Friday, April 27, 2012

Incorporating Homeschool Activities while Travelling and Camping


On my Homeschool Australia online support group the other day a homeschooler about to embark on a camping holiday asked for inspiration on how to incorporate their holiday into their homeschooling lessons beyond planning and mapping.

We brainstormed for a bit and came up with the following ideas for learning 'on the road':
  • learning about safety: around the fire, around the camp, using tools, etc;
  • helping with 'camp' cooking (different, restricted ingredients, etc) as well as cooking on an open fire;
  • putting up tents (technology, different kinds of homes - think of refugees around the world in emergency accommodation that becomes long term...) ;
  • explore the history of the places you visit and pass through (everywhere has history!);
  • consider geography - talk about landforms, how they got that way, how explorers mapped them (cartography), erosion (wind, water, ice);
  • everyone start a nature journal, spend time each day recording what you see (this is a Charlotte Mason idea - do some research on this idea before you leave);
  • take photographs; if you have a laptop with you view the photos so you get feedback on what the photos look like, everyone can comment on how to improve camera technique, etc;
  • camp sing-along by the fire: old and new favourites;
  • story-telling and language games around the campfire, followed by toasted marshmallows.
April suggested the following:
  • bushwalking and bird watching, flower spotting, identifying birds and plants;
  • simply enjoy the holiday;
  • take heaps of photos, to use as a memory jogger (visual notebook), then do the recording side of it over the coming weeks as projects.
Kym came up with the following suggestions:
  • take books, crossword puzzles, all types of puzzles and games for the car and just for fun;
  • go swimming;
  • take a compass and learn how to use it;
  • while travelling recite times-tables or spell words; play games such as ‘I-spy’, etc.
  • while in the car talk about traffic, road rules, distances, road signs, potential accidents and "what if" scenarios and what type of first aid might be needed;
  • memory games are fun around the camp site: collect about ten items from the beach and put them out for someone to look at for about one minute, and then take them away and see how many you can remember! Or just take one away and see if you can recall which one is gone.
  • favourite beach activity is to make a huge sand sculpture and then go and collect all the little bits of coloured plastic litter and decorate it, take a photo and then put all the plastic in the bin: helping to keep the beach clean, which leads into talking about the environment and ocean etc.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Is Enrolling your Child in a Virtual School Still Homeschooling?

by Beverley Paine
Just read an article about the merits of virtual schools: is enrolling in a virtual school that provides the whole curriculum still homeschooling? What do you think? 
In this article, through the virtual school the students in all years (preschool to year12) are supervised at home by their parent ('Learning Coach') and taught by state certified teachers through online classroom technology, phone and email communication. Teaching, testing, grading and motivating the children to learn is the responsibility of the trained teacher.
Homeschooling seems to be moving more in this direction as families lose confidence in the school system and parents are more familiar and comfortable with information technology and the internet.
I applaud the ability we have as home educators to carefully select resource to match our children's learning needs and preferences - that's the foundation on which my understanding of home education is built.

Distance education styled for adults also recognises the importance of being able to select resources to meet the individual's educational need.

Distance education for children is different though: it's compulsory nature disallows the ability to select according to individual need. Children are compelled by law to be educated and adults deem the how, where and why of it.

The virtual schools discussed and endorsed in the article I read supply complete curriculum packages are private distance education schools for children: they are meant to replace the parent as the person that determines the how, where and why of education, reducing the parent to the role of supervisor.

We're not talking about parents picking up a few subjects (such as Reading Eggs, Mathletics, etc or even a subject or two from Open Uni in the teens years) here and there to meet individual children's needs - we're talking about a service that is designed to meet the organisational and management needs of parents who for whatever reason don't want their children to be educated in this manner in a classroom in a school.

It is exactly like doing distance education through the state school system, except perhaps with less accountability by the provider if the virtual school is not registered or accredited as a school in Australia (an important consideration for 15-17 year old students doing high school subjects).

The nature and direction of homeschooling has changed since my family began educating our children from home in 1985. The scope and practice of home education has broadened considerably as it has become a visible and viable option. 'Homeschool' or 'home education' took the school out of education and placed the education of children where it belonged: in busy homes interacting with busy communities. Now the 'school' is back, claiming a legitimate place within home education as an option for parents.

