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Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Our first week - a review

We are now a week into the Tassie school term & I feel the need to document what's happened in that time.  I'm not diarising our days or anything like that at this point, but I know how easy it is for one day to blend into another & to forget the moments along the way.

The start of term meant a return to the activities of last year, plus new ones.  Jasmine has gone back to her beloved Contemporary Dance classes, along with a few of the same kids from last year & a couple of newbies.

Last year she was doing Wrigglers, which is a gymnastics class for 3-5yo's.  After a year and a half of that, it was time to move up.  She tried the older FunGym group last year, but had a breakdown during one of the classes when asked by the instructor to do something she wasn't ready to do & she vowed never to go back.  We talked about it for a while & she agreed to return to the Wrigglers group for the rest of the year.  She was happy again, except for the times the FunGym instructor was standing in for her regular Wrigglers instructor.  As soon as she saw him, she froze & refused to move a step further.  It really was like a PTSD reaction.  Because of all of that, she really didn't want to move up to FunGym this year.  Her best apparatus was the trampoline (and she loves using her tramp at home), so this year she's started Bouncers, which will eventually lead on to more advanced tramp skills if she decides to stay with it.  She seemed to enjoy the first class, despite dripping with sweat, looking like a beetroot & feeling "completely exhausted".  She had spent a couple of hours before that playing with her favourite friends, so it had been quite an afternoon for her.

For the trifecta, Jasmine started ballet classes today.  Dancing and performing are such a big part of her life, so after a couple of years of being hassled about ballet lessons (she insists she's going to be a ballerina when she grows up), I finally agreed.  Her genetic makeup means she's never going to be built like a ballerina, but there's a strong family history of dancers and her technique really is impressive.  I'm sure she'll grace many a stage in her lifetime :)

Now, driving to classes three times a week has seen the return of auto-education.  No, not exactly autodidactic education - more education in an automobile ;)  For some reason, that drive to the sports centre always inspires a barrage of questions and observations on all sorts of topics.  Thankfully, I know enough to answer most questions as they're asked.  For the others - well, there's the internet when we get home :)

Things covered this week include:

    • Tell me how bones work (this is the lead-in to all questions on human anatomy & physiology)
    • How does the eye work again?  Why is there a cord going into the brain from the eye?
    • Why is the television tower so much bigger than the telephone tower?
    • Tell me how rain works again (following on from a conversation we had about evapotranspiration the other night whilst watching juices drip off the chicken roasting on the rotisserie)
    • Why did you take your hands off the wheel when you were explaining that to me? (Ooops!!!  I'm sure I was Italian in a past life ;) )
    • Why are some clouds darker than others?
    • How do we make water? (and the mention of oxygen was followed with, "and when we breathe out, the trees breathe in")
    • Why aren't there any more dinosaurs? (the dinosaur phase has just started, following on from a fossil obsession)
    • Why do flies have worms in them? (after squashing a fly she found in her room birthing maggots - noice!)
    • How was the Earth made?
    • Why do we blink?

There were lots of others, but I really need to carry a notebook around with me so I can make notes before the next dozen questions make me forget.  One thing that did make me smile was listening to D teach Jasmine the rules of Chess.  He just bought a set so they can play it together. 

The kitchen plays a big part in education around here, too.  Jasmine loves to cook!  Sometimes it's pure experimentation - with some rather inedible results - but other times she presents something really impressive, of which she's super-proud :D  We're basically a family of diabetics, so I try to limit sweet stuff when I can, but this week we made meringues.  I admit - I have a weakness for them (and fond memories of my mum & nanna making them), so it was hard to say no when badgered into it ;)  Jasmine was really interested to know why we used caster sugar instead of regular granulated sugar and why we added it gradually instead of all at once.  She also understood that we had to handle the mixture carefully so as not to remove to much of the air we'd just spent all that time beating into the egg whites.  It was also a lesson in the fickleness of natural food colourings, as the pink food colouring turned purple when it name into contact with the egg protein.

