Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Natural Learning: Build Confidence Slowly

Feeling fragile about diving into learning in a more natural way?

One of the best pieces of advice I came across was to to hesitate, dip one's toes into the vast learning natural ocean, paddle and splash around a bit until confidence builds. It's not a good idea running headlong into the surf because there is a good chance that the encounter will scare you away from swimming at that beach forever!

So, my advice would be, pick a one or two areas of the curriculum where learning naturally comes easily and is easily recognised by the authorities as areas where it works quite successfully - such as history, geography, cultural studies, religious studies, even physical education and health, as well as the Arts - and stick to a more 'school at home' or otherwise structured approach for the 3Rs.

We began by doing structured educational activities for a couple of hours for four days a week (averaged out) for the first year and this helped to build my confidence as I watched and observed and recorded how my children learned - not only then, but througout the day. I needed what I called my 'skeleton' academic program. The few pages of bookwork my children did reassured me that even when they weren't doing those pages they seemed to be learning anyway. The pages were like tests, proving that they were learning regardless of any overt teaching efforts by me. I don't think I would have realised this as soon had I not asked them to do those pages. We slipped into a pattern of unschooling and learning naturally interspersed with one to three week periods of intense 'school at home' or unit studies for the first few years of homeschooling.

The other thing that I urge families who want to learn more naturally to do is record - record your children's activities (all of them) but translate what you write and record into educational jargon. Learn to see how your children naturally fulfil the curriculum guidelines.

Nothing beats doing this work for yourself. I found it the only way I finally learned to believe that my children were learning when they were 'doing nothing'. If someone told me that playing with dolls was educational and ran off a spiel about how it was educational I'd think they were clever, but I wouldn't be able to truly see it until I worked it out myself. I'd just think their kids were gifted, the mum was clever and theirs was a special case, not at all like mine!

Pull apart an activity - say the evening going to bed routine - and rewrite it as a teacher would if she was wanting to teach 30 children about:

a) dental hygiene - health
b) the importance of washing in the creases/folds of the skin (underarms, behind the knees, etc) - health
c) routine of prayer and thanks giving (spiritual and personal development)
d) making sure there is a clear path to the bed, not strewn with toys (safety)
e) story time (language development)
f) hugging family members and saying good night (building relationships, personal development)

You can pull apart each of these and come up with subject and skills related objectives that run like undercurrents continuously throughout your life with your children.

Dental hygiene is a fantastic opportunity to talk about the role of calcium in bone building, about how they make floss material, why toothbrushes are different now to how they were when you were a child. Voila! You have covered science and technology today...

Take note of the conversations you have with your children and see the learning in each subject area that flows naturally...

A good system of recording becomes your forward program for the next year and will convince most people that you aren't neglecting their education in any area.

Just because our children are learning naturally doesn't mean we aren't educators or that we don't need to think or act like educators. It's a natural role of parenting to do that, but one which many - most - people have been taught and conditioned not to do, expecting that this role will be filled by special educators - teachers in schools.

© Beverley Paine 2008

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