Documentation & The Magic Carpet

by Contributing Editor: Alison Horridge
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Alison is the home educating parent of F and T,
who are now grown up. She has a long history of
involvement with DET discussions, and a wealth
of understanding on the background of the
Education Act as it applies to home education.
She also has a uniquely liberating perspective
on the practicalities of educating children at home.
The following are Alison’s inspiring notes from a
presentation she gave at a DET facilitated forum
for home educators, run in September 2010.
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Background of Documenting for Registration

The Conditions for Registration were formulated on an understanding that the best indicator of a high quality education in the home education context is a committed, engaged parent(s) able to provide a broad range of learning opportunities and with a range of ideas about how to engage their child in learning.

The term ‘High Quality Education‘ is not defined in the Act. This is because it is an ever changing concept with no fixed parameters other than those set out in the General Principles of the Act, ideas such as promoting the development of each child’s potential, promoting enthusiasm for learning, promoting respect and tolerance for others, recognizing needs of students etc.

There are a wide variety of approaches to home education and the legislation does not seek to limit parents’ choice in how they home educate – rather it requires that parents be able to discuss how they see their child’s interests, abilities and educational needs and with this understanding of their child, discuss what sort of learning opportunities they provide and how they encourage their child to learn. Aspects of the ‘discussion’ need to be provided in writing prior to a registration visit during which parents (and children) may verbally add to discussion, show results, evidence of activity etc.
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Translating What I Hold In My Head

These notes were prepared as a handout to accompany a brief presentation about documenting for registration in the ACT. Whilst many parents find record keeping/documenting useful for their own practice of home educating their children (as well as necessary for registration purposes), some parents home educate quite satisfactorily without any formal records – they ‘keep it all in their heads’.

I was one of these. I never had neat notebooks, charts or lists. However, the legislation now requires that parents do document the home education that they provide for their child/ren. So my presentation focused on a model of ‘what I hold in my head’ and how I would translate that into a written format for the purpose of applying for registration.
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Magic Carpet

Here is a photograph of the model I made. I call it a Magic Carpet.

Alison's Magic Carpet

To make the Magic Carpet, I used bits and pieces that I found around our home, and a glue-gun, tape and a Stanley knife. The tools are important – not only do they really cut and really stick, they also represent the ‘Real World’ which throws up wonderful, real learning opportunities as fast as we want to catch them.
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What it Represents

The Magic Carpet is constructed with a grid of cardboard strips cut from an All-bran box (wholesome, strong fibre). The grid represents the fundamentals of our home ed style – rhythm, structure, approach, beliefs, eg importance and effectiveness of play as a mode of learning of play, engagement, learning arising from an interest/passion, reading aloud (elaborated on below). Over the years the grid only changed in small details so I would not re-describe it for each registration period, except to point out how it might have changed or how it particularly supports an aspect of home education in the recent past or forth-coming period.

Then there are many bits and pieces, threads, woven into the Magic Carpet. There is a strip cut from a chocolate bar wrapper – it represents various ideas/issues e.g. the place of treats, managing addictive behaviours such as, these days, Facebook and computer games. There is a strip of gold wrapping paper – it could represent the Eureka Moments (elaborated on below), so wonderful to see. There is a strip of Leunig cartoon wrapping paper – it could stand for dreaming, frivolity, peacefulness – how do we encourage them and how do they contribute to home education. There is a playing card – reminding me of the role of chance, serendipity, and the importance of game design and playing in my children’s home education. There is a variety of scraps of fabric – they represent ‘landing spots’ – a tartan, grid-like piece could represent a period of engagement with a text book of some sort or a more conservative teacher; a piece with a  thorny rose pattern could represent a difficult patch. There are many colourful lengths of wool woven into my Magic Carpet – each represents an aspect of what we do, what we achieve, maybe some concerns … There are spaces and holes in the Magic Carpet – they represent ‘opportunities in waiting’ – independence/autonomy requires space to move, to explore. There’s also a ‘weird 3D thing’ attached to the Magic Carpet – I have no idea what it is/might be – do we have to have this?? – will it be useful? Educational??? I’ll have to wait and see but it sure does make the Carpet hard to steer!

