How to Shift From School Think to Engaged Learning | The Right Side of Normal

I’ve not been writing a lot lately. Mainly because I’ve been very busy! Well I kind of changed our home educating style a fair bit. I have been focusing on fun, on engagement, more real world experiences with other people; less book work, and when we do do book work, no more boring worksheets or textbooks. So we’ve been spending A LOT of time outdoors going to meetups, classes, workshops, all of which are of their own choosing (it is amazing how diverse my childrens’ interests are… They chose to go to activities relating to gym, swimming, martial arts, violin, piano, orchestra, drama, singing, musical theatre, art, science… ) and just doing fun, engaging, practical things. The kids really learn a lot better like this and it’s far more inspiring for them at this point than reading books. A pity we can only do so much. They would love more and have more interests actually, but because of budget and time constraints, we can only do so much…

Well this article above appeared at the right time. It resonates with me now and the direction we are taking.

Before we even got to this point though, we did a lot of experimenting along the way. I specifically worked with areas my children were weaker at. I made sure we worked on their reading abilities and handwriting, and logic abilities through games, puzzles and maths (direct maths instruction is something I have not ditched… I cannot say if I will in future ditch it or not, but at this point I still believe it is a subject best handled by incremental and gradual instruction and practice – perhaps I just lack confidence in my children’s abilities to work up to the required skill level by the time they do their exams)…


For things related to anything other than maths, we simply go to lots of interesting workshops and activities outside, read classics – abridged classics from the Classic Starts series work best in our experience. I initially had gotten the idea of learning through reading classics from studying the Charlotte Mason approach, but unlike the Charlotte Mason adherents, we found our own way to make it work for our children, who are not that very strong in languages and not naturally inclined towards words or books. And we do some copywork after each reading – we try to get 1 chapter a day done and then do about 30 words of copywork after each chapter read – I let my children pick what they want to copy out. I do this for my 2 younger ones.

My older one has been doing a Charlotte Mason styled online school but the poor girl really struggled with understanding the texts, such as Ivanhoe, to the point of tears. Maybe the reading material for the course seemed too difficult for her to be able to gain enough pleasurable joy and value from it, I don’t know. It was painful watching her do it and her narrations lack maturity and understanding … She still persisted for a good 8 months or so, and I applaud her for that, even though there was little progress or improvement in her ability to read those texts and her ability to understand/narrate them. For once I have finally had to admit to myself that this is perhaps not ever going to be very suitable for her as a method of learning. I should preface this by saying that she had struggled with a speech and communication disorder since she was a toddler, and that probably had something to do with this. As a lifelong book lover myself, I always held out some hope that it could be possible to unlock the inner potential for the love of books in each of my children, even though they all showed symptoms of the same speech and communication disorder from young – something which seems possibly hereditary, as some members in my husband’s family show the same symptoms themselves and in my own family, my siblings particularly struggled with academics and book work – my sister was dyslexic too. So with all this in mind, I was somewhat prepared for what can happen.

But I am not one to lose hope. I look for ways to help my children love books. The way to do that somehow is to get them engaged in the stories in those books. And if a particular rendition of a story makes it difficult for my children to take to or comprehend, then I look for another rendition. I still believed in the value of reading and appreciating the depth and complexity of the storylines in timeless classics though. That is how I ended up going for Classic Starts versions of classics – they are abridged, but retain some nuance of the language in the original books. Then after the book is finished, we watch the relevant movies or if there is an opportunity to partake in a relevant workshop, a gathering, or visit a museum or event relating to it, we do that.

I started doing this with my 2 younger children – both very close in age so I could do things with them together easily. We would read a chapter a day in a Classic Starts novel… Do some discussions and narrations of what we’ve read. They’re often very interesting and the children have learnt so much about history, the world, communication and the human psyche from reading these books. Then after that a short copywork session of about 30 words in total.

It works. It really does. My middle child – never was a keen reader – but now actually reads the odd book or magazine out of her own free will and interest. My youngest – well he *asks* for particular books in subjects he likes and he sits down and reads them! He read chapter books himself at the age of 7.

I am probably going to start doing something similar for my teenage daughter. Yes she may be a bit behind compared to her peers with regards to languages, and she may not like reading very much, but I have started reading chapter books to her at bedtime like I’ve done with my 2 younger ones. We discuss a little. And she’s doing alright. It needs to start from this. Baby steps. And (no matter how long it might take) she will one day be fine. I have decided, by the way, that I will not be in a rush to get her to do her English IGCSE exam. She could do it at 16, or even older. I will not have her do it next year at 14, nor even at 15 years old, which is unlike what many home educators I’ve seen online do.

Yes from the many online testimonials, it seems many home educated children do their IGCSEs early, even English (which requires maturity). Now I’ve seen it for myself – this girl in my daughter’s online class writes about the classics books the class are assigned to read in an exceptionally mature style (for her age, whatever it might have been) with astute observations. I mention her specifically because I had the opportunity to view every student’s responses (including my daughter’s) and her’s really stuck out to me. Turns out later it was revealed she was only 12 years old. Now if that was my daughter, I would let her do IGCSE English at 14 or 13 even. But my daughter is not this way, and that’s okay. People have different strengths. I wouldn’t push my daughter to do her English IGCSE before 16. Not unless she shows readiness and maturity to do well in it. This past year I saw her slog and struggle through her Charlotte Mason English online lessons, and looking at the quality of her written work (marked by the teacher) – many of which I found pretty painful to read because her lack of maturity and ability to write essays for academic purposes was very apparent – it strengthened my opinion even more that it would not be wise to rush into the English IGCSE in my daughter’s case. In fact my daughter is nowhere ready to do her Maths IGCSE either. She is still struggling on grasping the basics of percentages and has always struggled with Maths a little. My 7 year old son could (unwittingly) answer questions about fractions that she couldn’t… Questions that are supposedly easy for someone at her level, but not yet expected of someone my son’s age to be able to work out. This has caused her to declare recently “I suck at Maths.” Me and my husband said to her that she doesn’t “suck”, and that people have different strengths, and it is true she is weak in it somehow, but we believe it is better to focus on what she can do and not what she can’t. If she isn’t strong in it, that’s okay. She just needs to get a C in it to go into higher education or college.

She told me recently that although she wouldn’t mind going for another year in the course, she’d rather change to a correspondence course so she could free up her time to do other things she preferred… I said okay to that. She prefers doing practical hands-on things and play acting, singing and imagining new scripts  drawing beautiful pictures. She is creative, not that into book learning, and possibly going to benefit far more from following a vocation rather than academics. It’s no wonder she said this.

Everything that happened happened for a a reason. For a long time I tried things out, looked and waited. Everything we did together taught me something new about my individual children. They love workshops more than reading a book (even if I let them choose whatever books they wanted). They love listening and watching a story acted out rather than looking at words on a page. They love tactile, sensory experiences. They love being with other people and learning from doing, rather than learning from books.

I started off home educating thinking my children would like a certain thing done a certain way, then later find out they didn’t. I have to admit, they turned out to be perfect specimens of a mixture of my husband and myself. They have inherited my husband’s learning style, but they’ve also inherited my love of a good story and a good tune.

I’ve found a way to work with them (through lots of trial and error, belief and disbelief and endless unexpected discoveries) that brings out the best in them for learning… And it couldn’t be any further from what this article recommends.


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