A Busy Normal Life Equals an Integrated Holistic Education
by Beverley Paine, Jul 2013
I believe it is important to work with a child with his or her strengths and limitations while working gently to expand learning and skills in all areas. I'm thinking specifically about Howard Gardner's multiple intelligence theory as a base to work from: interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalist, emotional, musical, etc. Some children definitely have preferences and will show strength in some areas, but in a busy home educating life all areas are naturally touched on each week leading to a gentle holistic education.
I found that trying to mould my child to fit my image of how things should be usually created frustration and friction. If I examined my motives for wanting my child to do what I felt was necessary I usually discovered they were external to our needs and family situation: that is, they were framed on what others or society expected, or a curriculum framework written by someone who didn't even know my child. Or they were based on what I could do or wanted to be able to do, or thought I should be able to do: I wasn't actually focussing on my child as at the centre of his or her learning.
It's easiest to home education when we build on our children's strengths, and get on with living a busy normal life around that. My children were whizzes at playing LEGO, and then later, anything to do with computers. I let them play LEGO, but meanwhile they were involved in the kitchen, cleaning chores, caring for pets (we had over 100 small feathery and furry critters!), helping with building, gardening, growing trees (conservation and regeneration projects), community arts projects (parades, fire murals, art classes, performance, etc), and so on. Life was never dull and was always full and busy.
I exposed them to the work of artists (and other folk in the community) and learned not to demand that they become artists, doctors, mechanics, etc. By observing my children over many years I realised that they amassed a range of well-honed up skills without needing to 'practice', not in an overt manner and definitely not in the way I was taught was needed to get good at anything.
When our children are immersed in an environment where a particular skill is demonstrated skilfully and don't demand that they learn or replicate that skill, but let them hang out and do their own thing, seemingly disinterested, the children can't help but pick up something. It may not be what we want: while playing LEGO while eating breakfast they may not be learning how to bake cakes if that is what I'm doing, but they may inadvertently pick up some of the short cuts I use, perhaps using cup measures instead of weighing, or even my attitude, or learning to value home cooking and emulate this when they become adults.
Often I'd want my children to do something artistic (or similar). The quickest and most effective way I found to do encourage them was to do the activity myself. More often than not they'd join in... I'm not sure if it was the novelty of seeing mum drawing, sketching, carving soap, or making a model using balsa wood that drew their curiosity in the first place, or the fact that what I was doing looked fun or interesting, but it usually worked. Within minutes of beginning an activity that was out of the usual for me they'd be doing it too.
One thing that my children rarely choose to do on their own was write, perhaps because this is an area I'm always finding time for. It's my hobby. Perhaps it was because it wasn't a novel activity. My daughter once indicated that it was because I was so good at it, and her writing was always never as good as mine. No matter how much I tried to explain that this was because I was 22 years old than her she wouldn't budge. Children are perfectionists. As a consequence I learned to be less of an expert in just about everything. I've seen children turn away from many artistic activities because they can't make their picture, model, craftwork look 'real' or as good as someone else's. Watching my own behaviour over time made me realise just how much emphasis was put on 'doing my best', and 'fulfilling my potential' based on what others could achieve, not what I could achieve as a beginner... All too often we hold the end point up as the goal and aim for that, rather than holding up the first stage result, then the second, third and finally end stage as goals - a work in progress. Children can be easily overwhelmed by their inexperience, and are thus put off from even trying in the first place.
Think laterally about your goals for your child. I wanted my daughter to organise her bookshelf, like I had done as a child, using a library styled system. She wouldn't do it. I tried to coax her gently on several occasions. Then it dawned on me as I watched filing and sorting her collection of TV Week magazines. She'd organised them very thoroughly, inventing her own system. She already had developed, on her own, in her own way, the exact skills I had wanted her to learn. No wonder she resisted my attempts to teach her!
My eldest son created fantastic LEGO models. He once built a mural of a woman's face, not an easy thing to do, and it certainly wasn't a subject I expected of a young boy! He often drew instructions on how to build models that he'd made which helped to develop a range of technical drawing skills which he now uses, as an adult, in most of his projects. In his mid-teens, our youngest began photographing the building or mechanical projects he was working on and incorporated them into his websites. He also made short movies, an art form in itself, and has recently been taking an interest in story boarding. Watching the segments on how movies are made on DVDs has been valuable in demonstrating how art and drawing is integral in computer animation/graphics, movies, etc. Comic books are another avenue to explore. Children don't often need to be doing: simply exploring by observing closely is enough to learn a skill. And they will often practice in private, demonstrating the skill only when they feel they have mastered it sufficiently to show it off.
If we learn to think laterally and see the complex range of skills that our home educating children already use every day we can overcome our fear that our children aren't learning holistically. Our children are by nature 'hands on'. It's just that sometimes we don't value what they naturally choose to do because we're convinced something else is more valid or important or necessary. By introducing novelty into our own lives and challenging ourselves to grow in areas of weakness or limitation we encourage our children to take risks and expand their skills and knowledge. Often it's as easy as that.
What I found most challenging over the years was keeping up with their interests and finding the resources and making it easier for them to excel at what they choose.
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!
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