Sunday, September 20, 2009

Nothing lazy about natural learning

Nothing lazy about natural learning, that's for sure. For our family it means a very busy, productive lifestyle full of exploration, investigation, experimentation - full on being and doing.

An example of why I love how we home educated our kids:

Robin and I were installing a wardrobe at my parent's house yesterday and had left our two sons (age 22 and 26, both unschool grads) at home to install our new and rather complex pull-out pantry. We arrived home to find little progress. No problems there, but Roger was excited about what they'd been doing instead...

He'd hunted down a blow fly and dropped it into our inside fish pond. The fish were interested and started nibbling it, but a spider dropped down from a web above the pond and started 'fishing'. They watched and took photos as she reinforced her web, attached lines to the fly, poisoned it, and began the process of hauling it up out of the water. They had questions like 'would she be able to break the surface tension of the water?' They described to us in the detail how the spider had made the web stronger, how she drew out the web and wrapped it around the fly. The spider was a fraction the size of the fly. We think she is some kind of widow spider, related to the redback. I reckon she could be a juvenile redback...

This kind of observation and learning about what is happening around us goes on all the time at our place. I'm rapt that natural learning and unschooling didn't stop when my kids turned 18. My kids are appreciative that they could do this kind of thing all day instead of book work. They make time to learn about the world, are observant and reflective. They know that they are always learning. They want to learn. How cool is that?

A lot of people would have simply seen two fellas shirking work, larking about instead of completing the job they were supposed to do, being lazy...

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Some Good Questions about Natural Learning

Recently a home educating parent asked me a few questions about natural learning:

Q: "What expectations to you explain to your kids in terms of what you would like them to `do' in a day. Is it all just one big holiday, or do you say `let's produce....a scrap book. a diary, a maths concept....???"

My concept of natural learning is that we are all learning, all the time and can't stop ourselves. We each learn in different ways - this was a hard lesson for me to learn so I'll harp on about it a bit!

I used to dismiss how other people learn, thinking that they weren't learning at all because they weren't learning the same way I did. My husband, for example, seems to have no awareness of the learning process. He gets stressed and confused if I ask him to talk about how he learns something. If I go on about it enough, he gets demoralised and thinks there is something wrong with him... However, he's brilliant, successful, productive, knowledgeable. It's just that he doesn't self-reflect in the same obvious way I do.

My daughter used to calculate sums in her head, even complex ones. I insisted she do the working out on paper, so I could see where the 'mistakes' were being made, and also because the school books said this was the best way to learn maths. My brilliant mathematically minded daughter stopped loving maths at age 9 and even now, as an adult, doesn't think she's good at maths, even though she's a natural. I can't do maths without using pen and paper. By forcing my learning methods on my daughter I undermined her confidence as a mathematician (not her skill).

What's my point? Do some research on the internet about learning styles. Work out your own learning style, then work out your children's. Don't stick them on yourself or children as labels, but realise that the aim is to build on strengths, recognise and work with limitations (some people call them weaknesses but I don't like that term). Look at the holistic picture, but don't aim for a perfectly rounded child good at everything.

The easiest way for me to do this was to devise a list of THE most important things a child must do each day. My natural learning checklist has things on it like 'giggle', 'run, hop, skip', 'dream' - things that simply sum up activities that we all need to do each day to be healthy and happy individuals living together. When I go for a walk (being physical) I day dream (imagination/creativity) and plan (problem solving). Walking helps my brain do all these things better.

What do I want my children to 'do' in a day? First of all, 'be' themselves. Then I want them to be responsive to the needs each day naturally brings. We all work to do that is essential and important. This work - the daily chores of living - teaches so much that is otherwise packed into school curricula in rather meaningless ways. By simply living your children have easily and naturally learned at least half of the school curriculum!

So make sure that being involved in the humdrum of family and community life is an important part of your daily schedule. Involve them and include them. Be their mentor and tutor. Let them be your apprentices.

If there is any time left over, which there should be, play.

Play is a huge topic and can be almost anything. In our home I coined the phrase - "we work at play and play at work". When we worked, we worked playfully. When we played, we played workfully. We learn when we work and we learn when we play.

I wasn't overly fond of the 'fun' distinction society places on play, or the push to make education 'fun'. Learning isn't fun, it's learning. It can be easy or hard, fun or a drag. We don't learn because it is easy or fun, we learn because we need to learn - learning is a part of growing and we all need to grow. Children learn in all sorts of ways and don't really care how (until we teach them that it is hard, boring, that they can 'fail' at it, that it needs to be fun, etc).

To determine what I would like my children to do in a day I worked out what was important to me for them to learn. And we'd do that. For instance, if I felt that drawing was important (and it is, for dozens of reasons!), I would set aside some time in MY day to sketch. I'd head into the garden or sit on the floor with lots of pencils and all the sketch books and draw. In no time I'd have three children drawing beside me. Unless, of course, they had a far better game going.

If I had to clean the bathrooms I'd ask them to help. If I was cooking dinner I asked them to help. They hung out the washing, collected the firewood, set the fire, fed the animals, helped in the garden, helped us make furniture, etc. And we played LEGO, dress ups, board games, hide'n'seek, etc with them. We also had plenty of time where we did our own things, uninterrupted.

All in all it was a very busy productive life!

I guess what I'm saying is that I definitely had expectations of my children. We would talk about them, work out how realistic and reasonable they were. Sometimes I would moderate my expectations and sometimes the children would have to moderate their expectations. We did a lot of negotiating!

Recording what we do and how we did it as learners helps us to not only see the learning processes at work (and thus realise what wonderfully effective natural learners we are!), but also produce the evidence we all seem to require that we are actually learning something. Children don't need this proof - they move from one thing to the next quite happily. But us adults need this proof - we've been conditioned by our schooling and cultural heritage to feel insecure without it.

Recording also offers lots of opportunities to learn really valuable skills. The scientific method depends on recording, so keeping scrapbooks or taking photos, or writing on calendars, developing charts, keeping diaries, etc naturally teaches our children how to think scientifically!

Let go of the way schools divide learning into discrete subjects as the only way to learn and mix it up. Realise that when you child is asked to cut the cake into eight equal pieces she is dividing and learning equivalent fractions. Realise that when she scoring in a game of cards or dice she is doing maths. Keep life 'real' but in your head and in your homeschooling diary record what your children are doing in the curriculum subject areas. This will help build your confidence and reassure you that learning naturally is an effective curriculum.

Q: "Am I still expecting to much?"

If you are comparing your child to a schooled child and expecting them to do the same, learn the same and be the same, then yes. The answer to that is 'stop comparing'. What is the point of the comparison? Create your own list of goals and objectives, keep records that are meaningful to you and your children, and assess them on their progress, rather than some arbitrary 'outcome' determined by strangers.

Q: "Is some structure good?"

Life at home is incredibly structured. We all have routines and structures that we follow. There are things that need to be done by set times every day and every week. Go with those structures - they are definitely good!

Learn to recognise the arbitrary structures that don't make sense in your life and your children's lives. Needing to do something to please someone else, or to finish a page, or a book or whatever, might not make sense. Be flexible and adaptive. Negotiate. Some things are important to me, some things are important to my child. I give a little, he gives a little. We aim for win-win which means we are ultimately happy with whatever compromise we devise.

I gave up the idea of having a spotless house that would look good in a magazine to spend more time playing with my children. My son thought this was a good idea because, as he put it, "I can't see the mess, don't know what you are talking about." Making him clean up a mess he couldn't 'see' didn't make much sense to him. By the time he was in his early teens his rooms was kept tidy and relatively clean. His approach worked. Before I moderated mine, it produced stress and tears.

What had happened was that we'd both recognised that a tidy and organised space means it is easier to do what we want to do each day. That's natural learning. Icky isn't pleasant, clean is pleasant. We learned to do what was necessary to enjoy life - for us - not to please others (unless we wanted to - for example, my children would often clean the house as a 'gift' for me, especially on my birthday).

Educational structure? Sometimes it is easier to learn things in a sequential manner. Sometimes it is easy to learn something from a book or a workshop or regular class. No one questions learning karate in a structured way. Use structure if it makes sense.

Q: "Is letting them only do what they like teaching them to avoid anything `too hard' or as my 4 year old said when I was running through sums, traveling in the car...`only give me the easy ones that I know'!"

From birth children have been naturally tackling things that are too hard. I am amazed at how toddlers can lift their weight - no way can I do that! It's too hard for me. Yet no one says to me that I ought to be able to do it, that if I don't I'm 'avoiding' it, or worse still, will become lazy and spoiled!

