Thursday, 8 January 2009

Grit's guide to home ed (1) Lessons

Holidays are crap, aren't they? I spend every day with my head in my hands because in holiday time there is no timetable and we aren't doing anything.

Then it's January and everyone's back at work. Lessons start again. French. Gym. Trampoline. And I spend every day with my head in my hands complaining we're doing too much. Now our lives are structured with lessons. And aren't I missing the whole point of home education? That we have the right to loll about on the sofa all day? We don't need lessons. Or timetables. We can kiss goodbye to routine. Watch daytime TV. Wear fairy outfits, no knickers and wellington boots. Go for a pee without having to put up our hands. Or getting off the sofa. Yeah. We should be able to do what the hell we like.

And I support that view, really. This is one of the freedoms of the UK. Every home educator directs their educational choice and right now we don't have to follow a curriculum, use timetables or sit in lessons if we feel those things get in the way of an education.

But if we want lessons, they're all around us. Your local sports centre, library, museum, they're touting for your custom. If you have the energy, you can organise a fine week of workshops, a month of lessons, a bunch of outings, visits, meet-ups, make your own plans, hire specialists and tutors, organise groups. Then there isn't even time to scratch your own backside.

And this is a problem with home ed. Should we do lessons? Or lolling? Some weeks it would be easier to fly to the moon than get that balance right.

Well here is the first in an occasional series of Grit's guide to the home ed minefield for the uninitiated. For those of you with enough mental stability to send your offspring to school and thus have the leisure to sit at home reading this stuff while you wait for the manicurist.

There are seven forms of home ed lessons. Really. I've thought of that many.

1. Reading aloud from a book over breakfast while the class has its mouth stuffed full of Cheerios and can't argue.

We do one of those lessons three or four times a week. Today it is how the heart pumps. I don't know why I am driven to discuss body parts at meal times. I just am. Tomorrow I might read aloud the Wikipedia entry on Babylon, so we can go to the British Museum.

These are very good lessons. The ones you do because you want to. I bet the autonomous crowd are clapping now.

2. Lessons you have paid for. So you are bloody well going if you have to hobble there on stumps.

These are good lessons. Dance, Swimming, French, Drama. Stuff like that. Grit likes these lessons and pays for quite a few. I can escort Shark, Squirrel and Tiger on an educational pretext to lessons that sound good if we are stopped by the truancy patrol; dump them for an hour then mooch around Sainsbury's fantasising about the nutritional benefits of Nutella. My only regret is that I cannot find lessons in Ancient Greek. If I could this would be excellent because it would really piss off the we-home-educate-because-our-son/daughter-is-academically-gifted brigade.

3. The crappy boring worksheets, CGP books, National Curriculum books, structured courses, stuff like that.

These are the lessons of Grit's super ego. She would like to do these. I could swiftly slot Shark, Squirrel and Tiger into school knowing they only have to remember to put up their hands before they pee.

On the downside, a pre-packaged curriculum is expensive and boring. To do maths you may have to believe in God. And they require coherence, discipline, organisation, a quiet approach to study, and family unity. We're stuffed.

4. The zeitgeisty stuff like computer-based lessons because everyone's learning online now.

Even I got out my credit card for Education City. Then there is Starfall and the BBC. No shortage. But this approach can be psychologically damaging. You may even become schizophrenic. You spend all morning directing kids to the computer and all afternoon trying to get them off it. Confusing. In Grit's experience, best avoided because one computer between three is not enough and the egg-timer solution doesn't work. So potentially a very expensive approach indeed.

5. Lessons organised from within the home ed community. How trendy and New Age is that?

We all have areas of knowledge, right? Like playing chess, making puppets, telling stories, flower arranging. So it is sensible to share that knowledge. Co-operatively. Together. Let's hold hands.

This would be great if it worked. In reality it means bringing together a disparate bunch of home edders who have nothing in common apart from the fact they home educate. Some may actively hate each other and spend their time conducting guerrilla warfare behind the wiggly eyes at the craft session. But let's lay that aside shall we ladies? We can all be passionate about flower arranging in Sumatra if we try.

6. One-off lessons, workshops, talks, lectures delivered by educational staff at places like museums, parks, galleries, posh houses, aquariums, mines.

Hit and miss. If the leader thinks they are talking to the public then they speak eloquently, knowledgeably, wisely and with good humour and grace. If they think they are dealing with children they have strange ideas about what it is important for the kids to know, like National Curriculum Attainment Target Level 3 Point 5 instead of What did the Anglo Saxons use to wipe their bottoms?