I am always weaving my Magic Carpet – examining and musing upon each thread. For the purposes of registration – to translate the threads of my Magic Carpet into a format understandable and acceptable to the authorized person who does the registration visit (and to their bosses), I would, throughout the registration period, write up some of these musings, taking care to keep them together where they would not get lost. Then, come registration time, I would sit down to portray (in writing) my child/ren in terms of their interests, needs and aptitudes and select various of my written Magic Carpet musings to include. I would choose musings which together provide a picture of my child/ren’s engagement in the home educating life and my role in facilitating it.
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Examples of Musings, Written Up

The following brief outlines of rhythm, environment, reading aloud and other musings would be reviewed, updated, expanded upon etc., as necessary but would remain constant threads throughout our home educating years.
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Rhythm/structure

Our family has what would probably be described as an eclectic approach to learning – integrated into and inspired by daily life and literature. We find our town life provides a flexible rhythm which acts as a comfortable framework within which the children can grow and learn. There is the  routine of the day – reading in bed, breakfast/discussion, feed animals and do chores, music practice, story, free time, lunch, quiet time, walk, free time, story , ‘after school time’ when schooled friends may visit or the children go to activities … R (father) returns, dinner time, bath time, story time, discussion.

There is the rhythm of the week – Monday – music lesson, swimming; Tuesday – choir, cubs; Wednesday – bush walking and story with grandparents; Thursday – home education group activity day, swimming; Friday – free day; and the weekend when R is home and he enjoys time with the children, often taking them bush walking or camping.

The seasons, of course, provide another rhythm, suggesting the outdoor activities we do, the gardening, the exercise, the menu…and every so often there are festivals and celebrations to plan and enjoy.
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The environment/approach

Some analogies that I often think of in relation to home educating my children.

  • To make bread, keep the dough in a warm environment, knead intensively at the right moment, and leave it be the rest of the time.
  • ‘Simmering on the back burner’ is another image I find useful – long, slow cooking, occasionally stirring and ‘voila’ – a complex stew blending many flavours
  • Watching the children learn is like watching them do a giant jigsaw puzzle, the picture of which is not available and there are no edges. They turn over pieces, examine them intently, sort them, fit them together – never mind the spaces, move whole sections here…or there…leave it for a while…

I often use these analogies to describe our approach to home education. I am responsible for providing the ‘warm environment’ – a place in which the children are inspired to learn (since there’s nothing much else to do! And anything ‘addictive’ is controlled), where there is always an opportunity to ‘engage’. As resource person, I ensure access to people, places, ideas and things. ‘Kneading intensively at the right moment’ includes daily interaction such as reading aloud and helping with difficulties, and also being alert to a developing change in a child when perhaps they will need assistance to (for instance) find a new interest or finally tackle a seemingly huge hurdle. ‘Leave it be’ is sometimes the hardest part of this style of home educating – waiting for the child to be ready – to want to claim a particular challenge – perhaps they never will. The flavour, shape and size of the loaf are up to them. I must practice trust and remind myself that, most likely, they will know it/do it by age 20 – and if not, then perhaps it’s not so important.

The jigsaw image reminds me that life is all one picture, yet everyone sees and experiences it differently. Each person’s view is unique and everyone must do their own puzzle. Daily life, in our environment, throws up many educational opportunities and inspirations to learn – the pictures on the pieces. The pieces can be sorted, divided, approached many ways – I cannot presume to always know what is right for someone else and to impose my view on another is mostly futile though the odd suggestion may be helpful. Perhaps I can be most useful by example – demonstrating how I go about doing my own jigsaw. Demonstrating choice, commitment, pleasure, managing frustration/failure … So, whilst remaining available to the children, I undertake my various responsibilities, including volunteer work, artwork, music practice and performance, gardening, sustained reading and writing, and discussion with others. Home educating children have huge access to their parents – do as you see (as opposed to do as I say) is the way we choose to go.
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Reading aloud – choice of books/pulling them up/revealing or filling gaps

At the library, my children immediately sit down to read a book and have no ‘stack’ when it’s time to go – I have taken advantage of this behaviour – I choose quality books, both for parents and grandparents to read aloud, and to recommend to the children for them to read, or simply strategically ‘leave out’. I consult ‘guides to children’s literature’ and make careful choices – this is my main ‘planning tool’.

