Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – #Family – Reflections on Learning by Norah Colvin


Today is the last in the present series from the archives of Norah Colvin which is actually reflections on learning by her daughter Bec, and written when she was 26 in 2013… so I am sure that her PhD in Environmental Management is being put to good use. Bec shares her early memories of being home schooled until enrolling in school in grade 4.

Reflections on Learning

In a previous post To school or not to school I explored some issues I was grappling with as my daughter reached school age. I stated then that in future posts I would explore the effects of decisions I made upon my children’s (and my) education.

My daughter, Bec, now 25 and working towards a PhD in Environmental Management at UQ, has beaten me to the post by writing the following reflections on her schooling experiences. Who better to explore the effects upon her education than she herself?

Bec’s reflections on learning

When I was a wee girl I felt I had a very prolonged ‘childhood’. Not that I became a (painful) teenager later than others, or even an adult later; but more that the early years went for longer for me than they did for others. While other children I knew were in school, wearing uniforms and filling in worksheets, I was on my way into the Brisbane library with my mother, excited about the new books I would get to read. (I always anticipated the craft activities which were on offer, and specifically recall excellent activities related to owls.)

I also remember that when most other children were in school, I got to play with clay at home, and used the clay to create ‘exhibits’ for a zoo about my favourite animal. It was a great motivation to find out as much as I could about the animal, and I immersed myself in it. I started with rabbits (which I still love though have a real ethical struggle with given they’re such a disastrous environmental pest here in Australia) and then moved onto the Sulphur Crested Cockatoo.

Another memory, from my very long childhood, was that when most other children were in school, I set up at home ‘The Rainforest Club’, where I made a desk, a rainforest-related library, and a membership program. What was the point of the club? Who knows – but the evidence is still present in a number of Norah’s books which include markings on the inner cover to the effect of ‘This belongs to the library of the Rainforest Club’.

I remember frequent trips to the Sciencentre when it was in its old digs on the other side of the river, and a day starting with picking strawberries at a local farm, then bringing them home to mix into home-made strawberry ice cream. I also remember being very proud of myself when I got to cartwheel in a parade at the ‘Out of the Box’ celebration at Southbank.

Then there was the day when an intimidatingly large cane toad launched toward me when I was sitting at the front of a group of children watching an engaging talk about animals (unlike the bunny rabbit, I am not quite so much torn between heart and mind about this invasive species, although increasingly it seems that the story of the cane toad in Australia reflects the story of post-1788 colonisation in Australia). A less traumatic animal experience was going on the ‘Batty Cruise’ down the Brisbane River as the macro bat colonies were stirring shortly after sunset. It was absolutely incredible – there were thousands of bats flying overhead – and an expert on board had a baby bat AND a baby echidna.

I also know Norah still has the story I wrote which explained all of the mysteries of neuroscience; “How the Brain Works”. Obviously, it’s a little man who lives in my brain, working efficiently with a series of filing cabinets.

What this little man didn’t work out at the time though – and only really worked through the files to figure out years later – was that despite not being at the time in School with a capital S, I was in school during every moment of the day and night during those early years. I LOVED visiting the library and the museum and the Sciencentre. I LOVED reading books, researching about animals, writing stories and experiencing my world.

There’s no evidence in my memories that I was ever actively Being Schooled – I remember playing, spending time with my mother, going on fun day trips, and being creative. All of this, as far as I knew, without a formal lesson plan presented to me in the morning, without worksheets to complete (though I did spend a lot of time writing for fun – can you imagine such a thing?), without testing which would give me a reductive and quantitative measure of my intellect, abilities, and ranking against other children.

I started School with a capital S in grade 4, which was very hard to begin with. The decisions which led to my enrolment in a School are absent from my memories of the time, but I think I remember that I wanted to be with other children. It makes me sad to think back on this, because I worry that as a child knowing nothing but my own life as the basis for all of my understandings about the world, that perhaps I didn’t appreciate Norah enough, and maybe I hurt her feelings when I wanted to be with other children.

