Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Growing a Forest in our Backyard!



By Beverley Paine

In 1987, I watched a series on television about the threat of nuclear war and the polluting effects of nuclear energy and shortly afterwards read a book that detailed the horrors of chemical and biological warfare. The graphic images and disturbing statistics haunted me for weeks. This fear ran counter to my optimistic nature and I fought its depressive grip with a stronger weapon - the instinctive need to survive. What could I, an ordinary person with problems of my own, do to change situations decided by greedy and short-sighted governments?

I knew I had to do something, but that it had to be an affirmative action that supported life. I knew that, to remain sane, I needed to make a difference where I lived and set examples my family and friends could emulate.

An interstate holiday which included hundreds of kilometres of travelling through forested areas devastated by die-back from causes which were, at the time, unknown, convinced me that without trees life on our planet was fragile, if not doomed. Luckily, that year I was introduced to two wonderful organisations, Permaculture and Trees For Life. Both promoted life-affirming activities and operated at the grass roots level. Dedicated volunteers espoused sustainable visions and worked toward changing the way people think about the world. I became hooked, with enough positive action to keep my imaginative brain busy for years.

Permaculture is wonderful as a concept, but hard to achieve in practice. It demands a total change in perspective and challenges old values, beliefs and patterns of behaviour. I will never cease to learn about how to live sustainably! Trees For Life, on the other hand, gave me instant success and a feeling that I could, with minimal effort, make a real contribution.

Thus began our odyssey into tree growing as volunteer growers for Trees For Life. Over the summer months our backyard would turn into a miniature forest as thousands of trees germinated and grew, often as tall as two feet, in boxes of plastic tubes. Every day we would carefully water, prick out weeds and remove hungry bugs. One year, a box of wattles disliked the mains-water, as it came directly from the Murray River, and showed signs of dying. We watered them separately with our precious rainwater and watched them thrive.

Growing trees isn't a lot of work, but committing up to seven months of each year can be hard. If we left "our babies" with someone else for a week, we would worry. It doesn't take long for a forest to die at this stage of life. We've grown trees for farms in the south-east region, the Adelaide Hills, Fleurieu Peninsula, and Kangaroo Island and many hundreds for our own property.

In 1988, we purchased and began to revegetate a four and a half-acre property. We continue to plant trees and under-storey species about the property each year. As our forest grows taller and bushier, it begins to look healthier. Natural regeneration of ground-covers and small shrubs has begun. Our aim is to grow our own small piece of bush-land, which we can enjoy with friends, other forest enthusiasts and local wildlife. Although not yet mature, it is populated with many different species of birds, lizards and insects, as well as echidnas, possums and kangaroos.

When the fear rises strongly within me, and I begin to feel there is nothing that we, as a species, can do to repair or stop the global damage we are causing, I go for a short walk, breathe in the fragrant eucalypt air and listen to the wind in the forest in our backyard.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Comparison, competition, socialisation, natural learning and parenting


 
“The thing I struggle with is the competitiveness. Everything seems to be measured and tested and then it makes you feel like you are failing because you are not at the same level as someone else. Tania

When my children were young this bugged me too Tania, so I started to think about it. At the heart of competitiveness is comparison and at the heart of that is wondering what other people think of us. I worked out that this is essential to growth and development: it is socialisation, pure and simple. What other people talk about when using the word socialisation is that thing that happens at school and then the workplace, which is only a subset of the whole socialisation process and which has been corrupted to suit a particular goal, rather than a set of holistic goals.

Socialisation is part of the social development process. One of our basic needs as humans is to 'belong': without a social group we die. We can't look after ourselves as babies, so we need parents. That's our first socialising process: learning to work with our parents so that our needs are met so that we survive and thrive. And we work overtime, smiling and imitating them, making sure we 'fit in' as best we can with the family culture so that we'll continue to be nurtured.

As we grow we meet other people important to our survival: family members. And then friends, other care providers, strangers... With each of them we need to make sure we will survive the encounter, which means working out what is needed from us in order to stay safe, protected and hopefully nurtured. Bit by bit we learn that it is important to modify our behaviour in order to get our needs met. That's socialisation at work. Learning how to belong and operate within social groups.

Comparison is one of the tools in our socialisation tool box. Humans are more alike than different but we're primed to notice differences because that's the direction from which threats usually arrive! And our social training continues to enhance this primal survival need (think of all those 'spot the difference puzzles' you did as a child!) As we get to know each other we naturally notice the differences; some differences work to meet our needs more efficiently so we experiment with them and adopt them if they fit or work.

