Saturday, 5 April 2014

Exploration and Discovery part 1

I have been trying to remind myself about all of the thinking I used to do about the nature of education. When I was home educating my older children, it was all new, and I enjoyed discovering other philosophers and educational writers and thinking about their ideas and how they applied to my experiences. I was learning, and I was enjoying learning.

Which meant that I really enjoyed watching my children learn. Watching them discover things, and problem solve, and reject my advice, and prove me wrong (only occasionally), was part of my learning processes.

These days I find I am inhibited by my desire to go on and do other things, think about things I haven't been able to think about for a while, and again, just have new experiences. So I am pleasantly surprised when I get to watch the Babe figure something out, or want to explore new things. (The main problem there is that she is just too energetic for me but that would be yet another moaning post, and this one is supposed to be about the nature of discovery.)

Discovery and exploration are natural processes of education. Learning happens when you find something that you didn't know about, and  you find out about it. It happens with babies, when they learn about gravity while sitting in their high chairs dropping everything they can reach on the floor while you hand things back to them again and again...until you get fed up. Because you know how gravity works already.

Children have an innate sense of curiosity about the world in which we live. School education does all in its power to squash that learning. Actually, quite a few parents to as well. We worry about how others will view our parenting, or judge us by our kids, and we try to make the kids fit the expectations.

We shouldn't have expectations.

Not even the "All I want is for my child to be happy!" kind. Wow, what a lot of pressure that is for a young person. They have to pretend to be happy, just so you can feel like a good parent. Phew.

But back to curiosity and discovery. I was thinking about this a bit when we went on a trip to the Bolton Transport Museum a couple of weeks ago. We walked up to the building,  talking about the stones it was made of, and the cobbles under our feet, and as we walked inside in group formation I was trying to engage the Babe so she didn't run off into the fabulous space and stayed with the group. So I talked quietly to her about the huge wheels and we were measuring ourselves against the wheels and looking at what they were made of.

And then the leader started the lesson or activity. And the first quarter of an  hour was noticing the stones and the cobbles and the wheels and finding wheels that were smaller and bigger than ourselves and observing what they were made of. :-) Please note that I am not complaining, as we had a really good day. I am just observing. :-)

But it was a reminder that all we do is educational. Every  little thing we notice when we are on the bus, or watching the pigeons, or baking cakes, or hanging out the washing, or making shadow hands, or reading stories, or having a conversation, or whatever...it all constitutes education. It is not separate from living.

All of the things that parents do (when they have the time and resources) with their children constitutes education. And yet, we as a society make parents believe that our children can only learn from "qualified" teachers and professional educators. In the example above, in visiting the museum, my daughter and I had a couple of minutes of conversation about the environment we were in. She was observing and noticing things just like I was. But the professional who was leading the group dragged it out to be a morning's activity.

(As an aside, we had a lovely day and I am not getting at the leader. I am just pointing out that things happen differently when you have a large group because all of the kids are noticing different things naturally and are interested in different things, and the leader has to bring all of those active curious minds to a single task. So that is another reason that institutional learning inhibits individual learning and exploration. Too much energy is used to keep kids on task. All of their potential learning energy is wasted.)

And now I have to stop because my lovely little 4 year old is using her energy to get me off of the computer. So much for the trip to the allotment with her dad,  where she used her energy to explore the alley where she wasn't supposed to go, after exploring the biscuit tin in the shed, and not staying on task, getting the manure spread.