Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Community contribution in Education.

Several days ago we discovered some fossils down on the estuary which I happened to mention to our neighbour. I'd forgotten she had an interest in geology and when I was in the garden today she came up the drive clasping a fossil book which she thought would help me to identify the fossil we had found. Sure enough on flicking through the pages I've found an exact picture of the fossil  and was able to put a name to it.
Things like that are always happening with autonomous learning.The same evening, whilst at my parents, my father lent me an old facsimile of a map of our local canal.(The deepest and widest in Britain apparently)  I learnt that the village just up the road. where I lived several years as a teenager ,had  a thriving ship building industry and the slave trade  was rife.  I've already begun to investigate further thanks to the Internet and armed with my new found information I will visit both sites with my son to get a feel for the history at that time.
I've found it makes a great difference if we do some homework before we go. During a concert , in which my daughter and I were participating the orchestra played Carnival of the Animals by Saint Saens. Between each piece of music the programme was interspersed by 'Kipling type' poems about animals. We were able to deduce that each piece of music was meant to imitate an animal and between each piece the poem clarified which animal was about to be represented, but much of the enjoyment was lost as we struggled to concentrate and hear the words and I thought later as I surfed the Internet for further information how much more enjoyable it would have been if I'd read the poems of Ogden Nash beforehand and therefore had a better appreciation of the animals each instrumentalist sought to represent.
So much of what we learn as a family is through the kindness and  help of people within our community. Only yesterday my eldest son experienced the smells and tastes of Indian food with his Explorer scout group.The restaurant owner prepared a beautiful buffet and explained each food as he presented it to the boys, all for free. There are many many experts who will share their interests with us if only we let them.They may not be qualified teachers, or regarded as academics but they have a lifetime of knowledge to share.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Autonomous Education!

"When you help your child discover his dreams,passions and goals,you give him wings of motivation and purpose for becoming an eager, self directed learner."

Discover Your Child's Learning Style , by  Mariaemma Willis and Victoria Kindle Hodson

Trust your instincts, don't waiver.You and only you really know your child and his interests.Watch intently, patiently and learn.Listen to them and help them to discover answers to their many questions, whether through, books, computers,music , television or whatever means come your way. Be alert to opportunities and grab them with open arms, It's amazing how they arise unexpectedly at just the right time!

Friday, 23 March 2012

Educate and Celebrate!

Celebrations and anniversaries are great educational tools. 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic and of the birth of the great Lancastrian Contralto Kathleen Ferrier. Apparently she was a woman with a great sense of northern humour (who sadly died of cancer at the age of 41). She was a local lass too, living for a while in Silloth near Carlisle. 
2012 also marks the hundreth anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens (did you know he was really Charles John Huffam Dickens ? We have watched some wonderful documentaries about the places in Kent and London upon which Dickens based his novels, read about his life in Victorian England and learned Cockney Rhyming slang ,watched Great Expectations for the first time and re - watched Oliver.
Three days ago marked the Diamond Jubilee speech of Queen Elizabeth 2nd at Westminster. This was a historical moment as she is only the second British Monarch to ever reach her Diamond Jubilee (Queen Victoria was the first). My home educated son watched some of the news broadcast on television with me , and when his twin sister got home from school I told her about it and asked  whether it had been discussed at school? The answer was in the negative, as with so many 'up to the minute events' it had been misssed in the" busyness" of the national curriculum.
It reminded me that when my eldest son had just started school I met an elderly teacher who said there was no time any more to listen to what the children had been doing outside of school. She had felt terribly guilty at fobbing off a little girl who wanted to tell her about a pantomine she'd been too. In the end she made time at the end of the school day, by then the 'MOMENT' had gone.
Real life education is based on things that are happening NOW. It revolves around News reports, anniversaries, unexpected opportunities and it's relevant and exciting because you don't know where it will lead. You may have a plan but you need to be flexible enough to abandon it if an opportunity presents itself. Had I realised that our Prime Minister David Cameron was visiting our small local market town yesterday we would have jumped in the car and gone.It was obviously not meant to be as I found out too late but his visit did open up the opportunity for discussion about the pharmaceutical company he had visited, the reasons it was sited where it was and the possible environmental factors should any materials leak from the factory. All these things I'm learning because our Education system let one of my children  down. Had he not been at home I'd still be working, believing as most parents are led to believe that he was receiving a good standard of education at school (far better than they could ever give). Thank goodness I learned otherwise , you don't have to be a teacher, you don't have to be clever, you just have to love your children and do your best for them (which is what any parent would do), you don't even have to be rich.Personalised education is the best gift you can give to your child. If they show an interest in something, your job is to facilitate that interest by finding books, films, clubs, and people in the community who can help him!

