Say what you see
Unsurprisingly, given our homeschooling vibe, we are working on Huwyl learning to read right now. He is 5, I’m a literature lover, no surprises. I’m trying to take a reasonably child-led approach with a bit of nudging and encouragement from Mummy and Daddy and so far, so good. I love that Huwyl is beginning to notice words all around him (in the corner of a tv show, on the coach in the next lane of traffic, in the books we read, on our food packaging….) and get excited everytime he spells something out and works out the word. I’m a learning geek and don’t try to hide it!
One thing I’ve noticed that he ‘struggles’ with a little is seeing what is in front of him rather than guessing what it might be. I really think there is a place for an educated guess and I am a skim reader myself but I know the value of really looking and how important that is for reading. To encourage this skill we worked on a Charlotte Mason style narration activity last week that we both really enjoyed.
I gave Huwyl an art book to look at for a few minutes, I asked him to really look and try to remember what he saw. I played with Neirin for a bit while he did this so there was double good use of time! Then I took the book away and asked him to tell me what he saw. I was really amazed at the level of detail he was able to go into and we spent quite a while talking about what he had seen and reviewing the picture again. I pointed out a few things he had thought were there but weren’t (he thought there were cars on the bridge) and colours that were different from those remembered. We also talked about the amazing little details he had remembered and how impressed I was!
When we looked again at the painting I asked him questions such as ‘What season do you think it is?’ ‘What time of day might it be?’ and asked him to explain his answers with ‘evidence’. I loved the way he explained his view of the world and what it reveals about him. When we talked about the time of day I showed him the touches of pink on the edge of the sky and said it could be either sunrise or sunset, we would have no way of knowing. He said he would prefer it to be sunrise so that the people (and dogs) who lived in the houses were just waking up, ready to start their day in the sunshine. What a lovely way to think!
I was overjoyed at his response to this approach and to his reaction to the painting. But of course no one has told him that art is boring or that ideas are dull. His responses are his own and he comes to each new experience fresh and alive with energy. Watching his pencil move across the paper as he recreated the picture (at my request) was bliss. We talked about blending the colours with his beeswax crayons and looked at the way Monet had captured the movement of the river and the colours in the sky.
There are some days when I seriously question my decision to homeschool. Am I up to it? Am I giving the boys what they need? It is moments like this that reveal to me that this is the right choice for us. The freedom that I have to bring to him some of the most wonderful images in the world, the luxury of time to discuss and analyse, the energy and enthusiasm to continue past what I had expected our limits to be; this is what feeds my enthusiasm and excites my teacher’s heart!
One of the issues that I have with public education, both as a parent and as a teacher (should I say ex-teacher, I’m not sure), is the limitations placed on what materials can be used and the approaches educators can take to instill both core skills but also a sense of excitement and even awe in our students. I believe that while there is a place for very explicit learning models, humans learn best implicitly by using good quality materials. When we read a wonderful book we soak up the story, the grammar, the vocabulary and the possibilities of the world the author has created. When we regard a beautiful painting by a truly great artist, we are inspired visually but also within our soul. Who cannot look at a great work without looking within themselves and asking ‘What am I capable of? How might I find greatness within myself?’ Though I think Huwyl is a little way off some of these philosophical musings I, at least, want to know that the possibility is there.
So while we are a bit short on sit-down-time and don’t do as much explicit ‘school looking’ learning as I worry we should, I hope we make up for it in the opportunity to glimpse greatness. When we regard some of what makes this world inspirational I fervently hope that, in turn, this may lead us to our own inspiration.