Thursday, August 30, 2007

Spontaneous writing, home ed meetings and a going-to-sleep game

I'm puzzled and concerned about the recently reported fall in primary writing standards, because Lyddie's really keen on developing her writing and it's hard, living with her, to imagine a child not being.

This morning she's been writing a shopping list:

and a 'thank you' letter to the postman for doing his job!

She posted it back through the letter box, for him to see and collect in the morning:

She sometimes tries to work out how to spell words by the sound of them, which is a problem if her pronunciation is at odds with the accepted spelling, but hearing the spelling makes her realise that her punctuation was 'wrong', so that's a learning process too. Sometimes she asks me to sound out the letters for her, and then it varies as to whether she's happy to just hear the letter sounds, or whether she prefers the Letterland characters. She often jumps up and goes to look at either her Letterland machine:

or her computer keyboard to remind herself of how a letter looks, and then there are issues regarding the way she holds her pen and the way she forms the letters, with which I'm itching to intervene but resisting the temptation. I've offered tuition on both, but it's been declined so hopefully these will work themselves out, or she'll change her mind on the tuition. She's also copying capital letters from the keyboard and cursive from the Letterland machine, so the results are a mixture of the two! But she's only four, so there's time to sort all that out.

So why does she want to write by hand, when her PC is always on and available and she can express herself on screen instead, if she so chooses? It seems reasonable to assume that she'd invariably opt for the 'easy' way instead of the one that requires more effort.

But she loves using pen and paper. Perhaps it's something to do with neural pathways and genetics, because I get more pleasure and satisfaction from using pen and paper than I do from using a keyboard.

It's possible that she's emulating me, in my unthinking routine habits which she obviously constantly observes. I hand-write shopping lists, reminder notes, and my diary. Lyddie also loves the whole idea of snail mail post. She was very enthusiastic about email a few months ago, and still loves to create pictures on MS paint then copy and paste her efforts into emails to send to friends and family. But her latest hobby regarding that is to draw, colour or paint a picture on paper, scan it and then email the results.

So the use of actual paper is obviously important for her in the process of expressing herself and communicating with the world.

Also, we played a great game last night, going to sleep: guess the story character. E.g. "He's got a blue coat, big ears and is very naughty." "Peter Rabbit!"

I was surprised how many characters we both knew - dozens! The game lasted for about half an hour and we both enjoyed it.

Yesterday's home ed meeting ended up with a few families back at our house for the afternoon and we parents-of-teens got to chatting about handwriting skills, and how they're naturally picked up and put down in phases throughout the course of growing up. Our older children are all preparing for college and uni now and are all extremely adept at communicating and expressing their thoughts eloquently and very rapidly by computer, but not so hot at handwriting.

As parents we were wondering how relevant and necessary handwriting is, in the modern world, and how worried we should be about it on behalf of our offspring. We're all still offering tuition and help to our teens, of course, but it's not often taken up. But we reached the consensus anyway, that if a person wanted or needed to write on paper a lot, the style would quickly develop anyway and they wouldn't struggle for long.

Yesterday's get-together was very beneficial for us parents as well as for the children. These are real-life friends I made years ago at the very early home ed meetings we attended after deregistering. The children have all grown up together and as parents we've been there for the highs and lows, the celebrations, commiserations and above all, the worries about our children's home ed. We've had some very minor problems with one or two families over the years, but on the whole it's been a very good to have been in real life contact with other home ed families. It's something else we were saying yesterday: how glad we are to still be friends and to have known one another throughout.

I'm glad we set up our local home ed meetings all those years ago and have kept them going week in and week out. It's been well worth the bother.


Blogger Allie said...

Handwriting is a strange thing, isn't it? I hardly write by hand at all these days. At work we send each other emails from one room to another and tend to just print things out when we need the info on paper. But Leo likes to write by hand, albeit in a very 'Leo' style!

One of the reasons that I guess schools still bother so much with it is that exam scripts still have to be hand written unless you have some recognised 'special need'. Pearl was taught cursive script at infant school and they spent a lot of time on it.

