Tuesday, May 26, 2009

How Creative Home Learning inspired a love of Asia

My daughter with her favourite geography book in her very special Oriental style dress. Whenever she wears this dress the compliments flow!

When I asked my daughter what she would like for her eleventh birthday her response was swift, 'The Asia Book! You know, the Lonely Planet one, that we saw in Dymocks.' I then asked her how we should celebrate her birthday that year. 'I would like to go out for a meal at a restaurant - maybe Thai or Vietnamese, I would like to taste some different Asian food!'
This may seem to be an unusual request for an eleven year old girl, when most girls her age are obsessed with pop idols such as 'Hannah Montana' and the 'Jonas Brothers' but I was not surprised. For her ninth birthday party she had requested a Chinese theme and she was thrilled to be involved in organizing a Chinese banquet at our home. We invited several other families and enjoyed Chinese food around an Asian inspired table. Even her birthday cake was decorated in Oriental style with red chopsticks and the Chinese character for the number nine embellishing the top.

I recently asked my daughter who were the people who inspired her the most. She named Laura Ingalls Wilder, Lottie Moon, Amy Carmichael, Gladys Aylward and Eric Lidell. Why Eric Lidell? I asked her; 'Because he gave up the dream of more Olympic gold medals to go to China.' (Remember the movie 'Chariots of Fire?')
Most of my daughter's heroines (and heroes) were ordinary people like herself who had a passion for Asia, and in particular, China, which is the country she finds most fascinating. This special interest was stimulated by a Unit Study we undertook in 2005 when she was eight years old but I was already aware of her interest in other countries three years prior.

The front cover of a home made book on China created for our Unit Study

When she was five we took her to her first missions conference at the church we were attending - together with the rest of our children. We were the only ones who had brought their children along. As we took up our seats, people kept tapping me on the shoulder 'You can take the children out the back if you want' one lady informed me. She seemed very surprised when I told her that the children were there to listen and learn and I wanted them to be 'missions minded' from an early age. I had taken along some books for the children to look at - children 's atlases and picture books on the countries that were to be featured at the conference. As each country and the mission that the church supported was presented, I opened up the maps at the relevant page and whispered explanations from the talks that were being delivered.
My five year old daughter was the one most captivated, she kept staring at the flags of India, Indonesia, Russia and Turkey on the walls, gave her full attention to the slide shows and when she went missing during the lunch break we found her following around one of the missionaries from East Timor! He knew her by name and paid her special attention during the rest of the conference.

From that time onwards, I knew that geography was destined to be her favourite subject but I did not realize just how much she would fall in love with the continent of Asia!
Our home education is highly personalized. I design and write my own unit studies and do not rely on packaged curriculum or workbooks, except for some core subjects such as maths and grammar. I was well aware that interest in a subject leads to a quicker grasp of information and retention of knowledge. The simple unit I assembled on China and Japan which examined the similarities and differences between these two Asian countries would be the spark that lit the flame and start a blazing fire. My daughter's love of all things Asian has never waned and four years later she still remembers many of the facts we learned about these countries. She also, never forgot how to count to ten in Chinese, the only language component I expected at that time, as it was really only designed to be an introduction to Chinese and Japanese culture.

Since that time, my daughter has sought to learn as much as she can about Asian countries, hence her request for 'The Asia Book', and it is her dream to one day travel to Asia, to visit China, Japan and Vietnam. She hopes to meet the people, taste the food and experience the culture.
She loves to listen to and read stories about missionaries who went to China such as Hudson Taylor and Gladys Aylward. Once upon a time everyone in Britain knew who Gladys Aylward was, she was regarded as a national hero. A parlour maid born at the start of the twentieth century, she travelled alone to China with two suitcases, a teapot and a saucepan! She had many adventures but her most daring feat was the rescue of a hundred children from a battle zone in which she led them over a mountain top to safety. My daughter loved this story which we read during the unit and was thrilled when we later watched the movie 'The Inn of Sixth Happiness' starring Ingrid Bergman who played the role of Gladys... it is well worth watching and is available on DVD.

