Tuesday, 22 May 2012

A Sociable Weekend

Having written below about the issue of socialisation (See "The Big Question"), which always seems to be such a concern to people, we had such a busy weekend trying to manage the boys' social lives - as well as our own! The eldest was off on a 2-night cub camp, which he thoroughly enjoyed. As one of the oldest cubs, he was called upon to help out and to take more responsibility. What a joy to be told he was a pleasure to have around. Scouting has given him many opportunities already, and with another camp coming up, it is great for him to be able to get away for a few days with his friends. Meanwhile, his brother was off on a sleepover with a friend he met through one of our home educating groups, so we arranged for our third son to have a friend from church sleep over and keep him company. A good time was had by all! Having picked up and dropped off, we went as a family to meet some new friends we met through our ante-natal course - with a baby the same age as ours - to join their church picnic at a farm. Another chance for the boys to mix with people of all ages. Admittedly, they were all 3 rather tired by that point, but it did me good to get out in the fresh air!

Planet Earth Live

The boys have loved watching the BBC's Planet Earth Live this month, and haven't missed an episode:

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Number Troubles

This morning, my second son was struggling again with his maths Kumon. He is working on subtraction. He will seem to 'get it', but then the next day revert to some strange method of doing his sums, which shows no understanding of the numbers on the page or the process of subtraction. It is frustrating - for him and for us. I am sure that in school he would be moved on because there is pressure to get through the curriculum that needs to be covered - whether the learners are ready or not. My husband, in his work both in schools as a secondary maths teacher, and now as a Kumon instructor, knows this to be true and sees the result. Children are grappling with higher level concepts, without having a good grasp of the foundations. These sure foundations can only be built by practice and repetition, which Kumon does provide.
Rather than moving our son on, we decided he needs to go back and repeat subtraction problems he is confident with, building up again to the harder sums until he 'gets it'. And I am confident that, with practice, he will and then he will feel chuffed with himself for having persevered and cracked it. Our eldest son is facing a similar problem with his long division. He can do this now, but he needs to be able to do it more quickly, to be 'more fluent' at it before he moves on again.
People might look at our second son, and wonder why he doesn't know his times tables yet. Well, he will get there, but I can see how fluent his addition and number bonds are having followed this approach, and we will continue to move at his pace - not at the pace dictated by others.

Integrated Learning

When we were at school, there was far more topic-based integrated learning. I loved listening in on the boys' Chinese lesson yesterday, as maths and language learning overlapped. They were adding, subtracting and multiplying in Chinese. And my eldest son, who is good at maths, extended the activity himself, instead of adding or multiplying the numbers on two dice, as his brothers were doing, he created sums with all 4 dice - in Chinese!
Later in the day, as the elder two and I continued our Marco Polo project, we began discussing the Chinese language and characters, and they were both able to refer to language and pictographs they had encountered in their Chinese lessons.
This is how learning should be - integrated and holistic, as subjects overlap in a very natural way, one reinforcing the other.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Why I Choose to Boycott SATs

