“Boredom was everywhere in my world, and if you asked the kids, as I often did, why they felt so bored, they always gave the same answers: they said the work was stupid, that it didn’t make sense, that they already knew They said that they wanted to do something real, not just sit. They said the teachers didn’t seem to know much about their subjects and clearly weren’t interested in learning more. And the kids were right: their teachers were all a little bored as well. They”. John Taylor Cat in Against the school
The dictionary describes boredom as ‘the feeling of being bored by something boring.’ At six, my son did not have the words to sum up his school experience, the closest he could gather was to provide me with a description of the feeling he aroused in him. This feeling was ‘boredom’. He also often told me that he didn’t do ‘anything’ during his school day. I knew this couldn’t be entirely accurate, but I felt it was a reality for him. Over time I came to the conclusion that if he had had the wisdom of experience he would have communicated something like: ‘learning in school makes no sense in my life, so I am unable to engage in the activities presented to me, consequently I live in this state of boredom that makes me bored ».
“We ask children to do for most of the day what few adults can do for even an hour. How many of us, by attending, say, a lesson that we don’t care about, can keep our minds from wandering? Almost no one .” John Holt in How Children Fail
Conversely, whenever my son talked about football, his eyes would light up. He would tell me everything I wanted to know on the subject, from the rules of the game to the top scorers in the Premiership table. He pushed me to take him to his favorite team’s games and spent every free minute practicing outside. When someone had some information about football he would stop and listen adding his opinion of him. He read the latest football magazine cover to cover and saved every penny to buy the football cards he collected religiously. When we are passionate about a topic we are much less prone to boredom. This was one of the main reasons why we started studying at home almost eight years ago.
Characterizing our approach to home education as students learning about life, I recently found myself falling into the trap of providing a school-style approach to learning during a weekly class with my (never home-schooled) daughter and five of her children. friends. With the help of another mom we took over the management of these science classes. Each child chose to attend these classes and could leave at any time, in other words he wished to learn science in these classes. For the first six months the babies seemed busy as we followed the Usbourne Science book, working our way through basic science experiments in the kitchen. However, in recent months they seemed to be losing enthusiasm. When their interest waned, I lost my spirit in these encounters. Discouraged, I felt compelled to participate, even raising my voice to be heard over their selfless chatter.
“The greatest enemy of learning is the teacher who speaks” John Holt in How Children Fail
My instincts warned me that these lessons had lost their mojo. I found that I could not continue any longer, this way of learning had turned into lessons that went against everything I had come to believe. We held a meeting with all of us settled on the floor in a circle. During this non-judgmental context the children found a place to express their lack of connection with the science we were attempting. Through this dialogue a phoenix of an idea emerged from the circle, taking shape as we animatedly visualized the unexpected shape of our future scientific encounters.
In mock Harry Potter style, we now arrive every Monday morning and symbolically enter our Room of Requirement, where each individual is working on a project they have selected to study. A project can take a week or several months. The boys are currently building a potato rocket launcher, one of the girls is learning a deeper understanding of gemstones, and the remaining two girls are building their own dollhouse, complete with working solar lighting and a water fountain. This process has shown me the power of non-judgmental listening and hearing, none of us would ever have imagined that this would be the result.
“We learn to do something by doing it. There is no other way.” John Holt in Teach from you
One of the main keys to successful integrated learning is ‘doing’ and through doing we learn. There is another crucial element for successful integrated learning: learning must be in the “context” for the learner. A topic described as “context” are those topics that arouse the interest of the learner. I was reassured that we were ‘doing’ the experiments, unfortunately the lessons explored lacked ‘context’ for the children. Random experiments, roughly grouped by themes, had no meaning in the lives of children. One of our lessons was about an experiment that demonstrated ice melting at a different rate when salt was applied, an interesting fact, but how does it fit into our lives here in Africa? In Canada, this experiment would have a greater likelihood of being placed in context, particularly during the winter period, when driveways need to be cleared of snow with minimal effort.
Formal teaching normally approaches learning in reverse, initially teaching a “concept” followed by the application of “doing” and the “context” is relegated to the last position and often completely neglected. There is a mess of problems associated with this unnatural approach to learning. The biggest problem is that the lessons taught often have little relevance to children’s lives, resulting in detachment from the subject and ultimately boredom. By reversing the learning experience where children can choose what they want to learn, they are inspired and motivated. With the context well defined, integrated learning is more likely to be the end result.
When we’re initially presented with a new learning experience, we naturally look for previous hooks we might have in place, ask the question “Have I tried this, or something similar, before?” ‘How was the experience?’ “How successful have I been?” ‘Where did I fail? ‘What have I learned?’ John Holt, in How Children Fail, believes that we learn by doing and the prerequisite for doing so is being able to imagine ourselves doing the doing. We have to imagine ourselves swimming, skiing, playing a particular song on the piano and first taking the first step when we learn to walk. This leads to a trial period to learn, do it, learn from our mistakes and try again. At this point we may need some instruction from someone who has learned this experience previously, it makes sense for us to watch him do what we were trying to do, and then we can try to do it ourselves. It is important that it is the student, not the teacher, who leads the learning process at the pace that best suits him, while this is in place, the context remains king.
My daughter, aged 5, was worried that she would leave her toys and bed behind when we explained that we were moving to a new home. With no hook to attach this unexplored experience, she is left with feelings of confusion and worry. Before her first hook on the “meaning of moving” was in place, if we had described the abstract act of moving to her, it is very likely that she would have little interest in this out of context experience. Unfortunately this is what a school environment applies regularly, teaching subjects that have little context in a child’s life. We may have been able to capture our daughter’s interest by telling her about a move in the form of a story. Perhaps through identification with the person in the story she may have become more involved. Although I would say this is a whisper of the true experience. A correct resolution of “what it means to move house” would involve a complete understanding, in the child, of how it feels and what it means physically to move house. It is through the actual experience of moving, the doing of moving in context, that truly engages the student integrated into the child, providing the full meaning behind what it means to move. It was this “making movement in context” that solved once and for all the questions my daughter had about her bed and her accompanying toys when she moved to another house.
“When you teach a child something you forever take away his or her chance to find out for himself.” Jean Piaget
Learning doesn’t always have to involve physical presence. I read Harry Potter aloud to my nine-year-old son. Those of you who have read the books will be familiar with the character Sirius, the godfather of Harry Potter, who turns into a big dog at will. In a separate discussion with my daughter, I told her that there is a star in the sky called Sirius and it can be found in a constellation called The Big Dog. It was a classic moment of integrated learning when she made the connection, for herself, between what we had read about in Harry Potter and the information she had just gathered. Taking it one step further, she commented on JK Rowling’s intelligence by basing a character on the name of a star and linking this character, through her actions in the book, to the name of her constellation. She also created another hook to build on in the future: what it means to create and name characters when planning to write a story.
The learning process is sacred to the individual, whatever their age. Hijacking an individual’s natural learning approach is tantamount to stealing and something we should be on guard against at all costs. When this happens, students are left with boredom as their only line of defense. In a learning environment where boredom is prevalent, used as a barometer, it will signal that somewhere in the approach to learning something has gone wrong. When we entrust the learning process to the student, the “context” is a fact, the student naturally selects what has meaning for her and the poisonous thread of disconnected boredom is eliminated.
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