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School starts back tomorrow after two weeks off. It has been amazing to watch the twins over the holidays as they continued developing their fledgling reading skills.
I have been thinking a lot about education and learning lately. Back in my school days, we had textbooks and homework sheets and tests. Wash, rinse, repeat. I did not think it would be much different with my kids. Heck, before kids, I did not think about it at all. Over the nine years of raising Gemma so far, we have been privy to many varied schools and it has opened my eyes to the many ways of education out there. We travelled extensively when she was a baby. When Gemma was just teeny, she had a nanny on my workdays and then attended a full time Montessori preschool. Here in Australia, she has been in a play based kinder, an early learning centre that transitioned into the private primary school (the “ex-school” we were not happy with) and finally the public school we love. She (and the twins) have afternoons full of extracurricular activities that they have chosen for themselves.
Having the twins showed me that it was not just our brilliant parenting skills, but nature that gave us Gemma, a ten month old speaking her first words and spelling/reading on her own by age three. The twins are so different from their big sister and different again from each other. But it really should not have been a surprise. We are not all the same, getting concepts in the same order through the same methods at the same time. That was the major problem I had with the private school here and what scares me about the new Common Core* (*I am not an expert on this, just reading and having reservations) in the United States. The push for sameness. Their predetermined box to fit in.
We love the school we are a part of now because they foster the inquiry based learning method and respect then individual child. It must be hard to do with 23 or so kids in class, but the teachers manage to meet and exceed the standards by the end of the school year with each child. They get there in their own time.
And I can see that as I have three very different kids at the same school. It is a fascinating micro-experiment in the natural evolution of learning. Kieran has taken to reading much faster than Clover despite she having achieved her higher level of words before him. I can see his personality is quite suited to the learning task. Much like his even bigger sister, Gemma, Kieran follows the rules presented and obsesses over the tasks. He now gets the concept that letters represent sounds and words are just a string of those sounds together. Reading is coming easily now. Clover is much more of a free spirit. She has an amazing memory though so her brain is taking things in as a whole. It is almost like she can’t slow down to sound things out and just guesses the story from words she recognises and the pictures presented alongside the text. Her penmanship is perfect and once she has something , it is locked into her brain.
The twins are an amazing case study for observing individual learning. Two different people born on the same day from the same parents presented with equal curriculum by different teachers. It did not even take one school term to become glaringly obvious (not that it wasn’t clear before) that people learn at varied rates and in disparate manners. How could the “one size fits all” education system succeed for the kids? It must be built to fail some, bore others and find the middle ground. We don’t want our kids to be failures, disinterested or even just average. We want them to prosper and find what they love. We want them to shine where they were born to shine!
Luckily we are able to do just that by combining this wonderful (public) school who celebrates not only their teachers taking time off to experience life (Hi Jess! Hi Sally!) but the students too. When families have the chance to travel the world (or even just this huge, gorgeous country), they encourage it even when it means students miss time in the classroom. Opportunity doesn’t always wait for rostered holidays.
When we are home we borrow ideas from homeschooling and unschooling where everyday brings learning with reading maps, math in cooking and so on. We learn on our evening walks and at swimming and on road trips. Games we play from my old school word find books to game apps like Scribblenauts help us polish our spelling skills and build vocabulary. There is just so much out there today to help with learning and that is a privilege of living in this age. As a self taught photographer, it blows me away that today you can buy and immediately download books I wrote on photography directly to your electronic reader of choice.
In my opinion, education and learning should not just be seen as something that happens from 9-3 on weekdays for 12 or so years, but considered an integral and fluid part of life. There is always something new to learn and with technology, anyone can access information anytime. I find that so exciting. What wonderful possibilities that speaks for not only kids today, but the future.