This week was fun! A friend, Silvia, represented Dubai homeschoolers on a local radio programme. Because of this blog, I was asked to be on too but I had already committed to looking after her kids and I felt confident that she’d do a good job representing the kinds of things I believe in, which she did! Here is the link to listen to it on a podcast: http://dubaieye1038.com/page/Education_Matters_30.01.2013/90571?feed=131 Apparently, the part on homeschooling starts at section 5. I am the ‘Penny’ mentioned who sent a text during the show! Edward was delighted at the mention of my name, he was very miffed that I’d turned down doing the show myself; he would have loved the reflected glory (if there was any!)
Our life has undergone some really interesting changes: Homeschooling here looks quite different to homeschooling in Bahrain. And we’ve only been living in Dubai for 3 months! I’m finding it harder to interest my son in book-learning (even if they are lovely, lush, beautifully illustrated books or great, well-written, history-as-story books) because there’s so much more to do in Dubai than Bahrain.
In Bahrain, there was very little to do, so much of the time Edward felt OK about doing some book learning with me. Of course, he’d usually prefer to do ‘Lego’ or play with action figures but there was usually enough time to do that too. Friends weren’t available to play with every day and not until much later in the day. Here, we have a family of three boys living around the corner who also take a more unschooling approach and all five kids get on like a house on fire. We see them most mornings in the park where their Mum teaches a yoga class, which I love doing. It’s hard to drag Edward away from the fun of the park and to put his nose in a book. Admittedly, he won’t be dragged away from a park much longer, since all too soon we’ll have to move inside to get away from the desert heat, but he’ll still be dragged away from his friends. Today, I couldn’t bear it and stayed an hour longer after yoga in the park than we ‘ought’ to have done, with the kids eschewing the plastic playstructures and making ‘houses’ in the low-level, kid-climb-friendly oleander trees instead. It was perfect weather and I loved watching the pretty white flowers floating to the ground as the kids looped their limbs around the gnarled branches. I thought to myself, you have to seize moments like these. To ‘seize the day’, you have to stop yourself from thinking about what you have to do and let it all slide. Especially living in this region, you have to be a weather opportunist and grasp the moment to let the kids play outside especially if it involves trees, grass, sand or rocks.
Even during times his friends are busy, there are now many things Edward would rather do than sit down and doing book-learning with me. The possibility of an indoor rock climbing lesson in the afternoon distracts him in the morning. Both kids are absolutely thriving on the sport, but perhaps Edward especially, who seems more aware of the possible danger and therefore the thrill of achievement. He’s also started fencing lessons and various other activities he’s trying out. I think he’s distracted because he’s genuinely really excited and possibly nervous so he thinks about them quite a lot outside of the actual lessons. Fitting in these activities are a novelty for us and so perhaps it’s understandable we’re struggling not to be too preoccupied with them. Also, they are taking time away from ‘free play’ which he’d rather do than bookwork in the morning. In Bahrain, as I said, he had enough time for ‘freeplay’ and book-learning since there weren’t all these other enticing offerings (just the more usual fare such as soccer, which he wasn’t interested in). Now he rather do ‘freeplay’ AND sports AND playdates AND spend time outside so there’s little time left for book-learning! Of course, if I can, I try and amalgamate some of these activities but there still seems too little time in the day to add in book-learning! Just today, whilst we were in the park after yoga and the kids were climbing the trees, I thought, ‘We really ought to do a Maths lesson’ (and I should load the dishwasher with the dirty dishes left abandoned after breakfast). But I allowed myself to follow my gut that nothing was more important than wondering around in the dappled sunlight, letting the cooler winter breeze ruffle MY hair, let alone the children’s. If it felt so good, so right for me, how beneficial is it for the kids!
When I get worried about slacking off on book-learning, I consider that I have no idea how long we’ll be in Dubai. I have no idea where we go next, if we go anywhere at all. So, I’m going to spend the next 6-12 months letting Edward enjoy what Dubai has to offer; unschooling friends around the corner (after all, one never knows how long friends will be living in Dubai, it’s such a transitory community, and for sure they’ll be away for a few months in the summer) and an affordable, sensible selection of paid activities as well as ideally, a bunch of other free stuff!
In Bahrain, I really didn’t like the way kids were signed up for so many organized activities. I didn’t like the way parents felt they needed their kids to have so many ‘accomplishments’ and that they didn’t mind seeing so little of their kids – since these were schooled kids, organized activities meant time away from their family, especially when you factor in all the driving time. I don’t want my kids to do these activities to fill some kind of children’s CV/resume but because they genuinely seem to thrive on the challenge right now, never before having had these kind of opportunities. I also like that most of the activities have afforded both my husband and I to get involved. So it’s actually a different kind of family time, but still family time. We cheerlead the kids when they rock climb, which they love, and my husband takes Edward fencing and practices with him afterwards. He’s hoping they can share a karate lesson soon too. My husband didn’t have anything for them to do together like this in Bahrain.
