Wednesday, 26 January 2011

New Routine

I have implemented a new routine with the boys over the last few days, and it is working really well. It enables me to read with one whilst the other is independently engaged. The mornings include some maths, literature and history readings with opportunity for narration, and poetry and writing practise. The boys like routine, so they have responded very well and happily look at their 'chart' to see what they should be doing next. I think they also like the one-to-one focus from me. We are finished by half twelve / one o'clock so after lunch, there is plenty of time for other pursuits, which I am hoping will include art, music, outings, crafts and hobbies and time with grandparents. I still think giving children plenty of time in which to amuse themselves and to play freely is really important, as is getting outside (especially with three boys!)

Today we joined a group of home educating families at a farm which offers itself as 'a learning hub'. Here we have been given a room where we can meet as often as we wish (the group thought fortnightly?) and have the run of the place for our own learning activities. What a great way to learn about farming, the countryside and conservation! I am looking forward to the range of activities which might emerge form this. We thought of pond dipping, hedgerow and woodland surveys, designing a maize maze, cultivating an allotment, tree planting, studying bees and animals, learning about soils and crops, river surveys .... And it was lovely to see (for those who worry about the socialisation of home educated children) a group of boys and girls aged 5-13 chatting and getting along together, and helping one another with their activities. We started some map work today, and hope next time to get the children to put together an interactive map of the farm. My eldest son was so enthusiastic about this, which was great to see. The boys also loved the emus, horses and goat resident in one of the farmer's fields with whom they had a close encounter! And riding behind the bumpy tractor in the 28 seater wagon was the highlight for my youngest son - even though it was a bit cold!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Charlotte Mason and the Gentle Art of Learning

It is approximately a year since we deregistered our boys from our local state primary school and began educating them at home. I have to say, I have not looked back.

Last Christmas, we were reading everything we could about home education. This Christmas, I have come across the writings of Charlotte Mason - a Victorian educationalist, with whom I find myself in agreement on many things. In particular:
the recognition of children as persons whose minds need to be fed with the greatest and noblest of ideas;
the importance of children connecting with the natural world by spending plenty of time outside;
no formal learning until a child is 6 years old;
the emphasis on oral or pictorial as opposed to written narration until the child's writing ability is developed;
keeping lessons short to hold a child's motivation and attention;
the engagement of an adult to enable the child to access literature beyond his own reading ability;
the establishment of good habits;
the emphasis on faith and character development through exposing children to noble and virtuous heroes, allowing them to extract the morals for themselves;
letting literature speak;
allowing the children plenty of time just to 'be' and to fill their own time with their own interests and pursuits.

Our routine has slipped recently. This was firstly due to the preparations for Christmas, accompanied by some very wintry weather, and latterly by a visit from the flu to our household which has left us all distinctly lacking in energy. Through these weeks, I have noticed that our eldest son, particularly, has a very lively mind which he will soon put to work contriving mischief if not engaged and occupied with more worthwhile lines of thought.

I began to think that as good as it is to allow him the space and time to follow his own interests, there must also be the inputting of ideas to stimulate and inform his thinking so that he might grow. I had begun to consider how we might perhaps use some form of a curriculum together when I came across a comment on a web forum: "Before you purchase any curriculum, look at these available for free online." One site mentioned was Ambleside Online where I came across the name and philosophy of Charlotte Mason.

I didn't look long at the curriculum framework provided online - which takes Charlotte Mason's philosophy and attempts to break this down into readings for each week across all academic years - before I could see that it included some challenging stuff, some really good stuff, not the sort of stuff we would consider for modern children .... We seem to prefer to give them Horrid Henry than Oliver Twist. I wondered to myself whether this might just provide the meat for the mind I was looking for for my eldest son?

I decided to read more about Charlotte Mason's philosophy, and intend to trial her approach with the boys this term. I have started with "The Marsh Kings' daughter" by Hans Christian Anderson and "Peter Pan" by J.M. Barrie just as some casual reading, and I have been impressed by the way these stories, and the complex old-fashioned language, have held the boys' attention. I placed an Internet order for the books needed to follow this curriculum with sons 1 and 2. I am just waiting for the last few to arrive, and for the flu to be behind us, and then we will get started. Need to get back into a new routine and inspire some new habits. It's terrible how quickly the television and Wii habits kick in.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Writing with purpose

My youngest son has a birthday coming up, so we have been making some invitations to his party. We discussed which of his friends to invite, and I wrote their names clearly in a list. I then got him to read the list to me so that I could make sure we had made enough invitations. He managed this by looking at the first letters and sounding out the words, without much help from me. As he looked at the words, he said things like, "s-h at the end makes a sh sound" and "the magic e at the end makes o say oh."

I then got him to write To ____ on each invitation inserting his friend's names in turn, and he did this, ensuring he started on the left. This was a big step for him as he is a left hander and much of his emergent writing has been mirror writing from right to left. As he wrote the names, he was reading them aloud again. He then wrote all the names on the envelopes. This was a very natural context to practise writing skills.

The next day, he picked up the list and read it to himself again. He then wrote all his friends' names on a piece of paper completely unprompted and independently - all the letters and the words were the correct way around, and he showed this to me proudly pointing out, "I remembered to start on THIS side."

Later, he designed a new driver and cart for "Mario Kart", the new game we had on Wii for Christmas. He was clearly delighted with his creation. I asked him what the new driver's name was and, when he told me, I asked if he would like to write the name. "You write it," he said. So I wrote the name in dots, and he then traced over it beautifully. As I formed the letters, he said, "x, y".

To complete the picture, he asked me to draw a speech bubble and to write, "I am the bestest driver on Mario Kart!" which I did. I think there must be a balance for such a young child between encouraging their own writing and helping them to capture their ideas by writing down their dictation. This way they do not become discouraged and have a great sense of pride in their own achievement. Plus words, reading and writing remain fascinating and enjoyable activities for they are not pushed when they are unwilling or criticized for not getting it right.

My middle son had asked to use a cursive writing programme on the computer where you click on a letter of the alphabet and the 'magic pencil' shows you how to form the letter. My youngest son, having seen his brother doing this, also had a go and enjoyed looking at this and forming his letters carefully in his notebook.

The older two received a page-a-day diary for the New Year, in which I am encouraging them to do a little bit of writing each day. So far, they have willingly copied poems, quotes, and prayers. The emphasis is on the habit of writing, and doing it as beautifully as they can - even if it is just a little bit. Today, my eldest son, who is quite a reluctant writer, chose to do a little free writing about playing Mario Kart, which he illustrated with a small picture.

I have also given them a set of Berol Italic pens each, so that they can practise writing really beautifully rather like an art form. After all, not many of us use handwriting for sustained pieces of writing nowadays - we write at computers. Though the skill of handwriting is an important one, in my opinion it does not justify the time and effort spent on it by quite young children in primary schools, particularly before their fine motor skills develop sufficiently to enable them to write quickly enough to convey all their creative ideas. This can lead to frustration and, worse, could put a child off writing for good! However, it is an effective way of keeping 30 lively children seated in a contained space for considerable chunks of the day!