With having an autistic child with anxiety who had not only ‘switched off’ from learning, but become phobic about school and anything that smacked of being taught, I was initially limited as to what I could teach, or so I thought. In my [previous blog entry] I wrote about the topic-based learning I now use to home educate my son, but it was a long time before we got to that point, and it is underpinned and supported by the atmosphere of learning I have strived to create in all areas of his life from the start.
Sharing screen-based learning
It may shock some readers to hear I have no restrictions on screen time for example. Instead of setting a timer or other limits to manage how long my son spends on his iPad or watching TV, I have built a relationship which allows him to share his screen-based experiences with me. Sometimes that means sitting together and watching a YouTube clip or a TV program, other times we recommend a program, app or clip to each other or discuss one we have seen. Much of what he watches might not be classed as ‘educational’, although some such as Child Genius or Lego Masters, have obvious educational content. Others like Stompy, playing Minecraft, the SIMs or watching the Big Bang Theory don’t, right? Wrong! It is not so much about the content of the program or game or clip, but the interactions you have around it. By building a relationship of trust and engaging in your child’s interests, you and they can learn together from almost anything.
My son and I recently finished watching ‘Hunted’ (the TV series about people who are put into a situation of being on the run in order to win a cash prize). It’s complete trash television, but by watching it together, we got so much out of it. Debating our different approaches, discussing the contestants’ attitudes, watching how far they got and how the ‘Hunters’ tracked them down we covered human rights, geography, life skills, personal resilience, the history of free masonry, law and order and so much more. In this series, one of the competitors was autistic, and so that led to a very open discussion on autism in a relaxed way. The fact that contestant went on to win also proved to be a bit of an inspiration to my son. Sharing screen content means I know what my child is watching and I am around to support him if he finds any of it scary or confusing which is another added bonus. Surprisingly, since having no fixed screen time limit my son spends rather less time on them than his peers.
Call on the expertise of friends and relatives
Family and friends are another huge resource for us. I am fortunate to have people around with diverse talents which helps, but any trusted adults could potentially fill in an educational gap for a child, whether home or school educated. Carefully-timed visits to the right people have really helped us with certain topics, but encouraging and supporting the skills to communicate well with people of all ages and facilitating others to act as mentors to your child can really broaden their horizons.
I was hugely influenced by my parents’ friend who travelled all over the world, and another who collected and restored vintage jewellery. These are things which went on to enrich my adult life. I have found that people are more than happy to help on the whole, and sometimes, all that is needed is to allow a child the time with the potential mentor; it doesn’t have to be formal or even pre-arranged. My son has learnt about animal care and food production from a friend who owns a small holding, extended his interest in music by sitting in with friends playing and rehearsing, improved his IT and science with help from his uncle’s vast knowledge, got involved with art by visiting friends’ studios and seeing them work, not to mention rekindling his love of reading through another relative’s love of books and comics.
Nurturing natural curiosity
These are just two examples of areas that can be exploited educationally, anything from a dog walk to playing a board game or making a cake to attending a car boot sale can be marvellous learning experiences if you give a child your attention and allow a spirit of openness and curiosity to bloom.