The freedom to explore

This week we have enjoyed two days out - one to the West Midlands Safari Park, paid for with Tesco Clubcard vouchers, and the other to the Space Centre in Leicester, where the ticket purchased lasts for a whole year. It is great to be able to get up and go and enjoy these places without the crowds inevitably encountered at weekends and during school holidays. The boys' recent interest in reptiles was brought alive by some close encounters with large snakes and lizards, and our space project, which has been nurtured by Professor Brian Cox's 'Wonders of the Solar System' and the children's spin-off ' Space Hoppers' on CBBC, was developed in the Planetarium show at the Space Centre, "We are all Astronomers".

I haven't written on the Blog for a while as we have had the Easter holidays during which my parents moved to a new house just around the corner from us. This is a new thing as we have never lived close to them before. Being a part of their moving process has led to lots of large cardboard boxes lying around our house - out of which our youngest son has made a car, our middle son a space rocket - with separate compartments and trapdoors - and a kitchen / shop (with a bit of help from Grandma) which has provided more delight and entertainment than many expensive toys we have bought.

Our eldest son, inspired by the Just William and Secret Seven stories has decided a Boys' Club should be formed and has designated my parents' new garden shed as Headquarters. He has been busy organising the place and the boys, writing invitations, making badges out of bottle tops, and deciding on how this club should run. He has also been busy with a game on Disney's Club Penguin website which involves typing the words as they are revealed to tell an animated story. He has then copied out this entire story, which has involved reading and spelling out some quite tricky words. What has surprised me about this - from a boy who is not keen on reading or writing - was the way it has held his attention and the perseverence with which he completed the task. In fact, I read in a home schooling book about a boy who learned to read using this game. But it was not something I suggested to my son, it just grabbed his interest. It seemed to me quite a dull exercise, but who is to say that is any less valuable a way to learn to read than using Biff, Chip, Kipper and the Oxford Reading Tree?

My eldest son has also been busy this week with a Meccano kit he received for Christmas, and is building a radio controlled car. There are whole mornings when he has been utterly absorbed in this project.

Our youngest son's Thomas the Tank Engine obsession seems now to have passed, and he is now interested in the Zingzillas (music making monkeys from CBeebies) and all into Super Heroes, often dressing up in cape, belt and goggles. This 'extension of his personality' can be understood as part of a wider 'extensions schema' which also includes playing with swords, drawing and painting. He is drawing constantly with increasing detail in his pictures.

I have long been fascinated by schemas in young children's learning. The term 'schema' was derived by Piaget and means a pattern of behaviour from which understanding and growth are derived. A schema is evidenced by a child's clear interest or focus over a period of time, for example by a fascination with 'posting' or 'spinning' in a younger child. My eldest son always had these clearly defined schemas - one of which was 'webbing'. He would use balls of wool to construct huge spiders' webs all around a room. He attended a nursery as a toddler where they followed the child-centred Reggio Emilia philosophy. The staff would allow him to construct these webs of tape and wool around large spaces and all the children would be scooting underneath his creations. It was wonderful! If you can provide learning opportunities which fit into and develop a child's schema, you will be stimulating the child's natural interest rather than frustrating him / her.