Monday, 30 March 2015

Men as Mentors

As my oldest son begins his teen years, I have noted the way he latches on to men, enjoying their company and wanting to learn from them. I once read of a culture in Africa where, at 14, boys are taken away from their mothers for a process of initiation. They spend two years away with the men of the tribe, and are then reunited with their mothers in a special ceremony which marks the beginning of a new relationship between the mother and her son as a man. I remember this as I note quietly that my boy is increasingly unwilling to listen to me, and I try not to let it upset me, but to see it as a normal part of his growth. My husband is much better able to get through at the moment. I remember too a book I read by Steve Biddulph, "Raising Boys", in which he talks about the years of strongest influence on boys ... From 0-6 years, he suggests, boys belong to their mothers, then from 6-14 the focus shifts to Dad (or a familiar older man). From 14, he suggests the boy will look outwards from his family to other men in the community. Look out for good men, mentors, in your community who will catch your boy when he turns and looks outwards.

In the summer, we had some work done on our new house. It was quite substantial work over some months involving extension to the rear and the installation of a new kitchen. On the job were two men - Sam and his Dad, Keith. My oldest son loved having these guys around and he spent a lot of time hanging out with them at the back of the house, observing their work, talking to them about what they were doing, helping where he was able to. These guys were great with him and very tolerant. I think he really enjoyed the experience and I am sure he learned a lot about construction - and manhood. As he learns primarily through talking to people and asking questions, experiences like this are invaluable, in my opinion. Unfortunately, our society doesn't seem to give a lot of opportunity for boys to hang out with men all that much. In schools, the relationship between pupils and teachers is different, as the focus is on the imparting of a curriculum rather than sharing life and work. This doesn't usually allow the same kind of mentoring role to develop. I think it is really important that we find and encourage these mentoring relationships to help our sons become men. Where might we find & build such relationships? In the family, at youth groups, community groups, sports clubs, at work ... Where do your son's interests lie? Can you find men with similar interests who might be willing and able to get alongside during these crucial years?

Pin It

Minecraft in the News ...

Should parents ever worry about Minecraft?

The Way We Work

In our house, we do have a general 'gaming after 4.00pm' rule which came from the boys. Whilst this rule is flexible, I think the key to managing gaming is balance, balance, balance ... Let it be part of a busy life - full of other stuff. I have noticed that my boys' social time with friends now seems to revolve around Minecraft and it is a challenge for parents to keep up with all that is happening online. Just this week, I had an evening call from a friend whose son was very upset about what was happening in the Minecraft world, and the boys and I had to have a chat about what was going on and how others might react to what they were doing in the game. The boys and I talk about online time a lot, and I gently but persistently encourage them to balance their gaming with other activities. What are your thoughts? How do you manage gaming in your house?

Pin It

Friday, 6 March 2015

Unschooling Maths

Even if home educators follow a child-led approach in many areas, maths seems to be one subject where it is thought children ought to be receiving some form of daily instruction. Many parents seem to be afraid of maths, perhaps because their own experience of maths at school was negative and they are afraid of failing their children in this area. Many people seem to think they are no good at maths, and I think this itself is reflective of our schooling and the disservice being done to mathematics in classrooms. We seem to equate maths with arithmetic or calculation ... SUMS! But, wouldn't it be great to take maths out of the box? What if we can think of it, as Arthur Benjamin describes it, as "the science of pattern"? (His 6-minute TED talk here is worth a watch!

In recent weeks, the boys and I have been following a programme called Multiplication Explorers from Natural Math. I have found these activities to be really useful in reshaping my own ideas about mathematics, and we have had fun together exploring patterns. My second son, after just 4 terms in school, thinks he is no good at maths. Let's face it, kids know which table they're on and where they are within their class. This was one of the reasons why I took the boys out of school. In fact, he is not bad at maths. He just doesn't much like numbers! Just because he struggled to perform the tasks set by the curriculum for his age when he was in school, it doesn't mean he wouldn't be able to grasp the concepts given a little more time. In fact, he is brilliantly techy these days and uses mathematical thinking in coding and problem solving. Through the Multiplication Explorers we have seen that he is a visual learner, and able to see patterns where he might not be able to see numbers. It has been very interesting.

