Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Learning, when our backs are turned.

As I sit here, thinking about the lessons I am in the middle of compiling, the curriculum I have yet to purchase, my mind is on worry mode. We haven't covered enough from last year, will I have the time to cover what I want this year? We should be learning RIGHT NOW, we've had a 4 week break, going into our 5th and we STILL HAVEN'T STARTED LEARNING YET.....ARRGGH!!

Learning is something we do every day and truthfully, most of our useful skills are learnt through doing, observing and osmosis. Really. Kids absorb their environment unconsciously.  If you don't believe me, pay attention the next time you see young  kids playing. If you pay careful attention you will see how much education is really going on, while you weren't looking!

I have learnt more as an adult just by living my life than I ever did in a classroom. Actually, that's not entirely true. I am a book worm. My nose is always in a book. Always has been. My mother had to ban reading at the dinner table because my youngest sister and I would read and not eat our dinner.  I was educated by books. All books. Not just reference books. Fiction plays such an important role in teaching us about our world and how to live in it. Even when we are reading about Middle Earth or a galaxy far far away or a hidden world in the back of a cupboard.

When I say things like this around other home schooling parents they nod their heads, smile and say "Oh, You follow Charlotte Mason!" To which I am always quick to politely reply, No, No I don't.
Ms. Masons method, though seemingly complimentary to my own approach to education is simply not how we roll here in the crayon box.  Whilst we love nature walks, we're not really into doing them every single day.  And I don't agree with her that grammar and spelling are not important, even in the early years.

But literature is the focus and lynch pin of our home school environment. All subjects have a literature component. (We have a not-quite unit study approach to all our education so numerous subjects are covered by studying one topic) We read, together, separately, out loud. (The crayon box is a very silent place to be after 9pm. We're all in bed, either already asleep or reading.) In fact, recently on holiday in Bermagui, the family who own the caravan next to ours commented on how quiet we are, I just smiled and lifted my book up in answer. For a whole week the television was never turned on  and yes we do have a tv in the caravan.   During school times, if the tv is on it's because we are watching a documentary, something political, the news or listening to classical music on AIR. Books are our crack.

When we studied WW2 we read literature. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit,  The Morris Gleitzmen trilogy Once, Then and Now.  The Book Thief.  And various non-fiction books. We read seemingly un-related fiction, like John Marsden's Tomorrow When the War Began series, Catherynne M Valente's The Little Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a boat of her own making, Michael Gruber's The Witch's Boy.  (Because the thing that linked them together was the human need for stories. It's why history exists in the first place. It's why our Indigenous cultures taught through story telling, through art, through dance, through song and why those cultures have prevailed despite the efforts made to rub them out of existence. It's why book burning has been used as a tool against societies for as long as there has been books.  Because it's  the humanities that show us how to be human, perfectly flawed humans. )

We also looked at Maps and we watched documentaries. And never cracked a single textbook.  I'm not sure how much of the dates we remember, or the names of actual people, but we certainly got a feel for the human cost, for the lessons that history had to teach us and a hunger to know more.

And that is my job as an educator and their mother. It's not to prepare them for high performance on standardised testing or how to parrot back information, it's to light that fire in them, to fuel the hunger to want to know more.  To show them how the world was, how it is and to ask them  how they would like it to be and urge them, guide them, facilitate them towards making that happen.

Literature is a powerful tool for an educator. Charlotte Mason got that much right.

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