agenda.

Lily said...

Are you doing the right thing? Gosh, that's a big question!

Seems to me you remain flexible and open to learning in the moment - that seems a pretty good place to be.

Anne B said...

Are you doing the right thing? YES definitely! You are designing their education round them and that is all you can do and a great deal more than most children get.

As for the IGCSE's, we are doing ours over a deliberately longer period to leave plenty of time to explore anything else interesting we find along the way. When they are ready, emotionally and intellectually, they will sit them. Until then, there's a whole world of knowledge out there just waiting for them and it seems such a shame to restrict them to what's on a syllabus. (especially when I don't agree with them.)

Incidentally, if your DS is Science based or history based, TCR do some great comprehensions based on interesting passages. My DS likes the fact that it's one day, one piece, rather than weeks plodding through a chapter and he can learn something he wants to know.

elf in the garden said...

A few things - is something out of whack? Whose worry is it? What is the goal and whose goal is it? There are a lot of maybes and ifs in what you wrote...

If everything is working ok and the only change is a change in your perception of a future possibility then are the possible feelings (on both sides) about the progress in a new direction going to cause upset at any point?

If he signs up for the IGCSE course then he will have specific targets that need to be achieved in order to move forward on the course. That is a huge motivator but only if the drive is his, not yours!

Sometimes the boat of opportunity sails by your island but it isn't always the right moment to jump aboard. Let him be your guide on that call.

Big mamma frog said...

Yes, lots of maybes and ifs. Truth is, Elf, I don't know the answers to any of it, which is why I'm having to sound it out on here!

I'm aware there are other considerations exerting pressure, not least the fact that in terms of having particular qualifications funded (and in terms of having access to many of those qualifications) 16-19 is the target age range.

It's not the only window - I'm well aware there are other routes - but it's a significant one. To keep the options of using that window open, now *might* be a good time to catch up on a few basics that we know are lacking (whether we go on to do IGCSEs or not).

I'm aware that our project-based approach is no longer satisfying ds1's interest or needs. As he's always been the primary propulsion for our education style, it's where we go next that is the question. I'm in no mood to make hasty decisions. If what we're doing doesn't work for him (or the others) we'll change. And change again if necessary.

Carol said...

Even if he does sign up for a Geography IGCSE, he doesn't have to complete it........I know that's obvious, but there's always flexibility in HE and that's what I like about it.
The IGCSE thing is a tough one - as I think you know, Sam is taking 5. What I find most frustrating is that its more about knowing how to "jump through the right hoops" when answering questions rather than having a working understanding of a subject IMO. But he wants to do a science or engineering based degree eventually so I think it might be difficult to progress on such a route without some formal qualifications. In Rhiannon's case, she is applying to Uni with just 2 IGCSE's to her name, but she is moving into the arts and they look for different things - she has her first interview in March so she hasn't been rejected out of hand. I found it hard to let her choose and follow her own path but it was definitely right for her - so far she's doing well on her Art and Design foundation course and the tutors seem to rate her highly. It's been a revelation to me.
At the moment I think Jo will be different again. At 11 he struggles to spell but reads OK. We've finally broken through with Maths - he likes Singapore Maths which has a very practical focus and he loves the fact he's beginning to be able to "do" maths. Having said that he has big concentration issues and I shudder to think how he would have coped with year 7!
Changing the way they learn is never ending.......watching my lot, I'm convinced now that they will do great - all different, all in their own ways. I think sometimes they need to be presented with options they had perhaps not thought of (Rhiannon was resistant to the idea of college at first because of her memories of school), but then it has to be up to them.
Appologies for the waffle!

Motherfunker said...

I think without a magic glass ball we have to take a leap of faith and hope for the best. Talking things through really closely with your child and following their interests is really going to get the best results since they will do those exams with passion. I have sometimes wondered if a way round getting into uni/ a job where qualifications are lacking, that simply submitting a tailor-made thesis to demonstrate knowledge in a particular subject, along with an explanation of why you despise the hoop jumping mentality, would get attention of a savvy professor/employer? They may see it as a really positive thing to have someone willing to buck the trend and show initiative in a more creative way, they may really be blown away by your child's actual genuine enthusiasm for a subject? They might think wow - this kid is enthusiastic, willing, eager, entrepreneurial, well presented, confident, eloquent, looks me in the eye, and prepared to learn. They might stand out from other kids because they actually know their stuff, care about their stuff, and couldn't give a stuff about some of the nonsense. But given that many jobs require obedience over spunk, compliance over verve, and being malleable ovre being innovative having qualifications starts to look like a more sensible option. Or not... Oh who the heck really knows!!!! x