When I started School, I have a vivid and poignant memory on the first or second day being given a worksheet with no idea about how to complete it, as it was such a foreign concept. I felt out of my depth and incapable of fitting in, and I was upset. It took a little while to make friends (which resulted in a number of lonely lunch breaks), but once I did I was happy. I enjoyed most of the school work, and as far as I am aware my schooling experience from that point on was no more extraordinary than that of any other child at a state School. I missed being with Norah during the day but I was lucky that she was involved as a parent helper in my class, and then had a teaching position at my School.

So there is no dramatic end to the story – I was home educated and then I went to a School. I find this difficult to explain, but as a child, there is no other life that I knew. So it didn’t feel like my home education years were cut short by going to School, nor did it feel like I was starting School late (though I was aware that I was a bit different in terms of my schooling). Now as an adult and with hindsight, I am very thankful for the gift of home education that Norah gave me. (I am also proud to know that I was a bit different in terms of my schooling.)

I would like to offer some evidence of the impact that being home educated has had on my life, but I am not sure how to do this, after all, I’m the experiment and there’s no control for comparison. I can, however, say that I loved my childhood and I still have a very strong and driving love of learning.

Click on the link to see some photos from Bec’s scrapbook photos.

These early photos portray activities that continue to interest Bec to this day: a love of animals and nature, an enjoyment in cooking and sewing, creative crafts, mathematics and writing.

©Bec and Norah Colvin

About Norah Colvin

I am an experienced and passionate educator. I teach. I write. I create.

I have spent almost all my life thinking and learning about thinking and learning.

I have been involved in many educational roles, both in and out of formal schooling situations, always combining my love of teaching and writing by creating original materials to support children’s learning.

Now as I step away from the classroom again, I embark upon my latest iteration: sharing my thoughts about education by challenging what exists while asking what could be; and inviting early childhood educators to support children’s learning through use of my original teaching materials which are now available on my website http://www.readilearn.com.au

Connect to Norah via her websites

Website: www.NorahColvin.com
Website: www.readilearn.com.au

And social media

Twitter: https://twitter.com/NorahColvin
Twitter 2:  https://twitter.com/readilearn
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008724879054
Readilearn:  https://www.facebook.com/readilearnteachingresources/
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/norah-colvin-14578777

My thanks to Norah for sharing the posts from her archives and I know she would love your feedback.. thanks Sally

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Smorgasbord Christmas Posts from Your Archives – 10 reasons for including Christmas in the classroom by Norah Colvin


 

Today we continue with the series of posts from the archives of educator Norah Colvin.  Norah talks us through making a very special Christmas decoration.

10 reasons for including Christmas in the classroom by Norah Colvin

The end of the school year in Australia is fast approaching; assessment is almost done and reports completed.

After a hectic year, thoughts are turning towards Christmas and the long summer holidays.

However the teaching and learning in the classroom doesn’t stop until the final farewells on the last day of school.

These last few weeks of the school year allow a little more flexibility and time for spontaneous explorations of children’s interests after the curriculum’s imposed learnings have been achieved. Sure, skills still need to be practised and extended but the pressure is not so relentless.

As the thoughts of most children are on Christmas and what they will do during the holidays, why not harness those interests and that excitement to make classroom learning meaningful and fun while developing important social and cultural concepts and understandings as well as practising and extending literacy and numeracy skills.

Over recent years there has been some controversy over whether Christmas should be included in school programs, some arguing that it is not inclusive and excludes those students whose cultural backgrounds neither recognise nor celebrate Christmas.

I have a number of reasons to support my argument that Christmas should be learned about in school, and my reference is to secular rather than religious celebrations which are best left to organisations dedicated to that purpose.

I would like to say that the main reason is that I love Christmas (the excitement, the anticipation, the decorations, the gift-giving, the celebrations with family and friends)!

But that would not be true.