I watched three year old April become transformed after playgroup as she took on the personality of her friend: for an hour she was Shawn, imitating his movement, his voice, his behaviour. The likeness was uncanny and disturbing. She'd been sufficiently impressed by him to 'play' him for a while. Instead of panicking (Shawn was a handful!) I observed carefully. April didn't adopt his characteristics and behaviour wholesale, she picked the bits that suited her developing personality and which worked to meet her needs. Shawn was more assertive than April: I'm sure 'playing' him helped her find her assertive voice.

We all do this: mimic the behaviour and actions of others we value. It's part of our cultural heritage and something we value highly. We're always telling our youth how important it is to find 'great' mentors, heroes we can look up to and emulate, etc. We compare ourselves to them, spot the difference, evaluate the difference and see if we can apply that knowledge to enhancing our lives, becoming the people we want to be.

Where does all this go astray? By being told we need to become people we 'should' or 'ought' to be, rather than who we already are and will naturally become! Reward and punishment become externalised: from birth children reward and punish themselves naturally as part of the growth process and it isn't a big deal because it is natural and necessary. They don't need external motivators: their sense of well-being is an authentic guide to what needs to be done to survive and thrive. Bit by bit though we erode this inner guide, eventually shattering their confidence in their ability to tell right from wrong, appropriate from inappropriate, what works from what doesn't work to meet their needs.

We've been programmed to do this because it is easy to control and manage populations of people if they don't have confidence in their own natural learning abilities.

Comparison is natural and makes sense. Competition is natural and makes sense too. Children inherently know and understand the nature of competition. It is an extremely effective and valuable learning tool. From birth they compete against their existing ability in order to grow: they naturally take risks. These risks are calculated: from their comparisons they have a reasonable idea of what would happen if they did this or thought that... and then they need to test their assumptions. “I can jump this puddle. My friend can jump a big puddle. How far can I jump?” Jumping is a game – that's what we as parents see, but the child is growing, testing, learning, comparing and competing.

Bring extrinsic reward and punishment (once extrinsic reward is established the absence of reward becomes an effective punishment) into the picture and children stop performing to grow and develop naturally but to do it to get the reward or avoid the punishment. It is no longer centred on their needs: it has stopped being a holistic socialisation process. It is now about pleasing others in order to belong to the group. Natural comparison and competition is corrupted to placate the needs of others. And these needs are often assumed rather than real: few people know what they need, though many can tell you want they want and it is usually based on what others want... what the popular trend is currently dictating as 'need'.

As parents we don't need to shun comparisons or competition but we do need to understand them and how they work to help us survive and thrive. They are some of the best tools we have in our learning toolbox. We'd feel silly picking up a spanner and trying to use it on a screw: spanners are for bolts! We need to use the tools in our learning toolboxes in the most efficient and effective manner, the way they are meant to be used.

Downplay comparison and competition when they work against the need. Subvert them to cooperative behaviour and thinking. Celebrate comparison and competition when they work to help our children grow and develop their unique abilities and personalities. We need to protect our children from endemic and pervasive corrupted comparisons and competition. Children innately know the difference and if we champion them they will happily revert to using both tools appropriately, what works efficiently and effectively for them to achieve their personal goals.
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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
Are you an unschooler or natural learner? 'Like' https://www.facebook.com/pages/Unschool-Australia/172176956215179 for updates to my Unschool Australia site and join my Unschool Australia Facebook Group to chat with like-minded families.


Unschooling. What is it?

Different people define unschooling differently.

To some it means accepting that children are capable and responsible thinkers and learners from birth and that all we need to do is let them get on with it - get out of their way and let them do what they want. This is also referred to as delight-directed or child-directed learning or radical unschooling. Learning is a social phenomenon centred on individual wants.

To some it means accepting that children are capable and responsible thinkers and learners from birth and that all we need to do is to help them meet their needs, by tuning into who they are as people, getting to know them, helping them create a place for their unique personality and talents within our homes and communities. Learning is a social phenomenon centred on individual needs.

To some it means relaxing about the need to perform to satisfy the desire and goal of strangers within particular time frames that suit management agendas rather than educational and developmental needs. It means being able to select the most appropriate learning tools and resources to match the needs of individual children. It means playing and experimenting with a range of different approaches and resources, picking those that enhance the learning environment and satisfy those learning needs and which reflect our family values.

