Living Simply - a permaculture influenced design charter
Over the years I've developed a charter for living and home educating that I've only recently put into words. It's mostly about values and attitudes, and underpins all my planning and daily activities. I strive towards achieving these goals every day, but forgive myself is I fall short, knowing that the journey is more important than the outcome. Many thanks to David Holmgren and his continuing work promoting permaculture.
We need to continually question our cultural imperatives for our actions: is what we are doing driven by our cultural background and consumerist lifestyle practices or rooted in sane, low tech and ethical economic reason?
With homeschooling this meant examining my constant need to work to standards set by an education system that can't deliver on it's own promises, yet seeks to enslave the world with methods and approaches that don't work for all children. Beginning by questioning the nature of teaching, school textbooks and educational aides, educational toys, and educational media, I slowly released my need from the obsessive drive to 'educate' my children. Instead they learn as they live, in a natural way that strives to be Earth friendly. We still use all of the above resources, but we don't depend on them for the magic learning to occur. We are active learners and the responsibility for what, when and how we learn resides with the learner, not the 'teacher'.
Every decision we make must be examined on this level to determine whether it reflects our basic needs and desires. In order to do this we must know our basic needs, we must know our personal wants: we must know ourselves.
All too often I tried to teach something the children weren't ready to learn or assimilate, and was met by frustration, tiredness, cranky reactions and unhappiness. I learned to begin with the centre, the child's immediate educational needs and wants, and used observation and reflection to guide me. Understanding what each child already knew, understood, or could do, was crucial before I could help with any new learning.
Natural implies sustaining a balance between the needs of the part and the needs of the whole. How does this affect our decision making processes? Do we keep in mind this balance, the holistic picture, when seeking solutions?
I found it all too easy to focus on one element at a time, for example, times-tables skills, or spelling, without remembering the importance of context. If learning wasn't immediately meaningful and in context with the children's lives I found homeschooling an uphill battle that required unpleasant coercion or bribery (stickers, play time, treats, or rewards) to make it work. I found it much easier to discuss the application of my knowledge of the times-tables when my children needed help with a calculation while shopping or playing. The children then enjoyed 'playing' with learning the times tables, now considered a useful tool and important to know how to use.
We need to limit the scale and intensity of our activities to that which is actually necessary and no more. This implies a thorough understanding of needs and assessment of wants, from a balanced holistic perspective, looking at the now and future consequences of our actions.
It's too easy to feel overwhelmed when homeschooling. Like many others, I used to look far ahead, ten years or more into the future, and try to predict what my children will be doing, or what they would need then and base our current activities around those assumptions. "How will they learn everything they need to learn? How will I know what that is?" were two terrifying questions, terrifying because they were unanswerable and thus ate away at my confidence as a home educator. By bringing my focus into context of what was immediately meaningful in our lives it was much easier to determine the now and future consequences. An added bonus was a deep sense of satisfaction and achievement at the end of each day's activities. I felt we were wasting less time and precious resources studying things or doing projects that didn't have any immediate use in our lives, while building strong foundational skills for future learning.
We must constantly seek and implement solutions that reduce the disturbance to the ecological balance.
I've always lamented the way in which homeschools duplicate classroom environments, filling tens of thousands of homes with masses of educational books and aids to learning. I believe this places a great demand on our Earth's limited resources, and fuels the damaging effects of consumerism. It's much better to seek low technology, appropriate, Earth-friendly teaching and learning tools and approaches. Limiting the scale and intensity of activities to that which is necessary and no more helped me to achieve this goal. This meant exercising my imagination more, coming up with creative and ingenious ways to replicate classroom learning tools from materials found in the kitchen, laundry, garden and community. I only wish I'd started down this path sooner!
All tools must be matched to the task at hand.
It sounds too sensible to mention, but all too often I weighed in with a method or approach or learning aid that was heavy handed, or more than was necessary to get the job done. I can't count the number of times I've launched into a long explanation only to be told a simple answer or yes or no would have sufficed! Buying a telescope to gaze at the stars when a pair of binoculars would do (plus are useful for many other activities) is the kind of trap that's all too easy to fall into when focusing on those assumed future needs!
We must aim for bare sufficiency as it produces optimal growth; whereas deficiency is stunting and excess imbalances systems.
My children taught me this lesson early in our homeschooling practice. If I ever offered too much activity or information they'd let me know, by slumping in their seats, or by looking tired or grumpy. If I didn't use their prior knowledge skills, understandings or abilities as a learning platform they would appear baffled, confused, tired or grumpy. Getting it just right was always the most efficient method. Observing my children closely and being interested in their lives and conversations gave me the skills to help them achieve optimal growth.
Each dollar we spend is a vote for the way we want others to shape the world. We can reclaim how we shape the world by spending our dollars ethically and wisely, or by not spending/earning them at all. Spending less reduces resource use and the need to earn. Always look for the cheapest solutions - they are usually the most cost effective and offer the best quality of life.
It took me a long time to realise that my spending was sending a message to everyone around me about what I truly valued, not what I said I valued! This mirroring finally sunk in and using my grey matter to create alternative solutions and my muscles to do the work I eventually replaced the satisfaction felt from instant gratification with a much more sustainable sense of well-being. We made games instead of buying them, investigated local landscapes thoroughly instead of going on holidays to distant locations, devised our own arithmetic problems to solve instead of buying maths books written by other people. It became easier with practice.
We must work to keep activities small and within scale. They should work for us, not against us or our needs and wants.
Early in our homeschooling practice I confronted a long held belief that projects started must be finished. It didn't hold true for my children who continually and happily abandoned games, projects and activities at any stage of completion. I began to see that the learning is embedded in the process not the product or result. Often the lessons learned are not those originally intended by the creation of the activity. And many of the lessons were subconscious ones, things we don't even know we are learning at the time! We began to value all activity as ones enriched with learning objectives, most hidden from view, but there, nonetheless. Keeping activities small and within scale reduced the level of wasted time and resources.
We need to employ ourselves in activities we believe in. this makes living worthwhile. Our activities need to always promote bio-diversity and ecological balance.
Doing something because it's the 'done thing' or because someone else has written a curriculum that 'should' be followed doesn't make sense. Following one's heart, convictions and beliefs leads to joyful activity. Being able to earn a living from doing what one loves to do leads to a satisfying and happy life. Finding out what one loves to do, and giving permission to do it, seems immensely difficult in our culture, though we all hold it in high esteem. We've found that by grounding our activities in Earth-friendly practice life has become more satisfying. This meant developing a close relationship with the soil in our home educating life through gardening, revegetation projects, walking, playing and caring for plants and animals.
Wherever possible we need to focus on creative recycling and using on site materials and materials. This reduces the need for purchasing off site anything we need.
This is one of the principles I learned when studying permaculture, a discipline that had tremendous effect on our homeschooling practice. It simply makes sense, but the effects are profound. The less we buy the less the Earth is plundered, allowing other creatures a greater chance of survival.
All solutions need to employ the least possible energy expenditure.
So often I counsel homeschooling mums suffering from 'burn out'. Doing too much too quickly and taking on a heavy and unrealistic work load leads to an exhausted spirit and a tired body. Again, it's a matter of matching solutions to actual, rather than assumed, needs. It's too easy to reach for a ready made teaching solution, like a text book or distance education curriculum that may build in unseen extra work or stress later on, rather than sit down for five minutes with a child and talk a learning problem through. Conversation is the most efficient and effective learning aid there is, yet so few of us realise it, simply because it is so simple! Nothing that easy could be effective, right?
Each time I read through my charter I feel inspired to do better, to become more focused on what is important and why we've chosen this path.
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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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