Home education diary, May 2000

May 10th

I've been reading the book 'Doing it Their Way' by Jan Fortune-Wood, which looks at the the whole-life aspect of autonomous education. Families who choose full autonomy also believe in non-coercive parenting, and mutually acceptable solutions for any problem. Great in theory, but hard to figure out, sometimes, in practice. I was a little disappointed that there weren't any anecdotes or practical suggestions, but still found the book helpful in the way it laid out the theories and why the author believes what she does.

It didn't make me feel like a failure; instead it helped me see why I don't fully agree with the TCS lifestyle, and why. I thought there were a few fallacies in the arguments, and places where the author seems to see only two alternatives (ie coercion or not!) rather than several shades in between. 

For instance, one day recently my boys were still in bed at 9.45am, although we had agreed to do a bit of academic structured stuff in the morning. The TCS way would be to leave them to get up whenever they felt like it. The 'coercive' way would be to hassle them until they got up, probably with a bit of shouting. What I did was gently woke them, reminded them what we'd agreed to do, took Daniel some coffee, and then continued giving gentle reminders every five minutes or so until they emerged. 

A useful distinction which Jan doesn't make (but Susan Schaeffer McCauley in 'For the Children's Sake' does) is between the 'will' and the 'want'. Sometimes we 'will' to do something - such as lose weight, or learn French, or play an instrument. But on a day-to-day basis we don't 'want' to give up chocolate, or do another French lesson, or practise the piano. But when the 'will' is there, we can try to remember that and put aside the temporary 'want' in order to take a step towards the bigger 'will'. 

I'm not sure I've expressed that very clearly, but it's something that the TCS view seems to ignore completely. I think part of my role as home educating mother is to help my children stay on track with their long-term aims (their 'will'). Not coercively for my own sake - which, I agree, would be wrong - but because as an adult I have more experience and can sometimes see things in better perspective. 

I like the idea of finding mutually acceptable decisions on principle, but don't think there's always time to find common preferences.  Sometimes I think parents have to be somewhat coercive, particularly when the children are younger. And we do still have a few boundaries although they're not rigid and nobody seems to mind (for instance, Daniel may NOT drink coffee at midnight!) 

May 19th 

We haven't done much maths at all recently. Just before my sister arrived and we took a long break, Tim finished the 'level 5' maths in the Letts KS3 classbook, and did the reviews. He seemed to understand most of what we'd covered and though he had to look back somewhat, he remembered a surprising amount. 

Then after Easter he started the next section and it seemed inordinately difficult - about trial and improvement for solving equations. He got in quite a muddle so we left it for a while. Today I thought we might move to the next section but that looked hard too, although Daniel did it all about 18 months ago without too much trouble. Then it struck me that this is level 6 maths which Tim wouldn't have been doing till the second or third year of secondary school... three years ahead of where he is now! 

Daniel is actually rather good at maths and even he didn't do it till six months older than Tim is now. So I reckon we've been trying to rush too fast and cover too much, and that his understanding just isn't ready. We have a book of maths investigations which is quite fun, so I suggested we leave the Letts book completely for now and Tim choose some investigations. He found a card game that involved fractions and we played that for a while. 

I hope we'll get the ACE diagnostic stuff at the end of next week and I'll be most interested to know how the boys do - probably not very well on maths as the British system doesn't stress arithmetic and drill like the US one does. We probably won't get the first workbooks for ages - if it takes a week to do the diagnostics (assuming I can read the parent training material over the weekend), then it'll still be another fortnight after that, at least, when I send back the results and they get together our curriculum and send them. So we're talking mid-June at the earliest. 

In the meantime we're just going to do the 'fun' things, maths games etc and leave anything further. Daniel's also got to about two years ahead of where he would be at school in many areas, and I can't see the point of rushing ahead too fast. Both boys said they'd like to do some ACE work in June and July when we'll be basically stuck in our air conditioned room anyway, as we took a long break in April and will take another whole month, probably, in October when we'll probably have three sets of guests. I hope we'll be able to do the 'catch-up' paces reflecting gaps in their knowledge during the Summer and then get going properly in September. 

I used to worry about unfinished project, but I've stopped worrying now. I am decidedly getting more relaxed about education in general! I started thinking, 'What are they learning?' and realised that if they wanted to know how to sew, or how to start a project, then all they needed to do was to get started and have an idea of how something would look when it was finished. Actually getting the finished product may not be of interest to them. 

At one point I despaired of Daniel ever finishing anything, but in the past 18 months he's started completing a few projects. He still has far more unfinished than finished things, but he's learning when it's important to get to completion. Primarily, though, he needs the brainstorming and 'getting going' sessions to show him whether something is a good idea or not, and to get him started on new tracks. If he doesn't want to finish something I can't see any point worrying about it. 

May 25th 

We've been talking about the future, somewhat. I don't remember how the topic came up. Daniel and Tim have both been talking about having their own houses when they're 'grown up'. I don't think they'd want to stay living with us long into their 20s. But equally I'd be happy for them to stay as long as we all felt comfortable with it. I certainly wouldn't throw them out at 18, as some parents threaten to. I don't think one ever stops being a parent.

Currently Daniel says he wants to live in Wales, on the Brecon Beacons, being a park ranger, a graphic designer, a programmer, an artist, a musician and a writer, with several cats and no other people, and a freezer full of individual portion lasagne. Tim wants to live in Birmingham, married with children, doing all the cooking and organising, but is now unsure of what career he wants to follow (he's still only 11 so I tell him not to worry, but he's a forward-planner supreme!) 

He no longer wants to be a teacher because he sees what a stressful job that is. He's considered journalism, music editing, and being a chef. He's also decided that he's going to write novels and give piano lessons, and keep Daniel's freezer full of lasagne! Tim is fairly eager to go to University in the UK, though Daniel is keener on corresondence courses from home. 

May 27th 

So much for 'unschooling'. The boys LIKE a structured system, so long as it's infinitely flexible. So we've currently got a system of: 

Tuesday to Thursday: Greek or French online, every day, and two other subjects - read together and discuss.

Friday: writing work - letters, stories, competition entries, web design. 

We came up with this about a week ago when we were once again floundering with lack of structure. We've decided to leave maths 'key stage' work for now, so our eight 'subjects' are: physics, chemistry, biology, history, geography, RE, literature (Shakespeare or Dickens mainly), and general English using the Collins GCSE study guide.

Soon we hope to be started on the ACE work, which will probably take them about 2 hours each day. They have to set their own targets each day, and work fairly independently although I'll be involved and I'm sure we'll talk about it.

They want to keep up the National Curriculum related work too, so we'll probably try one 'other subject' each day, reading and discussing together, so it lasts over 2 weeks rather than 1. If they can do the ACE work in 4 days rather than 5 each week, they can still spend Fridays on writing, which I think they'd prefer. But we'll have to see how it all goes.

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