Saturday, September 17, 2005

'learning your lesson' about home-schooling

from our live broadcast a few weeks ago - Beatrice

Leafing through ‘Today’s Parent’ magazine, I came across a piece on homeschooling by a woman who had “learned her lesson at home.” It didn’t work. She was not blessed with the ‘endless patience’ that dratted friend of hers had- the saintly one responsible for getting her into this homeschooling mess in the first place. Her children couldn’t sing ‘O Canada’ with straight faces. They didn’t call her Ma’am and they wouldn’t mind her when they didn’t feel like it. (Dad was at work so he couldn’t be the principal she would want to send them off to). Well. What could the poor woman do? Turns out that both Luckless in Homeschooling and Patient Saint tossed in the kids and now happily share the daily morning routine, “Bye kids! Love ya. See you at 3.30!”

While I can commiserate, allow me to suggest what perhaps, might have gone wrong. My guess is that this well meaning lady was taking her role as teacher way too seriously. Rather than setting yourself up as a Parent- Teacher, Font Of All Knowledge, Indomitable Ruler and Wise One, (I mean, you are really setting yourself up for failure) Professor Gary Knowles of the Institute For Studies in Education (OISE) advices the home-educating wanna be, that it is far more preferable to take on the parent -guide role. Knowles , who has been studying home educating families since the 70s says, “Depending on how you conceptualize your role as parent -guide or parent- teacher, you will either burn out or you will find some sort of equilibrium and be able to continue. Those who have pedagogies and personalities that allow for a relaxed ongoing perseverance of this role they have taken on are able to keep on going.”

Knowles continues, “ I think those people who are able to use the breadth and depth of community, and the resource around those are the ones who are able to sustain longevity to this practice.”

Being a parent guide is sort of like a facilitator- one who introduces, exposes the child to the myriad opportunities in learning. Don’t bother trying to emulate the classroom at home. A parent- guide learns with the child- she or he understands that ‘learning is to humans as swimming is to fish and flying is to birds’ (John Holt, educator).

Learning from life is fundamental to successful home educating- to all education. And children learn the way adults do- they learn when they are motivated to, when they are interested in what it is they want to learn. When they need it. The parent is there to catch that window of opportunity. Skills are learned in the doing - not in the preparing for living. Learning takes place at the right time for the child.

For instance, as a home educating mother, I can say that my two oldest children learned to read at their own pace when they felt they wanted to. I well remember the frustration I felt that my then 8 year old wasn’t reading- I nagged her and she wisely told me that, she would learn when she was “good and ready.” Sure enough, a year later, I can’t get her to stop. This summer alone she has read at least 50 serious books! The second daughter who has a keen interest in writing taught herself to read through writing at age 5. The youngest who is nearly 7 and not yet reading independently is not a concern to me. I can see the steps she is making towards that end. It’s my job to provide her with the materials and tools for reading to take place. She sees her sisters and parents modeling writing and reading. We read to her. It is a natural way to learning.

It definitely requires patience- which I too, am not gifted with. But patience is a quality I think we would all do well to cultivate in this fast paced world. Patience and faith, and trust in my children’s learning abilities is something that I’m still acquiring. And as one educator put it, “we have google to spit out facts.” What we need for our kids to know is how to get the information they need and how to use it.

We need to give our children time and space in which to explore and investigate, environments for their imaginations to wander within, get lost in, go deeply into or not at all, according to their interests. It is amazing how much a child can learn from being passionate about one area of interest alone. Hey. It worked for Francis S. Collins, who holds the most prestigious job on the planet- Head of the Human Genome Project. With his siblings he voted on what they wanted to study for the year and that’s all they did.

Say your child is interested in frogs-they can learn earth sciences, biology, drawing from that single interest. You can get poetry books out of the library pertaining to frogs and nature. Mathematics can evolve out of that interest- your child can measure pond lengths, estimate average number of frogs in a pond, number of tadpoles born to these frogs-(Fibonacci numbers anyone?) And so on and so forth.

Drawing from the community is very common amongst home educators- the old and the young are both wonderful sources of knowledge. Public institutions such as libraries, Museums, Art galleries, and so on are usually affordable and allow the children and parent to keep renewing and expanding on knowledge gained. Having support systems in place such as home education groups makes outings together fun and of course the kids get the socialization everyone frets about.

It continues to be my experience that home education requires that the parent and child work to a level of understanding and mutual respect-and that never remains static. Then the joy of learning unfolds.


lisanelson2627 said...
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