So it’s the start of the school year. If my oldest boy was not being homeschooled, he would be starting kindergarten. After several years of pushing the idea around, we decide to commit to it. We don’t send him to school at all. For a variety of reasons, the bulk of homeschooling ends up being my role.
I’ve read a lot, found a curriculum, come up with a few plans. His little brother is away for the day, so it’s a good opportunity for us to focus on lessons. It’s our first official day of homeschooling. The adventure begins.
I had been planning a maths lesson for a while, which hinged around helping me build some steps at the front of the house. I had visions of fairly simple types of maths in context, such as measuring, relative lengths, planes, turning two dimensional objects into three dimensional objects and so on. It’s a game of Lego on a larger scale. It involves lots of tools, so it’s going to be fun. It also fulfils my blunt ulterior motive of getting some work done around the house.
It all started to fall apart pretty early in the piece. As I was setting up, I really couldn’t get him to show any interest, and he kept walking off. In trying to get him involved in a project he clearly didn’t want to do, I found myself nagging him fruitlessly, and filling myself with the anxiety of ‘what if this happens every time? I’m never going to teach him anything.’
Finally, I managed to catch him in the lounge room, and he tells me that he just can’t help me today because he is trying to study. Sure enough, he had set himself up in front of the television with a desk, some paper and pens, a documentary on the ocean deeps, and a few books to act as a cross reference. I couldn’t deny that he was well organised, so I left him to it, while I discussed the situation with my wife.
I have been doing adult education in the last year or so. It’s great. You stand in front of a group of people, tell them what you will be studying, tell them what you want them to understand by the end of it, and then you give the lesson. If I am at work, people are being paid to listen to me. If I am at university, people are paying money to hear me. On some level, they all want to be there, and at worst, they will be unobtrusively vacant while they wait for it all to finish. It’s just so simple. None of that applies here. As my wife so clearly pointed out to me, there is a need for negotiation in this style of teaching. There is also a terrible irony in trying to drag a child away from their study so that they can ‘do some learning.’
I sat down with him, started drawing some pictures with him about what we were looking at, and joined in his study session. In the end, we watched ‘The Deeps’ four times consecutively. We didn’t really get to stop for morning tea or lunch, because we were too absorbed in what we were looking at.
We covered offensive and defensive camouflage, seeing with different parts of the light spectrum, various animals that live at great depth, why those animals need the adaptations they have, photosynthetic vs chemosynthetic food chains, the difference between volcanoes and volcanic chimneys, maps and where the various place referred to are, the depth of oceans and trenches, and how those distances relate to local landmarks, what pressure is, how pressure acts on heat and volume, different types of submarines, and then some.
It was great, and can only be described as being a wildly successful days education.
My first lesson was that child led learning needs to be led by the child. Plans require negotiation and flexibility. I’m glad I learned this now, and got it out of the way. I get the feeling it’s an important lesson to learn.