Sunday, 31 January 2010

The School Boy by William Blake

I love to rise in a summer morn
When the birds sing on every tree;
The distant huntsman winds his horn
And the sky-lark sings with me.
O! what sweet company.

But to go to school in a summer morn,
O! it drives all joy away;
Under a cruel eye outworn,
The little ones spend the day
In sighing and dismay.

Ah! Then at times I drooping sit,
And spend many an anxious hour,
Nor in my book can I take delight,
Nor sit in learnings bower,
Worn thro` with the dreary shower.

How can the bird that is born for joy
Sit in a cage and sing?
How can a child, when fears annoy,
But droop his tender wing,
And forget his youthful spring.

O! father and mother, if buds are nip`d
And blossoms blown away,
And if tender plants are strip`d
Of their joy in the springing day,
By sorrow and care`s dismay,

How shall the summer arise with joy,
Or the summer fruits appear?
Or how shall we gather what griefs destroy,
Or bless the mellowing year,
When the blasts of winter appear?

A Lesson in Symmetry

How do we bridge the gap between encouraging autonomous, child-led learning and preventing utter bedlam from reigning in the house? Our eldest son is very self-motivated and has a lot of ideas for projects he can be getting on with .... But I have three boys, each with their own needs and learning style, their own personality and temper! I have been reading a book about Home Education this weekend which suggests a period of Table Top Time each day - sitting down together to do something creative, and preferably artistic, conversing together and then seeing where these activities lead. This gives the child plenty of choice but within a framework, and the key is for the adult to sit down and work alongside the children. It also remains very creative and play-based. Based on this idea, I think I will try to implement a loose timetable this week - for example, Table Top Time (which could involve options such as drawing or painting, a craft activity, working in a work book, Lego or KNex), a games time (chess, Monopoly, Yahtzee, puzzles etc), quiet reading time, outdoor time (when we could just go into the garden, or walk to our nearby field for a kickabout, or up to our nearby basketball court for a game, or just go to the park) .... etc.

This week I was encouraging my middle son to look at symmetry around our home, and gave him a small mirror for the purpose of seeing lines of reflection. This idea was sparked by looking at the website of the school the boys attended to see what topics his class were covering this week. To be honest, he wasnt terribly interested, and when I offered him a worksheet I had downloaded to back the ideas up, he just turned away. Today, however, both he and his elder brother spent a good long time building with Lego and KNex and produced perfectly symmetrical models. This just went to show me that practical, informal learning can be just as valuable as any worksheet I might wish to impose!

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Given an inch, taking a mile!

This week has been a real challenge. Clearly the removal of school discipline has led the boys to push the boundaries at home, and it is taking time and considerable effort to communicate our expectations of them. It is intensive and wearing, but it is essential to figure out how to get along together and how to work as a team to keep our home running and functional if we are to be around each other all day long. The boys rough and tumble and squabble and fight; they are disobedient and sometimes downright horrible to one another. In a school setting, behaviour is kept in check by 'carrot and stick' (reward and punishment) - extrinsic motivation. In response to my questions about why they behave so wonderfully at school for their teachers, the boys have told me, "Because we are afraid (of being naughty / of being punished)". But I do not want them to be motivated by fear, or only to behave themselves when a treat is dangled as a bribe. So we are working on intrinsic motivation, right behaviour from within. (See "Unconditional Parenting" by Alfie Kohn).

Believe me, we have a long way to go and there are behaviour patterns on both their side and ours which need to be unlearned. But I am working on it! Today, the boys asked for a sticker chart on which family points could be earned for good behaviour. I resist it, but maybe small incentives are needed to help us on this journey. My eldest son asked for Awards for the Best Student! His implication is that he would, of course, be the chosen one. "Best at what?" I queried. "Best at being kind to everyone?" He frowned and looked disgruntled. Yet, that is the first lesson of our home education because if there cannot be kindnesses between brothers, kindness learned at home, then our experiment is in grave danger already.

