Thursday, 1 December 2016

International celebrations and rich diversity

One of the things I love most about home education is how the whole of life is an education. It does not have boundaries and limits with a clear delineation as to where 'school' starts and stops. The only time that ever presents a challenge is when we have visitors who don't understand that - people who have not come across home education sometimes seem to expect to see children sitting quietly at desks doing worksheets for hours at a time, but really nothing is further from the truth.

Yesterday was St Andrews Day. One of my children was born in Scotland (as was I). We are in the slightly unusual situation where our four living children were all born in different countries. This is a great opportunity to celebrate four times as many national holidays as many other people might, and to learn the foods, dances, songs and traditions of four different cultures. So, yesterday, the boys wore kilts, hoisted the Saltire outside the house, learnt some songs (either describing key historical events, or simply the beauty of Scotland) and some poems. We cooked haggis and tatties. We had to improvise neeps (Swede, which you cannot get here) out of carrot, pumpkin and sweet potato, but it worked reasonably. We toasted the haggis. And we enjoyed remembering my beautiful homeland.

As I reflected, I saw all the wonderful educational opportunities that came from this. We'd recently watched some Scottish history DVDs and as we learnt some of the songs, we were familiar with the history that was referred to. We talked about language development - our most famous poet, Robert Burns, wrote in Scots, which is very different to Gaelic. We looked at recipes and talked about the reasons why it is harder to get oats in East Africa than in Scotland - to do with climate etc. We discussed why haggis in its purest form is illegal in the USA (because it contains sheep lung). When our guests arrived, the boys led some singing (and I was surprised at just how well they had learnt some of the songs and how well they did this) - in the Sonlight curriculum, there are times when the children are meant to memorise a poem and recite it for friends. We've never really managed that, but I realised that we were actually embracing the opportunity to do this which came naturally.

Yesterday I also reflected on another experience of the rich diversity to which my children are exposed. My seven year old had the task to write about the 'history of a coin' - to find a coin and then to consider the story of that coin before it came to us. Who it belonged to. What it was spent on. How it came to us and so forth. Now, this particular son collects coins. Whenever one of us travels, he doesn't want anything other than a few coins from that country. Another friend who also travels extensively has also provided him with a range of coins, so now he has quite a collection. So yesterday, we invented a new game. You pick a coin and tell the story. Yesterday, we were young children in the Andes, living in the mountains but going to town to trade. We were in Denmark living on a dairy farm. We were in a city in the USA. We were enjoying a barbecue on an Australian beach. I could go on. What struck me was just how much three boys, aged seven, six and four know about countries and cultures throughout the world - more than many much older people. I think with home education, it can be easy to look at the things we are not achieving, and not pause to consider the areas where progress has been made. One of the main reasons we chose Sonlight was because worldview and having a broad understanding of the world we live in was a priority. The mechanics of reading, writing and arithmetic will come with time and practice, but there is so much more, so very much more to an elementary education. And often with the three R's, progress is made most when the child sees the reason for acquiring the skill and how it will be used - and that can often be to write about and describe the rich world around us!

In just over a week, our church is having a celebration of unity in diversity. People will wear their traditional dress, will cook regional foods, will sing songs or tell stories from their own culture. Again, this is a wonderful opportunity for the children to learn more than could be gained from sitting in a classroom reading a book!

I feel encouraged as I look at these things, and am thankful for the freedom of home education to provide a child with a rich perspective on life.

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