Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Can Schools Teach Empathy?

A friend posted a link to an article about teaching children empathy on Natural Learning Australia today.

The focus on 'success' at the start of the article brought to my attention Can Schools Teach Empathy instantly put me on guard. I have a lot of trouble with that word... I don't want my children (or me) to be successful. And I don't necessarily want us to be happy either. I know that we can't be both all the time but education sets up to have the expectation that it is possible if only we work or try hard enough and if we don't reach those goals there is something wrong with us. If we don't believe that (which is soul destroying stuff), we end up believe it is 'not our fault' and fall into the blaming/victim game.

'Be kind' is a 'nice' rule but some people define kindness differently. If I had to have one rule I'd chose 'be respectful'. Less open to being patronizing.

Schools have to teach these things - empathy, respect, ethics, morals - because one of the basic tenets of an institutionalized education system is to assume they don't have them in the first place - this is incredibly disrespectful and most kids are so confused by this they decide that what they do know and understand must be wrong and ditch it. In effect they become the 'blank slates' the school system assumes they are... This translates into more jobs, creation of more 'innovative' resources, more buildings, etc. Education is an industry with a vested interested in dumbing kids down. What saddens me is that almost everyone in the system truly believes they are doing the best they can to help children.

And the story concludes with a reference to the 'dog-eat-dog world' - another myth perpetuated by those who need to be in positions of power to do 'good'. Human nature is not enhanced by protectionist behaviour that promotes fearful attitudes. If we accept that children have advanced empathy from birth (that's obvious isn't it?) and learn from them how to repair and enhance our damaged empathic ability to build a world where bullying and intimidation aren't the norm.

Another fault I find with the thinking behind this article is the assumption that 'good' will prevail. I find 'good' a wishy-washy word, over used and not at all well-defined. Better to say what we need, actually find words which describe as accurately and precisely as possible what those needs are. 'It can't be good for me unless it is good for others' says very little at all. 'If it doesn't help me achieve my goal of feeling safe, then it won't help others feel safe' or 'Biting hurts me so I won't bite others because I don't like hurt'. Be specific. Good is a value laden word with moralistic overtones - too easy to misuse and confuse, especially young minds.


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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Reassuring the Education Authorities with 'Evidence' of Learning - Recording Homeschooling

Leanne asked: "Are you really required to keep such school-like records to satisfy the government?"

Many families find it helps to keep records in an organised way throughout the year as it makes pulling a review and learning plan for the next year less daunting, plus - and more importantly - helps to maintain and build confidence that their children are progressing. Records can also help to defuse 'concern' shown by extended family and reassure working parents who don't see the huge amount of learning that happens throughout the day.

Generally speaking the authorities require to see evidence that education is actually taking place. Because the officers who handle home education registration and exemption applications are (for the most part) teacher trained, this usually means they want some kind of documentation, usually on paper. It is what they know and it reassures them.

Some people manage to fit their learning program on a couple of pages and some states (such as South Australia) provide fill-in-the-blank forms to complete. Other people provide a lot more. One family I knew wrote 13 pages covering the different educational programs for her four children and was told not to 'write
a thesis next time'... Less detail definitely seems to be preferred!

The 'evidence' doesn't have to be much... but it does have to be enough to demonstrate that your children are actually getting educated. For example, whatever you provide should show educational progress, this is why it is important to date 'work' samples or examples of learning (photos, videos, etc). Three pieces of writing collected every four months would be enough to show progress in some areas - perhaps composition skills, grammar, spelling - or the progression of logical thinking or problem solving skills. That one piece of writing could be from one subject area or cover several - all depends on the topics. The topics could be unrelated too but still show progress in one or more skill areas.

I kept anything mathematical my children produced (which as unschoolers wasn't a lot) - it showed that they were thinking mathematically and developing, testing and using their own calculating and problem solving strategies. Often these were 'workings out' on scrap pieces of paper or charts, maps, rules for games, etc.

We had 'scrapbooks' I pasted our meagre collection of 'records' into - at first, in the early years, there was one for each subject for each child, but as time progressed it became one big scrapbook for each child. I wrote comments in the scrapbook, largely to remind me of the situation or the insight or developmental
milestone the collected item represented. We also had a photo album that showed the children working and playing with other children (socialisation!)

