Does the Classroom Really Prepare Kids for Real Life?

This week an interesting article came to my attention. Written by an American school teacher in North Carolina, Anthony Johnson, it details how he creates a year long real world simulation for his fifth grade students. His results are insightful, and not remotely surprising to most British home educators. Many of us are, either intentionally or by result of trial and error, practicing one of a range of similar approaches with our children.
does classroom prepare kids for real life?

Johnson’s “simulation of adulthood” provides his students with “an interactive city where all projects intertwine to create an ecosystem of businesses and homes.” While I’m sure there are home educators who follow the National Curriculum, or other structured systems broken down by subject, it seems that the vast majority of us do not. Rather, we take a holistic approach, nurturing the whole of the child’s natural curiosity and facilitating an education that is more natural. The world isn’t neatly divided into categories that are unconnected. One thing links to another, and another. Economics, housing, health, culture, art, city planning, gardening… all are connected.

This is also how our brains work. Thoughts are not isolated. One leads to another, sometimes seemingly totally unconnected thoughts will surface in unexpected ways due to subconscious connections.

For many home educators, this is the ultimate benefit of this lifestyle choice: our children are free to follow their thought processes through to completion, which is ultimately more satisfying and learning is enjoyable and memorable.

Johnson has found that the relevancy of his simulation, which he calls “Johnsonville”, has an overwhelmingly positive effect on his students. Because they can relate their classes to the real world, to events in their own lives and those of their parents, such as finding a home, paying for it, doing a job, managing projects and so on, they remember the content of their lessons much more effectively. As a result, their test scores are well above average. The average for his school on the state science exam is 58%, while his class averages 85%.

His students are in control and have freedom to explore different elements at their own pace. He facilitates, rather than teaches, exactly as many home educators do. I remember once someone suggested I go into teaching. I grimaced and gave a firm reply in the negative. She was surprised “but you teach your own!”

“No, I don’t. I parent them. I’m a parent, I facilitate their education, sure, but I am NOT a teacher.”

This was a number of years ago, and while nothing has changed at home, as it happens, I do now “teach” a creative writing group for other home educated kids. But I strive to be a facilitator there too, giving the group discussion points and room to be creative. But I no longer shrink away from the mantle of “teacher” the way I once did.

Reading Johnson’s article, as I said, there were no surprises. I felt a great deal of agreement with his approach and there were a few “well, duh” moments, where home educators have known these things for a long time. Project based learning is extremely popular among British home educating families. Children direct their own learning, choosing what topics interest them, and parents give their child/ren opportunities to explore that topic until they exhaust it and move on to something else. We are not constrained by an arbitrary bell that tells us to switch from English to Maths. We don’t have a limited number of hours in the week in which to cover everything the National Curriculum demands of us, for no good reason.

creativity, education

While Johnson’s approach is rare in state funded schools, on both sides of the Atlantic, and it is certainly a vast improvement on standard classroom offerings, it is still a simulation. Its benefits are therefore limited too. For some of us, education is not separate from life at all, it is part of it, maybe even the ultimate purpose of life itself. We don’t separate learning from living. Our children don’t “play” at being adults… well, they do if they choose to, but they aren’t experiencing a simulated real world within a controlled environment, they are actually living real life all day every day.

For instance, my eldest is keen to be a YouTuber. He has played at making his own videos over and over again. He now has his own channel, for real, and is in the process of planning out the series he wants to produce. He will be filming the videos, learning to edit and upload them, how to add graphics and animations, music and other elements. He will experience publicising his channel and connecting with other kids who have their own channels. It’s all real, and it all prepares him for independence. As his parent, I obviously take his safety online seriously and will help him find the resources he needs, but it is his project to run with.

When people raise their concern that home education may be a barrier to anything, especially “socialisation”, I have to stop myself from laughing. People’s misconception couldn’t be further from the truth. Rather than being segregated from society in the artificial construct of school, my children are in the world, interacting with a mix of people they simply wouldn’t if they were in school. They get to socialise with people of all ages, in a range of situations, with varying degrees of closeness. My children get to choose when they want to see friends, and when they need alone time to recharge (as introverts, this freedom is invaluable to the three of us). They are developing genuine relationships based on mutual interests, rather than the forced association that is so often the case in the classroom.

This isn’t to say that school children don’t form real, strong friendships, of course they do. I have a few friends now who I was at school with. We see each other a few times a year to catch up. Some children thrive socially at school. But not attending school isn’t the barrier to friendship that many seem to think it is. What often seems to be the case when you dig a little deeper with people who believe the socialisation myth, is that what they were really thinking of was conformity and facing adversity. It’s true that home education allows children to assert their independence much more than school does. But that’s a good thing, in my opinion. I’m not interested in having children who blindly conform, I want them to be themselves.

