Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Listening to the Children

I'm writing this posting with a sense of achievement.  I'll try to explain why but I'm not sure it will come across well.

I thought that I was pretty good at listening to my children.  I thought that I was pretty in-tune with their thoughts and feelings, their wants and needs.  I believed that spending so much time with my little guys (although Chelsea is as tall as me!) would mean that I would know them inside out and back to front.

To some extent I still believe I do.

But, I also found out today that I need to spend more time actually wholeheartedly listening to my children.  Sitting down with them with no distractions.  No TV's or games in the background.  Me not trying to juggle other things (I tend to multi-task, I rarely do one "job" at a time!)  Just them, and me, listening (and making notes!)

I did it today, and wow.  I wanted to find out how they felt about home-education, our lives, what they wanted changing, what things needed doing differently to suit their individual needs. I have failed to do this before.  Before I have talked to them as a group.  I thought that worked well, as we have to live together as a group so surely decisions should be made as such?  But I realise now that needs have been missed, thoughts have been overlooked, feelings have been ignored.  Ouch.  That's a tough one to admit to.

Today it was one to one.  Today it wasn't each child nodding in agreement with their sibling.  It was just one child and me.  I asked a few prompting questions, but then remained quiet and just listened.  The resulting conversations were a revelation to me and have truly lifted my heart.   I share my world with 4 wonderful young human-beings. 

I have permission from all 4 children to share this on my blog so that people may get an insight to how my home-educated children think about their lives.  (Bearing in mind this is just their own individual thoughts and ideas - it isn't a true representation of home-ed kids everywhere).

Joseph aged 12:
I asked Joseph what he liked about being "taught at home".  This was his response:

"I like being able to socialise with people that I have something in common with.  People of all ages, not being forced to be with people of my own age.  I like spending time with young children, I enjoy making them laugh.  I like cheering them up when they are sad or upset.  It makes me happy to make other people happy.
I don't think that I would like to be told what to do by a teacher.  I like having freedom.  I like being free to learn what I want to, what interests me at that moment in time.  I enjoy seeing something on the news or watching a documentary and being able to look on the internet or go to the library to find out out more.  I wouldn't like being told to study this or that, and having a time limit when it had to be finished by.  I love history and learning all about the World Wars.  I've been reading about it for months and months.  The school curriculum wouldn't have let me do that. I would have had to study other things now and I couldn't look at things in such depth.
Being at home, I don't feel as if I have to be popular or fit in.  I don't have to worry about being bullied.  If I was bullied by someone though, it wouldn't be such a problem because I wouldn't have to see the bully every day at school.  I think that would be horrible.  Being home-educated means I can choose who I want to spend time with.  I think being home-educated means I have a great relationship with you too mum.
I also like how we are so relaxed.  I am not stressed about working towards SATS or exams.  I don't have to worry about living up to expectations or trying to be the best in my class. 
I wouldn't like having to sit down at a desk for so much of the day, especially when the sun is shining. I know I would just want to be outside enjoying the fresh air.  I like being outside alot.  I wouldn't like to have to be quiet for long periods of time either.  I like to be able to discuss things when I think about them, to ask questions when I want to and get them answered.  I like to be listened to and I think that would be difficult with so many other people wanting the same."

I asked Joseph what he didn't like about being home-educated.  He thought for a long time and said nothing.  But then he said:

"I don't like people staring when we go out, that makes me feel as if we are doing something wrong.  I don't like the Government interfering and making you (mum) have to fight to prove what a good job you are doing.  I don't like you being stressed about things like that."

Tiegan aged 8:
I asked Tiegan the same questions.  What does she like about being at home and not going to school?

"I love being able to meet up with friends, and to have friends come to our house for the whole day.  If I was at school, I could only spend the day with friends in their home or here at weekends or in the school holidays - and only then if they were allowed to.  Some families have family time at weekends."

Tiegan asked me if she could spend time with children of all ages at school.  She said she knew she couldn't when she was in the classroom, but wondered if she could be with the younger and older ones during playtime.  She was sad when I said that sometimes children think that younger children are "babies" and too young for them to play with.  I said that sometimes some girls don't want to play with boys and vice versa.  I was cautious with my wording as I never want to sway my children's opinions by being negative about schools.  Tiegan said that she had seen that sort of thing at the playpark. She had overheard groups of girls saying that boys were stupid and they didn't want to play with them.  She thought it was very sad as she likes being with everyone.

