My husband is home sick today. I took advantage of this, I’m afraid to say, and went for my precious one hour’s walk around the compound (so good for body AND soul). I’ve missed doing my walk a few times in the last few weeks because it got pushed back to the afternoon, to avoid valuable optimum-learning-morning-hours, but then often gets pushed again to accommodate play dates or food shopping. It’s not a terribly interesting walk, and I do feel like a goldfish going round and round a tiny fishbowl but I enjoy looking at the greenery (fairly scarce in arid Bahrain) and listening to the birds. Its enjoyment is also immeasurably improved by the fact that my dear friend often accompanies me and we discuss and debate homeschooling (naturally, the hot topic of the moment given I’m only in my third week and her son is a school-lover) which is really interesting.
But if I am unfortunately bereft of her company, then I keep my sanity by reading homeschooling books on my Kindle which is fabulously light for the purpose, although my Osteopath is not in favour of reading and walking! Reading, however light (physically not metaphorically!), whilst walking does not good walking posture make, which should unsurprisingly involves looking up and in front of you! I was also desperate to take advantage of the fresh air today; before it gets too hot to enjoy the not-so-fresh air of April or not-so-fresh air due to tear gas or burning tires – Bahrain is experiencing a kind of low-level civil war at the moment. Unfortunately, now that I’ve pushed my walk into the afternoon, I also risk missing it for this crazy reason – because you can hardly breathe. So, hubby home meant I took my walk in the morning!
I was interested to see how my more apathetic-than-usual hubbie would handle being responsible for Edward’s ‘education’ for an hour. He was flu-clueless what to do so I made some suggestions. The one they agreed on doing was a new Lego project that had just arrived in the post. It’s a ‘Klutz’ kit called ‘Crazy Action Contraptions’. Edward could do it by himself but I thought it might be nice to do it with his rarely-available-always-working-or-travelling Dad and for Dad to explain a bit about why the various projects worked – the principles of cogs and wheels/‘clockwork’ as recently, memorably, seen in the animatronics boy in the film ‘Hugo’. The hour seemed to go off smoothly. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall and heard what was learned. I would likely have learned something too!
Petra also got something she really liked in the post today (all from bookdepository.com by the way, because they deliver FREE to Bahrain! How do they make money?! It’s not an environmental way to buy books though, given that most books arrive in separate packages, which is an awful waste of packing. At least we recycle it.) Petra’s book was an Usborne ‘Lift the Flap Word Book’. She absolutely loves it! It’s a really gratifying way to try to read because it’s got a picture of the thing e.g. a car and then you lift the flap to read the word ‘car’, so it’s setting the child up for success – the picture makes her think of the word ‘car’ before she tries to read it. Awesome! And then on some pages, the order is reversed and the other side of the book has the word and then you lift the flap to the see the picture; a little more challenging IF she wants to try it. Brilliant! And of course they are useful, everyday words. I want to find some more of these books! Good ol’ Usborne!
We also got our first ‘Knuffle Bunny’ book. We love ‘Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus’. We’ve had it since Edward was small, and I must have read it 100 times at his request. Interestingly, Petra had exactly the same reaction to it. I had no idea ‘Knuffle Bunny’ was by the same author, Mo Willems, but I bought it because as part of Bahrain’s superb ‘Spring of Culture’ month, we’re going to see the ‘Knuffle Bunny’ show and I wanted to familiarize the kids with the character/s first. We are really looking forward to the show, but however much it’s enjoyed, I will be forever grateful to it for introducing us to the books (and I want to get the other two in the series a.s.a.p!) Both Edward and I (but not Petra) have/had special soft toys that go/went everywhere with us, so we really relate to the disaster of Knuffle Bunny getting lost. But somehow it’s written in a special way that doesn’t make it seem too traumatic, yet extremely engaging.
We had a crafty session this afternoon. Our first one since we started homeschooling. Friends cancelled coming over because of likely protests on the highway – best case scenario the roads are closed by police or protestors, worst case scenario you are perilously close to burning tires or scary kafiya-ed youths masking their identities (who have rarely bothered drivers, but you never know). Poor Edward was desperately disappointed. He’s very social. But since school didn’t meet that need, he didn’t find friendships there very satisfying; homeschooling’s not been a problem in that respect. In fact, it’s better, because we’re more flexible now and can fit in more easily around other people’s after-school activities and Edward can really enjoy the playdates because he’s not too frazzled after school J
When Edward was at school, I was a unmotivated about buying a lot of crafts materials and doing crafty things with the kids. They have always drawn and painted a lot but not done so much with glue. I bought a load of cheap glitter, coloured paper, string, ‘eyes’, coloured fluff (can’t think of a better way to describe it!) and a couple of books of ‘Melissa and Doug’ face outlines and funny backgrounds to inspire the kids. Edward drew an amazing face which he decorated extremely creatively, Petra filled in an empty ‘Melissa and Doug’ goldfish bowl with fabulous sparkly purple underwater creatures. I decided to try and leave the kids alone whilst they did their projects. I’m sure my husband thought this was just an excuse to get back to my PC! But in truth, this is because I don’t want to make ‘helpful’ comments like ‘What about sticking this there?’ I want the projects to be totally up to them and be whatever they want them to be, disembodied eyes floating in a goldfish bowl an’ all!
