Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Are social skills innate?

I don't believe that kids need to go to school to be socialized.  The process of socialization, as I understand it, is learning various skills to adapt socially to a particular environment. Therefore, the school environment to me, does not necessarily prepare them for the rest of their life.  It certainly gives them specific social skills for that specific context. Penelope Trunk believes that social skills are innate. I am not sure if I agree with this and through reading about the nature/nurture debate I generally fall into a combination of the two. As in, I think we are born with certain skills, but even babies, mostly naturally social, would become pretty anti-social if they had no person to smile at, hold them and interact with them.

But lets face it, few school contexts are going to be relevant for children who grow up to be professionals or entrepreneurs, even if they become teachers or school counsellors.  So, taking an empirical approach, reflecting subjectively on my own experience, I thought I would think about the social skills needed by professionals. As a professional, I worked in several different contexts.  I want to explore the first workplace today.

1)  Small group within larger body, within hierarchical structure.
I was in a cataloguing group of six people, one of them a team leader, as part of a large organisation with a number of different departments, team leaders, operational managers, executive managers and the CEO.  We usually worked alone on specific tasks with the cataloguing department, but needed to negotiate who would do what work.  I would offer to assist my colleagues if they were overburdened or had other conflicting tasks and also because I was very quick and keen to learn new skills if I could.  We interacted with other groups, mastering and editing, recording and preservation and some other technical departments.  We were also recruited into large-scale projects to contact and train vision impaired clients in their homes by phone, working with the customer care group.

The social skills I needed were:

  1.  Emotional intelligence ( perceiving stress and offering help to keep us meeting deadlines)
  2.  Flexibility ( regular changes came from the top down and required quick adaption),
  3. Communication, negotiating and problem solving in a team. ( who will do this work? how will we divide it up?  shall we divide up the spreadsheet of titles or all work from an online version given certain numbers).
  4. Managing my own deadlines and communicating where I was with these when required so we could project estimated completion times. This meant following procedures that were accessible online for me to read and use.  The quality of my work was not decided by one person, but was developed by a team.  I was expected to be independant, find this out myself and implement it.
  5. Project management.  Researching, establishing, writing and some delegating of tasks. I researched and wrote a manual on music braille.  Now, I had never catalogued music braille, but I knew cataloguing and I knew music to an extent.  I did all the work learning music terms, finding out standards of braille cataloguing for music and put it all together.  My operational manager helped polish it and we confirmed my findings with an independant expert consultant.  She made minimal changes.  
I don't remember learning these skills at school.  I remember being told I was not listening a lot, that I would forget my head if it wasn't screwed on a lot.  Even at uni our group work assignments were nothing like this workplace as the social structure we created for it were quite naive and false. Most of my master's degree was done by distance education, apart from my first year which was done in groups. However, I fitted in really well with this workplace and loved learning and working between departments and being involved in big brainstorming sessions. They were very sad when I left and I stay in touch with this department to this day. There was a hierarchy, but still a sense of engagement and the importance of our work.  They had built a good work culture, had good systems and good feedback models.  

So this is just an observation.  But I think I learned my skills outside of my school experience, as a lot of the teaching and learning models were copying off the board, given specific things to read and worksheets to fill out or brief instruction to a large group followed by testing.  Drama was probably the only class in which group problem solving was implemented and to be honest, there were so many popularity clicks in those classes that I only worked in the same groups over and over and did not engage across the whole classroom.  

That's no obstacle...

I woke up this morning in pain.  Had terrible night's sleep and everything hurt. Girl had been up late reading again and made me a lovely picture at 10 pm at night.

 Thankfully husband had let me sleep in and gave me some time alone to sort myself out.  Did all my physio exercises and a gentle workout to work up a sweat and mobilise the muscles and stretch.  By the time I got out it was 8:30 and the kids had finished breakfast.  I mentioned I wasn't sure what to do with the kids today as we had travelled all day the day before which usually makes them unwilling to leave the house.

'Evie wants to make an obstacle course' he said as he spread peanut butter for his toast.

My back was still pretty fragile so I wasn't keen on doing one of her courses but wanted to encourage her planning one, maybe the teddies could do it, I thought?

In the end, I decided work on her verbalising of her plan and encourage a little writing. It turned out to be more of a 'pre-writing' activity where she verbalised the activities that she set for herself and Solomon.  I walked the obstacle course once to avoid injuring myself.

I am starting to think of these self-directed plans of E's as Project Learning.  I really like when she initiates a project she wants to make or make happen.  However, they are often recipes for frustration as the more I am involved the more scattered she gets making the project bigger and bigger and more and more work.  I have a few strategies I use to try and keep it 'hers' and not too much exhaustion on my part.

