FOREWORD: If you’re new to homeschoolingmiddleeast, welcome! I highly recommend that you start reading from ‘Day 1’. The fastest way to access this is to look for ‘Archives’ on the right hand side of the home page, click on ‘February 2012’ and scroll down to the bottom of the page that opens. If you want a quick first visit, you could type a term e.g. ‘socialization’ or ‘university’, into the ‘Search’ box or of course you could just read my latest posts without doing anything!
Why I recommend starting at Day 1 is because this is an adventure into homeschooling that is not yet 3 months old and the journey has been a rollercoaster – philosophically and emotionally, catalogued daily for the first couple of months. For you to get the full intellectual and dramatic impact, it’s best to start at the beginning. You might be contemplating home educating and wonder what those early nail-biting days feel like or you might enjoy reading somebody else’s take on an experience you share with me, or you might be more generally interested in my thoughts and feelings on education and parenting. Whatever the reason you’re reading, I’m really humbled that you’re taking your valuable time to do so and I really hope I can be some kind of hope or inspiration for you. Thank you! Now for today’s post…
I haven’t written for a while because I was really uneasy about what to write, frankly. I would never want to waste a reader’s time writing meaningless posts. There is no particular issue that has caught my attention lately and I didn’t want to write about how our learning at home adventure is going. Why? Because I don’t know how to evaluate it. But I’ve decided to try because somebody else might benefit from my struggle. I do hope so, because I don’t think we are!
A good day to me is a day when I manage to get Edward interested in whatever it is I want him to be interested in – a DVD about restoring a Leonardo Da Vinci masterpiece, an ‘Intellego’ unit about France and its music and art (in preparation for our European holiday), a storybook that sneaks in Impressionist paintings. I just hope that showing interest and being engaged results in learning. With regards to Maths, Edward’s still quite enjoying ‘Life of Fred’ although it does introduce some difficult concepts that even I don’t know anything about, like the concept of something being ‘commutative’ and whether various scenarios are commutative or not – very interesting but Edward (and barely I) can remember the term from one day to the next so is it worthwhile learning about? Discussing it is interesting. So, who knows, maybe if the actual term isn’t remembered the concept of some things having to be done in a particular order will be remembered and is hopefully valuable e.g. the fact that you can’t put your socks on after your shoes is like the fact that number order in subtraction is important. This is not the case with addition. For example, you can add 2 to 3 just as sensibly as 3 to 2 (and it doesn’t matter what order you put your hat and scarf on) but subtracting 3 from 2 will have a different result from subtracting 2 from 3, as with shoes and socks. Edward knows this about subtraction but maybe thinking about as a principle; that the order of things is sometimes crucial and sometimes of no importance, is going to be something he needs to more thoroughly understand. Otherwise why would the creator of ‘Life of Fred’ introduce this esoteric term?
But this shouldn’t be how a good day should look like. It makes ME feel better if I feel I’ve TAUGHT Edward something. It makes me feel like I’ve done my job. I don’t mind being judged for not following a particular curriculum. I feel OK about that because I believe learning is so much more effective if Edward learns something he’s interested in. But, if, as usual, he isn’t showing a specific interest in something then I can’t help myself but try and MAKE him interested in something – by getting all enthusiastic about Impressionism or chromatics (as a component of learning about colour in art) or the solar system or anything else he’s shown a glimmer of interest in before. He’ll go along with this for a bit. But it never seems to be for long enough and then it’s the afternoon and we’re doing a playdate or he thinks lessons are over and it’s playtime in his room or it’s the weekend and he thinks we shouldn’t do anything at all and I feel like he’s had about 30 minutes of ‘teaching time’ (an another 30 minutes of Maths) all day, all week. How will he ever learn anything??
I completely agree with the belief that children are not empty vessels that have to be filled with knowledge. I do believe that teachers/parents should not try and ‘pour’ knowledge into kids, in the way they do so much at school. But equally, I don’t see many opportunities for Edward to be able to get excited about things and ask or follow these interests – IF IT DOESN’T INVOLVE BOOKS. My only resource is books and whatever is inside my head and to a lesser extent the Net and I don’t have a very extensive library yet and I don’t have access to a non-fiction library pretty much at all in Bahrain.
I would love Edward to wake up in the morning and decide what he wants to learn – to snuggle down with a book about planets, to want to continue with his big piece of art from his last art lesson, to build a really elaborate Lego construction, to ask to learn about something or other and we try and do so from the internet. But if this doesn’t happen, there is not much I can think to do to spark his interest in anything unless it comes out of a book, which is not the greatest place to spark enthusiasm for something for a 7 year old boy who isn’t a big fan of non-fiction books. Books would be a great adjunct to building on an enthusiasm though and I wish I at least had more of them. I want Edward to guide his learning. I want to be less didactic. But I can’t see how this will ever happen in our current environment.