Tiegan then went on to say:

"I like being able to learn about what I want to.  Like the other day when I saw a bee in the garden.  I watched it for a long time and enjoyed seeing it fly from flower to flower.  I was careful it didn't get too close to me though, I don't want to be stung! When it flew away I wanted to know more about bees so found some websites to look at.  I like being allowed to learn how I want to, not how a teacher wants me to learn.  I like that you don't just say "do this worksheet," instead you show me how to find out the things I want to know.  I like going to the library alot and finding out interesting books to read.   I like that I can play when I want to as well, for as long as I want to.  I like that you don't tell me that playing is silly like I have heard some people say, but you tell me that I am still learning when I am playing.  Teachers don't think like that I don't think.  I think they think you only learn when you are in the classroom, and when you are outside in the playground you are playing.  You don't have to be doing one or the other do you mum? You can play and learn at the same time can't you?"

Tiegan couldn't think of anything she thought was bad about being home-educated.

Chelsea aged 14:
I asked Chelsea what she liked about being home-educated.  Her reply was...

"I like the fact I have no peer pressure to conform to.  I am not told by my friends to do "cool" things that are really stupid - like smoking - just to look good or to fit in.  I like not worrying about being part of the "in-crowd", I don't worry about what people think of me.  I can just be me.  I don't panic if I don't feel like wearing make-up one day, or if my hair is a mess.  I won't be judged or called names.  I won't be ignored or called names because I don't look right.  I won't be bullied for not having the "right" trainers or a "cool" schoolbag.  I've heard all the stuff that goes on at the bus stop when the kids are waiting for the school bus and coming home again and always think I'm glad that I'm not involved.  I don't like kids swearing just because they think it makes them look tough - and smoking - for the same reason.  I don't like the horrid name-calling and how groups of children pick on one child and make them upset.  It's not nice and I don't understand why they do it.  People say that us home-ed kids miss out on socialisation.  The only socialisation I have been witness to is bad stuff.  Gangs, bullying, threats, kids acting cool and tough in front of their mates, getting drunk and playing chicken with cars on the main road - if that is the kind of socialisation that people want us to have, the world is going to end up as a very wierd and not so nice place.
I wouldn't like being forced inside for so many hours during the day.  Even though I think some lessons would be fun, I know I would want to do other things and be outside more than I would be allowed to be.  I remember being at primary school when it was a really hot day and wanting to be outside.  The teacher did take us out for a lesson on the grass, but we only had half an hour out there then it was back inside so another class could have a go.  Now I can take a book and sit on our lawn all day if I want to, listening to the birds singing and watching butterflies.  I love it. 
I like having no competition.  I mean, I like being able to do things at my own pace and not have to feel like I am competing to finish first or get the best score on something.  I think I learn better this way.  I don't worry or feel inadequate.  I still know my weaknesses, like maths, and I know that I need to work on them.  I don't need a bad test score to tell me that.
I love that we learn all the time.  Monday to Sunday, during term time and holidays.  It makes me smile when people ask if we are having a break for the school holidays.  Our learning isn't like that is it?  We can't just switch off and stop learning because the other kids aren't at school.  We don't separate our life and learning.  I like that.
I like being confident to speak to people, young and old.  I enjoy chatting to Dorothy (our elderly next door neighbour) as she puts her washing out.  I would miss her if I was at school.  I enjoy spending time in the library talking to the librarians and playing with the toddlers at the play park. 
I think that so much time is wasted at school.  The crowd control, the do this, do that.  Waiting for everyone to line up, waiting for everyone to be quiet.  There isn't anything like that here.  We have no distractions when we work.  Oh, and we don't get punished for others behaviour, there are no class detentions at our school! (she smiles).
We don't have to do homework after a long day of studying either, I think I might get stressed if I couldn't do something and it would probably cause me to lose sleep at night. I'm glad that is a pressure I don't have. 

I asked Chelsea if there was anything she didn't like about home-education.

"I don't like being judged by those people that don't understand home-education and how it works.  I don't like receiving negative remarks from strangers.  I don't like the way that people think that because we home-educate they have the right to comment on our lives.  It's nothing to do with them, I don't pass judgement on them and their lives. I don't say how sad it is that they force their children to go to school.  I wouldn't do that. I think that people should be free to make their own choices and decisions, but please don't judge me on mine and my family's.  It worries me that our lives may have to change.  I hate thinking that we may have to live alot differently if the Government decides we should.  I wish people would learn about us first.  Talk to us, come and spend time with us, then tell us what isn't working in our lives.  I am happy, confident, can read and write well, am pretty intelligent, and I love learning.  I also have a great relationship with my mum and dad, and my brothers and sister.  What is so wrong with all of that?"