Children want to do things that are difficult and too hard. We teach them how not to - "don't touch that, it will hurt you, you will break it, you're too small, etc". By the time they are seven or eight, especially if they have been too school, they know that simply being in the world, as a naturally curious inquisitive being, is 'wrong' and leads to trouble... Oh boy, how sad is that?

Children don't like to perform for performance sake, yet adults insist that they do. We need to see that they can 'do' something, that they've learned it. They can't see what the fuss is all about (unless we've trained them to perform). Children will often practice a skill in private and then suddenly appear able to do it. Or they will simply learn it naturally without practice, by observing others doing it. We've all seen moments like this in our children's lives.

As an adult I only want to be given 'the easy sums'. Doing stuff that is easy helps build my confidence. I know when I am ready to tackle the hard stuff. And when I am, I happily tackle it. I am usually in a state of excitement and fully immersed in the task when I'm challenging myself with something hard and new. Children are the same. You can throw a 'hard one' at them any time of the day, but if they resist, recognise that they aren't ready yet, and help them. Work out the sum aloud. Don't teach, simply demonstrate. Don't expect an answer or response, simply say your bit and shut up. Understand that they are listening, but that's all that need to do. It's what you'd want from your friend and mentor, right? Some space to learn in your own way, in your own time...

© Beverley Paine

Become a member of the friendly Homeschool Australia Frequently Asked Questions email group. Visit Homeschool Australia to read more original articles on home education by Beverley Paine. No time to visit the site? Subscribe to the free Homeschool Australia Newsletter. Visit www.beverleypaine.com for a great range of homeschooling, unschooling and books on natural learning!"

Why Haven't School Reforms Worked?

When our eldest was four and at Kindergarten I read two books by John Holt - 'How Children Fail' and 'How Children Learn'. These were written in the 60s, at a time when I was in primary school. Holt wrote about his experiences as a teacher - what worked and what didn't work. It was his ability to self-reflect and evaluate his own learning processes that resonated with me. Instead of simply teaching, he was passionate about how and why his students learned, or didn't learn. Those two books were packed with tips and insights into how children think and respond. Holt approached the children with respect and trusted that they could learn, that problems could be resolved.

What surprised me was that despite the efforts of school reformers, who began criticising the institution of school since the inception of compulsory mass schooling, what happens in the classroom hadn't altered much. As a student I enjoyed 'new maths', weird classroom furniture, and the 'open classroom' experiment of the 70s, but ultimately what sucked most about school was the attitude that children are like blank slates - they need to be taught to think, how to think, and how to learn. It's an insult. A vast dumbing down of whole generations.

I know that teachers now, by and large, think of children as learning partners, responsible for their own learning, but the way schools are set up, it is really hard for them to implement respectful learning programs. As home educators we have the advantage of lots of space, access to lots of resources per student, and lots of time. All we need to do is respect the child as a human being, not some 'unfinished' human product, know that the child was born capable of learning and thinking, and trust that if we get out of their way with our limiting behaviours and thoughts, he or she will simply get on with the job of learning with relative ease and enthusiasm.

© Beverley Paine

Become a member of the friendly Homeschool Australia Frequently Asked Questions email group. Visit Homeschool Australia to read more original articles on home education by Beverley Paine. No time to visit the site? Subscribe to the free Homeschool Australia Newsletter. Visit www.beverleypaine.com for a great range of homeschooling, unschooling and books on natural learning!"

Friday, September 04, 2009

An overview of why I think schools are failing

We began homeschooling in 1986, so I feel I have a reasonable overview of what has happened over the last couple of decades.

The 70s were a heady time when almost anything seemed possible and innovation was welcome, especially in education. The one thing that was missing, particularly in SA but I suspect across the country (and in the UK, whose trends our politicians and bureaucrats slavishly follow), was adequate and systematic evaluation of the results of the experiments and changes. This is a fact. Even today there are very few ways bureaucrats in the education system can assess what is actually going on in schools. The Naplan tests are a crude - but very importantly cheap - measure. In the late 90s the education department in SA had no way of telling how much money was spent on art supplies in primary schools across the state without contacting each school and asking them. The unit they set up to evaluate school performance was scrapped within a couple of years. Everyone knows how important evaluation is to successful education... except perhaps those that govern the system.

In the 80s many of us were hopeful and inspired, but already the lack of evaluation, which hid the problem of inadequate resourcing, had begun to demonstrate that schools weren't delivering what they or the politicians promised. Conservatives wanted a return to the old ways. Meanwhile many of the teachers of those heady 70s and optimistic early 80s had been promoted to positions in bureaucracy within the state education departments, away from the classrooms where the unsupported new methods were failing children. The theory became idealism and hence an institution that influenced curriculum development for the next two decades.

The other thing that happened during the eighties which I believe has left education in such a mess, was the optimism that information technology was the only thing on the horizon. States closed technical high schools because all the students would get jobs in IT. It was the promise of the future. IT would pay huge salaries. It was easy for students, especially boys that would have picked a trade had they gone to tech school, to be convinced that a high paid career in computers, which delivered such fun at home playing games, awaited them once they finished year 12... Sadly, few teachers were given training in how to use IT in their classrooms. For a decade computers were heralded as THE thing in education but they were thin on the ground. If a class had one, it was used for playing 'educational' games by a handful of students, on a rostered basis.

All this time the federal government gave less money to the states and both sets of governments allowed the infrastructure to run down. Teacher morale dropped. Without any way of judging the effectiveness of teaching, the system decided to blame children and parents for the woes schools experienced. More than this, the state turned to parents to boost funds to pay for what the government was neglecting and when the parents ran out of money, they targeted local community and businesses. If a 14 year old boy is disruptive in our local school, they find a local business that will take him under the wing, teach him work and life skills for a day or two a week. It's a good idea but is used for all the wrong reasons.

It's only natural that our government would try to hide the mess while trying to deal with it at the same time. The result is yet more throwing the responsibility back onto parents and children. To do this they resort to cheap to implement measures, such as not paying benefits to impoverished families whose children don't go to school, or in the case of Youth Allowance, don't progress adequately (who cares why the students are failing - it is easier to blame them than offer a meaningful education). Or introducing a prescriptive curriculum and forcing communities to accept it. When it fails to deliver, as it will, it will be the fault of parents and children. Already the fear is that low socio-economic areas will do badly, not because schools fail those communities, but because the parents don't have the educational skills to help their children. Yet we all know that inspirational teachers and well-resourced schools can turn the lives of impoverished students around (or so the many movies based on true accounts since the 1960s tell us...)

The nanny-state is all too keen to blame the family for its shortcomings. A huge amount of money is spent on convincing the population that families are to blame for their children failing at school. If only that money was spent on the children!

I am unashamedly cynical about the state of education in Australia. But also hopeful - home educators are turning out a bunch of people who are more self-reliant, switched on, with critical thinking skills and creativity in abundance, who think for themselves, know how to set goals and go about achieving them. It is a quiet education revolution but it is beginning to attract attention because it is achieving the results schools promise but don't deliver. This will only want them to have a piece of the action, take it over, control it and take credit for it (and in the process, do their best at destroying what makes home ed work!)

We need to be diligent and protect whatever freedoms we have won since home education revived as a modern alternative education movement in the early 1970s. How we each do that is an individual choice. We can do it by becoming informed and assertive and not letting bureaucracy pressure us into doing things we don't want or need to. Or we can share our experiences and work together, on a small local scale, on a regional or state scale, or on a national level. It doesn't really matter, so long as we are each individually aware that we don't have to roll over and put up with what the bureaurcrats and politicians dish out.

© Beverley Paine

Become a member of the friendly Homeschool Australia Frequently Asked Questions email group. Visit Homeschool Australia to read more original articles on home education by Beverley Paine. No time to visit the site? Subscribe to the free Homeschool Australia Newsletter. Visit www.beverleypaine.com for a great range of homeschooling, unschooling and books on natural learning!"

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Life After Home Education

[first posted on Homeschool Pen Pals : http://groups.yahoo.com/group/homeschoolpen-pals.]

Hi, my name is Beverley and I'm from South Australia. I have three adult children who were home educated. I'd like to correspond with other parents with home ed graduates.

I am still active in promoting and supporting home education, enjoy gardening, landscaping our property, building and travelling. It is my ambition to find time to continue writing fiction. I am the editor of a home ed newsletter and online magazine.

Since my early teenage years I've been interested in education and socialisation processes and what motivates people. At the moment I'm pondering the issues around 'nature' and 'nurture' - why our children turn out to be the people they are; what worked for us as parents; what worked for them as youngsters.