I always aim for well written works which will inspire discussion, nourish the soul and imagination … books which are beyond what they would read for themselves (for the read alouds) – which will draw them on to more complex, challenging literature. I choose topics and themes that may ‘fill holes’ or reveal to the children gaps in their knowledge, perhaps inspiring further interest. Reading aloud is the shared core of our home education adventure – as such I would keep a record of books read, and be able to discuss their contribution to the children’s learning.
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Examples of Other Threads/Issues Mused Upon

These, and other thoughts, would be written up more fully and added to over time – as I am inspired by daily observation, personal reading and discussion with other parents and my children themselves

  • Engagement as my primary measure of the worth of an activity;
  • The importance of: trust; respect; play; dreamtime; leaving things unknown; learning to ask the ‘right’ questions; leaving ‘spaces’; getting it wrong; game design
  • The place of: rote learning; testing; directly answering their questions as opposed to expecting/helping them to seek the answers; specific skill development; later, as opposed to early, learning; privacy; passion versus obsession

Whilst I believe that children are naturally primed to learn, I see that there are ways to both facilitate and hinder this. My ‘strategies to encourage the children to learn’ arise from my musings as well as my intimate knowledge of each child, and are built into the rhythm, the environment and approach. Key strategies include: modelling the many aspects of ‘engagement’ through following my own pursuits; providing a wide variety of interesting opportunities; maintaining quiet expectation of daily ‘engagement’, minimizing overt educational demands and testing.
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Addressing Needs, Interests & Aptitudes of the Child

For example: for T aged 12

T sees himself as a do-er not a learner.  He expects to intensively work/play on a limited number of personal interests, each of which last for several years. Over the last two years he has moved from learning basic computer skills and playing games to teaching himself to program his own games; and from playing games with small military figurines and their associated real history to more imaginary ‘War-hammer stuff’ – painting figurines, making props, planning game scenarios and exploring probability associated with multiple dice rolling. As in his Lego phase, many hours appear to be spent quite happily and intently engaged with remarkably little to show – he says he is thinking. These activities happen in his private realm and are not for adults to direct or assess. That’s not to say others aren’t involved – he shares his gaming passion with friends, talks with knowledgeable adults about programming… I support/suggest where I see a possibility e.g. provide programming software and manuals, materials for prop making, ensure time. I also express my hesitation about the commercial side of the War-hammer empire by not funding his acquisitions – use of pocket money – another learning opportunity!
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Needs can be discussed in terms of:

  • physical – over time, a wide variety of physical opportunities; knowledge of health – e.g. posture at the computer, nutrition and exercise issues, physical skills
  • intellectual – discussion; play, both alone and with friends; read aloud; music lessons; game design; substantial, private thinking time; suitable reading material; computer access
  • social – contact with a wide variety of people in a wide variety of contexts, for example friends who are also home educating and those who aren’t, scouts, after school activities, grandparents and their friends, opportunity to contribute
  • emotional – respect, fairness, appropriateness, independence
  • spiritual – opportunities for challenge, adventure, frivolity, discussion of issues of the day, philosophy (through literature), working with purpose

I would document how I provide for these needs by providing specific examples of what T has been exposed to/ participated in/benefited most from.
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Specific Examples of Documenting

These are some specific examples of a parent observing how learning actually happens. I would notate a few examples for each child every year – it’s pretty special to see progress happen directly – often times I only observe that a child ‘suddenly knows’ something, but musing upon it can give inklings of how they got there. This documenting also clearly indicates how I assess where the children are in their learning, how I observe and how I am thinking about their development.
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A Eureka Moment

Understanding place value

F, aged 7, does not yet understand place value but she knows there is something important that she doesn’t get and has been asking questions which I answer but can see she’s not ‘joining the dots’. One day, in the car, she asks, “Do people in other countries write numbers differently?” – “Yes, in China, for instance, they have a small horizontal line for 1; 2 is two lines, one under the other; 10 is a sign like a ‘plus’; 11 is done with a 10 sign followed by a 1 sign…20 is a 2 sign, followed by a 10 sign…” As I talked, I thought, this is so much more logical for the stage she’s at – the idea of ‘bundling’ 10 units into one sign, not 2 digits as we do… – and I could sense the intense silence of ‘linking’ coming from the back seat. “Oh”, she said, and that was that.

