Learning is taking off in this household! Month 4 of Learning at Home

It’s been a good few days. Edward’s interests are rocketing off here and there. Yesterday he even said that he wanted to ‘learn all day, Mummy’ (typically, I had to help my husband with some stuff so I couldn’t actually take advantage of that rapturous-sound-to-my-ears but maybe it’s better to let the desire hang in there?!) We are enjoying ‘The Story of the World’ by Susan Wise Bauer but we’re whipping through it rather quickly because I want to finish Volume 1 before we go on holiday. The end of volume 1 is the end of the Roman Empire and I want Edward to have some understanding of this period of history because we’ll be seeing Roman ruins and visiting Roman re-enactments in the Netherlands.

It’s a really easy-to-read, great to snuggle down with, mother and son bonding, introduction to ancient history that seems popular with homeschooling Mums following all sorts of approaches. But I was pleased that even my sword-fighting-crazy son pointed out, rather wearily, that “It’s all fighting, Mummy. They’re always fighting.” And I agreed that, sadly, so much of the history of the world was like this and even this book, written expressly for children, didn’t/couldn’t avoid this.  When I told my husband this, he said there must be books ‘out there’ that celebrate the positive developments – the art and inventions and so on, that don’t talk about the battles and wars. I will look for one to try and counter all this war! Of course those achievements are touched on. The history of the world is very much, for instance, skewed towards ‘the cradle of civilization’ because that’s where so much, relatively speaking, was written down and the writing lasted the test of time, whilst other parts of the world are much less known about in part because there isn’t much evidence about how lives there were lived, what was achieved. It’s a great way to make the point to a reluctant writer, that writing is important, that writing ensures your story is known about for posterity.

Edward had been very excited to learn about Roman gladiators (not atypical for a 7 year old boy!) but ‘The Story of the World’ did a very good job of showing how horrible this job was, that it wasn’t about glamour and courage, but simply fighting for your life and how some noble men would actually choose to be killed rather than having to kill another innocent man for a crowd’s entertainment. So, all good lessons, thank you Susan  Wise Bauer. These days, throughout the day, questions about morality seem to come up again and again. This never happened when Edward was at school. And since it’s only been 4 months since we started learning at home I don’t think it’s a purely developmental thing that would have happened even if he’d stayed at school. This change coincided exactly with him being at home full-time, coincided with his increased happiness and contentment, I can’t believe he would have changed like this, at this time, in this way, if he’d still been there.

It’s a really fascinating phase, the way Edward is moving from a small boy to an older one. He asks really interesting questions, he seems so much more aware of the larger world – and not just aware but wonderfully curious and excited about it. The level of his knowledge is taking off and his interest with it. I’m sure he did learn a lot at school, but he never talked about it. Interesting tidbits that he must have learned about never cropped up in conversation. He once said he was learning about the Crimean War, which was about the only time he told me he was learning anything in particular, so he must have been a bit interested in it. But around that time we went for a week to Dubai and I took some worksheets from school to do with him about the Crimean War and Florence Nightingale. He wasn’t the least bit interested in doing them. Not only that, he didn’t show any interest in any discussion about what he was meant to be learning. I was finding the information contained in the worksheets quite interesting but that interest didn’t rub off on him at all. And it wasn’t like he had a lot of other more interesting things to tempt him away. We were stuck for parts of the day in a rather boring hotel room. But when Edward was at school, learning was work and everything else was play. He would rather have done anything in that boring hotel room than ‘learn something’, including watching some mindless cartoons. Now I think he sees that learning can be a lot of fun, and it’s something he chooses to do, after all he has a choice about whether to do it or not. I can see that for him the lines are getting blurred, he’s seeing some kinds of learning or some kinds of information as fun – or nearly as much fun as playing with his Lego or something. I really think that now he’d quite happily turn of those mindless cartoons in that hotel room for the chance to learn something that interested him.

In complete contrast to when he was at school, Edward talks about what he’s learned about almost every day. Things we’ve learned pop into his conversation alongside his imaginary stories (still more prevalent in his conversation, which is absolutely fine and lovely). It really is a huge change. He sometimes mentions things out of context, or slightly incorrectly, like yesterday we were talking about something really big and he said ‘like nuclear fusion’ which wasn’t exactly right, but it shows he was thinking about it, trying to process a difficult concept that we’d been learning about in the context of the sun’s energy. And he was excited when he heard the World Service radio presenter talking about Athens and the Aegean Sea in the kitchen because he knew where that was and a bit about it in terms of Athens vs. Sparta in Ancient Greece. He also asked what economics meant, because of course the presenter was talking about the economic situation in modern day Greece. Fortunately, he didn’t go on to ask about why there had been an economic crisis in the Euro Zone and how it was going to be solved 😉

