Due to rather a lot of interest in our recent escapades with the Ministry of Education, I thought I'd post a copy of our exemption application.
I was in two minds when I did this - I really didn't want to give TOO MUCH information out of the concern that the MOE will start to expect it from everyone if too many people do this.
But on the other hand, this was the first application I had done like this. The previous five have been a bit different. But not much.
As it turned out - I had not given TOO MUCH information. The MOE had more questions for me (see my last blog post).
Anyhoo - here it be. And if anyone wants to use it as a model for their own application please feel free if you can do so honestly knowing that you are going to use the same approach as us.
What and how we intend to teach – our philosophy/approach.
We use what we have come to call a Natural Learning approach. It is child-led/delight directed learning taking elements from the following sources:
- Charlotte Mason education
- Thomas Jefferson Education
- Democratic schools
- Free/liberal schools
- Enki Education
- Reggio Emilia
- NZ Government curriculum
- Christian Schools
Researching each of the above areas, we have developed and use our own “spiral curriculum” – so called as it is planned monthly, and we revisit the whole curriculum each year, recapping what we have learned previously and then going deeper and deeper into various topics as the children show interest.
Each month in our Spiral Curriculum has seasonal activities and discussions on many and various topics. As soon as Joseph’s interest in sparked in an area we delve further into that area. If he doesn’t seem ready for the information, or not interested we know that going further into the subject may spoil his enjoyment for that subject later, so we either wait until that topic comes up again the next year – or talk about it if Joseph brings the subject up himself (he may have been spending time considering what we have been talking about) – or more usually we would talk about that particular topic again if it comes up again naturally. An example of which: some time ago when we had been discussing letterboxes – construction, use etc. The children became extremely interested in letterboxes when we started actually spotting quirky or handcrafted letterboxes locally – some time after the original discussion took place. One of the younger children was going through a “posting things” stage, and so the others made a “letterbox” for that younger child, and made “letters” for the child to post, and then collect in a bag and deliver to family members.
Using this system of learning Joseph will naturally go deeper into subjects each time they come up, and remember what he has learned from the previous discussions/projects.
When we use our Spiral Curriculum it takes place during the time of day we call “Cozy Time” where there are songs (including action songs), discussions, fingerplays, art lessons, short reading sessions (for example reading a portion of a health/manners/geography type book – often Rod & Staff Publishers), language lessons, games etc – whatever suits the age and interests of the children. Joseph has been raised in this environment and it is natural to him. We have a large number of games and activities that we have developed into a booklet and we take ideas from that.
Joseph participates as he is interested, but is always around, absorbing what the others are doing.
Much of our learning is oral, but often spills over into games the children invent. As an example, whilst watching a favourite BBC documentary series “Wartime Farm” the children made a wartime shop where MANY experiences were discussed and agreements/disagreements were involved.
The most effective and appropriate time for Joseph to learn is when he’s interested, and he is encouraged and respected when he has questions, which he often has i.e., during a rain storm he may ask about rain, clouds etc. We will either just discuss things, or look in books.
This is a sample from our Spiral Curriculum, which, as mentioned, is based on what we consider to be the “best” of many educational styles.
Character Quality: Boldness vs Fearfulness
- drying flowers
- deciduous trees
- how to sincerely congratulate someone
- seas and oceans
- harvesting and saving/storage of food
- light and heavy
- sea life
- stacking blocks to make an arch
- re-writing a newspaper article
- send cards to people we know
- reciting – focus on not fidgeting
(these studies may be oral, books, videos, hands-on activities, but always done in a very natural way, not forced and Joseph is free to come and go as his interest leads).
Games: name items, child repeats then goes and touches them (i.e., chair, cushion, door)
Draw five dots then join them to be head, hands, feet
Memory – items on a tray, take one away
Play with precious things in the box
Write story – write a piece, fold paper and pass it on to another to continue– two characters/this day they were/but suddenly/it was just as well that/the end.
This list of subjects and games is a springboard for me to use for the month. We are never restricted by this list though, and will often delve into another subject (perhaps from something we have seen/heard, learned in a book etc) when interest comes up.
If, one year, we don’t get round to studying a particular topic, then it will be covered the next year.
Any of the above subjects may be “studied” by talking about them, or in a hands-on way – writing, drawing, making something, playing with things etc which really cements the learning in Joseph’s mind. I keep in mind the topics for the month, and “strew the path” (to quote Sandra Dodd) with resources (library books, our own books, science equipment, art and craft supplies etc) and activities (trips out, games, building projects etc) pertinent to those topics.
