Friday, March 30, 2007

"What can I buy with this?"

"Well, what is it?"

"A penny."

"No, look at the number on it. It's not one penny - it's...?"


"Yes, five pence."

"So, what can I buy with it?"

"Um.. nothing, really, nowadays."

"I've got some more pennies."

"Oh ok, let's see what you've got then. Line them up and tell me the numbers. I'll write them down."

"One.... five... one... five... twenty?"

"Let's see.. yes, that's a twenty pence piece."

"And another twenty.. two... and another one."

"OK I've written all the numbers down.."

This is where I wonder what to do next. Get out dried beans and start counting them with her? Just add up the column and tell her the answer? Try to explain how to add up a column of numbers? We tried finger-counting.

"OK, what's one and five?" I held up six fingers. She counted them.

"Six." This is achieving nothing though, I thought. We both know she can count fingers, but it doesn't tell her anything about adding one to five.

I added up the rest of the column and just told her the answer.

"You have 55p."

"What can I get with that?"

"Quite a lot. A loaf of bread. A tin of beans. A bag of pasta. A newspaper."



She went off to play with toys. I got down a jar of split peas from the dresser.

"What are you doing?" she asked me.

"Working out how much money you have - properly. With peas. Will you help me?"

"How are we going to do it?"

"I'll show you. Spread them out on the table. Right, now, on the fivepence, we put five peas... on the one penny we put one pea..

"Can you do the other 5p? Put five peas on it."

She'd been laughing while I did the first two. Now she stopped laughing and said, "Not sure if I can."

"Course you can. Do it like that one."

"Ok..." She got five, then reached for a sixth.

"Count them," I said.

"One.. two... three.. four.. five. Oh."

"Brilliant, you did that one right then."

And we did the others together.

"Right," I said. "If we add up all these peas, we'll know how much money you have."

"Ok..." And we did.

"Fifty-five peas! You have 55p."

"Yes. Look, I made a Tweenie Clock with the pennies."

"So you did."

That was definitely not child-led learning. Was it? Or was it?

Well, I wouldn't have done it if she hadn't asked about the money. She didn't specifically ask me how to show her how to count the money, so I guess I broke my own rules there - big time.

I nearly didn't, but it just didn't feel right, leaving the situation without her understanding, really, how much money she had. So in a way, I did what she asked and helped her to understand the meaning of 'how much money'.

Yet I took charge of the learning process, for that short time. I don't know whether it was the right thing to do. It felt ok-ish. She responded pretty well. I'll wait to see if she asks to do more pea-counting again, now she knows the activity is there. If she doesn't ask, I don't think we'll do it again. If she does ask, I'll give her the peas and leave her to it, unless she specifically asks for us to do it together, then I'll help, but let her be in charge of what we do.

Wow, it gets you thinking, this stuff, doesn't it?


Blogger Em said...

This reminds me of a situation with my girls. We had planted some sweetpea seeds into pots, and they were all lined up on the windowsill. I took out a piece of paper and said "I think I'll start a diary of the sweet peas maybe you'd like to do one too" and proceeded to write Sweet Pea Diary on a piece of paper, and drawing what we had done with the seeds. Both girls made a start on doing the same thing, and we hung them on the wall.

This felt a bit odd.

I had steered them into doing it, but like you said, it was ok-ish. I then decided I wouldln't add to my diary unless they came to it.

Needless to say they didn't, and we forgot to even water the sweet peas and they all died of thirst. oops.

12:51 pm, March 30, 2007  
Blogger Sue said...

I'm really enjoying your recent posts about the actual learning process. It rings a lot of bells... sometimes I miss those days.

You know, I don't think there is just one 'right' way of encouraging child-led learning. It's unbalanced IMO to be totally passive, only answering questions that are actually asked. After all, a child may not express what they really want to know. You've given your daughter a useful technique for adding which she may or may not choose to use in the future. She could, at any time, have run off and said she wasn't interested, and that would have been fine. But as she was interested, you probably did help her understand better something that was interesting her but which she didn't know how to express.

My husband is quite a talker... and when someone asks him a question he often starts talking about something related but different, telling them things they didn't ask. My sons were fine with this... sometimes they'd say, 'No, Dad, I don't need to know that right now.' Other times they latched onto what he was saying, and asked more. There was no forced or coercive teaching, but he offered more than they asked, and I think that's fine. They had the choice to take it or leave it, just like your kids do.

When our children are babies, we speak to them and that encourages their language development. It wouldn't be much use waiting until they asked how to speak! And I figure that's what happens with education at all levels, to some extent.

2:12 pm, March 30, 2007  
Blogger Heidicrafts said...

