Monday, November 12, 2012

For The Love of Books

Ever since I was a little girl I have always had a fascination with books. When I was in grade two, I remember looking with longing at the book my best friend, Kim, was reading. A real chapter book with a pink cover and an image of a girl on roller skates. Heaven for a little girl in the 70's!I desperately wanted to be able to read that book, but I knew it was above my abilities at the time. Unfortunately I wasn't a child who picked reading up easily.

Books have always held a strong attraction for me. I loved the book catalogues that came home from school. I loved book shops, and buying books even when I knew I probably wouldn't read them because they were too difficult. As a teenager I made sure that my books weren't dog eared, and I read them so that the spine wouldn't crease! My books were my treasures. When  I was supposed to be doing my maths homework I would set the textbook, exercise book, and pencil upon the bed covers with the doona neatly folded back so that I could quickly stash my novel under the covers and assume a studious expression if someone approached the door!

When I became a mum I knew that I wanted my children to love reading as I did. With Bilby, I knew it wouldn't be too difficult. The first time he saw a book he was hooked! His face lit up, and his little legs did the happy dance. He LOVED being read too. Unfortunately Koala was the total opposite. He hated being read to and wouldn't stand for it!

Like me, Bilby, wasn't a natural reader, and  while he enjoys reading, it's not *yet* his favourite activity! I am firmly convicted that if he had stayed at school he would detest reading as many boys do.When he was in kindergarten he would leave his reader at school and tell me that his teacher didn't want them to read it! Looking back he just wasn't ready to begin the reading process, but the expectations of school meant that he was pushed before he was ready which resulted in him beginning to think that he wasn't good at reading. I believe that many, many boys are turned off reading because they are pushed into it before they are ready, and because the way literature is pulled apart at school, is often enough to turn boys off.

My fondest memory of the short time I was a classroom teacher was when I had the privilege to teach  English to a wonderful group of year nine kids. This particular school tried to make the bottom class very small, so that the kids got extra attention. I started with a class of twelve kids which dwindled for various reasons to about eight or nine. I decided that we would begin each lesson with 10-15 minutes of silent reading of a book of their choosing. I wasn't sure how it would go as many of these kids really struggled with reading and writing, but they happily bought along their books each lesson which in itself was an achievement. There was complete silence as each child enjoyed their choice. I was so excited for them, as it was often difficult to get these kids engaged in learning. I was able to sit at the front of the room and enjoy the scene before me. I just loved watching their faces as they read! One boy choose a book about a female wrestler! It was a big book, and at first I wondered if it would prove too difficult for him, but as the weeks passed he kept at at, and I was rewarded with hearing him excitedly comment to one of his friends as he left the room "That's the first book I've ever read." I felt like doing the happy dance and shouting for joy! I believe they learned more in that fifteen minutes a day than anything else I tried to "teach" them.

When I watch Bilby quietly reading I am often reminded of that year nine class. He could have been one of those kids who never picked up a book. But homeschooling has meant he has been able to come to reading in his own time, and enjoy many books without me sucking the joy out of them by making a lesson out of the plot, characters, and so on. In the last year, Bilby has read over a dozen books. Books on World Wars 1 and 2, books about modern day refugees, historical fiction, and a book about a war dog.  For a boy who once found reading a chore it makes me want to do the happy dance and shout for joy all over again!


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Good Goats!

This morning I had a few errands that needed doing, one of which was a visit to my local pathology office to organise some tests. The receptionist knows me, from years of visits, and she asks, "Are you still homeschooling, Trish?" I answer in the affirmative.

"Gee you're good." she responds " You must have to be so organised. I guess you have to do the same thing at a set time. It must be so difficult."

In my mind I see the image she imagines. Perhaps a room dedicated to schooling, a white board, me standing in front of the boys presenting a lesson, engaged and eager students, a tidy and well organised home.

For a moment I wonder if I should attempt to shatter her illusions, and tell her that it's not as difficult as she might imagine. Another image flashes before my eyes. As this moment one of my sons is no doubt lying on his bed doing "nothing". He will probably doing doing "nothing" for quite some weeks, until boredom takes over, and he finds some motivation, or when takes an interest in my strewing and suggestions . I picture earlier days of high stress, much shouting and defiance which went hand in hand with any maths questions, and most of the other "lessons" I attempted to force my son to complete.

