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

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!"

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:
"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!"

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:
"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!"