My focus is educational:

  • Cultural respect: Most children in Australian schools celebrate Christmas. Including
  • Christmas in the classroom program acknowledges this and draws upon their interests and prior knowledge.
  • Cultural awareness: Investigation of traditions celebrated by other class members, community groups or countries develops a recognition of other perspectives, including those who do not celebrate Christmas and those who celebrate other traditions such as Hanukkah, Ramadan or Chinese New Year.
  • Cultural understanding: Learning about the traditions of the dominant culture in which one lives makes one more comfortable within that society, more able to converse about important events and holidays, and able to develop shared experiences i.e. helps to develop feelings of being included, rather than excluded by participating in the outward traditions. However, this knowledge does not necessitate participation or belief.
  • Cultural acceptance: Learning to understand that, although not everyone shares the same beliefs or traditions, we all share a common humanity and that there is good in everyone is important for creating a peaceful and nonjudgmental world.
  • Self-awareness: Christmas is a time for reflecting on the year’s achievements and behaviour e.g. whether you have been “naughty or nice” or whether you have worked hard are superficial questions which can lead to deeper introspection. This self-reflection can lead to celebration as well as to the setting of positive goals for improvement.
  • Other-awareness: Recognising one’s own strengths can help to identify, recognise and appreciate the strengths and achievements of others.
  • Emotional intelligence: Children learn to recognise and describe their own emotions, and the emotions of others. They understand that not everyone thinks and feels the same way about similar events and learn to respect the thoughts and feelings of others.
  • Social-awareness: Recognising how others think and feel about certain events can develop feelings of empathy. Children are more likely to find common ground upon which friendships can be built.
  • Being kind to each other: Christmas is all about sharing and giving. In a classroom these can lead to discussions about working cooperatively and collaboratively, getting along with each other, and giving the greatest gift of all: friendship.
  • Enjoyment, recognition and fun! I couldn’t stop at 9, and I think the inclusion of fun in the classroom is one of the most powerful ways to engage and motivate learners!

Decorating the classroom is one way of setting the scene for explorations of Christmas traditions while encouraging the children to work cooperatively, take pride in their shared achievements and talk about how Christmas is celebrated (or not) in their families.

It became a tradition in my year one classroom to make a large 3D Christmas tree to adorn our classroom wall and become the focal point of our learning.

We would sit in front of it to have our discussions and read our stories.

To the display surrounding it, we would add child-made decorations, stories and poems they had written, holiday messages and gifts.

I would photograph each child in front of the tree, holding a sign with the message e.g. “Happy Christmas 2013”. These photographs would then be added to calendars which became a Christmas gift for parents.

The children loved doing the tree, partly because of the inherent excitement at the end of the school year with Christmas holidays imminent. But they also loved doing it because they were working together, making something meaningful to them; and as they worked together and saw the tree take shape, they realised that what can be achieved together is far more (as well as more fun) than they would have achieved on their own.

And while they were busily tracing and cutting, they were talking and sharing ideas and thoughts with each other and with me. We began to learn a lot about each other’s experiences, traditions and feelings.

Having made the tree together, the children had an enormous sense of collective pride in what they had achieved, especially when all those viewing it remarked upon how lovely it looked.

While I include instructions for making the tree here, they are also available from readilearn.

What do you think? Do you think Christmas should be celebrated in schools?

Should learning about Christmas be included in school programs in Australia?

What reasons would you add to my list? What do you disagree with?

©Norah Colvin 2013

My thanks to Norah for sharing this lovely 3D Christmas tree for children to make and I am sure that she would welcome your feedback.

About Norah Colvin

I am an experienced and passionate educator. I teach. I write. I create.

I have spent almost all my life thinking and learning about thinking and learning.

I have been involved in many educational roles, both in and out of formal schooling situations, always combining my love of teaching and writing by creating original materials to support children’s learning.

Now as I step away from the classroom again, I embark upon my latest iteration: sharing my thoughts about education by challenging what exists while asking what could be; and inviting early childhood educators to support children’s learning through use of my original teaching materials which are now available on my website http://www.readilearn.com.au

Connect to Norah via her websites

Website: www.NorahColvin.com
Website: www.readilearn.com.au

And social media

Twitter: https://twitter.com/NorahColvin
Twitter 2:  https://twitter.com/readilearn
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008724879054
Readilearn:  https://www.facebook.com/readilearnteachingresources/
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/norah-colvin-14578777
Google +: https://plus.google.com/103738026475794164392