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Travelling to the Beat of a Different Drum

by Beverley Paine

"If a man loses pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away."
Henry David Thoreau

So many children amaze us with their ability to soak up information and skills when they are little, but there are a few who I'd call especially gifted and some who display definite talent in one or more areas of life. I've also met children who are highly sensitive and react differently to normal stress and stimulation. There are also children who learn very differently, or at a different pace to similar age peers, or who have specific difficulties that need to be catered for and worked around. Sometimes it is helpful to find a diagnosis to access specialised resources and assistance, especially when we are new to the practice of home education. All children need their developmental and educational needs met in a manner that is both timely and appropriate to them. Education, especially school education, has been tailored to suit the educator, rather than the learner.

My approach to learning is to tune into the child' needs, which means really getting to know the child. Because we are with them all day every day as home educators this is a lot easier than most people think. Our intuition kicks in because we are constantly observing and reflecting on what we see and because our need is great that their needs are met! Teachers don't have this same pressure to make sure the kids in their care have their needs met and definitely don't get the time to get to know each child well enough: what they do is often based on what suits other children with similar needs).

Natural learning is largely a matter of getting out of the way of the child's natural learning instincts. A child, especially young children whose confidence as learners hasn't been damaged by the processes of schooling, simply gets on and learns constantly and doesn't think twice about it. It's a given, a natural. They don't actually think about or need to think about the learning process until they are older. However for a few children this thinking about the learning process can start when they are very young and it is a fairly good indication you'll need to work harder at facilitating learning opportunities and finding appropriate resources for them to meet their needs and feed their interests.

It's not easy to trust that children will encounter and explore what they inherently and instinctively need to learn. In the absence of trauma, sustained stress, neglect or abuse children living in interesting environments, with permission to investigate and explore on their own terms, will thrive. Sometimes we really do get in the way, thinking we're helping or protecting them. A recent example that happened with us: my two year old grandson picked up some sharp scissors and went outside to cut flowers. He threw the first cut flower away. His granddad, who values flowers blooming in the garden, wasn't happy with the fact the flower had been casually discarded rather than collected for a vase. I recognised that the lad was obviously ready to learn how to use scissors and suggested that granddad help him cut parsley from an overrun garden bed to feed to the guinea pigs. If our grandson had been interested in picking flowers he would have used his hands: picking up the scissors and taking them outside meant he wanted to know how to use the scissors and had found a reason to use them. Rather than upset him and thwart his intention and motivation, I created a way for all of us to be happy and safe!

I see this process as:

  1. getting to know my grandson really well through observation and reflection;
  2. listening and watching attentively so that I understand what he needs (rather than his wants which I find can sometimes be misleading); and
  3. finding ways to meet those needs which work for everyone. For me, natural learning focuses on what works: anything that doesn't work gets discarded fairly rapidly!

Most toddlers and preschoolers I meet seem incredibly gifted to me. Sadly by the time they turn eight they are ordinary, average, normal... However, I have met some children who by the age of four are obviously different, way more curious than other children, or put intensive energy and concentration into those things that most interest them, beyond what we would recognise as possible for such young children. I only hope these kids never have to go to school and have parents who are able and willing to give them the time and attention they need to allow this energy to continue to develop and bloom. :-)


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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine


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