Saturday, April 30, 2011

So...Unschooling???

So let's talk about Unschooling!

When we first started thinking about homeschooling...which is now a couple years ago already, when we were considering starting a family...this was something we didn't even know existed.

For those of you don't know what it is, according to Wikipedia:
"Unschooling is a range of educational philosophies and practices centered on allowing children to learn through their natural life experiences, including child directed play, game play, household responsibilities, work experience, and social interaction, rather than through a more traditional school curriculum. Unschooling encourages exploration of activities led by the children themselves, facilitated by the adults. Unschooling differs from conventional schooling principally in the thesis that standard curricula and conventional grading methods, as well as other features of traditional schooling, are counterproductive to the goal of maximizing the education of each child."

In other words - child led & directed learning!

When I first came across it it was via some very radical unschoolers on the internet and I was astounded. Just imagine letting your children do whatever they want, whenever...where is the discipline?

As you can see my first thoughts were very sceptical, it seemed too radical, too out of the norm, too liberal, all in all just a little too trusting...and surely children can't be trusted to learn all by themselves?
Won't they just watch TV all day if left to their own devices, and how can they learn anything from that besides how to be a couch potato?
How will they learn anything at all?


These were just a few of the questions that crossed my mind, and despite being more of an "attachment parent" than anything else, I also found myself thinking that it was probably the more permissive type parent that allowed this kind of horror to be bestowed upon their spoilt offspring.
...oh our built in prejudices...



...and clearly the spirit of schooling was still strong with me (which is to be expected having spent years and years in schooling myself!).


Eeeeeeek!!!!! It's enough to give anyone nightmares!!!




Fast forward a few years and all my questions, searching and reading about schooling, homeschooling etc have led me to a place where I am now asking if perhaps the unschooling idea is the one that makes the most sense to me?

I've just recently finished reading John Holt's Teach Your Own, and I guess it's that book specifically that made the whole idea the most clear to me.
If there is anyone wanting to know more about it I can also recommend another book called The Unschooling Handbook which gives a better idea of how unschooling works in people's daily lives.

And if reading is not your thing I even have something in the audio visual line for you, it's a talk by Astra Taylor (director of Examined Life) on her life as an unschooled child, and it is very interesting, if you have an hour or so to spare you can watch/listen to her talk here

And lastly I leave you with some words by Spike Milligan:

"Education isn't everything. For a start it isn't an elephant."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

So - the Question, the Homeschooling Answer & the Fallout

A week or 2 back we were out at a weekly activity Bear is signed up for and at the end of it some of the moms were chatting about if they were continuing for the second half of the year and asking when everyone was sending their kids to school as it's "time" now. The kids in question range between about 2 and 3 and a half years old.

It's starting to happen more and more, Bear is now smack bang in the middle of the age people in our country consider it proper (and necessary) for small children to be in "school"...be it a playschool, a kindergarten, a preschool, no one cares about the name as long as you're doing the responsible thing by sending your child to it.

I'm not sure why this age in particular is deemed appropriate here?
Maybe it's cause they are now obviously out of the baby stage and are more like little people?
I know in certain areas of Europe 4 years of age is considered a good time, but here if you are privileged enough to be able to stay at home with your children people still expect you to start sending them off from around 2 years old. Some people start asking even earlier, I have one particular woman who asked me constantly when Bear would be starting school from when he turned 1...thank goodness she finally gave up around the 3 year mark...lol.





Considering that the Department of Education only considers the beginning of a child's school career to start at 7 years of age, I'm not sure why there is such a big rush to get our children into a system which will already claim 12 years of their lives? Why add another 4, 5, 6 years to that?
And here I have to add my disclaimer - I'm talking about those of us who have the priviledge and opportunity to stay at home with our kids, not those who have to put them into day care out of neccesity!

Anyway I digress, this post was actually suppose to be about what happened when they all looked at me and it was my turn to answer the question at hand!
"So what school are you guys looking at?" The one woman queried?
I hesitated for only a second, the decision has been made so no beating around the bush any more!
"We're not, we've decided we are going to be homeschooling!" I answered



Their feelings were written clearly on their faces before being replaced with wallpaper smiles
Not so discreet looks were exchanged
"Oh so you're a teacher?" the one lady asked politely
Oh I wanted to laugh, but instead I said no and went on try to explain a bit about homeschooling.
I don't know why I tried, there was no point to it and I have no need to explain my choices, next time I think it would be better not to even try!
Anyway, a few moments later it was time to go and the conversation ended on that note.
But the damage is done, I'm now "that mom"

IMAGINE if I told them we're leaning towards unschooling!

I must say we had a good giggle about it at home, lol, just as well as it's likely to happen more and more often.

