The award winning author of the books about ‘The Gruffalo’ recently expressed her concern over children’s lack of knowledge of even some of the commonest aspects of the natural world.
In a recent article Julia Donaldson said how sad it was that schools have little time to encourage nature study because so much of the curriculum was focussed on pushing reading writing and maths and the rigours of testing. From what she sees in schools – and she says that she’s visited more than Michael Gove ever did – and despite what many of the brilliant teachers she meets are trying to do, nature is no longer a priority. And although other subjects are important, it is an understanding of and connection with nature that will preserve it and ultimately the planet.
Michael Rosen, an award winning children’s author himself and former children’s laureate like Julia, also spoke recently in a letter to Ms Morgan the current education minister, about how the focus on testing creates neglect in other areas of the curriculum. Time spent testing, and in all the tedious admin that goes with it, is time taken away from more valuable aspects of a child’s school day like reading.
This imbalance can be easily redressed when you home educate. It is not necessary to do academic tests of any sort unless they are of particular use at the time. Testing is a tool to be used or discarded as part of a wider home educating approach (see this article).
Which leaves ample time to pursue other activities like reading or natural science.
Growing your own plants in garden or window sills, observing and classifying birds, trees and plants, insect life, visiting parks and gardens or allotments regularly, exploring riversides and lakes and nature reserves, shopping in fruit and veg markets and discussing where it comes from, are all activities which can be undertaken in rural or city environments and develop a connection to the natural world. Play in natural spaces is equally important and develops confidence and interest.
Equally, home education leaves more time for reading, which can take place any time anywhere and with any reading material. Children don’t necessarily learn to read through specific reading schemes, they can learn to read with just about anything, as long as their love of story and books (in whatever format) is nurtured and they’re not put off by enforced reading exercises.
Both these subjects can be approached in non-prescriptive ways when you home educate, developing skills and understanding in organic ways there’s no time for in a classroom.
And it also gives children the chance to understand that learning is not about disjointed subjects that have no connection to each other, or their own natural world, everything is related.
Through her work with the Gruffalo, which has helped promote children’s love of books, Julia has decided to support the woodland trust in reconnecting children to nature through a series of activities.
And parents, whether home educating or not, can play a part too, both by encouraging a love of books and reading and getting children out in a natural habitat as often as possible. Even better, the two can become overlapped!