As I am not very mathematically minded myself, I have been a little frustrated by my own limitations. Sometimes I haven't felt able to make the most astute observations or to ask the most pertinent questions to move the boys forward. Fortunately my husband (who is a maths teacher) and eldest son are very mathematically minded and so we have seen our activities and discussions develop in ways which are beyond my capability, and this has been helpful in stretching my understanding and in helping the younger boys. What has been so great is watching the boys themselves see mathematical truths in patterns. For example, today we learned about prime numbers without looking at a number. Noticing that these numbers stood alone, different, in a pattern of circles, we considered why ... Because they are only divisible by themselves and by one. Lightbulb moment!

On another occasion, we were building multiplication towers and started with Lego bricks. The boys pretty soon moved over to Minecraft, and it wasn't long before I discovered myself short of the right size and colour Lego bricks. I had discovered for myself the wonder of Minecraft - Unlimited bricks! Beautiful multiplication towers!

One of the scariest things about school mathematics is the importance of getting the right answer. One of the most beautiful and liberating things about this course has been the realisation that you don't have to be 'right' or 'wrong'. rather you can explore and experiment or bring your own ideas to the table. Rather than leaping in because we perceive 'a mistake', try observing and reflecting, "Hmm, interesting ... What next?" or "Why did you put that one there?" Given the same task, we might all produce a very different response. And that is OK. 2 examples of our very different factorization diagrams:

And a selection of pictures from our experience of taking mathematics out of the box in recent weeks:

And here is our favourite youtube video from this project: Nature by Numbers.

We also recommend Vi Hart's youtube channel, Doodling in Maths Class! (Example: Infinity Elephants)Transform your view of mathematics. Enjoy!

Pin It

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

To monitor or not to monitor? That is the question ....

In November, we had a visit from our local authority. When I tell people we home educate, they expect that this will be the case - and often ask, "Well, are you monitored or anything?" This has become the question I am most commonly asked, after the predictable, "But what about socialisation?" It may surprise people to know that, under the law, home educators are not required to be registered with their local authority. If that upsets you, why? Are you concerned about the welfare of these children, or about their educational provision? Maybe their radicalisation? Do you worry that these children are more at risk of abuse than children in school? The question was raised in Parliament on December 11th 2014 by Mr Barry Sheerman (Labour Co-operative MP for Huddersfield) when he said,"May I ask the Leader of the House for an early debate on home schooling when the House returns after Christmas? For many people home schooling is a good way of educating their child, but for many others it is not. Has he seen the estimates that suggest we do not know where up to 100,000 children in our country are, what curriculum they are pursuing, or about their supervision, safety and security? In an age when we are ever more worried about child abuse and child protection, may we have an early debate, because that area has got out of hand?" A prompt to those of us that do home educate to contact our MPs to talk about home education before that debate.

But let's consider how the local authority engage with people ... In November, following their initial approach in the summer (as described here) our local Education Officer came to visit us having made an appointment. The boys had laid out some of their work to show him and anticipated talking to him and telling him about all they get up to. However, it transpired that he thought he was making an 'initial visit' as we were new to the city. This involved telling me about home education, what my responsibilities are and basically how the local authority cannot help me. This was unnecessary really as we have been home educating for five years now, and I know the score. Realising this, he said he would kind of start a monitoring visit, which would normally follow six months later. This was what the boys and I had anticipated and involved discussing what we actually do. The visitor was filling in paperwork, and using a laptop to do so, so mostly typing and looking at his computer screen. I spoke to him a bit about our eldest son, then encouraged my son to talk to the man himself. My eldest boy is normally quite chatty and outgoing, but he seemed reluctant to talk, maybe because this chap wasn't really focussing on him, but primarily on the form on his computer. Each boy was asked three questions: "Do you go out and meet with friends?", "What's your favourite subject?" and one other, which escapes my memory. When it was my second son's turn, he spoke to him and showed him a few things, but it was minimal really, and the visitor said, "Well we can just write anything down really". Then, it was my third son's turn but, very shortly into their conversation, the visitor's computer battery died so he said he would have to end the meeting there. It was really quite abrupt and rude. My 8-year-old didn't know what to say!