So what do you think the best approach is when people ask you a question with an answer you know they won't "approve" of? And what kind of answer do you prefer to receive if you're asking the question?
  • Do you avoid the question, give a safe answer or outright lie?
  • Do you answer truthfully but try justify your answer?
  • Or are you a straight talker who gives the basics but makes no excuses, people can take it however they want?
I'd like to be a straight talker, I know I like a straight answer! I try, but somehow I always find myself slipping into the explaining & justifying part...it's something I think I need to work on!

Friday, April 15, 2011

So - Paintless Painting & Lazy Days

Sooooooo....some days we don't think too much about homeschooling at all...and that's one of the perks to it, if we all just need some time to be, we can do just that!

The other day we had a day like that...but Bear decided he wanted to paint.
He's quite fond of painting but Mom not so much!
I've discovered that it takes me an age to layer the whole house in newspaper, undress the kids as much as possible, organise the paints in spill proof containers etc etc etc.
Then Bear takes about 2 seconds to mix all the paint into brown sludge, pour it over the paper/newspaper/himself/his little sister, and while I'm trying to stem the brown mud slide that's fast approaching my carpet/tiles/shoes, he declares he's all done and races off to try climb on the couch...covered in still wet paint of course... while I desperately scream "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! Come back and get clean first!"
And then he tantrums.
And then I clean up for an hour.

So hopefully now you'll have gained some understanding into my reluctance :)

You'll imagine my delight when I was wandering through the Crazy Store the other day and happened to spot one of these "paintless" paint books! You know the ones where you just use water and the "paint" magically appears? Well I'd forgotten all about them until I saw it and when I did I promptly snapped it up and put it aside for a rainy day (which we've had plenty of lately)

So it was with great delight that I presented it to Bear and showed him the "magic" painting he could do!

As you can see below he took it all quite seriously, and spent loads of time dousing the pages with water (a word of caution, it's best to limit the water available), but he was very proud of the results!

Ok, so I know it's not as artistic as normal painting, but seriously he not really at the "artistic" phase yet, unless you call brown sludge art. Plus take into consideration the ease and lack of mess, and you just have to admit it's a winner!

After that it was time to chill and browse through some books. We recently got a new book from Letterland which has proved to be a great hit!



And while some of us enjoyed the literature, others cooked up tasty rocks

Thursday, April 14, 2011

So - Before Five in a Row

So we use a book called Before Five in a Row which is actually a lovely resource for people with small children. I think it's helpful even if you don't plan on homeschooling.
The idea is not that you're "teaching" them as such, but you're getting them ready for learning and nurturing a love for learning.
It uses children's books to introduce new concepts, activities and discussions for you do do with your child.I will admit that I find some of the books used in it are a bit outdated but so far Bear has loved most of the ones we've bought, even if I haven't, and Evie is starting to enjoy them too!
I think it's very easy to carry the concept across to other books if you prefer, it's just a nice resource for giving parents an idea of where to start.

There is also a treasury of ideas in the second half of the book, just on fun things to do with small children.

So - What did we do today?
In the last day or 2 Bear has pulled out Blueberries for Sal again, and today I decided to start one of the activities he wasn't quite ready for the first time we read it...classification cards!
Teaching kids to classify items into groups is a great logical thinking exercise.
So basically the idea is to make your own animal classification cards, using animals from the book you're reading at the time, to eventually build up a nice selection of cards for your child to play with.

As we're reading Blueberries for Sal I took pictures of a bear, a partridge, a crow...and I decided to add a blueberry bush too, just for fun!

So - What did we use?
Pictures
Cardboard
Scissors
Glue stick
clear contact paper (optional)

I had a look through our magazines but didn't find pictures of the animals I needed, so I ended up grabbing some images from google & printing them out.
I also cut some different coloured A4 card into 4, so we have a bunch of cards the same size.
Then Bear and I cut out the pictures I printed.
Bear applied liberal amounts of glue to the pictures and stuck them on the cards.
Voila - There you have a classification card!
Then the rest is all optional, but as we are trying to work on the concept of the alphabet a little I drew the letter each picture starts with e.g. "Bb" for Bear.
Also because I want them to last a little while I decided to cover them in clear contact paper just to make them a little more durable.

Sadly no photos today, I'll try take some next time Bear has them out, but just in case you have no clue what I'm talking about, they're basically homemade versions of these:

So - What now?
Now we were ready to play. We laid out the cards and then I would ask him to choose all the ones with fur, or beaks, or leg.
He seemed to enjoy it and even came up with his own suggestions, grouping together the cards of the same colour, or animals with the same colour etc.
I think it will only get more fun as we add more and more cards to the bunch.