For example: Flower drying – I will keep in mind that this topic will be looked at in March. When we are having a walk around the paddock I might pick a few flowers and briefly discuss them with Joseph – the name of the plant – whether it is a weed (a plant growing in the wrong place) or something we have planted; we’ll discuss the colour, the pattern of the petals, maybe we’ll take a flower apart. When we get home we’ll put various flowers carefully between two pieces of cartridge paper, with paper towels to protect the pages, in a heavy book. We’ll write on the calendar when we can open the pages to look at them again, discussing time, weeks, days at the same time.
Another learning tool we enjoy is a “Current Subjects” poster which I change every few weeks – it is kept on our fridge, so we see it every time we sit at the kitchen table. It is a strong visual resource spotlighting an artist and their style of art; a person from history; a hymn; a poem; a piece of scripture; an animal. We discuss these posters as a family and Joseph is very much part of the discussion, and absorbs much of the information.
The current poster we have features
- Artist: Albrecht Durer. This has already invoked discussions on Germany, the sound of a “u” when the amlaut is over it (like the oo sound in “food”), in the quote from the artist we have the word “youngsters” – would Albrecht Durer really have used that word in the mid 1500’s? and many more things)
- Historic Person: King Charles the II. We have discussed the fashion at the time of this King, where this King was in time compared to Cromwell, was this around the time of the classic literature “Children Of The New Forest” (which we have read, and will re-read next winter), we discussed the King’s nickname – The Merry Monarch, and other things.
- Our hymn is “Will your Anchor Hold” which we sing every so often, allowing the words to be memorized naturally.
- Poem: We have chosen a very long poem - a favourite of our older boys – “Saddle To Rags” written in the 1700’s presumably, discussing a highwayman intent on robbing an old man, but the tables are turned. I read this through often and Joseph absorbs it naturally as he loves the rhythm, the rhymes and the mental imagery. He often asks me to recite it at other times, and so I retell as much as I can remember – he often prompts me in the places I have forgotten.
- Our piece of scripture is Proverbs 12:15. We use the King James Version for memorisation as the language is rich and there are many benefits for Joseph growing up hearing this language being used.
- The animal we are currently studying is the “Streaked Tenric” - a favourite due to his cool hairstyle, and colour. From discussing the Tenric we learn about Madagascar, we try to pronounce the Latin name (Hemicentetes semispinosus) and we talk about habitat and other interesting points.
(In relation to Latin we often learn the Latin and Greek roots of words, and I have made a card game where we learn fun Latin names of animals (i.e., Gorilla = Gorilla Gorilla) – Joseph absorbs and remembers these extremely easily.)
Literacy is covered in the many hours we spend reading together. Our reading aloud sessions as a family cover such classics as Henty, Ballantyne, Laura Ingalls Wilder etc, and then we have one-on-one reading sessions too with just Daddy and Joseph, or Mummy and Joseph, or his big sister and Joseph.
Joseph takes over reading more and more as his enjoyment and confidence increases. His favourite books currently are Dr Seuss, and entwined in the reading are many discussions including those on grammar, punctuation, fantasy, artistic style etc. Joseph learns and retains all this information very naturally in our style of education.
Health and Physical Education – we have many discussions about healthy lifestyle choices – Joseph is very aware of making healthy decisions in relation to food, drink and enjoyable, healthy, respectful pastimes. These things are learned from many discussions, from topics coming up naturally, or from a story that I might invent about a child who did not make good decisions – which is always enjoyed! We live on over 2 acres and Joseph runs, trampolines, climbs trees and generally has a lovely life.
Maths – we have always used Math-U-See, and the concepts learned in the early years are covered very naturally in everyday life currently. When Joseph is ready he will start Math-U-See bookwork. In the meantime he is learning to add, multiply, divide, subtract, looking at telling the time, making charts, graphing, learning shapes and colours – all through natural life.
Languages – Joseph could count to 20 in German from an early age simply because we were learning German, and would sing songs and he absorbed what was interesting to him. He is extremely verbal and has a large vocabulary. This is built on naturally from many discussions where Joseph is respected and listened to.
When Joseph produces some paperwork we keep this in his schoolwork box, which will eventually be turned into a notebook style of record (a ring binder). I am constantly monitoring his progress in our discussions, and looking at his readiness for various tasks and learning skills.
Joseph’s sister is very keen on photography, and we have thousands of photographic records of our activities.
