Saturday, 7 December 2013

Enriched Without a Plan

I am going against the grain this year: I am NOT planning any specific activities this December.  It has been liberating and eye-opening for me to see how and how much unscheduled learning happens when we just 'go with the flow'.

1.  Genomics Advent Calendar
This year, as I am not making an advent calendar like we did last year, we are enjoying the short daily clips about human chromosomes from The Royal Institutions advent calendar which are both enlightening and entertaining.

2.  Mothers Who Embody Courage and Determination
Tiger has been attending a weekly hands-on science class since September.  The class is held in a small church hall so the mums always sit at the back of the class quietly until the lesson is over, unless they are helping their children with a particular tricky part of the experiments.  As such, there is very little chance each week for the mums to get to know one another beyond recognising one another's faces.

The sessions for this year have ended so one of the mums has kindly invited everyone to her house for a social gathering.  It was at this gathering that I felt I have gotten to know these ladies much better, and I am very glad for that.

For example, I had no idea that one mother has managed to guide her son from being diagnosed as fully autistic (i.e. no speech, no eye contact, mentally delayed) at age two to being mildly socially awkward at age 14.  This boy is currently preparing for GCSEs in biology, physics and chemistry.  After listening to her amazing experience, I felt a profound sense of respect for this woman.  Behind her meek, quiet appearance is a spirit of steel and courage.

It was only in the relaxed environment of the gathering that I got to know that the majority of the mothers here are single parents bringing up children on their own with little financial help from their ex-partners.  Most of them are also having to cope with children who have special needs, e.g. diabetic, Aspergers, dyslexic.  I don't know the ins and outs of how these mothers find themselves in their situation of becoming a lone parent, but I listened with respect and admiration to every story of the battles they have had to fight to get the support their children need -- financially, educationally, and medically.

3.  A Nativity Play
Almost every child who attends school in England gets to be part of the Nativity play, which is an annual event for schools at this time of the year.

Since Tiger has never been to school, I thought he would not share this childhood experience with the 95% of children his age who go to school.  Although it is not a big deal to us whether he takes part in a Nativity play, I sometimes wonder whether he might have liked, when he becomes an adult, to be able to say something like, "Yes, I have fond memories of being the donkey lying in the manger in my Year One Nativity play."  Well, you never know, do you?

Thanks to a new set of homeschooling friends that we've made this year, we were invited to take part in a Nativity play -- well, it's Tiger who has the part of a shepherd/narrator.  My job is to take him to the premise, be part of a supportive audience, and socialise with everyone.

We had a group of 15 children, aged two to 12.  The children memorised their lines beautifully from a script written by one of the very talented mums.  The play was interspersed with Christmas carols played by a few children in their various instruments (trumpet, flute, recorder, oboe).

Waiting for their turns during the full-dress rehearsal.
Despite only meeting a few hours before the actual performance, the children were ready for the actual performance after three rehersals.  The children's level of concentration and dedication to this project, their ability to work together, and the older children's ability and willingness to look out for the younger ones during the 25-minute production really shone through.  What a fantastic group of children!  I feel very privileged to have witnessed all the goodness in these children with my own eyes.

4.  A Victorian Christmas
We are about half way through reading and listening to A Christmas Carol

There are usually many Victorian Christmas activities available in various parts of the country around this time, and since the era ties in with the book that we are reading, we went to one to experience the jovial atmosphere of a Victorian Christmas.

There were diplays of Victorian toys, Victorian games, street musicians, street performers, and Victorian crafts.  We found the hand-turned busker organ to be absolutely fascinating:

The event being of a Victorian theme in December, there was also a two-person street performance of A Christmas Carol:

As it was a two-person production team, they had to adapt much of the story and summarise it into a 20-minute play.  Tiger enjoyed watching the performance in spite of its obvious adaptations.  It's interesting for me to see him respond differently to adaptions made at a live performance than those made for films.  I'd be curious to see his response to a film version of the story, when we watch it at some point.

5.  A Bedtime Lecture
Tiger is a very animated child and his bedtime routine has always taken forever because he always has a lot to say when he is in bed.  After I've read him stories and kissed him goodnight, he always has something he's excited about to tell me.  It may well be his delaying tactic, but I feel obliged to stay for an extra 15 minutes because he does often have genuinely interesting things to tell me just before bed.

This week's bedtime topic of interest is computer networks.