It is difficult for me to gauge sometimes what to cover with him. I got a bit nervous earlier today when we were watching a nature documentary despite the fact it’s definitely aimed at kids. I was delighted that he was interested in watching it because he’s always shown very little interest in nature or animals. As a child at the zoo in Toronto, he was much more interested in other people than the animals. As a baby and child, he was always far more interested in people than even toys. So, this is another new avenue he’s happy to explore which I find very exciting. But I held my breath in anticipation of tricky questions when the documentary showed mating turtles and tigers! It was very innocuous but the term ‘mating’ was used and I was so worried about even defining that in a truthful way without inviting further tricky questions. Usually I’m so proud of my kids’ observation skills but for once, I was happy they didn’t show any curiosity about understanding more!

You may notice that I talk about ‘we’ all the time in the context of Edward’s learning. I am totally learning alongside him. I think this is part of what he enjoys so much – the joint exploration and the fact I am so evidently having so much fun myself. I think the fact that I’m learning alongside him encourages him to learn things that are much more advanced than others his age might be learning and I think this makes what he learns much more interesting for him too. And it gives him a chance to process what’s he’s learned by talking about it at any time he wants because I’m right there with him. At time, he sits quietly on his own, reading for a bit and I want to pick up whatever he’s read and read it after him, because I want to learn what he’s just learned. But I have to remind myself that I don’t have time to also learn what he’s learned independently, I’ve always got a lot of other things I want to study myself, including what other homeschoolers are writing on their blogs!

I’ve just started reading a book about the ‘Leadership Education’/’Thomas Jefferson’ model of home education and I like the fact it says that parents should demonstrate that they are always learning too – to set an example, to inspire their kids to want to always be learning, that learning is enjoyable and never stops. If I choose to follow all or part of this model, I think I’ll find this one of the easiest parts! In fact, I’m looking into whether I can do a Ph.D about homeschooling but I think it’s a lovely idea that’s ‘dead in the water’ whilst living in Bahrain since even a distance-learning organization like the UK’s ‘Open University’ requires Ph.D candidates to live near their campus.

The only spanner in this rather idyllic looking home learning life, is our 4 year old! It is hard, just when Edward and I are really getting into a juicy conversation, just when he says he’s ready to sit down and do some Maths with me, Petra wants attention and raises the noise level in her play in protest when she doesn’t get it – cars suddenly have horrific, noisy crashes, trains come off the rails with explosive bangs and booms, half-dressed dolls come flying around the corner. It really tries my patience. Not that I’m going to send her to school to get more quiet time with Edward (sorry all those out there thinking that would be a great idea – see my last post!) I think it’s quite good for her to have to try and occupy herself for a portion of the day. I just hope she doesn’t come to resent learning at home/learning because of it. I don’t think so. So many other homeschoolers have the same problem I’m sure and their younger kids don’t seem to have a problem later. I think it’s important that she always knows she’s welcome to join us though, to come for a cuddle whilst I read to/sit with Edward, as long as she’s quiet. If she can’t be quiet, it’s her choice and I feel that at least I’ve tried to help her feel I’m not rejecting her for Edward as such. She and I do bits and pieces from time to time throughout the day, which has been enough for her to start reading simple words. But she’s very busy with her imaginary games most of the time that I’d much rather she did this. We only really do a bit of numbers and letters when she asks for it which is for a very short while most days.

I’ve been reading about ‘Family Mission Statements’  recently and it sounds like an interesting idea but when I think about it, we’re living it so much every day that I don’t think we need to be so formal about it – not doing thing formally, gosh, really, us? There’s a surprise 😉 Since we’ve been home educating, we discuss the issues we’d cover in a mission statement so regularly, possibly even several times a day; our values, our beliefs, what we think is right or wrong, it hardly seems necessary. But we’ll see. If I have time, it would be fun to do. I’d write one and then discuss it with hubbie and the kids.

If anyone has read anything about the ‘Leadership Education’/‘Thomas Jefferson’ homeschooling model or read any of Oliver or Rachel DeMille’s books, please could you let me know what you think, point me to additional resources. So far, after a quick Google search, I can’t find anyone blogging about following it, despite the fact the authors refer to thousands of families following this model for years. I would love to learn more about it, hear how it works in practice, hear whether some people have followed some parts but not others. Thanks!

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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! 