I judge it best to keep my mouth shut on both counts, and allow the lady before me to keep her equilibrium! I imagine her reaction if she knew the truth. Even to tell her of how my eldest son spends his days, would be pointless. She would have no frame of reference in which to place the activities which makes up his days. A few maths questions, lots of read-alouds, reading for pleasure, a little science and copywork. How can outsider accurately imagine the flow of a home in which school is absent?

On my way home I once again think that home educators really are like goats. We refuse to go with the crowd like sheep, but stubbornly do our own thing in the face of a society which would like everyone to believe that there is only one way to educate a child. We question the norms, and cut a new path. I believe that home educators do this better than any other group I can think of. Let everyone else follow the school model. We'll take the path less travelled by!

Last night I was struck by how different my educational paradigm is from schooling parents. Bilby attends a Catholic youth group called Life Teen, and last night parents were encouraged to come along to hear about an upcoming retreat. Several times I heard how parents were not happy with the date chosen which happened to be the week end before exams begin. Not the HSC, but exams for years 8, 9 and 10. In my mind insignificant exams which no one will care about the week after they are finished! Yet the fun and spiritual growth to be had on the retreat will probably be remembered fondly, and drawn on for years to come! One parent shared with me that they originally were not going to allow their child to attend because of these exams, until her tears changed their minds. I looked at my son, and was so grateful that he has no concept of what an exam is. He has never had to worry where he will be ranked in relation to 150 other children his age, and judge his worthiness based on his results.

Parents who hadn't met me before questioned me about how I would manage high school, and the HSC. Hopefully I opened a door for one mum to see the final year of school in a different light. As is often the case, she seemed a little surprised when I said that there are many avenues into university. She agreed with me that too much pressure is placed on kids, and that she remembered asking people what mark they got in the HSC for some time after, and pigeon holing them based on their response.

So I am happy to associate myself with the noble goat! Funnily enough I even live on Nanny Goat Hill, a local nickname given to the hill on which I live, and where my own father played in freedom as a child, and where goats of the fury, and two legged kind still live and play today!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

At The Beach.

Today I persuaded Koala to come to the dog beach with Bilby and I. Usually when we suggest such an outing he's not too keen. With a little gentle coaxing, the promise of a short stay, and ice cream on the way home, Bilby and I triumphed! We took our very timid one year old dog Peaches with us. As it was mid week we thought she might be less overwhelmed by lots of huge dogs anxious to play with her. The weather was also perfect!

In theory it sounded great, until an over sized boxer puppy came over to greet Peaches. She was so terrified she tried to swim out to Bilby! She spent the rest of our visit at my side refusing to play, even with the smallest of dogs.

What would a trip to the beach be without a water fight!

We didn't think the water would be warm enough for swimming, so no rash shirts. The boys however braved  it, and even went for a  proper swim!

Hopefully there will be many more days like this. We even did some cooking earlier in the day, complete with thickening cream the old fashioned way. With six arms between us, it didn't take long! So in one day we have achieved many of the things I was hoping for in my last post! 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Step away from the curriculum!

Well my attempts to move towards unschooling have been a failure! I am finding it so very difficult to let go and trust that relinquishing control over Koala's learning will not ruin his life!

Today I realised that I have not yet come to a strong conclusion as to where I sit on the home education continuum. I have constantly vacillated between methodologies without having a firm opinion as to which one I believe in most strongly. They all sound so worthy and interesting! The only style I have never tried is unit studies! Natural learning holds a strong attraction for me, but why can't I just get on with it!

Of course I know why. I'm ashamed to admit the reasons because I know that they are not valid, but the fear is still there whether or not I agree with the principles of unschooling. So here are my fears. Perhaps if I share them they will dissipate. (not likely but worth a try!)

If I allow Koala to unschool, I worry that he will do nothing for months. Just the thought of it, and I can feel my anxiety rise. As it is he is content to sit and wait for hours, doing nothing before gaming time begins. On Sunday, our gaming free day, he is lost!

What if he never learns the basics well enough to succeed. I do believe that when children and adults want to learn something they will, if they have been given the tools to learn, but...

Will he blame me for not having made him do enough. For giving into his anxiety over certain things rather than gently pushing on through.

I'll get the whole unschooling thing wrong. I'll allow my lazy tendencies to mean that I won't strew enough interesting things along his path.

It just sounds like so much more hard work than other methods of education. The parent has to be on the job all the time. Constantly thinking of ways to engage their children.