My experience leads me to believe the paperwork is purely only used to reassure the authorities that you are aware of the responsibility you are taking on. From their perspective, if they are 'approving' someone to educate their children at home they need to be sure they aren't approving someone who is going to neglect
their children's educational, developmental and social needs. The way I see it, giving us permission means they take on some of the responsibility for the outcome... So basically the paperwork really only means that they've done their duty.

I developed my Weekly Homeschooling Diaries and Learning Naturally Diaries to help reduce and simplify the amount of record keeping for families, especially unschooling families. I personally think that jotting down notes about what the children are learning and doing should only take 5-10 minutes a day at the most. That was enough to reassure me and my husband and my kids, and over the year it amounted to a much more impressive 'report' and collection of evidence than we ever received from a school teacher...



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If you haven’t already done so, please think about joining our Homeschool Australia FAQ, it is a friendly, on-topic homeschool Yahoo group. We encourage people to share information and tips, as well as reviews on favourite homeschooling resources and where to get them. And,
of course, to ask questions about any and all aspects of home education! To join send an email to HomeschoolAustraliaFAQ-subscribe@yahoogroups.com or visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/HomeschoolAustraliaFAQ.

Our Learning Naturally Yahoo Group aims to cooperatively widen our understanding of how learning occurs naturally in the home and community, and to share advice, tips, trials and tribulations so that we may all grow! We want to help dispel some of the myths that are out there about Natural Learning and Unschooling and make it easier for everyone to capitalise on these approaches as home educators. To join send an email to: learningnaturally-subscribe@yahoogroups.com, or visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/learningnaturally.
And once subscribed, don’t forget to post an introduction and begin asking questions, sharing tips and ideas, etc!

Please become a ‘fan of our Homeschool Australia page by copying and pasting this very long url into your browser... http://www.facebook.com/pages/Homeschool-Australia/102822156428377?ref=ts.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

National Home Education Week WIN WIN WIN


WIN A FAMILY TRIP FOR FOUR TO ATTEND CAMPFEST 2012 in Albury - Attend the online daily conferences and workshops and receive a FREE entry for every workshop attended.



Do you want to know more about Home Education? Homeschooling is a legal and viable education alternate for Australian families. Join us to find out more and to get your questions answered.

National Home Education Week will occur during the week of 21st – 25th November 2011 and is a joint collaboration between Jenni Domansky of Australian Homeschool Network and Beverley Paine of Homeschool Australia.
Everyone is Welcome.
Thousand of Australian families are choosing to Home Educate their children. With numbers rising annually, this week-long series of daily information sessions will be invaluable for getting answers to your questions.
This event will be conducted online in the Australian Homeschool Network Online Chat Room and access will be available to ALL Australians – regardless of location. There will be daily online workshops and forums for anyone that is considering Home Education or for those who are new to Home Education and wanting to get more information.

For more details or to register your interest email nationalhomeedweek@gmail.com
 





National Home Education Week is Very Proudly Sponsored by the following Australian Homeschool Networks and Business's:Please offer them your support whenever possible.





What I am Reading Today - Saturday's Thoughts on Education and Parenting


Some thoughts on the need for approval from a reply I posted on Homeschooling / Unschooling / Home Education... all things Unplugged! yesterday: 
Kids only want approval if they are conditioned/trained to want it. If we don't teach our children to need or want approval then they don't seek it. Kids want support, recognition, acknowledgement, etc, not approval. They know they don't need our approval to feel okay about themselves and what they do.
Sometimes children's passions and interests line up with those of their parents, sometimes they don't. It is only natural for parents' interests and passions to be scaffolds for learning for children - no harm in that unless the parent restricts the children's activities. Children who are restricted in having their own learning needs met soon show resistance - this can be demonstrated as adverse behaviour, illness, boredom, depression, unhappiness. Parents who love their children seldom let their children fester in these states for very long - they encourage and support their children to pursue their own interests and passions.

I’m always learning and my online conversations with friends are one of my best learning tools. Today I had an insight about an important lesion I’m currently learning after reading Wendy’s blog called Cynicism is a Form of Resistance.  

Great blog on ‘open source learning’ from Radio Free School picks up on the free courses offered by Stanford University I mentioned the other day and quotes another favourite author, John Taylor Gatto.