Callum:
Now bearing in mind Callum is four years old, our conversation was a little different. I asked him if he had thought he might like to try school.  As far as I'm aware his school experiences are related to Peppa Pig and programmes he has watched on CBBC :o)  Callum said:

"NO WAY!!  I don't want to go to school.  (I asked him why)  Because there are too many children there.  There are lots of children at school, I've seen programmes on the TV and in the news.  I don't want to get lost in all those children.  I like to talk too. I like people to listen to me when I talk.  Can you talk alot at school mum?  (I answered sometimes you can talk, but you have to listen alot too). A teacher can't listen to everyone though mum because she has to teach.  She doesn't have time to do both does she?  I like being at home because you always listen.  I like playing on the laptop and going on the Wii too.  (I asked him what he liked to do on the laptop and Wii).  I like playing cooking, dressing up, and drawing games on the computer.  I like going on the Club Penguin website and CBBC.  And CBeebies, and Nick Junior.  On the Wii I play Super Paper Mario.  I've completed that game mum, I have to keep helping Chelsea and Joseph on it now.  I like going on Wii-Fit Plus too, I like the snowball fight on there, and the boxing.  I like Wii-Sports Resort as well.  I play the duel battle game the most on that.
At home I like going into the garden when I want to.  I like being outside.  I like watering the flowers and seeing what bugs I can find.  I like watching spiders and ants.  I give them names sometimes don't I?  I like jumping on the trampoline, but sometimes I like to lie down as I get tired.  Then I listen to the birds singing.  Did you know we have birds in our garden?  I think they are building a nest.  Chelsea said they were anyway.  I'm going to watch them with the binoculars one day.  You have to be quiet though or you will scare them away.   I like drawing pictures, playing with the playdough and painting.  I wish we could do more painting.  I like playing with Chelsea, Joseph and Tiegan.  We have fun when we play.  I like wrestling with Joe. I always beat him.  I like being with you too mum, I like it when we read stories together.  I like it when our friends come to our house to play or when we go to friend's houses.  (Looking at Kira)  I like taking Kira for a walk.

Quite insightful for me to hear all of that from the mouths of my children.

__________________________________________

Now the next part of this post is more for my benefit than for anyone else's so you may wish to skim through (and hopefully leave a comment at the end *grin*).  I asked each of the children what they, themselves, wanted to do.  How they wanted our "home-ed" life to be - structured, non-structured, more work, less work - you get the idea.

Joseph:

Would like to do more reading out loud.  He thinks this will further help his speech (he has speech dyspraxia for those new to the blog).  He really wants to do more handwriting as he feels this is a weak area for him.  He suggested we try copywork again (something we tried in the past but it just frustrated him).  Joseph wants to do more Science Experiments.  He said he thought he learnt better when he was able to do hands-on stuff.  He wants to study Vikings, Romans (particularly the Gladiators), and go over the Tudors again in more depth.   He would like to do project work on China, America, Spain, and Canada.  He agreed that we would need to find out particularly what areas and topics he wants to look at.

Joseph requested we do loose structure.  He definitely would like to do copywork everyday and asked if I could sort out that for him.  We agreed that poems would be a nice way to start as he has shown little interest in poems before but it's something he would like to read more of.  Joseph also said that he would like Maths work to be structured, maybe not everyday, but at least 3 times a week.  He thought he would benefit from workbook or text book based maths and I agreed to work with him to find something that suits.

I asked Joseph how he felt about doing more art and craft type activities.  This is an area that Joseph really is reluctant to try.  I wonder if it is a fear of failure on his part?  With the dyslexia causing co-ordination problems, I wonder if he has the same struggles with painting and drawing as he does with the handwriting.   That would make sense.   Joseph did agree that he would give more art ago, and particularly likes the idea of a trip to the scrapstore to stock up on paints and supplies.

Tiegan:

Would like me to be more involved in what she does (how guilty does that make me feel?)  She would like more structured work, and more "studying".  She doesn't want to be forced to do "school work" but she would like me to provide things for her to learn when she wants to.   I asked if there was a particular subject she wanted me "to structure" and she said no, she would just like me to offer her more of all sorts.

