Saturday, 26 November 2016


Firstly what is a curriculum?

It could be described as:

means and materials with which a student will interact for the purpose of achieving identified educational outcomes.

This is where some natural learning/unschooling/delight-directed learning families often want just a SMIDGE of assistance.

There are times when "strewing the path" with activities/equipment is easy - your child or children make it obvious what sort of thing they're interested in or definitely NOT interested in!

But having been in this home educating career for over 20 years now I've come across many families, including my own, where a bit of assistance (just the right degree) has been wanted, but I've never found just the right thing.

So I had to make my own!

And I called it Adventures In Natural Learning:  Seasonal Journal.

One of the recollections my husband has of his school days is that each year at school seemed to have no relationship to the year before - the new information seemed to BURY any previous information.

With a spiral curriculum many ideas are re-visited over the years and BUILT ON according to a child's interest/maturity level.

When we were reviewed by the Education Review Office (when they did regular visits to home educators) the officer asked me:

"If you don't test your children, then how do you know they are moving ahead academically?"

I thought for a second then said:

"Because every time we come back on a subject they've enjoyed in the past they are excited to tell me what they remember about it."

He was satisfied with that answer.

And it has become something I really want other parents to understand.

Over the years I gathered masses and masses of ideas from various educational methods, and have sorted them in an orderly and seasonal fashion.   If a family follow these suggestions over a few years they will have covered SO VERY, VERY MANY TOPICS AND SKILLS.

Start slowly, gauge a child's interest and drop the topic if there is no interest.   Try another topic from the same season and see if there is any interest.   Next year, come back with a fresh Seasonal Journal and look at the same subjects.  At your own pace.  Miss things that are not interesting.  Go deeper into those that engage your child.

As an example - above in 'Mid Summer' a suggested topic is Expansion and Contraction.   For a younger child, perhaps when the sun heats the corrugated iron roof of the shed in the morning and you can hear a crack it will be enough to say "The sun is heating the iron roof and it expands, that's the noise we can hear."   That's all.  Unless your child wants to take it further. 

You can quite happily then TICK Expansion and ContractionDon't be surprised if your child then hears a car backfiring (or some other explosive noise) and says "Is that expansion?"

Another subject listed is Making hay, various grasses.  Keep this in mind to talk about when driving past a tractor, or seeing haybales in a paddock.  Talk about why it is best to put straw on your garden rather than hay (too many seeds in hay perhaps?).  Look at a video of building a hay/straw/sand/mud house.  DO they use hay or straw?  Do they make haybales from wheat stalks?   

How to give and follow instructions - use landmarks can be as simple as a role-play game.  Pretend you're a tourist walking through town, standing at say the park, looking lost.  Stop your child and say "Whereabouts is the library please?"   Your child can have a go at explaining how to get there.   Or role play a phone call - you're a washing-machine repair man who needs directions to your house (his GPS is broken ...)        You could also look at a map and give your child a pointer.  Point to New Zealand.  Go to India - what ocean do you go over?  Now go to Japan.  What country are you flying over?

Open YOUR mind to questions about how the world works.  Your child may be interested too.

And next year, coming back on the same topics they will, more than likely, remember what you discussed, and they will BUILD on it.


Playing games is an AMAZING way to learn.

If you've been following my blog, or my Facebook Page (Adventures In Natural Learning) you'll know that I want everyone to realise the benefits of play for children (and adults!).

At the front of my Adventures In Natural Learning: Handbook I've said:

'I haven't listed each skill covered by the various activities - that is totally unnecessary in a natural learning environment, and can so often limit spontaneous and joyful learning.  Separating skills and forecasting goals and objects is an institutional way of thinking.'

I'll come back to this in a minute.

Just recently, due to some online and some real-life discussions, I've been thinking a lot about the "de-schooling" period that many children need/require/crave when they are taken out of school, and into a home education environment.

It's true that parents also need a "de-schooling" period.  And, it's patently obvious, when looking at society in general, that many adults who went to school EVEN WHEN THEY REALISED THEN/REALISE NOW THE SYSTEM IS FLAWED still hold to those same methods of "education" as being the right way to educate a child.

This can be a huge problem when a parent wants to home educate, but they are still ... can I say 'brainwashed' ... into thinking that the national curriculum, and the methods used by regular schooling are the best, the right and the only way to educate.