A few weeks later, we must do a 7 hour drive to visit relatives. It will just be me, F and T, aged 5. I need them to behave, strapped in their back seats, so I prepare busy-bags with a few new surprises. On a whim, I buy a bag of cheap raffle books, in different colours, each with numbers up to 999 – maybe they could use them to ‘play shops’ or glue them into mosaic collages so I get glue sticks too. Off we go and when the first signs of restlessness appear, I pass back the busy-bags. For just a small outlay, it’s like Christmas morning! T has a vision impairment which currently precludes reading, so F describes aloud – and I get to hear everything – “Oh, see here, T – all these lovely little books – hearts and diamonds and all these numbers – from 1 to, let me see – oh, hundreds.” “Thousands?”, T enquires, hopefully. “Well, um, no, just up to 9,9,9 – that’s nine hundred and ninety nine – now, we can play ‘tickets’ – a little pot-luck to see who gets the biggest” – they tear out and fold ‘tickets’, then draw out one each – again and again, F reads the numbers, explaining to T – “well, we both have 2’s and 1’s in our numbers but yours is bigger because a 1 for the hundred bundle is more than a 2 if it’s only for the 10 bundles which only makes 20.” “So I win this time”, T says. Occasionally, F falters and throws a question over the seat to me. I just throw the answer back and off they go again, morphing into other games – all the way to Scotland, the car a confetti of tickets.

Back home, a few weeks later while I cook dinner, T is playing with his large, magnetic fridge numbers and chatting to himself – “Now this 1 and this 1 might seem the same but they’re not at all – no, this 1 is 100 because … and this 1 is only 10, but it’s bigger than this 2 because it’s only 2 one’s …” – I turn to look, and there he has 112, only never having actually seen the numbers on the ‘tickets’, he has placed the magnets one below the other on the fridge – and on he goes, rearranging his collection of numbers, way past a thousand.

Both children now ‘get’ place value – it’s one of the most fundamental ideas in our mathematical notation; they will never need to revise it – it’s within them to use in future steps and a multitude of contexts. We continue with discussion – infinity, other ‘base’ notation, counting by 2’s, 5’s, 10’s, … 27’s, converting decimals to fractions to percentages to ratios …
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Developing trust in alternative learning approaches

Learning German

At the age of 9, F decided to learn German – as an alternative way into an interest in the Second World War being pursued by some of her friends through a passion for battle studies, military hardware, uniforms etc. After some delay on my part and nagging from F (perhaps a good thing), we went to Jacaranda Educational Bookshop and found a textbook series with audio tapes (rather expensive – would it be worth it, or was this just a passing fad?) Each chapter of the book was based on cartoon stories about a group of teens – many conversation ‘bubbles’- a window onto teen life – very interesting for a 9 year old – all presented on the audio tapes too. F spent hours listening and following along in the book or just listening while she did other things. She paid no attention to the vocabulary lists, grammar sections or exercises – oh dear, I thought, and tried to sit down with her to ‘help’ – a complete hindrance – back off – wait and see.

About 3 months later, she baked a cake and then set about the washing up – she sings to herself and the song morphs into a German one from the tape – then into a made-up story-play – “und hier kommen die forken und die k-nifen – sie schwimmen und schplaschen im wasser. Sie sind alle so …” on and on she went, making up German sounding words where she didn’t know them, but the word order, declension of verbs and other grammatical features were all there. Two hours later, she stacked the last item in the rack, and I was assured that this is a fantastic way to learn. She has achieved what many hours of formal study can fail to achieve – a perfect accent, a feel for the grammar, a naturalness of ‘conversation flow’. Even if she doesn’t learn the formal stuff, she will be well placed to do that later and quickly, if she needs/wants to.

