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

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