Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Living, Laughing, Learning - The Homeschool Conference

I have only ever attended two homeschool conferences in the time we have been a home educating family, one in NZ in the year 2000 and my second just last week - both were Diana Waring conferences! I was inspired first time around and second time around she did not fail to disappoint! I am so grateful that speakers like Diana Waring are prepared to travel to the other side of the world; homeschool conferences are few and far between here, so discovering that she and her husband Bill were coming to a town not too far away, was exciting for me to say the least. (OK, it was a 4 hour drive but so worth it!)

I had already discovered Unit Studies, after ditching the formal curriculum and packing away the whiteboard, when I first heard Diana speak in the year 2000. It was simply a glorious affirmation for me, that I was heading in the right direction by seeking to actively engage learning. I wanted my children to actually enjoy their studies, to be motivated, curious, enthusiastic learners and to understand and apply knowledge in their daily lives and the Unit Study approach seemed to be a move in the right direction - I had learned facts at school in order to pass exams and once indeed I had passed (often with distinction) I promptly forgot what I had learned. Diana's approach to home education gave me permission to get on board and learn alongside my children. As I used topics that the children were interested in and started to put together a unit of learning incorporating fun, hands on activities, exciting read aloud books and creative projects (such as a Medieval banquet!) I realized that I was actually taking it all in too and at the completion of the unit I was retaining information and understanding stuff! But this was more than just Unit Studies which are just one approach, it was more about a lifestyle of learning. Learning does not just take place between the hours of 9am and 3pm. It happens from the moment we rise up, you do not need a 'school room' in your home, though many homeschool parents appreciate having an area where they can keep all the educational clutter in one place!
I was interested to read the other day in the newspaper, that the government is handing out grants to schools for installation of vegetable gardens and 'home style' kitchens - hey, guess what? We have both of those resources and they have been used extensively for purposes of education!

The kitchen is a wonderful place to actively engage learning and this was the title of the first workshop at the conference -

'Actively ENGAGE Learning (and actually ENJOY learning!)

Diana outlined the different approaches to education- the formulaic, 'one size fits all' approach which is what I was accustomed to at school - the teacher at the front of the classroom writing up facts on a blackboard that I had to write down or telling us which page to turn to in the textbook - very rarely did a teacher come alongside me and ask me if I actually understood what I was reading about or copying out in my exercise book. There were some wonderful teachers of course, who understood that dry, dull textbooks were not likely to motivate their students - I had a history teacher who found a curriculum that was based around units of study, it was still taught from a textbook but he would find ways of 'spicing up' the lesson - for example, he would show old black and white cowboy movies during the unit on the American West 1840-1895, (the boys loved this!) I have always remembered those dates for some reason! I actually do not remember many of the facts from the textbook but I have always remembered watching the movies and Mr Phillips explaining that how Hollywood portrayed life in the 'Wild West' was quite different to reality.

Diana then went on to give lots of practical advice on how to actually engage learning - such as chatting together, telling stories and letting them move - this was something I had grasped early on during our journey. It was incredibly hard for my six year old son who always seemed to be in perpetual motion to sit down, stay still and fill in a workbook page - It was fairly tedious stuff too, counting soccer balls on a page when he would rather be outside kicking a real ball! The revelation for me, was realizing I could allow my son to go outside and kick goals and ask him to calculate his success, directing questions at him such as 'You kicked 8 out of 10, how many did you miss?' Learning was taking place and he was being allowed to move his body!

Diana also made reference to the flexibility of home education. You do not have to rush a child who is not ready to read for example; she once again shared the story of her son Michael who did not become a fluent reader until the age of ten. I remembered reading this in her book 'Beyond Survival', I had actually met her son at the conference in 2000, he was a teenager then and so incredibly articulate but in no way condescending, I was thinking two things 'Wow, this boy did not learn to read until he was ten!' and 'If this is how home educated children turn out, I'm in for the long haul'.

