Thursday, 28 December 2017

Reggio Inspired

This term, I have been working with four other home educating Mums and our 9 children aged 5-11 to build a Reggio-inspired learning community. Reggio Emilia is an innovative, researchful and reflective approach to early years education which values the child as strong, capable and resilient with an innate capacity and deep curiosity for learning. The role of educator is one of lifelong learner, continually reflecting on and redefining their understanding of how children learn. In my experience and understanding, as children grow beyond the pre-school years, Reggio ideas grow into Project Based Learning as outlined in Lori Pickert's excellent book, "Project Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners." Of course, as most children in this country go to school, I am curious to explore how these ideas can be applied to education as children grow beyond their early years. I am particularly interested to explore the idea of collaborative learning which is so important in Reggio pedagogy, that is the way ideas spark in the relationships between children. As a home educator, it is great to witness and facilitate self-directed learning, but it is also important to learn in community and to see how learning develops within a group of children, how ideas spark between the individuals in a group of mixed ages, us Mums as well as the children. I do feel our group is quite experimental, and we are venturing together up a new path in our respective home educating journeys. It has felt rather like building an extended family, a learning community. This term has really been about gelling as a group and getting to know each other. We have simply met regularly, one morning each week, and provided a variety of contexts in which the children can play and learn and engage with one another, from meeting at my home and playing with Lego, to visiting our local transport museum, to meeting in our local library and making our own books, to attending an illustration workshop together. Our local art gallery opens a Reggio playspace to early learners once a month, and we have managed to book an early bird slot for our unusual group of older children which we have enjoyed 4 times this term. It has been interesting to observe the children's play in this space full of open-ended activities and creative possibilities. We have seen some lovely collaborative play, interestingly especially amongst the girls. I have observed the boys focusing in short bursts to build or construct things, then running around, using a lot of the space, before settling to a focused task again. I simply document this because it is what I have observed the children doing, undirected. It makes me think about how boys are required to sit for such long periods at school ....

As part of our learning this term, we Mums took the opportunity to attend a Sightlines Initiative network meeting at Madeley Nursery School, a setting I have long wanted to visit. It was lovely to be able to have a look around the learning space, and see how the children's project work is documented and displayed, as well as to hear some of the staff's stories and to catch something of their Reggio-inspired vision: child-led and challenging. Head teacher, Louise Lowings, spoke of valuing being a learner. She quoted Jerome Bruner who said, "We are storytelling creatures, and as children we acquire language to tell those stories we have inside us." Isn't this a powerful image of learning, granting children the means of expressing the stories carried within? I love this .... It is deeply respectful of the fact that ALL children carry stories within them. Central to Reggio philosophy is the belief that children are competent learners with an accessibility to ideas. "The important thing about this pedagogy is finding your voice," said Lou, and this is true for all of us, both the adults and children in the learning community.

One of the key questions for us in our new Reggio learning group has been how do we document our group learning? Even in our small group of 9 children, how do we select which pathways to follow? There are so many ideas buzzing in any group of children. How do we settle on a shared project idea? I know from Project-Based Learning and the ideas of Lori Pickert that, over time, as we engage in facilitating this kind of learning, we will get better at selecting those interests and questions which have the potential to lead on to deeper learning and sustained project work. But her advice is just to pick something and go for it. See what happens. If it flows, great. If not, try again. This is how we learn. We begin by seeing the potential. Learning happens in the relationship between the children - and the ideas. The stories emerge .... How do we catch them? We can select materials and make them available .... Materials which offer empathy to a particular idea, which have the plasticity to tell the stories. Children can explore many different ways of working with an idea expressing themselves through art, music, movement, photography, writing .... 100 languages, 100 ways of responding, of feeling. I loved the idea Madeley have adopted this year of holding their creative studio "in attesta" (in waiting) .... a place prepared in response to children's emerging stories and then opened to them; a place prepared to evolve and respond to evolving ideas. When revealed to children, such a space inspires quiet reverence; it is a space demonstrating respect for their ideas, a magical space, a place that sustains engagement. This is about educators planning and giving to children's learning, and there is an energy generated by being learners together in a community. One of the key quotes I came away with from my visit was, "We stopped instructing and started loving." If only more educational settings were able to embrace such an approach.

You can read Madeley Nursery's Principles, Values and Aims HERE.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

The Right Brain Develops First

"Did you know that the right brain develops first? It does so by the time children are four years of age. The left brain, on the other hand, doesn’t fully come online until children are approximately seven years old; hence the first seven years being recognized as such a critical period in child development."

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” ~ Albert Einstein

"The Right Brain Developer First - Why Play is the Foundation for Academic Learning"

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Roam Education

Sometimes people wonder what life is like for home educated children, how our days and weeks look. Sometimes I like to write a post describing our day or our week - just to give an insight. I heard someone recently refer to HOME education as ROAM education, referring to how little they were actually at home, and this is rather different to the image many people have of children sitting at home, rather isolated from the world outside. This week has certainly been a week of ROAM education for us .... Here's how it went ....
A highlight of our Novembers is always the Into Film Festival, when schools and home educators are able to watch films in the cinema for free! Last week, we saw "Sing" and the amazing "A Beautiful Planet" in 3D, which was filmed on the international space station, and featured truly incredible views of our fabulous, fragile planet from space. We loved that! This week, instead of our usual Monday morning swimming lessons, we kicked off with another visit to the cinema to see "Despicable Me 3" which was just good fun!