Observations about Project Learning

  1. Being 'busy' helps keep E choosing the project herself. (going to the toilet, just finishing my coffee, etc when I get back you can tell me how the obstacle course goes. Think about the steps).
  2. Telling her I am confused or don't understand makes her work at creating a plan and sticking to it rather than getting more and more excited and adding too many steps that even she can't remember anymore
  3. Having to verbalise what she means rather than saying "I'll show you" every time, she learns to describe things.  I am running ( but you can walk mummy if your back is sore) to the greeny blue fence and touching it, then I need to get a red rose from the bush and run back".

Friday, October 16, 2015

Brick Flix Mini Unit Study

We had a bad night's sleep last night, it was hot and the cooler was noisy, and the girl was sick, and the boy lost his comfort blanket, and I was sewing him a new one at about 9 at night and they finally collapsed around 10...

Anyway, today I was not really up to any formal homeschool ( not that kinders and preschoolers really need any but I try and keep routine and structure for them) but I had a book from the library I was keen to read with them.

It was all a bit over my 3 and 5 year olds heads as you can imagine.  But I did find a short history of lego stop motion films and showed them a couple to give them an idea of what we would try to do.

This classic film was quite appropriate for kids in my opinion.  Nothing scary and quite cute, very clever really.  Precursors of maze runner and references to Dr Who.

So we started our own one. The kids built the set and designed it, I suggested additions they might like and suggested they choose and make characters. The book told us to get rid of the natural light so we brought in a lamp, we didn't really follow the other instructions, they were too keen to get started!

We downloaded an app called 'Stop Motion Studio" for free on the Ipad.  It was very simple and point and click.

Now this is not really a finished product by any stretch, if it were, it would have been me doing all the work and the kids not really being involved. There was some grumps about me showing E how to keep out of the shot and show incrementally how little moves add up to the big picture so we abandoned it after my little technique tutorial and went and colour in lego printables from the lego movie.

Ok, now lunch.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

All Children are Homeschooled

During my big angsty time spent reading everything I could find about schooling ( at home or otherwise) I read a book called "Going Public"  by David and Kelli Pritchard.  Its a fantastic book if you are thinking about where to send your kids for school ( or not) and provides an example of a large Christian family who wanted to disciple their kids in the Christian faith but also chose for their kids to attend public school.

One quote of theirs when asked why they didn't homeschool their children ( i.e weren't they worried their kids would pick up all sorts of bad behaviors or be disadvantaged academically), they answered "we do! everyone does!" "Some just do it more than others".

I somewhat agree with this statement, and of course if it is said as a defence for not homeschooling its not something I am going to press home. No one can parent your kids for you, if your child struggles with a subject, your intervention and help is more important than the teacher's, even if it is the teacher who helps them grasp even numbers, your attitude, encouragement and cooperation is essential.

However, I also find myself squirm a bit when I hear this statement, because although all parents teach their children more than any other person at most stages of their life, homeschooling... I have to tell you, is different.

Now, I am not a teacher or school basher, or a 'homeschooling is everything' person, but I chose to do it for distinct reasons, some of them are because I think it is better for my family.  Now, this is not the place where you need to convince me that school is good.  I'm sure its fine, just not for us.  Just like you may choose not to do zumba, but you like crossfit, or you hate eggs but love chicken.  Its not about a personal attack on you, which is what often these discussions can turn into when we say it is just...different.

When you homeschool, there is no-one to give you a report of how your child behaved at school, you observe it in all its horrendous glory at a local park, when they push a child off the swing or shout at them with the volume and intensity of a wind tunnel.  There is no-one to tell you your kid is dyslexic,  gifted, aggressive, or struggling with a concept, you are there *dealing with ALL of it, ALL the time*.

 Its painfully true when you have a streaming cold but your five year has decided they want to tackle a reader aimed two years older than they are and doggedly pushes through learning to sound out and read words like "en-vi-ous" and "scam-per-ing". Its exhaustingly true when the science area out the back needs cleaning, and you have no lab assistant.  Its disappointingly true when you are not only the mum, but the chef, shopper, acting coach, an extra in every play, the designer of building projects, reading teacher, science teacher, phys ed coach and nutritionist.

Its also wonderfully true when you get to see your children master a new skill in your very presence, or your child automatically starts craft time and create something with some straws, an egg carton and rubber bands and its still true when you are the one who gets asked the tricky questions and you find them out, together.

So yes, there is no one right way to educate your kids.  But we aren't *really* all homeschooling.  I'm not saying homeschooling is the only way or even the best way, but it is a different way and it has different stresses.  There is no school run or lunchboxes ( well only sometimes) and there are no uniforms to iron, projects to complete the night before, costumes to make, forms to sign, school is also a challenge but they are different challenges.  The real commonality between it all is that we are ALL parents and all want the best for our kids, we just choose different ways to do that.

So, still friends?? :)