Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Interesting Articles from Psychology Today

Dr Peter Gray PhD, a research professor at Boston College, has an interesting blog: Freedom to Learn including this interview with Kate Fridkis, an unschooled adult.

Links to some of his posts ...

Why we should stop segregating children by age: Dr Gray explores how age segregation inteferes with children's natural means of learning.

Children Educate Themselves: A series of three posts ...
1) Children are designed by nature to educate themselves
2) Watching young children learn can revolutionize our views on education
3) The wisdom of hunter-gatherers

And a few thoughts on creativity: Creativity blossoms in a non-controlling, non-judgemental environment

Saturday, 9 February 2013

What Our Children Teach Us

"The difference between spontaneity and planning is analogous to that between the flow of a brook and the route of a train. One streams around stones, and plants, within the banks, sometimes slowing, sometimes more impetuous, here and there reflecting patterns of light, never stopping. The other rattles along, from time to time stopping as planned. We may live like one or the other. We can proceed according to the planned itinerary, strenuously trying to make life conform to our needs, or we can adapt to whatever we meet and flow without effort.
One day I find myself with lots of time to spend with Emilio. On such occasions I usually ask him, "What would you like to do today?" and list all the possibilities. If I let him choose in that way, I feel very democratic. The menu, however, is mine. I choose the various options - to ride bikes, paint, read books. I am also defining the way to look at life itself: as a series of items from which to choose and make the day's plan.
A child's mind does not work this way. Thought and action arise spontaneously and unpredictably, moment to moment. Today I decide not to offer anything. I am silent, allowing Emilio to take the initiative. Emilio wastes no time. He moves easily from one activity to another, inventing new games, without worrying about what's next. He is like a juggler who does not think about how to catch the next ball - he just catches it.
By proposing a menu of activities from which to choose, I only succeed in making his world rigid and compartmentalised. Alternatively, I can learn from him. Naturally and harmoniously one experience develops from another while Emilio and I play. We play at postman, doctor, at making compositions out of stones and dried leaves, at writing, jumping, at mixing and cooking ingredients (there is a different story for each mixture), at inventing new words, counting and sticking stickers, preparing food, telephoning to hear the precise time of day, using scissors and Scotch tape, and many other activities unforeseen by my list.
I come to understand what it means to live spontaneously, how much richer and more fertile is this way of being. At first I feel anxious - about wasting time and living in a way that is incoherent and disordered. It's the anxiety of losing control. Afterwards, I really do lose control and follow a rhythm not my own. I feel much more relaxed. It is a new feeling, which never quite leaves me. It is like riding a bike: hard to explain how to do it, but at some point you just know.
I suspect this more relaxed rhythm is part of our original way of being. Learning to be spontaneous is not a matter of acquiring a new ability, but of remembering an old emotion. In losing my need to control, I lose the anxiety and the feeling of effort. In fact, maybe one of the reasons children have so much more energy that we do is that they let themselves go into the rhythm of life."

Piero Ferrucci, in "What Our Children Teach Us - Lessons in Joy, Love and Awareness" - a beautifully written, perceptive and anecdotal meander through ordinary moments in the author's own family illustrating what we might learn if we are paying attention to our children - and to ourselves. Recommended.

A Learning Situation

This week we stumbled inadvertantly into a learning situation. Had I pre-empted it, I might have tried to manage it differently but, as it is, it snuck up on us and perhaps taught us more as a result.

Our eldest son (11) is currently flexi-schooling as I have mentioned in previous posts. He enjoys school as one learning context amongst many and, to him, the day a week he attends is worth it to play football at break time! Last term, we booked his place on the school's outdoor pursuits residential week. He wanted to go, and has been looking forward to it. He has been away from home on several occasions, including a number of scout camps, and he enjoys these kinds of outdoor activity, so we did not anticipate any problems. His scout leaders have always said what a helpful member of the pack he is, and I have never had reports of bad behaviour, so it was quite a surprise to us when, on Wednesday, half way through the week, we had a phone call from the head teacher summoning us to collect our boy and bring him home. I was mortified! What could he have done to justify being sent home from the school trip? With trepidation, we set out to collect him, our minds seeking plausible explanations. Had he been influenced by the group to behave badly? Yet we have been encouraged recently at his seeming confidence and self-assuredness. We felt he was really growing comfortable in his own skin, so would not be swayed to try and fit in - as he once might have been. What could have happened?

