It seems quite common for boys to be slower to write than girls, and when I read education blogs and research articles, there are clear differences in the methods that are best for the different sexes. Our boys are keen to write when there is a clear purpose in it, but seem a little turned off by worksheets or repetitive 'for the sake of it' type work (whereas I remember as a child that I loved to make rows and rows of 'perfect' letters). For example, writing thank-you letters after birthdays and Christmas, or sending postcards from trips. During our last trip to Africa, we started getting them to write a diary (more reflections on the educational opportunities here). This is a very simple thing - we ask them to describe something they have done over the past day - this might be a place they have visited, a game they have played, something they have eaten, something they have read. Then we ask them to describe it in a bit more detail, and say what it was about that thing that interested them most - we seek to encourage correct and colourful use of language, and it also helps us guage what they have gleaned from a situation (a bit like narration). We help them write a sentence, they then copy it into their notepads, and to finish, they draw a picture which goes with what they have written. It has been really interesting to see not only their handwriting, but their use of descriptive language developing. They have particularly enjoyed looking at their last diaries and remembering events, and it is a habit we have continued (in fact that is the main 'language arts' activity we do on a daily basis).
This past week, my husband was working in Scotland, so rented a cottage on a farm near Dundee. Nearby was the RRS Discovery, the ship on which Captain Robert Falcon Scott (and 48 other men) sailed to the Antarctic in 1901. The boys were fascinated - the ship was laden with enough food to last 49 men 3 years, but was not actually that large. The conditions faced were hard to imagine. But one of the main ways in which we are able to know these things was through the meticulous diaries, particularly that of Captain Scott. You may well know that after reaching the South Pole (narrowly defeated in the race by the Norwegian Amundsen), all five explorers died on the journey home. We only know the details of what happened, and how they approached the final demise through these diaries. The final entries are particularly poignant. This experience has consolidated the concept of writing and detailed description as a valuable tool, and whilst we were away they were asking to draw and write of their experiences.
We were then blessed with some uncharacteristically 'Antarctic' weather - about 10cm of snow and temperatures of -7. We made snowmen and an igloo. They also discovered that it was difficult to play out for much more than an hour at a time because fingers and toes got painful - this helped them understand a bit about how frostbite happens. We were able to discuss how privileged we were to have a warm home, plenty of warm nutritious food, and how we could only imagine what it must be like to face a journey of 800 miles, on foot pulling sledges in temperatures of -40 and blizzard conditions. During a heavy snowfall it was difficult to see, and the sky and ground seemed similar; this also helped them understand why Scott and his companions eventually could simply not leave their tent.
A couple of days later, in a different part of the country, we were able to go sledging for the first time. As well as being tremendously good fun, it was also a valuable lesson in how physically hard it is to pull a laden sledge up a hill. When we went inside to drink hot chocolate, we wondered what it must have been like to have very limited rations and no opportunity to get fully warm and dry.
My reflection from this week has been:
1) How satisfying it is to be able to embrace the unique opportunities that arise (here through travel and unusual weather) rather than being constrained to stick to a particular 'schedule'
2) How a hunger to learn skills flows from the appreciation of how those skills are useful - the example here being the ability to record one's own experiences
3) That tactile, active learning suits our boys far more than simply reading and talking about things (although these are useful things for consolidating)
4) That children learn things when they are ready (point 5 in this reflection) - we've been working on writing for a while, but often there is a point at which a key concept is grasped, or a there is a change in attitude and motivation - seeing this happen at different times and different rates in each of our children serves as a valuable reminder not to push too hard, not to compare against a certain 'standard' but rather to provide the resources and opportunity, and let the boys develop at their own rate.
- I am a Christian mother of five, and our highest goal as a family is to serve God in every aspect of our lives. Jesus promised His disciples 'life in all its abundance' (John 10:10) - that has been our story, a rich life, not devoid of challenges, but certainly abundant. Previously writing at www.homeeducationnovice.blogspot.com, we have come to realise that education is just one area where our faith shapes our choices and direction in life. This blog seeks to share our adventure.