Peer pressure and bullying are virtually non-existent, because throughout the primary years, children do the bulk of their socialising in the company of adults, who are on hand to iron out disagreements before they escalate. Families then have the freedom to choose more carefully who they spend time with. If bullying does crop up, the two families can easily avoid one another. In my experience, and that of a huge number of home educating families, schools are utterly incapable of handling bullying. Often, the bully is not dealt with at all, and the victim must continue to endure being in the bully’s presence every day.

In the real world, in adulthood, we have a stronger word for this: abuse. Or harassment. Both are illegal and treated seriously. If either occurs in the workplace there are usually systems in place to handle it. Adults can often adjust their lives to remove the abuser from daily life. This can be incredibly difficult at times, and many victims need support, but society as a whole does not condone this behaviour. Yet in children it is accepted, sometimes even held up as a rite of passage required in order to “toughen up” a young person to prepare them for “real life”.

But is that what happens? Not in my experience. Most often, victims of childhood peer abuse are psychologically traumatised by it and this then leads to problems in their adult lives. Current research agrees with me.

Anthony Johnson’s approach is truly commendable, and I applaud him for it. But I can’t help thinking how lucky we are to have another choice.

We aren’t simulating life, we are living it.

educational freedom, creativity, outdoors, learning through living

 

For more information on different home education approaches, please check out the following links.

http://www.educationotherwise.net/

http://eclectic-homeschool.com/what-kind-of-homeschooler-are-you/

25 Christmas Countdown Activities

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It’s that time of year! Once Halloween and Bonfire Night are done and dusted, when the smell of gunpowder has settled, I can let myself get excited about Christmas. Our family is still quite young, but we are developing our own set of traditions around the festive season. My favourite thing to do is plan a special activity for each day of December leading up to Christmas Day. We use a modified version of Elf on a Shelf, totally free of the sinister “I’m watching you” tone!

Instead, our elf, Erol, can be found each morning with a new activity for us to do that day. Some days we stay home and do a craft, others we head out to see friends or family, and on a few days throughout the season we do something extra special. I thought I would share our countdown with you.

Because we might have half a dozen different Christmas movies on separate days, for example, there won’t be 25 distinct activities here, but plenty of ideas to give you 25 days worth of activities.

img_00061. On the 1st December, Erol arrives with our Christmas tree and decorations for us to put up. I look forward to this day so much, with mounting excitement right through November, and this year, I’ll be honest, I’m having to hold myself back!

2. We attend a home ed forest school every month and this December it falls on the 2nd, so we’ll be incorporating this into our advent activity. My kids love collecting things from nature every time we head out. So we’ll be picking out some sticks, leaves and other forest goodies and making some natural decorations when we get home. Check out these ideas from Rainy Day Mum.

3. Visit friends. We’re heading over to a friend’s place to help decorate their house, eat mince pies, and generally welcome in the festive season with good company.

4. Board game day. Gaming is a big thing for our family. I played endless board games with my parents growing up, especially at this time of year. Hubby and I are very much into modern board games, as opposed to your traditional Monopoly, Cluedo and so on. Hubby has backed soooooo many new games through crowd funded projects and we now have a huge unit with the collection on. Many of them are strictly adults only (being horror based), but we have some great games for the kids to enjoy, such as Ticket to Ride. Cooperative games are a great alternative to play with children, they help reduce aggression and improve team play. Check out this list of top co-op games for families.

5. Make salt dough decorations. My kids aren’t hugely into crafts, so these are limited and front loaded so that we can put up anything we make and enjoy it for the rest of the season. We’re going to have a crack at these.

assorted-christmas-cards-1448895398jeq6. Write and post cards. A few years ago I decided that I wasn’t going to send Christmas cards any more. They just end up in the recycling after a few weeks and when sent in bulk, the well wishes seem to lose meaning. But this year I looked sadly at my over-the-door card holder and remembered it hanging empty a year ago. When I was a kid, my mum would string thread up all over the living room to hang the cards sent to us by friends and family. We would get hundreds of cards. She still follows this tradition, sending and receiving cards, in many cases this is her only correspondence with the other person or family, but it holds great value. It is a chance to catch up and keep in touch. Today, with social media, it is all so frenzied. We over-share, without really connecting. So this year, I am writing a few meaningful cards for people who really matter. I’d like to encourage my children to forge life-long friendships and connect meaningfully with those most special to them.

7. Read Christmas books! One lovely tradition that some parents observe, is to wrap up 25 winter or Christmas themed books for the start of advent and open one each day to read together. I love this idea and may well do it one year, but I don’t like to take on too much, so we’ll just dedicate a few days to this idea this year.

8. Watch Christmas films. This is probably my favourite item on the list. Some of my fondest memories are of sitting watching family films together at this time of year. With many hundreds to choose from, especially if you have access to a streaming service or movie channels, it’s hard to choose just a handful! My top picks have to be: The Nightmare Before Christmas (which we watch at Halloween too), Polar Express, Home Alone and Santa Claus: The Movie. Bring on the cheese-fest! What are your favourite festive films? Let me know in the comments!