I did choose to stay for the long haul and have seen my first son graduate at the age of 16 and move onto University study. You can read about his homeschool journey in my previous post 'The Homeschool Graduate'. Diana talked about what her children have gone on to study and the wonderful, unique differences in their learning styles and interests which they were able to nurture. As each year of home education passes by, I have taken this nurturing aspect more and more on board, using each child's emerging interests to facilitate learning. Some interests and hobbies last just for a season (the lizards and the stamp collecting are two that come to mind!) but some become passions. I cannot hold back my 12 year old daughter's unrelenting interest in the country of China. Recently, I found a library book open on her bed, the young person's edition of 'Mao's Last Dancer'. I 've never read it but it has just opened at the movies. I have just informed her as I write this post that the story has been made into a film and elicited an excited response 'Oh - can we go and see it?' She has also just given me a synopsis of the book and probably spoiled the movie for me- but never mind! This interest has led to Mandarin lessons for her and as her teacher is also an artist, she is also learning to write Chinese letters and paint - I now have some gorgeous artworks to frame for my walls and I have promised her that we will create a 'Chinese corner' and table scape somewhere in our home.

It is seeing these interests blossom and flourish as we continue our home education journey that confirms for me that we did make the right decision all those years ago. It is really quite exciting to see everything unfold and it is what I do call 'Abundant Life Homeschooling'. To get a fuller picture of what this entails you really do need to read Diana Waring's books or attend a conference if you have the opportunity. I am one mum who was so glad she did!

Here is another of my tree climbers - he cannot help but ascend trees, especially if they seem conducive to climbing! I do not yet know what direction his educational journey will take- he loves animals, knights and castles, cowboys and adventure stories... he is still an emerging reader becoming more fluent as each week goes by but I keep finding our vintage Enid Blyton books lying open on his bed. What I do know is true are these words and one of my favourite quotes from Louisa May Alcott from the book 'Little Men'
- his teacher forgave his slowness in some other things, knowing very well that where the heart is the mind works best.'

'Like a present waiting to be unwrapped are the gifts our children possess.'

Quote by me and a little visual reminder that the most exciting time of the year is coming soon!

The afternoon workshop was 'Box Free Living' and this focused more on parenting. For me this addressed the need for balance as we raise our children. Parenting is the foundation and this involves loving, correcting, encouraging, sharing and giving vision. For homeschooling families it goes hand in hand with education, which is all about learning, laughing, working and creating together, serving one another and spending quality and quantity time together. This is something which I pray characterizes our family. I have a list on a wall which states 10 things which will characterize our home.

They are
1. Kind Words
2. Good Deeds
3. Peace and Serenity
4. Laughter and Joy
5. Learning Together
6. Enjoying God's Creation
7. Creative expression
8. Reading Great Books
9. Warm Hospitality
10. Good Healthy Food

I use this list to remind myself that this is the type of atmosphere as a wife, mother and teacher of my children, I want to create in my home. It is not always easy to achieve - especially no 3 'peace and serenity' when it is so often noisy but I find having these words to live by, preferable to a set of rigid rules plastered on the wall. Yes, we do have structure, boundaries and rules and consequences for breaking them but when the siblings are arguing and it is becoming much more than a healthy debate or unkind words are being spoken, I sometimes take a child aside and ask them to look at the list and ask them 'Is this what we want our home to be like, what have we agreed our home is to to be characterized by?

Boxes can be different things such as focusing on the externals, expecting perfectionism, legalism, judging others and self-righteousness but they can cause cracks to form in the foundation and destroy the building. They can also destroy the self-worth and dignity of our children, sowing seeds of rebellion rather than respect.
Diana then went on to describe what box free living entailed, to consider the words of Jesus who told the Pharisees that they had neglected the most important teachings of the Law, such as justice, mercy and honesty. God's way for us to Biblically parent was heart- centred and it involved unconditional love, it was heart orientated rather than performance orientated and it recognized the dignity, worth, and respect due to our children and to each other. Her last 3 points were these and it is something I will be writing down in my homeschool journal to remind myself of when I am tempted to over react when a child does not fulfill my expectations

Obedience instead of rules
Compassion instead of judgment
Humility instead of self- righteousness

Learning that flowers are not just for putting in vases! We were making elderflower cordial -
Recipe coming soon with more 'delicious moments' of kitchen life at eight acres of eden

I have returned home inspired once again to continue the journey, steadfastly, diligently, lovingly. I want to enjoy the journey - if we are not enjoying home education then I would have to ask myself why - Have I created a box, becoming too focused on 'outcomes' - those externals or statements we measure our children by and fret over when they don't quite reach the mark or are slower than others to accomplish. If I am not enjoying it and I know the reasons, why am I not taking steps to make changes? Learning to relax was a big issue for me; if she never conquers algebra or calculus will she be scarred for life? Would this really benefit her? I say 'her' because I never conquered either of these subjects, despite spending hours trying to figure them out. When my oldest son told me that algebra was easy, I thought he was having me on! It was just that with his interest in computer programming, tackling algebra was something he had taken on board to teach himself and it was a useful subject to him.