The Unit Study was the most structured part of the learning in which I was involved. Once the flame of learning was lit, I continued to provide fuel - as many resources as I could find, not only history books, story books and atlases but also documentaries, travel shows featuring Asia and Chinese cooking shows (e.g Kylie Kwong's programme) - anything which would further her knowledge and deepen her interest.

I had a strong conviction in my heart that she should learn a Chinese language but now I was stuck. How on earth was I was I going to teach her? The only foreign language I was familiar with, was Spanish having taken this subject at school for five years. We had tried a stint at home at learning Spanish but I could only remember a few phrases and some everyday words and I simply could not roll my R's, no matter how hard I tried!

Which really does prove that you need to apply what you learn in everyday life, i.e speak Spanish to other people on a regular basis, otherwise you learn just for the sake of learning (because a language was mandatory in my case) or to pass the exam and when it is over you can promptly forget what you were taught. This does not just apply to languages, so many topics I covered at high school such as calculus and physics are now mysteries to me, even some of the subjects I had to give presentations on during my training to become an Occupational Therapist, such as the nerve pathways of the arm, I can no longer recall. This is why I carefully consider each topic and determine whether it is going to benefit each individual child in the future, before incorporating it into their studies.

Knowing that a Chinese language could be of great value to my daughter one day as she follows her dream. I began to give consideration to the ways and means in which I could fit this subject into our home learning programme. Then, a most amazing thing happened. We were at the library when she excitedly brought me a leaflet. Mandarin lessons for primary school children!
The classes were being held locally by a Chinese lady who teaches English to Chinese students. I knew I had to ring up and enquire. I discussed this opportunity with my husband and we decided that we would find the money for her to attend. We knew this was not a fleeting interest and as long as she applied herself and was diligent in completing the homework required we would pay for her to go.

She has attended five lessons so far and is loving them. Mandarin is a difficult language to master with so many different tones, its Pin Yin system. For example, the word for mother is 'Ma', pronounce this incorrectly and you could call your mother a horse! It also means flax and scold! To hear my daughter greeting the teacher and saying goodbye in Mandarin is just delightful! She is also learning Chinese calligraphy and the teacher introduces Chinese culture into the lessons too.

I do not know where this interest will take her... perhaps, it will take her across the sea to China. I do hope she receives the opportunity one day to visit the countries she is so enamoured with.
I am certain of one thing- when you give a child the freedom to pursue their interest, (without over indulging them or allowing it to become an unhealthy obsession) they learn to love learning. The further along the journey I go, the more I am convinced that 'delight-directed' learning works. There are no pleas of 'Do we have to do this?', rather it is 'Can I order in some more books from the library?' 'Can we try this type of food sometime?' 'Can we go to that exhibition? (No, it's in Sydney!) and 'Please mum, can I go to Mandarin lessons?' I wish you could have seen my daughter's excitement when we were able to grant her this request!

With the emphasis on individual needs and aspirations, I am able to focus on what is being achieved. I do not need to sit her down and ask her to take a test to see if she has learned anything. The information is spontaneously shared, I see the progress in real life, as the desire to expand her knowledge and skills becomes ever more apparent.

If you are at the beginning of your home education journey (I prefer the word education to schooling - there is a big difference!) and perplexed at what to teach or how to teach the different subjects, I would encourage you to focus on your child's interests and use them as your tool for motivation. Perhaps your son is fascinated by insects - give him lots of time to observe them in the garden. Is he a reluctant reader? Leave books about critters and nature magazines with bright pictures and text lying around the house. Buy him a bug catcher or assemble a backyard explorer kit. Make 3-D models of insects for a mobile to display in his bedroom. Encourage him to write and practice his drawing skills by making up his own field guide. When he is older his interests may change. This has happened for each of my children -when my 12 year old son became more interested in computers than reptiles ( I was somewhat relieved when he used his savings to buy his own computer rather than a pet snake and tank!) I gave him the permission to pursue his interest and desire to learn how to program, provided that he also kept studying maths and improving his English. I added in the requirement of physics in year 9. Today, he is 16 and is studying for his 'Bachelor of Technology degree in Computer studies via the Open University and he is coping admirably with the demands of academic online learning - full marks so far on his first two assignments. I am so proud of him. What did I do to prepare him for university learning two years early? He was the reluctant reader, the boy who would spend hours watching a stick insect, who I encouraged to build bird tables and record the birds who visited in a nature journal. I never taught him algebra - he taught himself and as for writing academic essays, he researched that just prior to signing up for his degree!

