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!