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Learn just a little bit!


If you take your child to an event always make it clear that should they wish to leave at any point then they are entitled to do so.

Now this isn't easy to do particularly if you've laid out good money to pay for a play or event which you think your child will enjoy or which you feel is educational  and I have to confess I haven't always succeeded. It's particularly important with Autistic children who may be effected by sensory issues such as noise , sensativity to lights  or too many people.Some of which we may not notice  but it applies just as much to neuro-typical kids.

Unfortunately many parents will somehow regard the request to leave early as a failure on their part to provide a sufficiently stimulating activity and in their need to control and be in charge of the situation they inwardly fume whilst their children squirm and moan beside them. The result is that neither child or parent ends up enjoying the event and both end up disappointed and grumpy. In fact it is just as likely that their child has taken in as much as it can process. This can often happen when you visit a museum and feel the need to 'see everything' because you have travelled a long way and paid a large entrance fee to get in.

Far better to spend a while in a specific area of the museum taking in the sights and sounds of one particular exhibit and to go away wanting 'more'.

Horrible History Exhibition

I remember feeling very disappointed to find that when we visited the Natural History museum the children wanted to leave after ten minutes because it was too busy and they couldn't see the exhibits. Similarly, having borrowed special 'back packs' to explore the British museum we found it hot and uncomfortable on a hot summers day to stay there longer than half an hour.

I have learned that our most enjoyable learning experiences are unplanned and often simple, such as a small local museum where the guides had time to tell us stories of the local history because we were the only ones there. They leave you with a feeling of wanting to know more and going away to do more research. The educational value is immense and lasting and provides the building blocks upon which to build your solid teaching.

Ask an Expert

What is critical is finding that magic moment when the gates are open and that river of knowledge can flow in

But lessons taught at a time a child is not prepared to receive them are always a tremendous waste of energy for both child and parent/teacher.
And the Skylark sings with me by David H. Albert

These are wise words for anyone involved in education.As a parent it has taken me a great deal of time and energy to realise how true they are. But, if you really listen to your child their knowledge will blossom and develop as you facilitate their research.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Talk to the Animals

As I sit here typing our dog keeps nudging my hand with his tennis ball to remind me he's there and he wants to play. He's a black labrador, the runt of the litter and he has brought us so much pleasure. Children love pets and when my autistic son feels sad he can often be found sitting in the dog basket with Benny or wrapped up with the dog in his duvet. Dogs in particular have a great way of communicating their concern and seem to sense when people need comfort. One of the things I've discovered is the educational benefit my children have gained through having pets. At the moment we have a dog, a rabbit and four hens. The children have learned how to take responsability for caring for something other than themselves, they've helped build a Coop for the hens, designed a run, collected eggs, watched in dismay as the chickens moulted and learned the tricks of business by selling their eggs. They've also been lucky enough to witness the birth of lambs during the lambing season in the fields that surround our cottage and even handled the sight of a still birth lamb , learning that his skin would be used to make a coat for an orphan lamb who needed a mother. We live within a few miles of a zoo and during the winter months admittance is free. The children have watched as tiger cubs have grown from small cats into full blown adults, they've learned the names of Emporer tamarins with their curly moustaches and roared with laughter at the apes as they swung round their cages on rope. They've recorded their antics on camera and taken photos for their projects and my youngest son has even posted pictures of our hen Wilma on You Tube under the title "The Hopping Hen!" It is easy to underestimate the educational value of trips to local farms and wild life parks. If you can take a look at the Open Farm website and grab the opportunity to take you children to a free open day. You don't need to 'force' their learning. Let them touch the animals, ask questions about them. If you don't know the answers make a point of asking,experts love to share their passions. Alternatively look up the answer in a book or the internet and learn together.Life becomes a great adventure !

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Films and Education- they do go together!

We watched a beautiful film today.The Painted Veil by Somerset Maughan was a birthday present and I chose it for its reviews on the photography which features rural China. As a result a trip to China is certainly on my 'to do' list. As we watched the film together my son and I witnessed beautiful scenery, learned about chinese culture and after the film talked about cholera and its causes and the life of Somerset Maughan. All in all a geography, science , history and english lesson all rolled into one. We have watched so many films like that.There are some fantastic films based on factual events in history such as Amazing Grace (William Wilberforce), the Madness of King George, Ghandi, Amistad, Cry Freedom (Steve Biko). All wonderful films in their own right. Commonsensemedia.com and Amazon are great for reviews and I have seen some films I would never have known about had it not been for their suggested purchases. Similarly www.British Empire.com has some great suggestions if you are looking for historical films. The bonus is that it doesn't feel like education because it's fun!

