Saturday, 27 March 2010

A Good Morning

On Friday mornings, I run an International Women's Group for women living outside of their home cultures. I started this following my own experience of being the foreigner in Turkey, and the group has grown by word of mouth with new women still joining weekly. Originally we met in my house fortnightly, but we were too crowded so we moved to a local Children's Centre. Now that we are home educating, the three boys have to accompany me to these meetings, but I am glad they get to meet people from different cultures, and I have tried to encourage them to get involved by helping with a display board where we have pinned a large map of the world. The boys have taken photographs of all the women and their children, and we have then put stickers showing where everyone comes from.

There are a good number of preschool children at the group, and we have a fortnightly creche. Yesterday, I noticed how well my elder two boys were playing with the younger children and looking after them in the other room. Later on, my eldest boy got out a book telling the Easter story, and gathered the children together so that he could read it to them. He got his brother involved in dramatising the story, and they soon had all the younger ones being Roman soldiers and disciples, and came to get some biscuits to be the Last Supper. I was so delighted to see their initiative and creativity, as well as the natural context which induced my eldest son to read. Several parents and the creche workers commented on how well they had done. It was a good morning.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Child protection?

What is going on when systems we put in place to enable us to do good (i.e. protect children) actually become barriers which hinder good being done? When people hear about home education, some wonder how good it can be to keep children at home with their family and away from the 'community' by which they mean 'school'. But if we turn that thought around, we could ask why it is considered good to keep children confined to the classroom and away from the world, the wider community and the many, many good adults from which / whom they can learn so much? Increasingly health and safety regulations and issues of child protection and insurance are restricting education for reasons which sound very noble and in the interest of our children. In fact, one could argue, they are also limiting education and opportunity and slowly killing community spirit. Some schools have become increasingly difficult places to get into and, whilst some may think that is a good thing, are we happy to send our children into institutions where we are not permitted to follow? Are we not slowly giving up parental responsibility to the dictates of a nanny state?

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Number Fascination

Yesterday my youngest son, aged 4, took some magnetic numbers from the fridge door to the table, and began arranging them 1,2,3,4 ... when he got to 6, he was unsure and asked his brother for help in getting the series right. Together they lined up numbers to 10. He then muddled them up and repeated the exercise, so learning to recognise and read numbers. After practising a few times, he got paper and pencil and began writing the sequence and working on number formation. A few were back-to-front as is normal for children at this age, but the sequence was clear and correct. At this point, I suggested making a book like his alphabet book (see earlier post) and he was enthusiastic, so I stapled some coloured paper together and he carefully wrote the numbers 1 - 10, one number on each page. As he also enjoys cutting pictures out of magazines at the moment, I suggested cutting out a picture to go on each page. Using the ELC catalogue, we were able to find pictures of various numbers of blocks, children, paint pots, skittles, pens and trucks and he stuck them to the page with the corresponding number. With his ongoing love of Thomas the Tank Engine, he then wanted to print out the engine for each number from the Thomas website and stick those on the right page too. So we put Thomas the Number 1 engine on the Number 1 page, Edward on page 2 etc. All day he continued to practise ordering the magnets and writing our the digits. In the evening, we were watching our Muzzy language learning DVD in French and he watched with avid attention the section when the numbers came up, reading the figures in English, whilst listening to the French. This is an example of a child's 'readiness' for a particular piece of learning and the self-motivation of a child, facilitated by an observant adult. It illustrates how easily something can be learnt when a child is ready to learn it. One of the great things about home education is the freedom and flexibility to be able to follow those interests as they arise.

Monday, 8 March 2010

A music day

One day this week, my middle son, who is 6, decided he wanted to learn to play the recorder. Since this was what he wanted to do, he was really focussed and learned half a scale and a little tune. He then wanted to know how to write down the music he had learnt, so I scored it for him and told him about time signatures, crochets, quavers and minims. He has been practising daily ever since and making up his own little tunes and discovering further notes. It is liberating to be able to go with the flow and follow a particular interest without time constraint.

With warmer, sunnier spring weather, the boys have been enjoying increasing time in the garden with particular interest in mud pies and digging. Many stone 'fossils' have been 'discovered' and uncovered. Our lawn is a shadow of its former glory, but then as a wise man once said, 'We are raising boys not grass!' It is nice to wake up to a sunny morning and to be able just to seize the opportunity and go outside. My eldest son had wanted to do a sponsored cycle ride to raise money for the earthquake crisis in Haiti. He had prepared a sponsorship form on the computer, and collected some sponsors, so had been anxious to get out and complete his challenge. Last Monday was the first really springlike day we had had, so we all headed down to Stowe Pool where he proceeded to push himself to 12 laps of the lake, whilst his brother did 5 and my youngest managed 2 with plenty of duckfeeding and spring picnicking opportunities. It was a good morning's work!

We have signed the boys up to a maths website - Mathletics - to which they can log on and complete challenges at thier level, progressing at their own speed. I am sent a weekly report by email telling me how they are getting on and I was surprised that they had each logged on for 2-3 hours voluntarily last week with good results. They like the instant rewards for correct answers, and I can see how important their concrete knowledge is in understanding the questions. For example, there were questions on rate of fill depending on the shape of a container, and it is clearly a child's concrete experience of pouring water into containers in play which enable him / her to conceptualise the problem. If we push for the abstract knowledge when a child is too young and may not have had sufficient concrete experience, we should not be surprised when s/he cannot understand. Or perhaps something which might be learnt very quickly and easily at a later point becomes a point of difficulty and struggle because the child is not ready. At worst, the child may then feel a sense of failure, and conclude, 'I'm no good at ______' which could do real damage to future learning in that area.

Today, my middle son had a rip in a pair of favourite jeans. In a recycling book, he found a design for a bag to be made from an old pair of jeans, so we made that together. It just needs a handle and can be personalised with badges and patches as he wishes. His brother decided to make pompoms today - a tedious task, but one he pursued with patience and persistence.

My youngest boy's interest in phonics continues. Today he completed an alphabet puzzle with his brothers helping and teaching him, and he enjoyed playing with some simple words using the alphabet magnets we have on our fridge. He is a real storyteller, and loves to draw pictures and then make up long tales to tell us about what is going on. I read stories with the boys every afternoon and evening, and at the moment he likes to tell stories of his own at these times.

I have noticed an improved atmosphere in our home. The boys seem to have rediscovered their friendship and are getting along better together and taking care of one another. This is really a good thing to see. This weekend we spent a lot of time trying to reorganise the space and flow in our home (which is quite small) to better accommodate our new lifestyle. This included a great new set of shelves in our kitchen to help organise all the books, toys, puzzles, art and craft bits and bobs in such a way as we can all find things and know where to put them away. Good organisation definitely helps to create a less stressful home, especially when we are there together for much of the day.