Monday, 29 November 2010

How Not to Talk to Your Kids: The Inverse Power of Praise

An interesting article:

In search of knowledge ....

As lifelong learners, we should be motivated by a desire to learn, a motivation which will prompt us to seek out knowledge from appropriate sources. Such sources might include books (libraries), the Internet, the television, galleries / museums, or other people. One of my aims with home educating is to teach the boys to become lifelong learners. To this end, we need to seek out the knowledge they desire from the sources available to us. One of my roles is to facilitate this, but it is also important to encourage them to do this for themselves.

Recently our middle son (aged 7) decided he wanted to learn to play the guitar. He had saved up some money and he went to the music shop, asked the advice of the shop owner and tried out a few guitars before purchasing one for himself. He then asked my brother (who plays the guitar and lives nearby) to help him and he is picking it up with surprising ease and confidence, displaying a good ear for music. I do not have to nag him to practice. He picks his guitar up regularly and plays it with clear improvement. He then realised he cannot read music, so he asked me to help him with that, and we sit together at the keyboard working through a simple book of introduction to music theory and piano.

His elder brother (recently turned 9) then decided he wanted to learn the drums, so all on his own initiative, he rang up a friend of ours who plays the drums and asked for help. This friend, very kindly, offered to spend half of his lunch hour once a week introducing him to the drums. He picks him up on his way home and my son makes his own way back. Again, the friend lives nearby. And this was all arranged independently.

Our eldest son's latest interest is in whittling wood, and my mother mentioned a man she had met at her art group who whittles and carves wood. She told him about our boy's interest, and he passed on his phone number, so I rang him up. Of course, as an older man, he was thrilled that a youngster was showing interest in his unusual hobby, and we have arranged to go and visit so that he can show my son how he whittles. Apparently he has a workbench in his kitchen and is eager to share some of his tips and woodcarving stories .... So we are looking forward to that.

One of the things I found frustrating in school was the increasing distance from and suspicion of the community. Even as a parent it was difficult to gain access to school, but if we remove our children from their local community, I believe rich learning opportunities are lost - both for the children and for those with wisdom and knowledge to share. Of course, there are risks, but with discernment, we should not allow risks to blind us to opportunities.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Using symbols

This morning, my 4-year-old came to me and showed me a piece of paper on which he had written
He read it to me as "equal 5 and equal 5 equal 10"
He had written his 'equals' sign on its side so it looked like 11.
I asked him if he would like me to show him how to write 5 and 5 equals 10, and he said yes so I wrote it out and he looked at it. Then I wrote 1+1= and he said 2, so we wrote 2.
He then took the piece of paper and began writing out his own sums in the same format:
4+5=9 etc....etc.
I was fascinated by his curiosity and diligence to this task, intrinsically motivated. It is so interesting how he pushes himself onwards in his learning, and is so naturally interested in all he learns.

NB: Some of his numbers were written back-to-front, but this is not a concern to me at this time. He is left-handed and sometimes will write in 'mirror writing'.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Ready, steady, read .....

This week, my youngest son (who is 4), took a pack of word cards from the shelf. He began to look through them spelling out each word and reading them. Some were easier than others - at and had, for example, he managed without any problem. Other words are a bit more tricky - come and was, for example. So I sat with him and we looked at the words together. He worked his way through most of the pack. I then remembered some Oxford Reading Tree books I have upstairs, so I pulled them out and showed him one. I reminded him of 'got' and 'was' - words he had just encountered on the cards. I then encouraged him to read the beginning of the book, which he managed. He was very pleased with himself but, after a few pages, he had had enough and put the book and cards away.

Native Americans

Reading a story about the discovery of 'The New World' and the European pioneers travelling west, we learned a little about the Native Americans. The boys were interested, so we have decided to learn more about them, and went to the library today to get hold of some books. We have been reading some Native American myths, and learnt a few signs members of different tribes used to communicate with one another. We have bought some tall canes to make a tipi, and will cover it with plastic or canvas which the boys can decorate with patterns based on pictures we have been studying. Today was wet, so my eldest son began whittling a totem pole out of a block of wood. His brother decided to sculpt a totem pole out of clay, whilst my youngest just had fun playing with the clay and making a lot of mess.

This is an example of how topics grow and flow from each other and evolve rather than being planned.

Just 20 minutes

People always ask me how I get my children to sit down and do the work they need to do. What this question fails to understand is that home education need not be 'school at home'. There is liberation from endless worksheets, and berating one's children to get them to read aloud or to learn that list of spellings becomes a fading memory. Rather, learning flows naturally and a routine and a little encouragement seem to help us get done what needs to be done. Everyone is more relaxed.

My eldest son chose to learn about the Second World War this term. We have used the BBC Kids website as a starting point for looking at different topics relating to the War, and I find that just 20 minutes sitting side by side and discussing what we find there achieves a great deal. Children do not receive a lot of one-on-one attention in a busy classroom, so it is amazing how much you can cover in just a short, focused amount of time.

He was working through a page of subtraction the other day, and learning the written method of carrying numbers. Although his mental maths is very good, he found this puzzling but persevered. The final exercise asked him to fill in numbers which were missing from various subtraction sums, and it was hard! He and I puzzled over it for about 25 minutes or so and got there in the end. I was so impressed at his perseverance and at the satisfaction we got from figuring it out together.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Solving problems

We have started to give the boys mathematical challenges to solve and it is great to see them persevere and puzzle them out. Today, our eldest son completed about 3. One was solved using chess kings and queens and a coaster:

"2 men and 2 women want to sail to an island. The boat will only hold 2 women or 1 man. How can all 4 of them get to the island?"

It didn't take him long.

Our middle son, to whom numbers don't come quite so easily, pondered over the following puzzle for some time:

"The toy shop stocks tricycles and go-carts. The tricycles have 3 wheels. The go-carts have 5 wheels. Suna counted the wheels. He counted 37 altogether. How many tricycles are there? How many go-carts? Find two ways to do it."

Initially, he became a bit upset saying, "I can't do it" but with some encouragement, he kept going and refused offers of help and 'clues' I was ready to give. He listed his 5 times and 3 times tables (refusing to look them up) and then looked at pairs of numbers trying to make 37. He was absolutely delighted when he solved it, and talked about it all day, telling my husband about his accomplishment proudly at the dinner table.

When we took our middle son out of school, he was saying "I'm not very good at maths". Now he likes maths and realises he CAN do it. He can delight in his own achievements, and is growing in confidence, without measuring himself against others.

Number Bonds

When our elder 2 boys get on with their maths work in the morning, our youngest son expressed his desire to have a similar workbook of his own. Today his page was presenting number bonds to 10 and I was surprised how quickly he grasped the idea. We started with those he knew .... 5+5, 0+10. He then went and got 10 Duplo blocks and we grouped them - 2+8, 3+7, 4+6, 1+9. He then made a up a little game giving me half the bricks and himself half. He then gave 1 more to me and said, "Now you have 6 and I have 4" and he went on like that, practising all the number bonds completely self-initiated.