As a older homeschooling parent I always found it difficult to talk about my worries and doubts - too many younger mums needed reassurance that home ed will work for them and I didn't want to undermine their confidence. It worked for our family, but that didn't stop me from worrying! Now I'd like to chat with other older mums like myself openly and frankly about our home ed experiences. My interest is personal, but I am a writer and tend to eventually pull my thoughts together and put them down in an article or two. It's my way of making sense of the world.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Get Motivated... or how to do what you don't want to do but have to! Part 3

You know how I wrote about staying focused and minimising distractions yesterday? Well, today I'm going to tell you to do the opposite!

That's right: sometimes it is quicker and easier to take care of our distractions and then come back to what it was we were doing before. This is especially helpful if we're fazing out and not really capable of focusing. We need a break and instead of being a distraction it will help us to get back on track!

Sometimes as home educating parents we forget that our children are, after all, only human. Like us, they can't work continually, especially if they are waiting and anticipating something happening later, like a treat or a birthday or visits from friends arriving later in the day. Have a quick chat about their anticipation - this lets them know you realise how hard it is to be patient. It will only take a couple of minutes, and you'll cover another valuable homeschool curriculum topic (under Health and Personal Development) at the same time.

And then there are times when our children are fidgetting and can't sit still. There's nothing wrong with everyone having a quick romp around the room, a silly chasey game that ends in a heap on the living room floor with a manic tickling session and lots of laughter. Or a fifteen minute game of catch with a ball on the lawn. Scheduling some fun playing with the family pet could take care of a couple of chores, as well, so long as you remember not to get too distracted from the original task!

And then there are days when you simply must abandon whatever you are doing to take advantage of that once in life-time learning opportunity: a downpour that turns into a cloud burst and provides an opportunity to witness erosion at a massive scale at the local creek (watched from a safe distance!); rushing to the beach because your friend phoned and said there was a whale and her calf frolicking in the shallows; taking care of an injured bird that just flew into the window, etc.

We homeschoolers need to be flexible and adaptable. Seeing disruptions as learning opportunities will help us feel less distracted. Handling distractions in a positive and constructive way will help us to feel and stay motivated as home educators.

© Beverley Paine

Become a member of the friendly Homeschool Australia Frequently Asked Questions email group. Visit Homeschool Australia to read more original articles on home education by Beverley Paine. No time to visit the site? Subscribe to the free Homeschool Australia Newsletter. Visit www.beverleypaine.com for a great range of homeschooling, unschooling and books on natural learning!"

Get Motivated... or how to do what you don't want to do but have to! Part 2

Yesterday I wrote Part 1 of my blog about motivation. If you're a homeschooler you might like to buy my Practical Homeschooling Series booklet, Motivation in the Homeschool. It is a compilation of the various workshops I've given over the years about how to overcome many of the problems that we face as parents teaching our children at home.

I spoke about my need to plan my day according to my moods and state of mind: today I'm focusing on another tip I find really useful.

All too often I find that in the middle of doing one thing I think about something else and, worried I will forget about it, stop what I'm doing and do the other thing instead. Rarely do I get back to completing the first thing? And you can imagine how many unfinished projects I have lying around my home, can't you? And I bet you have just as many...!

One day it occurred to me that I'd be better off carrying around a notebook and simply jotting down my thoughts instead of doing them. This way, half of my 'must do' tasks turn out to be not that essential after all. The other half get done, but because I'm not rushing to get back to the unfinished task, they are done with more thoroughly and care. And I'm less likely to break something!

We can apply that kind of thinking to homeschooling too. While helping our children with a unit study on volcanoes we might come across some interesting information about plate tectonics. Yes, they are associated topics but wandering off topic exploring why earthquakes happen won't get that model volcano spewing out foam before dinner time! Staying focused will help us - and the children - learn as much as we can before moving on to the next topic. And it keeps the lessons short and sweet, just the way we all like them. I've read that it is better to stop while the children are interested than wait until their eyes glaze over and their minds begin to wander.

Staying focused is also helped by minimising distractions. Turn off the television, use a static screen-saver on the computer so that it doesn't catch the eye, mute the computer so you can't hear when the emails arrive, be selective with background music (so it stays in the background!), put the answering machine on and leave a note on the front door that says "Homeschooling in Progress! Disturb only if absolutely essential!"

Give your children your complete attention during homeschool lessons. They deserve it. You'd be miffed if their teacher kept interrupting his or her time with your children to answer the phone, talk to other teachers, read her emails, chat on Facebook, manicure his nails or fix the phone, etc. Even if is simply reading a story together or mucking about in the junk box with the glue and sticky-tape.

When we minimise distractions and focus on what it is we're doing we end up completing many more tasks each day. This makes us feel good. This makes us feel motivated!

© Beverley Paine

Become a member of the friendly Homeschool Australia Frequently Asked Questions email group. Visit Homeschool Australia to read more original articles on home education by Beverley Paine. No time to visit the site? Subscribe to the free Homeschool Australia Newsletter. Visit www.beverleypaine.com for a great range of homeschooling, unschooling and books on natural learning!"

Get Motivated... or how to do what you don't want to do but have to! Part 1

A few years ago my then teenage son and I would have long conversations about the nature of motivation. Basically, both of us were struggling with having to do things we didn't want to do, but had to do. You know, the daily chores - washing the dishes, hanging out the clothes, sweeping the floors, etc. Boring, mundane and what we considered to be very unrewarding tasks! Sometimes something would come along that was completely unpleasant but needed to be done. We agreed that such tasks meant that after hours or days - even weeks! - of procrastination, we'd finally drag our heavy bodies and reluctant minds to heel and get the task done.

What we discovered was that afterwards we'd feel really great, and wonder why we'd made such a fuss in the first place!

One tip I've learned to manage handling these tasks is to plan ahead. One, to make sure I have left enough time to procrastinate a satisfying amount of time, but mostly so that I can complete the task when I'm in a better mood or state of mind. Two, planning helps me select the time of day I'm more likely to be in that mood. For instance, we leave the dishes after dinner as we relax after eating and doing the dishes is work. Problem is, the dishes are there in the morning - ugh! Instead of beating myself up, I happily leave them until about 4pm, when my mind turns to preparing the evening meal. As I'm in the kitchen then (I usually spend most of my day either at my computer or in the garden) I'm happy to knock over the job of doing the dishes, while I dream up a yummy meal.

We can do the same with homeschooling. Once we've spent some time observing our children and getting to know their learning styles we're in a much better position to know when they are at their best, most awake, most imaginative, receptive, happy, eager to learn, etc. I knew that my children were most interested first thing in the morning, so if there was something I really wanted them to learn, like the 4x tables, I'd schedule a lesson in at around about 8 am, minutes after they'd woken up - just before they picked up a box of LEGO to play with!

Munching on the muesli and playing with the times table cards and counters didn't seem so much of a chore then, to them or me! Finish breakfast off with a quick listen to the skip-counting tape and that's that: maths lesson done for the day. (Not really, that was just the thing I wanted them to learn that day!)

After lunch their energy would wane somewhat - this was the ideal time to slip a taped documentary into the video player, or leave some books scattered on the rug in the living room. This was and still is a good time for us to check our emails, muck about in Facebook, play computer games - anything that didn't require problem solving or making decisions.

Knowing when to take advantage of our state or mind and moods can really help avoid motivation problems.

© Beverley Paine

Become a member of the friendly Homeschool Australia Frequently Asked Questions email group. Visit Homeschool Australia to read more original articles on home education by Beverley Paine. No time to visit the site? Subscribe to the free Homeschool Australia Newsletter. Visit www.beverleypaine.com for a great range of homeschooling, unschooling and books on natural learning!"

Monday, June 22, 2009

Homeschool Time Tables and Schedules

What do you put when applying for registration as a home educator if it asks how much time will be spent on each subject or topic - minutes a day and how many days a week? Is it necessary to include a time table if it's asked for, or an outline of a daily homeschooling schedule? These are questions I'm often asked.

How long you spend on each 'lesson' depends on the age of the child/ren and the nature of the lesson.

For example, a maths lesson on exchanging (hundreds, tens, units) might take a few minutes or half an hour. I would spend as long as it took for the child to get a grasp on the concept, knowing that we would be revisiting it soon to reinforce what the child has learned. I might be using counters/matchsticks or MAB blocks (MathsUSee blokcs do the same thing) together with number cards (I made based on some I saw at a Montessori school) as well as recording on the sums on paper in a structured prepared lesson. Or I could be using anything to hand to help my son calculate a sum he wanted help with... My children would often bring sums and spelling tasks to me, asking for help and I'd use the opportunity as instant mini-lessons.

