Monday, April 21, 2014

I'm Not Going to Let my Child Fall Behind

by Beverley Paine

"Falling behind"... so many of us worry about our children not keeping up with their peers in school.

Think about it for a minute though. When we were at school, was everyone in the class learning at the same level? No. Did they all understand the work being done? No. Were some far ahead and some trailing behind? Yes. And what happened? Those that were ahead stayed ahead and those that fell behind never caught up. And that is just as true of today's classrooms as it was back then.

Our child may slot into a classroom of his or her same age peers if returned to school (for whatever reason) ahead in some areas of understanding, ability and knowledge and behind in others compared to his or her peers. As would a child moving from interstate or overseas. And it's been like this as long as there have been classrooms full of children. The difference is that the home educated child will be supported by his or her parents, and especially to feel confident that he or she will quickly catch up and learn whatever is needed to be learned in that environment in order to continue to progress. Home educated children also have another advantage: they are usually more self-directed and self-motivated than schooled children, although this may not always be apparent to the parent!

At home that child won't have to play the catch up game because he or she will be too busy learning what is important to him or her, filling in any gaps when and if the need arises (which it often doesn't). And over time, he or she will be surprised to discover that it's almost impossible to not to obtain a comprehensive education simply living and playing in the world, doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done, as well as exploring, discovering, investigating, inventing, creating and playing. 

"Falling behind" is a concept we rarely come across in adult life: once we leave schools behind we stop worrying about this sense of "falling behind." As adults when we want to learn something we simply learn it, at a pace that suits our needs and circumstances. Even if we set a schedule or a deadline for completion we don't say we're "falling behind": we either adjust our behaviour or the schedule.

And we can only be "falling behind" if we've set both a goal and a schedule and have some idea what completion will look like. And that's the purpose of a curriculum. As home educators we can set our own goals, our own schedules and describe what completion will look like. At the beginning of our home education adventure, after thinking carefully about what education meant to us, we wrote a series of statements that stood true and guided us as home educators for the next 18 years:

Although we may need to reference state or national curricula when applying or renewing registration as home educators, we follow the personal 'curriculum' we develop to suit our individual children's and families' needs. My guiding statements kept me thinking about why we'd chosen to home educate our children, especially during those times when I'd start worrying about "doing enough", or if my children were "falling behind". It would remind me that I had until my children reached late adolescence, not next week or the end of this year, to achieve those nagging goals. That, instead of ticking a series of sets of skill or specific knowledge off a list that may or may not be appropriate to whatever area of life my young adult would explore next, we were focusing on building values, character, a sense of identify, confidence, tolerance and self-awareness.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Growing a Growth Mindset...

My list... what I'd like others to say or do to me to help me grow my 'growth mindset'. A response to a list I saw on Hackschooling that was shared on the Unschool Australia FB group.

1. Instead of praise, thank me for my effort.

2. Let me know that what I do and who I am is appreciated.

3. Share your fears and joys with me, tell me it's okay to have both.

4. Tell me that it's not what I do or how I do it, or how it all turns out, but that I'm there, having a go, that counts.

5. Encourage me to work playfully and play workfully: enough already of this 'hard' but 'rewarding' BS!

6. If you see me stressed or sad, give me a hug, help me turn my frown upside-down!

7. Tell me I'm okay as I am, often.

8. Remind me that life isn't precise, perfect, definite - it's a fuzzy, wuzzy, timey, wimey kind of thing - mistakes are simply learning opportunities.

9. Remind me again to play at work and work at play. Loosen up, don't take everything so seriously and over-think or analyse things.

10. Give me a hug, forgive and tell me when I get stuck in dogma.

11. Have a go. Take a deep breath and have another go, and remind me it's okay to ask for help.

12. Life is awesome when we're part of a team, we're all winners.

13. Help me when I am insecure and lacking confidence, remind me that winning and being rewarded and finishing are cool, but that having a go is more important.

14. Notice the effort I make when it's not critical or important as well as my attempts when it is. Just notice it, don't praise or reward me, just say 'hey, thanks, really appreciate that'

15. Remind me to flip my attitude switch, help me to do that with humour or simply by helping me, doing whatever it is I'm doing with me - infect me with your joyous mood.

16. We're all in this together - let's help each other lift the mood, stay positive and constructive, create a welcome zone for everyone!

17. Let's out it when we see it - help each other identify bias and stereotypes and dogma.

18. Encourage me to have a go, make space and time for me to do it in a way that meets my learning needs.

19. Let your infectious gratitude mood wash over me! Help me find the silver linings...

20. Heya, let's connect, give me a hug!

Friday, March 07, 2014

Speed Reading: Do I Want to Read at 500 words per minute?

by Beverley Paine

This morning I had a look at an article that enticed me to use an app that would increase my reading speed: This Insane New App Will Allow You To Read Novels In Under 90 Minutes.

I was a little skeptical, especially looking at the exceptionally light weight novel in the image - few adults I know read novels with less than 300 pages, so it wasn't your typical novel they were highlighting with that graphic! But I gave the little reading exercise on the page a go anyway, curious.
At 350 words per minute I was missing seeing some key words in the sentences. At 500 words per minute my brain wasn't taking in the message. Reading comprehension is my concern with reading at increased speeds.

I find that people (including me) often don't take the time to read what is written, often scanning the sentence and making assumptions about the meaning, direction or content of the communication. They do the same when listening to verbal communication too. This is an attention problem. It leads to miscommunication.