And finally, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Free Range Food - How Do You Do It and Does It Work? by Teresa Graham Brett. Food is a sensitive issue for many parents because the health of our children depends on the quality of what goes in – this is true not only of food but many other things. And this constant focus can lead to a great deal of stress as well damaging feelings of guilt. We allowed our children relatively free range to food without going the whole way – I still controlled the purchases and would maneuver them away from what I considered undesirables while shopping. I wish I’d been more adventurous and less insecure though… Hindsight is great isn’t it? Luckily there is a lot more support for adventurous parents nowadays. If you are already on the unschooling/life learning path, consider adding free range food to your family diets. It is never too late – in fact, I’m going to give up feeling guilty and start totally free ranging myself as from today! 

cheers
Beverley
Homeschool Australia
proudly affiliated with Always Learning Books

Thursday, August 25, 2011

What I am Reading Today - Thursday's Thoughts on Education

I am feeling revived and revitalized after reading Laura’s blog, A Day Like No Other – really puts my problems into perspective!

What I love most about learning is that I am constantly reminded that everything that I have learned so far isn’t necessarily fact or truth: anything can change and frequently does! Black Death study lets rats off the hook: A study by an archaeologist looking at the ravages of the Black Death in London, in late 1348 and 1349, has exonerated the most famous animal villains in history.

In the northern hemisphere summer holidays are over and it is the first week or so of school. Millions of children will be starting school for the first time. Our family were lucky: we discovered home education before our eldest turned six and when we did venture onto the school grounds we picked a school that let us attend with our children – homeschool at school! My thoughts echo those of one of my all-time-favourite home education authors, Wendy Priesnitz,   I live for the day when the supports are in place so that children can maintain the close physical and emotional attachment they need as long as necessary, and are given the freedom to explore the world at their own pace...no matter what their age.” Read the rest of her blog The First Day of School and explore the rest of her thoughtful and informative website: www.wendypriesnitz.com

I had to pass on this link to the Essential Parenting site – it says in a nutshell many of the parenting practices I feel I learned the hard way through experience!

And another  site worth taking a peep at is Early Play Australia, which aims to be "a great place to connect all those involved in early childhood in Australia".

And this is for everyone who asks me if their homeschooled children will be able to get into university, etc… Education is changing, faster than our school system can handle. Every year I read about tertiary courses and subjects being made available free through online learning. Stanford University is now offering limited certificate courses for free.  “We want to open our lectures and bring education to places that can’t be reached today, to people that haven’t had access to higher education,” said Professor Sebastian Thrun, artificial intelligence lecuture from the engineering science department at Stanford University. 124,000 students have enrolled in his free class…Stanford for Everyone: More Than 120,000 Enroll in Free Classes. 
  
Until tomorrow, 
all the best
Beverley

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What I am Reading Today - Thoughts on Education


So many great stories and links come across my desk each day that I want to share with everyone and I thought, why not add them as a blog page? 

‎"Good job!" is the worst kind of praise. By Jim Taylor, Ph.D....
My favourite quote from the article: “…
you don't need to praise them at all. The best thing you can do is simply highlight what they did.” That just about sums it up for me! Common sense prevails. An excellent tip on exactly what to say when that inane and probably damaging praise is about to tumble from our mouths.  

blogs.smithsonianmag.com
"Most schools follow a model designed for an industrial economy. Can our education system foster the creativity and collaboration needed in a digital world?" This article argues that we need to focus "on teaching digital literacy, not so much how to use the tools—the kids could teach that—but how to use them to develop ideas and express themselves responsibly." Follow the links to videos, which include some by Sir Ken Robinson

LAST year 195 Gold Coast children were registered for home schooling as parents attempt to combat a growing culture of schoolyard bullying, misbehaviour and limited teacher-student contact.Another Aussie media story about home education!

Research suggests immaturity is confused with disorder – and many children could be misdiagnosed. Essential reading for parents of toddlers and preschoolers... I have long suspected this - we have become so accustomed to reducing everything down to a list of symptoms we are losing sight of the big picture - children should be allowed to get on with simply being children! We are in such a hurry to churn out adults that we make the same mistake with our adolescent children too. A timely and important article - essential reading for parents of pre-school aged children. 

