One of the greatest benefits of educating your children in a school without walls (at home or on the road), is the ability to spend a significant amount of time outdoors. There is no need to organise a massive field trip and fill out copious amounts of Health and Safety paperwork. Just open the door and go.
But why is going outdoors so important? The simple answer to that is the ability to build skills in observation and in questioning. These are two of the most important aspects of education.
To really observe the environment around you and to ask questions pertaining to it inspires further learning. There is a need to answer the questions being generated and a continual thirst to quench as one question answered leads directly onto the next question.
What do we mean by observation? Take for example a trip to a small river or creek located in an area with flora and fauna present on the banks. It is usually not hard to find such a location within a short distance of most towns in New Zealand.
We begin with the large observations first, what do we see around us? Are there hills we can see, are there plants we can see, the river or creek and any wild life, what does the sky look like and are there cloud formations? These are large observations. They relate to the geomorphology and geology of our local area we are investigating. But here is where it gets interesting – now we start asking questions!
The hills we can see – how high do you think they are above sea level, what rocks may be inside them, how did they form, how old might they be?
The plants we can see – can we identify any of them, are any native to our land, are any pests, what about parasitic or epiphyte plants hanging off those trees, are any medicinal, were the plants used for specific purposes in the past, are they used now for specific purposes, what animals and birds are using these trees as a home?
The sky we can see – why are the clouds forming on one side of the hill and not the other, which wind direction is moving the clouds, is it the prevailing wind direction, what happens if it changes, does it affect the weather on each side of the hill range?
And finally, the creek/river we can see – there is a whole study just located here. What is the salinity of the water, does the flow rate of the water change on the inside of a bend compared to the outside of the bend, how fast is the water moving in a straight piece, what lives in the water itself, what lives on the bank, what plants are present closest to the water and which ones are further away and WHY?
At this stage, we have only used one sense, the sense of SIGHT. What about the other senses: touch, taste, sound and smell? They have as much input as sight. Repeat the process as above for each of the other senses and see for yourself how many questions are generated.
For a child to develop the power of observation and questioning they develop a love of life long learning. A quest to forever seek the truth and understanding of the world around them. Within them grows the desire to put all the pieces of the puzzle together and as they grow and mature they take these skills with them. Can you imagine the power of an educated adult with a deep desire to understand the world around them. Someone who closely observes how everyone and everything interacts together and the role they all play in the big picture. A person who questions intelligently what is going on and the flow on effects of decisions made.
And do we need to do a project on this? NO! Absolutely not. It is not about doing a nature study on every encounter a child goes on. There is no need to fill out a worksheet or produce a poster on the birds and the trees with accompanying graphs on the salinity of the creek. It is enough to experience it. The skill is not in the project. The skill in in the power to learn observation skills and the ability to ask and answer lots of questions. It is in the searching for the next answer that the learning is taking place.
That is why making the choice to educate your child in a school without walls is such a powerful decision. You are in the perfect position to spend time in a variety of situations on a regular basis where your child is encouraged to first observe and then to question. At all times they are developing a true love of learning and all the necessary skills they require to stay enthusiastic about the world around them.
So what is the role of the parent educator in this type of observation and questioning style of experience? It is to encourage the asking of intelligent questions. Not to generate all of the questions for your child, and not to come up with a list of top 20 questions for the day that need to be answered, but instead to lead the conversation towards the generating of questions by your child. They will have questions that they find interesting and that capture their natural curiosity. They do however often require small prompts or lead ins. It is not enough to go to the river for the day with a picnic lunch and just float sticks down it or watch some birds swimming by – that isn’t the purpose. The purpose is to develop the skills of observation and intelligent questioning to build curiosity and research abilities and it is the adult present, who can see the bigger picture who needs to be closely observing the scene unfolding themselves so that they can lead the learning in a particular direction.
Your job as a parent educator is to provide the experiences. Take your children to a variety of locations. Give them the time needed to make discoveries and to generate questions. Provide for them the space and resources to research some of what they discovered and to answer the questions they came up with. Keep the education alive and natural and related to the curiosity your child shows. Really begin to explore your local area and your country. Visit places you might never have thought about – not just the standard bush walks and museums, what about a potters, a local factory or an observatory. Go out at night or early morning and see who is up and about and what they are doing. There is so much to see and do and as home educators you have the freedom to experience it.
Once you return to your learning space, experience all you saw and thought about via a variety of mediums. Paint something, sculpt, draw, write a poem or a short story. Capture the experience in some way that speaks to you and allows both you and your child to store the memory of the moment for further dreaming and thinking.
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A child must be registered in a school from age six, so if a family wishes to homeschool, they need to go to the Ministry of Education website and complete the Home Education Application form before the child turns six.
This excerpt is from the book ‘The Homeschooling Handbook’ by Lorilee Lippincott, 2014. It is an excellent reference for all things homeschooling, and contains lots of lovely case studies from families who have successfully embarked upon this journey.
It is a privilege to be able to educate your child at home in a school without walls. You have absolute say in how you would like your child to receive their learning in an environment you love.