Then we read the book again and when we came across each animal in the book, Bear found the right card to match and showed it to Evie to so she could see.

So - What did we learn?
Some of the things we learnt during this activity:
  • Shapes - as we were cutting them out we talked about square & rectangle shapes. How they are similar and how they are different. We looked around to find other things that were squares and rectangles, like the oven, dining room table, wash basket etc.
  • Fine motor control - Bear was using his scissors again and he did all his own gluing and sticking
  • Alphabet - we drew some letters, said them phonetically and then said the animal's name.
  • Identifying various birds/animals - crow, partridge etc
  • Classification - as mentioned above, we played a game and grouped our cards according to different things
  • Colours - well Bear already know all his basic colours very well, but he spent some time commenting on the different browns of the animals and spent some time grouping cards according to colours.
So - what about our Evie, well we all read the book together again and let her have a good look at all the animals, and after we all went for a walk to the shop to stretch our legs!

Now if only everyone would nap so the parentals can keep their sanity :)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

So - Reading, Writing & Arithmetic

Along with the majority of the world, I agree that reading, writing & arithmetic are the building blocks of learning. Once a person has mastered these skills they can essentially learn anything they set their minds too!

But when is the right time to start learning these skills and how long should it take?

Well I was shocked when I came across the following passage in the book
Dumbing us Down by John Taylor Gatto (which I highly recommend by the way)

"Were the colonists geniuses? No, the truth is that reading, writing, and arithmetic only take about 100 hours to transmit as long as the audience is eager and willing to learn. The trick is to wait until someone asks and then move fast while the mood is on. Millions of people teach themselves these things - it really isn't very hard. Pick up a fifth-grade nath or rhetoric textbook from 1850 and you'll see that the texts were pitched then on what would today be considered college level. The continuing cry for 'basic skills' practise is a smoke screen behind which schools preempt the time of children for 12 years and teach the the seven lessons* I've just described to you."

Did I just read that right?
100 hours?
And not 100 on each subject but for all 3?
Surely it can't be right?

But indeed it can - the thing is once you're ready to learn something it actually doesn't take all that long, but if you're not ready it's like banging your head against a wall repeatedly!

So why exactly are we taking our children and insisting they all learn the alphabet by a certain age, or their times tables by another age?

Surely our time, and their time, would be much better spent waiting until the specific child showed a readiness to learn and then forge ahead?

If faced with the choice of spending 12 years learning something as opposed to doing it in a 100 hours, I sure know which I would choose!

So now what?

Unfortunately all this brings me to a bit of a dilemma.
While I love the freedom and idea of unschooling, and just waiting for my children to one day decide to learn these skills, regardless of the age they are at the time, I also still really really feel strongly about them being able to master these skills as soon as possible. So do I forge ahead and go on and on and on about the alphabet now already, or do I bide my time and wait?

Well I'm still working on it but I guess some kind of middle ground is where we'll settle.
For the moment I'm following Bear's lead, as in I introduce something and if he wants to then we continue with it.
He's not a cooperative kind of person at the best time so forcing him to le
arn the ABC song, for instance, is like trying to stick a camel through the eye of a needle.
Incidentally he actually DESPISES the ABC song and won't even let me get the first few letters about before all hell breaks loose, never mind even attempting to repeat it.

On the other hand he LOVES reading his story books, so I spend a lot of time doing that.
He also enjoys some online websites like www.starfall.com which are suppose to help with teaching the different letters and phonics etc,
So in a way I guess that's good enough for the moment, he is only 3 after all, but it's taking everything in me not to go out and buy "How to teach your child to read in 100 easy lessons" right now!




And while I may be holding out on the instructional book right now, it didn't stop me grabbing 2
jars full of magnetic letters for a fridge today, thanks to Woolies & ELC ;)







If there any other homeschoolers reading this post I'd love to hear your approach to the three R's, did you let your child lead the way or did you start working on them as soon as possible?


* This paragraph is taken from the speech he made in 1991 when receiving his New York State Teacher of the Year Award, called "The Seven-Lesson Schoolteacher" - so the seven lessons referred to in this paragraph are the ones listed in there. I will be discussing them at a later date, so if you're interested please come visit again!

Monday, April 11, 2011

So - We Made a Waxy Paper Mobile!

Bear wanted to make something so I decided to combine a little art & science.

I would love to post step by step pictures but unfortunately things often just happen too fast in our household, especially as waiting any longer than a split second is tantamount to torture for Bear :)
Perhaps I'll get lucky another day but for this post you'll just have to make do with photos of the final result!

