Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Joseph starts to read

The other day Joseph was playing on my iPad and called me over asking "Mummy how do I do a 'y'?" I glanced down at the iPad where he had already typed 'Anb' and he told me that he wanted to search for the 'Andy's Wild Adventures' game that he sometimes plays online. Ok so he was busily typing into Twitter, but he was having a go nonetheless! Joseph is learning to read and learning to spell out words not because I have 'taught' him, but because he has an interest and motivation to do so. He learns by observation and questioning. When he drew a dinosaur a few weeks ago he asked "Mummy how do I do a 'd'?" and so I showed him. I didn't push him to spell out the rest of the word, he simply wanted to write a 'd' next to his dinosaur! Its really important to me that Joseph knows he can ask questions without being given a lot of information he either doesn't need or isn't ready for, and without being bombarded with questions himself. I wouldn't want to put him off asking questions, not when this is such a useful tool for him to make discoveries.

When we read books together Joseph is showing a growing ability to sound out words and he recently read the 'track' on the front of a Tracker bar! Its ironic that his reading skills seem to have taken a leap at the very time he would have been starting school! No doubt if he had gone to school the credit for these growing abilities would have been attributed to either the school, the teacher or a phonics programme, but Joseph knows that he is learning for himself by looking around at the world and asking questions. He is empowered.

When as a baby Joseph started speaking, Oliver and I made sense of what he was communicating, responded and put his language into a context. We spoke to him and sang to him about anything and everything; he joyfully made sounds and we joyfully listened and responded. It didn't cross my mind to try and 'teach' him how to speak, I knew that when he was ready he would! Every sound he made was beautiful to me, regardless of how well constructed it was or how much sense it made and I didn't for a moment consider correcting him over and over again until he was trained to use the right sounds for the right words! Hearing and observing the unfolding language of all three boys has been wonderful and exciting. I hope that we'll feel the same as they all learn to read.

So here is Joseph aged 4 showing an interest in words, and a readiness to learn to read and write them. Rather than push full-steam ahead into a phonics programme or begin practising cursive writing, I'm simply going to allow this new found skill to unfold naturally in its own way and own time. I'll keep him surrounded with sounds and printed words in any form that may be interesting to him; posters, books, magazines, road signs, billboards and shop signs to name a few, making sure that I am always on hand to answer his questions and point out things that I think may interest him. Meanwhile, I'll allow him to persue the activities that feed his motivation to learn to read, for example when watching his favourite T.V programmes Joseph is keen to know what the title of the episode is at it flashes up at the beginning. He also likes to use the Internet to search for things he is interested in and will break down the words he wants me to type into syllables, for example "Mummy can you write Di-no--saur?" The beginning of this post demonstrates how eager he already is to do this for himself! I think if my sons are going to learn to read and write I need to allow them to find a genuine motivation to do so, and I'm not so sure that Biff, Chip and Kipper or the prestige of reaching the next level of the reading scheme would provide this motivation in the longer term. I recently met a mum who took her children out of school around a year ago and now home educates. She said that her son learned to read with no bother, but on finishing the reading scheme didn't feel that he needed to read anymore because he had "done it!" I hope now he has a chance to see that reading can be something pleasurable, useful and rewarding and not just a thing we are required to do to jump through hoops.

While Joseph's reading and writing skills are busy emerging in the background, he continues to engage in a whole range of other activities that capture his interest and imagination. It's really important to me that value judgements are not made about the relative importance of the activities Joseph enjoys. The idea that anyone would give him the sense that the things he enjoys and finds fascinating are less important than learning to read and write seems sad at best and cruel at worst to me. So while he is busy....

building bridges across the living room....

riding horses....

testing out his culinary skills....

building a train track to connect his toys together....

turning a tree stump into a pirate ship and going fishing with sticks....

finding ingenious ways to make cars look like they have smoking wheels....
building houses....
taking weird and wonderful photos of himself using my iPad....

Making what he calls "Zig Zag Goos" by burrowing tunnels under the living room rugs....

....and a whole range of other activites he is constantly engaging in, Joseph is learning, and no doubt accessing a whole range of skills that will prepare him for the task of reading and writing.