Homemade pizzas are always a hit here (although unfortunately, they're gluten-free these days - just not the same).  She knows too much cheese will result in a soggy pizza, so she's really getting the hang of just the right proportions and distributions of toppings.  It's always a good time to discuss fractions, too ;)  Now, she didn't admit to this, but I'm SURE I heard her say this (repeatedly) as she was oh-so-artistically scattering the toppings: "A little dash of this!  A little dash of that!  A little dash of evil!"  So THAT's her secret ingredient?!?    o_O

Tomorrow is a much-needed downtime day.  As much as she loves seeing friends & doing the classes, she does share my homebody tendencies & just craves some time to chill out rather than go out.  We'll probably pop down to the fruit & veg shop at some point as she's hanging out to make some soup, but apart from that, we're both looking forward to a quiet one.  Then on Friday, we're going to check out the local homeschool group that meets once a month.  We always had something on at the same time last year, so never had the chance to go before.  We're meeting up with Mummy Snow and the Snowflakes and I know a couple of other people likely to be there, so hopefully a good time will be had by all!

But now, I am being called to the bathroom for the umpteenth time since sitting down to write this.  Last time I checked in on her, she was shaving her legs with a toothbrush.  Who knows what she's going to be doing now.....
Sunday, 20 February 2011

Standardised testing...

It is a question I have been asked before - more than once - "Can/do you give them standardised tests?"

Short answer:  yes, you can......but no, I won't.

Long answer.......

I was asked this same question by my Dad the other day.  He used to be a high school maths teacher, in my early Primary School years.  Maths was my worst subject & the hours he spent trying to tutor me always ended in both of us being angry & frustrated.  He had been raised by parents who highly valued academic acheivement and success, so all those things combined meant I hadn't really discussed our decision to home educate Jasmine with him.  I was biding my time, waiting for the 'right moment' (maybe when she was 18 or something).  However, we were 'outed' at my grandfather's funeral when a friend came up & started talking to me about our decision to home educate & how great she thought it was.  Dad was standing right next to me.  Ummmmm....SURPRISE!!!

Since that time, we haven't really discussed it any further.....until he asked the question about "standard testing" a few days ago.  I said no, then fobbed it off with, "that would imply my child is just average".  We had a little laugh and the subject was dropped.  I did make me think, though.  Not about whether I actually should test her at some point, but why testing is seen as such an important measure of learning.

I could write an essay on the history of institutionalised schooling, but a search on Google will fill you in on details if you've never looked into it without me having to ramble on too much to make my point (there's already going to be enough of that!).  Basically, schools were set up to train factory workers.  Sure, there has been progress since the 1800's, particularly in recent years with more progressive schools & inspirational teachers, but ultimately, they're still focussed on getting children ready to be good workers and tax payers.  They are fed the information other people deem 'essential' for them to know.  One teacher is in charge of delivering this information to 25-35 children at the same time.  Some of these kids will understand the concepts quickly & easily, others won't.  At the end of each term, the teacher has to remember as much as they can about each student & grade each one.

Throughout the term, children perform various tests to see if they understand the concepts.  I tend to think they're less about understanding, but more about being able to regurgitate information.  I was always one of those people who froze in a test/exam situation.  The minute I walked out of that room, the answers came flooding back.  I just didn't do well with tests.  I'd then get a bad result & feel bad about myself.  I was already shy as a child, so any blows to my self-esteem were felt intensely.

Also, the regular student grading system is fairly subjective (as I discovered one year when my regular English teacher went on leave - I went from a 'C' student to an 'A' student just by having a different teacher).  The subjective nature of term reports is one of the reasons standardised testing was brought in.

A number of factors come into play with institutionalised learning - the learning styles of the children, as I've already alluded to; the training of the teachers; the ability of the teachers to engage & interact with large groups of children of varying capabilities; funding to the school, as well as the socioeconomic background of the families attending & the level of support those families have.  In a supposed effort to ensure children have an equal quality of education, regardless of other factors, standardised testing was introduced.  I believe such tests tell us more about the teacher than the individual child.  Was that teacher able to provide the child with whatever resources they needed to learn the concept/pass the test?  Does the teacher have adequate resources & funding to perform their job efficiently?

