Friday, 1 August 2014

Choosing what to learn

Learning life skills
'We learn best when we, not others, are deciding what we are going to learn, and when we are choosing the people, materials, and experiences from which we will be learning… Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.'

John Holt, 'How Children Learn'

It's been an unusually quiet week and, for once, we had an empty calendar. Charlie beamed at me every morning when my answer to his, "What are we doing today?" was "Nothing." This meant he could settle back into bed and immerse himself in 'Harry Potter' to his heart's content.

I had an email from Charlie's prospective school, one day, to tell me that they still didn't have a place for him in September, so I decided to make use of the unexpected free time this week to plan topics for next term. It's early days, but I'm working on cross-curricular ideas for a topic on the Titanic (something Charlie asked to study) and another on the Romans.

I had planned to continue semi-structured home education throughout this summer, but it turns out I need a break as much as Charlie does. He is still spending time on ConquerMaths each day and we're practising the times tables when we remember, but that is all the school-type work I'm insisting on. And I can't help noticing how much he's learning at the moment just by following his own interests.

For example, the other day Michael showed him a wooden tray he'd decorated with old stamps, then varnished. 

Charlie was captivated - even more so when Michael handed him a bulging envelope of old stamps and said he could have them. 

A couple of hours of intense concentration later, punctuated by regular questions to Michael about the various countries, their cultures and currencies, and Charlie had created his very own stamp album. He is now interested in learning more about stamp collecting as a hobby.

Another day, whilst sorting through paperwork, I found a pile of spotter sheets on trees from my old membership of NatureDetectives, part of the Woodland Trust. As we were going out, I casually showed Charlie the sheets, not really expecting him to show any interest. To my surprise, his eyes lit up. After he'd worn himself out scooting, we spent the rest of our time outside identifying local trees.

Bearing in mind that we'd found a caterpillar of the sycamore moth recently, we should not have been surprised to discover several large sycamore trees growing in the park, easy to spot not only because of their leaves, but also because of their clusters of winged seeds. Charlie had fun watching them twist to the ground, like little helicopters, and we talked about how clever it was for the tree to spread its seeds this way.

I explained to Charlie that this tree was the 'habitat' or natural home of the sycamore-moth caterpillar, although it is also happy to make its home in other trees such as horse chestnut.

After an extended walk through the local park, we returned home and I found Charlie an unused exercise book for him to display his specimens.

One morning, later this week, I received an email from the local library - a second patient reminder that some books were long overdue. I printed off the list and handed it to Charlie, who spent a long time unearthing them all (possibly as a result of sitting down and re-reading most of them). Eventually, we were ready to set off to the library, where I dropped off the overdue books and we chose new ones. The Summer Reading Challenge was being publicised, but I ignored it. Last year, both my boys had complained bitterly when I suggested it to them and I had decided that I wouldn't push it anymore. Besides, Charlie doesn't need any encouragement to read.

I think it was my genuine disinterest in Charlie taking part in the challenge that caused him to think again. Suddenly, he turned round and said, "Actually, can I do it?" I shrugged. "OK". And soon we were queueing up for his bookmark and stickers and signing him up to the scheme, which is on the theme of mythical mazes this year.

Back home, Charlie came up with a plan to earn enough money to buy a DS game called 'Lego City: Undercover'. He looked up the price online, then asked me if I was willing to pay him to do jobs around the house so he could start saving. "50p a job", he said. Sounded reasonable enough to me. I agreed. Charlie spent some time carefully filling in his account sheet after completing his first jobs.

So, this week he's covered English, Maths, Geography, Science and now Life Skills. And I hadn't planned any of it. 

He also added some PE when he asked if we could go swimming yesterday. Unfortunately, we walked all the way to the pool, only to discover that it was closed for repairs. 

On our return home, we discovered a surprise parcel and Charlie's mood was swiftly transformed from disappointment over the swimming to excitement about the package.


It turned out to be his prize from Pru at Adventures in Home Schooling.


I mentally crossed History off the list of subjects covered this week and left Charlie to enjoy his new book. 


  1. It amazes me how much we learn when we haven't really planned to learn anything at all:) I can totally understand why he got hooked on the stamps after seeing that fab looking tray and what a fun way to learn about geography and history. I'm so glad that the book arrived safely and that he enjoyed it!
    Have a great week.

  2. Sounds like a great week. We cover a lot when I don't plan anything too and it's nice to have the time to follow unplanned paths.