A Gentle Guiding Hand

We are a house of lurgy at the moment so not a great deal of note happening.  Therefore there has been a bit of time to reflect.  I’ve also had time to glance at the educational philosophy I wrote several years ago and realise how outdated it is.  It sounds a lot more structured than we actually are and rather anti-unschooling which has never really been my view.  Definitely time for a rewrite.

This April marks 10 years of attending home ed meets and 8 years of having a child of compulsory education age.

When the boys were younger we definitely had a seasonal approach to home education.  Indoors more over the winter; reading, working on craft projects, more structured education.  Basically free range over the summer when there were a lot more social opportunities and the boys just wanted to run about in the park.

We still have a similar season rhythm although for different motivations.  In the Autumn/Winter/early Spring my energy levels and drive are at their highest so I am in a position/mood to arrange longer more interesting trips and to source resources etc to follow them up, to arrange group trips/activities and more social occasions, to have the motivation to do messier more involved projects.  I hate summer, detest being hot 20 degrees is as much as I can comfortably stand.  We’re all wheezy, itchy and seriously sleep deprived from about May to September.  I can’t commit to activities as both of us have up and down health/moods.  I struggle to deal with the social side as pretty much get a 4 month headache and tend to find other people’s children are much louder than mine (although mine are loud enough in a group).  Sam also lacks motivation to leave the house.  Summer is when his drive has to carry us.  We let the more routine stuff and plans slide and take things day by day.  In reality I suspect we don’t actually look that different to outsiders more a mental shift in my head.

Perspectives on Learning

I believe it is necessary to be interested in something in order to learn, engage and gain something from it.

However I feel waiting for children to show an interest in something is doing them a disservice and carries a risk of quite a narrow education.  I see it as my responsibility to extend my children’s horizons, it is my job to introduce new interests and make subjects that might not otherwise be, enticing to them.

Skills that need practice I feel need some sort of motivation from the child themselves before they can be fully mastered.  I believe pushing a child to read or write for example when they are not ready does more harm than good.  I see it as my job to provide the building blocks, the tools that will let them pull it all together when they are ready.

In Practice

I aim to provide a balanced, well rounded curriculum.  I believe in being flexible and constantly adapting to current interests and situations.  At all times the focus is on how the children learn and their input into what we cover and how is huge.  This doesn’t mean however that we only ever do things they request.  I am the adult I believe that life experience has given me a better grasp of ‘the bigger picture’, I also know my children well enough to know experiences and interests that I believe will benefit/interest them that they would never consider themselves (don’t always get it right).

I come up with ways to make projects/subjects as interesting to the individual child as I can.  Experience says with the right hook most things are interesting.  Sometimes the interest flags very quickly. I try not to have a long list of learning objectives from a topic, a couple of key objectives and the hope/expectation that when they dig below the surface they will find their own interests.

Sometimes despite my best efforts there is no interest there so the topic subject is left.  Either I’ve not found the right tools/approach to entice interest so I need to go away and research or I’ve picked the wrong time and we need to return when they have matured a bit or that the subject is just not of interest at all, in which case I need to assess how essential I feel it is that they learn about it and either come up with another approach or let drop.

Subjects we lack internal motivation for I try to find external motivation, but in a fun way.  One of our favourite and most successful approaches is to study in small groups with another family or two.

Skills such as Maths and basic writing skills I believe need to be practised regularly but are far easier and more fun if broken into small individual blocks.  We make as much into a game as we can.  I believe that when a child has the basic skills behind them, they will be able to pull them together themselves with little adult support as soon as they find a reason that they need to.

Why a ‘gentle guiding hand’?

Because that is how I see my role.  Even though I take a more structured and adult interventionist than many I still see my role as to stand behind and let him lead.

My intervention takes the form of trying to find things that I believe will interest him and make them as engaging as possible.  I can provide a gentle push from behind to guide him into the topic (usually a big day trip or a practical activity) but if despite that there is no interest there no amount of pushing from me will make him learn anything about that topic that will last longer in his memory than a day or so.

At times he will have interests that he has developed of his own that he wants to run with and my hand is needed just to help rather than guide.  In the most practical sense my role here is usually orderer of supplies, but at times it is gently guiding him to consider new aspects of the interest.

This is the hardest part of home education knowing when to offer guidance and when just to help or keep out all together.  Spotting when an interest is exhausted and the situation is drifting with no one gaining anything and when it looks like not a lot is happening externally but things are going on internally, recharging and internalising.  In other words when to apply that guiding hand.  I still and no doubt will always get it wrong sometimes.

Assessing Home Ed

We very rarely have a ‘finished project’ to show.  We produce little in the way of writing as it is not something he enjoys or feels the need to do.  In time if exams are to feature I know we will need to develop this area, however at this age it is not a concern.  We practice skills such as handwriting, grammar and spelling so that when/if the time comes to build up this are the foundations are there.  The way my son demonstrates learning is through discussion, while I do do some prodding at the time to check if things are going in the real proof of the success of home education is what comes out in everyday conversation.  That is how I know he is understanding, internalising and making links.  It is a test of faith but 8 years in I’m a lot more confident.

The other aspect is that I can see sociable, caring, thoughtful, reasonably well mannered boys in front of me.  We have a good balance between opportunities to develop social skills and here I include the ability to work in a group rather than just socialise.  There are strong long term friendships as well as ease at making new friends.

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