Friday, 11 January 2008

Home education

Beth and I have been home educating for 15 and a half months now and she is a lot more relaxed and beginning to be self motivated.

When Beth was at school her special needs teacher always told us to play games with her to help her improve her number skills, but what works in general and in theory does not always work in practice. Previously Beth would have found the possibility of not winning too upsetting (we are still wobbling on a knife edge here but she is much better than before); you might say well a child has to learn to lose well and be a good sport, but what about games are meant to be fun and children learn well when having fun. Beth also had acute confusion between numbers especially 8 and 9 together with impulsive counting on which led to her getting her position on the board wrong. She does not take well to even the slightest hint of criticism perhaps because in the school system she has been wrong from the start just for being who she is, perhaps because she has a highly sensitive nature and is easily shamed.

Playing this game of Monopoly with her I watched her understanding of simple counting and number labels accelerate, it was fascinating and reminded me of Montessori’s “windows of opportunity”. She learnt more in that game than in the whole of the previous year and I think this was because the game happened at just the right moment and this is what makes autonomous learning and unschooling so effective.

Playing Monopoly

This level of confusion in basic number skills does not mean however that Beth does not understand number concepts. Here she is with her brother (supposed to be revising for A level maths) learning basic algebra, and picking it up straight away.


We both love stories and I try to make sure that Beth’s dyslexia doesn’t mean that she misses out on children’s literature, both by reading to her and by supplying her with audio cds of her favourites which means she can listen to a book as many times as she wants too. I have also recently found a great organization called Calibre which loans tapes and CDs to the blind and dyslexic and this helps cut down the cost and provides variety.

The book we are reading at the moment is Physik by Angie Sage, the third part of a gripping and inventive magical trillogy.

Reading Physik

Despite being unable to read fluently yet Beth has amazing comprehension and is always ahead of me in guessing what will happen next and very rarely has to ask for clarification of the plot. Being literate really has nothing to do with the act of reading, to my mind it is much more to do with an understanding of the way language can be used to entertain and entrance, to terrify and to bring one to the edge of one’s seat with anticipation. Beth has had these pleasures from a very young age and yet at school she was labeled as having literacy problems because she will be a late developer of clerical skills. I feel this is a dangerous and fundamental misunderstanding that pervades our education system. Taking her out of that system has limited the damage, but four years of being seen as defective will take some time to undo and emotionally she is still very fragile about her weaknesses.

She also has plenty of time to just play with no peer group telling her that she is too young to play like this or that she is being babyish. Nonsense I know as many adults love dolls houses but still the sort of taunt used by kids trying to maintain their status in the playground culture.

And this week she has started a totally autonomous project, exploring the textures that can be found about the house and making rubbings of them and has also begun to combine the textures to make art, and best of all has organized them herself into a ring binder. Of course the offcuts, scraps and rejects are still left for me to tidy up, but there is hope on the horizon!

Maybe she will let me take a picture of some of them to share soon.


Sarah said...

such a lovely post, you are obviously doing exactly what Beth needs, and that's what education should be. Hurrah for HE :)

Maire said...

Thank you Sarah, hurrah for HE indeed.

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