Latest issue of the Parental Intelligence Newsletter! Always a great collection of relevant articles and a great read – thanks Bob! 

That's all for today - don't have the time to read anything else! 
cheers



Monday, August 15, 2011

A Question About Age Appropriate Chores for Children


Jude asked:  "How do you know what amount of chores are reasonable for each age/stage/child?"

I think we all tend to think our children are capable of a lot more than they really are. Children are in a hurry to grow up and most of the time their parents (and other adults) are in just as much a hurry... One of the best things about home education for our family was that it helped us slow down so that we made time for the really important things in life, such as being, working and playing together.

Like most parents I asked my children to do things I thought they should be able to do and was stumped when they either didn't do them, didn't want to do them, got grumpy, acted bored, started crying, became irrationally angry, fought with their siblings, etc. What actually was happening was that they didn't know how to do the task I'd given them or they actually couldn't do it on their own and needed help.

Helping our children is teaching our children. Helping them do chores teaches them a lot more than simply doing chores.

My children taught me (the hard way!) that I need to look at them as individuals when considering what they could and couldn't do. Age came into it a bit, but learning styles and personality much more.

Tidying their rooms was probably my hardest lesson. In the end I gave up and simply did it myself, asking them to help out in small ways. What I later discovered was that this was actually only giving them manageable tasks, things they could reasonably accomplish. I also manipulated the environment so that it was much easier for my children to find things and put them away afterwards (shelves instead of cupboards and drawers, many of them labeled, some with pictures as well as words). We didn't have too many things either: the children didn't have oodles of toys and clothes so it was fairly simple to keep these under control. They had high bunk beds which meant they had doonas which made it easier for them to make their beds. My aim was to create an environment in which it was easier for them to look after their own things. We also had a few rules, such as there always had to be a clear path through whatever game was being played on the floor at the end of the day, just in case I needed to get to them in the night. Another one was that they couldn’t have more than one game or set of toys in one area at the same time (unless they were being used for the same game).

Most days the children helped with preparing dinner. They got their own breakfast and lunch. I didn't ask them to do the dishes as a chore (I'd been forced as a child to do this) but if I did ask I expected help. What I found was that because we didn't have a list of chores for each child when we asked them for help they were usually willing. But again, I think this worked because we helped them with the tasks we asked them to do, especially when they were younger, rather than making them do them on their own.

Involving the children in the day-to-day work of living in a house together from an early age is something children naturally expect:  if we do everything for them they learn to be entertained and waited on! But if we do things with them they watch and learn and naturally get better at doing them. In time they build confidence in their ability to take on the responsibility of doing tasks on their own.

I don't think it is unreasonable to ask a toddler to help you. Just keep in mind that he is helping you, not working for you!

The older and more capable children get the more they look forward to being given responsibility. You'll know if you're asking too much or giving them too much - they will show signs of stress. Just back off a little, talk to them about the task, tell your reasons for wanting them to help you, if there are any problems you've not thought of, etc.



If you liked this article you'll enjoy Jan Hunt's Ten Ways We Misunderstand Children, an excellent and well written succinct article that goes to the heart of the matter.


If you haven’t already done so, please think about joining our Homeschool Australia FAQ, it is a friendly, on-topic homeschool Yahoo group. We encourage people to share information and tips, as well as reviews on favourite homeschooling resources and where to get them. And,
of course, to ask questions about any and all aspects of home education! To join send an email to HomeschoolAustraliaFAQ-subscribe@yahoogroups.com or visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/HomeschoolAustraliaFAQ.

Our Learning Naturally Yahoo Group aims to cooperatively widen our understanding of how learning occurs naturally in the home and community, and to share advice, tips, trials
and tribulations so that we may all grow! We want to help dispel some of the myths that are out there about Natural Learning and Unschooling and make it easier for everyone to capitalise on these approaches as home educators. To join send an email to:
learningnaturally-subscribe@yahoogroups.com, or visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/learningnaturally.
And once subscribed, don’t forget to post an introduction and begin asking questions, sharing tips and ideas, etc!

Please become a ‘fan of our Homeschool Australia page by copying and pasting this very long url into your browser... http://www.facebook.com/pages/Homeschool-Australia/102822156428377?ref=ts.