I'd often include board games as lessons. We created a shopping game that would take about an hour to play and involved a fair bit of maths. When the children were young I'd make sure they had access to the maths blocks, calculator, pen and paper so that they could do the working out themselves, even though it slowed the game down.

With maths 'book work' I'd set them as many pages as I felt the children were capable of doing before they'd get grumpy, bored or would lose interest. I remember April galloping through three levels of maths books at age 6 - she'd do six pages a day and probably more if I'd let her. By the time we got to Year 4 level the number of problems on each page had quadrupled (and doubled again the next year!) - that's when it all began to get a little bit tedious and repetitive, so we changed tack and dropped most of the bookwork, using the 'test' and 'puzzle' pages to see if she understood the concepts and could use the processes needed to calculate, etc.

Each child was different and worked at a different rate, learning and revising in different ways. For example, I had to teach maths in a very different to my youngest as he wasn't reading independently until age 11, which meant I could leave him to do bookwork on his own.

As a quick guide I'd put down lessons as lasting half an hour, but allowing for less or more as per the individual child and topic. Most homeschoolers find that the basics - reading, writing and arithmetic - can be covered in a couple of hours, usually in the morning. I would encourage my children to get up and have a drink, stretch and bite to eat in the middle of a 'study period', or when we put the maths books away and started writing.

The timetable generally lasts for a year or so until home education relaxes into a more natural and family family routine. Some families find timetables essential as they have a lot of 'extra-curricula' activities to squeeze into each week and it is too easy to forget to fit in art, history, and sometimes even maths lessons. As home educators we run the risk of not having enough time to fit everything we want to do into our weekly homeschooling schedules. I used a calendar and diary to help me stay on track for the first few years of our homeschooling life.

Keeping track of hours and minutes spent on each subject distracts from focusing on the much more important content of those lessons. I wouldn't want to pin it down. I'd rather make sure that I was covering a good cross-section of different areas of learning each week, with time for the 3Rs set aside each day.

Writing an outline of a typical homeschooling (stay at home) day offers a useful guide and is reassuring for the regulating authorities, but we need to remember it is a simply as snapshot of what usually happens and isn't something we need to religiously adhere to. Timetables are useful in school settings for all sorts of administrative rather than educational reasons.

This is the 'typical day' I used to offer:

* Completion of chores - personal, house hold, and animals.

* Daily focus on maths/language based activities drawn from learning program (about 1-2 hours for younger children, 2-3 hours for older).

* Snack and stretch.

* Free personal time, hobbies, including play and computer.

* Lunch.

* Time to pursue personal interests and/or on-going projects - construction, art and craft, researching, technology.

* Outside physical activity - sport, walking, swimming, tree climbing, etc.

* Music practice.

* Reading together, silent and shared.

* Chores - personal, household, and animals, preparation of family meal.

* News and current affairs, discussion and conversation.

* Watching documentaries, movies; or playing educational and fun games; or use of computer for games, projects, etc.; or quiet reading.

from http://homeschoolaustralia.com/articles/typicalday1.html

© Beverley Paine

Become a member of the friendly Homeschool Australia Frequently Asked Questions email group. Visit Homeschool Australia to read more original articles on home education by Beverley Paine. No time to visit the site? Subscribe to the free Homeschool Australia Newsletter. Visit www.beverleypaine.com for a great range of homeschooling, unschooling and books on natural learning!"

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sharing one of my favourite parenting newsletters....

Here's a link to a newsletter I get regularly. Bob collects articles about parenting and unschooling and it's great because he's a dad so he focuses on that a bit, which helps people like me (females) see the other side of the story.

He comes up with some great links to articles and websites - anything to do with being a more switched on child-friendly person.

In this month's issue of Parental Intelligence:


BOOK REVIEW

Raising Intuitive Children


FEATURE ARTICLE

Parents and Friends


ARTICLE LINKS

To Be a Baby
Four things you won't like hearing
Feminism, fathers and valuing parenthood How Using Social Media Has Helped Me Be a Better Dad Developing Choices about the Emotions we Experience with NLP Is Gifted and Talented a Life Sentence?
Textbook rant
Q&A: How to raise 'global students'
Unschooling is homeschooling without the school part Great Thinkers on Self-Education: John Holt Surprise! Daydreaming Really Works the Brain


NOTICE BOARD

ADHD Research - Help Wanted
Neuro-Linguistic Programming: Liberating Parents How I Parent Guiding Stars of the New Parenting Movement Kindred Magazine Natural Child News Connection Parenting Parenting For A Peaceful World The Double Bind Rally for Homebirth Connect to your unborn baby (for dads) Attachment Parenting Australia Pinky McKay Family Matters Etendi BRIDGE The Mother magazine Juno Do Schools Kill Creativity?
Rethinking Education is rethinking EVERYTHING!
Free Learning Monitor
Ditch the Backpack: 100 Essential Web Tools for Virtual Students Sandra Dodd on YouTube Part 3 Dayna Martin on YouTube
101 Reasons I'm An Unschooler
Be curious. Be kind


To read the Parental Intelligence Newsletter online, please go to http://www.parental-intelligence.com

Monday, June 15, 2009

Internet Etiquette and Cautiousness

While it is important to share our stories on forums like this we all need to be aware that these are public forums. It is easy for anyone to join them, even with moderator approval. I'm a moderator and group owner of a couple of groups and rely on the honesty of those applying to join to determine if they are suitable. I can't know if the intentions of the person joining the group are in the group's interests until the person starts posting... and if they never post, I'll never know.

We need to be remain aware that when we post on forums our messages can be read by people we don't know. They can tell others who aren't members of the yahoo group what we have written - or their interpretation of what we have written. I think it is important to remember that what is written on the group remains online or on a hard drive somewhere 'forever', even if individual posts or the whole group is deleted. That's the nature of computers and computing.

I've been on a group where someone wrote something about another person (not a group member) that was considered defamatory by that person. Court action was threatened. I don't know the outcome and I wasn't involved, but copies of the offending post were sent to me, which is how I know about it. It made me aware that when I write about other people in my emails I need to be extra vigilant that I don't say anything that I will later regret. It also made me aware that even when I am writing private emails to individuals I need to be careful not to let emotion take over, which is when I usually start to say stuff that may end up hurting someone else. With email, nothing is truly private. That is the nature of the internet.

Reporting the truth as we see it is always important and I hate the whole idea of censorship. I want to be upfront and honest about what I think and feel. I don't want to inadvertently upset someone, or say something that will be interpreted differently to what I meant. Most of the time I am very careful to remember to re-read what I have written before I hit the send button. Sometimes I won't post it until the next day. I seem to delete half of what I write nowadays, thinking 'better safe than sorry'. (That's hard to believe, isn't it!)

When we write about our experiences using email or on the internet we need to be guarded.

I never used to think like this. I've written hundreds of articles about my homeschooling life, never thinking about the impact my honesty and openness would have on my children's lives. Happily for me it isn't an issue for them, but I am lucky - my ignorance in the past could have been the cause of constant source of pain and hurt in my family for years to come. When I write about other people I need to be even more cautious - there is not the carefully crafted and nurtured bond of love and respect I have with my own family to protect me. Other people are not as forgiving of me as my family!

When we write on the internet we need to remember these things. I've seen lots of people protect their children's privacy by using DS (dear son) or DD (dear daughter) or simply using the child's initial. It's too late for me but I'd recommend that tactic for others to adopt. Plus I tend to generalise statements now - talk about the topic, rather than the person, when having a whinge session or needing to get something off my chest. I'm much more interested in issues and solutions and have learned the hard way too often to focus on the personal stuff involved. If I mention names I try to keep it factual and cut out any emotional comments. Internet communication can be tricky. I wouldn't want to go back to the past when I felt incredibly isolated - I love the internet and I'm an email addict. But it is important to be aware and be a little bit guarded in how we use it.

© Beverley Paine

Become a member of the friendly Homeschool Australia Frequently Asked Questions email group. Visit Homeschool Australia to read more original articles on home education by Beverley Paine. No time to visit the site? Subscribe to the free Homeschool Australia Newsletter. Visit www.beverleypaine.com for a great range of homeschooling, unschooling and books on natural learning!"

Friday, June 12, 2009

Field Guide to Homeschoolers

The 180th Carnival of Homeschooling consulted the "Field Guide to Homeschoolers" in an 'attempt to describe this fascinating specimen of educational freedom and gain a greater understanding of its habits, habitat and daily life.'

It begins...