Yet, you started matching peas to coins after she went on to something else.

She came back and showed interest in your project.

If she hadn't, would you have grouped all 55 peas with coins, then called her over to show her? Left them grouped for her to discover? Or just put the peas back into the jar?

Sometimes, I get swept up on a tangent and my kids wander away while I'm still play-learning. I'm more openly curious than either of my kids.

2:31 pm, March 30, 2007  
Blogger Ruth said...

I think it was O.K. She didn't have to watch you. Also now she knows she can play with the split peas.

4:04 pm, March 30, 2007  
Blogger Allie said...

We had a similar situation today. I was looking at a maths book to see what it had to say about fractions. This was because I'd had a eureka! moment not long ago where I'd finally understood the relationship between fractions, decimals and percentages. I asked P a bit about what she knew. I'm not sure why. Maybe because I wanted to show off?

P was interested and ran with this. She worked out that the link we'd discussed meant that she could work out what one seventh was as a percentage. So she did. I showed her that she could work out the decimal by moving the decimal point.

Leo was passing and said he didn't know what decimals were. I asked him if he wanted me to tell him. He said 'another day, I think' so we left it there.

We have always offered things. That is how it works for us. We're not always floating about waving a maths book but sometimes we initiate things. The kids are always free to walk away - and they do! They suggest things too - and that's fine.

6:00 pm, March 30, 2007  
Blogger Merry said...

I think you can go so far as to start feeling like everyone has to invent the wheel for themselves - and we don't. I really don't see any problem with "showing" especially if they reciprocate with interest. Afterall, that is very natural, tribally and in closely knit extended families of yore and elsewhere.

In Africa, it is apparently common for a new mother to be given an experienced breastfeeding baby and the newborn to be "taught" breastfeeding by another mother who is more familiar with it. (This is totally anecedotal actually, but wherever i heard it was plausible!) - it seems a fairly sensible practise to me; learning from each other, showing, sharing and exploring based on other peoples already gained experiences. In terms of the simple, basic building blocks of life and education, it seems to me to have a perfectly valid place in life.

9:09 pm, March 30, 2007  
Blogger Louise said...

Just out of interest Gill, are you a trained teacher? Cos I have a theory about teachers who home-ed ;o)

5:38 pm, March 31, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

ROFL yes I am ;-)

Go on then, what's the theory?

5:57 pm, March 31, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

"If she hadn't, would you have grouped all 55 peas with coins, then called her over to show her? Left them grouped for her to discover? Or just put the peas back into the jar?"

Hmm good question. Left them for a while, maybe, then put them away. The thing is, I find it's so easy to put a child off something by pushing it, or even just by pointing it out.

6:26 pm, March 31, 2007  
Blogger Louise said...

Hi Gill, I just recently began to wonder if "teaching" comes more naturally to those home-ed parents who are actually trained as teachers. Whether it affects the way you would be with a child. For example, it might not even occur to me to demonstrate any of the things I read about on your blog, the peas being the latest example. I might just answer a question when asked but at no point think ooooh well if I do this/show her this it will help her grasp the concept/learn adding etc.
I'm probably not phrasing this right but the gist is teachers home-ed differently and alwasy strive to provide learning oppurtunities in everyday life ;o)

9:44 am, April 01, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Hi Lou, no it wasn't the teacher training I don't think - I trained in adult ed anyway, not school teaching.

I think it was my stepdad's influence when I was a child. He's a natural teacher, and saw opportunities to teach us things constantly. It could be very wearing though, and I think it often prevented us from finding things out for ourselves. Or, well - discovering them, I mean. If life was an adventure, he was certainly the team leader! And the rest of us just followed along.

He did encourage us to develop questioning minds, which is a good thing, and it was nice to have his interest in our mental development, but with my own children I've tried to be there and be attentive without taking charge. I suspect having the freedom to discover the world on your own terms, but with the active support of your adult would be the optimum state. Hope so, anyway, because it's what usually happens here.

Well, the system works - Tom, Ali and Zara are proof of that. I'm always open minded about whether it's the absolute best thing. I just try to be as responsive as I can to what they all seem to need on a 'here and now' basis.

10:01 am, April 01, 2007  
Blogger Lucy said...

This type of learning happens to us. We had a similar experience a couple of weeks back when my daughter asked why those numbers (11-20) were those numbers whilst pointing at them on a poster. I felt a bit overwhelmed but grabbed some geomags and demonstrated some base ten stuff. It felt a bit like I was giving a lesson but she was happily following it and then let me know when she'd had enough examples by starting to make a story out of them. For me I think the trick is to avoid the urge to say "Sit down! I haven't finished yet".

10:08 pm, April 01, 2007  

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