Some Of The Resources I Intend To Use/Am Using
As previously mentioned we use Math-U-See
The Internet – supervised use to look up things of interest and watch programmes
The local libraries – borrowing books
Parks – walks, games, meeting friends
Beaches – walks, games
Over 1,000 books in our personal library – fiction and non-fiction
Daddy’s workshop tools – supervised use of tools and being around/learning the names and function of various machines
Mummy’s art and craft supplies – free use of various art supplies, making things alone or designing them and having Mummy make them
Cameras – taking photos and videos and enjoying them again later
Toys – construction toys like Duplo, Lego, Magna Tiles, wooden blocks, train sets, dress-up clothes, Playmobil, small cars, puzzles, logic games etc
Sewing machine and relevant equipment (the children use a hand-cranked Singer machine)
Musical instruments – guitars, piano, ukulele, tin whistles, chromaharp
Moutere Hills Community Centre – we have been involved in an art group, the recent book stall, and hope to become more involved this year in various events and happenings at the Centre.
We would like to see Joseph continue to love learning as much as he does. To be able to read fluently, choose high-quality literature along with more easily read books, to be able to speak and write effectively, communicating his thoughts and beliefs easily and well. If we can keep him blossoming and growing, allow his personality to develop, his character traits to strengthen, provide and equip him with things to allow intelligent growth, give him time and space to think, philosophise and theorise then we shall be happy. When Joseph does not know the answer to something, we are confident that he will know WHERE to go, to find the answer.
We would like for Joseph will be literate, competent with basic maths/English skills (or advanced skills if his nature is so inclined) be thoughtful, kind, considerate of others, have a wide general knowledge, a high degree of competent independent life skills, be responsible towards his family/community/country/world, be respectful, have covered so much educational material during his early years that he can be sure of his likes and dislikes which will lead him into a profession of his choosing where he can find contentment.
Special Project or Topic Plan
Please see the information above in relation to our “Current Subjects” poster. The plan for learning is that I will compile information on topics that I know Joseph and the other children will be interested in. I am completely confident that whatever I expect the educational outcome to be the children will far exceed this with our discussions and subsequent rabbit trails and interests sparked from one point. As previously described, I will use resources including the internet, our own books, our art/craft supplies, technological tools we have (Daddy’s workshop, Mummy’s sewing machine, digital SLR camera, computers, printer, tablets) or anything else that fits the need.
Our educational and learning moments are from wake up to sleep time. There is not a time when Joseph is switched off. We have lived this lifestyle for so long, and Joseph has been born into this, and so it is completely natural to him.
It is not unusual for us at any time, on any day, to play a game involving the world map. Joseph will be given a pointer to use (a stick) and be asked to point out New Zealand. Then we will ask him to show us Australia, then New Zealand. Next I will point out Japan, and subsequently ask him to show me Australia, Japan and New Zealand … gradually new countries are added in as he becomes confident and familiar. It is our expectation that Joseph will eventually have a thorough knowledge of the world’s geography, peoples, history, and learn many geographical terms (ocean, lake, pond, isle, island, reef, headland, cove, river etc etc.) Learning in this way is easy and fun and Joseph asks for more and more! Next time we are discussing say, marsupials, and mention Australia, Joseph will remember where Australia was on the world map. And next time we are drawing maps of imaginary places, Joseph will remember the difference between a peninsula and a bay.
Natural Learning is joyful and exciting, enabling Joseph to put “puzzle pieces” together naturally, at his own pace – making discoveries, “joining the dots” and making learning “his own”. Whether it be technology, geography, social studies, the natural world, art, physics, logic, languages – whatever the “subject”, natural learning is truly as natural as breathing for Joseph.
We have a weekly schedule (copy attached) that shows mealtimes, playtimes, jobs, quiet times – EVERY single one of these activities is an educational time and a learning time when it includes discussions, sharing, exploring things, and Joseph feels very free to ask questions and provide his thoughts.
Joseph’s Dad is a joiner with many years experience who loves his family and spends all his spare time with the family – working on the house or the property, or on various things the children want built, or helping them learn how to use his fully equipped workshop. We are blessed to have a Daddy like this. Daddy is gifted in science, electronics, logic, mathematics, technology and physics areas.
Joseph’s Mum is an experienced home educator with a passion for Natural Education. She is an artist and craftsperson, writer and researcher. She is completely committed to her family. Her areas of interest are the arts, communications and encouraging others.
Joseph’s siblings are his team where he feels secure and loved, and learns many lessons including sharing, communication, working together, teaching them and learning from them.
Joseph will enjoy his first term at gymnastics when the classes start up soon at the local Community Centre – we are waiting for the schedule to be organised so we can register for this. The family have attended the same church for the last 10 years, and Joseph is well-known by everyone when he attends.