The quality of written text is being degraded considerably due to speed writing (texting enables this but is not the only cause - I believe an emphasis on writing exactly what we think or how we speak is also doing this). What will happen to the efficacy of communication when speed writing is combined with speed reading?

Mix It Up: Dabble in Many Home Educating Approaches

by Beverley Paine

As a home educator I liked mixing things up, taking what works for me and the children from whatever is on offer out there. There a gazillions of site on the internet offering resources and information about the different approaches and philosophies preferred and used by home educators: let Google or your favourite search engine be your friend and do some exploring.

The focus on seasons and nature attracts me to Steiner, as does their approach to art, it seems to me to be less intellectual and more emotional than we're generally familiar with in the school curriculum.

There very many elements of a Charlotte Mason approach to education I like too: the short lesson, (verbal) narration, approach to art, and 'living books' are the ones with which I am most familiar.

I really like the way the environment is structured in Montessori to allow children to learn simply by interacting with it on their own terms, in their own time. Making everything accessible and within reach enables children to learn and grow independently too. It's self-correcting aspects are really appealing.

Children also learn naturally and capitilising on this streamlines education and helps to build efficiency in learning: not teaching something the children will learn naturally on their own simply makes sense. Quite a bit of the curriculum can be learned this way provided the child is nurtured within a culture of curiosity and creativity and an environment that is busy, creative, constructive and productive and responsive to needs.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

10 Steps to Make Your Kids Smarter - an Unschooling Perspective

On the Unschool Australia group we were asked: "What are your thoughts on these...

Summary: 10 Steps to Make Your Kids Smarter.
1. Music Lessons
2. The Dumb Jock Is A Myth
3. Don’t Read To Your Kids, Read With Them
4. Sleep Deprivation Makes Kids Stupid
5. IQ Isn’t Worth Much Without Self-Discipline
6. Learning Is An Active Process
7. Treats Can Be a Good Thing — At The Right Time
8. Happy Kids = Successful Kids
9. Peer Group Matters
10. Believe In Them

from How To Make Your Kids Smarter: 10 Steps Backed By Science"

First thought. Smarter? What does that actually mean? Is it relevant? Is it a goal I want to work towards where my children are concerned?

Yeah, of course I want my children to think critically, to use their intelligence, to solve problems, to be creative, etc. Who wouldn't? But smarter?

As an unschooler I'd be tempted to stop right there and not read the rest of the article.

Smarter is an old school word. Doesn't belong in my unschool vocab!

As such it's a comparative (competitive) word. Definitely doesn't belong in my vocabulary!

And 'make'? That's definitely not in the spirit of unschooling! Why would I want to 'make' my child anything? It's up to my child to grow and learn and develop and be the person he or she wants and needs to be, will be, etc. I can only provide a loving and nurturing environment - in the fullest sense of that word - for that child. That's my job as parent.

I haven't read the article, but here's my thoughts on the 10 headlines that followed:

1. Music Lessons
Immersion and see what happens. If the child is musically inclined he or she will pick up an instrument or use voice to make music. Otherwise appreciation and immersion will work okay to meet his or her needs.

2. The Dumb Jock Is A Myth
Arrrggggghhhhh! We deal with so much prejudice in life. Steer clear of stereotypes - not doing that definitely reduces the ability to think intelligently.

3. Don’t Read To Your Kids, Read With Them
Read with them, to them, on your own, aloud to no one in particular. Just read. That works too.

4. Sleep Deprivation Makes Kids Stupid
Crikey! Enough with the insulting language already! Anything that adds stress to our bodies and life is going to make it harder for us to operate optimally. And I don't mean optimally to your standard or mine, just optimally for the learner, against his or her standard.

5. IQ Isn’t Worth Much Without Self-Discipline
What's IQ? Isn't that an arbitrary measurement people use to judge each other? Or judge themselves? Self-discipline I get. Kids learn that naturally, especially if they have permission to work out their own limits, boundaries, what works for them, what doesn't, who they are, what they need - and don't have standards pushed on them for reasons and motivations they don't or can't understand.

6. Learning Is An Active Process
I guess some of us don't know that yet. Children, even tiny tots, instinctively know it and don't need to be told or reminded. What we adults need to do is get out of their way and stop stopping them from learning, thinking we know how it is done and how they learn best. They already do. We teach them how to distrust their learning process - that's what we need to stop doing.

7. Treats Can Be a Good Thing — At The Right Time 
Given that we all use treats, sure... but it's wise to question our motives for offering treats. Treats for fun makes sense. Treats for Johnny as a reward because Johnny was successfully manipulated to do something to please someone sucks. Silly and counter-productive. And what's this 'right time' concept? Focus on meeting the need - that's all that's necessary. Treats aren't, not really.

8. Happy Kids = Successful Kids 
a) I'm not obsessing about happiness any more. There are other things in life that matter more.
b) I'm not obsessing about successful any more. There are other things in life I value more.

9. Peer Group Matters
We are social animals. We want to belong. We're driven to belong by our natural instincts. Understanding and knowing the self is central to a happy social life. Children get to know themselves first - it's our job to help them do that before bombarding them with zillions of strangers to contend with. It's okay to be a protective parent, gently introducing our children to people we know will protect them and keep them safe. That's how we humans evolved. 

10. Believe In Them
It would be a rare and odd parent that didn't believe in his or children. The question here for me would be am I inadvertently projecting my desires onto my child? Am I willing to everyday of their lives let them go? Not want to control and manipulate every second and action to make sure they're going to turn out okay? Trust... Trust seems more important to me than belief.