Friday, July 12, 2013

Real Living & Learning

Education in our family is an ongoing process.  We like taking real world events and real life experiences and expanding on them.  If we are reading Peter in Blueberry Land for instance, you can bet it's blueberry picking time.  If Kim has  a free moment (HA!) she might sew up a quick outfit or  provide a wicker berry basket.  Kim and I have always stressed learning in its natural context. Learning from books certainly happens and experiments are staged indoors - I'm not saying we never pick up a workbook - but we try to keep it as real as possible.

Real world manners anarchy - sitting on the table and eating.
I’ve seen this play out in the educational plans that Kim has  been developing for our blind daughter Nellie when she arrives.  Much of the advice I've seen related to the important task of providing tactile experiences for kids with visual impairment involves children learning with plastic, beeping toys.  We've always been more Waldorfy than that, so Kim wanted Nellie to have tactile experiences involving tree blocks and leaves and rocks and seashells.  Instead of electronic beeping, Kim prefers small percussion instruments or even pots to bang on (Kim butting in here to say sometimes I think beeping and plastic are needed and I will use when needed).  Petting our cats and Corgi (yes – be jealous) or chickens or manipulating a spoon or dice are opportunities that present themselves naturally in the world – real things as tactile learning.  I believe real learning in context, for everyone,  leads to usable knowledge – if you learn and do something and it is relevant (not contrived) then it stays with you.

Just anarchy.

This reminds me of an issue of Future Reflections I was just reading.  The focus in it was on fostering independence in blind children.  Rather than setting the blind child up to become dependent on a care giver or isolating them in a “special” learning/living situation, several authors stressed the idea of blind students developing knowledge and skills that would allow them to more fully integrate into the world.  Giving real experiences – tactile, audial, learning, and life experiences – is part of this.  Understanding what a cat feels like or what a spoon striking a pot sounds like is more applicable to life than all the designed toys in the universe.  It is an educational foundation that ripples into other aspects of learning and life and this perspective will inform how we work with Nellie just as it informs how we work with our other kiddos. (Kim again - and it's more sustainable for the main educator *me* and for the wallet.  Learning to tie your shoes by tying your shoes is cheaper than a "tie your shoe/buckle your jacket" puzzle.  I can never find the puzzle when needed but I have many times during the day to help them tie their shoes.)

Olive looking like a Bill Peet creation.

The world can be scary for people with visual impairments just as it can be for the rest of us.  To some degree, almost everyone finds something attractive about controlled, safe situations, regardless of what the trade-offs are.  We always wanted our kids to learn and live in the world - in the community, with people of all ages and different backgrounds and abilities.  We have made learning a part of everyday life.  We want Nelllie to be out and about in the world too, we want her to put her isolated beginning behind her and engage life and experience it in a genuine way.  How and what we introduce to her will shape how she relates to the world around her, and we want  her to be a big part of our community just as we have wanted this for our other children. 

Now that is scary....

So as we work on our homeschooling plans for next year and our ideas for learning with Nellie when she comes and even as we (continuously) reorganize the house to make it more conducive to learning and living, we keep this in mind.  What do we want/need to learn, and what is the most real way to learn it, what brings us more into the world and our community rather than into isolation.  It's a pretty basic thought, but it helps us to keep focused on what is important to it and better choose what resources to invest in and how to allocate our (very precious and highly sought after) time.

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