Monday, 30 March 2015

Men as Mentors

As my oldest son begins his teen years, I have noted the way he latches on to men, enjoying their company and wanting to learn from them. I once read of a culture in Africa where, at 14, boys are taken away from their mothers for a process of initiation. They spend two years away with the men of the tribe, and are then reunited with their mothers in a special ceremony which marks the beginning of a new relationship between the mother and her son as a man. I remember this as I note quietly that my boy is increasingly unwilling to listen to me, and I try not to let it upset me, but to see it as a normal part of his growth. My husband is much better able to get through at the moment. I remember too a book I read by Steve Biddulph, "Raising Boys", in which he talks about the years of strongest influence on boys ... From 0-6 years, he suggests, boys belong to their mothers, then from 6-14 the focus shifts to Dad (or a familiar older man). From 14, he suggests the boy will look outwards from his family to other men in the community. Look out for good men, mentors, in your community who will catch your boy when he turns and looks outwards.

In the summer, we had some work done on our new house. It was quite substantial work over some months involving extension to the rear and the installation of a new kitchen. On the job were two men - Sam and his Dad, Keith. My oldest son loved having these guys around and he spent a lot of time hanging out with them at the back of the house, observing their work, talking to them about what they were doing, helping where he was able to. These guys were great with him and very tolerant. I think he really enjoyed the experience and I am sure he learned a lot about construction - and manhood. As he learns primarily through talking to people and asking questions, experiences like this are invaluable, in my opinion. Unfortunately, our society doesn't seem to give a lot of opportunity for boys to hang out with men all that much. In schools, the relationship between pupils and teachers is different, as the focus is on the imparting of a curriculum rather than sharing life and work. This doesn't usually allow the same kind of mentoring role to develop. I think it is really important that we find and encourage these mentoring relationships to help our sons become men. Where might we find & build such relationships? In the family, at youth groups, community groups, sports clubs, at work ... Where do your son's interests lie? Can you find men with similar interests who might be willing and able to get alongside during these crucial years?

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Minecraft in the News ...

Should parents ever worry about Minecraft?

The Way We Work

In our house, we do have a general 'gaming after 4.00pm' rule which came from the boys. Whilst this rule is flexible, I think the key to managing gaming is balance, balance, balance ... Let it be part of a busy life - full of other stuff. I have noticed that my boys' social time with friends now seems to revolve around Minecraft and it is a challenge for parents to keep up with all that is happening online. Just this week, I had an evening call from a friend whose son was very upset about what was happening in the Minecraft world, and the boys and I had to have a chat about what was going on and how others might react to what they were doing in the game. The boys and I talk about online time a lot, and I gently but persistently encourage them to balance their gaming with other activities. What are your thoughts? How do you manage gaming in your house?

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Friday, 6 March 2015

Unschooling Maths

Even if home educators follow a child-led approach in many areas, maths seems to be one subject where it is thought children ought to be receiving some form of daily instruction. Many parents seem to be afraid of maths, perhaps because their own experience of maths at school was negative and they are afraid of failing their children in this area. Many people seem to think they are no good at maths, and I think this itself is reflective of our schooling and the disservice being done to mathematics in classrooms. We seem to equate maths with arithmetic or calculation ... SUMS! But, wouldn't it be great to take maths out of the box? What if we can think of it, as Arthur Benjamin describes it, as "the science of pattern"? (His 6-minute TED talk here is worth a watch!

In recent weeks, the boys and I have been following a programme called Multiplication Explorers from Natural Math. I have found these activities to be really useful in reshaping my own ideas about mathematics, and we have had fun together exploring patterns. My second son, after just 4 terms in school, thinks he is no good at maths. Let's face it, kids know which table they're on and where they are within their class. This was one of the reasons why I took the boys out of school. In fact, he is not bad at maths. He just doesn't much like numbers! Just because he struggled to perform the tasks set by the curriculum for his age when he was in school, it doesn't mean he wouldn't be able to grasp the concepts given a little more time. In fact, he is brilliantly techy these days and uses mathematical thinking in coding and problem solving. Through the Multiplication Explorers we have seen that he is a visual learner, and able to see patterns where he might not be able to see numbers. It has been very interesting.

As I am not very mathematically minded myself, I have been a little frustrated by my own limitations. Sometimes I haven't felt able to make the most astute observations or to ask the most pertinent questions to move the boys forward. Fortunately my husband (who is a maths teacher) and eldest son are very mathematically minded and so we have seen our activities and discussions develop in ways which are beyond my capability, and this has been helpful in stretching my understanding and in helping the younger boys. What has been so great is watching the boys themselves see mathematical truths in patterns. For example, today we learned about prime numbers without looking at a number. Noticing that these numbers stood alone, different, in a pattern of circles, we considered why ... Because they are only divisible by themselves and by one. Lightbulb moment!

On another occasion, we were building multiplication towers and started with Lego bricks. The boys pretty soon moved over to Minecraft, and it wasn't long before I discovered myself short of the right size and colour Lego bricks. I had discovered for myself the wonder of Minecraft - Unlimited bricks! Beautiful multiplication towers!

One of the scariest things about school mathematics is the importance of getting the right answer. One of the most beautiful and liberating things about this course has been the realisation that you don't have to be 'right' or 'wrong'. rather you can explore and experiment or bring your own ideas to the table. Rather than leaping in because we perceive 'a mistake', try observing and reflecting, "Hmm, interesting ... What next?" or "Why did you put that one there?" Given the same task, we might all produce a very different response. And that is OK. 2 examples of our very different factorization diagrams:

And a selection of pictures from our experience of taking mathematics out of the box in recent weeks:

And here is our favourite youtube video from this project: Nature by Numbers.

We also recommend Vi Hart's youtube channel, Doodling in Maths Class! (Example: Infinity Elephants)Transform your view of mathematics. Enjoy!

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