With no-one to play with, we had the time this afternoon to also try out yet another of our amazing book buys. What’s interesting about this one though, is that I’ve had it for a few months, but like the crafts, I’ve never had the inclination to do it because Edward always seemed so tired after school and I felt sorry for him at weekends to suggest anything like this to him. I felt it was important that he had total ‘free play’ and that however enjoyable these activities might be, they wouldn’t be as enjoyed or appreciated as ‘free play’. Now, I’m trying these kinds of activities with him because I feel they are ‘educational’ and certainly part of a homeschooling ‘curriculum’; my make-it-up-as-you-go-along one anyway! And they are such super activities, I couldn’t think of anything he’d be doing as school that could trump them.
Edward said, ‘You love buying books don’t you Mum’ and I replied, ‘I don’t buy nearly as many books as I like to Edward!’ This terrific book is called ‘The Art Detective’ by Anna Nilsen. I’ll copy the blurb on the back of the book. It explains the book’s concept very well, “The security guard at the Town Gallery has a problem…a big problem. Some of the pieces of the gallery’s priceless masterpieces have been stolen and replaced by cunning forgeries! Now he needs a sharp pair of eyes (Edward’s in our case although Petra could easily join in. She’s also extremely observant) to find the fakes. Are you up to the job? We hope so, because the future of the gallery is in your hands! A spot-the-difference game, a mystery story and a reference book – all in one! Contains more than 35 paintings from the National Gallery’s Collection. Includes information on each picture plus a glossary of art terms.” Well how about that! Once you’ve found the forger’s name, you write it down in a grid so there’s a bit of Maths included too! It’s something Edward and I did together but I left the best bit, the exploration part, to him and he really enjoyed it.
I’ve noticed something really unexpected since I’ve started homeschooling. One of the opt-touted benefits of home education is that kids are allowed the time to continue doing whatever they are doing at that moment, for as long as they’re interested e.g. if they’re doing a science experiment, they can carry on with it for as long as they want or if they’re reading, they can read as long as they like. This is something I think is great. This might well happen when Edward is older but what I’ve noticed works with him now is something quite different – he likes to do things in 15-30 minute blocks with short breaks in between and he likes these ‘blocks’ to be different to each other e.g. one Maths ‘block’, one period listening to music on the Net (e.g. the lovely music from the ‘Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe’ movie which he hasn’t actually seen, it’s possibly too scary, but became interested in after we read the book together), one period learning to type on the laptop, one period of physical activity outside etc… This seems to suit him. What’s so different from school is that he gets more short breaks, I should imagine, between blocks of focused attention and he’s learning, I think, far more because he’s really interested in whatever we do. He’s not sitting there desperately wishing he was somewhere else, anywhere else (well, maybe a tiny bit, nothing beats ‘free play’) but he knows he can go play for a bit soon and what we’re doing is something he’s happy enough to be doing at that moment. I love it! It seems so productive. It’s great to see him so engaged for that period of time.
I don’t know if my husband thought we achieved anything much today though. It certainly looks all rather haphazard. But I think it’s a way of learning that’s working. It feels relaxed, it feels happy, it feels fruitful; it feels like learning should feel. It might be a bit more directed than unschooling should be. But I think, at age 7, having recently been at school, Edwards perhaps needs a bit more direction, at least to start out, for him to engage in anything other than ‘free play’. But it’s very gentle direction and it’s the only way to go if I’m not going to have the courage to take a few months off to really see what kind of learning he might naturally pick up, all on his own. It’s working for now but we’ll see.
I do feel home educating means trying all sorts of different things and seeing how they work out. As the Colfax’s say in their book ‘Homeschooling for Excellence’ about, in part, how three of their four boys were homeschooled to Harvard, “…experience builds confidence – and the ability to recover from mistakes. Any parent who takes on the job of teaching his or her child at home must be prepared to make mistakes – and occasionally big ones.” OK. I’m ready!
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