Eight months into our first year of natural learning

I like the term ‘natural learning’, rather than ‘home schooling’ – as over the last eight months we’ve definitely been doing more natural learning than creating a school like environment in the home. I didn’t enter into this as a choice from the outset – but a reaction to my child’s anxiety at being in a traditional school setting and increasing unhappiness.

My husband and I weren’t sure it was the right decision – and of course we are always questioning – especially when we compare our 6 and a half year old daughter to our 9 year old daughter at a private school. But, when we look at the facts, it’s clear our 6 and a half year old IS thriving. Most importantly she is happy and learning because she chooses to – not because she feels she has to. She doesn’t have to study topics that disinterest her (much to her older, private schooled sisters frustration) and uses her time freely. However, this is her choice and despite us offering her the opportunity to return to formal schooling, she strongly opposes. She is making wonderful connections and friendships with other natural learners and, as parents, we are continually working to ‘trust’ that all will turn out well in the end.

Our oldest daughter, in contrast, says she wouldn’t want to be home-schooled, though she admits feeling frustrated by many aspects of her daily school life – but overall she prefers it. She enjoys the extra-curricular opportunities the most. She loves her art class, speech and drama, singing, choir, learning French. She wishes there was more science at a junior level (and less boring ‘English’). She often asks for more challenges in maths and tires of the repetition (but is at a school where she is listened to and given more challenges when she asks).

Admittedly, as a parent it’s a relief to know our oldest daughter goes to school and has her lessons planned and scheduled for her. We enjoy supporting her with natural learning outside of school time and she has plenty of free time. At school she is provided with specialist teachers and has access to great resources and facilities. Art lessons are prepared and facilitated by a dedicated art teacher. Music lessons give her the opportunity to sample a variety of instruments. She is introduced to every sport from ‘A to Z’ and given excellent opportunities to further get involved in the ones that enthuse her.

She’s at school for six and a half hours a day. In that time I don’t have to think about whether she’s hungry or thirsty. I don’t have control over whether she’s in a good or bad mood. I am not in a position to change things when she’s unhappy at the spur of the moment. She is independent, making decisions by herself – albeit influenced by a variety of teachers and peers. Ever since she started at the girls private school she attends the peer influence has been really positive. She feels encouraged to excel academically and physically. She feels encouraged to participate and motivated to do well. She is in a school that provides education to girls from pre-school right up to college. The school frequently creates opportunities for senior and junior girls to interact and there is a very sisterly, caring atmosphere. As parents we feel completely confident that she’s in great hands.

On the natural learning front, my home learner (along with her bright and energetic, two and a half year old sister) – graze on fresh fruit and water throughout the day, whenever their bodies feel like it. They can have warm lunches, freshly made. They can take a rest in the garden, bounce on the trampoline, climb the rope ladder, skip around the house, dance to their choice of music whenever they need to. If they feel like painting and creating they head to the ‘art space’ in our home, if they feel like making music they put on a CD, strum a guitar, or play at the keys on the piano.

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Some days are spent outdoors, playing with other natural learners – where they positively motivate one another to explore. They create dances and plays together. They have great imaginations.

They bake when the mood takes them and read when they like – sometimes late at night… and lie in the next day – with no worries about arriving on time at school.

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My natural learner’s day is more like an adults working day – she takes micro-breaks, eats when she chooses and can go freely to the bathroom without asking.

HOWEVER, there is no employed cleaner in my natural learners workplace and no administrator to keep the art supplies stocked. There is no dedicated teacher of music, art or maths to prepare lessons. But there is a very loving, caring parent who does the best she can (and hopes it’s enough!). A parent who knows her children like no one else and wishes, with all her heart, for her child to grow up to be a caring, loving, polite, responsible and able adult.

I do offer the opportunity for my natural learner to take art classes, drama classes, music tuition, swimming lessons, join sports clubs and so on. At the moment she chooses not to – but she’s only six (and I’m happy to be saved from a lot of running around in a car to get her to all those classes for a set time – with a two year old in tow).