"The homeschooler, elusive and quick, is one of the most difficult creatures to study. They do not survive well in captivity, and field studies to date have focused on small, easily observable populations..."

This exceptionally clever essay on home educators is a MUST READ for anyone remotely interested in this growing phenomenon!

http://principleddiscovery.com/2009/06/09/field-guide-homeschoolers/

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Some of the things I've learned as a homeschooling mother about handling anti-social behaviour

We were paranoid overprotective parents and proud of it! I saw what happens in playgrounds first hand as a kid myself. I didn't see any difference in children's behaviour when I grew up. In fact, the same anti-social rules occur in the workplace, groups, clubs, etc with adults. It's not a nice world for children. There was no way my husband and I were going to allow our children out into it unsupervised!

This isn't to say we controlled all their social activities and actions. We monitored and supervised them, often from a distance, but generally within sight. I believed, and still do, that this builds confidence and resilience in children.

For example, should an anti-social behavioural problem start to manifest either between my children or in a group, my children would naturally glance over to where I was (usually chatting with other adults). They'd see that I was keeping an eye on them and know that if things got out of hand I'd intervene. They knew from experience that my intervention would usually begin benignly, in a non-intrusive and non-confrontational way. I might chose to call out and ask my children a question totally unrelated to what was happening with the children - maybe a question asking them if they were hungry, for example. This alerted all the children to the fact that there was an adult in the vicinity. Often that was enough to tone anti-social
behaviour done.

If I felt that someone was being victimized or inappropriate behaviour could lead to someone getting hurt, I'd move closer and start a conversation with the kids in the group - often it would be about something else entirely. Children know when they are behaving inappropriately - most look chastised even though I haven't mentioned the inappropriate behaviour. Some are less sensitive (brazen, used to being bullies) - these I tend to engage directly in conversation. My tactic is to let them know not that I disapprove of their behaviour, but that an adult is in the picture: I'm watching and interested in what is going on with the group of children. That usually does the trick.

If the behaviour has escalated into direct bullying, I have no qualms about putting a stop to it and protecting the children - even the bullies - from the consequences of the behaviour. That's our job as adults.

Some families think it is pain to be around their children all the time. I don't. And my children (now adults) don't either. We made sure that the things we wanted to do as adults we could generally do with our children present; and vice versa. Some people may feel that it is too much of a sacrifice of our own time: if that is the case then I still believe it is hugely important that children are not left to fend for themselves, but to have a responsible person (old enough to understand that concept and be aware of consequences) that can 'look out' for them, at all times, until they are old enough to do it confidently for themselves.

This is what we want as adults: we want friends that will back us up, look out for us, warn us of danger, etc. In fact, as adults we demand this level of care and responsibility from the government, businesses, community centres, etc. Although we acknowledge 'caveat emptor', we insist that the welfare of everyone is everyone's responsibility, yet we expect little children to fend for themselves in the name of 'socialisation'.

So, if you need time to yourself, you need to find someone who can look out for your child in a responsible way. We arranged our lives so that we can do what we wanted and needed to, but in the same area as our children. We were on call, and happy to interrupt what we were doing to meet their needs, help them sort out problems, gently guide or supervise their activity (often from a distance, usually not directly involved in their play), answer their questions, offer new directions or ideas for play props (guiding and providing learning opportunities through play), etc. If you can, find someone who can do this for your children, even if only for a couple of hours a week. Or, if you work (even from home), for whatever time period is
necessary.

We saw this as part of our 24/7 commitment to our children as parents and home educators.

When my seven year old went to play with his friend - and occasionally I let him go with me and his siblings - the mother of his friend would allow them to watch unsuitable movies and head off for an hour or so into the nearby dunes with an air rifle. My son reported that his friend shot at birds as well as collected lizards. Once I found this out I made sure that he didn't visit his friend without me again. I explained to the mother and the child my opposition to guns (of any kind) and made sure that if the boys were watching movies or computer games there was an adult in the room with them.

This gave an opportunity to talk about the content. I have always found that children are keen to express their concerns about what they are watching and talk about the issues if adults are interested, rather than simply condemning in an authoritative tone. With my own sons we had a continuous dialogue about what I considered to be unsuitable content - they moderated their behaviour to please me (they didn't like to see me worried, concerned or upset) but still continued to do what they wanted but in an AWARE and critical way. As a result they learned to see the difference between fictionalized, unrealistic violence and real violence.

My seven year old continued to enjoyed his friendship with his friend. He experienced things he wouldn't have if I had simply said he couldn't play with this boy any more. His friend learned that other people have different values and standards and that some mums care enough to enforce them. Sure, he didn't like not having the same freedom to play with my son, but he was happy to accommodate our needs so that he could still play with his friend.

This is true socialisation! Learning how to get along with everyone, not just pleasing oneself.

My youngest is a very independent, strong character - a 'leader' - and this was apparent from an incredibly young age. He was the one that suffered most from the 'I want it my way' attitude that all children learn to overcome between the ages of 4-7 years.

As a teen and a young mum I observed that many children seemed to develop what I considered to be the very anti-social behaviour of being angels when in the presence of adults and holy terrors when the adults were out of sight (even at the age of 2!). I worked out that this seemed to happen most when their parents forced their toddlers to be 'nice' to others, even those that were ignoring their needs or hurting their feelings. Parents would tell their little ones that they had to accommodate the other children's needs first, that they had to share their toys, their parents, their personal space, etc, or they would be told off, disciplined and some were even punished. I wondered if forcing children to share from an early age made them insecure and taught them that people, especially other children, couldn't be trusted. I also wondered if this taught and reinforced in little children competitiveness - that they needed to compete with others, rather than cooperate, to have their needs met. The exact opposite of what the parents wanted to achieve!

So I didn't ask my children to share: not their toys, their space or their parents. I made sure there were plenty of toys to go around, and put away any special toys that my children valued when others came to visit. I guarded their private spaces - if they didn't want others to play in their bedrooms I closed the door and told everyone it was off limits. If my children needed my attention to ask a question or talk to me, I would interrupt my conversation. I wasn't perfect in doing this and it took me a long time to break my conditioned habits, especially as it was going against 'normal' parenting practice.

As I got better at 'protecting' my children, the result and rewards became obvious: people often commented on how well socialized my children were, how mature they were for their age, how polite and well mannered they were, and how happy they always seemed to be. But most of all people were amazed at how cooperative my children were.

Back to my youngest: we had a saying when he was a toddler - "let the wookie win". When his frustration built to the point of no return (about to become a tantrum) we'd often say "let the wookie win" and he'd get his way (so long as it didn't hurt others). By about age five he'd worked out how annoying this was, and that by getting his own way he was missing out on something important. He didn't know what it was - the opportunity to learn, which is something all children instinctively crave - but you could tell he wasn't happy with the way we caved in to his irrational behaviour. He moderated his behaviour. It didn't happen overnight. He began to see that getting his own way all the time wasn't normal behaviour - no one else in the family got their own way. The urge to be like others (socialisation) kicked in and he gradually stopped being demanding. I think we all go through this phase, but for strong, independent people who are natural leaders the need to
understand and work with the ego is much harder. We needed extra patience with this little fellow!

Everything I've written so far goes against what I was taught or told about how to parent as a child, teen and young mother. I worked out most of it by observing the behaviour of others and myself, questioning my own conditioned responses, and rejecting methods that I could clearly see weren't producing the desired results.

I did my best to shut out advice from well-meaning people, including my own parents and in-laws and siblings, that echoed the methods I knew didn't work. I muddled on and made lots of wrong turnings and back tracked all the time. I experimented with different ideas. My parenting wasn't consistent, even though I knew it was supposed to be. So I apologised often - almost every day - to my children for my inexpert and confused parenting. I explained to them why I did things, as well as why I changed the way I did things. And as adults now they all have a good grasp of what motivates
people, how people can change, what people need to feel okay about themselves, etc. They aren't perfect people - they have flaws and issues they have to work through and with, but they have an awesome sense of self-awareness and strong morals and values.

So I make no apologies for supervising my children, either closely or from a distance, for being there and making sure that what influenced their lives and development was in accordance with our values and beliefs. I make no apologies for protecting my children. I reject the notion that children should be left to grow each other up. It doesn't make sense. Children naturally look to adults for models to emulate - in nearly all of their games they pretend to be adults. They want to be involved in the world of adults - as much as they want to hang out and play with their friends.

Society has forgotten this need in children. We need to provide opportunities for both, and until children reach the age where they can confidently look after themselves in most situations, we need to hover, keep an eye on them, letting them know that if things get out of hand, we'll be there, not to rescue, but to model appropriate and constructive ways of handling the situation, demonstrating to them and others that it is possible to overcome these difficulties without getting hurt or hurting others.