Today, having looked at some Roman examples on the Internet, we made mosiac pictures. The boys have also been fascinated by the story of Ben Hur and have watched the video several times, particularly enjoying the chariot race. Today they needed to sign forms to open their own bank accounts in town (a more attractive prospect now we are not limited to Saturday morning opening hours). I noticed that my eldest son's writing did not flow, but had become stilted. I asked the boys whether they thought it would be a good idea to do at least a little writing and number work every day - just to keep their hand in. After all, it could be useful at some point in the future! They seemed quite keen on this, so we will see. Our eldest son says he hates reading, so I am not pushing this at the moment, but hope he will come to it in his own time. He enjoys me reading to him, which we do every day, and he has a wide vocabulary and a lively imagination, so we keep working on those things and trust that other skills will fall into place later when he is ready.

Our middle son has been enjoying playing number and punctuation games on the BBC Schools website. These are good because the child can immediately see whether his answer is right. Of his own accord the other day, he asked me for some maths problems to work on and also some words to write out to practise his hand writing. Today we chose some workbooks in Smiths, but how much we will use these remains to be seen.

We have had some visitors over recent days and this is when the boys' behaviour seems worse than ever. I wonder why. "We get too excited," they say. Well, that may be, but everyone will think, "These home educated children - You give them an inch and they take a mile!" It is not so bad when we are at home by ourselves - especially if we can get out for a walk in the morning, the afternoons seem pretty mellow, and of course, learning goes on from wake-up to bedtime.

Our youngest boy will celebrate his birthday this weekend, so I have the challenge of planning his party and making his cake with the boys around. This will be our project for the next few days, I think. Let's see whether, given the opportunity, they will rise to the occasion as party organisers! It could make my task a whole lot lighter!

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Never a dull moment!

This morning I awoke to hear my middle son shouting excitedly, "Let's try it like this and see what happens!" This was with relation to the construction of a huge Roman villa made with chairs, blankets and whatever other building materials could be found around our house. There has been a loose Roman theme to the last few days which has involved reading about the exploits of Caractacus, Boadicea and Agricola, googling pictures of Roman soldiers, making a model Roman centurian .... Today we moved into volcanoes, clay models which we plan to erupt tomorrow using vinegar and bicarbonate of soda. Hmmm ..... The teacher in me thinks maybe a Pompeii link could be forged between these two topics!

So far great moments have been my middle son's face lighting up as he managed to connect an electrical circuit and make a radio function, the diligence and perseverence with which his elder brother worked at creating his clay volcano this afternoon unhindered by any time pressure, the care my middle son is taking of his younger brother and the help he offers him so freely, all three boys working together co-operatively with less aggression and more companionship, a lot more laughter in our home.

OK, so it's early days, but the biggest change in this whole venture has been my attitude with regard to living and learning together. Instead of having my agenda, my list of things I need to accomplish today, which the boys could hinder me from doing, such a lifestyle means at its simplest involving the boys in what we are doing and being involved in what they are doing, so tasks are accomplished corporately. Since they have more control over what they choose to do, I have found them far more willing to go along with the things I need to get done. They all sat quiet and still through a half hour meeting I needed to attend this morning, and have been helpful in clearing up behind themselves. It is easy to involve them (and even to incorporate some practical maths and writing) into planning meals, shopping and baking. My husband and our middle son enjoy cooking, so this has led to some great times in the kitchen together.

Rather than running around to the agenda imposed upon our household by school, we are more in control of how we spend our hours together. We do not have the stressful rush of the morning, trying to get them all ready and, sometimes unwillingly, out of the door. We do not return grumpy and tired to one another at the end of the day, rather we have the best of the boys' day to learn together. And they are more relaxed.

We have a growing list of things to do and buy ....
Wood glue,
Visit the tip to look for pram wheels,
Dye for tie-dying,
Build a den in the garden,
Sand and newspaper for jurassic landscape, planned to be built up around the volcanoes for toy dinosaurs to roam .....
Never a dull moment.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Reluctant Radical

After a period of increasing frustration and disillusionment with the schooling system in England based on the experiences of my sons and husband, who is a secondary maths teacher, we recently made the decision to remove the boys from the local primary school and embark on a family adventure into unschooling or autonomous education. Our aim is for the boys to become intrinsically motivated, lifelong learners and our hope is that we will facilitate their learning - not just at home, but out and about in the world, beyond the confines of the classroom.

We returned to England in June 2008 having spent three and a half years living in Turkey. Maybe it is this experience which has given us the confidence to think outside the educational box. Removing one's children from school feels counter-cultural and radical. Yet we have a sense of inner conviction that it is the right decision for us at this time. Here we will share the ups and downs of our experiment in organic ed!