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
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