What I love best about unschooling is that at its heart it challenges the prevailing dogma that education equals schooling. That's the un bit in unschooling. We're all learning naturally all the time: educating our children from home gives us the gift of time to explore and enhance the very many ways we each learn every moment of every day!
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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
Are you an unschooler or natural learner? 'Like' https://www.facebook.com/pages/Unschool-Australia/172176956215179 for updates to my Unschool Australia site and join my Unschool Australia Facebook Group to chat with like-minded families.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Why I think you need to write individualised and personalised home education curriculum for your children.

There are so many areas in my life where I attempt to do something and then feel disappointed in the result. We're DIY people and my husband prefers to just start building. First we talk about what we want and then he starts building, collecting what he needs along the way. Helping and watching him frustrate me enormously: he frequently needs to stop work because he doesn't have the appropriate materials on hand and because that frustrates him he often takes short cuts which means he needs to rejig the original plan and what we end up with isn't exactly what we want.

There's not a plan in sight. Or a list of materials needed. Or a budget. It's all made up as we go along. Looking back it's amazing what we've accomplished. Walking around in the beautiful house, around this amazing garden... it's all wow! Ask anyone that visits. 

But what they don't see is the confusion, the arguments, the heartache, the disappointment, the many times the marriage has almost dissolved, the gradual loss of joy in doing what we love, being DIY people. We did, however, follow a plan - which my husband drew himself - for both houses we've built. We had a list of building materials and specifications which I put together. I'm glad we did because both houses are sound and safe and that's important! But we changed minor things as we built - adapting the plan to suit our growing understanding about our needs and what we want in a dwelling. I know I would be much happier in our DIY lifestyle if we drew up more plans on paper that we could use to guide us and help track our thoughts and need to be flexible. I know I would feel more confident and as optimistic and hopeful as I used to be if we did.

Why am I writing about this? Because I see a parallel with home education. So many parents I have spoken to over the years express feeling lost or confused, not sure where they are heading or what resources to use, or what they want and need for their children educationally. They try one approach or one resource, that doesn't quite work so they try another. Over time they settle into what works for them and their children, but the period of time spent getting there is fraught with self-doubt, confusion and in many cases, considerable expense on materials that are underused.

In 1995, after a decade of home education and half a dozen years of helping others begin this incredible learning journey, I started to write Getting Started with Homeschooling, which put on paper the approach I took and which had worked to build my extraordinary confidence. In the first year of homeschooling I'd moved from a school-at-home approach to unschooling and natural learning, and by the time I finished writing Getting Started my youngest was age eight and enjoying learning naturally using a play and interest based approach to learning. I remained confident with this approach because every year I put down on paper my goals for his education and reaffirmed my beliefs about education: this was our natural learning curriculum. If anyone wanted to look at it they would see that I was covering what was expected by society from an educational program for a child of his developmental stage. This 'curriculum' - my planning document - together with our haphazard recording regime - continued to strengthen my confidence in home education.

I developed and reviewed it for me and my child - not to please or satisfy others. I knew that one day my child might ask me what right I had to experiment with his education - especially as how he learned looked vastly different to how his peers were being educated at school. I knew I was accountable to my child for his education. My home education records gave me confidence that if it ever arose I would be able to answer his questions and justify the approach we took.

I am firm believer in the planning process: dreaming, planning, gathering and using of resources, celebrating the process, reviewing. I think that as home education we do all of these stages concurrently, but that some recording helps us track outcomes which in turn helps to build confidence and hones our ability to efficiently and appropriately meet our children's educational needs. 

What I love most about meticulous planning is the freedom it gives me to be flexible. 

People think that natural learning and unschooling is unstructured, that it just 'happens' - it doesn't. Children, like other people, don't learn like that. We get overawed by the spontaneous learning that appears to be happening and forget to notice all the mundane but just as important learning that is happening. And when we tell people how awesome natural learning and unschooling is we remember those interesting highlights. That puts an unrealistic gloss on it.

If we plan our home education journeys well we can be open to enjoying whatever spontaneous opportunities arise.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Do homeschooled kids end up homeschooling their kids?

by Beverley Paine

Yesterday I was asked that, if my children ‘had their way’ would they homeschool their children. I’ve touched on this subject previously, late last year because I noticed that it is a question that is occurring more frequently for me. That if my “children’s experience of homeschooling is a good one, won’t they wish to pass these extraordinary benefits onto their children”.  And wouldn’t it be interesting to see statistics on how many home educated young people go on to educate their own children.