We have to make soup for lunch on Mondays. (My third son is a creature of habit, and likes some regularity to his week.) And then Monday afternoon is always our chore time, so we put some music on and all get busy tidying and cleaning up the house. I have a chores rota, which divides the jobs up between the six of us. My husband and older two boys have a slightly reduced load in light of the fact I know they are all so busy, but we all do our bit. Sometime on a Monday, son number 3 (aged 11) will log on and complete a lesson on his Conquer Maths programme, which he chose to sign up to this year. He enjoys that, and is studying common factors at the moment. His younger brother might play on Maths Seeds at that time. He loves this, and doesn't see it as work or as maths. It is just another way to play. Later on a Monday afternoon, my third son has his tennis squad. He is obsessed by tennis and spends any time he has to himself either watching, playing or reading about tennis. Interestingly, when his brother was talking about percentages the other day, he was able to talk about percentages in the real world context of the stats given for tennis players during a match, percentage of first serves in etc. I hadn't really seen the connection there with mathematical concepts.

Tuesdays we head over to my parents, who live about 40 minutes drive from us. My Mum will do some art work with the boys. This week, we had a go at still life, but using only one colour of paint to practise painting tones. My third son did a really lovely painting. Then my Dad will tell them stories from history. He is a great source of historical knowledge and brings it all to life. This week, they were talking about Charles 1st. We have lunch with them, and then drive home.

In the afternoon, we caught up with an episode of Blue Planet 2, a documentary about the oceans, which we are really enjoying on the BBC. Again, on a Tuesday, my third son goes to his squad.

Wednesday morning this week, we had another film to see at the cinema, Cars 3 in 3D. There were quite a few home educators there, including a few friends we know, so that was fun. We came home for lunch and then headed out again for our fortnightly nature group at our friends' house. We meet in the park for a walk, and then go back for hot chocolate, snacks and to discuss our finds, and perhaps draw in our nature journals. This week, we were looking at mosses. This group consists of 6 families, so around 10-15 children, depending on who can come.

Wednesday evening was busy for me as I went down to Oxford with a couple of friends to hear Katharine Hayhoe speak about climate change, and how to have gracious conversations with those who are sceptical. It was a bit of a treat and some time out for me. She is a great inspiration!

Thursday morning is our new collaborative learning group. Based on the Reggio Emilia philosophy, in this group we are exploring what happens with child directed learning in a community context. I am quite excited about it. We are 5 families: 5 adults, 9 children (aged 4-11) at the moment. This week, we were at our local art gallery where there is a Reggio playroom open once a month. We enjoy having the use of it. It is filled with interesting objects and textures which lend themselves to creative, open-ended play. It is fascinating to observe the children in the space. This month, the three girls worked collaboratively to build a fantastic ice hotel, using so many of the different items available to them. One little boy lay down looking into a mirror, and described the sea creatures he could see. He then ran around saying he was a shark. We all became krill he was trying to catch to eat. This game widened to involve other children. How much of this play was inspired by his watching Blue Planet 2? Certainly the oceans are an interest shared by several of the children in the group. As the adult facilitators, our role will be to identify such shared interests and then facilitate learning around that interest. I was interested to observe the other boys in the group as they were running around a lot, and using a lot of space. Then they would sit and do a very focused activity, building a complex pattern with the blocks for example, but then run around again. It made me think about the length of time boys are expected to sit still at school.

After our play session ended, we explored some of the other galleries for a while but it was such a lovely sunny morning, the children wanted to go outside. So we went across to explore the Cathedral ruins before finishing our time together with hot chocolate in the gallery café.

Thursday afternoon was our final home ed tennis session of the season. About 15 children aged 5-15 turn out for this fun session of tennis games. We will miss it until we start again in the spring. My third son returns to the tennis club again later in the afternoon to play with a friend from his squad until dark. And then, after dinner, he goes off to scouts. This week, his oldest brother was talking to the scouts about his recent involvement with F1 in Schools, and his trip to the World Finals in Kuala Lumpur. I was told he was "an inspirational speaker" and even his brother said he was pretty good -high praise indeed! He took in an old engine he removed from a car to show the scouts as part of their mechanics badge.

Friday morning, we were back at the art gallery for a workshop I had organised for home educated children around the current Picasso exhibition. 23 children came along to explore pattern and print in the galleries, to look at Picasso's lino printing techniques and to have a go at their own print-making. My smallest, aged 5, spent ages carefully pressing his design into his polystyrene block. Even after others had finished, he was totally absorbed, taking his time and working so carefully. I love the fact he is not rushed. After the workshop, we went for lunch at a café with some of our home ed friends, and then one of my third son's friends came home with us to play. On the way, we dropped my youngest off at his friend's house to play for the afternoon. I had a friend over for coffee, and before I knew it, it was getting dark and another week was drawing to a close. Friday night was junior club night at the tennis club, and the older boys have their youth group. Busy, busy, busy .... Roam education!