Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Calling Project Based Learners

If you are a home educator who believes in self-directed learning, has children aged 5-10 and lives in the vicinity of Coventry, please message me. I am exploring a new project-based learning initiative for September to enable our children to engage in more collaborative learning. If you have attended one of my workshops, the group would be rooted in the Reggio Emilia approach to early years education, which in my experience becomes Project Based Learning as our children grow. Read Lori Pickert's Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners for more ideas of what I am envisaging. This would require a high level of parent engagement and enthusiasm, as well as a weekly commitment. I am looking for a small group of perhaps 10 children initially. Please get in touch if you are interested in hearing more about the idea, and possibly being involved.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Two Loops: How Systems Change

"When the forms of an old culture are dying, the new culture is created by a few people who are not afraid to be insecure." (Rudolf Bahro)

Whether we are thinking about systems of education, energy production or even politics, I found this perspective profoundly hopeful: TWO LOOPS: HOW SYSTEMS CHANGE

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Learn Free Conference 2017

The Learn Free conference is only a couple of weeks away. Organised by Christian Home Educators Warwickshire, and now in its sixth year, Learn Free is an encouraging day for anyone home educating or considering it, whether you would call yourself Christian or not. Last year, I was privileged to lead a workshop on Mentoring Self-Directed Learners, and this year I will be giving the keynote speech: FREE RANGE – A LIFE WITHOUT SCHOOL. At the bargain price of £8 a ticket, it would be great to see you there. For more information or to register, click HERE.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Another SATs Week ....

It's the end of another SATs week. My third son would have sat them this week had he been in school. He would be in Year 6. But instead he has been enjoying learning at home, and in many other community contexts, throughout his primary years.

Seven years ago, when we began home educating, SATS were definitely a factor in our thinking. My voice at the time felt lonely, radical and a little bit crazy. In the last two years, there has been an increasing outcry on social media with organised parental movements putting pressure on the government to find another means of primary assessment.

It seems the SATs tests have become even more ridiculous in recent years, measuring children against standards they are not expected to attain. There was talk again this year about the possible scrapping of the tests but, whether or not that happens, nothing was decided soon enough to save this year's cohort.

Seven years ago, in January 2010, we took our sons out of school because we wanted a different kind of education for them. I know that sometimes home educators seem radical, and way out there on the fringe, but sometimes change just happens too slowly. It hasn't happened yet, and it hasn't happened fast enough that my own children would have been saved from a narrow curriculum and from all the pressures of our broken system. I know that some people think it is an 'opt out' to 'opt out' - that we ought to be fighting from within - but some children just need to be removed from a toxic system for the sake of their own mental health and wellbeing. This is true, sadly, for some teachers, too. And we are seeing more and more teachers leave the profession, with a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention which puts the future of the broken system into jeopardy anyway. My husband has worked for years on supply, and seldom does he walk into a fully staffed maths department - even in those schools deemed to be the 'better' ones in our locality. He observes everyday the conditions passing as education in our city schools.

If you are interested, here are the links to a few posts I have written about SATs over the years. My opinions have not changed.

Why I Choose to Boycott SATs (May 2012)

The Fundamental Problem with Testing (May 2016)

Is Missing a Day of School Damaging to a Child's Education? (May 2016)

The Nonsense of SATs (October 2010)

There is a great deal about SATs on my blog. For more, type 'SATs' into the search bar to the right hand side: Organic Ed.

Cracking the Reading Code

My smallest son is 5, and he has recently started to read for himself. It is truly a delightful thing to watch him begin to crack the reading code for himself, piecing his understanding together to sound out words he sees around him. At home, we are able to go slowly, at his pace. There is no rush, no pressure, no comparison. He tends to do little short bursts of these activities, and we stop as soon as he has had enough.

People sometimes ask me how children can learn to read by themselves and, the honest answer is, I don't know exactly how it happens. But, if a child is surrounded by a literate world, he or she will acquire the skills needed to thrive in that world. By that I mean, if we are prepared to read with our children, to support their learning and answer their questions, to encourage their efforts, they will learn. That is what they naturally want to do, to become competent and empowered.

We have many books around our home, from picture books loved from babyhood, to more advanced chapter books. We read together several times a day. His current favourites for me to read aloud to him include the Mog books, Roald Dahl and Rudyard Kipling's "Just So Stories", obviously stories far more advanced than he can yet read himself. Through these shared experiences, however, he knows that reading unlocks stories, and reading together from the youngest age fosters a love of story which can last a lifetime, and open a door into new worlds of wonder and imagination.

My smallest son is a digital native and, for some time, he has enjoyed the Reading Eggs programme on his brother's iPad, which has helped him with his letter sounds, and with beginning to put sounds and words together. However, his interest in reading for himself has definitely been running second to his interest in numbers, which have clearly been fascinating to him.

A few weeks ago, he asked me to write some labels for items around the house - sofa, window, bookshelf etc - and he stuck these labels around the house. I think this whole process of playing with words is important. He is clearly building on the concept that things have a corresponding written word associated with them, and this must be a precursor to reading. Recently we acquired some of the Oxford Reading Tree reading books, which he has begun to pick up and start reading. Sometimes at story time now, he asks to read to me before I read to him, but I don't force this if he doesn't want to. Sometimes he will just say he is too tired, and it is important just to keep it fun and to celebrate the success. He loves it when he manages to read successfully - albeit with a bit of help sometimes.

Alongside, the developing reading skills, he is beginning to write words more accurately by himself. He developed a series of characters the other day with simple names - Big Ben, Bad Bob, Big Jo - which he took pleasure in writing on to his pictures. We also have some Oxford Reading Tree common word cards, which correspond to the early reading books, and he has been getting those out to make his own sentences with. When he needs a word which isn't there, he will make his own word cards, and delight in making funny sentences and then reading them out to me.

Note that none of this is planned by me. It is child initiated learning. But I am strewing resources around, engaging with him in the process, supporting and encouraging his interest.

Simultaneous to this interest in cracking the reading code, my son seems interested in other codes, too ... the mathematical symbols for addition, subtraction, equals. He will play for ages with a calculator, and loves pressing the different buttons and seeing what numbers he can make. He is writing down mathematical problems and then reading these out to me. He will draw logos - Under Armour for example, as featured on his brother's tennis gear, another kind of symbol. And, most recently, he has been sitting beside me at the piano and asking me to teach him music. Today, since he opened the book and asked, I dove in and talked to him about the stave, the clefs, the time signature and semibreves and minims. Not only has he been talking about this since, and using this new vocabulary, but he wanted to write his own music for he and I to play together. He wrote out his own semibreve and minim shapes for me to play on piano, explaining, "This one should be played in the bass, and this in the treble," whilst he tapped out some accompanying percussion on his wooden loom (An 'instrument' he called the 'knocker'). He had thereby created a different type of communicative code which translated into music. It's fascinating to observe the growing web of understanding and I look forward to seeing how it develops.