Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Joseph's favourite things to do....

Since he'll be turning four in the next week I thought it would be fun to make a list of all the things Joseph loves to do at this point in time. Fun to look back at, but also interesting to reflect upon in relation to all the potential learning experiences he could be having here. Of course I can only guess, I'm not going to interrupt his flow trying to find out and in any case, what an outsider might think he is or should be learning from any particular activity will not necessarily reflect what is going on for him. Glancing down the list it is clear that a whole range of skills are involved in this play; co-ordination, problem-solving, learning about texture and consistency, imaginative play, hand control, spatial awareness, memory skills, understanding of cause and effect, properties of objects, not to mention important social skills such as learning to read the cues of another, turn-taking and so on. So here is the far from exhaustive list. At the age of four Joseph loves...

  • Jumping off or onto furniture (often in the hope that he'll fly!!)
  • Playing with Play-Doh
  • Rough and tumble with parents, brothers and anyone else willing to partake
  • Throwing things
  • Kicking balls
  • Sword-fighting
  • Shooting/squirting water
  • Having you tell him stories about things he has done or when he was a baby
  • Watching films
  • Swimming
  • Dancing on the kitchen table
  • Making up random words and rhymes
  • Play with torches
  • Watching creepy crawlies
  • Having races and running anywhere
  • Watching diggers and roadworks
  • Tying string to things and using it as a winch
  • Screaming or shouting at the top of his voice...especially when he can get an echo
  • Chasing birds
  • Going to the airport to watch aeroplanes taking off and landing
  • Playing in the park
  • Being in the bath
  • Playing outside with sand and water
  • Eating
  • Running cars up and down the hallway walls
  • Looking at books, having stories read to him
  • Watching clips from musicals on you-tube (well he is our son!!)
  • Constructing guns and aeroplanes out of anything
  • Playing hide-and-seek
  • Working out which of things are the biggest and distributing them amongst himself and his brothers according to size
  • Being on the beach, throwing pebbles into the sea, drawing in the sand etc
  • Building things up and smashing them down
  • Walking in the woods
  • Being the leader
  • Playing with coins and posting them into money boxes/charity tins
  • Being tickled
  • Riding his trike/scooter
  • Drawing over outside walls with chalk
  • Making 'explosions' by throwing handfuls of things into the air
  • Role-playing stories
  • Splashing in puddles
  • Riding in the car with the windows wide open
  • Being chased
  • Balancing on walls
  • Climbing
  • Watering the garden
  • Playing with toy vehicles
  • Having a bowl of flour, adding water to it and mixing it up with his hands
  • Talking about nocturnal animals, especially owls
  • Making pictures of 'fireworks' that involve a lot of scribbling
  • Anything to do with dinosaurs
  • Creating obstacle courses in the living room

So there we are, a list of just a few of the things he loves to do and learns plenty from. Joseph however does these things because they give him joy, not to make him more clever or to give him better prospects...just plain joy! Until someone or something gives him the impression that learning is for anything else I reckon he'll carry on learning purely for joy, and by the time that someone or something reaches him I'm hoping he'll be too fond of joy to give it up! In general there's no need for me to break down what Joseph might be learning from any particular activity, he appears to be developing all the skills he needs at the age of four without anyone showing him how, so I'll just experience the joy of watching him!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Why we've decided to learn at home...

Let's just imagine for a minute that there is more to life than how 'successful' you are. That there are more important things than how clever you are, what you do for a living, how much you earn and what 'stuff' you have. We all know that these days don't we, deep down? Whatever we might feel we know, our society seems full of people rushing around convinced there is not enough time for any of the things or people that matter to them, constantly striving and desperately competing to stay 'on top'. I can't help feeling that in many ways our schools support and encourage this approach to life. Throughout their school days children are tick-boxed and tested against a limited criteria, and then labelled if they fall outside of the range of normality. In fact I often wonder whether what children actually learn at school is how to become submissive to authority, how to give the right answer and how to please adults. Stories about children's anxieties about school and their performance there are seemingly becoming all too common, as children become ever aware of what is expected of them and how well they shape up against their peers. This is not about criticising school though and I know that there are many brilliant teachers doing a great job, and equally there are plenty of parents putting a lot of unnecessary pressure on their kids. Its the system that bothers me and since I don't see the system changing in a way that would please me any time soon, we've simply decided to allow our children to learn outside of it. During the past year of thinking very seriously about learning, I've realised that there are particular hopes and wishes that I have for my children's learning that I feel will best served outside of the school system. Some of these may sound a bit bizarre because the idea of school is so ingrained in us, and please remember that this is what I want for my children and not what I think anyone else should want for theirs.

I would like my children to be able to learn about their bodies and listen to its needs. To sleep until they are ready to wake, eat when they are hungry, run around when they feel the need to use energy, and be still when they feel they want rest. This seems of massive importance to me when I look around and see how many adults are simply not able to do this for themselves, and the stress and illness it causes. I can't imagine having to wake Joseph in the morning (during the winter he was sleeping until 8.30am at times), rush breakfast and rush all of us around to be ready to leave the house to arrive at school on time. Just thinking about it makes me feel stressed and exhausted, I can't imagine how it might feel to a small child. And what would I be teaching the boys by allowing this to become the norm in our house? That there is never enough time? That the things they find fascinating and want to linger about doing aren't important? Living with three small children has taught me that they have their own clocks! They refuse to rush for anybody, and I've often turned up late to places because Joseph was busy collecting sticks, watching a spider make a web or happily stood by some roadworks, watching tarmac being laid! There is fascination in the world all around for children if they are given the time to look at it. Rushing does not seem natural to them and where this is concerned I think the kids have it right and we adults have it very wrong! I can imagine some may give a response like 'well how will they be prepared for the world of work?'. I don't that's something a small child should be concerned about.