Some weeks later, the paperwork arrived from the local authority, and the accompanying letter asked me to sign and return the forms about the boys' education. The forms were not well completed, barely reflecting anything the boys have accomplished. And the form for my third son just had my second son's work copied and pasted on to it. It wasn't even correct!

The man had said he would come back in six months to do a further monitoring visit, but I have decided to decline his offer with the following letter:

Dear Sir or Madam,
I am writing in response to the paperwork we received following Education Officer Mr ____'s visit on __ November 2014. I am unwilling to sign and return the paperwork as requested because I did not feel it presents an accurate picture of the education we are providing for our boys at home.
I think there was some confusion as to the purpose of Mr ____'s visit. He was making what he called 'an initial visit' and has asked to return for 'a monitoring visit' on ___ July 2015 at ___am. The initial visit was due to our being new to Coventry having moved here in ___ 2014. However, we have been home educating for over 5 years now, so were aware of most of the information Mr ___ was giving us.
When he realised this, Mr ____'s visit became more of a monitoring visit, which is what the boys and I were expecting. The boys had spent some time organising their work and projects to show to Mr ____. However, by this time, there was not really time to do justice to looking at their work. Our son, N, in particular had no time to talk about his learning as Mr ____'s computer ran out of battery which put an end to the visit. The paperwork I have been sent for N is therefore particularly lacking.
As the visit seemed to be primarily about filling in forms on the computer rather than talking to the boys and to me about our home education provision, it seems to me that I could more accurately complete this paperwork myself.
I would ask therefore that no further visits be made to monitor our home education provision. If you require paperwork, please email me the templates which Mr ____ was using and I will complete the boys' records on the computer and email them to you.
Both my husband and I are qualified teachers, and my husband continues to work as a secondary supply teacher locally. We are therefore very aware of the educational provision offered by local schools. Our reasons for home educating are philosophical. Our understanding of the nature of education and learning is not consistent with that underpinning children's experience at school.

It's sad that in so many areas of our society now, everything is reduced to paperwork and tick boxes. How do you thus measure education or learning? Interestingly, I recently gave my second boy back his coveted 'list' of tasks he can complete each day. He likes to have this rough guidance and structure. Do you suppose that helps with the quality of his learning? Well, whilst I can feel better that he has ticked off 'maths' and 'English' for the day - just as teachers can in schools - it often means that actually he will do the bare minimum required to be able to tick the box and complete it in the shortest time. What does this teach us about measuring and quality of learning? In my experience the one does not improve the other.

Pin It

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Other Education

Delighted to have this paper published in the latest volume of Other Education: The Journal of Educational Alternatives: Caesarae in Home Education: Losing Control, Gaining Perspective.

Pin It

Sunday, 8 February 2015

No Grades + No Homework = Better Learning

My eldest son was a 'Gina Ford baby'. I read The Contented Little Baby Book and tried to follow Gina's suggested routines. As a new parent, her ideas certainly helped me to feel some control over the new arrival in our lives!

I have just dipped into another Gina Ford book for some potty training advice. I am dealing with a very stubborn toddler, so was disappointed to find her advice is basically to bribe. It is interesting how much of the parenting philosophy in our culture is based upon bribes ... reward and punishment, carrots and sticks, sticker charts, naughty steps, grades, golden time, detentions.

Some years ago I read Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn, a book which turned these parenting ideas on their head. (I have mentioned this before in an earlier post, which you can read here.)

I was interested, therefore, to pick up the link to these thought provoking vignettes from Alfie Kohn: No Grades + No Homework = Better Learning. There are 4 parts, clips from a DVD which you can purchase. The clips are entitled: "It's Bad News if Students are Motivated to Get A's", "Achievement vs Learning", "Making Students Work a 'Second Shift'" and "Are Kids Like Vending Machines?" They are each only around a minute long. Worth a watch. Enjoy!

Pin It