It’s also interesting the way that Edward is enjoying challenging himself physically in Dubai. Previously, even if he was good at something like tennis, he had no interest pursuing it which was very frustrating as a parent, especially since the lessons were inexpensive and right outside our door! It’s hard to see a kid have a talent but no desire to pursue it. He wasn’t very interested in organized sport generally, actually organized anything! He just enjoyed running around the compound with friends or swimming with us. After he’d left school and we started homeschooling, maybe he just needed a break from organized sport as well as organized learning and he’s now enjoying cherry picking those challenges that excite him. I understand rock climbing and fencing are particularly cerebral so that might explain his attractions to them. I also wonder whether he’s attracted to these challenges now, just after a big move, as a way to boost his self-esteem at a difficult time – meeting new kids can rock your self-esteem/sense of self and this might help boost his confidence.
Despite the move away from book-learning, I couldn’t resist purchasing a Kingfisher History Encyclopedia http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/Kingfisher-History-Encyclopedia-Kingfisher/9780753432709 that apparently compliments the ‘Story of the World’ books with explicit page references for each topic studied. This seems like a fun adjunct to the ‘Story of the World’ which we’ve stopped doing lately. I’m hoping the Kingfisher book might kickstart it again!
The kids are still very much ‘into’ books though. Edward reads a lot by himself, if slowly. He’s plugging away with ‘Lord of the Rings’ and he regularly dips into a large, beautifully illustrated hardback he got for Christmas called ‘Spyology’ which is touted as a complete book of spycraft http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/Spyology-Dugald-Steer/9781840118612 After entering the world of ‘Alex Rider’ (to my relief he stopped reading the series after about book 3. I thought that was enough violence for now, however, well written!) he’s become very interested in spies which provided an interesting secondlife for our old electronics. Edward has been delighted to use our old cell phones, spaceage looking baby monitors, computer mouses (I don’t think the word ‘mice’ is used in this case?!) and other bits and pieces as spy equipment for his imaginary spy games with plenty to share around between friends. He also loves the ‘Star Wars’ monthly magazine that we purchase for twice the price of the UK or US in the local supermarket and the Biff and Chip ‘Time Chronicles’ latest books which are wonderfully educational.
I also read a lot to Edward. We start many mornings with me reading to him for up to an hour, in a croaky, ‘just woken’ up voice. He doesn’t mind/has no mercy! We are reading one of the ‘Spy Dog’ books which he really enjoys and about the fourth book in the ‘The Name of this Book is Secret’ series. Edward doesn’t seem at all bothered to be reading/have read to him a number of books simultaneously. I’m also like this so I do understand it. Funnily enough, I am reading one of his book club books, ‘My Side of the Mountain’, an American classic. He’s not too keen to start on it but I am really enjoying it! I’m not sure it will be his ‘thing’. It’s got a lot of detail about animals and plants and wilderness living but I’d be delighted if he was. It’s the perfect antidote to everything kids have to contend with whilst living as a child in the 21st century!
Petra also gets read to a lot. She loves the ‘Magic School Bus’ books (as well as the DVDs which comprise most of our science curriculum – not my favourite subject to teach more proactively). She also loves Mary Pope Osborne’s ‘Magic Tree House’ books. Both series are full of educational detail so reading them salves my conventional-educator conscience! We also enjoy some beautifully illustrated story books.
DUNEHA, Dubai’s homeschooling association, continues to be a great support, offering a variety of field trips. We have the following coming up: an international day where children dress up and show and tell where they’re from (in our case a triple presentation: UK, Palestine and Canada), a trip to Al Ain zoo with a of class being offered to the kids, a poetry/story rendition and a trip to mangrove swamps and to do a beach clean-up with the Emirates Marine Environmental Group.
I can’t believe it! We are coming up to our first year of homeschooling anniversary: on 22 February! I would like to celebrate it. Do you celebrate homeschooling anniversaries? If so, I’d love some ideas!
IF YOU’RE NEW TO HOMESCHOOLING MIDDLE EAST, welcome! If you are interested in reading about our homeschooling adventure, I recommend that you start reading from ‘Day 1’. Why I recommend starting at Day 1 is because this adventure into homeschooling has been a rollercoaster; philosophically and emotionally, which you might learn, seek solace from or even be thoroughly entertained by. It started in Bahrain on 22 February 2012 and continues in Dubai. My kids are Edward aged 8 and Petra aged 4. 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 we share, 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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