Friday, November 17, 2006

Re-post: What are we learning? - Dec 04

From Monday 6th December, 2004

I believe that a happy, healthy child, whose basic needs are all met & who has a safe and secure home base, is a naturally curious child and that if s/he is allowed and supported to follow their curiosity, they will always be happy to learn. I'm a qualified teacher, (not that this means much except that I've had chance to focus on how learning works, thanks to an excellent teacher training course, but home education usually has little to do with 'teaching' and you certainly don't need to be a qualified teacher to do it,) so technically speaking I know most of the teaching/learning methods and I've come to the conclusion that this is by far the best one. There's no resistance or reluctance because it's not hard work and to those who say education should be hard work, I would say that learning and work are two completely different things.

So Lyddie (2) is currently learning about liquids. She's made quick progress from trainer cups to ordinary cups, which she can now carry by herself which shows a good sense of balance and a basic understanding of gravity. When she gets drink to her little table she quite often mixes them together, which involves pouring and stirring and tasting the end results. When she started doing this it involved quite a lot of spillage, but after a few days she could do it without spilling. By doing this, she's actually performing her own science experiments and learning at an extremely rapid rate. She knows, for example, that if you mix milk with some things it curdles but that you can get away with mixing hot chocolate with vimto. She quite often brings me a 'cup of tea' - which is the end result of one of her experiments, and this is vital for her psychological wellbeing because she feels like she's performing a useful, nurturing role in the family.

This is something I've learned from my children: they need to feel useful to the family. I think this is an instinctive need that's been ignored in the past few decades with the various developments in Education Law and their accompanying shift in culture. Most children nowadays don't feel useful to their families - and being told to set the table, wash up or tidy their rooms doesn't help: the usefulness has to be spontaneous, on their terms, for it to fill the child's need in this respect.

Lyddie is also learning about books and stories. She has free access to 4 huge baskets full of all kinds of illustrated children's books and quite often sits on her own to read when the mood takes her. Other times she takes a book to someone and asks for it to be read to her. Exploring stories in these ways is helping her to learn (amongst many other things) about sequencing - that events have a beginning, middle and ending.

She's learning thousands of other things, many of which I probably haven't noticed. To be honest I think her learning is her business more than mine: as long as I know she's healthy and happy and we enjoy one another's company (which we do) then I don't feel the need to know about and evaluate every single cognitive development. I trust they will happen in the unique way for her and they do. When she's older than compulsory education age I'll have to analyse and record her development more than I do now, but this is just as a defence against any potential State intervention and other concerns from family and community arising naturally whenever a family chooses to walk a path less followed. For this reason I usually allow the State to have access to my children when it wants to, to carry out its routine checks, so that we're protected against allegations of cruelty or neglect. This is not something I enjoy having to do, but often baseless allegations left unanswered end up with children being needlessly taken into local authority care. Single-parent families are especially vulnerable to this, as a result of a series of skewed research papers and accompanying propaganda now tragically turned into UK law. I think this is down to social engineering, but that's for another blog entry.

Zara (12) learns in a very relaxed way, mostly from books: she's always got a factual book on the go. Quite often they're about nature, but she also reads about maths concepts, science and history. Today we had a long chat about meteorites, because she'd seen that the Geminids Meteor Shower is due tonight. The chat involved looking at books and websites and lasted for about half an hour - a spontaneous and intense learning session which is quite typical of autonomous home ed.

I'm not an artsy-crafty home ed mum as many are. I don't need to see a tangible end result (work, a picture, a scrapbook or a model) to be satisfied that my children are learning. All these things might be useful to use as evidence of learning should I be called on to provide it (which I am, on an annual basis, by the Local Education Authority) but I think there's a danger of getting so involved in demonstrating evidence of learning in this way, that quite often the actual learning can get overlooked. Making a model of the Taj Mahal doesn't necessarily prove that a child knows anything about Indian culture, in my opinion. It's more likely to demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of model-making (which is, of course, equally useful as long as it's not pretending to be demonstrating something else.)

The evidence of my children's learning that I provide my LEA with consists of a report of their progress written by me and checked with the children in person by the LEA advisor. This is so that the LEA can't accuse me, in the absence of other evidence (like 'work') of lying in the report. I probably wouldn't be so cautious if the children's dad hadn't challenged us in the Family Court several years ago regarding the educational provision. Only the set of annual reports, backed up as they were by LEA face-to-face meetings with the children, prevented the children from being forcibly returned to school.

UK Education Law makes parents (not schools or LEAs) responsible for ensuring that their children receive an appropriate education, suitable to their age, aptitude, ability and any special educational needs they may have. It's my view (and, I think, the view of most members of the UK home education community) that totally child-centred learning of the 1:1 nature that can really only occur in home education is the only effective way of ensuring this provision. This is not why we home educate - it just so happens that the Education Law 1996 reflects our own desire to do right by our children. School-based education can only ever be aimed at a child's approximate chronological age, according to the year they happen to fall in, but of course children develop at such different rates and in different ways, so it's always going to be pot luck whether any aspect at all of what's on offer at school is suitable for a child on the receiving end. Similarly, for aptitude, ability and SENs - unless the provision follows a pace and direction set by the child, who can say that it's suitable? No-one. The National Curriculum is a one-size-fits-all attempt to cover all the educational requirements for every child in the country - useless! A brave attempt, but honestly, how can it ever hope to succeed? Luckily it's only for schools and home educators aren't obliged to follow it.

14yr-old Ali's main abiding passion is the Internet. He's an expert in some sort of coding and some other sort of programming about which I know very little, but the boys have now become so self-directed and independent in their learning that they only need me to pay for things, provide a web connection and PC equipment, fund courses, obtain required books, fill the fridge with food, wash and clean up from time-to time and check they're OK (at my peril, sometimes, if I happen to interrupt something important). I know that Ali is working very hard on his chosen specialism because he's shown me some of the things he's learned to do and he also convinces the LEA advisor of the same every year.

Tom (15) is now gearing up for full-time work and is about to embark on an employer-funded series of NVQs in business studies and related subjects.

One of the main advantages of home educating right through the older school years is that the children have the time and the freedom to carve out a career of their own choosing. By freely following their interests they invariably end up focusing on just a few favourite subjects which enables them to be truly passionate and involved in their learning. I can't see the point in doing it any other way. I try to imagine having to coerce them into doing schoolwork of someone else's choosing and it seems like such a mad, crazy waste of time, effort and energy on the part of everyone involved.

Home-educated applicants as especially favoured by University selection committees for this reason. Often they're amongst the only interviewees who can demonstrate real interest and specialised knowledge about the subject in question. Once the course commences, previously home educated students need no motivating, having developed the self-discipline that comes of being trusted as children to make their own decisions about what they want to do.

This comes back to what I was saying the other day: left to their own devices, with trust and support, why would people make *bad* life-choices for themselves? I think when people do behave badly they're expressing anger and frustration at being coerced by those in authority and not being trusted to behave well. I don't think the answer is more control over other people, I think the answer is more trust which is the only thing that enables people to develop self-control.

That's mostly what we're learning now.

posted by Gill at 8:56 AM 2 comments

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