© Beverley Paine

Become a member of the friendly Homeschool Australia Frequently Asked Questions email group. Visit Homeschool Australia to read more original articles on home education by Beverley Paine. No time to visit the site? Subscribe to the free Homeschool Australia Newsletter. Visit www.beverleypaine.com for a great range of homeschooling, unschooling and books on natural learning!"

Friday, May 08, 2009

Socialisation or Social Development - what do we want as homeschoolers for our children?

A home educating parent on the Australian Homeschool Yahoo group wrote: "There are so many ways we can correctly 'socialise' (goodness I hate that word!) children without school..."

The way the word is used and interpreted by educationalists bugs me too. It is because they (those that seek to 'approve' our homeschooling activity) define it as the ONLY aspect of social development - they lump everything to do with social development under that one word. Just shows how ignorant they are about child development really, doesn't it?

Socialisation is the process by which we learn how to belong and get alone within groups. This is necessary to our survival. Without adequate development of social skills - particularly intra-personal (getting to know one's self) and interpersonal (understanding our relationship with others) - socialisation can go seriously awry. We end up learning how best to cave into peer group pressure, undermine our moral development, lose touch with who we are, what we want, and even how to problem solve to reach win-win solutions in social situations.

Socialisation can have negative as well as positive consequences - we learn valuable lessons from both, and rightly so. Our aim as parents and educators is to keep these in balance, making sure that we focus on the holistic development of SOCIAL SKILLS. We can't do this in social isolation - it is impossible. However limiting exposure to unsupervised social situations in the first eight years of life appears to have more beneficial outcomes in most children than allowing children to socialise each other without appropriate and constant guidance.

Child-care, preschool and school based education pay too much attention to the socialisation aspects of social skills and not enough attention to the others. Children need to develop a healthy sense of self to develop resilient and healthy socialisation skills - this is best done when surrounded by people who they can trust have their best interests at heart - people who love them.

© Beverley Paine

Become a member of the friendly Homeschool Australia Frequently Asked Questions email group. Visit Homeschool Australia to read more original articles on home education by Beverley Paine. No time to visit the site? Subscribe to the free Homeschool Australia Newsletter. Visit www.beverleypaine.com for a great range of homeschooling, unschooling and books on natural learning!"

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Socialisation - Why it is easy to over do it when homeschooling

Over-stimulation through homeschool activities is one of the things I try to warn new homeschooling families about. We all do it – mostly because we’re worried about the socialisation factor. We feel guilty because we think we are depriving our children of friends because they aren’t at school. I’ve done a lot of thinking about this over the years and a LOT of looking at and observing children’s behaviour, mostly to work out in my own head why we feel this pressure to be so busy socially.

In tribal village life, which is what I think humans are best suited to, children play with each other when there is nothing else to do. Mostly children are engaged in activity that supports the survival of the family, tribe and village. They are involved in creating shelter, sourcing and preparing food and water, taking care of siblings and younger children while adults are busy and playing. They have relatively free access to a range of adults and children and naturally seek out what they need in order to develop holistically.

The way we live – in a nuclear family arrangement – means we don’t have the contact with a range of adults and children we need to learn the social rules of society naturally. We’re a couple of hundred years – 8 or 9 generations – removed from this experience in our society. Plus, the practice of schooling has effectively and deliberately removed any skills we may have had. Parenting is much harder for us because school interferes with the development of our parenting skills. Ever since the advent of mass compulsory schooling, teachers have had to gradually pick up more and more of the workload of parents as each successive generation ‘forgets’ natural social skills. As a result we’re confused and end up over compensating, or delegating the responsibility to people who probably have less skill than us (at least parenting skills develop over time, for decades most teachers and educators were childless spinsters or bachelors!)

We’ve been brainwashed into believing children need full on contact with other children to develop properly. We’ve been told this is best handled by trained adults during the hours of 9am to 3pm five days a week, or under adult supervision in controlled situations. We grow up believing this and nearly everyone around us – including homeschoolers – are convinced. Before school hammers this indoctrination into our heads with addictive socialisation. Around the fire tribal and family story telling that is personal and reflects village life has been replaced by story books, television programs and movies where fictionalized characters build a idealized version of socialisation. These stories are written not by the whole community, but by a tiny minority. Sometimes the agenda for the stories we grow up with was nothing more than profit or income, at other times it is a deliberate attempt at social engineering on a massive scale…

Add to that the inhuman pace of life we suffer from in our technological societies and it no wonder we crave a more simple, peaceful existence! And the immense loneliness that is a result of the effects of the first half of last century, where world wars, genocide and pandemics had a devastating effect on the way people live, scattering refugees across the planet, breaking bonds with land, culture and family, the very things that naturally socialize us.

Those of us brave enough to turn our back on this insane need to be with others every day, to be busy, to fill our lives with doing something to affirm our worth, and to carve out a different existence based on our instinctive needs, will find it unsettling and hard. My own experience has shown me that it doesn’t get any easier – even as the children grow into adults. Are we doing the right thing? It feels right in the right places in our hearts, minds and souls, but our conditioned intellect can’t help by worry.

We are right to try and resist the pressure but it is hard finding a balance that suits not only your social needs but also the social needs individual children in your family. Children need lots of time alone, lots of time with siblings, lots of time with parents and access to others in as many natural situations as possible. Too many homeschoolers try to replicate school without seriously questioning the reasoning behind why schools operate the way they do or considering the long term social outcomes of such an unnatural education. We fall back on our conditioning to create social opportunities for our children rather than thinking through what our children really need to thrive. By observing children, by taking my cue from them, from their needs, I’ve learned that they prefer to set the pace of their socialisation development in less contrived social situations, generally within family or extended family sized mixed gender and aged groups.

We need to go with what your instincts are telling us and shut out the nagging doubts or peer pressure to do otherwise!


© Beverley Paine

Become a member of the friendly Homeschool Australia Frequently Asked Questions email group. Visit Homeschool Australia to read more original articles on home education by Beverley Paine. No time to visit the site? Subscribe to the free Homeschool Australia Newsletter. Visit www.beverleypaine.com for a great range of homeschooling, unschooling and books on natural learning!"

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Homeschooling Resources for a Natural Learning Child

On the Learning Naturally online support group, Veronica wrote:
"This brings me to the question of resources. I see so many books and DVDs etc claiming to teach everything from ABCs to piano and I feel overwhelmed. Where do I start? Do I buy everything or nothing?"

The answer to that question for me is based on the answer to the question how much money can you really afford to spend? I think as parents we will be seduced into spending quite a bit because we feel insecure about our children's abilities to learn or our own abilities to help them learn. We've been trained from birth to feel this way, so it's only natural that we'll reach out for attractive gadgets and tools to help us. Some - many - of these resources will be brilliant and very helpful, but in essence very few of them are necessary.

There are many things to consider when evaluating purchasing educational resources. One article that appears in my Getting Started with Homeschooling book is on my Homeschooling Australia site here: http://homeschoolaustralia.com/articles/evaluatingmaterials.html.

But I'd go further than this now (I wrote that more than a decade ago). I base my natural education curriculum on a child's developmental needs - this covers all areas of their growth and development, not just academic and future work skill needs - which what the school curriculum targets.

For those that need a daily reminder, Robin has created a colourful fridge magnet of my natural education checklist. I put it together after spending a lot of time trying to think of ways to help parents feel reassured that their children are covering all of the school curriculum subjects by simply being children in a caring family and community environment.

How our children will 'turn out' depends as much on their genetic inheritance as it does the type of education and environment they experience. This is especially true in societies where children are naturally nurtured, are considered to be people with rights rather than property, and not routinely subject to famine and war, etc.

Genetic inheritance interplays with parental nurturing in so far that doctors' children often become doctors, builders' children tend to be handy people, mechanics' children are good at fixing things, and most girls grow up to be mums like their mums and boys grow up to be dads. Parents follow and pursue their own interests, as careers or hobbies, and children witness this - it is way more powerful than the stuff they learn at school because they already have some patterning for this coded in their cellular make-up. This natural tendency is powerfully reinforced. Sometimes it is expressed in a different way to how the parents express it - organisational skills exhibited by a librarian father might express as business skills in a media career in a child, or as a research scientist...

Our role as parents is to provide what our children seem to lean toward, while taking care to balance their developmental needs. Therefore a computer nut who loves to play games and tinkers with programming needs lots of hands-on time at the computer, but must have a couple of hours moving her whole body boisterously, preferably in fresh air. She will do her best work on the computer if she gets this daily dose of movement - it guarantees holistic development of the brain, not just bits of the brain!