Tiegan has requested that we go out more, more nature walks.  She likes the idea of themed walks so she has a purpose to look around.  She said that sometimes she just feels as if we are plodding along and she forgets to look around her.  Tiegan suggested:
  • Going out and drawing/sketching more.
  • Working through the Alphabet to see what they can see beginning with each letter.
  • Choosing a colour as a theme.
  • Making our own lists so we are all looking for something different.
  • Choosing numbers - say having to find groups of 3 things the same for example.
Tiegan would like to do more with our nature journal.  It is something that I have ignored, and I didn't know how important it was to Tiegan.  She wants to do more pressed flowers and leaves, more poems, a diary of things we have witnessed and the changing seasons, and more photos and drawings. 

Tiegan said she would like to do more handwriting, and thought that copying things might help her. She wishes to concentrate on making her small letter writing better, and joined up writing.  She would like to write more stories but explained that sometimes she struggles with ideas so doesn't get started.  We agreed that we would sit together and write out an ideas sheet that she could turn to if she needed it.

She also wants to do more Brownie Badge work (which may well fit in with the more structured work theme).

Chelsea:

It appears that Chelsea is pretty much happy with how things are going at the moment.  She did say that she would like me to work through one of the Maths textbooks with her daily as she knows that this is her weakest subject and one she worries about.  She suggested that she herself has less time on the laptop, but didn't want me to regulate that.  Chelsea said it was an aim that she wants to accomplish herself.

Callum:

Just wants life to stay as it is, but would like to do more painting please mum :)

__________________________________________


Hmm, thought provoking stuff for me.  Obviously there were things my children wanted but never asked for.  Because the non-structured thing seemed to be working so well for us, we had settled into it, yet Tiegan is crying out for more!  Joseph wants to practice his handwriting, yet this is something I hadn't realised.  Instead I have been encouraging he do more typing work, and I've requested that he write very little.  I knew he didn't enjoy writing due to his dyspraxia and thought I was helping.  Oh how could I be so wrong.  Oh what a learning curve today has been.

From now on I will be listening to my children on an individual basis.  No more grouping them together.  Even though they all agreed to things in the past, they clearly have individual wants that, for whatever the reason, they didn't feel comfortable to bring to my attention within the group.  Oh what an eye-opening few hours I've had :o)

One thing we did discuss as a group, was whether we should have any sort of timetable.  We have tried such things in the past, used them, abused them, binned them.  I am frustrated by restrictions, but sometimes I do feel as if we are bumbling along and some days seem to be more bumbly than others.  I wanted to know if the children felt the same or if they wanted something different.  Again I was surprised.  All agreed that having a daily *AIM* not a *RULE* would be good.  If we had an idea of something we could focus on, that may help give our day a direction.  Enlightening.

All of us agreed we didn't want to schedule a full day of activities.  All of us agreed that we didn't want to plan a day full of stuff - as that didn't work for us. We prefer the freedom.  None of us wanted to feel guilty at our lack of achievements, just because we didn't tick all the boxes.  So, what did we come up with? 

Well, alongside what was requested earlier - Daily reading time, frequent structured maths, more outside time, more art stuff, we are going to have theme days.  Currently it looks like this:

Mondays:  Group Day or Nature Day.  (We don't have group every Monday).
Tuesday:  Experiment Day.
Wednesday:  Baking Day.
Thursday:  Group Day or Nature Day. (We don't have group every Thursday).
Friday:  Lapbooking Day.
Saturday:  Arts and Crafts Day.
Sunday:  Games Day.

I know some of you will be cringing reading this.  But I must stress, these aren't hard and fast strict rules.  We won't not do science stuff on a Wednesday if that's what we feel like.  We won't avoid cooking on a Friday if we want to do it.  They are just ideas.  What we can do if we want to.  A guideline for when we are struggling for inspiration.  I can put ideas together in advance, then if we are lacking enthusiasm we have something nudge us along.  Does that make sense?  We will still be child-led, still be interest-driven, just with an added bit of umph!   Tiegan in particular loved the idea.  She likes having charts and lists to follow.  She has actually requested a chore chart...*grin*

Time will tell what we make of it.

12 comments:

  1. This post has been really helpful and got me thinking! At the minute we seem to be uschooling, so lots of pottering around and gizmo making for Benedict! I do worry that I'm doing it right and we've yet to have our LEA visit!!