9. Make Clay Snowflakes – with melted crayon and glitter! These simple decorations over at Arty Crafty Kids look awesome and I can’t wait to try them out with my kids this December.

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An actual German market, in Konstanz. Image courtesy of LenDog64 on Flickr.

10. Visit a Christmas Market. I absolutely love traditional German markets, the ones that pop up around the holidays. I love the wooden cabins, the smell of fresh food, the hubbub and festive music. Nothing gets me in the mood for Christmas quite like these markets. I can usually pick up a few interesting gifts too. Last year I bought some gorgeous scented candles. The key, when taking the kids, is to see it as a family day out, rather than a shopping trip. Don’t expect to be productive; just enjoy the food, music and atmosphere; take the kids on the carousel; and try to relax and enjoy it.

 

img_013811. Bake a gingerbread house. Or gingerbread men, cookies, cupcakes, mince pies; whatever takes your fancy. Last year we made star shaped cupcakes with some fantastic silicon molds and covered them in glittery frosting and star sprinkles.

This year will be our first attempt at a gingerbread house! I’m going to get one of those kits with everything you need. I can’t wait to let the kids loose with the icing!

12. Go on a Christmas Photo Safari. Create a list of festive sights and see how many you can find and photograph. You could include things like a nativity scene, a star, a Christmas tree, Father Christmas, and so on. You could rope in some friends and make a team effort out of it.

13. All the crafts! If your kids are more crafty than mine, then there are hundreds of things you could make and do with them. My favourite list of inspiration is this one over at One Creative Mommy. We did make the scrap ribbon trees a couple of years ago and still have them to hang on our tree 🙂

14. Play games. When I was growing up, charades was my favourite game to play this time of year. I would bore my parents rigid with it for weeks! Making the time to play with the whole family is lovely for bonding and making memories. Make it festive by theming the games around the holiday season. You could play pictionary, set up a candy cane hunt, do a quiz. There are stacks of ideas here, at The Military Wife and Mom.

15. Go carol singing. One of my few positive memories from school is singing carols, it’s one of the items on an extremely short list that I feel my kids might be missing by being home educated. So we get our musical high notes any way we can! We aren’t a religious family, but going to a family-friendly carol service at a nearby church is on our to-do list this year. If you have older children, and a group of friends or family who are up for it, you could even go door to door and collect donations for your favourite non-profit organisation. My family have sung carols for Amnesty in the past. If everyone is enthusiastic it can be lots of fun.

16. RAOK. To really get your kids into the spirit of giving, you could encourage them to perform a random act of kindness every day for advent. We’re mixing a few into our calendar. These can be as simple as saying a cheery “Merry Christmas” to a tired-looking check out clerk in a shop, or paying for the next customer’s coffee in a cafe.

17. Reverse Advent Calendar. In a similar vein to the previous point, we’re going to be doing a reverse advent this year. Each day of December, we will find a food item we don’t want or need, and add it to a box. At the end of the month, we’re taking it to a local donation centre who are collecting food parcels for refugees. You could donate to a food bank, or collect up old toys or clothes to give to charity.

winter-solstice-stonehenge

18. Make Solstice Lanterns. We like to observe the wheel of the year, so the Winter Solstice, or Yule, is a key date in our festive calendar. The ancient pagan celebration is about marking the longest night, the darkest point in the year before the sun returns (it’s easy to see how it became about the birth of the son of God). There may be a lantern parade near where you live, or perhaps you’re lucky enough to be near one of the ancient neolithic sites that marked this day in its construction. If so, consider taking a visit to see the sun rise or set there. This year, we are going to be making lanterns at home.

Stonehenge image © Copyright Peter Trimming and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

19. Christmas Eve Box. This is a fairly new tradition that I’ve introduced to our family. We only started it last year, but it has quickly become one of my favourite things. I have a box covered in scraps of festive wrapping paper and on Christmas Eve, Erol appears with it late in the afternoon. Inside are new pyjamas for everyone, a box of chocolates, a new festive kids’ book and a new DVD. Now we’re all set for a cuddly Christmas Eve together.

20. Stockings! Finally, on Christmas morning, the kids find their stockings, stuffed full of goodies from Father Christmas and handed over by Erol. We don’t make a really big thing out of Father Christmas, my kids know that their main gifts come from family. We don’t take them to visit a grotto. But Santa does fill their stockings with nice little treats; some chocolate coins, a couple of small toys, and a few other bits and bobs. My kids are both early risers, even in winter, so these keep them occupied for half an hour to an hour while the grown ups wake up properly and are ready to start the day.

There are heaps of other things you could do with your family; get the extended family together for a meal out somewhere, go to a pantomime, take a drive or walk out after dark to look at the lights. Let me know what your family traditions are in the comments, I love to hear from you!

You can find links to pretty much all of the activities above, along with many more, on my Pinterest Board: Christmas & Yule Crafts & Activities. Follow me there for future Pins.

I hope you have a magical Christmas!