Whilst the weather is so hot (and we have months of this ahead of us), I can only term ourselves ‘eclectic’ homeschoolers rather than ‘unschoolers’ because I am directing so much of my kids’ learning and so much is being done from books right now. Sigh. This is not how I like it although I have to admit, it does bring my kids’ education more within my comfort zone because learning from books feels so much more tangible than wandering through daily life and chatting about it does, in a very meaningful way of course. When we can, we will wander (and wonder) and we always talk together, but for the moment roaming is very limited. I do not enjoy using noisy shopping malls or noisy indoor playgrounds as quality learning experiences (too much money gets spent unintentionally during mall ‘experiences’ for one thing! And they’re noisy!)
Edward, as all my regular readers will know, is still enjoying ‘Life of Fred’. But to our amazement, Edward and I discovered that not only is ‘Fred’ enjoyable but is also a ‘successful program’ too – when using a conventional educational lens. This is something that I did not expect and never desired anyway. Edward and I found out that Fred has successfully enabled him to pass a UK Year 3 Maths ‘test’ with flying colours. I didn’t intend to test him. I don’t believe in testing – especially teaching to pass a test (I’m not keen on being a teacher at all. I’d much rather be a facilitator/enabler). But the other day, when I had too little to do, cooped up indoors, I was curious what the Year 3 Maths curriculum comprised. I was surprised that it seemed to cover what we’d covered in Fred (up until ‘Goldfish’), apart from division which we’re doing now in ‘Honey’. So, I thought I’d have a look at a free evaluation which provided three term’s worth of test questions. I was looking through them, trying to evaluate for myself, purely out of curiosity, what I thought Edward would know and not know and I called Edward over to have a look at a few questions which I wasn’t sure about. I explained what I was doing and that I was doing it out of pure curiosity. He was intrigued and happy to have a go at some questions for fun. Interestingly, he initially said, ‘I can’t do that/I don’t know’. Sometimes, I gave him a prompt like ‘You do know how to do that. Just think, do you add, subtract, multiply or divide?’ This focused his thinking and he went on to answer the question correctly. His mental arithmetic seems good to me. I was really, really surprised that what he knew correlated so closely with the UK Year 3 curriculum. I was also really, really sad for the hours kids have spent in school doing this stuff, day after day, when we’ve spent so many hours in the park or at the beach and have done relatively speaking, very little Maths. The only difference between Edward and those other Year 3 kids is that they likely will not have enjoyed Maths as much as Edward, yet they’ve achieved the same level of proficiency. It’s true however that they may be better independent test takers, because they’ve had lots of practice, whilst Edward has had zero practice (and will continue not to do any). He doesn’t need to learn how to take tests (and nor should they).
Whenever friends of mine told me they tested their kids every year and they did really well, I thought they must be doing something very different to me. I thought they must be doing some boring program like Saxon or Singapore. I never thought my child would pass a standardized test doing a ‘fun’ Maths program like ‘Fred’! ‘Fred’ hardly looks as if it’s teaching any Maths at all and certainly not in a way that the computational skills would be at your fingertips, because it doesn’t do any Maths ‘drilling’. I didn’t think it would consider any curriculum out there or prepare a kid to pass a Maths test. So I was really surprised that in Maths, I don’t need to worry – if I ever was worried in the first place, which I wasn’t, just curious – Edward is ‘up to scratch’ with his Maths whilst having a lot of fun learning it! Thank you ‘Fred’!
I was also pleased that when I told Hubby that Edward had passed the Year 3 Maths test that we casually did out of interest, he wasn’t particularly thrilled – he is just happy for us to continue learning in a way that makes the kids (and myself happy). I thought he might also let his conventional side rise up momentarily and be pleased that a conventional test had been ‘passed’ but I think he was even more in control of his conventional-education-neurosis than me – although for him of course there’s less at stake, because he isn’t responsible for the kids education in the way I am. Still, his reaction gave me heart that he’s happy with the more unschooling route we usually take.