So - what did we need?
Waxpaper - 2 sheets
Wax crayons
Scissors
Wire coathanger
Dishtowels
Iron
+ a Parental or adult willing to supervise or operate hot iron & scissors






< super stoked









So - how did we use them?

We turned on our iron on a low heat.
We lay out some dishtowels and put a large sheet of wax paper on top of them
Chose various colours of wax crayons and using our scissors shaved off bits on to our paper
When we were satisfied with the amount of wax shavings & their arrangement we lay our 2nd sheet of waxpaper on top of the first.
Covered this with some more dishtowels
Slowly & carefully ironed our wax paper
You can take a peek every now and again to make sure the wax shavings are melting and making gorgeous colours & patterns on your wax paper.
Voila - our 2 pieces of paper and wax shavings joined together and made a really pretty piece of paper!

So - What now?
Well you can use your finished paper for all sorts of crafts but as we are doing a lot with shapes these days Bear asked me to cut it into various shapes.
I then spied an old coat hanger lying about and got the idea of making a mobile, so Bear punched holes in each shape, I strung them on various lengths of string and we arranged them on the hanger.

So - That was fun, but what did we learn?
Well here's the fun part of homeschooling - you realise just how much your toddler can learn just by doing some fun activities!





< I learn stuff & have fun at the same time!











Some of the things we learnt from this activity:
  • Colours - I let Bear choose all the colours for our project, we talked about other things with those colours e.g. Blue Sky, Mom's purple t-shirt etc. Bear decided his favourite colours are Blue & Purple...and Red...and Green...and Yellow....and so on lol. We also saw how some of the colours change when they melt together - blue & yellow goes green etc. We also talked about how our paper was translucent when we hung it up in the window - the light shines through it but we can't see through it!
  • Shapes & sizes - Bear chose different shapes for me to cut out and specified sizing: A BIG square and a little square, a star >>>this<<< big and of course a HUGE airplane (I'm aware this is not a "traditional" shape ;P). We also talked about why a rectangle is different to a square
  • Numeracy - we counted the sides of our shapes to help figure out if they were triangles, squares, rectangles etc. We counted our shapes and cut enough string for each shape.
  • Science - we learnt that some stuff melts when it gets hot, and other stuff doesn't...like the dishcloths.
  • Health & safety - We learnt about hot irons & being careful not to burn ourselves, and also that scissors are sharp so we must be careful not to cut ourselves, and also to behave sensibly when we are carrying or using them.
  • Fine motor skills - I did the shape cutting but let Bear practise his cutting skills by letting him snip the cut off bits and try make his own shapes. He was more interested in shredding the bits into a million tiny pieces though.
And that's about all I can think of right now, although I know we talked about a lot of stuff because we've hit the WHY? stage big time in our household, so everything you do includes answering 101 questions.

Surprised such a simple activity can yield so many learning opportunities?
I know I was when I first started looking into this whole homeschooling thing!
I was skeptical and convinced learning couldn't be that easy - but of course it really is :)

So - What about our little Evie - well besides bubbling around, watching with an eagle eye and hanging onto every word her big bro' said, she learnt 2 valuable lessons

Sometimes you just can't touch your big brother's stuff....

...But he loves you anyway!























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This post features on the South African Carnival of Homeschool Bloggers where South African home schoolers share experiences, ideas, philosophies and much more. You can join the carnival too by heading to the South African Carnival of Homeschool Bloggers sign up page. We hope you enjoy the carnival as much as we have!




So Hello & Other Polite Things!

So why this blog & this title?

Well this is my attempt to document our journey, answer some questions, ask some more and generally just share the daily ins and outs of our homeschooling experience.

I get lots of questions that start with “So…”

The funny thing I've noticed is that with a lot of cases the person doesn't even want an answer, they are just trying to make a statement of their own :)

“So…why would you want to homeschool?”

“So…what about socialising?”

“So…what if your children want to go to school, would you let them?”

The word “so” is also used in so many other ways…it just got stuck in my head, so now here we are!


So who are we?

My husband and I are are “the Parentals” AKA as Mom & Dad

My 3 year old son has added “Bear” to his given name, so henceforth he shall be called Bear

And my 1 year old daughter has had the word bum appended to her given name by her big brother. The problem is bum isn’t a very appealing name in my opinion, so I’ll just randomly change direction here and she will be known as Evie!


So why do we homeschool?

Well that’s another whole post on it’s own, if not more, and one I’ll tackle another day.

In the meantime I will tell you it’s not for any one reason.

Mainly we homeschool because we want to, we believe it’s best for our family, and because we can!


So now what?

So now stay tuned!

I hope to be back regularly with tales of what we get up to, some musings on homeschooling and what it entails for us (it may surprise you to know it’s different for every family), and maybe even a couple pictures