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Natural Learning - A Different Way of Looking at Home Education
by Beverley Paine, Nov 2024
Homeschool works because learning and life aren't divorced. The things we want our children most to learn are learned naturally at home and in the community as we go about everyday life.
There's a lot that is in the school curriculum kids pick up from chatting to parents and family, or from what they watch, listen to and read. Or from doing chores, busying themselves with after-school classes and sports activities, as well as pursuing their interests and hobbies. Not to mention family visits to zoos, museums, performances, going shopping, celebrations, community events and festivals. And then there is play: pretend, role-playing, board/dice/card games, video and computer games, goofing around being silly.
It's not hard to get involved in a hands-on way with their learning - you simply need to connect with them, be attentive, listen, offer suggestions, drive them here and there, help them find or buy or make the things they need to get on with what they want or need to do next.
That's life. That's learning.
Schools take a whole bunch of that and turn it into worksheets and lesson plans and schedules. This is mainly to get kids to write or draw or perform to show they've understood and can do whatever it is to people who aren't there with them, observing them doing it. It's called 'evidence of learning'. Teachers need a hard copy because it is hard to be present and attentive to dozens of kids at the same time. They need to take the work home and mark it to keep up with what the individual kids know and can do.
If you take out of the homeschool curriculum all the worksheets and lesson plans for the stuff that naturally happens in your everyday life with your kids, what's left?
Learning how to use some basic tools people value in society, such as reading and writing and speaking (for communication), or maths skills (so we don't get ripped off and can do our taxes, or if we want to, engineer bridges or space stations). The scientific method is helpful too as it can be applied to just about every area of life.
It's not hard to help our kids learn these basics. Some kids pick them up easily, others need a bit more attention and help. There's lots of free and paid easily available, and if you get stuck you can hire a tutor to help get you and your child over a hill.
It's okay if your child is learning these things at a different rate or different ages to the kids in school. It's not a race, and besides, they are still enjoying a full and busy life learning all that other stuff. It doesn't matter if your child can't read yet if you're available to read important or useful information, or to listen to them sharing about what they've learned and know. We just need to be there, in an attentive interested way. Kids need learning partners, not just teachers.
Children learn because they want and need to make sense of the world. We help them by doing what humans have done forever: model what we want them to learn, how we want them to behave, encourage them to help us do the chores, talk to them, and talk with them.
I've always found that home education is a cinch for those parents who talk with their children. The day becomes an endless conversation about anything and everything. We learn as much as they do because their questions show us the gaps in our knowledge and understanding and we too want to make sense of the world.
You can talk about anything and everything. You don't have to be an expert on any subject. You are a learner too.
Don't get me wrong, by being our children's learning partners, learning along with them, doesn't mean we're like them. Our children don't want us to be children. They want us to be adults, parents. They want us to help them build strong safe boundaries, help them understand who they are, how to relate to others, how to find their own individual place in the world that is right for them. They need us to protect them until they can protect themselves.
And they need us to gently challenge them to grow, and to provide safety nets until they no longer need them.
When we learn beside our children we learn as adults, they learn as children. It's not a hierarchy. It's just different. Accepting that all people learn and think in different ways is probably the most important thing I've learned from homeschooling my children.
Children are like sponges - they will soak up anything that is there to learn. They can't help it. Our role is to make sure that what we want them to learn is in their path.
As a volunteer in a classroom, I met kids whose behavior was destructive. Rather than automatically blame the kids I noticed that there wasn't anything constructive to do. Plenty of lessons sitting at desks, reading and writing, but very little time to use their bodies and their hands. these kids wanted to build and make things, use their imaginations in colourful, big, bold ways.
Children need to be active to grow. Children who are active can't help learning across the curriculum.
If we write a list of all the things humans need to know by adulthood there is a good chance it won't include knowing the names of famous artists or prime ministers or how to turn oil into petrol and plastics.
We want our children to know how to survive, how to eat properly, stay healthy, manage their finances, get along with others, cultivate good friendships, keep on the right side of the law, take care of their belongings, and so on. Pretty basic stuff.
In our society, at this point in human history, we need to know how to read, write and do arithmetic to achieve all these things.
We teach our children how to use a toothbrush to clean their teeth. We teach them how to do up buttons and zippers. Buttons and zippers and toothbrushes are tools. Without them life isn't easy, it can even get painful. Tools make our life easy.
When we tell our children that maths, spelling, grammar, reading and writing are tools that make our life easy - by using them in everyday contexts - we give them power to use these tools to make their lives easy.
We use these tools properly in front of our children, demonstrating their use. We go out of our way to do this because, just as we can't expect a child to how to and use a toothbrush if they never see us doing or aren't shown how to use it, we can't expect them to know how to calculate change, follow a recipe or write a letter to the editor. And we don't show our children how to use the toothbrush when their teeth are clean, we show them when there is a need to clean them.
Which is why learning is best done when the need to learn is greatest. Homeschooling allows us to strike while the iron is hot, when children are most interested or have the greatest need or desire to learn.
We can put learning in context for our children. We can help them make sense of the world. Helping them learn how to use tools well is one of the ways we help them do this.
Think of all the tools you use as an adult. Not just physical tools, I'm also talking about skills you've picked up over the years.
Brainstorm all the different areas and places in your life you use tools.
For example, in the kitchen - you might list knife and fork, pots and pans, or rules about how to use the stove safely. Rules are tools too.
Think of tools in the broadest sense. A car is a tool we use to get to work. The internet is a tool we use to share our knowledge. A prayer is a tool we use to communicate with God.
We use tools in every area of our life. Helping our children learn how to use tools covers every area of the curriculum.
Learning happens naturally when we're busy, creative, constructive, reflective; when we live busy lives doing all the things that need to be done; when we're playing and having fun; or helping others. Learning happens because we're alive and interested in all sorts of things.
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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.
Welcome to the World of Home Education
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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