I think long term home ed contacts are pretty much invaluable.

8:33 pm, August 30, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Oh I didn't realise that about school exams! I wonder why they still insist they're handwritten?

8:51 pm, August 30, 2007  
Blogger Minnie said...

How sweet..writing notes to the postman:O)

Junior sends me notes all the time..usually on my best cardmaking stash!! Her handwriting can be really quite neat when she puts her mind to it, but it's usually quite scruffy as she tends to rush. She can't get out of mixing upper and lower case. It annoys me more than her as she's oblivious to it. By-product of her early school years..all the drilling of those capital letters. eeek!!

9:33 pm, August 30, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most universities now expect that coursework essays will be word processed. Some demand it, rather than handwriting. I don't think I've seen a handwritten essay for about 5 years.

The only place where handwriting is still standard is, yes, in timed exms. Why? Because part of the expectation is that the only resource you take into an exam is your mind, so people couldn't use their own computers with their own documents. You'd therefore need as many computers - all with completely clean hard drives and no network or internet connections - as there were people doing the exam (Because the other thing about exams is that everyone has to answer the same exam paper at the same time in order for it to be a comparative thing)

None of this is to do with learning, it's all just practicalities of administering the arbitrary system.

I've seen universities with special arrangements for people who do exams on computers. Usually it goes with some form of dyslexia, or a recently broken writing arm or something. They have to be in a different room from everyone else, so it's expensive. I've even seen a university employ an ammanuensis, with an invigilator there to ensure fair play. That was an odd experience - the ammanuensis had to write down every word the candidate said, and the invigilator had to make sure it was done.

I've also seen the same set up, when someone's handwriting is so bad that the university says that in order to mark it, the candidate will have to pay for an invigilator and a typist, and the candidate has to read through the whole script so the typist can make it legible...

The most important thing about handwriting for exams, if someone is interested in doing well in exams, is to be fast and legible, and to have a writing technique which doesn't make the hand or arm hurt. Oh and to avoid using little circles or hearts instead of dots over i's, because examiners tend to knock off marks. I have had more than one student who I have advised to alter their handwriting to make it less "girly" (generally aiming at fewer loops and curlicues), and their marks in university exams have risen. Professors don't mean to be prejudiced against women, but many of them are.

10:30 pm, August 30, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Minnie I KWYM about school by-products - am watching with increased fascination to see how different things can be without them!

Anonymous, thanks for that. Very enlightening.

10:05 am, August 31, 2007  
Blogger Elaine said...

JR and co were discussing careers tonight and one said to JR oh you will be a creator just look at your building and art work.
too dark to see her blush

10:27 pm, August 31, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Awww, that's sweet :-)

11:05 pm, August 31, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice to hear such a tolerant positive about long term home ed groups. We struggled from the beginning with some very opposed needs, and no-one seems to want to organize it anymore. Some of us still meet, but lots of us don't, and there seems to always be an awkwardness of who to invite if someone wants to organize something, so they often don't. It all comes down to personalities and points that people are at, I think. It's nice to hear that it can remain relatively simple.

11:08 pm, August 31, 2007  
Blogger these boots said...

Aww ... feeling quite sad about mising home ed group meeting ... :-(

Anyway, on the subject of handwriting, A's 'lessons' with Mum have gone really well. She's had 2 so far. The first one, Mum seemed really unsure of whether it had gone well or not. But the next day A asked to phone Mum and ask for another one, and so we dropped the girls off while we were shopping and they had another "lesson" - so that makes 2 lessons 2 days in a row and nothing since for about a week and a half. Mum thought the 2nd lesson went well, but wasn't sure if A had really learned anything. But A has suddenly gone from writing everything (her name, M's name, our names etc) in capitals to writing them in lower case with little 'tails' on. Flawlessly. She sits and writes these simple lowercase almost-joined-up words loads now, in her sketchbooks, on scraps of paper, on 'notebooks' she's made, on the steamy mirror, in the dust, in the gravel outside. By the sounds of what Mum said, she didn't do it over and over in her 'lesson' (presumably like they would in school - til they were bored stiff?) ... in fact she maybe didn't even produce an actual word in the 'lesson', but now she practices all the time, just for fun. It's great to see it.