When I first noticed this trend arising (alerted to it by the principal of my local school after a national meeting of school principals on the topic of online learning and the effect it would have on schools), I felt sad and worried that something of the pioneering spirit of forging a new approach to education would be lost and with it the powerful message that children learn best freed from the limited resources and constraints of the classroom. I hope not. I hope that the bold brave experiments in education of the last 40 years, with home educators at the forefront, won't be succumbed to simply yet another form of schooling, one that seeks to manage and control education rather than focusing on the needs of individual learners.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Frugal Homeschool Challenge


By Beverley Paine

Homeschooling veteran Linda Dobson (www.parentatthehelm.com) believes that the act of home education nurtured and honed her natural frugality. She challenges families to “have a family contest to see who can research and find the most additional ways your clan can be frugal”. 

It’s true, most of us have learned how to make do with less, not only from necessity because we’re no longer in the double income bracket, but because it is a great way to help our children learn. Counting our pennies and working out discounts while we’re shopping is second nature because that’s how our children learn maths. Making things about the house means they get to measure and quote, learn how to use tools and materials efficiently, effectively and safely. Buying new stuff all the time deprives us of the opportunity for learning! 

In a recent article on her blog, Linda said, “Compared to many others during this economic crisis, I’d like to remind you that you’re in relatively good shape. After all, you haven’t grown accustomed to relying on a $4.00 cup of coffee to wake you up on the way to work every day. You haven’t frequented restaurants for so long that you don’t know how to cook. The thrift shop sales girls are already holding the ‘good stuff’ for you because they know you’ll be in soon.”

Home educators know how to get by cheaply. And their children are learning valuable lessons that will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives. While children in schools are working out ways to avoid doing home work, home educated kids are busy building, making, doing the chores, dreaming, playing, sewing, cooking, gardening, recycling, selling unwanted things on e-Bay or the homeschool forum… helping mum and dad make ends meet and take care of the family. They’re active in the community, learning how to work with and help others too. Instead of learning how to be passive consumers our home educated children are building “the knowledge base necessary for self-sufficiency, self-motivation, self-employment, and self-knowledge”. 

Take up Linda’s challenge! Work out how many different ways your family can reduce costs, tread lightly on the planet, homeschool for less.

Extra money for home educators?

'There is no such thing as a free lunch'. When we begin to think in terms of entitlements and rights we sometimes forget that what we are really talking about it is responsibility and commitment. What will it cost us to receive these entitlements, benefits or rights?

I am careful and cautious about which benefits (financial or otherwise) I receive, especially from government agencies, in exactly the same way I am cautious about 'special offers' and 'sales' and 'give aways'. I read the fine print because I want to know what responsibilities and commitments I am agreeing to in doing so. Not everyone is aware of the need to weigh up the perceived benefits with the possible disadvantages.

A home educator in Western Australia has started a petition calling for the government to increase the Education Tax Refund to home educators: http://www.change.org/petitions/australian-government-increase-the-education-tax-refund-for-homeschooling-families. HEN Vic is calling for caution as generally additional benefits come with increased regulation. 

The educational tax rebate is already available to registered home educating families that want to claim it. The only issue I have with it at present is that home educators are unable to access rebate for educational expenses for resources for children between 5 and 6 years of age because the home education regulatory bodies refuse to register or exempt from attending school children who have not yet reached compulsory school age. That's not really a problem with the tax department - if we want to register or exempt our children when they are old enough to be enrolled and accepted in primary school then we should be able to do so.

Eventually home education will be officially and universally recognised as an alternative option in education and the anomalies will start to disappear between state/territory/federal government departments. I dream of a time when the left hand will know what the right hand is doing, but I'm not truly convinced it is going to happen!

I personally don't want my autonomy restricted or removed or lessened in any way. As a home educating family we opted for living simply and frugally. Sure there were things we went without - particularly some excursions with pricey entrance tickets. Life was full and busy and wonderfully education nonetheless. There were many years we didn't earn enough to even pay tax let alone think about tax rebates! It wasn't always easy living like this but one thing I did learn - you don't need money to educate children. I'm not saying this is the path everyone should take: I like money and I like spending money and if I won the lotto my kids would get cross at the educational clutter I'd fill their houses with! But I'd rather the money come from the lotto than the government.

