Category Archives: Aptitude

Autonomous learning, what it means for us

Home ed is different for every family. We have friends who follow a set curriculum all morning, every day during the week throughout term time and do nothing else deliberately educational at all. Others insist on an hour or so of set learning, then do other things with the rest of their time. It’s quite common, too, for families to do most of their ‘home education’ out and about with various groups, engaged in planned and themed activities together. Here in West Yorkshire, for example, there’s at least one such event planned for every day of the week by various people and groups of people – some regular, some not. Usually all home educators are welcome.

Royal Armouries

We’ve done some of that, but tend to be more home and family-centred these days. I’ve found, over the years, that my children learn best when I let them take the lead. So we went to The Royal Armouries yesterday, for example. One of the girls had asked to go, so we went. Once there, we split into two groups: an adult for each child. (This is where adult offspring really come in handy!) And we followed the children around the museum, not the other way around. I was with the four year old and amazingly she didn’t just run through the place and out the other side: she actually wanted to know the answers to questions like where things were from, and what was happening here:

He's shooting the tiger.

Going at her pace took some doing – the temptation is for me to see things that I think might interest her and hold her back to point them out, but she stops asking questions if I do that, and I know that questions are vital to her learning. So:

'Wow, swords. What are they for?'

– has me scrabbling to read the plate to her, before she’s off again. She only wants a word or two: she’s only four. We’ll come back again frequently when she’s older, if she wants to. Maybe when she can read the plates for herself.

At home the method/way of life is similar. There’s lots to do here: we’ve amassed quite a collection of stuff over the years and it’s quite well organised and stored in a visible, accessible kind of way. I’ve always liked the Montessori idea of preparing the environment (although ours is not so rigidly structured) and also, I suppose, what unschoolers call strewing (although ours is not so parent-led – I’m just the one who pays for it, transports it home, finds a box and a shelf for it and then usually tidies it away again when it’s finished with! Our children are quite capable of doing their own strewing.)

Last night, for example, the old comic box had an airing:

It surprised me when she wanted to do the thing on this page properly.

And sometimes they want to just bake a cake:

The icing on the cake, groan

Or make pictures:

Houses are the thing ATM

Or look something up on Wikipedia:

..whilst eating a pizza

Or do workbooks:

... whilst kneeling on the dining table.

Or any amount of other things: see friends, phone friends, build things, make things, read things, take things apart and see how they work, ask endless questions, play in the field:

New swing, for the - ahem! - *children*.

The list of possibilities is endless. The point is, I never ask: “What do you want to do now?” because I don’t need to. They work it out themselves, getting ideas from books, friends, family, TV, the Internet, games, or just the environment and the thoughts in their heads. I don’t ban or limit anything: they could play computer games all day if they wanted to, but they never want to. I try not to suggest things, because when I do, they stop being creative and owning their learning.

But I don’t do nothing. I facilitate everything they want to do, never saying ‘no’ to anything if I can help it. I keep the place relatively clean and tidy so that they can be safe and have the clear space they need. I organise my time and money so that they can get what they want, go where they want, do what they want when they want to get, go and do it. I answer every question asked, or help them to find the answer (and the questions never stop, thank goodness!) I read to them a lot. I help them to learn. I will even teach them if they ask me to, though sparingly.


Filed under Aptitude, Co-operating, Curiosity - a delicate flower, History, ICT, Innate, Letters, Natural learning - how it works, Out an' about, Planning - or not, Reading, Strewing, Writing

Just living/learning

I know there are child labour laws an’ all, but I can’t hang wet clothes to dry these days, without my 4 year-old wanting (yep, that’s wanting. Insisting!) to help.

She goes straight from that to the alphabet though, so that’s all right – isn’t it? 😯

At least she’ll be a literate laundry woman! 😀


Filed under Aptitude, Co-operating, Innate, Letters

“Doing Egypt.”

It all started with this book

– which attracted Lyddie’s attention in a shop.

This led to:

Gods on our walls..

Pharoah hat (sorry, *headdress*) on our table...

A trip to the (very good) 'Egypt' section of a local museum...

Finding Egypt on the globe..

Small timelines...

Getting out the old, *big* timeline again (we really must make one of our own)...

More books...


More 'Egypt' stuff...

And watching old 'Egypt' films.

Finally I’m told: “We’ve done enough Egypt for now.”

So it’s all gone in a box until it’s needed again:

Next up? China, apparently. I’d better get another box, then.

(Most of the pics above should be clickable. Some lead to other sites which explain our sources.)

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Filed under Aptitude, Curiosity - a delicate flower, Egypt, Equipment, History, Out an' about, Planning - or not, Writing

Since my last post here, we’ve been..