We reached the camp, found the teachers in charge, and sat down to talk to them. They had many positive things to say about our son. He is so interested and enthusiastic. But during a walk along the canal, part of a session on map reading, he had taken things into his own hands, and walked ahead of the group, leading several other children. The teachers couldn't catch up with him. He didn't stop at the bridge they were heading for but, reading his map, led the other children on to the next bridge, which he could see was nearer to the activity centre. But he couldn't exit by that path, so had to return, rejoining the group. Rightly, the teacher responsible was furious at this bid for leadership. Unfortunately, our boy had not understood the rules of this school group. He isa competent map-reader, but school is not like scouts where independence, risk-taking, initiative are acceptable, even welcomed. It is not like home education where, I realise, likewise, these qualities are to be encouraged. In the school context, the teachers - and the activity leaders - are responsible for the group of children, and health and safety regulations must be followed. He should have stayed with the group. The poor teacher must have been worried sick. What if ....????

I felt awful. I felt awful for the poor teachers who had had to manage this loose cannon of a boy who could not be relied upon to do as expected. And I felt awful too for my son. It had not occurred to me that I needed to explain to him the 'rules of play' for this school context. I had just expected him to know, to understand, that in different places, different rules apply, different behaviour is expected and accepted. Having driven him home in a silent disgrace, I made him hot chocolate and we talked about this. He was the most chastened and remorseful I have ever seen him, but I do not think he had understood the teachers' position. He has never been strong on empathy, and he needed to understand their stress to see the error of his behaviour in that context.

I think he might have been forgiven this episode, and allowed to stay on the camp, had not an incident of overt disobedience occurred the following day. His teacher explained how well he had participated in the morning activity of den building, showing his skills in a really positive way in the group. But the children were told not to return to a particular area and, later, in play, our boy inadvertantly 'found himself' in the forbidden part of the woods. Well, that was just disobedient, I told him. Yes, he acknowledged. He has an issue with not listening and not doing as he is told. So I am glad that he realised it is not just Mum, Dad, Grandma and Grandpa who ask for his obedience. His teachers do too - and the camp activity leaders. Especially in outdoor pursuits, it is a safety issue. And a sorry will not cut it, there are consequences. He was sent home. I am glad the teachers are able to act and to exclude where behaviour does not meet their expectations. I am glad for the learning experience - both for our son, and for us.

What a thing - to be sent home from the school camp. He had to write letters of apology, letters which showed he really understood what he had done wrong - and that took some discussion - to the two teachers involved, to the head teacher of the school, and to the manager and staff of the outdoor pursuits centre. He is also required to pay us back half of the money we paid for him to attend the camp - for the half of the week he missed. Reflecting, he said, "I think I have learned something from this." Let us hope that is true.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Education Innovation

Education Innovation in the Slums

Charles Leadbeater went looking for radical new forms of education -- and found them in the slums of Rio and Kibera, where some of the world's poorest kids are finding transformative new ways to learn. And this informal, disruptive new kind of school, he says, is what all schools need to become.

A researcher at the London think tank Demos, Charles Leadbeater was early to notice the rise of "amateur innovation" -- great ideas from outside the traditional walls, from people who suddenly have the tools to collaborate, innovate and make their expertise known.

"Education needs to work by pull not push." (Charles Leadbeater)

Saturday, 2 February 2013

A Pirate Party

Last week's family project was the planning of a pirate party to celebrate our third son's 7th birthday. We sat down together and thought about the party, and all that needed to be organised. We brainstormed, and we all committed to various tasks we would be responsible for. The birthday boy sent out treasure map invitations which requested help in finding his (the Captain's) hidden treasure. We had fun tea-staining the maps. The boys had some great ideas for games, and we decided to plot the games on a trail around a home-made treasure map.

The guests arrived in pirate costumes. As they arrived, our second son helped them to make parrots out of toilet roll tubes covered in green paper. He had prepared everything they needed at a low craft table. The children decorated their parrot with googly eyes, a beak, feathers and coloured crepe paper. We stapled an elastic band at the bottom so that they could put their arm through and 'sit' the parrot on their shoulder!

Once everyone had arrived, our eldest son gathered them all around the treasure map and told them their challenge was to help the Captain find his hidden treasure. To do this, they must follow the map, completing challenges together along their way. The first challenge "Dead Man's Cove" involved a big, cardboard skull and cross bones the boys had made and attached to the back of a chair. It had holes cut in it, and the 'pirates' had to stand behind a line and try to throw a ping pong ball through the holes. It proved easier said than done!

The next game was "Blind Man's Bluff" - one of our boys' favourites! To play, sit one child on a chair blindfold, and place a pile of sweetie booty underneath. The child holds a rolled up tube of newspaper. The other children have to take turns to sneak up and attempt to 'steal' some 'treasure' (sweets) from under the chair. The blindfold child must listen and try to hit any approaching 'pirates' with the newspaper. If they get struck, they must come back and someone else takes a turn. We had a cardboard treasure chest into which all the treasure was placed to be shared out later. And of course, each 'pirate' needed a turn in the chair as well as a chance to try and steal some treasure.