Beverley Paine
Homeschool Australia
Unschool Australia
Homeschool~Unschool~Australia! quarterly journal

Natural Learning, Unschooling and Trust

by Beverley Paine

John Holt's work had a huge impact on me as a young mum - I first came across his books when my daughter was four and my son two and my youngest not yet conceived. I have a collection of his quotes but the one Karen pointed out is definitely the one that seems to resonate and reverberate the most for people celebrating life as natural learners: "To trust children, we must first learn to trust ourselves.... and most of us were taught as children that we cannot be trusted."

My parents' idea of childhood is foreign to me as is their concept and definition of trust. I grew up without experiencing the trust John Holt is talking about. However, my parents had trust: they trusted that I would be the child they wanted and needed me to be, in particular (I deduce) to reassure them they were good parents, the best parents they could be (I dislike using the words 'good' and 'best' for this reason!)

My 81 year old mother recently said to me that all she wanted was for me to be happy. The comment irked me. Why? Because I wanted to say: 'What about what I wanted?' The assumption that I wanted to be happy, together with her idea of what happiness is and should be, definitely wasn't what I needed in my life.

When I first read the quote by Holt about trust I understood - or thought/assumed I understood - what he (a contemporary of my parents) was writing about. But back then I was only beginning to understand trust: I had so little trust in myself. In fact, I don't think I had anything other than an tiny glimmer of survival instinctual subconscious trust in myself. What I did have was tons of ego and arrogance which fed a superficial 'copy' of trust in self: in effect, I believed in myself and my ability to do what I wanted and make it happen. Fortunately for me this included educating my children at home at a time when very few others were publicly doing it. Being in constant contact with my children forced me to learn about trust, to develop and nurture the kind of trust in myself that John Holt was talking about.

So, in order to trust ourselves, for many of us, we need to think deeply and get to know what trust truly is and what it means in our lives. For me this meant a journey of discovering the meaning and place of faith in my life.

I could not, as a young mum embarking on a bold social and educational experiment on my children, feel confident enough to simply trust my children. I had to experience it grow, bit by bit, backed by evidence that trusting actually worked better than the model I had grown up with and which surrounded me on all sides! And without nurturing the understanding of trust within myself and giving myself permission to trust my own instincts and understandings and ability to learn I really don't think I would have reached the place where I am today.

My children - and other children - taught me about trust. They taught me to trust. I simply gave myself permission to let go of the need to hang on to thoughts and attitudes that didn't make sense. My children helped: they are bold, brave, stubborn and independent enough to say no or demand why they had to do things that didn't make sense. Bit by bit I began to see their logic and unpick the insanity that passes for normal life. Along the way I read really great books that helped me understand why I thought and acted the way I did: Challenging Assumptions in Education, Dumbing Us Down, How Children Fail, The Continuum Concept.  But most of all I thought deeply about everything - and more importantly - gave myself permission to let go of unhelpful attitudes and thoughts that simply didn't produce the results they were supposed to.

I see many families applying trust, in the same way they apply education, to their children's lives. They kind of layer it on, hoping that it will work wonders, or simply work. They have definite ideas (like my mum) about what they want to achieve by doing things this way. My life as a mum and home educator has taught me that is the long way around... a shorter route to experiencing the trust John Holt talked about is work from the centre out: get to know yourself, get to know the child through the diligent practice of observation and reflection and celebration. Work with who you are, who the child is, and develop strategies for building the life you each want to experience. Trust naturally develops and grows in this kind of nurturing environment. And because it comes from our centres, we own it.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Defining natural learning and unschooling and why I think they aren't the same thing

by Beverley Paine
I see a difference between unschooling and natural learning.

Firstly, we are ALL natural learners, learning naturally. Most of this process is subconscious, responses to sensory and other information and input that we don't notice. We learn what we need to learn to thrive and survive. Observation and reflection on this process can help us grow and develop the number and quality of tools in our learning toolboxes. The more we tune into our natural learning abilities the easier it is to tune in and use our natural learning abilities.

Anyone and everyone is learning naturally. Most of the time we are unaware of the process.

