The Head of Music gave an announcement in the staff room on a sunny July morning. “We are hoping to run a new project next year: I’m looking for any staff who would be willing to learn a new instrument; you will be taught by a student…” A voice inside my head piped up, “Me, me, I’ll do it! But…I’m only working two days a week next year; will I have time? And I haven’t played an instrument since primary school. Music didn’t work out for me. I’m Not Musical. But I really would like to try and learn something. Maybe this is my chance!” I just caught the end of the announcement: something about showcasing our newly learned skills in an end of year concert. What?! Yikes!
So here I am, three weeks into the autumn term, two miniature lessons (squeezed into Tuesday break time in between a year 8 and a year 7 Art lesson) under my belt and a couple of my teacher’s piano books “from when I was little” to practice from at home. It brings me a lot of joy and thanks to an unexpected loan of a keyboard, I’ve been able to practice beside the kids while they eat at the table. Freya has a ringside seat to my efforts and slow, incremental improvements.
The other day while the toddler was napping in her cot (this is too rare at the moment!) Freya sat at the dining table experimenting with pen control using a drywipe pen on a plasticky booklet designed for the purpose. I realised it would be a good time to do something for myself – but not housework, or preparing dinner – no, something that Freya would understand as me joining with her in a purposeful activity. I got out my notebook and drafted my first book review blog post. Freya said “we’re both writing,” and that was exactly the point.
In our home ed life – which we could just call “our life” – I want to model the joy of creating, of responding, of learning. Keen to develop my art skills further (I’m an art teacher with an art degree but I still feel at the beginning of my abilities in many ways) I was thrilled to be gifted a day long drawing course at London’s V&A Museum in June. Freya utterly delighted in the fact that I was doing this, and loved looking at my drawings afterwards.
Witnessing children learn independently is magical – it’s like watching alchemy. I observe with awe as Freya develops more and more fluency in her reading as she pores enthusiastically over books, leaflets, signs – any bit of written word she can find. As Hannah grits her teeth with determination to find a solution to climbing onto the too-high bed. As Freya studies her ballet teacher with unwavering concentration and carefully mimics the placement of the foot and hand and the bend of the arm (sadly we get to witness this first-hand far too infrequently so we’re really blown away when we do see). Children are natural learners. They are wired to explore their world and learn within it. This enthusiasm, perseverance, concentration – these skills are beautiful and inspiring to see in action.
But I have already noticed occasional reluctance in Freya to try some things that she thinks she might not be able to do. Where has this lack of confidence come from? I don’t wish to pressure her into doing this she doesn’t want to, in terms of activities, play and learning. It already feels like there are many points in the day when I do insist upon things, brushing teeth for example (and I’m mindful to keep those to a minimum). But when she rejects a play opportunity it can be hard to tell whether it’s genuine lack of interest, in which case I’d happily leave her to it, or if there is something putting her off – fear? I feel that pushing her to keep going or to try something isn’t helpful. Maybe other kids respond well to that kind of pressure but not Freya, not at the moment. In mindset theory, a growth mindset is typically encouraged though praise of helpful learning attitudes rather than praise of achievements and outcomes. However, although I want Freya to have meta learning, I’m not convinced that praise is the answer. I’m wary that it could start to foster extrinsic motivation at the expense of intrinsic.
So I’m excited that in our home ed life I can model my own overcoming of fears or lack of confidence (maybe it should be me putting up the coat rack, not Jeff!), trying new things, pushing myself to do better, learning from my mistakes, rising above disappointment (“The slugs ate all my seedlings! But I will try again next year.”) and delight in and celebrate all the things I am learning. And on that note, back to my piano practice!