After that, we played Brigantine Bay. This was a Lego challenge, and the boys went upstairs to use the Lego to design a pirate ship. They had about 10-12 minutes to design the best boat they could, and the results were quite impressive.

Then it was time for Pirate Point, which was a game of Consequences. The children sat in a circle, and each had a piece of paper. Pots of felt tip pens were in the centre. They all drew a pirate hat, then folded their paper over and passed it to the person on their left. Each child then drew a pirate head, then folded their paper and passed it on again. So the game continued with the children drawing bodies, legs, boots, then opening and accessorising their finished pirate pictures with cutlasses, parrots and other weaponry. A nice quiet activity before the rat slaughter ....

Our eldest son's determination to use his Nerf gun at some point in the party was incorporated into Rat's Retreat. He had made paper rats with ears, tails and googly eyes, and given them a points value - 2 points for the larger ones, 5, 10 and 50 points for the tiniest one. He stood them all along the back of a sofa. The boys stood some distance back and had to try and shoot the rats with the Nerf gun - like a rifle range. The next game, Rat Splat, involved dropping a heavier rat made for a heavy cardboard tube, down a cardboard shute which we had propped up. The idea of the game was to hit the 'rat' as it fell out of the bottom with a newspaper roll. This was great fun - and almost impossible.

The final game was a treasure hunt. I had prepared and hidden clues and treasure around the house. All the treasure was collected and out into the pirate chest. Then we shared it out into the children's party bags. We had plenty of sweeties, but also some shark tooth necklaces, which the boys had made with some sharks' teeth they bought at the Sea Life Centre attached onto thin pieces of wire, and threaded onto a piece of leather thong - very inexpensive. We also had some pirate pencils and stickers hidden as well. The clues were as follows:

Ahoy me mateys, the time has come to find the hidden treasure, you're sure to have fun.
Follow the rules along your trip or walk the plank and sink your ship.
Now mateys, listen, here are the rules - no fighting, no pushing, stay in a group .. no running ahead.
Aye, Aye me hearties, the hunt’s to begin, may all your ships come in to win.
Here is your first clue, the game has begun. Let’s all be sure to have lots of fun.

Clue 1: The ship’s rat eats up all the scraps. (The next clue was hidden by our guinea pig's hutch.)

Clue 2: Keep on hunting and the treasure’ll be yours. Look behind the Captain's door. (The next clue was hidden behind the door to the birthday boy's bedroom.)

Clue 3: A pirate’s life is the life for me, look for what you need to make a nice cup of tea. (The next clue was hidden in the box of tea bags in the kitchen.)

Clue 4: Any pirate ought to know - what do you need when the light gets low? (The next clue was hidden by our son's torch.)

Clue 5: To find the next clue, you need to mop the deck. Hurry up, before the ship is wrecked. (The next clue was hidden in the bucket by the mop in our broom cupboard.)

Clue 6: Cannon balls fly through the skies, how do we hear when our baby cries? (The next clue was hidden by the baby monitor in our baby's room.)

Clue 7: Land Lubbers’ Cove is next, me hearties. Where does the Captain's Mum hide the smarties? (The next clue was hidden in our sweetie cupboard with some tubes of smarties.)

Clue 8: The pirate’s life is awful gory, all pirates need a cheery story! ((The next clue was hidden in a storybook called "Portside Pirates" published by Barefoot Books and we watched the animated singalong story on the computer monitor. The boys sang along lustily - and a couple of them even did a piratey jig!)

Clue 9: Jolly Roger is my name, now find the flag that bears the same. (The next clue was taped to the flag pole of the Jolly Roger flag our third son had painted and attached to the back of his chair at the dinner table.)

Clue 10: Sit down and wait for all the ships to arrive, then you will get a big surprise.

So we brought the pirates to the table, which we had decorated with a pirate tablecover, plates and cups - from Tesco. We had even managed to find some skull and crossbone balloons. We had also made some coloured flags (which we hung like bunting) and printed cutlasses, anchors, telescopes etc on to them. With the winter wind and rain lashing around the windows, & the Jolly Roger flag flying on the Captain's chair, it reallt felt like we were on a storm-tossed galleon. We served fishfingers and chips with cucumber and carrot sticks, lemonade with a drop of blue food colouring, which we said was "Sea water", Coca Cola, which was our "rum" and tropical Lilt. Then came cupcakes, and the best treasure of all - a treasure chest birthday cake, which I had great fun constructing. All in all, a swashbuckling time was had by all!