Thursday, October 22, 2009

Motivation and balance

I've been pondering the importance of 'balance' in our lifelong learning process.  We're delighted to be keeping our kids out of school for the long haul, god willing, so I want to lay a foundation now that is sustainable for all of us.  I want my children to love learning AND develop the skills to pursue whatever goals they set.  I want to be there with the right resources at the right time, but also to know when to keep out of the way and let things unfold at their own pace.  Ideally there will be abundant curiosity, times of peace and times of excited activity, not too much conflict, plenty of love and acceptance, and freedom to pursue individual goals (including fossil collecting, drumming or designing fashion for dolls!)

I like to plant seeds of interest (mostly in science and HSIE) by borrowing a stack of books and some DVDs.  Mammals, for example, is a topic we recently explored together and greatly enjoyed (it sparked much interest about predators and prey).  We share a LOT of books, gather relevant games and toys, and sometimes the kids put together a lapbook to share what they've learned with others.  Often it spills over into art and music (they loved the Don Spencer songs like 'Dig like a wombat')  DD4 loves workbooks and often asks to do 'schoolwork'.  Then I include some textbook pages or writing in her box of possibilities.  DS5 is the opposite.  He usually hates activity books if they require his pencil to move (it's ok if I'm scribing for him), but he likes tracing and drawing when he's in the mood.  He does spelling by arranging letter tiles, or typing on the computer.  He loves books and flashcards, computer games and telling stories.  How lucky is he, when I compare his freedom to the regimentation and demands of a regular school!

I read somewhere that children know what they need and will ask for it, and I'm starting to trust that this is the case.  They ask me fascinating questions, and will learn  more than enough by pursuing these trains of inquiry.  I'm considering whether we are actually unschoolers (need to read more about it).  Not sure, but I can relate to what I've read about Natural Learning.  I don't choose to use any particular curriculum ... however I have read the scope and sequence/ curriculum frameworks of most states and some from overseas, and always feel reassured that my children are covering (and exceeding) the recommended areas for K/1 (even if they play with textbooks rather than finish them the way I'd usually expect of my students ... because the school expects me to expect that!)

Here's something I found about 'Intrinsic Motivation'.  I believe and hope it's what my children will develop as a result of being free to be kids, active in building their own education.  I found it on   ...

Definition: Intrinsic motivation refers to motivation that comes from inside an individual rather than from any external or outside rewards, such as money or grades.

The motivation comes from the pleasure one gets from the task itself or from the sense of satisfaction in completing or even working on a task.  An intrinsically motivated person will work on a solution to a problem because the challenge of finding a solution is provides a sense of pleasure. 

Intrinsic motivation does not mean, however, that a person will not seek rewards. It just means that such external rewards are not enough to keep a person motivated. An intrinsically motivated student, for example, may want to get a good grade on an assignment, but if the assignment does not interest that student, the possibility of a good grade is not enough to maintain that student's motivation to put any effort into the project.

Enough for today ... I still have plenty to learn about all of this.  I'm glad I started early (before we had kids) and as much as I want ALL the answers NOW, there's no rush.  We're happy and blessed with all we need for today.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Change of pace

The public school holidays coincided with our readiness for a break from routine, so I told the kids we were having a few weeks break.  Since we were already floating along at low tide, it wasn't a huge change, but we've taken the opportunity to be more spontaneous. 

 Some of the highlights of the past two weeks have been:

*  First time for both kids jumping on bungee trampolines
*  First camel and pony rides
*  First ferry ride to visit Grandparents in Stockton
*  Buying an almost new RAV4, our ticket to adventure
*  Playing in the kids pool at Merewether Baths
*  Fun at Nanna's house with little friends
*  Putt putt golf church activity
*  Trekking up the huge sand dunes at Birubi Beach
*  Paddling in the shallows at Boat Harbour
*  Swinging for hours and playing totem tennis

In between playing chauffeur, referee, chef and housemaid, I've managed to do some sorting of all our school resources (a huge task).  I've made a few changes in the sunroom (aka dining room) to better accommodate our 'school stuff'.  And I have enjoyed plenty of reading, doing a jigsaw puzzle and a new brain trainer puzzle book.

We're so tired from our holiday adventures, that I declared yesterday a pupil free day, and sent the kids out to play!  We spent an hour on ABC Reading Eggs in the afternoon, trying out some new features which are fun.

We're diving back in today.  So far I've only managed to vacuum, wash up and deal with tantrums.  I'm tempted to take stress leave, but today's plans are too much fun to abandon ... start a papier mache project (a battlefield for DS5, a fairy garden for DD4), write a story together, and listen to a CD called 'Say hello to the Orchestra'.  Here goes!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Remembering 'real' school ...

I've always found teaching to be a great outlet for all kinds of creativity.  I mostly taught infants, grades 1-3, sometimes composite classes (1/2 or 2/3 ... I loved these!)  I started with casual teaching in public and private schools, followed by 2 years in an Anglican boys boarding school, then 2 years in a Christian school.  Since having children, I've done a few blocks in Christian schools, while my husband was a stay at home dad.  Now I'm glad to be a semi-retired teacher (god-willing, I'll be home for the next 12 years at least), and I love my role as a mum who teaches her own children.

When I was working, for one or two days each holiday break I'd go in and rearrange my classroom, move desks into new groups, set up a reading corner with curtains and cushions, paint window scenes related to a topic we'd be studying (windows covered in glad wrap, then painted with regular school paint).  Science centres, book displays and word walls, writing stations, computer corners, tadpoles or hermit crabs in fish tanks ... all jostled for space.  It was a lot of fun thinking of the possibilities and bringing some of them to life, sometimes with the help of a few class parents.

My school teaching days were fairly predictable, based on a timetable, school routines, bell times and subjects, assemblies etc.  Most weeks my daybook was checked by a headmaster or stage supervisor (I was once told I may NOT move the handwriting slot to a different time ... however the same boss approved many of my other wild ideas, so no hard feelings).  When I could, within the school framework I used creative license to integrate subjects into topics my students loved (like a farming unit for my Yr 2 boys, ending with an overnight excursion to a sheep station).  I set up enrichment classes for gifted students, boost groups for average students, and coached older high school teams for Tournament of Minds. 

I noticed even in the private system, that each year students were doing worse things at a younger age.  Sadly, there are media reports every day with stories of bullying, violence etc.  Other teachers in my own family have been chased with scissors, had chairs thrown at them, and younger relatives still in school have had to learn code words which mean 'get under your desk', to cope with a fellow student with violent outbursts.  My trials were thankfully more trivial, but still trying day after day ... cheeky kids, time consuming reporting systems, long hours planning and programming, and on a lighter note, being a ballerina trying to coach rugby!
Since we decided to homeschool our children almost 2 years ago, I have been 'deschooling' myself.  My teaching experience has given me lots of ideas, and it can be hard to choose from the huge menu of options we have on offer.  There are boundaries which I am now free to cross and baggage which I no longer need.  And although I was lucky to have some classes as small as 17, 20 and 12 students, having only 2 allows for truly personalised instruction.   Every teacher's dream, I think!

So this is kind of a 'where I came from' post.  Next I'll try and write a 'where we're heading' message, one about 'why' and 'how we might get there'!