Also, a useful byproduct, is that Mum has been really keen for the last couple of years that A should learn to read (she's nearly 6, Mum taught *me* when I was 3, blah blah blah). Obviously I've been resisting, leaving it up to A. The other day Mum told me she's not quite sure A is ready for reading yet ... so there's one more (slight) pressure off. Phew! :-)

I've always known that my Mum could be a wonderful 'resource' for home ed. She's completely into the child-led learning stuff, but she doesn't realise that her methods are long gone, and schools aren't like that anymore. She used to teach 'special needs' kids 40 years ago - because that was what she was interested in. She's got great ideas and, if we ever decide to live full-time in France, could be an enormous help to us with the mandatory inspection tick-boxers, because she is a qualified teacher. So it's such a relief that her one-on-one 'teaching' time with A is bringing her around to H.E. :-)

I'm still struggling a bit with input - how much is too much/enough. There's been a couple of times recently when the girls have asked something, for example A asked the other day: "what was here before the world was here, before there was anything at all ... how did nothing become something." After thinking "wow!" and then "OMG how do I start?" ... we had a brief chat about big bangs and primordial (sp?) soups and stuff, just until A seemed satisfied. Then later we read "The Tree of Life" (kids book based on evolution theory). But part of me was dying to start suggesting things we could do on the theme, making a 'project' out of it. We're too busy at the mo to launch into anything, but part of me wonders if they are missing out because of not doing that.

10:39 am, September 01, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Sally, it hasn't always been plain sailing: there have been many occasions when we've felt like stopping, but it's such a great room that we have free use of and we'd have lost it if we had.

Attendance to the sessions has ebbed and flowed over the years - up to a dozen or so families sometimes, and down to only 2 or 3 at others - even just us sometimes, but that's very unusual.

I gather that people locally have liked knowing the meeting was always there for them if they wanted to attend, but that they didn't want to be tied to attending every week, so we just run it on that basis. It's worked well, on the whole.

There are complications with some people - longstanding disputes, dynamics etc, but things just seem to work themselves out, luckily.

It can be difficult to run successful gatherings when all the diferent families have in common is that fact that they home educate!

Lucy, we miss you! Wish you were here xx But that's fantastic news about A. Your mum sounds like a treasure! That's one hulluva question for A to ask! Hmmm, yes, very tricky to know how much more to do..
I'd be tempted to keep letting her lead things, and just try to answer what she's asking. I guess if she's looking interested you know you're onto a winner.

We've got a blackboard here now, and Lyddie has been asking me to put sums on it for her to do. Zara said: "You do realise, Mum, that you look just like a schoolteacher right now?"

*Rolls eyes @ self* LOL!

7:15 pm, September 01, 2007  
Blogger these boots said...

LOL! Yes, A and M often plays "schools" ... they line up their animals, whatever and "teach" them. All garnered from films and stories. Usually one of them is Miss Trunchbold and one Miss Honey (from Matilda). I can't really imagine you in front of a blackboard!

I had a talk to DH today about the whole 'how much should we do' thing, and we reckon that we'll stick with getting out the odd book to read together when interesting things come up, and also try and increase our collection of factual dvds (at the moment mostly attenborough) so that we can all watch one together if its relevant. That'll be enough til they can read and find things out for themselves, I hope. As always, we'll take it as it comes and keep reassessing. Such is our life!

7:30 pm, September 01, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

That sounds like a great plan :-)

Re: playing schools, blimey - it's so deeply woven into our whole culture isn't it? L is dead against attending, after hearing first hand about Zar's experiences, but it feels a bit like she's the only free five year-old in W.Yorks ATM! Off down to Hebden on Wednesday. Hopefully that will help matters.

8:03 pm, September 01, 2007  

Post a Comment

<< Home