It's SATs week. Is there a better symbol of all that is wrong in our education system, a better example of top-down educational policy - rather than education that starts with the child?
SATs are a standardised means which the Government use to assess primary schools. The pressure is on Headteachers to show, through these test results, that they have succeeded in their educational endeavours. But what is measured is so limited! Suppose your child is an avid reader, yet struggles to gap fill in the way required by the test paper? Then their score will not reflect their true ability. And the pressure is ON.
The pressure is on Headteachers, who need to prove their school is succeeding. If Ofsted, another symbol of all that is wrong in education, deem a school to be satisfactory, then next time they are inspected, the school must have improved and be deemed 'good' - otherwise it must be deemed 'unsatisfactory' and will be put into 'special measures'. One of our local schools has recently been dragged through our local newspaper, with calls going up for the Head's resignation, because of such a lack of improvement.
The Head's stress is passed down to teachers, who must be seen to perform. Hence, at parents' evening, I am told my son's handwriting needs to improve. I query whether it must be cursive ... can he not just write in clear print? The response, and this in a school year as far as he can be in primary school from a SATs test (Year 3), "Cursive is 2 marks on the SATs paper". And when I ask about his reading, I am told: "Well, yes, comprehension is important, too, for the tests."
I don't care! I don't care! I don't care about the SATs paper! I care about my son's interest and learning.
For these reasons, I have decided to boycott the SATs system by removing my children from school. You see, the teachers' stress passes down to the children, and to the parents.
Do you know what? SATs are absolutely not important to our children. Oh, everyone would have us believe that they are, but they are not. In secondary schools, the SATs results are barely looked at anyway? Children are reassessed in Year 7 for streaming purposes. And any good teacher should be able to assess the children in his or her classroom without the need for a SAT.
The pressure on teachers to 'teach to test' is harming our education system and undermining teachers' professional autonomy. In my opinion, this is wrong. It is not what education should be about.
That is why I boycott the SATs. Does anyone else want to join me?

Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Vikings

The Vikings really seem to have captured our eldest two boys' imagination. We came across them in our second son's history readings in "Our Island Story", and Grandpa followed this up with further stories, and a model Viking ship which they are constructing together from a kit. He and I are also reading Jennie Hall's 'Viking Tales' and our eldest son't enthusiasm for the 'How to Train Your Dragon' series by Cressida Cowell has tied in nicely. I often find in home education that things 'come together' in a wonderful way without any planning on my part. Our second son picked up the first 'How to Train Your Dragon' book yesterday, and read through it in an evening and a day. This morning, he sat curled up on the sofa with the sequel. His elder brother continues to work his way through the series, and I love to hear them discussing the books, the plot and the characters whilst travelling in the car. Is there a need for them to write down a description of a character, or to rewrite the plot on a worksheet, when their conversation show such understanding orally? A friend asked me recently how we 'assess' the boys' learning, but when we spend so much time with them and are able to listen to their conversations, their progress is evident. A discussion of the Norse Gods over breakfast this morning highlighted my own ignorance on the subject! All we need now is a week in Yorkshire to include a trip to Jorvik - the Viking centre in York. I'll have to see what can be arranged!

Viking figure, wire and clay.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Home educating with a small baby in the house