Everything Joseph does is of value to him, I believe that absolutely and as a result there is no rush to read. Just as happened when he learned to speak, everything is unfolding its own way and its own time.

A few links for anyone who is interested.

A recent study found that there was no difference in reading ability at age 11 between children who received reading instruction at age 5 compared with those who received it aged 7. In fact, those who received instruction at 7 showed better reading comprehension later on. For the abstract of this study click here.

To read an article on the above research click here.

For an article discussing the benefits of learning to read later click here.

For an article looking at brain-based developmental differences between boys and girls which discusses why boys in particular may struggle with early formal instruction in writing click here.


Saturday, 20 October 2012

Joseph's Unschool Photo!

If he were in school, we'd have had a picture of Joseph sent home around now to buy and give out to friends and family. We didn't want anyone to miss out, so we took our own!

This was taken on a sunny October day when we were on our way to a home ed get together in the park. Joseph and his brothers were leaping from benches, trying to see how far away from the bench they could land!

It's not the most beautifully composed photo in the world, but its Joseph as we know and love him; absolutely absorbed in something he loves, full of determination and acting from a place of joy! He currently spends a lot of his time flying through the air, so this is exactly how I want to remember my four year-old Joseph in the years to come!

A new home educating friend of mine was recently telling me about Piaget's discussions of children's drawings; preschool children tend draw people in their air and the inside and outside of objects simultaneously for example, but begin to represent the world around them with greater realism when they start school and when they reach the concrete operations stage of development. Quite literally, their representations of the world become grounded. It feels to me that there is something wonderful about the way preschool children represent the world in drawings, as if they are seeing an object for all its possibilities and assuming that anything is possible. Theirs is not a black and white world with right and wrong answers or a world where the grass is always green and the sky is always blue. This week Joseph drew a picture with the sun in several places representing its movement through the sky towards evening, and when talking about what he would like for Christmas the other day he said he would like our hometown's beach, but in different colours!

I don't plan on dragging my children into a world of rational, logical thought where everything is limited by what we perceive to be the 'truth' of it. How wonderful to see the world and everything in it for all its possibilities. Joseph flying through the air is a wonderful sight, he'll become 'grounded' if and when he's ready.

What I love about this picture the most is that this is how Joseph knows and loves himself :-)


Saturday, 13 October 2012

Six months of Time, Space and Stillness

It's six months today since I first posted on this blog and I can't believe how much has changed in that time! When I first posted, we had yet to decline Joseph's school place and really felt as though we were stepping into the unknown. We were aware that local home education groups existed although we hadn't attended any, and although I was certain about our decision and excited about the adventure we were embarking on, I was also nervous about how people would react to us as a family learning without school.

It became quickly apparent to me that learning at home would be a whole lifestyle choice, and every area of our life would be impacted by the decision. Obviously we anticipated aspects of this; we knew that there would be a financial implication for example. What I couldn't have anticipated though is how much I would learn, and how much my view of the world would shift as a result. I didn't relish the thought of stepping away from the mainstream but it was necessary in order to do what I truly believed was best for my children, and now that I have done it, I view the world from a different place. I have shifted, our lives have shifted and things won't ever look the same again. That's fine, the view is a good one!

None of our friends or family has ever criticised us (publicly at least!) and I am extremely grateful for this. We have never expected people to agree with our decision, but we hoped they would understand and respect it regardless of their own opinions. Some people have said very little, some have said nothing at all and that's fine, people are entitled to react as they wish. So thank you to anyone who disagrees with our decision, but respects us enough not be openly critical.

I've been really overwhelmed by the amount of support and encouragement we have had. Thank you to everyone who has contacted me or spoken to me after reading the blog to say they are enjoying it, that it has been useful to them or to offer encouragement, it really means a lot to us. Those who read my blogs might think that I am naturally comfortable with sharing myself and my family in this way but that's not the case! Writing about us actually feels like it takes more guts than it did to decide to home educate in the first place, but writing this blog was something I felt compelled to do. Maybe one day I'll write about all the learning and insight I have gained from writing here, but not now! It has been brilliant for me, and I'm growing more comfortable with the process as the months go by. I'd like to say a special thanks to a few people who have helped me along the way in my new found pastime as a blogger!