Now, supporters of standardised testing will say, "But it's all about making sure the child is not falling behind."

I guess this is where your philosophy on education comes into play.

There are countless stories about home educated children who didn't read until they were 11, 12, 13 years old.  Most people would be horrified to hear this, but within only a few months, these same children regularly read material well above the level of their peers.  Had they undergone standardised testing, they would have been labelled "underacheivers", placed in a remedial program, pressured to do something their brains weren't ready for, stressed & feeling like they weren't "good enough".   Is it going to matter when they're adults that couldn't read until several years after they were expected to?  No.  Will it matter when they're adults that they are self-assured & not afraid of learning new concepts?  Absolutely!

If the child decides they want to pursue a tertiary education, those educated at home are considered highly as they tend to be more self-motivated & less burnt-out than someone coming straight out of high school.  Only about 40% of uni placements go to school-leavers.  The other 60% go to "alternate entry" students - mature-age entrants & home educated students who did not sit ACE tests (or equivalent).   Home educated children tend to out-perform school-educated children if/when they do sit the same tests & exams.  It has been estimated that each school child gets about 6 minutes per day of individual attention from their teacher(s).  I'm pretty sure Jasmine gets more than 6 minutes of my time each day ;)

I hope I have not come across as self-righteous in this post - passion & belief can often be misread that way.  But no, I will not be testing my child.  She will learn what she needs to learn when she is ready to learn it and her self-esteem will be all the stronger for it.  That is going to be more important in her life than if she was able to do exactly the same thing at the same age as her peers in childhood.

ETA:  Coming back to this a week & a half later to add a link to a fantastic blog about unschooling & the inherent issues with modern schooling.  Click here & spend a bit of time reading the various posts :)

14 Days of Homeschool

I was just reminded of this video whilst comtemplating my next post - always gives me a giggle

Saturday, 19 February 2011

We're 'official'

Yes folks, on the first day of the school term this year we received the letter I'd been waiting for - we have been granted provisional registration as home educators!  Yay!

And so this blog was created :)

Recent stories from other places have made me realise how very lucky we are in Tasmania that the regulatory body is accepting of many styles of home education.  As long as you cover the basics of literacy, numeracy, arts, ICT, physical activity & socialisation, they don't dictate HOW you have to teach those things.  Some families follow pre-packaged curriculums (more of a "school at home" approach); others are radical unschoolers, allowing the children to make most of the choices about how they live & learn.  We're somewhere along that continuum, leaning more towards the unschooling end of the scale (AKA 'natural learning').

We have countless workbooks for Jasmine, but she rarely shows an interest and bores of them very quickly.  Nor has she really been one of those children who sits for hours with a colouring book.  It really hit home one day when I was trying to 'teach' her something.  She lost it.  "I don't want you to tell me how to do it!  I want to do it my own way without you telling me".  Now, she was about 3 or 4 at the time, so not entirely unusual for a child of that age to express their independence in such a way.  But it was at that moment I realised that she really wouldn't do well in a classroom environment with 30 other kids and a set schedule.  Some children genuinely seem to love the structure of the school environment, but not this one!  So, that was the clincher.  We would continue in the same way we had since her birth - learning thorough play and interaction with all things & people in her environment :)

So, here's our first "official" week of NOT schooling (but lots of learning).......

First day - spent at the playground with friends - living & otherwise ;)
(and yes Mum - I can see what you mean about her disjointed head now )

Crafty Koala - an idea from one of our MANY kids' art books

Bumble bee at the playground - this pic triggered questions about bee anatomy & physiology

Her first painting on a canvas, rather than paper - a good chance to discuss scale and perspective ;)

Jasmine also assists her Dad (henceforth known as "D") once a fortnight at the local library, reading & singing nursery rhymes to a younger audience.  The library staff commented to D this week how confident & outgoing Jasmine is.  I'm pretty sure we won't have to worry about any of those "socialisation" issues non-home educators always bring up ;)

But I think that will do for today's post.  Time to go & watch Madagascar 2 as a family before D has to return to work after long-service leave in a couple of days.  No - scratch that - she's decided she wants to go out & play soccer instead.