How do we know what to do?

We were at Coles this morning, and the checkout operator asked Miss 5 why she wasn’t at school today, which is a fairly common question for us, and we’ve become quite confident answering it. (Miss 5 proudly tells anyone who asks that we “do homeschool” 😊 This is sometimes met with a raised eyebrow, and sometimes with a little smirk, but mostly people are very pleasant and positive and make exclamations about how nice, or how fun that must be). This morning, when Miss 5 told the checkout operator that we homeschool, we were met with a small look of surprise, and then a very large smile. The operator, a young lady perhaps in her early 20s, started talking to us as she rang up our purchase. The first thing she said was “I hated school. I was bullied and picked on from the day I started until the day I left. It used to make me sad, because I loved learning and loved the classes, I just hated school. For me it was a place of torture, not a place of education.” ☚ī¸ From here she proceeded to ask all manner of questions about our day, and what we do, how we do it, and who we report to. She was genuinely interested. As we left she said to me “I think what you’re doing is wonderful. I really wish that my parents had been able to home school me, I think things would have been a bit different if they had.” It was a very poignant conversation for me, but I did walk away from it feeling very happy – again – with our decision to home school.

One of the questions this young lady asked was “So do you get a curriculum, or anything to help you along the way? How do you know what to do?”. And it occurred to me that I have asked these questions myself, to others, when I first started, as well as during the last few months, as we’ve been settling into our own rhythm. AND it occurred to me that I get asked these questions now, at least once a week. Not only by strangers that we strike up a conversation with, but also friends, family members, people who are considering homeschooling as an option for their child AND other homeschooling families (who are trying to work out their own system of learning and recording). So I thought I’d write a little bit about the how’s of what we do, as a way of clearing it up.

So to start with, after registration with the Department of Education in WA, we had a visit with our allocated Department Moderator. Our Moderator is our link to the government. She is the go-to person if we have any questions or concerns, she is the the person who assess Miss 5 annually to ensure that there is sufficient improvement in that time, and she is our initial provider of information. Our moderator is a lovely woman named Margaret. Miss 5 calls her “School Margaret” and we all think she’s just wonderful 😊 During Margarets first visit, we were given a copy of the national and state curriculum. Now to clarify, “the curriculum” states WHAT needs to be covered, not HOW to cover it. It is a broad outline of the scope of work that should be covered and standards achieved during each school year. I get the impression that a lot of people believe that it is like a handbook for homeschoolers, whereby you open at page 1, teach your child the lesson contained in that chapter, follow the sequence, and by the end of the handbook, you’ll have completed a years worth of work, and your child can graduate to the next year. Not the case!. The curriculum is no state secret, it’s freely available online here, and unfortunately I (and most other people I know) found it to be a long, laborious and frustrating read. I also thought, that if you followed it to the letter, it would be very confining with no flexibility to follow the child’s interests and desires as well as their own timeline for progression. And truth to tell, I read most of the parts relating to Miss 5, and then put it away. After all, I made the decision to keep her away from school, so there is no way I am going to emulate it at home!

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So once we were armed with the structure mandated by the department of education, as well as the obligatory mountain of paperwork to go with it, I came up with a rough plan. My plan began with the conscious decision to do away with the curriculum provided by the department 😉 Basically, as long as Miss 5 shows improvement since her last moderator visit, and as long as I can show our Moderator that we are covering the areas of learning that are required, how I go about doing it is my business.

Husband and I had looked into putting Miss 5 into the local Steiner School, at one stage, and while we ultimately decided that it wasn’t for us, there are some parts of their philosophy and teaching methods that I still really like. I really like the life-learning approach to the day. Steiner students participate in chores, cooking, gardening and other hands on activities in their early years. The Steiner philosophy of “head, heart and hands” is an approach to learning at resonates here. We accept artistic and social development as being just as important to a self-realising adult as academic development. I also enjoy the slower pace of the Steiner approach, giving a child ample time to not only develop, but to wholly experience each stage of development, before moving on to the next stage. So with this in mind, we incorporate all of the day-to-day activities in our custom made “curriculum”. I also include the handwork that Steiner education encourages; so sewing, knitting, clay, woodwork, felt work, colouring and drawing all make up a large part of what Miss 5 does. I feel that learning mathematics, patterns, basic science, and the daily rhythm of life, comes more from these activities, in a peaceful, loving and encouraging environment, than it could possibly come from a classroom setting. As Miss 5 progresses, we will also introduce the concept of a Main Lesson Book, which is also something that Steiner schools are well known for.