Unschooling is great in the situations that I’ve read about but I can’t see that they can apply to us. For instance, the famous unschooling family, the Colfax’s. They raised their kids on a remote farm in northern California and 3 of them got to Harvard. I can’t work out how, even after reading the book they wrote about it, but for sure those kids had some very interesting learning opportunities. They learned a lot of Maths from building on the farm and running their own little businesses. A child following a self-employed parent to work or getting a chance to run his own goat rearing business would be great learning. Other unschoolers do very regular museums and gallery visits or visits to fascinating historic places – like all the places we hope to visit in Europe. It would be easy to unschool living in/near a European city. I mean look at this place that we’re looking forward to visiting in the Netherlands: Archeon (http://www.archeon.nl/). Adults are dressed up and ‘in character’. They dress up and act out living in the Bronze and Iron Ages. And they do ‘real’ gladiator fights to illustrate Roman times. THIS is the way to get a 7 year old boy interested in a period of history – and THEN you can get the books out! There are so many places like this in other countries but nothing at all similar here. I met a marvelously resourceful lady who queried my inability to find anything really inspiring to teach in a hands-on way in Bahrain who said her kids were really interested in her lessons about tiny aquatic creatures and I thought, ‘You are so lucky. I cannot see my son doing this.’
The best I can do is try is to see if my enthusiasm for various subjects rubs off on Edward with short periods with relevant books, chats and anything interesting on ‘youtube’ to illustrate a point. And ideally I try and find other enthusiasts. For example, in the art class we’re attending, both kids are spending an hour twice a week, for a month, with two incredibly enthusiastic artists who are so great with kids. Even if they don’t come away learning any kind of formal technique or other ‘know how’, I am far happier that they were around people passionate about art who were giving them attention on a kid-oriented level. It was great to take them to a photography exhibition next door, but there’s nothing like being with people.
It’s true. I’m in a slough of despair. I don’t want to scold my son when he doesn’t want to learn anything; doesn’t want to look at or talk about any of my interesting art, history or science books. If I get annoyed by his lack of interest or feel it’s not enduring enough and try and push him to ‘learn more’, he’ll twist the knife in and say, “I hate art!” or “I hate reading!” and I know I’ve done a very, very poor job as a home educator make him feel this way, even momentarily. Whenever he’s had enough, even if it’s after a mere 10 minutes, I want to say “That’s fine, just go and learn something else”. But what?? He can’t go off and tinker with the insides of a tractor and learn how gears and levers work in real life because it’s not right there on our doorstep to have a go with. If Edward suddenly had a desperate interest in doing this, I’d find a tractor I’m sure, but the point is, there isn’t a rich learning environment, outside of books (and this isn’t nearly as rich as I’d like it to be) on our doorstep which seems crucial to successful unschooling. There aren’t things that he can just have a go with. There aren’t things lying around for him to try and perchance develop an interest in. With children especially, you don’t know if it’s interesting to see how a mechanical vehicle works until you start finding out how a mechanical vehicle works. In John Holt’s seminal work ‘How Children Learn’ (which I’ve just started reading) this seems to be a main way kids learn and get interested, by having a go at something, with their hands.
I don’t want to do ‘school at home’. So, I’ve been trying relaxed homeschooling/eclectic learning at home but it doesn’t feel productive enough; it doesn’t seem like Edward’s learning very much because we hardly sit together with a book or other resource for any amount of time a day, because what I’m offering doesn’t hold Edward’s interest for terribly long. And I can’t see how I can unschool because what’s he going to learn from? What community? What beautiful natural environment? What fascinating museums? I do not believe school is a better place for my children to be. Edward at least is not the sort of child to be fascinated by what comes out of the teacher’s mouth or her printed worksheets. But I am extremely frustrated that I can’t offer what I’d like to offer at home and I just don’t want to go the virtual school route or other constructed learning environment where he would have to learn what he’s told to learn and when to learn it.
Edward is a bright boy, that has always been said. He can get extremely engaged with interesting things. He’s a thinker. He’s very interested in the world around us. How it works. The people in it. But just living together thoughtfully, answering his questions as we go about our daily life, doesn’t seem to me to be a rich enough learning experience to me, even for a 7 year old.
Any realistic suggestions anyone? Other than move!!
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