Saturday, 10 March 2012

The Learning Curve

When we embarked on home education with my youngest son it quickly became apparent that everyone has their optimum time for learning. For me it has always been early in the morning but for my son it's late into the evening. At first I worried that he didn't surface until ten in the morning, didn't eat breakfast (didn't the experts say it was essential to achieve learning potential)and often sat in his pyjamas wrapped up in a duvet whilst playing or watching tv. It went against everything I'd been taught about school. Gradually I learned we weren't at school. It didn't matter if you weren't sitting at your desk by 9.00am, what mattered was the quality of learning and that information was absorbed and understood.This seems to be born out by new scientific evidence about teenagers who generally are more receptive to learning later in the morning because their body clocks are changing http://makingminds.net/why-every-country-needs-later-secondary-school-start-times/ Not only do we not need to be learning from 9.00am until 3.30pm Monday to Friday we can learn whatever day of the week it is. Take today for example, firstly it's a Saturday, not a normal school day. I was up early as my daughter and I are involved in a community choir and orchestra. One of the weaknesses of my daughter's school is that it doesn't have a strong music department so we found our own. Whilst my daughter practised with her orchestra for a concert I popped into town and bought three books from the charity shop. Total cost 60p! The book for my son was a Lisa Simpson book. Not exactly a school text book but he spent half an hour in the car reading. I know now that all reading is valuable, you just have to tap into your children's interests and if that happens to be the Simpson's it really doesn't matter all reading is beneficial. In fact if you study the Simpsons carefully you will soon discover there is more educational value in those programmes than you think. We have talked about the classical music on some of the programmes, learned it takes 9 months to animate an episode and that's just for starters! After orchestra and choir my daughter and her friend went for their first ever. independent shopping session without an adult. Such an apparently small incident helped give them confidence, taught them to budget and look for bargains and gave them a much needed freedom which in more populated area of Britain they wouldn't get for a few years yet. Every new experience teaches something. At first glance it may seem immaterial but like a jigsaw the small pieces build up to form the bigger picture.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

You can't measure knowledge!

As I handed in my eldest son's application to go paint balling today I realised once again that life continually provides opportunity to learn new things. Having spent the last two days indoors with my Autistic son who felt too stressed to leave the house he managed at last to go out today having ,in front of him , a list of all the shops I proposed to visit so he had the security of knowing exactly what we were doing (no surprises). If it had not been for my son's disability then my eldest son would not have had the opportunity to become part of Young carers and to gain valuable new experiences like water polo, Indian cookery, kite surfing and paint balling. Doors have been opened to new and unusual experiences! My youngest son by comparison can struggle with just walking round a supermarket with it's bright lights and continued beeping at the tills. How lovely therefore to pop down to our local golf driving range today to pick up some details and to be shown round by a lovely lady, who as soon as she realised my son was autistic showed him exactly where he would go and what he would need when he came to play. She quickly sensed that he was interested in her puppy which was hidden behind reception and allowed him to cuddle it whilst she told him about the centre and whether she realised it or not she opened up lines of communication so that my son felt able to open up and talk to her.That brief moment was in itself a learning experience for my son. Children learn in different ways and in different amounts. It's not the amount or difficulty of the learning that counts it's the relevance to them growing into mature , responsible individuals willing to say 'I don't know, could you show me?' If only we as adults could be more like them!

Monday, 5 March 2012

Learning Styles

We all learn in different ways. My youngest son definately has a style all of his own. He is Autistic (Aspergers syndrome to be precise) and in his case that involves a large dose of oppositional defiant disorder. My son learns best when he can see what is being taught so the television and computer are great learning tools and sometimes moving about helps him to absorb information. He has been known to listen to stories whilst standing on his head on the settee or read books on the trampoline.
Over the next few blogs I will explore the ways we learn together and the resources we've found useful.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Musings on the current State Education system

We educate ourselves throughout our lives. It helps, I think if we have never been dumbed down by our education system which expects us to conform to institutional ideas. I hope in this blog to share with you the new things I and my family learn each day to demonstrate that learning can be a part of every day life. Someone shared this link with me today which shows a fabulous animation to illustrate a lecture by Sir Ken Robinson on how our state education system has evolved.It's well worth watching! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U