I play the piano and try to encourage her to learn a little. I read a lot to my children. I take them swimming at our local poor, once or twice a week. I take them to the playground so they can run, climb and swing on the monkey bars with amazing agility.

It’s certainly not easy to feel wholly responsible for your child’s education (and meet all their needs). Having two children at home all day, every day, naturally creates mess and more work for me – but we get to know one another much more intimately. We learn to work as a team, to respect one another. We are both open and honest. I say when I’m feeling frustrated.

In terms of education, we’re relearning to trust in our daughter’s natural desire to learn and develop (just like we did when she learned to walk, run, ride a bike, talk, draw… all naturally and ‘untaught’ – with just our love, time and attention). So when she jumps up and down with enthusiasm to get the telescope out and check out the full moon one evening we say, ‘Yes’ – we do our best to always say ‘Yes’ – unless there’s a real reason why not. We respond and are active participants in her learning (just as we are with our other daughters too).

And, just like we didn’t ‘test’ our child’s walking and talking abilities, we’re learning not to ‘test’ her academic learning areas. Just by being with our child on a daily basis we can see her making natural progress over time. For instance, she’s not particularly interested in writing by hand and we’ve decided not to force her to practice her handwriting over and over again. However, her hand writing over the past eight months (even if she only writes something by hand once a week) is slowly improving. Her spelling is improving naturally too – without weekly spelling tests and drills. She reads a lot – books, magazines, interactive learning websites – as well as ‘play’ sites like Club Penguin, Moshi Monsters, Poptropica – which really engage her and her friends (and she surprises me with the things she learns – as well as having fun).

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Her technical knowledge is amazing. She’s growing up knowing how to use word processing and presentation packages without having to be taught. She researches answers on the Internet, but also understands how to use an index in a book.

She reminds us of her age frequently – ‘Im only six!’ and we are beginning to see the ‘big picture’ – what skills will she need to participate in the working world? She has a reflective wisdom when she talks about her childhood – speaking like someone older reflecting back, ‘I’m a child!’ she says. ‘I want to enjoy my childhood. I only have one time in my life to be a child’. She’s in no hurry to grow up.

She is sociable and confident. She is the first to answer the phone in our house. She goes into a shop, or up to the counter at a cafe, and orders food, asks for change, asks for directions or the whereabouts of a product with absolute confidence and clarity. If she has a question, she is confident to ask.

At playgrounds she seeks out and plays with other children with natural ease. She also meets up with other natural learners for socials.

She uses mathematics in her every day life – counting the correct money for an item in a shop, checking the change, adding up a number of goods to see if she’ll have enough to pay for them; she measures liquids understanding litres and milli-litres, she measures mass using scales and understand grams and kilograms, she measures height and length using centimetres and metres. She bakes in the kitchen, she follows instructions in a cook-book. I do give her maths book work activities too – and this is where I feel like ‘teacher Mummy’ and have to be careful in how I motivate my ‘student’ to get a willing participant!

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It’s easier for me to be relaxed about her learning and trust it will happen. But, truly, I am not that carefree – how could I be? I care. I’m a parent. However, I have learned not to spend hours on a Sunday ‘lesson planning’. Trying to create a school ‘timetable’ was quickly something I scrapped. There’s no point in pursuing with a path that’s continually met with resistance. Instead, I’m learning to be responsive to my daughter’s learning (which is equally as time consuming and tiring). When she expresses an interest in something or asks to do something, I try to support her in making it happen (alongside considering my two year old’s needs and picking up her older sister from school – and doing the housework…).

I do have weeks when I think, ‘What has she learned? What has she done?’ – but there’s been lots of outdoor time, exercise, interaction in the community and with friends (and subliminal learning that just happens through living!).

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Other weeks she takes me by surprise and is very studious – sometimes spending from 9 in the morning till 10 at night reading, writing, doing maths – these are days that naturally alleviate my concerns.

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I keep reminding myself that we’re no longer operating on ‘term time’. For my natural learner there are 365 days in the year and learning takes place on any of those days, at weekends and Monday to Friday. Overall, she’s doing just fine and her anxiety woes have dissipated – for the most part.

