Gentle Transition to Natural Learning
Beverley Paine, January 2009
The transition from school-at-home approach to home education to a learning naturally one can be quite challenging.
For me, I think the essence of learning naturally is simplifying our lives, and hence the way we learn. It's finding out how we learn - identifying our learning styles - and then honouring our unique way of moving and being on the planet. Getting rid of the clutter - the old thoughts and methods we believed constituted education - is probably all the work we really need to do.
Sounds simple? Yes, but it's still challenging. I've always found accepting the simple, obvious solutions hard, as though I was trained from birth to look for and celebrate unnecessary complexity!
The transition from school-at-home needs to be a gentle process. We need to take our time, go slowly. Rapid change rarely lasts long. We're aiming for a gradual move from unnecessary busy-work to a life
that is more immediately meaningful. Learning to trust that whatever we feel driven to do each moment of our day - keep clean, healthy, comfortable, entertained, maintain relationships, serve others, help
our friends, explore our world - is enough, takes time.
I clung to using fill-in-the-blank workbooks for years, admittedly on an ad-hoc basis. We didn't use them if the children resisted, or not often. They were happy to fill in a few pages now and then, do a unit
study, complete a project that wasn't of their own volition or central to family life, and I found much reassurance from seeing that, even without 'studying', they were still learning.
Natural learning doesn't preclude learning from books, or even using 'school' methods of learning. It does stop us from teaching when teaching isn't invited, or is resisted. We change from being teachers
and supervisors, to mentors and fellow learners. The nature of relationships in the home educating environment shift. Education isn't something we do or give to our children, it's something they do or make for themselves.
When feeling fragile about diving into learning in a more natural way at home the best idea is to draw back from diving in and instead dip one's toes, paddle and splash around a bit until confidence builds. It's not a good idea running headlong into the surf because there is a good chance that the encounter will scare you away from swimming at that beach forever!
So, my advice would be to pick a one or two areas of the curriculum where learning naturally comes easily and is easily recognised by the authorities as areas where it works quite successfully - such as history, geography, cultural studies, religious studies, even physical education and health, as well as the
Arts - and stick to a more 'school at home' or otherwise structured approach for the 3Rs.
We began by doing structured educational activities for a couple of hours for four days a week (averaged out) for the first year and this helped to build my confidence as I watched and observed and recorded how my children learned - not only then, but throughout the day. I needed what I called my 'skeleton' academic program. The few pages of bookwork my children did reassured me that even when
they weren't doing those pages they seemed to be learning anyway. The pages were like tests, proving that they were learning regardless of any overt teaching efforts by me. I don't think I would have realised this as soon had I not asked them to do those pages. We slipped into a pattern of unschooling and learning naturally interspersed with one to three week periods of intense 'school at home' or unit studies for the first few years of homeschooling.
The other thing that I urge families who want to learn more naturally to do is record. Record your children's activities (all of them) but translate what you write and record into educational jargon. Learn to see how your children naturally fulfill the curriculum guidelines.
Nothing beats doing this work yourself. I found it the only way I finally learned to believe that my children were learning when they were 'doing nothing'. If someone told me that playing with dolls was educational and ran off a spiel about how so I'd think they were clever, but I wouldn't be able to truly see it until I worked it out myself. I'd just think their kids were gifted, the mum was clever and theirs was a special case, not at all like mine!
For example, pull apart an activity - say the evening going to bed routine - and rewrite it as a teacher would if she was wanting to teach 30 children about:
a) dental hygiene - health
b) the importance of washing in the creases/folds of the skin (underarms, behind the knees, etc) - health
c) routine of prayer and thanks giving (spiritual and personal development)
d) making sure there is a clear path to the bed, not strewn with toys (safety)
e) story time (language development)
f) hugging family members and saying good night (building relationships, personal development)
You can then pull apart each of these and come up with subject and skills related objectives that run like undercurrents continuously throughout your life with your children.
Dental hygiene is a fantastic opportunity to talk about the role of calcium in bone building, about how they make floss material, why toothbrushes are different now to how they were when you were a child. Voila! You have covered science and technology today...
Take note of the conversations you have with your children and see the learning in each subject area that flows naturally...
A good system of recording becomes your forward program for the next year and will convince most people that you aren't neglecting their education in any area.
Just because our children are learning naturally doesn't mean we aren't educators or that we don't need to think or act like educators. It's a natural role of parenting to do that, but one which many - most - people have been taught and conditioned not to do, expecting that this role will be filled by
special educators - teachers in schools.
I'm all for 'parking' the children for an hour or so each day so you have time to do the essential chores that need a bit of peace and quiet that you want or need to do on your own. Many parents use the TV or a DVD or computer time for this. Sometimes, however, it is possible to arrange it so they are playing quietly, either on their own or together and achieve the same goal without using the TV or computer.
