Learning in the Absence of Education: Essays on Home Schooling
written by Beverley Paine
Reviewed by Janine Banks
Here is another book from South Australian Beverley Paine, filled with pertinent essays on their family's style of natural learning. This is how they do it for all those wondering how natural learning really works in one specific family. Of course, it will be different for different families, but I found lots of stories and philosophy that mirrored our family's learning situations and I could identify with many of Beverley's sentiments. These essays are the real life experiences of a long term home educator and activist and make inspiring reading.
There are more than sixty essays in this collection covering a wide range of natural learner's concerns such as late readers, the value of play, and thoughts on testing. Beverley is a prolific writer and many of the essays have been previously published in South Australian newsletters, so they will be new to most readers. What I particularly appreciate are the personal day-to-day stories that are so specific in the incident or outcome These are essays written over time that reflect natural learning ( read life) as it really happens.
The clear black and white photographs that illustrate the book underscore this personal touch that makes the books so real and thus useful. The photographs are from the family's collection and show the children at all ages involved in natural learning.
One of my favourite essays is titled 'The Grass is Always Greener...' and discusses the issue of the x factors that make for successful natural learning. Beverley confronts those charges of how easy some people make it look:
The grass is always greener. No matter what I say, or how I phrase our story, others say "You are lucky, you have that...." as though life in our home learning situation is idyllic. Well, perhaps it is, but only by conscious design and hard work!"
She then proceeds to explain what she believes are the true reasons they are successful. The ones that have nothing to do with access to resources or physical environment... We trust the children can and will learn, we have faith that it will happen, and we practice patience to allow the process to unfold without too much unnecessary interference or intervention.
I really enjoy Beverley's writing style in this book. It is very direct, sometimes even challenging the reader. She tries to be scrupulously honest always so we read of advantages and disadvantages of whatever topic she is discussing. She will also point out the ideal situation and how she thinks she falls short. Sometimes she is self-deprecating; sometimes she glows with enthusiasm for their successful lifestyle. There are touches of humour and sometimes wry cynicism. In a brief article titled 'Patience!' in which she discusses how much easier it is for home educating parents to have patience with their two or three or four children, compared with a teacher who has thirty children demanding attention, she concludes with her reply to that repetitive question we all have to deal with on socialization:
I answer confidently, "In the absence of unnecessary pressure to conform and perform to other people's standards, bullying and examples of other generally unsociable behaviour, my children learn with their self confidence and self esteem intact. When they choose to socialise it is with a range of people from diverse age groups and backgrounds, and they do so with confidence and respect."
People generally leave me alone after that.
I really appreciate this sort of irony and it makes the writer much more real. Another aspect of the essays that add to their reality are the contradictions. It's great to see Beverley acknowledging these conflicts in her writing as we all have inconsistencies, and particularly so in the field of natural learning because this does not come automatically to parents whose own style of learning was influenced by their school education. Our family call ourselves natural learners but our children have music lessons and I read aloud to them! Maybe the definition of natural learning is difficult to clarify! Whatever the truth of the matter, (and everyone will have a different truth!) Beverley includes a few articles that reflect the parents' worries of what if their children don't know any maths, or how to read or write.
Both the Gobble Guts Pizza Fraction Game and Learning the Times Tables fit into this category. While she has made both situations very experiential, and indeed fun, both fractions and times tables are adult led learning. The Gobble Guts Pizza Fraction Game is extremely creative and I am tempted to try making our family a version (with their help of course). Actually I'm too busy, but maybe if I show the children Beverley's article they will want to make one for themselves anyway! Our children do an enormous amount of cooking so this has been their way to learn fractions. But they do like games, so maybe... I'll let you know!
Another inspiring essay is entitled 'Children Learning At Home the Permaculture Way!' where she weaves the design principles of permaculture into the natural learning lifestyle. She uses the zoning principle to effectively discuss the issue of socialization of the children:
Permaculture offers us a set of principles we can use when designing. I have never considered these limited to landscape planning! I believe them to be a design paradigm for living. Offering our young people the opportunity to learn in their own homes is a wonderful way to help them understand their place in the natural world. It discourages feelings of disconnection and isolation, and builds a natural social life, from the centre out. It allows the child to socially unfold from the egocentric toddler, into the cooperative family member, and then comfortably and confidently into the social world of family friends, before finally choosing to participate in society with self esteem and confidence intact at whatever age is right for the individual.
She also discusses connections between individual elements, the edge effect, energy efficiency, and the levels of learning as in 'stacking' plants in the garden. Using permaculture as a metaphor for natural learning is a very clever concept and Beverley has made it work effectively.
Hopefully this book will answer many people's questions and fears about natural learning. It is all in here: how right it feels when natural learning is working well, what happens when we have insecurities ourselves, and the results so far. By presenting the natural learning case in this essay style, Beverley has been able to reflect the different moods, the ups and downs, that make the book a valuable resource for all those interested in home education, whatever their current style. Here is the conclusion to her 'permaculture' essay, an excellent summary of the results and success of natural learning.
Although our home education began as a tentative experiment with only 'education' as the goal, we have seen the harvest of many wonderful yields. For me it has been reclaiming the dignity of motherhood in a society which encourages women to be workers away from home and children for long hours. I have reclaimed my children from a system of childcare and education which will not stand up and be responsible and accountable for its outcomes. I have also reclaimed the right to be in control of my own education, rejecting the reasons society places on it. We have learned that the definition of success and failure is very personal, and not to judge performance by arbitrary standards.
But best of all, we have grown together as a family, in love and friendship.
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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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