Thursday, 29 July 2010

Engaging with County

I know that it is not everyone's experience across our country, but since I first considered embarking on our home education adventure, I have received nothing but encouragement from our County Education Department. The relationship is based on my understanding that they have their job to do as far as ensuring child welfare is concerned and, since I have nothing to hide, I am quite happy to fill in the minimal paperwork and co-operate with their wish to visit us to learn more about our educational provision. In fact, my belief in what we are doing motivates me to share that enthusiasm with other educationalists.

Not long after de-registering my children from school, I received an unannounced visit from the Education Welfare Officer, whom I invited into our home, though she was with us for only 10 or 15 minutes. I later received a letter from County with a brief form to complete for each child showing how we intended to cover various areas of the curriculum. As it was such a new venture, and I wasn't really sure at that point exactly how we would do things, I filled it out fairly briefly, but wrote a little about my primary objectives - namely to take the pressure off all the children and to see them relax - along with a little about my philosophy of education. I was informed that we would receive a visit from a Home Education Officer in due course and that they would be in touch. In the meantime, I signed up to the County Home Education e-mailing list which I have found to be helpful in that it informs me of special events and useful information relevant to our local area. For example, through the listing, I heard about a space exploration day especially for Home Educated children at a local RAF museum, for minimal cost, which I promptly booked and which the boys attended and enjoyed. There is actually a lot going on in our local area if we are able to tap into it.

The months passed with no other contact from County .... until last week when, with schools breaking up, I was called by a friendly Home Education Officer who arranged to visit us a few days ago. He stayed about an hour and a half. The boys were quite excited to have the chance to show off all the work they have been doing and enjoyed telling him about all their projects enthusiastically. They took such pride in their work and discoveries. Of course, I was nervous as this was our first visit. Had we been doing enough? Would he find our provision satisfactory? Although I was eager to make a good impression, I confess I wasn't really worried because, as I said above, I believe very much in what we are doing and I am quietly confident.

Our visitor spoke to us with each child in turn, and wrote notes about the kind of things they were learning. He was very interested in all the boys told him, and commented on their confidence. We were really pleased when he came to his summary sheet and told us we could not be classed 'satisfactory' - We exceeded expectations. My husband gets fed up in school - as pupils probably do too - with being judged by Ofsted as 'satisfactory'. Sometimes we all like to exceed expectations! So, unless we seek help, we are now left alone by County to continue our journey unhindered for another 12 months.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Self-motivated maths

This morning I came downstairs to find our 4-year-old son cutting squares out of paper, writing numbers on them and placing them in order to form a number line. He had got to 10, and asked me how to write number 11. I explained 11 is one 10 plus 1 so we write it 11. He added a square for 11, then asked what came next. I tried to encourage him to see the pattern as I showed him how to write 12. He then figured out 13, 14, 15 and placed them in his line. He went to get his Thomas VTech laptop, and played a number recognition game for a while. When he had had enough, he got an envelope and put his paper number squares carefully away "so I can learn my numbers another day!" As I write, he is busily engaged in building geometric shapes with Geomag. Do not believe that if children are not pushed, they will learn nothing!

Friday, 16 July 2010

Small miracles

The other day, I had a plan of sorts, but we hadn't got much further than breakfast before it all went off course and in another, but no less valuable, direction ....

One son asked me for a game of chess, then another wanted me to finish reading the book about Leonardo Da Vinci we had started the previous day. This led on to looking for some of Leonardo's paintings and sketches on the web, the discovery of a story slideshow about his life, and a quiz to follow which the boys read and answered with avid interest. Then we found a game where the boys had to type in words which were transformed into Leonardo's mirror writing. My eldest son immediately began to enter words backwords for the fun of seeing them turned right way round.

Having talked and read some more about Leonardo's life and work, and having looked at the Mona Lisa and other portraits, my elder two sons spent yesterday morning painting, working solidly for 2 hours and producing a portrait each of their grandparents. There are details to finish off, but the work was seen through to completion by my eldest son. After a term at school in which I saw his attitude to work change for the worse, it has taken 6 months to see his old self returning, and his level of interest and commitment to his work return to normal.

We had read a lot of books where home educating parents speak about seeing their children begin to read, often later than children in school but self-motivated. And although I have trusted this instinctively, it has felt like a risk .....

Well, this week we walked into our local library to change our books, and were confronted by the summer reading challenge, which the boys completed last summer., so were familiar with. Children are encouraged to borrow and read six books through the summer holidays, and there is a chart with stickers to mark their progress, and a medal for completion. Well, all three boys were keen to take part and immediately set about registering and each choosing their first three books. My eldest son, who was becoming a reluctant reader at school, has read 4 chapter books right through from cover to cover in the last two days! He has been sitting on the sofa absorbed by a book, he has been trailing around behind me in the supermarket with his nose in his book, round the Sea Life Centre today - at any opportune moment, out came his book .... even during our family movie this evening, he was reading his book on the sofa. Reading for pleasure. Hallelujah!

Monday, 12 July 2010

Jolly Phonics

My youngest son has become very interested in writing words and letters, so I looked out some old phonics workbooks I have had in the cupboard for a few years. He loves them! He makes his own little desk out of a box with a chess board on top, gets out his books and his pens to do 'his work'. There is a video which these books accompany, so he has been watching that and learning to form his letters. He has started to tell me what letters words begin with - at odd moments, when he is bruching his teeth, for example, he'll say 'T. T for teeth. T for toothbrush." He will ask me how to write certain words, and then copy them very accurately onto his pictures, and he does a lot of his own 'writing' with a hotch potch of letters which he then proudly asks me to read. I do not have set times for him to do this work, he just does it when he wants to do it. His understanding of number is evolving in the same way. We'll sit down to dinner and he will announce "We are 6 today with Grandma". OK, so he isn't writing 5+1=6 but I know he is understanding.

In addition to dressing each morning as a Roman Ninja, he is also interested in designing, drawing, sticking and labelling his own maps. This may have been inspired by our project on South Africa, stemming from the World Cup, as part of which we drew flags and a huge map, talked a lot about apartheid and Nelson Mandela, the older boys even composing an a cappella piece in the style of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. A lot of learning at home is done through conversation. So much is imparted to children through watching and talking with significant adults. A lot of our talk is about values, the reasons behind behaviour, the important things which I never felt I had enough time to impart when busy with the urgent demands which came home from school. It is impossible for a teacher in a class of thirty to give such focussed attention to a child, and it is an important, if informal and undocumented part of learning at home. It is good to be able to follow a child's 'why' questions in the pursuit of knowledge about the world, rather than seeing those 'whys' and that natural curiosity suppressed, which is too often (sadly) a necessary part of classroom management in pursuit of the curriculum.

FUSE Festival

This is the weekend of the FUSE arts festival in our city, a huge community event in the park. There is always loads going on with lots of free activities for all the family. My husband and middle son were part of the community arts group performing in the dance extravaganza. I watched with admiration as they performed in front of a huge crowd enjoying the summer sunshine. My son's confidence amazed me! This was the culmination of 8 evenings rehearsals, which he would have been too tired to participate in had he been at school.

The boys also enjoyed making sock monkeys, a great way of recycling old socks and a lovely product resulting from an hour or so's concentrated effort with a needle and thread. My eldest son was so inspired, he has made a smaller companion for his monkey since out of a pair of his old school socks.