…gang aft agley.
But nevertheless, I’ve been thinking about our plans for the education side of life this year. I remember at the beginning of last year vaguely thinking about what we’d like to achieve and then being pleasantly surprised recently when I realised that we’d pretty much done everything I’d hoped to but without any timetable or direct sit down ‘learning’. I had wanted Sophia to get a better grasp of the alphabet, to approach reading if she was ready and to practise handwriting. I’d also hoped we could start exploring time, the seasons and days/months. This year she pretty much taught herself to read, there was some help and guidance from me but it was most definitely driven by herself. For her 4th birthday she got a oxford reading tree first readers book (by Julia Donaldson who we love!) and she’s having lots of fun attempting to read the stories to me (and has successfully read the first 4). She has got a real grasp on the concept of time and seasons and to my surprise has started doing simple addition and subtraction. The joy of learning through play! She just casually told me one day that if a train had 3 wheels on one side and 3 on the other it had 6 altogether. From there we played games where I had x cakes and then gave one to her and how many were left and so on. We’ve discussed life cycles a lot, from acorn to oak tree, frogspawn to frog, caterpillar to butterfly. We’ve had conversations about the movement of water and she’s talked a lot about the earth moving round the sun and how the sun rises on the other side of the world to us when it is her bedtime. She really noticed stars for the first time and was absolutely awestruck by them as well as amused that they were just round ‘not like the shape they are in pictures’. Really, it’s been a year full of discovery.
What I’ve loved is how much has been learnt simply through questions and conversations we’ve had. I find it really reassuring that there isn’t one formula for successful education and that are so many approaches, depending on what suits your child. Given that I’m a big talker and Dan’s a big thinker I guess it was only natural that Sophia would want to think about a lot of things but to explore them through incessant chatter.
I haven’t looked at the key stage ‘goals’ for her age as although she is 4, she doesn’t technically have to be in full time education until she’s 5 so I didn’t want to look and then get stressed if I thought we weren’t at the right stage. I’d much rather continue as we are with the emphasis on learning through play (which has been in the media a lot recently as they’ve been discussing the school starting age and our approach to early years education) and then evaluate this time next year when she has turned 5. Having said that, the childminders she sees on a Monday at Pebble House are always full of praise for her which is lovely to hear and good to dispel any worries!
Having said all that, Sophia does like the idea of ‘doing school’ so we have started a simple routine at the start of our day which she has been enjoying. I noticed that although she can write every letter of the alphabet, like a lot of small children, she was getting some mixed up with others and some the wrong way round. So we are currently practicing a letter a day so I can show her the correct or easiest way for her to draw letters to ensure she can write them correctly. I figured it was something she enjoys and it was good to nip any bad writing habits in the bud. After we’ve practiced writing the letter several time she’s been coming up with some words that start with that letter and sounding them out then writing them down. We’ve finished the half hour by her getting one of her early readers to read me and Isaac a story or two. The whole thing only takes 30-40 minutes but it’s a good start to the day and makes us all feel productive! Once I’ve researched a bit more about how I can use cuisinaire rods I think I’m going to add in an invitation to play with them once or twice a week as well.
This year we will also continue her scrapbook that we started in September. Whenever we go on a home ed outing or special trip, we’ve been sticking some photos in and writing a little bit about what we did. It’s good handwriting practice for her and good practice to recall what she’s been doing to reinforce what we learnt/experienced. It’s also a good way for us to keep a record of what we’ve been up to for when I have those moments where I think ‘oh my goodness, we’ve done NOTHING useful for weeks’!
Alongside these we will just carry on as we have been. Sophia is still adamant she’ll be a chef when she grows up so we do lot of baking and cooking together. Isaac helped us for the first time just before Christmas and now wants to ‘mixy mix’ every time I’m in the kitchen with a bowl and spoon so I have two willing helpers now. They both love to do crafty activities and play board games. We experienced water beads courtesy of our lovely friend for the first time recently which was a hit and soundtracks, a fishing game and frustration are the favoured games of the moment. Soundtracks should get a special mention, Mum got it for them after remembering us playing it as children. You each have a board with 9 pictures on and then you play a CD with various sounds and you have to match the sound (e.g. fireworks, cat mewing, someone playing piano) to the pictures on your board. It’s so simple but they both love it. Isaac’s also been working on his hand eye coordination and fine motor skills (not that he knows it!) by getting thoroughly stuck into a box of brio trains and track which are on long term loan to us from one of my oldest friends. And I finally got Sophia out on her bike without stabilisers and she was going in no time – all the practice on the balance bike paid off, it was amazing! Unfortunately though, it’s temporarily out of action as I need to take it to a bike shop/ friend with lots of bike experience. But hopefully we’ll be out on it again, a lot, soon!
My only other definite plan for the year is to make a model of the solar system (a good friend linked me to an amazing one which I can’t find now but will!) to further explore that with Sophia while she’s so interested in it but I’m sure that many more things will crop up along the way for us to explore and create.
I was finding it tough in the weeks leading up to Christmas with the smauls and starting to doubt myself. They were both being quite full on as Isaac was cutting 4 teeth at once and Sophia was ridiculously overexcited at the combination of her birthday, Christmas and family and friends visiting. This meant they were both prone to silly tantrums, screaming and lots of crying. I felt touched out and a little trapped. I was talking to a friend about the new Steiner Academy in Exeter and despite my previous negative experience of a Steiner school I was intrigued. Apparently they are open to the idea of flexi schooling and I love their emphasis on nature, the arts and the gentle start to formal education. I was planning on going to their open day to look round and I think I will do that but not with a mind for them to go quite yet (Isaac of course, can’t anyway). But I’d like to know if the option of flexi schooling is open to us in years to come. A Dutch friend of mine reminded me how lucky we are in the UK that home educating your children isn’t controlled in terms of restraint or restrictions from authorities and that it doesn’t have to be forever. It was a timely reminder. Home education is what we are doing now and as far as I can foresee, will be doing for a good few years to come. But it doesn’t mean we’ll do it for all of their school years. I just need to focus on the here and now, for that is where I’m needed.