Home education in the Dedman household can best be described by the title of this magazine – ‘Otherways’. What that means for me is being able to organise our son Jacob’s education for each day in a way that he will benefit from most at that particular time in his life. However, because life has lots of unpredictable moments, this does not always go to plan. Therefore, plan B, which is usually something completely different, and which I hope will meet the needs of the day, is always formulating in the back of my mind. So, education for us could be described as: other, different, lots, versatile, adaptable, many, diverse…the list could go on.
Our education program is organised and facilitated by myself, but my husband Pete is my support team. When his work allows, he involves Jacob in shed activities which have endless learning outcomes. Not only is he teaching Jacob skills involving tools, but all areas of the curriculum are covered with planning, measuring, writing, sketching and reading, as well as many more skills I’m sure I’m not aware of. There have been days when it has been obvious that more movement was needed to enhance Jacob’s learning, and on those days Pete has taken us on bush walks, where he has explained how the environment impacts on fire control.
Each weekday we have a schedule for our education program, but this is a schedule with a built in flexibility clause. For us it is very important to have that constant of a schedule, but it’s equally important to develop the understanding that ‘things’ happen, and we need to be prepared to change or alter our plans accordingly. During the last 12 months, having this understanding proved to be invaluable, as I had two major family crises which involved a lot of time away.
During this time, we had ‘school on the move’. This involved audio books in the car and discussions arising from them, worksheets and lots of incidental learning. Pete took Jacob on a ‘mystery history tour’ around the area in which both of our families had lived for several generations. This tour, which was in an old rural area, also helped to develop photography skills, initial report writing skills and an appreciation of why history is important. Having this adaption meant we were all still able to be together during these times and I was able to attend to the needs of my family while Pete continued with Jacob’s education.
Jacob began his education in mainstream school. However, after only a few weeks, it was obvious that this system did not provide a learning environment that would support his needs. We knew that he needed a particular environment and support which we now realise mainstream school cannot offer. This realisation was surprising to us, as we have another son who is ten years older and had attended mainstream schooling. We automatically presumed this would be achievable for Jacob also.
Home education was an option we had heard about but had little knowledge of. I remember myself, as a young girl, learning that there was a girl who lived in the house next door to my school who was home educated and rarely seen outdoors. But we knew from other information that there were a lot more families using this option for education now, and they definitely went outdoors often, so we began to explore more. After researching and evaluating our situation, we withdrew Jacob from mainstream school and commenced educating him at home.
Jacob is now 11 and in his sixth year of education at home. During that time, we have definitely evolved. At the very start of our journey, while we were trying to find our feet, we used a lot of workbooks and worked to a program that was similar to mainstream school. However, we quickly learned that we needed to find other ways to engage Jacob. Now, our curriculum changes constantly according to what will suit his learning style best at that particular time, experiences which we can use as a platform from which to develop educational outcomes, what resources are available, and what needs our family has at that time. Currently I use a mixture of resources from which to base Jacob’s program.
The MOST valuable resource for me is our library. I am always amazed at how our library system has remained current in our modern world of technology, but maintained that basic element within their system… books. Books of course now come in various forms, but they offer the user a choice in which to immerse themselves in fiction or non- fiction topics and be carried away to another place. Our local library has an online catalogue which has many other libraries within its system, which means I have access to what seems like an endless choice of resources.
I have found it important to understand that I neither have, nor need to have, expert skills in all areas of the curriculum. I freely admit that I am no artist, but I am so pleased that Kirsty from Artventure is. Her short tutorials are fabulous! Jacob and I are developing our art skills together and it is obvious that Jacob has a natural talent. As I write this article, Jacob is painting and creating a didgeridoo from a large cardboard cylinder. This is something that has developed from skills he learned during a recent trip throughout parts of Australia.
Music is another area I have little experience with, but this is definitely self-directed learning for Jacob. He has musical instincts that I think you either have or you don’t have. He has it! He makes his own drum kits from items at home which many would term ‘rubbish’. He then makes up tunes and has just begun putting some words to them. I remember reading an article in Otherways from a professional pianist who recommended children learn from experimenting rather than lessons, and I took that on board by allowing Jacob to go with his own experiences.
In our lives, technology is used as a tool. YouTube and short documentary videos are wonderful ways to visually explore and explain a subject or topic, while Google helps us to investigate further. I do subscribe to Studyladder and Skwirk, which I use for Jacob in small amounts to offer another style of learning and to support the work we are already doing.
Jacob really needs no encouragement with science. Lots of closely monitored experiments take place, and our backyard provides the perfect stage to study birdlife, insects and plants.
Current affairs is of great interest to Jacob at the moment. During breakfast, we each have a newspaper which we read and we discuss topics of interest together. This provides so many learning opportunities including: problem solving, language development, grammar development, spelling, reading and much more. Sometimes there are healthy debates and it provides a non-threatening way of discussing the ‘bad’ things that happen in our world, and thinking about ways in which they could possibly be solved, or why they may have occurred.
Probably the most important part of our home education curriculum is exercise. First thing in the morning is my exercise time. I spend about 45 to 60 minutes exercising, during which time Jacob is sitting at a table nearby working on written work he can complete independently. He also takes regular exercise breaks by joining in for a few minutes. This sets up both my mind and body for the day, which helps me be at my best to support Jacob’s learning for that day.
During the day we have lots of exercise, which takes the form of games, physical exercises and incidental exercise. This is what I would describe as the key to our day in regards to setting up for the best educational outcomes.
Each night, I sit down and plan the next day’s lesson using a simple planner I devised which has all of the curriculum areas in boxes. From my resources, which I am constantly gathering, I choose different things that will cover all areas of the curriculum and write them up in those boxes. It will come as no surprise to other home educators that many lessons cover several areas of the curriculum. There will be various styles of learning included for the day.
Recently, Jacob has had two learning outcomes that have me embracing even more the principle of ‘other ways’ of learning. The first involves learning about fractions. When I was at primary school I remember being put in the group that just didn’t ‘get’ fractions, and given some blocks to help me work it out. This was purely because there were 30 or more students in the class, one overworked teacher, and no understanding that not all students learn in the same way. So, in teaching Jacob fractions, I was a little nervous. I enlisted Pete’s help to understand the basic concepts myself, and ordered some magnets as a visual aide. All of a sudden it clicked for me. Jacob was caught up in my excitement of ‘getting it’ and together we were able to make sense of it all by using fraction magnets and then transferring that knowledge to real situations that had a purpose or reason.
The second outcome involves writing, which has not been a topic of any interest for Jacob. Instead of slogging away with lots of reports for him to write in an attempt to develop skills in this area, I simply wrote them for him. He has both great ideas and an extensive vocabulary, so there was no shortage of material from him. We would discuss the format etc. of the report as I was writing it. His reports, that I would scribe for him, continued to develop until one day recently he saw an article in a magazine which was written by someone the same age as him. He immediately decided that he would do a report of his own on a topic of immense interest to him. He has just finished the draft copy of that article, which is three pages long and written entirely by him. It has appropriate structure, content and grammar. This was a definite WOW moment for us and proof again of the success of learning in ‘other ways’.
Our way of home education is not a glossy cover story. Just like life, it has good and not so good days. Different ways of learning are just like the seasons of the year – there is a time and season for everything. Learning how to use this philosophy to create the best learning environment is an education in itself.
Otherways 150 (2016)
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