Learning naturally - utilising the process of informal learning - means that the children learn what they need to across the curriculum simply by living. Most of what they do during the day teaches them maths and English, especially if we make sure that the environment and resources we provide for our children is full of opportunities to naturally engage maths and language skills.
You may like to investigate switching over to a unit study approach, which lends itself to working with different age groups at the same time. It is a lovely cooperative learning/teaching model too. There are tens of thousands of unit studies on the internet to choose from. We always made our own up. Five in a Row is a popular unit study organised home education curriculum, one of many, developed by a homeschooler.
For a while it may seem like you aren't doing much maths or English. It is hard to de-school our way of thinking and to recognise informal learning processes. So I suggest that you play lots of board, card and
dice games. Perhaps you can half the number of hours you ask your children to do their maths and English lessons and use that time to play this type of games with your children instead.
When children are making and creating it is easy to encourage them to do a bit of writing and recording - you don't need much, nowhere near as much as they demand in school, just enough to show you that even without doing 'bookwork' your children are progressing in their maths and language understanding and skills.
Spending an hour reading aloud to all of your children (at the same time) will offer a good deal of respite. Plus, most parents find that after such a session their children like to go off and play quietly on
their own. That's a good time to get those chores you need to do done, like paying the bills.
Household and gardening chores are best done cooperatively as a family, at the same time, with everyone helping each other, rather than setting a list for each individual and asking that they work
alone... Household and gardening chores make up a significant part of the curriculum. Once again, it takes time and practice to confidently translate those activities into educational jargon - well worth the
effort though! When we first began home educating I bought a teacher's manual with a whole year of health lesson plans for grade one students: I was shocked to see just how much busywork was created from learning how to clean teeth!
We make learning and teaching tiring by unnecessarily complicating it. I simplified what we did by typing up my list of educational objectives and goals for each child, and the type of person I wanted them to be when they became adults. This helped me trim all the unnecessary stuff school said we must learn and the methods that were convoluted and tedious for the children (and me!).
Learning isn't always fun but it shouldn't be boring!
Changing one's lifestyle is hard but the only way I know that works is little but little.
Take baby steps. Pick one thing to change each day. Make it a very small thing! Don't pick on yourself if you can't make that change stick for more than a couple of days. You'll come back to it later.
We come unstuck when we try to do too much at once. We work better when we stay within our comfort zones and push the boundaries gently, not try to crash through them.
Some people move house or even countries only to find themselves in the same situation years later. It's the little changes that add up to big permanent change!
As a new home educating mum I spent a lot of time questioning my assumptions about education. I would frequently ask myself 'how do I learn', 'what the conditions under which I learn best', 'what am I passionately interested in' (or if you don't think you have a passion for anything - ask 'what delights me', 'what can't I put down or stop doing without regret if I am called away'). Then I'd apply these questions to my children... how do they learn, what conditions, interests, etc. It helped to keep my focus on what was truly important - my children and their learning, not what others think they constitutes an appropriate education! Do this diligently and continue to ask these questions every day and you'll be well on your way to exploring and enjoying a learning naturally lifestyle.
All - well, most of us - were educated in a school and have come to associate learning with a very structured physical and temporal environment. Unschooling and natural learning doesn't abandon these concepts, simply accepts that an artificial one doesn't need to be imposed for a comprehensive and holistic education to occur.
Ask yourself, what are the most important thing I need to teach my children while they are young? It all boils down to a few basic survival skills. You need to help them learn how to take care of themselves, those around them, and their environment... You need to help them learn how to find and use clean air, clean water, clean food. You need to impress on them the meaning and importance of the 'golden rule' and how to apply it assertively in their lives. The importance of re-use, repair and recycle. You need to help them develop a work ethic by allowing them to participate fully in family and community life from an early age, giving them responsibilities as their abilities grow. Keeping all this in mind you build your daily structure around what is important: health, hygiene, chores, play, rest, relaxation, exercise, talking, laughing, singing, sharing the wonder of human creativity and exploring the wonder of nature together.
If you do this well your children will learn everything that is in the school system curriculum.
I found that recording helped me 'see' the learning across the curriculum that occurred everyday in a learning naturally lifestyle. As I recorded I taught by example the value of recording and its place in human society. It was my job, not my children's, although I roped them occasionally and asked them to put something down on paper... Recording is the cornerstone of the scientific method; it is an invaluable aid in progressing and testing our ideas and projects. It helps us evaluate what we know and have done and how we improvements can be made. It's a helpful skill for children to learn and as such is a valuable aspect of the home educating environment.
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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.
Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.
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