Wednesday, 26 November 2014

What works for you

A lovely friend posted a question on Facebook today, and as I typed my answer I realised that it was getting a bit long, so I turned it into a blog post! (Thanks for the inspiration, lovely friend!)  She was trying to find information on how different HE families plan, facilitate or structure learning and spend their time, so apart from sending a link to my downloadable planner, my thoughts were as follows...

It totally varies with the seasons here (the family's seasons, not necessarily the seasons of the year, although the two are often closely related).  Currently what is working for us is an agreed amount of time (eg 30 minutes) or pages (usually two) in Maths/ English every day.  That is the obviously parent-led bit for us: I have been known to refer to it as my Home Ed blanket - if they do nothing else, at least I know they have the very basics of literacy and numeracy.  We also play a lot of number and word games, write stories, read poetry etc.  Brave Writer is a favourite resource.

After that come project ideas found by me on Pinterest/ Facebook subject groups/ general browsing/ our own resources.  Sometimes, if I'm inspired, we will have a "background project" running with lots of activities around the same theme (although they still learn whatever grabs their attention whether on theme or not).  Sometimes the boys will choose their own topic to explore, and if I am stumped for where to begin, lap book sites such as Homeschool Share can be a real Godsend!  At the moment there is no single idea from any of us (Christmas is looming: I reckon it's going to be all festive baking and glitter crafts for the next month), just lots of ideas that they boys can invest in as much or as little as they like.  I have found as time goes on that I seem to approach different subjects in different ways...

If it's Art-related, I can generally suggest a project from Pinterest or Deep Space Sparkle (my favourite art lesson website) and the boys will almost always be happy to give it a go. Sometimes they choose their own project - and they draw a LOT of their own pictures etc.  I think most children are born with a natural interest in Art, and as mine - unlike me - have never had anyone tell them that they are 'no good at it', they still approach it with enthusiasm.  I really cherish that!

History tends to be more story-based.  We have LOTS of history books here, some of which are great for reading aloud, such as "Kings and Things", and "The Story of the World".  I like to choose a story to read to them, and then step back and see where it leads us.  Often it inspires all sorts of questions that I hadn't anticipated which can take us on a wild Google surf, or to other books, or even days out.  Sometimes the boys will draw a picture of an aspect of the story - I find it fascinating to discover the bits that grasped their imagination.  When there is a particular subject that I think they would enjoy looking at (such as Romans, last summer) I make sure I have a good look around for resources (craft ideas etc), and possible places to visit for as long as their interest is sustained.  Thank God for the internet!  It makes a home educator's job so much easier!

Geography was not very appealing to me until recently (a throwback to dreary school lessons I guess).  Ideas and links from fellow HEors led me to Postcrossing, a free subscription site where you can send a receive postcards, all around the world.  We have a globe, and a big world map on the world, so we can instantly reference which country we are posting to/ receiving from.  This is often a fleeting reference but can lead to further conversations.  We also like jigsaw maps and games like Mapominoes, for finding out where countries are  The boys likes watching "Wild Earth" type programmes (volcanoes, crazy weather etc) on TV.  Again, we have lots of books on the subject, that are never looked at while on the shelf, but if I just leave them hanging around, one or two at a time, it's surprising how quickly they are picked up and devoured.  Strewing, oh-so-subtly, can inspire all sorts of interest.

Science is generally more hands on (though we haven't done many experiments at home lately as the boys have been going to a Science club lately where the planning and preparation was all done for us!)  Then they absolutely love nature documentaries on TV, and there are plenty of ideas on Pinterest, not to forget science kits in the shops.  The electronics kit is a particular favourite here!  I think I need to look through the experiment books again soon, and get some bits in for our own kitchen science... maybe in the new year...

Generally, as with most things, I think it's all a matter of experimenting until you find a method that works for you (and be prepared to adapt it with time).  I still find my planner helpful as it gives me an overview of ideas that we can choose to follow or not, and drawing it up prompts me to browse for ideas when I am running low in inspiration.  Usually I sit down with it on an evening over the weekend and come up with ideas for the coming week.  It doesn't rule us though - if we end up doing something completely different to what is written down, that's great!  It's just there to give me ideas if the boys have nothing in particular that they want to do.  it can feel quite parent-led at times, and what usually draws these seasons to an end is when the boys are showing signs that they want to be less directed, or if I feel that their innate desire for learning is being quashed by my leading in certain directions.  At the moment, though, I am careful to only choose a couple of activities per day - and the afternoons are always the boys' to choose what to do with.  lately there has been a bit of a computer-gaming feel to the afternoons, but that can change in time - we often have a 'no computers' rule for afternoons to make sure that the boys are still engaging their brains creatively in other ways too.