I was then curious to find out what the rest of the UK Year 3 curriculum comprised and how we ‘might be doing’ in relation to it. so I found this link http://www.ksw.org.uk/hawford/study-at-kings-hawford/curriculum/year-3-curriculum which is very comprehensive. My first thought was ‘Poor kids’! The lists and lists of things being done sounds SO dry (and it does sound as if it’s ‘being done to them’ in a very directed way). The list of things being taught seems to allow so little freedom to deviate and be an individual. I practically got cold sweats remembering my school days and how channelled we were for every moment of every day and then I felt really sick thinking of free-spirit, Mr. Independent (the name tag they pinned on Edward, aged 3 at his Canadian nursery school, they could just as well called him ‘Mr. Individual’) Edward suffering through this all year. I was much more conventional than he was and this really freaked me out, so I can’t imagine how well he would have coped – on the surface OK because he always tried so hard to please me at school by ‘doing well’, but underneath, he was (in Year 2) and would have been (in Year 3) dying.
Yet again, though, to my surprise, we’ve covered a lot of the same learning as the rest of the Year 3 curriculum, just very, very differently. We have really enjoyed the ‘History of Britain’ CDs in the car, which has of course covered the Romans and the Celts very well. We’ve also, of course, had a wonderful, educational, trip to Egypt and hopefully will go back again next week. I had no idea either of these periods were part of the Year 3 history curriculum.
Looking at the science curriculum, the ‘Magic School Bus’ DVDs have covered almost everything and we talk about science as it comes in every day life. I don’t know how well he’d test in it but probably not too badly. But again, the point is, the way we learn science is so minimally invasive that there’s hours left over in our day to do all the things he’s passionate about like reading, Lego and action figures (let alone spending time with friends which seems to cover talking about religion a lot! Great – that part of the curriculum is covered right there A LOT better than any school could do it!).
In terms of thinking about what might be ‘lacking’, looking at this UK curriculum, there could certainly be more music in his life, in terms of learning an instrument especially, the rock guitar ideally, but we’ve not been able to find a teacher. The only subject that he would really not test well on, I think, is English which is ironic because Edward is an advanced reader, ‘writes’ (dictates to me) beautifully with superb grammar and vocabulary, and is extremely articulate. I think of him as an English ‘whizz’. But look at how drily the Year 3 UK curriculum teachs English! And what Edward does know is far more ‘real’ and useful and fascinating than drily learning e.g. the parts of speech. Even though I think Edward’s grammar is excellent it really amuses me that he wouldn’t know it because he couldn’t pull apart the sentences he ‘writes’ (dictates to me) so beautifully. Edward has just finished a 3,000 word story and he’s desperate to get on to the next one. In fact, by now he would have dictated a 10,000+ word story if I’d been a more accommodating typist! But to improve his typing (so that he can eventually have the freedom to type his own stories, with his fingers being able to keep up with his lightening fast brain) and his spelling, I’ve started asking him to copy short paragraphs. I found this idea from Lula B and her excellent blog http://www.navigatingbyjoy.com/ (what an excellent blog name!) and I like it. Edward is not so enthusiastic but I think he would like to type fast because he gets very frustrated waiting on my availability to type up his stories, yet can’t type them himself because his fingers can in no way keep up with his stream of ideas. Hopefully this typed copying exercise will achieve this (whilst sneaking in some improved spelling along the way!) When I ask him to do his ‘copying’, the fact he’s not enthusiastic makes me realize I’m not a true unschooler; I’m not wholly providing a child-led education. However, since I think opportunities are limited for following anyone’s passions in Dubai, especially in the summer, I don’t mind asking him to do things that I think will ultimately help him follow his passions. If he said ‘no’ to any of my requests, that would be a different matter. I accept ‘no’ and don’t push either kids beyond it. But a reluctant ‘OK’ I do work with right now.
