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Lessons from Homeschool Part 1: Who’s asking?

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I’ve been homeschooling for three terms now but I still feel as though I’m finding my feet.  It’s a constant process of shaking off my own insecurities, finding curriculum, balancing bookwork with other learning and also trying to fit in my own career.  But the whole world is now homeschooling thanks to the historical event we find ourselves now in – the global pandemic.  

So as much as I still feel like I’m getting used to homeschooling, I feel sorry for the parents who’ve had this thrust on them without warning.  Multiple children, not enough devices, juggling working from home and children – how stressful!  We’re currently in lockdown and finding it hard enough with a husband working at home and children boxed in.  In fact, it’s my introverted son (9) who’s finding it hard to deal with the disruption to his usual schedule, he’s missing the outside world.  His extroverted brother (7) is much more relaxed about it.  FaceTime with their friends helps a lot.

There’s a lot of advice going around the internet for pandemic-homeschooling parents so I won’t recreate those here.  

But I wanted to share this little gem that occurred to me recently, bear with me.

We’re actually currently on school holidays.  So we’re not homeschooling and my boys are spending far too much time on screens.  But their learning doesn’t stop.  

We were watching the first movie of The Hobbit a few nights ago for the fifth or sixth time.  It had been a long day and I wanted to sink into the movie and enjoy.  We have been reading the book for homeschool – it’s the first time for Mr 7 but Mr 9 has read it before and he also plays a Lego Hobbit game.  So they’re both very familiar with the storyline.  But all through the movie, they were making observations and asking questions.  Mr 9 noticed that they had not only added a character hardly mentioned in the book but that this character had its own theme music.  Mr 7 noticed that Black Speech had some words similar to English.  They both debated which parts were computer-generated, and so on.

I mostly kept quiet and let them debate and consider as much as I would have preferred to give my ears a break.  What I liked was that they were analysing the movie themselves.  If I had tried to get them to analyse a movie for homeschool, they probably wouldn’t have paid half as much attention.

A few days later, I was excited that the Australian Ballet announced that they are publishing a series of ballets online for the new few months).  The first ballet available is Sleeping Beauty, which I had the pleasure of seeing live in 2015.  Before watching the full ballet, I watched a behind-the-scenes video.  My boys dipped in and out of watching the story behind the ballet then when I began watching the actual ballet, they were enthralled.  Although they have mostly resisted my attempts to show them ballet in the past, they obviously have more time on their hands now but I think watching the behind-the-scenes video first tempted them.  They asked a lot of questions – about the story, the characters, the scenes – “Is that step hard?”, “How big is the stage” and so on, and they made comparisons to film-making.

As a homeschooling parent, I couldn’t ask for a better response from them.  

The most important point is that they were asking questions, and lots of them, and drawing conclusions. Isn’t that what learning is?

When you look at what many children are required to do at school, often they are given a piece of writing or video to consider along with a worksheet full of questions to answer.  Questions that were thought of by the teacher.  Answers that require handwriting, an off-putting task to many children (including my boys). Worksheets are an automatic door-closer for some, regardless of how interested they may be in the topic.  

Let’s consider.  Who are the learners here and who are the teachers?  Who are the ones who should be asking the most questions? What if the student has different questions from the teacher?  Are they allowed to ask them? Do they get an answer?  Do we want children to be machines that only respond when asked or do we want children to think for themselves?

Children are naturally curious.  If they are not the ones asking the questions something is wrong.

I’m going to take my boys’ film and ballet analysis as a win. As a sign that their innate curiosity is free from the shackles of institutionalised learning.  And for a little while, I’ll forget my insecurities about homeschooling.