I had forgotten just how time-consuming it is caring for a new baby, and our little one seems to like being permanently fastened to my breast - or at least in arms! Fortunately there are many arms willing to take him - his brothers remaining keen to hold him. So how can home education work when I am so busy with babycare? I suppose I am reminded again of the importance of a rounded, wholehearted education, of which care of younger siblings can be an important part. I am convinced that my eldest son, in particular, is a far more compassionate person than he would be were he in school, and it is great for the boys to be able to develop a bond and a relationship with their youngest brother. Were they in school they would see very little of him. I am also reminded that my aims for the boys are not about me, but about developing independent, self-motivated learners with initiative. It cannot all depend upon me.
Last week, my husband and I took our eldest son to look round our nearest boys' grammar school. Why?
Well, I was curious ... but also we are getting to the time where we must begin to consider his secondary education and, for us here, one option is to enter him for the 11+. I thought that in viewing the school, he might see something he liked, something he would really enjoy and could aspire to. I think that, if he decided he wanted to, he could pass the 11+. But it would require that intrinsic motivation and determination that I cannot produce for him. So much of our educational systems are measured according to the teaching, but learning has far more to do with the learner. Our eldest is quite an academically minded, bright boy. He is also very sociable. So I just thought we should explore the options with him.
I thought he might see things we cannot offer in home education, things which would appeal to him. I was impressed with the DT workshops and the noticeboards telling us all about trips overseas! We were shown round by two Year 7 boys, who pointed out the science labs and the playing fields, amongst everything else. I thought our son might come out saying positive things, instead he began telling me all the reasons home education is better than school, and how we can accomplish the same things, and better, ourselves.
I confess that continuing through the secondary years is daunting, and yet I cannot help feeling in my heart that he is right. We were looking at the best that school can offer, and yet I was not blown away. It was still a school with all its confines and limitations. And having broken out of the box, why would we choose to go back in? Is it even possible? We will be thinking through all our options, including continuing with home education, because we want what is best for him. He is the child I find hardest to direct, and often I feel he is coasting. I am sure he would coast even more in school, but if he is bored, he can be a challenge. If motivated and engaged, he can be wonderful. I suppose I am concerned that I will not be able to adequately meet all the boys' differing needs. The span of ages is a challenge.
The daily 'to do today' lists which I mentioned below are a way of differentiating, and enable each child to take control of their own learning, doing what they can independently, with me giving each one my time when I have opportunity. So, when the baby is feeding or sleeping, I can read to one of the older ones, or help them with some tricky maths. 15 minutes of focused input one-on-one can be as valuable as a much longer period in a crowded school classroom.
I have also been encouraged by my parents' input and enthusiasm for continuing in our home educating journey. They have each boy individually for a morning or afternoon a week, and we have been discussing weekly activities they can do with each child to make the most of their valuable time with them. My middle son came home today having cooked a 2-course meal for his grandparents, and having started work on a Viking ship model, which supports what he has been learning through history and literature readings with me. He also has plans for a vegetable patch which we are preparing in our garden, and my Mum is a great source of inspiration for this project. My eldest son this week made a wooden chest with a lock in Grandpa's workshop, and also started work on a model beam engine. Our third son, who is 6, had been in the garden with Grandpa and was studying the ladybirds. So they decided to look up ladybirds on the Internet and print out some pictures, which he has since made into a book. Some of this learning happens spontaneously and autonomously. We respond to a question or an interest at the moment it occurs. Other tasks are planned or guided, but will often still reflect a child's current interests. However the learning happens, I am very glad there are a number of us committed to and involved in the process with our boys - especially at the moment.
I am also concerned that we are not out and about enough. Small boys need fresh air! Admittedly, they are outside more than me - be it playing with their friends in the street after school, at one of their clubs or activities - accompanied by my husband or a grandparent if necessary - or at a friend's house. But I am feeling I need to get out and about again - and that is a daunting prospect. At least I can drive again now! And the wet weather recently hasn't made staying inside so very unattractive. Our weekly nature walks have been replaced with an episode of David Attenborough's 'Life' series on cable which isn't quite the same, but is still not a bad use of an hour and can spark their curiosity and interest.

The Big Question

You might be surprised that the most common question asked of me as a home educator has nothing at all to do with education! No, it is the question of socialisation! What is school for then? For education, or for socialisation? What about socialisation? How can my children possibly become socialised without formal schooling?
Well, that warrants the question as to what is healthy socialisation?
Is the best socialisation to mix with 30 children of the same age within the confines of a classroom for most of the day? We must remember that the advent of modern schooling is relatively new, and came with the industrial revolution, removing children from their parents so that Dad and Mum could be economically productive. Has this system of socialising our children worked? When we look at modern society, the separations between generations, the lack of mentoring for our young people as they turn to their peer group for identity and guidance, the shifting of responsibility from family to state, can we really say that school provides the best socialisation we can offer?
My children get to mix with a range of people in the community. They get to spend a lot of time with their siblings - including their baby brother - learning to care and help and take responsibility. They get to spend a lot of time with their parents - hopefully in a positive, mentoring capacity - and with their grandparents, who have a wealth of knowledge and experience to offer. They get to meet and mix with children of all ages at the home educators' groups, at the various clubs they attend and at church. They get to meet and mix with shopkeepers, librarians, scientists, doctors and all sorts of people they encounter in their day to day lives as they go about their business - or observe us about ours. They get to see a range of people at work, opening possibilities to them for their own future vocation, rather than just teachers. They get to be out and about in the world and in the community in what I would call a more normal and natural way than school affords.

OK, I will come off my soapbox now, but please don't ask me about socialisation!

7 Lies about Homeschoolers