Contrived Learning Activities
© Beverley Paine
I often found homeschool unsatisfying because we often didn't seem to do much. As Thomas, Roger and April grew into middle childhood and early adolescence they rarely instigated activities of the kind I'd find in a classroom of their peers. We were always busy, but products weren't always a focus or immediate outcome of our activities. Sometimes it took ages to complete a project, even years. Many projects were abandoned mid-stream, as new passions or interests arose; or as I later realised, the essential learning driving the interest was satisfied and there wasn't a valid or pressing reason to go any further.
Because the children came to projects motivated by their own interests and passions, usually bursting with ideas, they stayed on task, working for hours on end without break, sometimes focussed for days. It would have been silly for me to interrupt these intense learning sessions, to introduce an activity that would 'teach' or advance other skills...
I realised that a lot of the curriculum presented in schools mimics or tries to set up artificial environments to stimulate learning that naturally and effortlessly occurs in the home, especially in the area of health, personal and physical development. Learning hygiene and nutrition at home isn't alienated from cause and effect, sanitised by reams of paperwork and colouring in. It's immediately meaningful to the learner, who doesn't even know he or she is learning anything at all.
Homeschooling for us has been essentially activity based, and as we grew in our knowledge of how learning really occurs those activities became less contrived. It's hard to justify doing something for learning's sake, but it's easy to persuade involvement in rebuilding a petrol driven motor for a miniature car for a senior citizen to drive in the local end of year pageant as a clown... Easy because Roger and Thomas are interested in mechanics, love to help friends, don't want to perform in the pageant, but want to support it by cheering it along and helping build a float or two, as they see participation as vital to building community.
Up until a couple of years ago, I still fell into the trap of asking Thomas to do something that feels alien and not at all immediately meaningful in any context. I rack my brain for reasons, and usually find some kind of fear, and we settle on that, and do the silly thing and feel better. We're happy to compromise, but only because most of our life is full of busy, self motivated and meaningful activities that are loaded with all the goals and objectives and stated aims of all the school curricula I have ever read. I often wonder what lasting effect constantly mimicking real life, way past the age where such pretend games are happily played, has on young minds...
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