The amount of learning that Joseph has done in his first four years is staggering, and I feel as though I have done little more than provide an interesting and stimulating environment, respond to his needs and interests and follow his lead in terms of what he was ready to do. When as a baby he began to hold things we made sure there was plenty around him to pick up and hold on to. When he began to speak we listened, responded and put his words in a context for him. It was natural for him, and natural for us. As time has gone on this has continued as he makes us aware of the things he enjoys and wants to know about and we ensure there is plenty of opportunity for him to experience them. In his book 'How Children Learn' John Holt says that for children, learning is as natural as breathing, and this is absolutely our experience. We see our boys learning all the time in everything they do, and they have so far learned all the necessary skills they needed to get to this point, in their own way and their own time. I don't believe that this will suddenly stop when they reach statutory school age. I trust my children to learn.

I would like my children to be given space. I have an instinct to leave my children be as much as possible and to keep interference to a minimum. Of course I keep them safe, but it feels natural for me to watch their play and ideas unfolding rather than trying to steer them in a particular direction. If it fascinates them then it's fascinating, and if they want to know about something then it's worth knowing. I think it's a real shame that the system makes judgements about what is worth knowing/doing and what itsn't at particular ages, I guess it's so they can keep track of children's progress. If I don't make value judgements about what my children learn when, I won't have to test them, and I therefore hope they'll grow up without a sense that it's bad to get things wrong. How many wonderful experiences are lost for fear of getting it wrong I wonder? There's an amazing world between black and white and right and wrong, I want my children to live there.

It makes sense to me that my children learn in the real world, in a real context. As such, I've tried to lead by example rather than 'teach' wherever possible, for example being polite and respectful towards them rather than nagging them about their manners towards others. I don't always manage it, but that's my intention! The idea of a learning environment where there are power relationships involved and the sense that all worthwhile knowledge is located in a teacher or other adult does not inspire me, and I doubt it would inspire my boys in the longer term. John Holt made what I believe to be a wonderful point, highlighting that in a classroom it's the teacher who speaks the most, while it is the children who need the most practise at speaking! In the brief time I've been a mother I've learned more from my boys than I could ever 'teach' them.

Some of the best ideas I've had, the most inspiration I've received and the most sense I've made of my knowledge has been gained in moments of stillness. Staring out of windows, walking or sitting in silence...daydreaming!! I'll make sure my children get plenty of time for that! Plenty of time to just absorb the world around them without anyone suggesting they should be thinking about anything in particular, or focussing on anything else. I want their minds to be their own, I hope they'll develop a rich and engaging internal world. I may never know, but that doesn't matter :)

Time, Space and Stillness. In brief, that's my hope for them.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Declining the school place :/

In three days time our forms have to be returned either accepting or declining our offer of a school place.  I've spent the last 12 months moving towards the belief that school is not the best place for our children to learn, and yet still I am extremely nervous about declining.  I guess it's the point of no return, and the point at which we really have to face the decision we've made and all the consequences that come with that.

One thing I'm particularly dreading is having to tell people. Not so much family and friends because I can't imagine many people who know us well being surprised, but acquaintances and Joe Public. Very often I'll be out with the boys and people will ask how old they are, closely followed by "Oh, he'll be off to school soon then!" Usually I just smile and say "yes!" for an easy life and to avoid having to endure an unwanted opinion! Once September comes and our 4 year-old is clearly not attending school, I guess it will be harder to do this.

Recently, with the date for the forms to be returned looming, I've been reflecting on all the reasons to send Joseph to school.  It didn't take me long to realise that every reason was based in fear; the fear that he'll miss out on something, the fear I'll get it wrong, the fear that I'll be judged, the fear that he'll be judged, the fear that people will think we're weird, the fear I'll be overwhelmed, but by far the most worrying of all, the fear that Joseph will at some point resent me for choosing not to send him.  However, I don't want to live a life based in fear and I don't want that for my children either, so I've acknowledged these fears but I refuse to act on them.  Its in a deep love and respect for the boys that my belief they will learn best without school is based.  I watch them learning all day every day, in everything they do.  They are curious, resourceful, determined and interact with the world from a place of pure joy in a way that seems perfectly natural to them.  I want to give them every opportunity to stay in this place because I have the privilege of glimpsing the world through their eyes and its a wonderful, wonderful place.  So, if learning purely for joy is the starting place then wow, imagine where it could go!

Now, on with those forms...         

Friday, 13 April 2012

First Post

So this is it....

I've thought about it, read about it, thought about it some more, talked about it, and starting this blog is the evidence to myself that I am now ready to do it! The big IT I'm talking about is taking the decision not to send the boys to school.  I guess most people would understand this as homeschooling, although schooling at home is not really what I'm intending to do. 

I've decided to start a blog for a few reasons. Firstly as a resource for me to keep a record of what's happening at home and my own thoughts and reflections related to learning, but also as a way of sharing what we are doing and how its going with our friends and family.  The internet has been a massive resource for me in learning about homeschooling/unschooling/learning without school, so if reading about our family's journey is useful to anyone else then that would be great too.

This is the start of an exciting journey for our family, although Ollie and I both know that in reality the journey began the minute our first son was born. We've been learning together at home for the past four years, its working well and we don't see any reason to change it :)