Monday, 28 January 2013

Finding Our Way

It's been a really good weekend - I feel like I'm starting to make sense of things.  As I mentioned at the end of Friday's post, Structure v Autonomy, a friend pointed me in the direction of a really helpful blog about what the author, Melissa Wiley, calls "Tidal Homeschooling", where home education flows in seasons, at times led by the mother/ educator on projects that she leads them all on, and at other times led by the children's freedom to explore and mull over things that appeal to them.  The post may have been a few years old, but I read it at exactly the right time for me!  In the post there is a link to all of the Tidal Homeschooling posts that followed the original, and they were also really helpful.  One in particular caused a lovely penny-dropping moment.  It was while reading her post Tidal Homeschooling, Part 3.  I recommend reading the whole post as I found it all so beneficial - but the bit that impacted me the most was a quote that obviously similarly impacted her...

“The adults in the child’s life,” writes the Headmistress, referencing Charlotte Mason,
"have the ‘power of appeal and inspiration,’ and the responsibility to act ‘the part of guide, philosopher and friend’ to these young people with wonderful minds but no knowledge to speak of.
“Or… we can just abandon them to their uninformed judgment about what’s important and what isn’t, leave them to their own devices, and allow them to believe that their own judgment about what is and is not important to know is just as well informed and solid an opinion as Mortimer Adler’s, Thomas Jefferson’s, Peter’s, Paul’s, or…. yours. Leaving children to pick up what scraps of knowledge they think to ask about, willy nilly, is not doing them any favors. It isn’t respectful of their situation as newcomers to the world or to the adults they will grow up to be. And if we don’t do our job as the adults in their lives when they are small, the adults they grow up to be will have a malnourished background upon which to build.’ "
Reading that was like coming home!  It was like somebody had put their finger right on the area that had been niggling away at me since we started exploring Home Education and trying to find a balance that works for us. Once I read the above quote, and the subsequent comments made by the blogger, about the importance of guiding your children (in an autonomous setting that usually involves strewing interesting books, TV documentaries, day trips, experiences etc across their paths, that they would most likely otherwise not have noticed - and seeing what they choose to pick up and run with), I realised that at times I had fallen into the trap of thinking that autonomous education is about just leaving the children to it (it's not) - and it was at those times that I started craving more structure as it's the only way I am familiar with of leading.   

So clearly, for me now it is not so much about structure v autonomy as it is about parent-led v child-led.  And I have given us permission to be a delightful mixture of both.  Tidal learners in fact (thank you, Melissa Wiley) - at times led by Mummy's (and Daddy's) ideas of what they might enjoy or what would be good for them to be exposed to, with all the enthusiasm and fun we can infuse into whatever it is - and at times led by their own choices and decisions on what they would like to learn more about - with plenty of time just to mull over and play.

*Big sigh of relief*  I feel like my head is back where it needs to be!  Such a relief! Thank you for still reading and being patient while I sorted my thoughts out!

So anyway,  having given myself permission to be more pro-active in their learning (I know, it's embarrassing the silly muddles I can get myself in), I had one-on-one chats with the older boys on Saturday (I have no qualms about Youngest currently), to find out what they think about what we're doing.  It turns out one of the things they miss from school is "Merit Box": a box of small toys and treats that they would 'buy' with the merits they had earned for good work or behaviour during the week.  Much as I don't like a system that invariably falls into unhealthy comparisons (the "good" children always getting more merits than the "naughty" ones), I don't want to deny them something they enjoy - so we have started a small treasure box with the left over party favours from Middle's birthday (chocolate coins, glowsticks etc) - and now we just need to agree on what basis they get the treasure...

Also, I showed Eldest some lapbooks that friends had been kind enough to post online for me to see.  Well, he couldn't wait to start making one - about ocean life, unsurprisingly - but he wants it to be a big one, with chapters - so I taped a few square files together to give him ten pages to fill.  He has already designed and printed the cover, printed some photos and written the 'chapter' on endangered fish. When I say chapter, it was a sentence or two with photos under flaps, but it's his, and he's enthusiastic about it (and he's learning while researching) - so I'm happy!

Whe I asked Middle what he wanted to learn about his smile vanished and shoulders slumped.  "Oh poo" I thought - "he really is still deschooling".  I hastily changed the 'schoolish' terminology of "learning" and reassured him I meant was there anything he was interested in finding out about.  He thought seriously for a moment and then his face brightened a bit and he said, "we-ell, I could do about growing!" (still thinking in terms of having to perform).  I asked if he'd like to get some frogspawn later on and watch it grow into frogs, and he got much happier and started describing a "circle with arrows" (lifecycle) picture that he wanted to draw... and hopped down and ran off to draw just that.  When I showed him the lapbooks online his response was not so enthusiastic as Eldest (Middle seeing it as work to be done), but when I provided him with a folder today to stick his drawings in, he was very keen.  I just need to remember that with him it's all about momentum: just get him interested and the rest follows; if you present a task up front he finds it off-putting, regardless of how much he would actually enjoy it in practice.

So hopefully I'll have some lap-book photos to share in my next post - but for now, I just feel a lot happier that my head is settled and my boys are enthusiastic learners once more - we're still mooching round the woods, (see A Little Wobble from last week) but not feeling so direction-less any more... we're meandering wth purposeful enjoyment once again!


  1. I think you've got it spot on (and thanks for the link to the Tidal homeschooling posts, I've been working my way through them. We are definitely at low tide right now!) It's all about balance, isn't it? After all, even in nature the parents sometimes have to teach the young how to do things or how to behave. Eldest sounds like he is going to do great with the lapbooks - my J has no interest whatsoever (he's much more like your Middle, I think) so I do have to try and steer him towards stuff, otherwise he really would just want to play all day. When I asked him what he would like to learn about he said "Sonic the Hedgehog"!
    R x

    1. Yes you're right - it's about getting a good balance. Sonic is a great idea - I'm sure you'l find lots of things that you can work into that - and even if not, he'd enjoy making a book about what HE knows ;)