So these are just some of my fears. But I have decided that on Monday things will be very different. I will only ask Koala to do the following:
Sit and listen to a read-aloud about St. Dominic Savio, and  continue our reading of Acts of the Apostles, copy out his spelling words, and a small passage of copywork, continue to read "Then" with me. That's it! If he wants to do a chapter of Life of Fred, great. If not no problem. The same applies to listening to The Rangers Apprentice on audio book.

I want connection and joy to be our most important goals. The curriculum of conversation! I want to see my little boy smile more, and confide in me more. I want him to know that he is loved, respected and supported in the significant challenges he is facing. I want us cook something yummy together. I would like him to want go to the beach, or rock climbing, or explore the bush behind our house, or any number of other activities. I want him to explore things that interest him. But if he doesn't do any of these things on Monday, or for the rest of the year, that will be ok.

As for me, I want to let go and feel that it is safe to do so. To be released from the fear that I'm stuffing it all up!

I'll keep you posted!

P.S. The previous two posts were written some time ago, but I wasn't ready to post them in case I decided it was all a big mistake!

What I'm Learning.

Well it's been two weeks since we changed direction. It would be incorrect to say we are unschooling, but I keep refering back to this "When pressed, I define unschooling as allowing children as much freedom to learn in the world, as their parents can comfortably bear."So by that definition we are on the road, and moving forward.

We still do some bookwork because there are some things I am not prepared to give up at this point because I know that they are helping. Koala also needs some structure as we transition to a more relaxed approach. He has been very anxious lately when the boundaries aren't clearly defined, so structure is important for him.

The main thing I have noticed is that both the children and myself are much more relaxed. I am making a huge effort to put any anxiety about what we "should" be doing, behind me. I'm looking for more opportunities that are fun, or at least different from what we are used to. For example this week we went to see the Archibald Prize at the art gallery. The boys were underwhelmed, and keen to go way before I was, but it was something different that I took time to do, rather than thinking we should do that and not following through. Yesterday I helped Bilby make a cake. Yes it took a lot longer than if I had done it, but I was relaxed enough to not be bothered about the time taken or the mess because I wasn't stressing about all the things on the list that I thought we "should" be doing. We spent a bit if time on the Brain Pop app which led to discussions about  WW2, and we read a picture book I have about the one women's experience of the bombing of Hiroshima, "My Hiroshima." Bilby went off to watch a few more Brain Pop annimations and take the quizzes! All without me worring about what we weren't doing from the dreaded *list*.

Why was I so bent on sticking so closely to formal school type learning? Well there were two reasons. I was so up tight about how "behind" we were that I felt like I couldn't give up the bookwork type things we did in favour of more fun relaxed experiential learning. I had the mindset that it was all up to me. If I didn't make them do x y z then I had failed my children. This year I have been able to see the foolishness of this way of thinking. My children will be who they are, no matter what I try and *make* them learn. The second reason is that I'm not a very hands on type person. I loved university lectures where I could sit and take notes and just drink in the information presented to me. Some of my fondest memories of my time at university are of inspiring lectures where I would be furiously taking notes, or when I was inspired by the way a lecturer conveyed his or her passion. My least favourite times were when I was in a classroom! Hands on activities were far less interesting to me. This is the same for me today. I love nothing more than sitting down with a book, listening to an interesting radio interview or watching a documentary. In fact I recently realised how often I say to the boys "I watched a documentart once..."

At the head level I was convicted of the common sence that came from a natural learning standpoint, but it scared the hell out of me. How could I let go without being consumed with fear that I was letting my children down if they couldn't do certain things at the level I thought they should? I respected and valued the unschoolers in my circle. I even envied them their calm relaxed lifestyle, but I couldn't become one of them. But times have changed and I'm ready to take on some elements of the unschooling lifestyle.

I have decided that it's well and truely time for me to take a risk and try something new. To open myself up to more fun and less structure. I have a list (some habits are hard to break!) of things I would like to do with the boys that are different from what we used to do all day, and I'm making suggestions to the boys of things they might like to try. I am really excited by the change in our atmosphere, and where it will take us.

A New Direction

I have on occassion been accussed of being stubborn! Most people who have a passing acquaintance with me will use words like "gentle, quiet, and calm" when describing me. And they would be right. Those words do accurately describe my character, but not all of it. I can be quietly (and sometimes not so quietly!) pig headedly stubborn. Those closest to me have seen the side I rarely reveal to the masses. I can doggedly hold my ground long after a more reasonable person would have stood down! My journey on the homeschooling road has been no different.

