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Observation and Inter-action, Tools for Natural Learning

Beverley Paine

David Holmgren in his new book Permaculture Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability encourages us to experience life first hand, to observe and interact rather than passively digest the experiences of others.

Conversation and story-telling are the most significant learning tools we use in our lives. Talking about what we've experienced, or observed, requires little effort - it's something we all do naturally. Charlotte Mason extolled the virtues of 'narration' - the ability to retell what we've read, seen or experienced. Retelling is how we make sense of what we observe. With narration the trick is to start simply, always at the child's level of understanding and ability, and slowly build until a high level of understanding and comprehension has been reached in adolescence. This technique definitely reflects a permaculture 'zone' approach to planning and design.

Respectful listening and guided open-ended questions are the tools we use to hone observation and narrative skills. Questions need to be genuine inquiries that provide scaffolds and incentive for future learning, not simply 'tests' of knowledge or understanding. The aim is to gently building the child's ability to notice and remember greater detail.

Recording our observations underpins our culture. Humans have always left images for others to gaze upon and try to understand their meaning. Little children love leaving sticky marks, be it chocolate handprints or early attempts at writing (scribbles). Symbols are powerful ways of communicating ideas and emotions. Only a century ago the ability to draw accurately what the eye could see was essential to the development of scientific knowledge and understanding.

Drawing has benefits beyond artistic ability. Try sketching a bowl of fruit: different parts of the brain are required to work together to produce a recognisable, let alone reasonably accurate, portrayal. You can't draw this picture in seconds, it's a complex task and requires the development of many skills.

Keeping a 'nature journal' is a powerful learning technique that marries observation with recording and teaches skills across the educational curriculum.

I brainstormed some more ways we can help our children to 'observe and interact':

  • growth charts - we did a calendar with one month to a large sheet of cardboard which April illustrated as well as recorded growth figures. We still have this - a wonderful record of her fifth year. Early writing and drawing examples as well as a wealth of information about April and how we lived back then!
  • keeping a weather chart;
  • writing action plans (lists, goal setting, wish lists, birthday/Christmas lists, holiday itineraries, etc);
  • gardening diaries - records of what we're planting, how they're growing and changing, and harvest quantities, types, etc.;
  • shopping lists and menus;
  • observing the behaviour of others to predict emotional responses and mediate behaviour during play;
  • using and creating identification charts - birds, invertebrates, insects, etc.

P13 Permaculture Design Principle #1, book "Permaculture Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability" by David Holmgren, Holmgren Design Services, 2002 www.holmgren.com.au

Debbie Dunn, Message #2 , http://groups.yahoo.com/group/learningnaturally/ May 16, 2006

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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 support of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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Welcome to the World of Home Education and
Learning without School!

We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since 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. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

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