Home education diary, March 1998

We decided early this month that perhaps dividing our days up into 'subjects' isn't particularly helpful. After all, in school they manage to cover all kinds of things under one general 'topic'. I remember being most impressed with one of the Year 4 classes were studying ancient Egypt in history. They produced maps of Egypt (ancient and modern) which would count as geography, they did loads of brilliant Egyptian-style art, they learned about hieroglyphs and produced their own, and they used a discovery-type computer game that was supposed to be exploring one of the ancient Egyptian sites. So much better to involve all aspects at once.

With this in mind, when one of the topics in Daniel's Heinemann English book suggested designing a leaflet to advertise the Globe Theatre, I suggested the boys try and produce this together using the computer. They decided to learn the package 'Serif Page Draw' which we had free. I suppose in the first week of March each of them spent about five hours in all, first learning about this package and playing with it, then designing a leaflet, doing some research about the Globe, and Shakespeare, and finally producing the finished product. They both enjoyed doing it and it seemed very constructive to me. They doubted if they'd have been able to do something like that in school.

As well as that we did about an hour of Greek together, a couple of hours of LOGO, more maths - perhaps three hours in all, and a couple of hours of creative writing. Also they started trying to construct a Trireme from a cut-out booklet thing they'd had a while ago. When I counted up they'd spent 14 hours doing these things - in addition to music and reading etc in the afternoons - so we're close to our intended 3 hours per day, but with much less pressure and no timetable at all!

The following week we only managed to clock up about seven hours, but perhaps it was more focused. Again they each did three hours of maths - Daniel is working on algebra in one of the Steps maths books, and also started a section on cuboids and volumes. Tim is continuing with percentages, and adding fractions. He seems to understand at the time though I'm not sure how much he's remembering! We managed our hour of Greek, and a couple of hours of LOGO, and they each did about an hour's English using text-books. We also spent an hour together looking at proverbs and their origin.

By mid-March I was reading more on the UK-HOME-ED mailing list about 'unschooling' - letting circumstances and the children's interests dictate what they learned. People who do this are very enthusiastic about it, and apparently children learn all kinds of things without a schedule - often without even text-books. It seems that we can try to be more flexible, since it's clear that the very best time to learn something is when the child asks the question. I'm just not sure that they would always ask all the necessary questions!

Anyway... in the week starting 16th March we spent a couple of hours on Monday morning doing LOGO together - we hadn't intended to do so much all at once, but it was an interesting chapter about geometry and angles in general, and both boys were interested... so we continued, then didn't do anything much else that day.

On Tuesday our landlady's brother came over unexpectedly, wanting some mulberry leaves for his silkworms. He asked the boys if they would like some silkworms, when his had grown a bit, and they said they would. They asked some questions, and he told them quite a bit about how to raise them - and also told us about what our (wild) back garden used to be like when he was growing up. When he'd gone, we looked up silkworkms in the Children's Britannica and talked about the silk route.

After that, Daniel wanted to write a Quick Basic program to make a simple calculator, so I explained about subroutines and procedures, and string variables, and they designed and programmed one together - this took about a couple of hours. That seemed like plenty of education for the day. 

Then in the afternoon I discovered some excellent-looking Dorling-Kindersley and other CD-Roms in the local computer shop, and bought them. The boys wanted to look at them in the evening rather than waiting till the following day, so spent a couple of hours looking at them - learning more about Shakespeare, listening to music, and doing a 'science exploration' game. I am staggered at how educational these things seem to be - and how interested the boys are when it's their choice to learn rather than my schedule!

On Wednesday nothing else came up and we realised we hadn't done Greek for a while, so we spent half an hour doing that together, then an hour with their different maths books, an hour together learning about Henry VIII, half an hour of LOGO, then in the afternon they spent about an hour making careful maps of their lego cities - which I suppose is a geographical skill!

On Thursday we managed to use four hours educationally - they each spent a couple of hours working at their stories (creative writing), and then we spent a couple of hours together doing compass patterns, initially inspired by one of their maths books. But I showed them how to do more interesting ones and they did a lot of experimenting.

After all that (nearly 15 hours in just four days! - not to mention daily music practice, reading, lego building, more work on the lego map, games on the computer and email) we took a day off on the Friday, and went with a friend to the army second-hand bookshop, where we were glad to find some more books for us all to read.

In the last week of March, they did more LOGO - three hours continually on Monday morning, doing procedures and discovering various geometric rules and patterns - then in the afternoon Richard took time off and we talked about weather science. They built barometers, discussed air pressure, and did some measurements.

On Tuesday, Tim spent 45 minutes on his Haydn Richards grammar book, then did some handwriting practice, while Daniel made a picture book from a history article. Then we did some more research and discussion about Henry VIII and Tim painted a picture of him with poster paints. Meanwhile Daniel discussed how he would like to build a timeline, and did some research on the Dorling-Kindersley world history CD-Rom. Then he designed a database on the computer for recording their weather and barometer readings.

Wednesday was a Cyprus national holiday, so Richard didn't go to work and we took a day off too. We read for several hours in the morning, then went for a walk in the afternoon.

On Thursday we decided to discuss our weekly schedule since Tim (who likes structure) was feeling that we were getting a bit too disorganised, and that perhaps he wasn't really learning anything much. We did some quiet reading, played some word games from a book, and did some history research together.

On Friday we spent an hour and a half sorting out their computer folders which were in quite a muddle, so I suppose that was useful IT! Then spent half an hour doing some music in Noteworthy Composer, half an hour creative writing, and half an hour playing recorders together!!

Conclusion:

I'm not convinced that unschooling would really work - given that the boys are presumably going to be going to school in September, so they have to keep up with maths etc - but can see that more flexibility does work well at times. Abandoning any plans in favour of a new interest or question that arises is definitely a good thing.

On the other hand, Tim is anxious to have more of a schedule so he knows what to expect each day, and I'm anxious to cover National Curriculum work so they don't get behind. 

We had been intending that the boys would go to local schools in the Autumn, when Daniel reaches secondary school age, so I was trying to find out when he would need to take the placement exam, what the costs would be, and so on. There are only two English-speaking schools, both of them private. However rather to my surprise, he asked if we could continue with home education for another year. He says he's really enjoying it, and isn't impressed with what he hears about the local schools from friends at church.

I wasn't sure that I could cope with secondary school work, but Daniel seems to think I can - and we've been told that the first year is mainly revision of primary school work anyway. So I said I'd be happy to give it a try! Tim then said that if Daniel's not going to school, he doesn't want to either. This does surprise me as he missed school so much at first - but it's great to know they're so much enjoying learning at home. I'm certainly finding it fulfilling, albeit hard work at times!

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