Many of you will relate to times in your life when the Holy Spirit, or someone close to you suggests you try something new, but you resist. Perhaps you have flirted with the new idea, played with it, tried it out briefly only to put it back on the shelf, where it can be mostly ignored until the next time the Holy Spirit, gently urges you to reconsider, and the whole dance begins again.

This is the relationship I have had with unschooling. I have always largely agreed with natural learning, but have never been able to let go and put it into practice. There have been times over that last six and a half years where I have decided that I would probably try unschooling. I held it in my hands for a little while, but put it back on the shelf before I ever really took the plunge. It has been there on the shelf calling to me where I have convienently ignored it.

It is currently fed up with my total lack of response, and has started rudely shouting at me to get attention, and for once I am really listening. I have taken it down from the top shelf and am determined to give it my full attention. I've wrapped it around me, and will not put it down.

Perhaps this isn't the best analagy, but I'll use it all the same! You get the idea.

This year feels like a turning point for us. I've come to some important conclusions about homeschooling and my relationship to it. When we started all those years ago I bought into the idea that homeschooling would magically mean my children would thrive academically. Haven't we all read the reports which sprout that home educated children score a year or two higher on academic testing, or some such generalisation? Well then, I reasoned, so would my children. After all I was passionate about learning. How could my children not excel with one on one mum time.

What I forgot was that my children would be exactly who they were created to be no matter how academic *I* wanted them to be. I am ashamed to say that it took me too long to give up my desire for them to be sitting around reading Tolkien all day!

Things have come to head in recent weeks in such a way that I need to act. One of our children is facing some huge challenges, and my dogged attachment to school type endeavours is only adding to his anxiety, and in turn to the anxiety of everyone in the family.

So here we go! Jumping off into unschooling. I've rejoined a few unschooling email groups, bought a few unschooling books and prayed a lot. I can't say that what we will be doing will be pure unschooling, but most of it will have that flavour. I'm not bothered by labels. We'll just be doing it, and not worrying what to call it!

In devouring Suzie Andres' book A Little Way of Homeschooling over the week end, I have come away with one word. Gentleness. That's what we all need around here.

The second reading at Mass today also really resonated with me:
You must give up your old way of life, you must put aside your old self. Ephesians 4:22

So most of the following posts will be my attempt to record and sort through the changes to our days.

Here goes...

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Wicked Explanation!

Koala has something of a sweet tooth. On a recent trip to the bulk foods warehouse he spent his money on a box of Wicked Fizz bars. I discovered that the way my children reacted to to experience of the lolly was a wonderfully simple way to explain how kids on the spectrum process sensory information.

Roo is highly orally sensitive. Brushing his teeth is hugely difficult for him. We brush his teeth as quickly as possible while he squeals the whole time. We have a glass of water ready for spitting, and the milk on the bench so that he can have a drink straight away to remove the taste of the toothpaste. We use plain toothpaste as he has a strong aversion to anything minty. As a baby he wasn't much of a chewer, which has carried over into his growing years in that he tends not to put much of anything in his mouth, even food!

Koala on the other hand always chewed whatever was at hand. When he was anxious it was clothes which he could chew a hole in with astonishing rapidity. (As a  Winnie The Pooh fan I just had to use those last two words!) Lots of our Lego is unusable as Koala would chew on a piece whilst building. On the whole Koala is hypo-sensitive (under sensitive) to most stimuli. I've blogged in the past about his being unaware of his shoes being on the wrong foot and so forth.

Bilby is neither hyper or hypo sensitive. His sensory system  is just right. Neither to fast or slow.

So back to the Wicked Fizz. Roo wanted to try one, but after a few licks he said he didn't want it and sat very quietly on the lounge licking his lips looking rather uncomfortable. The fizzy sensation was just too much for him. I them asked Bilby what his reaction to the lolly was? Was it a little too fizzy for him? He explained he liked the lolly but it was a little too fizzy for his tastes, but it didn't bother him at all. I then asked Koala who replied that he felt that it was slightly fizzy, but it wasn't uncomfortable at all.

I thought that this example of my children's reactions was a great way to explain what can be a difficult concept to grasp for those who don't have children with sensory processing issues, especially as I have the full gamut of sensory responses in my children from extreme aversion through to under sensitivity. Who would have thought that a hunble lolly could be so useful!