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About homeschoolingpenny

Hi and welcome! My name is Penny and I used to live in Bahrain but In November 2012 moved to Dubai and now we live in Granada, Spain! If you want to contact me my email is pjmontford@hotmail.com. I recommend you start my blog on 'Day 1' but please enjoy whatever you dip into. 23 February 2012 marked the first day of no more school FOREVER for my two kids. Edward, who is nearly 10 had attended a variety of schools since he was very little. Petra, who is now 6, has never gone to school. On this date we decided Edward was never going back to school and Petra never would go to school. We hope to successfully homeschool from this day forward, although we would consider an alternative school as an option- if there was some amazing Sudbury or other really alternative school. Actually, I prefer the term 'home learning' than 'homeschool' because I don't like to think of school coming into our home. In fact, I hope to go further and guide/learn alongside, rather than teach, my kids using the 'unschooling' philosophy to instill a lifelong love of learning in them. We lived in the Middle East and now Spain all of which are very challenging places to home educate. This is an exciting journey that I used to blog about regularly, at first it was on an almost daily basis. Please join me on our travels and I hope we might be able to help each other out along the way. I certainly hope I can be a source of support and comfort and, in time, knowledge to all potential/presently participating homeschoolers/home educators/unschoolers. Good luck to us all! If you want to read about why I started home educating, why I pulled my son out of a 'very good' private school mid-term, how I felt at the very start and how my philosophy has evolved, please start from 'Day 1' of the blog. Please do post comments at the end of any days that you read. Your opinion is valuable and it's great to start up debate amongst other people commenting too, however old the post. Thank you for visiting homeschoolingmiddleeast.
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4 Responses to Learning is taking off in this household! Month 4 of Learning at Home

  1. Hi! This is a bit of a belated comment as I’ve been so busy recently and have only just caught up with your blog. I wanted to respond to your paragraph about how your daughter acts when you settle down to learn with your son, and to see if I could share any ideas which could help. My children are 8, 6, 4 and 2 and I have been home educating since before the youngest was born, so I have quite a bit of experience in dealing with this issue!

    I’m aware that this is unsolicited advice, but I’ll go for it anyway – hope you don’t mind:-)
    I think you need a mixture of the following approaches at different times:

    1. Look out for learning opportunities that are appropriate for both your children and make the most of these. For us recently the most successful shared learning has involved watching our caterpillars turn into cocoons and finally butterflies (lots of discussion, observation and drawing), bug hunting and drawing the bugs we have found, and observing, identifying and drawing wildflowers. Even the 2 year old can draw (scribble) or I can draw a bug for him and he can colour it (scribble on it!)

    2. Even when your son is learning something that your daughter can’t understand, you can make her feel involved by doing something similar. When my boys are doing Maths, my daughter (4 years old) sometimes chooses to do dot-to-dots or colour by numbers and she is happy because she is working with numbers at the same time as them. Even my 2 year old asks to “do Maths” so I give him paper, pencils and multilink cubes and he gets on with it!

    3. Try to find some special uninterrupted times to read and learn with your son when someone else is giving attention to your daughter so that, when you have to compromise in order to involve her, you and he will know that at other times he has your undivided attention. And obviously make sure you have similar special times with her as well.

    4. It’s not always easy but try to make sure that you don’t give your daughter any reason to feel negative about learning because of the attention your son is receiving, just because he is older. As much as possible, give her the option to be involved in some way, or ask her to wait just for a short time before offering her the same attention.

    Maybe a lot of this is obvious, so I hope it doesn’t sound patronising. I just wanted to share in the hope of being some help. It’s not always so perfect in my house but this is how it works on a good day! I am thinking of writing a blog post on this subject, as so many people ask how I manage to home educate with four children, so if you have any further thoughts on the subject I would be really interested to hear them. Sorry for the long comment xx

  2. shaema imam says:

    Thanks for this post Penny! I am intrigued that you are able to spend so much time with your kids. Though i have an excellent helper 20 hours a week, i still find myself spending so much time on cooking, cleaning, laundry, setting up field trips and interesting activities for them that i can barely spend about 4 hours of undivided attention with them most days, 2 hours indoors and 2 hours outdoors. If you don’t find it too intrusive, please write a post on how you manage your time!

    • Hi Shaema, I don’t clean and I only deal with the dirty laundry! There has got to an upside to living in the Gulf and this is it, having said that I read that really the kids should be helping out around the house, that doing so has huge educational dividends so if you spend some time teaching them to do little tiny things now, it will prove beneficial in the long run. At the moment, I’m too lazy though! And who says my attention is undivided?! Regarding cooking, whenever I meet homeschoolers from Indian/Pakistani/Indonesian etc.. heritage they spend a lot of time cooking traditional food. I really feel for them. Apparently their husbands want it. I am very, very lucky with my hubbie that he’ll eat hummus and bread many nights. It keeps him slim 😉 And the kids eat simply when I cook and we get takeaway (mainly Arabic food) several times a week. I also put attention to them before a tidy house, my personal appearance etc… So it’s all about priorities. We sure look like a homeschooling household!

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