Monthly Archives: February 2013

Week 8 – Does Non-engagement Undermine Learning?

Week 8 – Does Non-engagement Undermine Learning?

This week @Campcreek posted a tweet that seemed to beautifully sum up our week of learning:

ALL people deserve to learn in the way that works best for them & at their own pace. Regardless of age.

I’ve had a few enquiries asking if JJ needs to be encouraged to learn during the day …  and I can honestly say that more than 95% of her learning is self directed. Every now and then I may provide her with a titbit of information, show her something online or take her on a trip. Mostly though she happily follows what she wants to do.

I believe non-engagement is what most children at school are trying to say when they say they are bored. This week we took head on a case of non-engagement with the most unexpected and wonderful outcome.


I attribute reading aloud to my children, at any age, as being one of the most important educational tools available to us. Moreover it keeps us connected throughout the journey of the story, it provides us with a shared space sometimes lacking as the children get older. This week JJ offered a telling insight saying that she learns so many new words when I read to her. I’ve spent loads of snuggle times with JJ reading her Harry Potter and with AA many shared laughter moments whilst reading him Spud.

There was a story line in Harry Potter where two out of the three friends are made Prefect for their 5th year at Hogwarts. J.K. Rowlings managed to capture that feeling of rejection coupled with the unfairness and confusion of why the remaining one was not selected. Uncomfortably I remembered many eons ago being selected as a Prefect when in my fifth year at school. This set me off pondering why we feel the need to elevate a few children above their peers. I ran my thoughts individually through each child in JJ’s current friendship group, trying to imagine the process of choosing prefects from this pool of children. Each child is so perfectly unique and moreover incomparable. I realised that I couldn’t choose any one of them over and above the rest. As the selector, it would be an awful process for me, never mind the trust that would be broken between myself and the children, if I had to choose one of them to be a Prefect. I daren’t imagine the feelings of inadequacy that the remaining, unselected children in the group would feel. JJ and I spent some time exploring this phenomenon that went on in schools, I think it is an alien concept for her having never experienced any ranking between herself and her peers.

We found time to socialise and explore a replica of a Gem Stone mine tour on a home education organised trip. It was fascinating seeing the wide range of rocks in their natural form; I’m convinced I’ve walked over most of these gems stones in disguise many times in my life. Note to self – become more observant.

For some time JJ has been asking me to get her the Horrible Histories series, which we finally managed to do this week. We then lost her in history for a few days whilst she watched every episode of the first series, often repeating parts that captured her attention.Maths

Sumdog continued to be the gaming tool used between the siblings in our household this week. The number of times I witnessed AA & JJ sitting facing each other, laptops on laps, counting one, two, three … go  – as they both orchestrated entering a particular online game together. A few nights ago feeling exhausted and ready to retire I remember saying “its 9:40 at night! I’m going to bed”, neither raised their heads but wishing me goodnight carried on playing until … well I never did find out when that was!

I came across this piece of paper earlier on in the week and asked JJ when she had done it, she said she did it a few weeks ago. Only in the last few sums has she made a few small errors. So even if this piece of learning doesn’t fit within the remit of learning this week, I feel it belongs as an entry in her unschooling journey for these 365 Days of Learning.

I spent an evening preparing magnetic experiments to explore the magnetic fields around a magnet aiming to demonstrate this to the children, in our small Monday science exploration group. In addition, I spent some time analyzing how to best get across the ways in which we could work out, in true Galileo style, if the earth revolves around the sun or visa-versa. Throughout this preparation I was plagued by a niggly feeling that would not go away. I was confronted with the thought that no matter how much fun I made this lesson, I was going to be met with 5 blank faces looking back at me, their eyes revealing their true feelings, “we will humor her until she finishes. Then we can play – because deep down this is what we really came here to do.” I realised that my worst fear had come true, that these science gatherings had now become lessons. When they initially started out everyone was fully engaged, but over time they have slowly descended into inducing a state of boredom. In this instance I would describe this state of boredom as simply ‘non-engagement’.

