Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Home Educated Children Thriving

Great to read such a positive piece on home education in the Stoke Sentinel!

Home Educating Children Thriving

Thursday, 17 October 2013

So, how's school?

People keep asking me how my eldest son is getting on at school. He has been going for over a month now. In the first week, he was quite excited by the newness of the experience, especially the independent commute! However, he complained about being bored in lessons. We told him it was very early days, and the teachers would be sussing out their new students and settling into the new term. "Give it time", we said. Two weeks in, we had tears and angry outbursts and he asked if he could stop going. I think he felt angry at himself because he knows that school is not our choice for him. Rather, he has chosen to be there. It was tempting to just say, "Oh, come back to unschooling. Don't worry about it." But he has made a commitment to the school, and a lot has been invested in getting him all the uniform and equipment, so two weeks didn't really seem long enough to make a fair assessment. We encouraged him to keep going, throw himself into the opportunity and see what school was all about. Interestingly, he told us he felt like a free-range chicken now confined to a battery cage. I encountered a similar description recently in "The Teenage Liberation handbook - How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education" by Grace Llewellyn. She quotes Colin Roch, a 12 year-old unschooler writing in John Holt's Growing Without Schooling publication, No. 78, who said, "Comparing me to those who are conventionally schooled is like comparing the freedoms of a wild stallion to those of cattle in a feedlot." It's a powerful image.

After our conversations, though, our boy seemed to throw himself into school life with more resolve. He told me about a challenge for the year given to inspire the boys to earn a certain high number of merits. Our extrinsically motivated son, who will do anything for a scout badge, told me quietly but assuredly, "I want that award". And he has been earning a steady flow of merits, and has only had a few detentions so far - for misdemeanours such as forgetting books and homework rather than for any rudeness or poor behaviour. He has been elected form charity rep and spoke in assembly today about an event he is organising to raise money for a cancer charity. He has come home and got on with various projects and pieces of homework, organising himself and trying hard at subjects which are not his most comfortable. So, all-in-all, he is on a steep learning curve. Best of all, he tells us he enjoys being with his friends. And, to my delight, he shows no signs yet, of losing the unschooler element of himself. He came home a few days ago telling me he had been interested to read about Buddhism in his RE lesson. He had a homework assignment to answer some ultimate questions as if he were a Buddhist. "Better to talk to someone who is a Buddhist," he said, and proceeded to contact a local Buddhist centre we visited a while ago. He made an appointment to interview one of the monks and I drove him up there this evening where he asked his questions and took a video and photographs to share with his class. I was impressed at his mature and respectful attitude to the whole undertaking. And it was self-initiated. Wonderful. So, I suppose it is going alright ... for the moment.

Last night we went to the welcome evening for new parents. It is a long time since I went into school as a parent, and it was so busy and noisy. I had forgotten. We sat there and were 'sold' the school's vision and strengths. I found myself feeling sad and confined ... And I do not mean to be too down on the school because I know that, as schools go, it is a 'good' one, whatever that really means. But I came home, and had a look on the website at the curriculum, and I noticed the emphasis on helping your son to revise and retain the information he acquires in lessons, and the emphasis on testing, exams and results. And I sigh to myself. This is the system. A friend of mine posted a link to an article on a social networking site yesterday. It is about repatriation. She shared it with me because I know what it is like to move between countries, to be changed by the experience, and to struggle to fit in anywhere. (Our family lived for some years in Turkey.) As I read the article and looked at the illustrations, I thought, "This could equally be applied to unschooling." The problem is that once you have moved from the culture of school to the freedom of unschooling, you are changed by the experience, and you view school culture differently, as an outsider. Watching out son last night, sitting between us at the parents' welcome event, I could see that we are not partakers in the product, the system, rather we sit there observing it, analysing it, apart from it somehow. It is difficult to explain, but if you read the following article, we are triangles - in more ways than one. And, though that can be a lonely thing at times, I cannot help but be thankful that we can think outside the box.

"I am a Triangle and Other Thoughts on Repatriation"

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Coding and Programming

My second son has developed a keen interest in computing, gaming and coding. This has come as something of a surprise to me as I would not have thought he was this way inclined as a younger child. However, we have been observing him and considering how to encourage this new interest. He bought himself an Android tablet a few months ago and has enjoyed exploring the various games and apps - especially 'Sketchpro' with which he has been creating artwork inspired by David Hockney. He has helped his Grandma set up her tablet, and now has her friends consulting him on technical matters too!

My husband was discussing with him how a TV might be made 'smart' and they decided to get hold of a Raspberry Pi to see if they could do that. It is a cheap credit card sized computer which encourages kids to experiment and program. This seems to be a hit with both my husband and son, and they are enjoying playing with it. So far, they have managed to get Minecraft Pi onto our TV and also download XBox Media Centre that can stream films and music, and all sorts of other things.

I think it is really important for today's kids to learn to code. (Controversially I think this is much more important than handwriting!) So I have been looking around for ways to enable my boys to do this. I have been checking out a free website a friend recommended with a view to getting the boys started - especially as they both seem to have an interest in that direction. Will keep you posted!

All things Piratey!

In home education, learning often follows a child's interest. People sometimes ask me how this works. My third son has had an ongoing interest in pirates stretching back to his birthday in the New Year. He enjoyed reading 'Treasure Island' with his Grandpa, and watching the film "Pirates in an Adventure with Scientists" following which we enjoyed a visit to the exhibition showcasing the scenes and figures used in the animation.

His grandparents have built on this interest and there have been a number of ongoing pirate and nautical themed activities including piratey LEGO play, piratey pictures, maps and stories, a pirate puppet, a pirate jigsaw puzzle and, most magnificently, a wonderful wooden ship which, he declares, is the BEST thing he has EVER made! (All credit to Grandpa!) I think this one might become a family heirloom! The HMS Crocodile features a moulded figure head and an anchor cast in metal.

I should also show here his older brother's sailing boat - also created with Grandpa's assistance.

Continuing the nautical theme, the two boys were taken by their Grandparents to Hartlepool where they visited the Maritime Experience - Home of HMS Trincomolee. They had a great time and particularly enjoyed exploring the ship.

As is often the way in home education, the theme for this month's meet-up was "Ocean Going Vessels" where one family shared their interest in RMS Lusitania. Activities included learning about floating, sinking and buoyancy of different materials, making miniature wooden boats, making underwater scenes and debating what might have happened on that fateful day the Lusitania went down on 7th May 1915.

Monday, 7 October 2013

New School for Young Engineers

I love the vision statement for the developing new school for young engineers in Coventry ....

"Supporters of the new school want to create an educational experience that is more relevant to young people’s lives, more relevant to the way they learn and more relevant to the world in which they will have to make their living in. As a dynamic, business-led and progressive institution the WMG Academy for Young Engineers will be designed to take a transformational approach to nurturing successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and sought after employees.

The new school will deliver the national curriculum, but will adopt a unique approach to the task, focusing its expertise on a range of engineering-based disciplines. Following a unique programme of study designed with input and expertise from major employers such as Jaguar Land Rover, National Grid and SCC, and smaller businesses such as King Automotive Systems and Automotive Insulations, pupils will be able to take a problem-solving, practical approach to learning, approaching key subject areas via their application to real-world problems."

The initiative is refreshing, experimentative and ground-breaking. It is great to see industry leading and seeking to realise an alternative vision for upper secondary education. Exciting. Let's hope the vision catches on. Read more here.