This post was inspired by a friend’s question to my comment on Facebook about our home being a “no workbook” zone. It set my mind buzzing and so I am doing what works best for me – writing my thoughts down to get some clarity. This is going to be long, so hang in there.
When we started on our home ed journey, I bought all the basic level workbooks – writing, maths, even fun music theory as my kids learn to play the piano. That was when I was naive, still groping my way through each day thinking that some amount of structure was required in education. That was the only way I knew, being a product of a very structured academic-based education system.
Gibbon never really took to the workbooks and as she was still young, it was easier to just let it slide. Then Koala came along and over time, we have shrugged off structure and formal learning more and more. Now, the only formal lesson we go to is piano, but that is the Suzuki style of learning an instrument and the philosophy of “no exams” fits in very well with our home ed style. That and the fact that we have a fantastic and flexible teacher. The Suzuki piano calls for an entirely separate post, which I have been meaning to get to and will do so… soon!
Having observed how my kids learn and what works best for them, here is why workbooks simply do NOT work for us.
Workbooks are very generic and do not cater to specific interests. Let’s start with writing. An exercise book of writing letters of the alphabet or words or simple sentences over and over is, in my opinion, mind-numbing. So how are my kids learning to write?
With Gibbon, writing is developing as a natural progression from her intense love for books and reading, which was born from the hours and hours of reading aloud we did and still do (though hours and hours is now a luxury). We never followed any phonics reading schemes, which again, I find mind-numbing. Reading came to her purely from being read to – stories with interesting plots and big juicy words that captured her imagination. She was exposed to the written word everywhere and I made some books using card paper and big markers when she was little with pictures on separate pages, so she could take her time and drink in the words and pictures independently of each other. I learned about that from Glen Doman’s book “How to teach your baby to read.”
Also, watching me write always inspires the kids to take up pencil and paper or type on the iPad. When I started this blog, they wanted to do the same. They now have their own pages on this website – My Gibbon’s Page and My Koala’s Page. Gibbon writes her own posts and just before we publish it, we go over the spelling and grammar. Again, no workbooks at all. Rather, it is situational learning and I find that it is the most effective way for my kids to learn anything.
When it comes to Koala who is a free-range child with a very strong mind of her own, workbooks have no place in her way of life. She learned letter formation by simply tracing over the big marker words in the home-made books mentioned above. To her, it was writing a story she loved after having had it read to her over and over. It was personal and personalised – not a random sentence she could not instantly connect with. Now, she will ask us to spell words that she wants to write – names of songs she likes, names of animals and books, places, anything that takes her fancy. When we go on a trip, both kids like to write out packing lists for me. Hands-on practical writing.
I find maths is a subject where parents look for the security of a workbook to drill in the concepts and to get “much-needed” practice in. When the workbooks did not work, the best decision I made was letting go of the need to make the kids sit at them. It opened my mind up and made room for other ways to get the maths in. Through suggestions from other home ed mums, we discovered the complete and utter joy of doing all our maths work through practical hands-on stuff like cooking and GAMES – board games, dice games, card games, just playing in the park and collecting sticks, sorting beans into egg cartons, handling money and change, talking about quantities, area, distance etc. Like language, numbers are an integral part of everyday life, so really maths just happens without having to create lesson plans or create over-contrived unrealistic math problems for the kids to work out. They create their own questions if we just let them be. All we need to do is be engaged and available to help them find the answers. Yes, they don’t have the speed or ready times table to rattle off, but they understand quantities in a very practical sense and know how to manipulate them to work out the solution using simple logic. And for now, that is enough. If and when the time comes to be speedy, I am sure we can find an efficient way to do it.
Over time, I have come to realise that my children are learning all the time. My job is to watch, facilitate, find resources, be available and most of all, trust them. This realisation hasn’t come about without its fair share, and then some, of angst and worry. Ultimately, the biggest advantage of home education is finding each child’s optimal manner of learning and flowing with it, and being prepared to change tack entirely as they grow and their needs and wants change. If workbooks are their thing, use them. There is no right or wrong way to learn, only their way.
And always, always, there is a way.
I would love to make this a discussion, so please do comment with what works for you. How do you learn best? How do your kids learn best? What learning hacks do you think will stand them in good stead as they grow and take their place in the world, independent of us?