Good (unpolluted) nutrition is probably far more important than the educational tools and gadgets we buy our children.

Cultural and social experiences are natural teachers of many skills. We usually don't realise how powerful they are transmitting information and skills and after the experience, and only then when we start to work out how our children learned what they suddenly start to perform!

Children learn most of what they know not from things but from people. People resources generally don't cost much... Few of us are socially equipped to be able to confidently access the people our children need to help them learn naturally. We might consider spending money on things to help us bolster our personal confidence and social skills that will help us develop a local social network - instead of children taking drama classes perhaps we need to! This social network is by far the most important tool our children will use and need when they reach their teens...

Back to nuts and bolts resources. Buy and make what you want but don't fool yourself into thinking that it is the resource that is working - it is the child that is working! A child will naturally reject a tool or resource that doesn't do the trick. As parents and educators we have very little way of knowing what trick our children are learning in any given moment of the day. This usually only becomes apparent after the learning has occurred!

I tried to provide my children with a huge smorgasbord of resources they could select from... and promptly felt annoyed that so many of the expensive or carefully crafted resources were under-utilised!

What did my children use most? The things we as parents used the most during the day... the tools we used to learn and create and care for ourselves, our animals and our property. They spent their days playing with a lovely assortment of play props (which I quickly learned could simply and cheaply stimulate natural learning in many curriculum areas). I spent my day hovering near their play, or playing with them and encouraging them to help me with the chores or become involved in our hobbies and interests.

Any toy or play prop that is open ended and can be used imaginatively will help your children learn a myriad of practical skills and abilities. Conversation is the best learning tool for gaining information and knowledge. Games - physical and intellectual - are essential. People are the most valuable resource - and have been for millennia regardless of what kind of society we live in!

So to sum up, back to my original point: buy, make, borrow or invent what you want to and let your children interact with those resources in whatever way takes their fancy. Don't feel disappointed if the resources don't do what you thought it would - it's probably working in some other way you might not fathom until days, weeks or years later! We only run into problems when we force children to use resources in particular ways for reasons unrelated to their immediate developmental needs 'for the sake of learning'.

© Beverley Paine

Become a member of the friendly Homeschool Australia Frequently Asked Questions email group. Visit Homeschool Australia to read more original articles on home education by Beverley Paine. No time to visit the site? Subscribe to the free Homeschool Australia Newsletter. Visit www.beverleypaine.com for a great range of homeschooling, unschooling and books on natural learning!"

Friday, April 03, 2009

It's okay to be a homeschooling feminist!

Years ago I was daring enough to volunteer the information that I was a feminist at a homeschool support group gathering. I was kind of shocked at the response. It polarised opinion and started a heated debate. The term 'femi-nazi' - something I'd never heard before and which deeply offended me - was casually tossed into the conversation... A couple of friends distanced themselves from me at future gatherings. Sadly I'm no longer in touch with them. 'Feminism' is a dirty word in some homeschooling circles. But that is what happens to words that become trendy - their meaning becomes distorted and abused.

Recently a good friend and mentor, Wendy Priesnitz, wrote a lovely long article which describes the type of feminist I am in the Natural Life magazine. I'll share with you a snippet from her article in the hope you'll feel intrigued to read it all, and better still, feel the need to read more of her writing. She's been an inspiration to me for more than a decade...

"One of the questions I asked almost 40 years ago – the one about paying for childcare in order to have a career and retain the feminist label – is still on my mind. These days, some feminists are working to solve that conundrum through the use of tax credits or other methods of financially rewarding caregiving parents; others believe higher quality childcare, workplace reform and better pay for childcare workers is the solution.

But there is, as I mused so many years ago, a third way. What if we overturned the male model of success that feminism adopted in creating equal opportunity for women? If we reject the idea that success is only about money, we can forge new attitudes toward what’s important in life. Challenging the notion that feminism relates only to equal opportunity within the workplace and can only be obtained by a full-time paying career is controversial, but there is a growing movement that questions the tradition that well-being is based totally on economics."

Read Wendy's article: http://www.naturallifemagazine.com/0906/unschooling_as_the_ultimate_feminist_act.htm

© Beverley Paine

Become a member of the friendly Homeschool Australia Frequently Asked Questions email group. Visit Homeschool Australia for more original content. No time to visit the site? Subscribe to the free http://groups.yahoo.com/group/HomeschoolAustraliaNewsletter. Visit www.alwayslearningbooks.com.au for a great range of homeschooling, unschooling and books on natural learning!"

Saturday, March 21, 2009

It's okay to love your children and homeschool!

Bob Collier sends me a wonderful e-newsletter - Parental Intelligence - every month or so, full of inspiring articles that both reassure and challenge me.

In the March 2009 issue he links to an article called "Banished! Are parents who follow their hearts left out in the cold?" by Robin Grille, an Australian psychologist and psychotherapist with over fifteen years of experience working with families. The article was included in Jan Hunt's excellent web site, The Natural Child.

The article points out that all too often parents who chose to nurture their children in very hands-on way are "are denounced, dissuaded or even shamed". I was accused of being an 'over-protective' parent or 'molly-coddling' my children. I was told they would grow up dependent and clingy, unable to socialise as children or adults. Guilt, insecurity and lack of confidence plagued me for years. Fortunately I'm a stubborn person and learned early to trust my heart, not listen to the thoughts and judgments of others. Over time my children showed me the truth: their behaviour slowly reinforced my belief that nurturing them as I myself would want to be nurtured as a child was (and is) the best policy.

This 'natural' style of parenting is still rubbished by many, especially when it is expressed by parents who opt to home educate their children. Among 'natural learners' I find many families who find it difficult to socialise with 'normal' families. It is true, my children did it find it difficult to play with children who were overly competitive, followed fads without thinking, disobeyed their parents, bullied each other and who needed to change the game every thirty minutes. Used to enjoying the company of their siblings they found it hard to hang out with children who told them it was uncool to be friends with one's brother or sister. And it is also true for parents. It can be hard to not say something when one's friend always wants to go to fast food restaurants for family outings, or who verbally abuses his child for not 'winning' on the sports field. Eventually, we just stopped socialising with people whose values didn't match our own.

Which left us a little bit isolated for a long while. Fortunately the internet came along for our family at just the right time. We connect with many families via the internet, especially via my Yahoo group http://groups.yahoo.com/group/learningnaturally/. It only one of many networks for families like ours on the internet. Even though sometimes it is hard to organise physical play dates for our families, talking about how we experience the world, our parenting worries and joys, helps us feel less isolated.

Every week more people join my yahoo group and ask about how to make the switch to a more child and human friendly parenting style. I take comfort that little by little the world is changing to a more caring, responsive place.

© Beverley Paine

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Should we worry about achieving 'school' outcomes with natural learning?

A question came up - 'How are all schooling outcomes achieved?' with learning naturally.

Have to admit, this one bothered me for years, but I battled on, questioning the need to achieve schooling outcomes in the first place. I think if I'd tried to achieve them we wouldn't have been learning naturally at all anyway.

My approach might be seen as a cop out, and easy way to avoid answering the question, but in hindsight it was definitely the right way to approach it - for our family anyway.

With learning naturally we set goals for our children the same as any parent would. But more importantly, we honour the goals our children set for themselves. In addition, we work WITH the raw material in hand - the nature, disposition, temperament, personality and abilities of the child. Instead of trying to fit the child into a curriculum determined by others we fit the curriculum around the child.

You can't use an 'off the shelf' curriculum with a natural learning approach to education. You can use bits and pieces as necessary. Natural learning doesn't mean abandoning school methods of learning - it means using whatever tools are most appropriate for the job in hand for as long as necessary to get the job done.

Some children will pick up a maths text book and spend a couple of minutes learning a technique for calculating that is needed for a building or art project. Other learning naturally children might select the algebra components from a series of maths text books because they are exploring electronic engineering (this is what my son did - he also enrolled in an electronic engineering distance ed course).

We set our own 'outcomes' and wrote our own curriculum. For 'approval' purposes (registration) we worded them in a way that school teachers can understand. It wasn't hard to cover the knowledge and skills taught by the school curriculum when drawing on the whole of life at home and in the community for inspiration and resources!

Having set and written down our own goals and mapped out a plan for achieving them, the next step was getting on with life and rejigging our 'plan' to reflect all the learning activity happening. I'm a huge fan of recording home educating life: it is because of my rather haphazard records that my confidence in determining our own curriculum rather than needing to achieve school outcomes grew.

