Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Break away

If traditional systems aren’t providing what you need to accomplish your mission, then break away - break away from your 9-5 job, break away from the agenda that’s set by conventional mind-sets. Easton broke away from the limitations of the public education system and taught himself what he wanted to know.

Meet the 17-year-old who created a brain-powered prosthetic arm.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

What Happy Teenagers do Differently

I have long asserted that as children grow into adolescence they need suitable challenges. Taking risks and pushing themselves out of their comfort zone will contribute to positive self-esteem. Looking at the ways in which boys are intiated into manhood in different cultures around the world, my husband and I have talked about suitable challenges for our boys as they get older - and the importance of good adult mentors to catch them as they venture out from the family.

This article from Psychology Today agrees that the teenage brain is wired for risk taking. Indeed, it is a way in which young people discover their identities. Learning to solve problems, working with others and pushing out of their comfort zones led to a sense of accomplishment, good self-esteem, a path to happiness.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Choosing School

After last week's deliberations, and another visit to our nearest grammar school, my eldest son decided to accept the place and go to school in September. I am so very proud of him, and I think there is a great deal he will gain and learn from the experience but, I must confess, I also feel immensely disappointed. I am disappointed because I do not believe institutions are the best places for people - be they children, the abandoned, the disabled or the elderly. I do not believe an institution - however 'good' it might appear - is the best place to nurture the gifts and talents of the individual. It cannot be, because it's very nature requires that it deal with the masses. The grammar school still has class sizes of 30. It is still a system, an organised machine, a processor. How will my quirky boy adapt to conformity? To having to sit amongst the crowd whilst the curriculum is delivered? What effect will this have on his ability and desire to determine the course of his own learning? What will the impact be on our family relationships when he returns tired and grumpy to a pile of homework? Where will he find the time to pursue his projects and passions? My concerns are many.

However, one of the strengths of home education is an ability to tailor provision to each individual child. My second son would not thrive in a grammar school at all, but our eldest really might. And as we talked to him, it became clear to me that he has a real need for more company of his own age. He is a very sociable, extravert boy and this need is as great as any other. I feel disappointed that we have not been able to find that for him, that there are not more families learning autonomously outside the system, more community learning hubs where he can hook up with like-minded companions. That would be my dream. For the moment, I must content myself with going back to holidays at peak times, stressful mornings getting him out of the door on time with a packed lunch and a clean uniform, and the consequences of dancing to the beat of the school bell. On the positive side, he will need to be organised, learn to get himself up and out and to school on time; he will have new challenges, new friends, opportunities to do new things he might not otherwise try. He will hopefully encounter new people and new ideas which inspire him, and all this will come home to inform his brothers also. Most importantly, I think, unlike most of us, he is choosing to be there. We have talked extensively about what he is signing up to, and I have told him I will not be nagging. School responsibilitues will be his own responsibilities and he can face the consequences at school. He is excited and positive, up for the challenge, busy studying his uniform list and summer homework. So let's see .... Most importantly, for him on his educational journey, school is one resource he is choosing to utilise and, if it fails to enable him to learn and thrive, he will choose to move on and determine his own destination - however he might get there. That is truly autonomous. Perhaps my greatest concern is that I'm not sure what a school will make of that.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Latest exploits

My eldest son has decided he wants to build a petrol engine go-kart, and is busy designing it. He has been looking on youtube and various websites for ideas as to how to go about this task. His Grandpa gave him an old lawnmower to take to bits, and yesterday he worked on this out in the garden in the sunshine - getting very oily in the process - and removed the engine from the mower. He has been trying to source other materials, and today at our home education group, he asked around to see whether anyone has a welding kit. He found out that one girl's Dad has a factory and a huge garage where he undertakes projects such as my son is interested in - this week constructing an air-conditioning unit using a coolbox, a fan and some bottles of iced water!! My son was so impressed, and now plans to go over with his Dad to talk to this other Dad about possible projects - and assistance with welding. He also found a welding course online, and sent an email enquiry to see whether he would be able to undertake such a course if accompanied by an adult. All of this is great, self-initiated learning. Most of the time, I haven't a clue what he is talking about - centrafugal clutches etc - but he seems happy and engaged. Between times, he is still talking about trying this boys' grammar school. I don't know how he will get on if he is having to conform and do as he is told all day every day, but we shall see ....

Today we were in Stoke at the Museum and Art Gallery where we looked at skulls and measured them, using some higher level mathematics to record the data and evaluate whether the skulls were closer to modern man or to apes. The man running these sessions (We have done other workshops with him in the past) is just a fantastic facilitator, and the youngsters get a taste of real scientific research and its relationship to mathematics, history, geology, RE ... He is excellent and provides challenge for children at all levels. What I like best about him is that he talks to them as fellow scientists in a completely unpatronising way, and they come up with some brilliant questions and ideas, which he engages with so well.

In the afternoon, we had a look at a few sculptures, and then had a go at some portraiture and then some clay sculpture ourselves - with varied (and fun) results!

What to do with Homeschool Doubt

This week people have said to me, "Well done! You must be doing something right" because of the offer of a grammar school place, but that was not what I was aiming for. People have been asking me, "Ooh, how did you prepare him for the 11+? I'd like to put my child in for it." But maybe that is the lesson. Don't make the test the objective, the school place the aim. As this article reminds me, "When a day or a month or a year doesn’t go the way you think it should, remind yourself of the goal – to raise emotionally healthy, naturally curious human beings who love to learn. And they just don’t teach that in the public schools.