“We ask children to do for most of a day what few adults are able to do for even an hour. How many of us, attending, say, a lecture that doesn’t interest us, can keep our minds from wandering? Hardly any.”  John Holt in How Children Fail

In the last few weeks B and I have individually ask the children if they were still enjoying these science gatherings, they have all responded positively, convincing us that they wanted to continue. Yet in contrast, every week we felt their lack of interest in the subject matter being presented to them. This week we decided that something could do with a shift, the gatherings had developed an unhealthy taint of school. We agreed to forgo the lesson and sat in a circle. B and I raised our concerns and this time we asked for their feedback in front of the group. At first no one felt able to open up with their opinion, but slowly through demonstrating non-judgment, they told us that they were not enjoying science anymore. Although they unanimously  agreed that none of them wanted to stop these gatherings. The question was raised, how to proceed? Then a phoenix of an idea rose out from the circle, it gathered a form and we all animatedly visualised the unexpected shape of our new science morning.

In Harry Potter style we are to arrive every Monday morning and symbolically enter our Room of Requirements, where each individual will be working on their own project. A project may take one week or many months. The boys enthused that they wanted to build a remote controlled car, one of the girl’s wants to master a deeper understanding of gem stones and the remaining two girl’s (including JJ) wants to build their own dolls house complete with working lights and a water fountain. B and I entered into the spirit and decided we would also bring along our own projects into the Room of Requirements with B attempting to build a solar oven and myself attempting a realistic, scaled cob/hay bale house with solar lighting and even a composting toilet or equivalent. We have given ourselves two weeks to gather our materials. Agreeing to hold an informal show and tell, inviting husbands and siblings, when we all have something concrete to show. This process demonstrated to me the power of listening and hearing everyone’s needs. In retrospect I was reminded of this quote:

“When you teach a child something you take away forever his chance of discovering it for himself.”  Jean Piaget

I believe the children were reminding us of this, through their lack of engagement caused by the teaching style approach that we had fallen into during our science gatherings.

Alastair word cloudCompleting my writing assignment this week, I received my first ever writing pay check. I’m over the moon. This has freed some time for me to work on my Labradoodles website. I included my first sponsor details onto the home page and added some additional cute puppy pictures. I finally mastered the use of Tag Clouds settling on the free online software from Tagxedo. Every blog post on the 365DaysLearning blog has now received a decorated tag cloud, devised from the words used in that weeks blog. JJ decided to use the software to make up a cloud for her brother’s birthday in the shape of a dog. She came up with gorgeous words that she felt described her brother – such as kind, generous, handsome, sweet and golf. The end result was extremely touching.

As soon as the assignment was submitted I allowed myself to start reading a book – choosing Keeper of Genesis. Whilst writing the assignment I didn’t need to encourage any competition for the limited time that I had available to research and write, so for this last month I’ve reluctantly avoided reading. I look forward to snuggling up in bed with this thought provoking text for the next few weeks. So far I’m finding the writers alternate view of why the pyramids of Giza were built, well researched and plausible. However I’m only a quarter of the way through the book and could yet change my mind. It was from this book that JJ highlighted that both of us learnt something at the same time – she cheekily pointed out that she is 9 and I am 46! I had shared that I had read about the star Sirius being in the constellation of the Great Dog. I thought this would interest her because Sirius, Harry’s godfather, with his ability to shape shift into a large dog was obviously named after this star in this particular constellation. She got very animated when she made the connection herself and commented that J.K. Rowling’s was very clever when naming her character Sirius.

Some thought provoking information from the internet this week;

Have you considered using TED talks in your home schooling, a lovely blog by Adorable Chaos. I particularly like the TED talk she has imbedded into this blog to support the point she is trying to make.

Hungrily I noted down the names of some new authors on unschooling, which were mentioned in the comments section, of an arbitrary link, on someone asking about unschooling. Some of whom I’m familiar with and other I’ve never heard of – John Taylor Gatto, John Holt, Ivan Illich, A.S. Neil, James Herndon, Leila Berg, Dayna Martin and Grace Llewellyn. Please let me know if I’ve missed out anyone that you feel belongs on this list.