I responded by saying that, while I would love my children to home educate their children, it's something they will work out for themselves. In our situation the partners have not been home educated, so home education is new to them. Their lives will follow paths determined by their needs, not what has happened in the past.

"If they could have their way" assumes that there is a chance they can't - which I don't believe will happen. Home education tends to develop individuals who have considerable self-understanding and awareness, people who know can identify what they need and how to meet those needs, and have a good idea about what they want and how realistic and achievable that is. They use whatever resources are at hand and think laterally about possible resources and tend to actively problem solve - all this helps them achieve what they need and want. They create pathways to "have their way" so to speak. 


Secondly I don't think my children's experiences of home education was either 'good' or 'bad' - it was simply an experience that they benefited from in many ways. The educational side of their childhood - how we home educated, what we did, etc - is nowhere near as important to determining the type of adults they have become as their genetic inheritance (personality traits, inherited medical conditions, etc) and the quality of their parenting experiences. Offering them an education free of the confines and restrictions of school simply allowed my children to grow up to the be the people they are, not who someone else (including me) wants them to be or thinks they should be.

As parents and home educators we responded to our children's needs as they arose. I think most of us eventually end up doing that because it makes sense and it works and it is what makes home education more responsive with better results than school based education. How we measure those results is an individual thing: my perception of success and benefit will be different from my child's perception, both during childhood and then looking back on it as an adult.

For many years people would ask my youngest if he thought home education was better than school and he could only honestly reply that he didn't know: he had not experienced school and was not prepared to make a judgment about it. He was happy learning at home in the way he was - that's all he could say. Would he home educate his children? He says, 'that depends' - he is aware that there will be many factors to take into account when the time comes around to make that decision and that his personal experiences as a home educator are important but only one of those factors.

As a movement home education is are seeing second generation home educated children but it is also seeing home education children becoming school teachers and many children of home educated children going to school too. I don't see this as saying anything about the effectiveness or benefit of home education, simply that people are people and have access to a wide selection of choices to suit their needs.  

At the end of home education most of us define success and benefit differently than how we did at the beginning: we're grateful for the friendships we've created with our children, we're grateful they know their own minds and can problem solve their way through life, that they are autonomous and responsible, we're happy that our choices helped them get there, but we're also aware that what we did is what we did and that they need to carve their own paths through life. And isn't this the whole point of parenting and educating our kids, to get them to this point? I love that my children make their own choices and don't feel the need to emulate my example.

I think it would be helpful to gather all kinds of statistics on home education, how it happens and its outcomes, but mainly so that we can provide appropriately targeted support and build home education community more effectively. As a general tool to assist planning or evaluate past happenings statistics are useful but I am cautious and tend to be skeptical of them.   
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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
Are you an unschooler or natural learner? 'Like' https://www.facebook.com/pages/Unschool-Australia/172176956215179 for updates to my Unschool Australia site and join my Unschool Australia Facebook Group to chat with like-minded families.

One Step at a Time


by Beverley Paine



photo courtesy of Natural Life Magazine

I think there is a huge lesson in this message for me but my brain is weary.

Can't help myself, even when weary... Question popped into my mind : but where is the staircase going, is it going where you want to go?

And then the insight burst forth: control, I need to keep working on letting go of the need to control. I want to see the big picture, to see where the staircase is going because I don't trust that the staircases I build are going to take me where I need to go. I still want to go where I want to go. I'm not internalising my lessons about wants yet.

'Want' responds to my conscious thoughts which are also my trained thoughts. I'm still reacting to what I should be doing. Even my sense of cautiousness owes a large part of its power to my training - very full of 'should' messages.

'Need' responds to my instinctive thoughts, to my actual needs, to what my body is telling me I need to do to be where I really want to be.

The staircase has appeared not because of my wants but because of my needs. If I trusted that I am smart enough and have what it takes to steer the most appropriate course through my life, one that will meet my needs, then I'd be happy to take that first step and stop procrastinating because I can't see where the darn staircase is going!

I'm a natural learning, every moment of every day I'm learning. All I need to do is reflect on what I am learning right now as I respond to my environment and I what bring to my consciousness and whammo, I've learned something incredibly powerful and important. Life is AWESOME!