What to do with Homeschool Doubt

Our kitchen table, currently ...

Sunday, 14 July 2013

The school dilemma again ...

Why will the school dilemma not go away? To go or not to go, that seems to be the ongoing question. At least, in my mind. This week, my eldest son received the offer of a place at our nearest boys' grammar school, for which he voluntarily took the test 'just for fun' back in September. Having reached a decision to continue to home educate him through the secondary years, this offer has rather thrown me, and him. It feels like a good opportunity, which we would be crazy to turn down. After all, he is a bright, academic, sociable boy who loves a bit of healthy competition. Perhaps he would thrive in a grammar school environment which caters for able boys. He would certainly enjoy the camaraderie, the extra-curricular activities ... What is my dilemma? Well, although the box might be wrapped a little differently, it is still a school with all the confines which school entails. We would have to dance to the beat of their drum. We would be ruled by homework needing to be completed and by the pressures of school bells. We would surrender our autonomy. Is the price worth paying? To just 'be normal'? The thing is I fundamentally disagree with the value system on which our schools are structured, with sorting according to the cans and cannots; with the lies children are fed to motivate them through years of dreary curriculum whilst their own love of learning and self-belief ebbs slowly away, making them think they can't learn without the help of a 'professional'; that they won't get anywhere in life without a handful of GCSEs; that there will be no job, no money, no happiness if they do not conform. These things simply are not true. Yet, sometimes I think it is easy for me to say ... with my handful of GCSEs and A-Levels and honours degree ... easy for me to say. My husband, who went to a private boys' school, doesn't rate the opportunity at all. Far better, he says, to know oneself, one's gifts, talents, passions. To learn, in these formative adolescent years, who I am and why I am here.

More research

I came downstairs the other morning, and my seven-year-old unschooled boy told me he was researching the Empire State Building. Recently, he has been very interested in landmarks and this has led to him building a number of 3D puzzles made by Ravensburger - Big Ben, Tower Bridge, The Eiffel Tower, The Leaning Tower of Pisa, even a spherical globe, which was quite a challenge ...

His interest has also led to an interest in 3-D drawing and he has been working on this skill ina very focused way for some time, producing many drawings which show improving technique ...

Fortunately, Grandma is able to offer some guidance here and he has been listening to her input and taking on board her tips for improving his style. He has recently moved on to drawing still life and groups of objects and has a blank canvas waiting for a still life painting to take shape.

The next puzzle he is trying to save up for is the Empire State Building, hence the morning research project. I was intrigued. He googled "Empire State Building", found the Wikipedia page, read the information and was noting down key facts - all unprompted.

Interestingly, I noticed he had written down the date the tower was built, so I asked him how old it was and he struggled to work it out. I realised he didn't really understand the timelime which would enable him to relate the date he had in front of him to real time which he could understand. So we drew a timeline from 1900 to 2013 and marked on to it some key dates including birthdates of various family members. From there, because he knows how old Grandma and Grandpa are and could work out how many years older the Tower is than them, he worked out the Tower's age. He also read for how long the Empire State Building was the tallest building in New York, and a little about the World Trade Centre - and it's destruction. He asked about that, and we had a conversation. He has since looked at a few images on Google, processing this event in his own way. He also found out what is now the tallest building in the world, which led to a bit of geography as we found the United Arab Emirates in our atlas, and then looked at where all the other landmarks are located as well. Not bad for a half hour's work before breakfast!

Share a Skill

Children love taking ownership for their learning, and they love learning from one another. Recently, our eldest son volunteered to share a skill with our home education group. Three of the older girls in our group organised an art exhibition as part of an Arts Award they have been working towards. They showcased very different work ... One, a display of items made from recycled rubbish, another, an exhibition of her items hand-made using a sewing machine, the third, theatrical make-up. They opened the hall to the public and served cups of tea and home made cakes. Our son showed his movie-making and computer animation skills. The group watched with interest. Later in the session, one older girl wanted to learn a bit more from him and they sat together for half an hour working on a Lego animation. I watched and thought, "How wonderful!" Here were two young people who, in schooled circumstances, simply would not meet, and certainly wouldn't associate with one another. She is a few years older than him, and a girl! Yet she was interested in what he was doing, and in these circumstances, was able to sit alongside and learn a new skill from this younger boy. The whole session was a good example of community learning, almost a realisation of my vision for 'learning hubs' where people of different ages can come together to learn and to share skills with one another.

I wondered what the boys made of the session, and they were so enthusiastic about it that sons 2 and 3 put themselves forward to share a skill at a later session. That session was last week. Our eldest followed up with another movie-making workshop. This time, in addition to demonstrating how to use Windows Movie Maker, he got the children to organise a swift interpretation of The Three Little Pigs, which he directed, filmed and then edited during the rest of the session to show at the end. Meanwhile, our 7-year-old showed his 3D puzzles and talked about drawing in perspective. He showed how to draw in the horizon and vanishing point and how to draw 3D blocks and elipses. The children then all had a go at drawing the buildings the puzzles depict. Son number 2 didn't have much time in the end, but gave a musical demonstration on electric guitar and dhol drum. He then gave all the children instruments (harmonicas, recorders, shakers, drums ...) and they had a little jamming session which he recorded using his tablet. They thought this was a very successful session; I think they felt empowered.