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Permaculture Design Principle #1 in Home Education: Observe and Interact

"In a world where the quantity of secondary (mediated) observation ann interpretation threatens to drown us, the imperative to renew and expand our obseration skills (in all forms) is at least as important as the need to sift and make sense of the flood of mediated information. Improved skills of observation and thoughtful interaction are also more likely sources of creative solutions than brave conquests in new fields of specialised knowledge by the armies of science and technology." [page 13 "Permaculture Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability" David Holmgren]

What does this mean to a humble home educator?

For me, it highlights the need to reintroduce observation skills into education. How do we do this?

Charlotte Mason's narration and nature journal are two powerful ideas in our education toolbox we can immediately use. The simple retelling of what we've heard, seen or read (observed) in our own words, isn't a lost art: every day our children seek to tell us what happened on the Simpson's episode, or retell a movie plot, or share information about something they've witnessed in the media. Retelling is how we make sense of what we observe. Honing that skill using Mason's narration techniques is a good beginning.

I like the emphasis she places on starting small, where the child is at right now: this definitely reflects a permaculture 'zonal' style of thinking/being. With the child's current abilities, needs and interests as the central focal point, we listen to the child retell the story. The story can be anything, from how a caterpillar climbed a stem and began munching on the leaf, twisting it's hairy body this way and that, to how the giant clambered down the beanstalk... Respectful listening and guided open-ended questions are the tools we use to hone those observation skills. It's not a 'lesson' - not a session in which we have goals and objectives that we want the child to meet. Questions need to be genuine inquiries, not simply 'tests' of knowledge or understanding. Even so, when we ask questions we need to be mindful of the potential to use them as scaffolding - gently building the child's ability to notice and remember greater detail.

In addition to retelling (narration), the ability to record our observations underpins our culture. Thousands of years ago humans 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. The smiling face is often the first picture a child will draw.

Before the introduction of mass schooling, drawing was an important subject taught to pupils. The industrial revolution has gradually seen the decline of drawing as a tool to record observations, and the development of multi-media technology has just about polished off our respect for this skill. With the advent of the camera few people saw the need to continue to hone drawing skills and now only a few people value it beyond childhood. A hundred years ago the ability to draw accurately what the eye could see was essential to the development of scientific knowledge and understanding...

This is where Charlotte Mason's nature journal is invaluable. Every child needs to be encouraged to draw as much as they are encouraged to read and write. Drawing has benefits beyond artistic ability. The perception and skills developed by drawing help integrate learning across the curriculum. Maths and scientific reasoning are enhanced when we draw. It's impossible to draw without using our imagination and thus creativity. Lateral thinking and problem solving are skills inherent in drawing. If you don't believe me, 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.

Drawing and retelling - two things our children naturally love to do when young - are essential skills. They underpin so many areas in the school curriculum yet are largely ignored, or relegated to early childhood learning only, and then undervalued as soon as a child begins to read and write.

I'm sure there are other 'tools' in the educational toolbox that we can use to help our children 'observe and interact'... If you can think of them, share them with Beverley on The Educating Parent page!


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

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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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