So that's what works for us (for now, at least!)  I'd love to know: what works for you?

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Who Is Deschooling For?

With a lovely sister who is just a few months into her HE journey with my niece, I have been reliving all of the newbie Home Ed questions and issues with her... and I find it fascinating how different my responses are nowadays to when we had first started ourselves.

Take 'deschooling' for example: in the early days, as evidenced by my blog, I wasn't even convinced that it was necessary - just a 'good idea' for those who choose it, perhaps especially the children who had a bad school experience.  After several months I acknowledged that it is invaluable for anyone coming out of school... to the point now where my most recent comment to a new HEor was as follows:

"My boys de-schooled far more quickly than I did! It takes a good while to get your own adult head around a different way of learning, so it's wise not to set any expectations or demands on them/ yourself until you've had several months of just chilling, reading around on the subject and generally enjoying playing and being with each other"

You see, I am now totally convinced of the following few points:
  • Deschooling is an essential process that all PARENTS (and children to a lesser degree) need to go through when they take their child(ren) out of school. 
  • It is vital for radically resetting preconceptions on how learning works, particularly as pertaining to the individual child's personality and the family's needs. 
  • Basic requirements are lots of play, rest and relationship building, as well as reading up on HE styles and chats with other home educators on the practicalities involved etc.

It is also my opinion that structured work or evidence of learning demanded by the parent can really hinder the deschooling process.  A child who leaves school and starts HE wanting to do workbooks is less likely to be a child who naturally learns that way, and more likely to be a child who has forgotten how to learn in any other way that having their work planned for them.  Many times now I have heard new HE parents happily claim that they don't need to deschool as their child wants a timetable with workbooks etc, only to be bewildered by hitting a wall weeks or months later.  If a child demands work I would go along with that happily, but be prepared that at some point probably not too far away, said child is quite likely to suddenly turn their back on the workbooks and laminated timetable.  This is the daunting bit for new home educators that requires the adult supporting the child's rejection of traditional school-based learning methods, and embracing the "de-schooling" process - for as long as it takes.

In our experience, we have had seasons of happy, parent-instigated learning (most often the boys take over quickly and run as far as they want to with it), followed by more clunky seasons where the boys suddenly ("suddenly" usually means I didn't spot the warning signs) don't want to do anything I suggest, or I start to wobble about what we should be doing.  These are the seasons that usually signify another wave of de-schooling: time to take the foot off the pedal and free-wheel a bit while the children find their direction and enthusiasm again or I jettison another chunk of irrelevant school-based assumptions.  The lovely thing, now that I have a good couple of years experience under my belt, is that I know these are seasons: they come and go.  An 'out-of-the-blue' week refusing to do any maths does not mean they will never get any GCSEs and will be lucky to get a job in McDonalds - it just means they are fed up with maths for now, but will regain their interest in a couple of months or so.

Deschooling may not be for everyone - I guess a home educated parent who has never sent their child to school would probably be far ahead of the curve of most of us - but even so, I am now quite passionate about the benefits - even the necessity - of deschooling... and I'm so happy to be able to share that with my sister, with new contacts, and anyone else who could use the encouragement!

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Time to Remember...

November is a great month for Home Ed ideas!

First we had Bonfire Night: "Remember remember the fifth of November..." - so we read a lovely little book on the Gunpowder Plot together, simple enough to hold all the children's interest, but detailed enough to explain a bit of the background, then they all drew a related picture.  My 10 year old niece was also visiting - she is also home educated now, and my sister was working, so she joined in with what we were doing...

Niece's "Bonfire Night"

Middle's "Gunpowder Plot: the plan"

Youngest's "Queen Mary" (explaining the reason behind the plotting)

Eldest's "Gunpowder Cellar"

Then this week we had Remembrance Day, which has prompted some lovely conversations.  We focused on World War One because of the centenary.  We watched some original footage, courtesy of the free Royal British Legion education pack, talked about a huge range of topics, from how to tell the difference between your army and the other army on the battlefield, to fighting families, and why we have a day especially for remembering.  We observed two minutes silence (well, Youngest almost managed it), painted poppy pictures inspired by some we found on Artsonia, and we played "World war one bingo" (PDF file available here), with me taking a question card at random, asking it, and then the boys putting Haribo on the square showing the correct answer - when they got four in a row they could eat them, although they preferred to wait until they had a full house!




For both topics we really appreciated the opportunity to use a 'starting point' resource, whether a book, website or other idea, and then springboard off that with naturally occurring questions, leading to further activities wherever our interest leads.  It's a really natural style of home education that suits us most, and I love it!