At our Wednesday group lesson on marine animals I learnt about Cetaceans. There is the baleen & the toothed cetacean, dolphin’s fall under the toothed cetacean – although there is a toothed whale and a baleen whale. I also snorkeled in my friend’s pool, at the lesson, and we blew through our snorkel’s like a dolphin’s blow hole. I splashed my friend’s mom on the side of the pool it was really funny.

I did some mazes on paper and got to the end of all of them. Let me tell you what my trick is – Ok well, I look at the end of the maze and work my way up, then I make marks for clues until I get to the top and then I start at the beginning and try to get to each clue and then I am finished.

Mom just showed me how to add a picture on our blog, I’m going to add it tomorrow, and it’s a picture I drew this week. I’ve got to be careful I don’t delete anything.

With my music teacher I sang Edelweiss and Doe a Deer and I learnt how to do a proper major scale on the piano (with my left and my right hand), when I got home I practiced loads. I even played from my other books because I love practicing. When my Mom’s uncle came round for supper I played the scale for him. This week I’ve played lots of piano and practiced my major scale. I also practiced from my music books, I wrote down the notes of three songs for fun. I’ve tried to play by ear a tune from Downton Abbey I got it nearly right. Mom recorded it. When I’m happy with it I will post it on my blog. I had my make-up lesson for music on Thursday and I told my music teacher what practicing I had done during the week. I sang a new song and I am starting to get it right. I have always had an ear for music, I really love music and dancing and swimming.

I watched Horrible Histories series one, I got up to episode 12, they are really fun.  I only started a few days ago, it’s probably because I love it so much – it’s so cool that I enjoy these educational things. I showed Mom two funny parts in Horrible Histories, one was the four King George’s - it was a song with the 4 George’s all singing Born to Rule.

My brother and I played against each other for fun on SumDog until very late. The next day we were back on SumDog playing against each other, there is nearly 5 year age difference between us but we are still having loads of fun. I told Mom that ‘I was going to get myself an Indian elephant’, I played more SumDog and now I’m an Indian elephant.

I went to Brownies and learnt that it was first Baden Powell’s sister who took girls for Guides and then it was his wife. My mom thought it was only his wife.

My mom told me that ants have tiny magnetic compasses in their antennae which help them navigate, it must be cool, imagine them telling each other to go east at 2.00 he he. I also learnt about the Sirius star in the great dog constellation, this is just like Sirius in Harry Potter who is and Animas and changes into a dog – how clever is J.K.Rowling?

I made pudding – summer fruits (raspberry-strawberry-blueberry) and ice cream for my great uncle, it was cool. My dad bought my brother and I cinnamon sticks and we put them in the pudding they were great.

CapuchinWe visited my Dad’s cousin and family, it was cool, guess what? I got to hold a rescue Capuchin monkey he is name is Jack and he is sooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Cute. I was given presents that came all the way from my Grandparents in Zimbabwe.

It was my brother’s birthday on Sunday – I got him coco-pops and a voucher for a music store, I made him a beautiful card. I also made a gorgeous artwork with lots of words.  I baked him chocolate crinkle cookies and put the candles in the cake and set the table and my great uncle came.

My dad fixed my front tyre on my bicycle, and I went for a ride, after that my dad and I went walking with the dogs Sweetpea was really good.

I built a camp in the garden with my brother from blankets and fences it was so comfy.

I emailed a letter to my grandparents in Zimbabwe & I also spoke to my grandparents in the UK on Skype.

I went for my Modern dance lesson with my friends, these are the best lesson’s that I ever, ever have had.Gem Stone tour

I went to my Ballet lessons.

I’ve been trying to train my dog to roll over. She sometimes listens and other times she just looks at me.

I practiced my tennis by getting my brother to catch and throw the ball at my racket it was fun.

Mom has read loads of Harry Potter to me.

We went to on a gem stone tour today and I really enjoyed seeing my birth stone, it was the most beautiful stone out of the all, the lavender coloured – Tanzine.

Have a good week ….

Week 8 Cloud Taxedo