Girls like frogs too! Hands on learning is a huge part of our home education

I never intended this blog to be exclusively for home educators. As my header states, it is all about raising beautiful children in a beautiful place and I will continue to weave in a variety of topics.... including homemaking - designing a family friendly home, sharing organizational ideas - what works for us as a bigger than average family and closer to Christmas lots of creative stuff for those who love to celebrate in style! And of course showing you the delights of living close to nature in a forest setting. But it was embarking on the journey of home education that helped me realize that I was raising beautiful children and by teaching them myself, I was privileged each and every day to see their inner beauty unfold, their abilities growing, their gifts flourishing. We did not require for someone else to inform us of their potential, we were close by to recognize it!
Home education affords me the gift of time - to sow good things into the lives of my children, the seeds of character, friendship, learning, dedication to faith and family and therefore I will, from time to time, be compelled to write about our journey and the type of activities we undertake as a home educating family. God gave me this dream and I am living my dream! He also provided the strength to commit to the journey and for the challenges we would face along the way. He has also granted me the desire to 'finish the race' and inspire others who have also chosen this path. I want to tell them 'It is so worth it! Don't give up! Persevere! High school years ahead? You can do it!'

Learning good things such as making bread starts at a young age!

I'd love to provide some inspiration for home educators and parents who love to see their children undertake creative learning. I have an archive of folders and projects containing work and resources we gathered over the past ten years. There are the unit studies I wrote for different subjects and I would love to share some of those ideas with you, especially if you are coming to the realization that there are alternatives to formal packaged curriculum (which has its role to play sometimes) and the workbook/textbook styles of learning. I hope you can glean inspiration for your own children's learning and even if you are not a home educator, perhaps ideas for school projects and assignments that your children have to undertake at home.

In the next post, I will share with you the Unit Study on China and Japan which inspired my daughter so much. There are written teaching objectives, activity ideas and resources we discovered when we studied these two fascinating countries.
If there is anything you would like to know in regard to creative home learning and designing your own curriculum let me know. I will not be discussing legalities or philosophies as there are plenty of websites that already fulfil this role. And to reassure others, it is not my intention to tell you that you should home educate... I'm just simply sharing from our experience of what has been one great adventure!

'Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.'

William Butler Yeats

With love and joy,


A Bite of Country Cupcakes said...

You write with such Passion and I can actually feel your Patient and encouraging spirit...
I feel to home educate Patience would be a big deal.
It is wonderful to hear of your DAUGHTERS interest and same fervour for ASia...
There is a cook book which is up for an award...Called secrets of the red lantern and though I have'nt read it,It is apparently a story As much as a Cook book...All true.

Kristen, pajama mama said...

I love it! "Creative Home Education" -I'm going to have to steal that phrase! Gotta run make dinner for the fam, but I'll be back to peruse your blog!

Dalinz said...

I love the way you write. It is so easy to read and one ends up feeling apart of your family.

Thanks for writing...


Kristen, pajama mama said...

hey again...re:sanding-don't bother sanding...get something called "liquid sander." just pour it over a rag and rub over your furniture. you can't tell the difference-it won't look sanded, but your furniture will be ready to paint! cream bedroom furniture sounds lovely!
another hint-use pray paint-it will take hours if not days off your project time!

Beth said...

Your little girl sounds like my 16 year old girl but her passion is Kenya where she wants to go as a missionary! Last Christmas, she received ducks and chickens that we provided for people in Kenya (she didn't actually get them, they were provided in Kenya but they were Jennie's Christmas gifts). She also got a homemade basket that helped support the lady who made it from Africa and I made her a Kenyan inspired quilt AND a little African baby doll dressed in Kenyan clothes. Then, for her birthday, we took her to an Ethiopian restaurant (because there isn't one from Kenya in Indianapolis that we know of). She also asked us to sponsor a little boy from Kenya so that was part of her gift as well.
Such fun! Congratulations on raising such a precious little girl!!


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