It’s no secret to those who know me, and I believe I’ve mentioned it here before, I am an avid reader. I am actively encouraging the girls to be avid readers, and I totally am a “book snob”. There is so much out there in the way of incredible literature, for children as well as adults, that I just can’t fathom not sharing with my daughters. I also very strongly believe that not introducing them to a variety of different genres and language now, is only doing them a disservice, as they will not be familiar with, or have even a basic understanding of anything other than picture books when they reach the older grades. So for the English component of our custom “curriculum” I look to the Charlotte Mason school of teaching. We read aloud, A LOT. As a family. Reading is a large part of our lives, and we endeavour to create a loving, pleasant environment during our reading time, to cultivate happy associations. Even Husband, who is not a big reader, will participate in reading aloud for the children. I have a list of texts that we will be reading and discussing over he next 12 months, which includes classics like Mary Poppins and Peter Pan, poems and verses by A. A. Milne, a collection of works by Rudyard Kipling and a simple Shakespeare sonnet. Peppered in amongst this are books that I know will put a smile on Miss 5s face, like those from Roald Dahl, and possibly the first book in the Harry Potter series. The Charlotte Masons concept of a “Living Book” also ties in well with the Steiner MLB, and can be interchanged.

Miss 5, and her sisters, are children who love to run, jump, leap, swim, dance and be outside. They are not happy cooped up indoors, and are never focussed when they’re told they have to sit still. So we spend a decent portion of every day outside. Outside in nature. I very strongly believe that there is nothing that children can learn in a classroom, that can’t be learned outside, in a forest, at the beach or on a hike, making natural discoveries. So for the gaps in our “curriculum” we take a Forest School approach. Miss 5 is offered the opportunity to asses and take risks as she feels capable. She is offered the opportunity to foster a positive relationship with the planet that she lives on, as well as the other inhabitants. We walk, explore, make sculptures from found materials. She climbs trees, walks on walls, explores rock pools, wanders in the bush, and learns about her physical self and her place in the world, by being in the world.

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The most important element that links all of these approaches – as well as a few others – with our approach to learning, is that it is all child led. For us this means that Miss 5 has the autonomy to lead the way in her education. Her natural curiosity, and her own interests are at the forefront of our day. She makes the decisions regarding the topics she covers, the amount of time she invests into each topic or area, the time of day this takes place, and the approach that she uses. As her parent, I facilitate this learning by making suggestions as to where or how she can find the answers she needs, or offering opportunities and resources to supplement her interests. But there is no coercion, no force and no “trickery” involved. For example, a couple of days ago, Miss 5 was playing with her Daddy’s big tape measure. So I showed her where to find “centimetres” on the measure, and suggested she try measuring some things around the house. She got a piece of paper and wrote a list of the things she measured, with the measurements next to them. She discovered that Miss 3 was 2cm taller than the chair at the craft table, and she herself was 8cm taller then her sister. In our report, this 15 minute activity provides a tick for English, and for Maths. As it was a positive experience for her, that she had full control over, she will likely remember it fondly and will go back to it in the future, and take it further when she does. 😊

To keep the department of education happy, I keep a folder – divided ‘by month’ – of loose, dated examples of Miss 5s work. I also have a small workbook of stories and worksheets that Miss 5 has completed. Everyday she draws or writes in her “feelings book” (akin to a journal), which is also used as examples of her progress. Combined with this blog, and our facebook page, we have a coherent record of our day-to-day that includes dates, photos, examples of work and observations on my part. I also have an excel spreadsheet that lists all of the areas of learning dictated by the national curriculum. On this spreadsheet I list the main activities of our week, and I literally tick a box to show what areas have been covered during the activity. I also make a note if it has been recorded, and if so whether it is on the blog, or Facebook page. And that’s it, job done 😊 Of course there are a million ways we supplement our “curriculum” with programs like Reading Eggs, and subscriptions to Little Passports, as well as any amount of excursions and co-ops, and classes held within our own homeschooling community. The beauty of what we do, is everyday holds something new and unique 😀

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There are a few (very few) people who believe that only a “qualified teacher” should be afforded the right to teach a child. They believe that there is no possible way that I could be capable of educating my daughter. How could I possibly know what to do? I’m not qualified! Some days, when I’ve had no sleep or the day hasn’t gone as I’d imagined, or Miss 5 has an off day – which happens here, just as it happens in the houses of children who attend mainstream schools – on these days I doubt myself and wonder if these people might be right. But then I remember the facts. The fact is no one knows my daughter better than me. No one knows her interests, her secrets, her desires, her hopes, no one knows her the way I do. My qualifications lay in the fact that I am her mother, her biggest fan and advocate. I also re-read our last report from School Margaret, it was such a wonderful, glowing report, that I keep it handy for encouragement and inspiration. And it was written by someone who is qualified and who does know what they’re doing!

“It is difficult to include (in this report) all of the excellent learning experiences in is well integrated program. I have been given the privilege of access to (A Little to the Lefts) blog about her homeschooling, and in reading them I was amazed at the detail of her reflection, planning and delivery of the learning environment for (Miss 5).

Her written descriptions in (her blog posts) beautifully describe the philosophy and processes of this very effective home school. As I commented on the (blog) site, these should be a book guide to others. I am very happy for this program to continue, and am excited to see where it travels to in the next year”

Taken from School Margarets most recent report. Happy Days 😊😊