I was surprised that Edward was very excited to find that he’s at the same level as other kids in the UK/in UK curriculum schools here. We talked about what this meant and how I didn’t think it was important but that I was just curious to know what Maths those kids had been taught all year and surprised that ‘Fred’ had got Edward to the same level when ‘Fred’ doesn’t have any goal of preparing kids for standardized tests. But nevertheless, Edward is enthused to outstrip his Year 3 age-mates in Maths. He’s excited to think he’ll soon know more than them by continuing with ‘Fred’ through the summer (which was the plan since the weather keeps us indoors anyway), even though they’re totally imaginary to him; I don’t think we presently know anyone in school in Year 3. Part of child-led learning is accepting this, accepting that Edward either has a competitive streak or would like to feel more secure in himself that he’s ‘ahead’ of his schooled age-fellows. I don’t want to encourage this but I won’t stand in his way either. It’s interesting though because just today he said that the reason he didn’t want to cut his very long hair is because he doesn’t want to look like a ‘school boy’ because he ‘hates school’. I said I missed seeing his face clearly, he has very thick long hair, but said that I totally respected his decision. So on the one hand, he doesn’t want to be associated with schooled kids and on the other he wants to measure himself against them, and ‘beat’ them.
Now for my admission of failure… The eclectic homeschooling hasn’t been going so well for Petra, after going so well. Why? Because I am impatient. I know it and I should manage it better. She was really, really enjoying her ‘Maths Made Easy’ workbooks but my touch was not light enough and for the last few days she’s said she hates maths which broke my heart, especially because it was totally my fault for not keeping things extremely light. She is only 4 after all. Even if I KNOW she knows it, who cares if SHE doesn’t know she knows it. That’s part of learning; being able to access what you do actually know and I should have been less frustrated with her and not kept saying ‘But you know this!’ in an exasperated voice. I feel really bad. So I got a bunch of coloured buttons together and I hope I can turn things around by making the books more fun again (she hides her face if I take out the Maths-U-See manipulatives – oh dear, another wasted purchase?) but hopefully buttons will do the trick! Keep your fingers crossed for me!
I am trying to evaluate how to continue homeschooling in the heat and then how to do it optimumly again when the weather cools down. I have decided… well it’s my decision today, but I reserve the right to change it in the near future if sanity or improved knowledge (from better homeschoolers than me probably, who kindly share their wisdom on their blogs) leads me to. This might even happen as soon as tomorrow! Who knows? But that’s OK. I like to flexible in my decision-making. Anyway, my decision today is that I might talk to the kids and say that although I really like for their learning to be entirely child-directed, when we are spending so much time indoors at least, would they please indulge me and help me feel more secure that these cooped up days have been used productively by doing small amounts of book learning? And swimming regularly (even though they protest about this for some strange reason even though it’s the only way to comfortably see the sun and breath fresh/non air-conditioned air!) I will ask my kids to please indulge me, help me feel I have been a ‘good’ homeschooling Mum by doing a bit of something that resembles homeschooling instead of ‘just’ letting them play all day indoors. I think they might feel better about doing book learning on this basis – that it’s not something that I am imposing on them but, when they are feeling reluctant, that it is something they’re choosing to do to help me feel better about something they know is important to all of us – homeschooling and that it is challenging in the climate of this country.
Do you ever do this? Do you ever.ask your kids to learn in a particular way/particular things to help you out in some respect? If it’s done sensitively and for good reasons, do you think this is OK? I know a friend who prepares her kids to some extent to pass their state’s national tests in order to keep her in-laws happy. She feels it’s OK to ask her kids to do this, even if she doesn’t believe in testing, because it’s reasonably painless and considering this, it’s OK for her in-laws to be reassured about her homeschooling the kids. Do you homeschool your kids in a way that doesn’t always suit them, or you, because of someone else’s whims or requirements? How do you feel about that?
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!
The fastest way to access ‘Day 1’ 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!
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