Mum: (kissed him on the forehead and about to switch the lights off) Goodnight, darling.
Tiger: Mum, do you want to know about computer networks?
Mum: (hesitatingly) Umm... I don't know.  Do I?
Tiger: Yeah, they're very interesting.  I'll show you a few diagrammes quickly and you'll understand them in no time.
Mum: Well, ok.

That was his cue to sit up in bed in his dressing gown and start explaining to me how different networks work.

In the 30-minute session, Tiger educated me about the different switches, routers, how LANs (local area networks) and WANs (wide area networks) can be designed and how they work, as well as how they can be combined in various ways to make efficient cross-border networks.  The mini lecture was delivered with numerous hand drawn diagrammes to illustrate his examples:

I vaguely remember studying two IT-related modules at university, so Tiger's diagrammes and explanations made some sense to me.  What I enjoyed most in the session was his enthusiasm to share what he has learnt so far.

Much to my own surprise, despite my non-plan it has been a very busy week filled with rich experiences to nourish our hearts and minds.  I wonder what is in store for us next week.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Collage Friday - Thanksgiving and Christmas at the Beach
  2. Entertaining and Educational - Christmas Traditions for Kids
  3. Weekly Wrap-up: The One that was Late
  4. Homeschool Mother's Journal {December 7, 2013}
  5. Hip Homeschool Hop - 12/10/2013


  1. This is one of my favourite posts of yours, Hwee! I really enjoyed reading about your Christmas activities. Your homeschooling group sounds wonderful. I know what you mean about Nativity Plays - it's one of the silly reasons I'm glad my children did a tiny bit of school! We have an old calendar on display at the moment showing a photo of J(8) as a king and C(10) as an angel.
    I just downloaded a free version of A Christmas Carol onto my Kindle after you mentioned it before. I must admit I'd been a little afraid of Dickens after bad experiences at school (deathly dull class readings) but after just one page I'm a complete convert - it's hilarious!
    I loved reading about Tiger's enthusiasm for telling you about computer networks, too. :-)
    (Sorry for the essay!)

  2. Don't worry about leaving long comments, Lucinda. I truly appreciate them! :-) I didn't think I was that bothered about the Nativity Play until I saw how well the children worked together. I don't know whether we'll get to do it again next year so I'm really glad for the chance to experience it this year.

    I must admit that I hadn't read "A Christmas Carol" prior to this year as well. Like you, I'm really enjoying the story now as we read along. How did school manage to put us off such great literature?!

  3. How did Tiger get interested in computer networks? This seems like a difficult topic. Go Tiger!

  4. The basics of computer networks are manageable for him so far. I think at beginner's level, understanding networks require some combination of common sense, maths, and logic. Tiger heard his dad talk about computer networks so he asked a few questions, looked up a few videos on Youtube, and wanted to show me what he knows. :-)

  5. Thank you so much for linking up at The Homeschool Mother's Journal! I, too, adore bedtime conversations with our two youngest boys (big sis seems to have outgrown them :). It is such a precious time, isn't it?

    Your Tiger sounds like such a brilliant, inquisitive young man. And those diagrams? WOW! What a wonderful mom you are to take the time to listen to him and allow him to draw out what he is learning.

    I also applaud you for allowing December to guide itself in schooling. That is what we do and it has worked wonderfully for the last decade!

    Have a blessed week ahead!

  6. Thank you for stopping by, Carlie! And thanks for sharing your story as well. It seems that not over-planning for December seems to be working well for us after all. It all stems from my feeling slightly exhausted and needing a rest, so I'm really glad it's working so far. It definitely shows that learning comes from all directions when we pay attention to the opportunities life offers. :-)

  7. What a wonderful post. Your son is very bright. Good job letting him explore the world.
    Blessings, Dawn

  8. Thanks, Dawn. I'm increasingly convinced that all children, if given a chance to explore their interests and direct their own learning, are capable of educating themselves to a very high level in their individual ways. :-)

  9. Hwee, I think if we locked you up with Tiger in an empty white room, you would still manage to find 101 learning experiences! You are the master at this, planned or unplanned. I can only sit back in awe!
    Have a lovely Christmas season!

  10. Claire, you make me laugh! :-) Thank you for your very kind compliment. Hmm, now you've made me wonder whether I'd be able to pull off creating learning experiences in an empty white room... Well, I suppose at the very least we can learn to master meditation and develop a deep inner life under those circumstances! ;-)


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