I don't care if you go to school or school-at-home or unschool: you and your children are learning naturally. Just because you can't 'recognise' what you are learning (and the many layers and levels of learning) that are happening in this moment in time doesn't mean it isn't happening.

Unlike natural learning, unschooling is a choice. It is a deliberate practice. At its heart is the desire to cast aside an approach to education that has proven that it doesn't work for all children and isn't child or family friendly. The family (however it is defined or described) is the central social unit of society and needs nurturing if we want healthy, cooperative and peaceful societies. Schools don't serve families, schools serve industry and the economy. Unschooling rejects the traditions and practices employed by schools in the name of education.

As unschoolers who have been schooled we are constantly deschooling ourselves. Some unschoolers lucky enough to never have experienced the limiting effects of a narrow, segmented and regimented curriculum imposed upon us for 12+ years never need to deschool (except perhaps from the pervasive effects of school-soaked and influenced media) and simply get on with the business of celebrating life learning naturally. Most of us spend considerable time and thought deschooling. And that's okay. It's a liberating and learning process that has many wonderful 'aha' moments, often tinged with frustration at our lack of noticing the obvious earlier!

I am blessed to know very many natural learners who are unschooling. I am blessed to know very many natural learners who are homeschooling. And I am blessed to know lots more who are either at school, teach school or have children at school. Quite a few of the unschoolers know they are learning naturally and take advantage of this - happily getting on with the business of simply living understanding that learning is a natural result of living. Others are still coming to grips with the idea that they are learning naturally - it's a tricky concept to understand because our society has been brainwashed to believe that children need to be taught how to think and learn!

It doesn't really matter where you are on the continuum. What I've found during the past 3 decades of being a parent and home educator is that simply home educating allows us the time and space to be more attentive to our children's needs and this process develops our awareness of all of our natural learning abilities. Some of us don't recognise it as natural learning or call it that but it is still celebrated.

Dogma is the enemy of learning - in permaculture terms dogma is the still space distant from the edge, where life becomes stagnant. Not a lot happens, nothing changes. It's a comfortable place and feels safe. Learning happens at the edge: it's the place where ideas and concepts and understanding is challenged and transformed. Dogma and learning are both necessary and okay. As a natural learner I have pockets of dogma that I cherish but am happy to have them challenged from time to time, even when the process if painful or causes me grief - even then it is still a time of joy and excitement because I love learning. We move towards and away from the edge all the time responding to our needs. More often than not we can't name those needs - and that's okay too. That's life. That's the 'nature' in natural learning.

Learning is an amazing thing. I see it as unbounded, infinite in capacity. As natural learners we are taught and we are teachers. And that is okay. That's natural. That's life. Even if we are being taught something without our consent we personalise the event: we learn what we need from it - often something considerably different to what the teacher expects! Often we are unaware of the process of what we're learning and what sense or meaning it has in our lives. Many of us remember those moments when we suddenly 'get it'. Or have watched our children do something and wonder how and when they learned to do it. We are not all wise or all knowing so it is impossible to tease out everything we are learning in each moment.

Some people argue that learning stops or is restricted in some way when we are coerced: I personally haven't found that to be true. Some of my most poignant and important lessons are from situations and circumstances where I am being coerced in some way, either by myself or others and sometimes simply by circumstance itself. I have learned to recognise and celebrate the learning that is happening them - this self-awareness and self-knowledge isn't something that is widely encouraged (especially by schools who list as one of their goals but are overwhelmed with meaningless busywork to foster it sufficiently). We needn't fear or shun coercion when enveloped within nurturing respect and dignity as it is a natural part of our social development and socialisation process as well as an important motivator. We all coerce ourselves to learn or do things we need in order to achieve the goals or outcomes we desire or need. And we naturally manipulate others and environment for these purposes too. Instead of labeling coercion (and stress) as either negative (bad) or positive (good) we can simply recognise them as motivating energy and reclaim the power they have over our lives.

Unschoolers are consciously learning about motivation. They are playing with the ideas of coercion and stress and control. They are busy experimenting with different ways of being and doing. Most are very excited about the process - I know I was and still are incredibly excited to be learning about all this stuff! As well as incredibly frustrated that everyone else isn't doing the same and learning what I think are terribly important lessons - especially about the education and parenting of children. Some people have just begun this awesome journey and feel less confident about their experiments and discoveries, others are more at home and feel comfortable. We are, however, all challenged by many of the ideas that confront us as we begin to embrace and fully accept that we are natural learners and that the power and responsibility to learn is ours alone.