Firstly, my very good friend Zoe. We've known one another a long time and I'm sure she'd agree that despite the length and depth of our friendship, we are very different people! She reads everything I write, is absolutely supportive and is a brilliant sounding board for reflections. I admire her because she has made different choices for her children, but remains so open to the perspectives I write about here. To open yourself up to ideas that may challenge your current belief system takes courage. Thank you Zoe.

Secondly my friend Helen who has urged me to write without fear of what others may think or what reactions I may provoke, and who has helped me feel brave enough to share this blog outside of my immediate network of friends and family. This is helping me make some wonderful connections with other families who home educate outside of my local area. Thank you Helen.

To my Mum, who despite spending her life working in education has never questioned our decision and has been utterly supportive. I know it must have been difficult for her to find her daughter making decisions that challenge the very nature of her life's work, so I am grateful that she has been so open to our choices, and so understanding of our family life. She mothered me in a way that enabled me to make decisions for myself, and because of that I was confident enough to make the very important decision to allow my children to learn without school. Thank you Mum.

Finally my husband Oliver who is always open, always interested, always there and like me, willing to accept that he is always learning!

The decision to learn without school is so far giving our family plenty of Time, Space and Stillness, just as we had hoped! Thanks to everyone who reads this blog, I am loving writing it :-)

Friday, 12 October 2012

Learning at Home....a few days in pictures.

I thought it might be fun to share what we've been up to over the last few pictures! Click below to view a montage! :)

Learning at home...a few days in pictures.

Sunday, 7 October 2012


It's getting chilly outside and the boys have been in need of a few additions to their wardrobes, so on Monday morning we all went clothes shopping. We spent what felt like a lot of money until I reminded myself that we haven't needed to buy a school uniform, PE kit and school shoes, and then I saw the clothes we were buying as kind of an alternative! Alternative clothes for an alternative education!

During August I felt a sense of relief that I hadn't had to go uniform shopping; relieved because it was something less to think about, but relieved also because I wasn't keen on the idea of Joseph in a uniform anyway. I understand that uniforms can lend a sense of identity, but at the tender age of four I'm more interested in Joseph establishing a sense of his own identity and the essence of who he feels he is before he identifies too heavily with any outside structure. The uniform for me represents the subjagation of the unique, individual child; I realise this may sound extreme but it is truly how I feel, and I know no other way to express it! When Oliver and I went to look around a local primary school last year the head teacher told us "the children put on their school uniforms and they know they are here to work!" WORK!! She didn't even say learn! I didn't want Joseph to develop the idea that this is what life is all about when I feel so strongly to the contrary, so I was relieved not to be buying bundles of grey and white school clothes, and instead to be filling his cupboards with colour!

When I first met Oliver he told me I was colourful and that felt like a nice thing to be called! In allowing the boys to learn outside of school I guess I'm aiming to encourage their lives to be colourful, and filled with rich, diverse and interesting experiences, things, places and people. I aim to allow them challenges and adventures that are meaningful to them and to encourage them to look around at the world, wonder at it all and ask their own questions rather than the ones someone else (who already knows the answer anyway) wants answers to. I don't need to provide them with these things because this is the life they naturally gravitate towards, I just won't stop their magical interaction with the world from taking place. Of course as their parent I influence where we spend time and the type of people we come into contact with. For example this week we went to visit a beautiful garden; I provided the transport and the admission fee, but the garden provided the colour, and the boys provided the wonder!

Ollie and I enjoy amateur dramatics so our life is full of colourful characters! Those we call our close friends vary in age from 20 years to 64 years and all have their own interesting lives and experiences to share with our children. I'm so pleased I haven't spent my life socialising with people within a 12-month age-range of myself as most of us did in would definitely lose a bit of its colour if I did!

When I became a mum I was struck by the colour that each of the boys brought with them; colourful toys and clothes soon filled every corner of our home! It has been about more than colourful things though; their laughter, ideas, enthusiasm, fascination and energy have made our home a beautiful and colourful place to be, and as for their is technicolor!
Learning is not work. I know from watching my children that if I allow them the colourful life that is so natural for them, learning will never cease! I can let them be, they know how to learn!
Recently Oliver and I were talking about how learning at home with the children has impacted me and he said, "You're just more peaceful these're still colourful though!"

Phew! That's good to know :)