I would encourage you that if you too are on this journey, having chosen to take on the awesome and sometimes seemingly overwhelming responsibility of educating your children at home, to seek direction from the Lord, take your concerns and anxieties to Him. Pray ! Pray ! Pray! He has the answers. You will learn much and be inspired by other home educators, as I have by veterans of the movement such as Diana Waring but the greatest assurance and help will come from your relationship with the Lord who when I was having doubts and wondering whether to keep going, led me to this verse in the book of Isaiah.

'All your sons (and for me it meant daughters too)
will be taught by the Lord and great will be your children 's peace.'

Isaiah 54v13.

The final words on the opening page of my homeschool journal I penned in 2004, still urge me on and I hope they encourage you too!

- with God's help, I will raise up and educate my children, my most precious gift from the Lord, to be all that He intended, which is far greater than I can ever imagine!

With Love and Joy,


Renata said...

Thanks Ann for sharing your experience & wisdom. I am so glad I found your blog - you challenge me to examine how I'm homeschooling & to look at different ways of doing school. That conference sounds great.
I love that list on your wall - what a great reminder to have around (another good idea I might just use - of course I'll do my own list). Thanks again

Catherine (Alecat Music) said...

Thank you so much for sharing. It certainly sounds to be a very rewarding conference to attend. It's only a few more weeks until she's here in Melbourne! :)

A Bite of Country Cupcakes said...

Ann you are so Inspirational!
It is a great advice to live and learn by!

Fruitful Harvest said...

Great post~
Your girls are real cuties!
We homeschool much how you do!
Sounds like you had a fun time @ your conference!


SF said...

Thank you Ann for this insightful and encouraging post. :) It sounds like a great conference.

Can I ask - are you registered homeschoolers? We are tossing up the pros and cons of registering at the moment....

Beth said...

Thank you so much for coming over and visiting my little blog! Your blog is wonderful! I am happy to hear (read) how you homeschool! This is my second year homeschooling my 12 year old and the first year that we have attempted high school for my sophomore. We are currently doing Abeka using their online streaming. I am happy with it in some aspects...because it covers everything they need...but it is sooooo confining!!!! (In the box, as you say it!) It just doesn't seem like we can spend any time together during the day as we had before and that is a great disappointment for me...and I suspect, for my girls. Last year, I had my younger of the two work from books...the majority were books that she picked out because she had an interest in them. (For instance, she studied wolves and also created a newspaper at one point.) I just don't seem to have any freedom to work with them like I would like to. She learned to cook and to sew and to take care of an infant as well. We have a little baby grand daughter that we babysit! :) This was wonderful training for her (hopefully) future role as a wife and mommy!
I'm not sure what I will do next year. I imagine my daughter, the sophomore, will continue with Abeka because she really wants to have her diploma from a "real" school. She wants to become a midwife on the mission field and is concerned about being accepted into college. (I don't really think that's an issue here at our local college...)
As far as your comments to me regarding your pool...I would make sure that people would respect your decision in bathing suits! If they showed up in something inappropriate...possibly provide T shirts to cover up with???? I think it's hard to make a stand but I'm sure you will figure it out! You really seem to have a good head on your shoulders! My concern about wearing dresses only has plagued me for a long time. Since it is something that I "prefer" and I don't think it is a sin to wear jeans, I will most likely wear them most of the time...and keep my jeans for hiking, bike riding, sledding, etc. I don't want to get ridiculous...or drive my kids away from God by enforcing it on them. I can make a lot of mistakes in my life on my own...I don't want to add to them by becoming legalistic!!!! Thanks for your insight!
I only have 5 children of my own. My husband has 3 and half of ours are now grown so we only have 4 living at home. However, we are considering adopting possibly two! Maybe a set of siblings from foster care if that is what God lays on our hearts to do. It is very heavy on my heart right now. I originally wanted to adopt from Ethiopia but the cost is just too prohibitive for us since we are not wealthy. We want some children who need much as I need them! That is in our prayers.

I was hoping you lived close to me...but I think Australia is just a little too far to "get together" from Indiana, United States.
Well, I guess I will just have to be happy with blog visits!
By the way, your children are adorable!

Niki Jones said...

Hey Ann, I have mentioned you on my blog. I hope you don't mind. Fantastic inspirational post. Love love love it.



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