Many parents,who start out home educating using regular school as their model (even when they say 'We're going to do it our way, our own timetable, have a blast, a fun life, our rules ...) well, even with good intentions many parents have found, over time even as their  education methods have relaxed and their lives become more education-rich in a natural way - they still have a nagging thought that they're not doing 'enough'.

This can come from three main sources.  One is comparing themselves to other families.   DON'T.   Just Don't Do That.  Ok?

The second is not quite comparing, but seeing all the cool 'educational resources' that their friends 'like' on Facebook, or special offers that mysteriously enter their FB feed from curriculum companies ... and the feeling that perhaps they're letting their children down by not providing these wonderful resources.  Or the feeling that actually - yes - they are making things harder for themselves by having such a haphazard way of educating their children, and surely it would be less chaotic, more streamlined and successful if there were some sort of method or path mapped out by an educational professional  who obviously knew what they were doing.

The third nagging-doubt-maker comes from a parent remembering days and days of handwriting, filling in worksheets, reading text books, covering multitudes of maths concepts, report cards at the end of term, copying from the blackboard (I was at school prior to the whiteboard era!), having to give reports in front of the class, busywork, pretend tests for the up-and-coming tests, 'what I did in the holidays' ...   Well, that is what education looks like.  Isn't it?

These doubts may not be at the front of their mind when the sun shines, the washing is up to date, all beds made with clean sheets, vacuuming all done, the children are playing co-operatively, days are free and easy, everyone is smiling and laughing and happy, the children are playing imaginative games full of enquiry, freely theorizing and naturally separating fallacies, fact, and opinion, being kind to one another, dazzling your visitors with home-grown general knowledge, wonderful manners and sparkling conversation skills, the fridge is full of healthy food, there is baking in the tins, and there is a general feeling of bliss.

Then there are the other days ...  and the doubts creep in.

"We're not doing enough."
"Ok, I read all about play being good for children, but at what age does that stop?"
"Sure - they can learn stuff when they play, but it's really limited."

And now I return, finally, to my original thoughts.

The way most of us have been educated is just one way.

It might not have been the right way for you.  It might not the be the right way for your children.

And if you want another way - you can PLAY.  At any age!!

It's true, I haven't listed each skill a child can learn playing various games in my book.  But just as an example look at the game below:

I could list skills such as:  following instructions;  listening;  standing still;  being aware of someone else's space;  IMPULSE CONTROL (not shouting out the answer);  learning to not be disappointed when YOU know the answer but the person chosen doesn't know;  staying quiet; remaining standing;  waiting for your turn;  thinking of the answer and holding onto that thought (hard for some children); being graceful toward a sibling; respectfully disagreeing if you feel you are right; not being braggy or arrogant if you keep getting the answers right; accepting when the game is finished; and then there is the actual answering of the questions.

If a parent thinks it would be too challenging thinking of questions for this game then quickly write some ideas on the book.   Things like:

RELATIONSHIPS  (Who is nana's son's wife's daughter?) 
TIME (What two days make up the weekend/what is the fourth month of the year/what time is 14 hundred hours?)
GEOGRAPHICAL (Name one country on the border of Germany/name one of the major oceans/what is one of the longest rivers in the world?)

etc etc etc

If a parent doesn't have the confidence to think of questions on-the-spot then maybe print out a list of general knowledge questions similar to this and put it in the Handbook.   (NB  like all new things, it's a learning curve for a parent, and may take a bit of getting used to but it's worth it.  Quite a few children LOVE being asked questions in a non-threatening, non-embarasing environment.  Also, NB if you print out questions be sure to look through them first, it is rare that I find a list of GOOD questions - I can often see areas where the children would disagree with the "right" answer, or questions on subjects that we have no interest in right now!).

I was recently on holiday (first holiday in 10 years!!!!) with my Mum and three of my children.  The bach we stayed in had a big selection of games and books.  The children found a "general knowledge" type game which they played with my mum.  She called out (relevant) questions from the cards:  "Hands on buzzers - which is the highest mountain in the world?"  One of the children would "buzz" she would announce them (as per "University Challenge" or other TV quiz show).  We didn't keep score, nobody cared if they were wrong, it was just fun, built relationships and passed the time (and yes, if you want to label it as such - it was educational).

If you don't have my Handbook - then just find a list of a few games somewhere, print them out, put them on the fridge so you ACTUALLY PLAY THEM - and get on with some real learning!!