On the subject of maths and other schooly things:
We learn how to use the fantastic tool which is maths naturally. Years (and generations of schooling) has cemented the verb maths into the noun maths - we've lost something important in that process, namely the ability to recognise the awesomeness of this tool and how it allows us to access understanding of the natural world in a seamless and non-contrived way. But even so, we ALL still use maths, as defined and taught in school curricula, everyday. And the busier, productive and constructive we are with our thoughts and lives the more often we need to develop this amazing tool to help us do even more with it, especially to help us understand and work with the physical world in which we live.

I prefer to see the things we box into subjects at school as tools. Geography for example: thinking geographically is a bit like thinking scientifically and mathematically - it opens doors because it gets us to ask questions and reflect on what are experiencing, exhorting us to make meaning from the thoughts that arise from what we encounter. I turn a lot of these nouns into verbs (education jargon, like most jargon, likes to do the opposite - turn verbs into nouns!)

We can legitimately separate out any element we want and examine it in detail - that's natural learning too. We can focus on learning how to use a geographical or mathematical tool so that we can use it efficiently and effectively without thinking in the future. (We do that with learning to tie our shoe laces so why not calculating using times tables? We can walk around with loose laces - it may or may not be inconvenient - and we can do calculations without knowing times tables. We may opt for velcro or pull on shoes. We may come up with another way of doing the calculation. Whatever works for us to meet our individual need!)

My point is that we needn't shun potential tools. Let's keep playing with whatever comes our way to see if it meets our needs.
 
I'm cool with the term unschooling. I just don't believe unschooling or radical schooling are the same thing as natural learning. Yes, the terms have been used interchangeably in the past, even by me. In the UK they use the term 'informal learning' to describe natural learning and unschooling. I've decided to make a stand and define natural learning as something unrelated to unschooling. After all, unschooling is something we do while we're school age. Natural learning is something we do for our entire lives. We don't say we're unworking if we don't have aren't working (we say we're playing or resting).
I am personally interested in teasing out how we learn and why we learn. That's where I see natural learning fitting into life. It's much more than what happens during childhood, much more than education. Unschooling and homeschooling are relevant while our children are young - beyond childhood we don't talk about them being unschooled. We say they are working or at university or exploring life on their terms etc.

I am a natural learner, unschooler, homeschooler, life learner. I'm cool with all the terms. I just like definitions.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Join the home education conversation!

I am having great conversations in my FB groups:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/HomeschoolAustralia/, and
https://www.facebook.com/groups/unschoolaustralia/
If you are into home educated or interested, come join us!

Announcing Homeschool~Unschool~Australia! Magazine... a collection of my writing cobbled together every quarter from all the various places I blog, write, respond and generally splatter my views, opinions and insights about all things learning and home education.  

The annual national Australian Homeschool Network Homeschool CampFest was another brilliant success. This is the 4th campfest Robin and I have attended and even though we don't have children (ours are now adults) we feel right at home in this very comfortable, relaxed and friendly camp that celebrates families enjoying life as, well - families! Don't forget to get in early and book for next year's CampFest.

This year I made myself available for FREE personal consults - these were very popular and I aim to repeat them next year. CampFest is a brilliant opportunity for you to sit and chat with me about any aspect of home education or parenting. You can also chat to me live every Tuesday night (if I remember to log on!) in the AHN Chat Room. A bunch of us collect together and have a good natter about anything and everything! See the Australian Homeschool Network website for how to join.  

The HEA annual printed resource directory is out and about - email the HEA for a copy if you don't have one. This is the last directory I will have input into, but I continue to write articles for the association's quarterly magazine, Stepping Stones for Home Education. Look out for my articles on Geography this year! 

Robin and I had a lovely holiday - four weeks away from home - visiting our grandson and new granddaughter for over a week. It was hard coming home - 1650km is too far! 

Don't forget to check in on the websites every now and then, and if you want to get in touch, please join one of my Yahoo or Facebook online support groups. 

cheers
Beverley