(amongst other things)

Tracing snowflakes

Making puppet shows



Writing fridge poetry

Welcoming new family members

Practising our handwriting

Ogling the fireplaces in a local stately home

Cycling with skeletons

Doing activity books. 'Pre-school workbooks', they call them. 'Pre-home ed fun books', *I* call them.

And gratefully receiving gifts of books. A whole boxful! Bliss.

We’ve also, this week, been creating maps of our local area – first from memory, then from walking around with a clipboard, then from sloooow driving, and stopping, and reversing, and driving again, then from Google Maps and Street View. Next, we’re comparing the current ones to some we have from 60 years ago, before the M62 was built, to see what’s changed and how. We’re also thinking we’ll do some treasure hunts. An easter egg hunt, with treasure maps!

This all came about because I thought Lyddie’s mind would suit cartography, so I suggested she try to draw a map. She’s always been interested in where she was, and where things were in relation to one another – ever since she could sit up and look around and talk. She has a practical mind which likes to organise things into their proper place and structure.

One of the joys of home education: having the time and the freedom to really get to know one’s own children, work out what they’ll like and – after a bit of trial and error – hit on the right thing and watch them run with it.


Filed under Aptitude, Curiosity - a delicate flower, Driving, History, Innate, Natural learning - how it works, Out an' about, Planning - or not, Pre-home ed, Writing

More happens when you leave it alone

Lyddie and I haven’t done any reading practice for weeks. Peter and Jane have been abandoned on the sideboard since she lost interest in them back then. I started getting a bit concerned this week, thinking the development of her reading skill might be stagnating, especially since she’s been really enjoying hearing me read to her for about an hour a day, when we started on the Famous Five series ten days or so ago, but not expressing any desire to try to read them to herself.

I mentioned Peter and Jane this week, when my throat was aching from Famous Five reading, saying something like: “You’re not too far off being able to read these to yourself, you know. We should get back to Peter and Jane and work on your reading skill again,” and she said: “Hmm, well, I’d quite like to be able to read this Thumbelina book to myself.”

I opened it, glanced at a page and told her: “Well, you might be able to. Give it a go?” – not, to be quite honest, at all confident that she could, it being quite well in advance of the Peter and Jane she’d abandoned on the sideboard in frustration weeks before. She picked it up and read a page out loud – slowly, but quite smoothly. And another, and another. She was as amazed as I was that she could do it so well, and so easily. We were both delighted: it was a lovely surprise.

I’d forgotten that about the natural learning process. There often has to be a period of leaving it alone for quiet absorption and/or deep processing to take place. If you systematically push something every day remorselessly, even after the student wants to stop, that’s damaging – or at best, impeding. But if you’re able to be completely responsive and stop at the right time (i.e. when the learner says they’ve had enough) then something seems to happen subconsciously in the break – a consolidation process.

She’s picking up books a lot now, reading the odd page here and there and delighting in the fact that she can.

The same has been happening with numbers. We haven’t done any workbooks for a while, and she’s been doing mental arithmetic. “Do you know, Mum, 7 and 7 is 14, and 14 and 14 is 28?” A visitor made the mistake of asking her what 28 and 28 is then, and she told them she didn’t want to know the answer to that.

There’s always someone who wants to take charge of her learning process for her and start trying to lead it! But I’m sure that slows her down.

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Filed under Aptitude, Natural learning - how it works, Numbers, Reading

“How do you know when you can read?”

Lyddie (nearly 7) asked me this last week, and I thought it a fascinating question. I answered with words to the effect of: “I think it’s when written words start making sense – when you can tell what they’re saying. Is that what you meant?”

She said: “Sort of… but what about when only some of the words make sense?” and I began to understand her reason for asking.

After some thought, I said: “Well, learning to read is a gradual process – it doesn’t happen all at once. I think that if you know how to break a word down into sounds and then say the sounds together to work out what it probably says, then you can read.”

I know, that’s not how everyone learns to read but it’s how Lyddie has learned, so she was happy with that answer.

She’s recently been to Emley Moor Mast which is quite near to where we live, and she wanted to know how it worked. Tom explained it to her, with many diagrams, over several sessions. She kept asking questions throughout, which I think is always a good sign that someone is engaged with the learning process and she now knows more about the workings of television transmitting stations than I do. She is generally more technically minded than me by aptitude. It’s lucky that Tom’s around to explain things, or I might be thinking about buying in some tuition for her at this point, if she wanted it, or at least having to look further afield than the people here for help in explanations.

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Filed under Aptitude, Co-operating, Innate, Reading