No, it doesn’t look like school

imageWe have been having the most glorious autumn weather this week. Cloudless skies, warm sunshine and not even a puff of wind. The slight chill in the air adds to the loveliness in my opinion, I just love this time of year. We have been making the most of it with much of the week being spent outdoors in one way or another. After a day of horseriding and park visiting today I had a comment from a nearest-and-dearest along the lines of ‘yes, but what academic work have you done?’ It was a slightly tongue-in-cheek remark but it got me thinking.

I am so used now to seeing the learning in pretty much everything that the girls do that I forget what it is like to expect home education to look like school at home. But it just doesn’t. And it doesn’t really need to.

Take this week for example. I would say it has been a pretty standard week. From the outside it has looked like this: lots of play with toy ponies and lego; some crafting with autumn leaves; watching some bits and bobs on TV; a trip to Beamish (spent entirely outdoors); a Spanish class sandwiched between outdoor play with HE friends and looking at the animals in the city farm where the class is held; some board games; some drawing; play at the park and a paddle in the stream while looking for minnows. Plus nightly playing-out sessions with the local children and the organised sessions such swimming, dance, horse riding and gymnastics.

I guess at first glance it looks slightly lacking in the ‘academics’. But lets consider it another way. If we take the theme for the week as ‘Autumn’ and think about what we have covered under each of the national curriculum topics, this is what we have actually been doing.

Literacy: Persuasive language – ‘why autumn is the best season’ discussion in the car; Literature – while reading The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, discussion of ‘why did the White Witch choose to make it winter all year around and not Autumn, Spring or Summer, how does this affect the Narnians?’ Expressive language – many, many conversations describing the beauty around us during this glorious weather. We haven’t written poems in our neatest handwriting, but the love for language is being sown so that poetry can develop if that’s the medium they choose to express themselves in in the future ; Story-telling – I have lost count of the complex imaginative play scenarios that have occurred this week, many outdoors with only the natural world as props or a backdrop. Without the need to worry about spelling and grammar these stories can be practised, edited and be allowed to evolve in unexpected directions.

Numeracy: Number – counting acorns and leaves, fingers and toes, new friends… hey, we count everything, all the time…;  Shape – comparing the shape of different leaves and seeds, classifying by shape; Symmetry – looking at the functionality of symmetry in making wind-born seeds fly successfully;

Science: I think we hit so many targets this week in Science, how can you fail to when you are out and about in nature at this time of year? We have had a really in depth look at pollination and seed dispersal, both girls can tell you how different flowers may be pollinated and how any given seed might be dispersed just by looking at it’s shape. We have talked about dispersal by wind and water, by animal fur or digestion. They have learnt why seeds need to be dispersed and will be unlikely to thrive if they simply drop to the ground at the foot of a plant. They haven’t completed any worksheets or read any text books, but they have seen it in context. They have watched sycamore seeds drop, seen how sticky seeds stick to their clothes, eaten wild blackberries, looked closely at acorns. They have seen slow motion videos of seed pods exploding and have enjoyed watching the episode of Gardener’ World I recorded because it was about seeds, and the BBC programme that looked at the life of an oak tree. And not a colouring in activity in sight!

Technology – We have flown homemade, paper seeds of various shapes from our balcony, trying to avoid them dropping into the ‘dark zone’ at the base of the plant. We discussed what the best weather condition would be for seed dispersal.

Art – We have made little acorn people, leaf lanterns, a leaf wreath and made patterns on dried leaves with sharpies.

imageP.E. The girls have so many opportunities to be physical, and are making the most of the fine weather by climbing trees, building dens and rolling down hills.

Geography – I have been drawing the girls attention to the shortening days and changing position of the sun and how this relates to our position on the planet. (There was a bit of additional geography thrown in thanks to Bear Grylls Britain’s Biggest Adventures in which he explores the British landscape and how it was formed, the girls love this programme and when two paragliders flew over this evening Elizabeth was sure it was Steve Backshall and Bear Grylls!) Oh, and a new Post Crossing postcard arrived from Moscow this week , pretty cool.

History – a sense of the passing of time is hard to grasp for a 4 or 6 year old but we have been talking about how old some of the big oak trees we have seen might be and thought about what they have witnessed during their life, the changes they have been part of.

PSHE – the girls are really enjoying the social side of their HE life just now, they are making new friends every week. I love that they are equally happy playing with a 3 year old or a 10 year old. There is no division into age groups, they play with who they like.

We are so used to seeing ‘proof’ of learning in the form of workbooks and worksheets. But these are not always for the benefit of the learner, they are often to provide the teacher or school with evidence, or for a teacher to keep track of each of the 30 children in the class. These become unnecessary outside the classroom when discussion is free to move around the topic continually, questions can be answered immediately and misconceptions picked up quickly. So just because it doesn’t look like school it doesn’t mean that a whole lot of learning isn’t taking place.

I have read far too much about how an early push towards formal, academic work actually tends to back-fire and result in a loss in motivation for learning. I want my children to develop a fascination in the world around them and a love of learning. For that reason I am not going to insist on ‘schoolwork’ unless it is something that the girls want to be doing and that they benefit directly from. But feel free to ask us what we have been learning though, as long as you have an hour or two to spare!

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