If the education officer expects to deal with a school group they may also make bizarre demands, like put up hands before speaking. This leads to the situation where all the home ed kids put up their hands while simultaneously shouting out the answers. Anyway, Grit likes these types of events and thinks they are the best, mostly because she can look at a fish or a posh house or an Anglo-Saxon brooch for a cut-price student entrance fee.

7. This last type of lesson is brilliant, and free. It is called other people. Including YOU.

We shuffle our carcases off the sofa to get down to the Co-op. There's Doreen at the till. She will not huff and puff and shoot disapproving glances at me because Squirrel has her shoes on the wrong way round again. She will help us count out the change from mama's beer and then wait patiently while we count it out again and argue. She will even smile and wave a till receipt at us to prove she is right. There, you see. Doreen teaches life skills and maths.

Then there's the hobo on the town bench. He has something to teach us too. We have to get past him while he is hurling abuse at a can of Bulmer's. He sets off all the whywhywhy questions. Mama delivers her treatise on society and politics all the way home.

There's the old lady at the charity shop, so we get to talk to her about economics, regional development, charitable status and arthritis. And the young man who stops us on the street to sell us a pizza. We collar him for meteorology and whether you can add pineapple to the thin and crispy.

Then there's the young mother with the toddler, the librarian, the bank teller, the thirty-something woman who draws in her mouth, stares and tuts because it is inadequates like me who make our schools fail; then the truanting teenager, the road sweeper and the single childless twenty-something who strides past us in heels and flicks Shark into the gutter. You're all teachers of something. So do it wisely.

Now, with a week filled with lessons like this, please don't think that I am sitting here with my head in my hands thinking, of all things, there is nothing to do.

Clearly, not every lesson looks like this.


The Finely Tuned Woman said...

I think I like the 'people lesson' the most and I would love to hear what you have to say about them all. I am sure your commentary is fascinating, knowing you, and you make it just the right lesson with all sorts of little asides and other bits of information. Do those children know how lucky they are?

ummrashid said...

How true! And the fact that I'm reading your list and mentally checking off whether I have covered all these lesson types (I have)only goes to show how desperately seeking home ed balance I am.
Still I ask myself, but is it the RIGHT balance???

kellyi said...

I love this post. Thank you.

mamacrow said...

yes, yes oh yes! We have all of those. My faves are (of course) the Doreen lessons (which is what I will be handily calling them from now on, thanks! you really should have patented that, you missed a trick there...)

Maybe that's how you could identify a HE nut from a random line up - the one who likes the Dorren lessons best!

Gill said...

"To do maths you may have to believe in God.."

ROFL! I love reading your blog ;-)

Do your lot loll without lessons? How do you get them to do that?! Mine won't loll for any money - nothing on this earth will persuade them to loll.

Tell me your lolling secret, oh Gritable One!

Mud in the City said...

Wow - so impressive. I feel educated just through reading that!

Although the idea of being able to pee wihtout getting off the sofa is slightly disturbing...

Elibee said...

Note to self:
Look up definition of zeitgeist before I next see grit so she doesn't think i am thick

mamacrow said...

Re the sofa peeing, I must share saurus's favourte birthday song : Happy Birthday to me, I'm a 103, I can't use the toilet so I use the settee!

I quite innocently got a couple of homeschooling books from amazon once that turned out to be of the
"To do maths you may have to believe in God.." variety...

Grit said...

hi irene! the people lessons are one of my favourites too because it means i can do the shopping at the same time.

this problem never ends, does it ummrashid?! i think the kids get a much better balance than a school desk.

thank you kelly!

mamacrow, i am sure you have a doreen down at your local co-op. they cluster there in the winter.

aha! Gill! It is called BOX SET of DAD'S ARMY !!!

ok mud, you got me, they haven't done that since nappies. the meaning of convenience.

elibee! i am delighted that we will see you! i would never think you are thick. lovely, warm, generous and sensitive, yes.

hi mamacrow again! in the home ed world, every book becomes a teaching resource, eh? nothing wasted then!

Michelle said...

1. Clo refuses to eat breakfast. Now I know why.

2. You probably just haven't looked hard enough.

3. C put the CGP books in the recycling bin ;-). Guess that was an education somewhere for someone.

4. She can't get on the PC because I'm always hogging it.

5. Does seem to be working for us. I've got no skills though so am very much aware Clo is receiving education and all I have to do is warm up some pasta for lunch.

6. They are even better if I can do the drop off thing and find a comfortable cafe nearby.

7. Go out and talk to people?