    Love your honesty about yesterday... interested in the lapbooks. We started a science one but not sure if I bit off more than we could chew! Any chance you could do a show and tell on the blog?
    Hugs to you and your happy band
    San xx

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  2. Very interesting and thought provoking post Jules. I hope you don't mind but I think I may borrow your idea and do the same thing with the boys. They'd probably like less structure, lol! ;)

    Lxx

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  3. Thanks for your comment San, I will indeed sort something out about the lapbooks - will probably be Friday as we have our group day here tomorrow so nothing gets done :)
    I'm glad my blog is proving useful to you :)

    Lima, thanks for your comment hun. Of course you can "pinch the idea". You didn't have to ask that. I found it really interesting how different thoughts were expressed when they were alone, I think it made them *really* have to think about stuff.

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  4. I just wanted to say hi - I've been reading your blog for a while now, but haven't commented. I love what you are doing though and find it really inspirational, so thought I ought to officially say hello as it were. My son (age 6) is currently in school, but I'd remove him in a heartbeat if he wanted to - up until now he's wanted to go, but he's having second thoughts, so we might be following you down a home, and hopefully, un-schooling path. I just loved all the things that your children said about the experiences you are giving them - they are clearly very lucky to have such a wonderful mum. How sad that the only downside of homeschooling is the judgement of strangers - why can't people be more open-minded (or just butt out!)

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  5. This is really interesting. I often ask my kids what they want to do and am often surprised by the answers which can change from week to week :) If your kids want some structure then go for it :) I have one that really wants lots of it which was a real period of adjustment for me and his sister. I love your kids answers. Sounds like they really love being Home Educated. Nice one :)

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  6. Hiya Jules! I know it has been ages since I stopped to comment, but I do read your blog every time - promise! :o)

    The structure you are thinking about sounds great to me! You kids obviously want it and besides it isn't like you are putting in a school timetable with 45 minutes for each subject each day now is it?

    Also, don't worry about what anyone else thinks! The whole point of home edding is to do what you feel is best for YOUR children. It really is no one else's business how you choose to do it.

    If others want to 'cringe' than it is there choice and if they don't like what you do than they don't have to read about it anymore! LOL! You do things differently to us, but I respect you as a friend and enjoy reading about your home ed journey - especially since it is so different to ours. If we did it all the same life would be boring! There is my two cents on the subject. Have a great day!(((HUGS))) - Deedee

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  7. Hi Julia! Thanks for visiting and adding me to your blogroll. I'll do the same. I like the idea of adding some umph to our days. Logan and I have talked about having theme days as well, but somehow it never seems to happen. I think we'll revisit the idea.

    Also, we have something in common...daughters named Chelsea and appalling eyesight. :)

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  8. Wow ~ what a fantastic post :D It's amazing how wrong and how right we get our children sometimes ~ it's sounds to me like you are doing much more right than wrong in the lives of your brood :D

    Just out of interest, I wonder if you read my 'mini-skool' post? Not saying you should use it, but it might be worth a read. We have a lot of structured work here, but my children get to choose what they do and when they do it now. I only put my foot down a little if I see too much of the 'normals' getting skipped in preference for Wii time for example!! :D As well as what is on their board atm they have other tickets they can exchange for any time they choose ~ even for the normals (i.e different materials).

    Anyway ~ I know that however it works out for you, your children LOVE what you do ~ it's visable in their faces and their love for you!

    While I'm here ~ as a photo-mummy I tagged you on my www.frog-photoblog.blogspot.com ~ so come and have some fun! :D

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  9. Wow, very inspiring post. I think I might want to do something like that, too. Just ask my children about these things (again). :)

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  10. It's so great to read about what works for other people :) And to hear how your kids feel about it! I try to talk to mine about it and what they'd like to do more of but it all comes across as a bit vague. I'm also looking at introducing a bit more structure, but am finding it hard to think of ways to do it that meets everyone's needs. hmmph x

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  11. thanks i really enjoyed that,cat,mumin dorset of 4, 4 and 2 at home with me ... the school commments are coming thick and fast now for the 4 year olds !!!

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  12. Truly inspiring! My mind wants to shout 'Yes!' and flap some close-minded people around the face with your blog.

    We have a 2-and-a-bit year old and another in the oven and we're fast approaching the whole 'what to do about schooling' thing.

    My worry is how to do it. >.<

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