In both of the examples above, there is ‘nothing to show’ – there are no exercise books, no pages of workbooks filled in, no ‘project’ – but the learning is so profound that there is no need for repetitive exercises – and I came to realize that, at least for my children, formal notation skills for any particular concept are best left until well after they understand a concept, can manipulate it and link it with existing knowledge. Hence some of my ‘strategies to encourage learning’– value discussion and play; do not ‘take over’ e.g. turn it into ‘a Project’; do not demand written work; look for the positive in alternative results.
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Documenting a short period may also be insightful.

So often parents using a natural learning/child-led approach say somewhat apologetically that ‘they don’t do anything much’. It can be good to unpick that, by documenting a short period of time and musing upon the result.
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Snapshot of a morning

I have spent the morning finishing an article and being interrupted. T, aged 12, is home. I have given him pancakes in bed, to encourage him to continue reading his book. I have helped him tip more chook food into the box and discussed the slugs we found there. We have discussed the various difficulties in collecting money for an ice skating trip from a large group of scouts, a task he has volunteered for. I have spent half an hour helping him understand a problem in trigonometry – I don’t really understand it myself, but in asking him to explain ‘it’ so far, he has sorted out the difficulty himself. I have encouraged him to work just a bit more at the difficult bits in a piano piece and pointed out the advantages of the suggested fingering. Over lunch, we have discussed: the role of conjecture in a TV dinosaur animation series, the difficulties F is having living with a 6 and an 8 year old in her German host family and whether our expectations of this age group are different because of our home education experiences and practices, and the geographical variation in naming fish species. I have just asked for some uninterrupted time and T has gone back to bed to continue his book (which I found for him at the library after consulting a ‘good books for teenagers’ book)

Some ideas of what this ‘Snapshot’ demonstrates – in fact a very interesting richness

  • the modelling of parent working – writing – doing community work – learning to use the computer (new for me then and T often taught me) – expressing frustration – taking a break – coming back to it – meeting a deadline – the satisfaction in seeing the work published
  • parent creating a win/win – ensuring child is engaged whilst carving out enough time to complete own task
  • the subtleties of ‘strategies to encourage learning’ e.g. providing breakfast in bed so child is encouraged to read more
  • no project on slugs ever happened but we stopped to observe/question/ hypothesize – part of scientific method – an everyday mode of enquiry
  • an adult being interested in a child’s questions/difficulties – showing patience – sharing enthusiasm – exploring an issue through conversation – making a future Dad, maybe
  • the scout money problem – T volunteering – organizational skills – planning for possibilities
  • facilitating T’s learning by being a ‘brick wall’ as he explains a problem to himself  – the adult can be helpful without knowing how to do the problem
  • how did he come to be teaching himself trigonometry – because he’s trying to write a programme with graphics where you shoot a canon-ball into a bucket – he’s discovered he needs equations – he’s on the way to arcs – parabolas – calculus
  • encouraging more time be given to the difficult bits – an important approach for many endeavours
  • exploring the idea that other people’s approach may have advantages (e.g. piano fingering)
  • conjecture – how do people come to know things – is it true
  • discussing other families and home education – cultural studies – who is ‘different’ – what is ‘normal’ – abstract ideas
  • no project on fish ever happened but together we spun away from home and around the world for a few minutes
  • demonstrating the importance of some uninterrupted time
  • the expectation that T can ‘entertain’ himself for a good period of time – no direction from me – trust – if he ‘wastes’ his time, that too can be educational
  • the draw of a well chosen book – bathe them in rich, complex language, imagery, ideas
  • the multitude of learning opportunities, even in a quiet morning at home when the parent is busy
  • the parent’s appreciation that learning/engagement is happening, even though there’s little to show
  • the concept that because much of this learning is so ‘ad hoc’, not part of a subject or ‘topic learning’, it is not contained within its initial ‘subject area’ and is thus immediately available to be applied elsewhere (just a musing following observation)
  • T was fully engaged all morning – he initiated these activities, moving freely from one activity to the next – at no point was he just ‘marking time’ waiting for someone else, waiting to ‘be released’ or for something interesting to catch his attention
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This is just one parent’s ideas on documenting for registration.
Each parent can experiment with/develop documentation
that both works for them and their child/ren, and provides
to the authorized person a picture of provision of education
suitable to the needs, interests and aptitudes of their child/ren.

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