Four homeschool ideas

One of my favourite educationalists is John Taylor Gatto, who often emphasised the importance of family in educating a child. With the advent of formal schooling, most parents subcontract this very important aspect of a child’s life to schools, trusting paid professionals, and subsequently, parents play a very minimal role in educating their children, focusing only on the delivery of exam grades.

The lockdowns have forced parents to revisit this framework. But this creates stress for parents, who have to balance their own work and other caring responsibilities with homeschooling. For us old hands at homeschooling, the best homeschooling ideas are those that you invest 30 minutes of your time in, and your child spend another 90 minutes working independently to grow the seed you planted. I personally think this is the element that contributes most to the success of a homeschooled child compared to their peers: the ability to work independently to deliver a piece of work without being spoon-fed at every stage.

The second aspect of homeschooling that sets it apart from formal schooling is freedom from national curriculum straight jackets. And let’s face it, there are more important things to learn to succeed in life than memorising equations and useless facts. With these two points in mind, here are four ideas for you. Enjoy!

Writing = thinking and communicating

Writing is more than just grammar and rules of grammar. I still don’t know what nouns and pronouns are, yet I have written six books, two of which won international awards. For me, writing is about communicating an idea that is reverberating inside your head. But sometimes, when you ask a child (even a brilliant child) to write something, they stare at you blankly. Probably because they are not able to structure their thoughts and express those thoughts explicitly, rather than a lack of ideas.

My youngest child, Georgina, hates writing. She’d rather be kicking a football around or playing with her dogs, cats and guinea pigs. The last thing I’d do is to force her to write. So I force her to talk (no problems there!) about her ideas instead and get her practising structuring her thoughts. For example, I’d give her a scenario and she has to tell the story:

“Imagine we’re driving along a lonely stretch of the highway late at night. There are no other cars on the road. This stretch of road that we’re driving along is rumoured to be haunted. And then suddenly, out of nowhere, a police car with flashing lights snucks up behind us and the driver gesticulates for Dad to stop the car. What should we do? What do we think it’s all about?”

She would come up with the wildest scenario (like we murdered the gardener and have his body in the boot and his blood is dripping out and it wasn’t a policeman but a vampire dressed as a policeman), but to get her to write them down is the second part of the challenge. So we used to look for writing competitions, as this would appeal to her practical and competitive nature.

Here’s one:

https://www.theportico.org.uk/portico-sadie-massey-awards?fbclid=IwAR1dNIUqC8kbfi9D01a4c_yq4LCOjkoQu57lt_TRvF9u_2YPCthSkifQMYM

Closing date 26th March 2021, and the competition is open to 7-16 year olds. You could discuss ideas with your children, do some research together, and once you have established the topic, set them off working independently.

This Zoom event may help you with your child with the research and spark your own interest in the Brontes: https://www.bronte.org.uk/whats-on/1089/the-bronte-lounge-with-ann-dinsdale/6550?fbclid=IwAR24FaPQE4L76sD7Z5Yd6ibB5X81ud5I565yHRr2bQZmGq8Hce-62-GM1Gw

And promise to double their prize-winnings. This always worked with our children (though I’m sure it’s frowned upon in many purist circles) – Georgina negotiated with us, £100 per A, and £150 per A*. We bargained her down, but she still near-enough broke the bank.

BIOLOGY

The problem with the way that biology is taught is students are taught to run before they could crawl and walk. And if you subscribe to the very solid philosophy of Ontology recapitulates philology then you would know that this methodology is doomed to fail (or at the very best, mildly successful).

I devised a new and exciting way of teaching biology: Make a Creature. The idea is to get children thinking about what a creature needs at the minimal to be able to survive and thrive in its environment. To do so, children need to understand what each body part is for, and why there are there, about adaptations and differentiations. For a species to be successful, their biology must be able to serve the physiology it needs for its environment (this was why dinosaurs died off, except the small ones that we see today – birds).

Ages ago, when discussing evolution with Georgina, I asked her to think about the difference between apes and humans. Her answer (with her signature long suffering sigh that she adopts when she has to explain the obvious): “They stayed up in trees whilst we came down.” And that is indeed a very good answer – our difference is the adaptations that we had to undergo to survive and thrive in our new environment.

Meet Zoki, an inhabitant of a 2D universe. I created him.

There’s lots of good learning in helping me to refine Zoki’s basics. Click on the link to get you into the gold mine.

Making a creature gives your children the opportunity to think multidimensionally, and to build mind maps. This is the one Georgina created on her bedroom wall:

Public speaking

Georgina went for traditional Taekwondo training in a very traditional dojang. The kids there all knew each other, and English wasn’t the main language. I don’t think the other students understood Georgina. But her Taekwondo teacher, Master Yeow, wasn’t going to put up with that ‘aloofness’. “You have gold in your mouth?” he would say, annoyed.

Yes, children must be able to speak coherently to be successful. To be ‘brave’. It’s about the confidence rather than the vocabulary. One of my beliefs when it comes to parenting is “shyness is not an option”. I don’t find shyness in children cute, but rather, an area for development. Because at some stage, that shy little darling is going to have to sit in front of strangers and speak, to win places at university, to get a job, to get promoted. If you don’t speak, how could people warm to you?

Here’s something to aspire to for teenagers:

And here’s an old one of Georgina and five. We paid her to promote Sun Yoga.

Social media

Kids these days are into that, right??? But rather than posting gratuitous photos of self staring vacuously at the camera, why not get them making videos of real value?

These are the two key areas: (1) environmental protection and (2) social justice. It’s about the world they are going to inherit, that are in their hands (this is part of my ME2050 project). Make something good, and I will post it on magnificentbeasts.me.

Have fun!

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