There were days and weeks I despaired that the children weren't getting a 'good education': checking back through my diaries and recording pages demonstrated in minutes the huge amount of activities my children engaged in, the stunning complexity of knowledge they were exposed to and picking up (and retaining), and how far their skills and abilities had progressed over the last couple of months.

What really helped though was the comments from people we'd just met - they couldn't get over how informative, talented, motivated and pleasantly natured our children were. We'd get comments about 'mature for their age' and lots of questions about how we had somehow avoided the kinds of problems that beset other parents, particularly through the teenage years.

I'm glad I questioned the validity of achieving school outcomes for my children. When I look around at the educational level of the majority of children leaving the school system I'm glad that we protected our children from such haphazard outcomes.

My children are now aged 22, 26 and 28. Our eldest had what we call a 'hybrid' education, with quite a bit of part-time and four years of full time school. The youngest was not exposed to school at all. I volunteered at school in the classroom for many years while my children attended part-time, was a member of School Council and attended a professional development days in the school staffroom. While home educating I undertook university studies in early childhood education. My best friends during those years were trained teachers. I've read three different Australian curriculum guidelines from start to finish.

Although I found this much interaction with schools challenging and it often undermined my confidence in learning naturally, my children's continuous progress and the absence of problems my friends had to encounter everyday in the school system, convinced me we were on the right track, for our family anyway.

© Beverley Paine

You may reprint the above article provided you include this information:
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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Why a National Curriculum won't fix the woes of a school education

On my Homeschool Australia Frequently Asked Questions Yahoo group recently Rebecca wrote:
"I have found that schools can be a bit "one size fits all". In the cloths industry 'one size fits all' certainly doesn't fit all, so why should it be any different in the school system."

This started a train of thought that led to the implementation of a National Curriculum, and how effective it would be in achieving the goals the politicians and educationalists set out.

And how many times have we tried on a size 14 in one style or shop and then another size 14 somewhere else and they were completely different sizes? I've found this to be especially true with shoes. My menfolk have found that within the one make, on the one shelf, one size of boot can vary from a size to small too as size too large.

Even if the National Curriculum goes ahead and is embraced by all states and all schools there will still be huge differences in how the curriculum is applied at the school and classroom level. How a topic is taught and what children will learn from it won't be uniform even within schools, as is presently the case, as each teacher teaches differently.

The 'one size fits all' issue within the school system is not that students are taught the same material in the same way, but that students are treated as though they all learn in the same way. It is impractical for schools to offer students learning programs based on their learning styles and needs suited to the individual developmental progress. What happens is that schools aim at a median - somewhere
below the average ability of the class, so that everyone more or less progresses at the same rate in a manageable way.

I can't see that changing while the teacher to student ratio remains economically viable. It's my opinion that to teach using individual learning programs we need a ratio closer to six students per adult, for all age groups.

That's one reason why home education is so successful - the children have contact with many more adults that schooled children do. The idea that homeschooled children are cooped up with only one adult throughout the week is a by and large a myth. Yes, it does and can happen, but it hasn't stopped school of the air students from becoming successful and well-adjusted adults - that system of education/socialisation has been accepted by the community for a century.

© Beverley Paine

You may reprint the above article provided you include this information:
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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Failing Handwriting at School

What surprised me about handwriting is the genetic component. No-one talks about that much. I disciplined my daughter at age eight for writing in her father's photo album containing photos of his trip from England to Australia made in 1966. On closer inspection I realised that the pencilled captions had been written by him - their handwriting style was identical at the same age! That taught me a huge lesson about the development of handwriting.

The only subject I failed at school (before year 12) was handwriting in grade 5. I was devastated and cried all the way home. I thought my parents would be upset, but they didn't seem to notice. My sister had failed maths at year 8 level and that was much more of a tragedy to them. I strove throughout school to win the approval of my parents and teachers. Learning wasn't about my future; it was about making sure I satisfied my parents and teachers and that they were happy and, most important of all, approved of me.

School damaged me. Decades later I'm still feeling the effects and reacting to the conditioning laid down in those years, but especially to the manipulation of motivation. And every so often I get one of those dreadful 'school' dreams where I'm back at school, trying hard to please people...

I was, and still am, an excellent student but educating my own children at home has convinced me that school didn't produce that - I began school with innate abilities and these are what made my schooling successful. I responded well to brilliant teachers (who wouldn't?) and scraped through with the dreadful ones. I took from school what interested me and polished that. I have largely forgotten anything that I didn't find interesting at the time or never used as an adult.

My family life looms large in my memory as a 50 year old - the holidays we took, playing with my brother in the back garden during the holidays, games with the neighbours' kids after school, the long summer evenings without a tv playing card games with my parents, Brownies and Girl Guides, the rock and mineral club. I can recall snippets of school - largely recess and lunchtimes and the odd few teachers but very few lessons. I realise that my knowledge and abilities today stem from what happened outside of school and my experiences as an adult, rather than the education I received. Some elements, such as the 'hidden curriculum', had more of an effect - although I tend to thing this is caused more from generational than educational factors.

Failing handwriting (back then we had to learn to write with nibbed pen and inkwell - not for any sane reason, just did) is a vivid memory of distress. I learned from my parents' reaction that no-one really cares how neat one's writing is so long as one passes maths.

However, at year 12 level it was stated on the matriculation exams that illegible handwriting would result in an automatic fail. I think most of us were getting close to that after writing five essays in a couple of hours...

So much of what we do in life is just plain silly. I still haven't worked out why we force ourselves and others to do silly things.

© Beverley Paine

You may reprint the above article provided you include this information:
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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Home Education Association Inc. Launches 2009 Resource Directory


Oh behalf of the Home Education Association Beverley Paine is pleased to announce the launch of the 2009 Resource Directory.

In additional to being a useful resources guide for homeschooling families, the Directory includes articles of interest to families considering teaching their children at home for the first time.

HEA members have each received a complimentary copy of the Directory, together with a colour poster and information about home education leaflets as part of the HEA’s promotion of Home Education Week, which will be held from the 16th to 22nd of February.

The 2009 Resource Directory is available for $5.95 from the HEA: visit the website www.hea.asn.au; or contact The Secretary, HEA Inc, 4 Bruce St, Stanmore NSW 2048; email secretary@hea.asn.au; or phone 1300 72 99 91 to inquire about ordering your copy or copies for your homeschool group.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Why I joined the Home Education Association of Australia

I joined (this is my second time) because I believed that a national organisation would benefit homeschooling in Australia. Plus I have a lot of energy to give away and wanted to work with other people. I've given a lot of time and energy over the years to supporting and promoting home education but mostly on my own. I wanted to work with others with the same goals and interests as myself, particularly so that I could learn how to work efficiently within a cooperative environment. I'm always learning!

I tend to jump in at the deep end with community involvement and volunteered to be on the committee. Other members volunteer in other ways, but most members don't get involved in the running of the organisation. The HEA sends out a bi-monthly (or thereabouts) newsletter, and is about to start producing a bi-monthly homeschooling
magazine in the alternative months too. That's my main interest, plus as I organise the odd event I take advantage of the volunteer insurance offered by the policy the HEA has taken out.

I've always found that it is hard to gauge the benefits of an organisation until one needs information, products or services (benefits) personally. Most of the time when I've been a member of something I've not had to use the services and that has led to me questioning the value of remaining a member. I dropped out of one organisation a couple of years ago and then, within months, suddenly needed information from them, so rejoined.

For me, the main benefit of being a member of the HEA is that I can part of an organisation that has over 800 homeschooling families as members. Being able to 'talk' to them through the newsletter, and to get feedback from them, is reassuring. Even after two decades of homeschooling experience I find that I still have much to learn about home education from these families. It is the sharing of information and the sense of belonging that keeps me 'at the coal face'.

Plus, I like the idea of belonging to something this is enduring, that won't disappear next week, or when the homeschooled children grow up or families move on.

Not everyone will find being a member beneficial or useful, and some people will have had negative experiences, either as members or not as members. That is the nature of organisations. It is hard to meet the needs of everyone in a 'family' without considerable compromise. When I was younger I would have found this annoying and would have been a lot more demanding.

© Beverley Paine

You may reprint the above article provided you include this information:
"Have a homeschooling question? Become a member of the friendly Homeschool Australia Frequently Asked Questions email group. Visit Homeschool Australia for more original content. No time to visit the site? Subscribe to the free http://groups.yahoo.com/group/HomeschoolAustraliaNewsletter. Visit www.alwayslearningbooks.com.au for a great range of homeschooling, unschooling and books on natural learning!"