As for my youngest, she’s learning along side her older sisters at a great rate – and interacting with children of a variety of ages in natural settings (different again from her older sisters – who ‘did’ playgroup, play-centre and then Kindi).

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And with our huge life changing move to San Francisco, from New Zealand, in June 2013 – it is probably for the best that my natural learner and youngest child feel happy and secure. I know my oldest daughter will be fine too – she was naturally independent from birth (always wanting to do things before she had the motor skills to do so – but that never stopped her from trying!). She’s off to visit her Kindi friend in Australia in October for a week – flying solo!

P.S. Just after posting this I read – ‘Bright children should start school at six, says academic‘.

Makes me feel happy that hubbie and I are making the right decision (I just wish I’d had the confidence to listen to my instincts with my eldest daughter – but she’s faring okay now).

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  • Theresa

    wow! amazing record. beautifully written and sounds exhausting too – but you know that, and you do what you need to – ka pai! And yes I had also thought makes your upcoming move easier – only one child to farewell a school!

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    Sarah Reply:

    Thanks Theresa x We’ve know since early this year that the move may be on the cards – else I might have thought of trying to integrate Sophie in a school – but I know that would be a drawn out process. Sophie is happy and I’m coping. I think, with summer and lighter evenings I’ll find it easier – as I can get out for a jog in the lighter evenings, once hubbie is home from work. Also, Alice is becoming less dependent on me – making it easier for me to nip out for exercise. x

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  • meghan @ MNMs

    I’m tired just reading this Sarah, I don’t know how you do it….hang on a minute yes I do..it’s cos you are the most AMAZING mum who is committed to giving each of your children what they need to find their unique way in life. I too would worry that there was enough ‘learning’ going on but I can totally see in this record so far that learning is happening ever so ‘naturally’ in the ebb and flow of daily life. Some of the things you talk of I know that we don’t spend enough time learning about (like understanding measures of liquids etcin the kitchen) and so I am so impressed with how well you manage to ‘weave’ the learning into your days…I imagine it comes more naturally the longer you are on the journey

    And wow to Charlotte going off to Oz on her own, very independent :-)

    xx

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    Sarah Reply:

    The ‘worry’ is always present – but I try my hardest not to get too wrapped up in it – writing this post has helped me reflect and feel happy that she’s progressing well. As for weaving learning naturally into our days – that is definitely getting better the longer we’ve been on the journey – and I feel like the momentum will continue to accelerate as she gets older. I know a couple of natural learners in the 8 to 9 age bracket (like Charlotte) and their depth of interest in topics and the way they research them is definitely on another level. Thanks for your words of support x

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  • Jen

    as Ive said before each child has their own way of learning
    I think its good that you record (via photos etc) what shes learning
    Id also go back to the beginning and have a good look at what she knew then and what she knows now
    I think you might be very surprised at all she has learnt already:)

    keep it up all of you

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    Sarah Reply:

    Thanks Jen for the encouragement x

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  • Chicken Grandma

    A very thought-provoking read. Whatever you are doing, it seems to work brilliantly. All three grandchildren are a delight and, what’s more special, they all have their own individual strengths and talents.
    Full marks to the grown-ups as well!
    Big hugs all round.

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    Sarah Reply:

    Thank you, as always, for your support and understanding xxxx

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  • http://createhopeinspire.blogspot.com/ Miriam

    ‘Yes’ – we do our best to always say ‘Yes’ – unless there’s a real reason why not. We respond and are active participants in her learning (just as we are with our other daughters too).
    I love that statement Sarah – it’s such a great lesson for all of us parents to aim for to enhance curiousity and interest and not to shut it down for convienience sake. A well written and thought provoking post – and I’d love to see you join us on WW sometime!! You’d be VERY welcome in your teacher’s garb!!!

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    Sarah Reply:

    Thanks Miriam for leaving such a lovely comment. I shall think about getting out of my jeans one day this week for WW ;-) !!

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