Sunday, 23 December 2012

The RI Christmas Lectures

The Royal Institution's Christmas Lectures are a highlight in our house enjoyed by all our boys accessing these high quality broadcasts at their own level. Don't miss this year's offering by Dr Peter Wothers - The Modern Alchemist - as he unpicks the chemistry of the world around us.
BBC Four at 8pm on the 26th, 27th and 28th December.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

About School

He always wanted to say things. But no one understood.
He always wanted to explain things. But no one cared. So he drew.
Sometimes he would just draw and it wasn't anything.
He wanted to carve it in stone or write it in the sky.
He would lie out on the grass and look up in the sky and it would be only him and the sky and the things inside that needed saying.
And it was after that, that he drew the picture. It was a beautiful picture.
He kept it under the pillow and would let no one see it.
And he would look at it every night and think about it. And when it was dark, and his eyes were closed, he could still see it. And it was all of him. And he loved it.
When he started school he brought it with him.
Not to show anyone, but just to have it with him like a friend.
It was funny about school. He sat in a square, brown desk like all the other square, brown desks and he thought it should be red. And his room was a square, brown room.
Like all the other rooms. And it was tight and close. And stiff.
He hated to hold the pencil and the chalk, with his arm stiff and his feet flat on the floor, stiff, with the teacher watching and watching.
And then he had to write numbers. And they weren't anything. They were worse than the letters that could be something if you put them together.
And the numbers were tight and square and he hated the whole thing.
The teacher came and spoke to him. She told him to wear a tie like all the other boys.
He said he didn't like it and she said it didn't matter. After that they drew.
And he drew all yellow and it was the way he felt about morning. And it was beautiful.
The teacher came and smiled at him. "What's this?" she said. "Why don't you draw something like Ken's drawing? Isn't that beautiful?" It was all questions.
After that his mother bought him a tie and he always drew airplanes and rocket ships like everyone else.
And he threw the old picture away.
And when he lay out alone looking at the sky, it was big and blue and all of everything, but he wasn't anymore.
He was square inside and brown, and his hands were stiff,
and he was like anyone else.
And the thing inside him that needed saying didn't need saying anymore.
It had stopped pushing. It was crushed. Stiff.
Like everything else.

This anonymous poem is quoted in Barbara Prashing's book, "New Ways of Learning and Tecahing through Learning Styles". It is believed that the teenage student who wrote this committed suicide two weeks later.

Individual Learning Styles

A feature of home education ought to be a recognition of individual learning style, enabling a child to learn in the way he or she prefers. I have picked up a book this week which a friend gave me several years ago, prior to her return to her home country of New Zealand. I don't know why it has taken so long for me to get around to studying it ... Well, I do know: I am just a bit busy most days with a lively baby and 3 older boys to educate!! ;) Still, I am glad I have picked this book up. It is called, "The Power of Diversity: New Ways of Learning and Teaching through Learning Styles" by Barbara Prashnig, an educator and trainer. I have only just begin, and more insights from my reading will surely shape our educational journey and so find their way into future posts. So far I have been reminded that my own learning style will be the primary determiner in the way that I teach my children. Yet, their learning style is unlikely to be the same as mine. Indeed, each of them will have their own preferred way of learning. As difficult as it might be for schools to discover and cater for the individual child, in the home environment there is really no excuse. I must find this key to unlocking the learning potential of each of my children. Otherwise I will fail them - just as a school would. I mentioned in a recent post, "Secondary Dilemmas" my realisation that my eldest son learns orally through conversation and asking seemingly endless questions. This was a revelation. Most importantly, it freed him from my expectation that he needed to learn as I do. Now my task is to discover and tap into the learning styles of his younger brothers. I don't feel I have yet managed that. I hope this latest book will help me to be more perceptive and to rise to that challenge.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Reindeer Hats

Much to my disappointment, my boys are not very interested in seasonal craft activities. However, these reindeer hats were a hit! I found the inspiration here but adapted the design by cutting ears where the antlers are on the template, then adding the twigs. I had to help quite a lot with the folding, but the boys enjoyed decorating and personalising them!

Friday, 7 December 2012

Boys and Writing

When I took my boys out of school, one of our dilemmas was writing. My eldest son's teacher wanted more neat writing at the end of a lesson than he could manage. Then aged just 8 he told me, "Mum, either it is neat but there's not enough of it, or there is enough but it isn't neat." Knowing how much small boys need to run around outside, I was cross that he would then miss his playtimes trying to get his writing up to standard.

At parents' evening his handwriting was a concern because it wasn't cursive - which counted for two marks on the all-important SATs test. I wasn't remotely interested in the SATs test, but this test-focus and obsession with neat handwriting seemed to me to be all wrong.

I am not saying that learning to write is not important, but I think we should keep handwriting in its place. By the time our children leave school, they will not be writing but talking to voice recognition computers which will record their words. The technology already exists, and I seldom write by hand these days - perhaps scribbling down the odd note or shopping list. Most of my writing is done at a keyboard.

From numerous conversations with other parents of boys, I realise my son is not alone in his struggle with handwriting. Generally small boys do not like to write. They have better things to do with their time!

When we started home educating, I decided to conduct something of an experiment and to back-off on the writing. I decided instead to focus on reading to the boys, and encouraging them to narrate stories they had heard. Also to do lots of oral work, creative play and discussion. Conversation is a natural part of home educating anyway, because as you live life together, you naturally talk about all you encounter. In these ways, I figured the boys would build vocabulary. And my hypothesis was that, as their fine motor skills developed with age, what was going on in their minds and coming out of their mouths would eventually flow out on to paper. I was prepared for this to take a while. Friends had told me that by the time boys reach years 5 and 6 in primary school (aged 10 - 11), something seems to click and writing begins to come that little bit easier. Why then, I wondered, spend years 1, 2, 3 and 4 making small boys write so unwillingly? Maybe we could use that time more beneficially.

With any experiment, there is an element of wonder ... Will it work? Will my hypothesis prove reliable? Well, as I mention in an earlier post, Robinson Crusoe has recently grabbed my sons' imagination. Building on this, we are reading "Swiss Family Robinson" together as a read-aloud. This story features a family of four boys, like ours, so I suggested that the boys each take on one of the character roles and write a log-book of their adventures as we read. Sons 2 and 3 were quite enthusiastic about this, and have started to make lovely little illustrated log books.

My eldest son, always full of his own ideas, protested - but asked if he could, instead, write a log as Robinson Crusoe. 'Why not?' I thought. So he began ....

He is such a perfectionist, we often get all sorts of fussing before we get to any work. So the paper won't be the right size, or he can't get the title neat enough or whatever. Rather than letting this hinder his progress and stifle his enthusiasm, my husband suggested he write it on the computer, a suggestion to which he responded enthusiastically. He got his page organised into columns so that he could fold it into the logbook he envisaged, and then he began to write ....

Well, joy of joys, the writing was good, and quite expressive. He is using description and including emotion. His sentences are complex, and the vocabulary is rich. His spelling is pretty good, considering I have never "taught" him spelling. His punctuation and paragraphing need a little work but, all in all, I am impressed and I look forward to seeing the finished piece of work.