For some, it can be hard breaking free of the thought learning = school. We often get asked about doing ‘The Curriculum’ or which subjects people need to study. In truth, education does not need to be structured in these ways, learning opportunities surround us so take advantage of the flexibility of home education because one thing is for sure, education should be joyful.
So how do seasoned home educators approach the idea that ‘education is everywhere’ and where might be a good place to start experimenting with a different approach? Look no further than the ever-popular ‘day out’ to get a feel for how you can turn any experience into part of a learning rich journey for your family.
A Grand Day Out
Here we’ll use the example of a day out at The Screech Owl Sanctuary & Animal Park in Cornwall. An award winning venue that has at its heart the concepts of conservation and education as well as lots of experiences if you want to make a really special day of it with your family or a home education group. You can even hire the owls for a wedding ceremony (but they don’t fly the rings)! Best of all it’s full of owls, and whoo doesn’t love them?
To help these adorable owls and all the other animals please help them out at their crowdfunding page-we know how great you all are at fundraising!
Things to consider
There are any number of ways you can use a visit to the owl sanctuary as an educational experience, other than simply attending one of their splendid interactive animal talks or demonstrations. First consider whether this will be a visit to spark an interest, start, continue or finish a project you’ve already done.
Are you visiting to
- see if anything in particular appeals?
- begin a new topic and see how experts can help inform your next step?
- use the knowledge you already have and build on that to make new discoveries?
- celebrate the end of a stretch of activities based around owls?- and show off your new knowledge and understanding with people who will really appreciate it!
Each of these may mean that you use the sanctuary in a different way, and it requires different levels of preparation. There is no end to the learning opportunities available at places dedicated to educating the public and with experts on hand, you can get a first class ‘tutor’ on the spot. Places that specialise in the rescue and care of particular species are especially useful as the depth of their knowledge and expertise cannot be matched by places that have a more general knowledge.
In the beginning
Seeing if anything appeals to the children can be a case of simply wandering around and enjoying the day, following them around to the places or displays they are keen to see (child led), asking questions of the knowledgable staff as they occur to you.
Perhaps you want to make a few suggestions, let your children know what is available, then be happy to go with the flow from there?
Or you may decide that each person takes a turn in picking a location, display or activity and then you move together or split into parties to share those experiences, bouncing ideas and thoughts off each other (a democratic approach)?
If you have decided to do a project on owls, or intend to use them as a theme around which you will look at different subjects, then looking over the website beforehand and discussing what you’d like to get from the visit can help.
- Are you wanting a general overview of the animals?
- Do you want to see what the staff can tell you so you can plan your next move from there?
- Are you wanting inspiration and are not sure where to start your project off?
- Are you wanting to focus on particular ‘subject’ elements?
None of these requires much forward planning on your part, other than plenty of snacks and liquids. If you want a chance to experiment with an informal, learning-rich approach, then this may be a good way to get out of your current comfort zone and give it a try- leave the worksheets at home!
If you have already been working on owls at home, or outdoors near where you live, then you may have a specific purpose for the visit in terms of the kind of deeper learning you want to experience.
It might be that your topic so far has shown that you have a real interest in owl eyes, flight or global distribution of this bird species. You can check in with the website, choose your path, plan your visit to get the maximum amount of time learning more about the things that really interest you.
Perhaps prepare questions so you can really focus your energy and discuss with staff the things you are driven to understand at a new level, take advantage of all that expertise- maybe even email some questions ahead so they know you are coming with a real purpose!
Bringing books, notebooks, sketchbooks, cameras, smart phones, can make it much more like a traditional field trip, however, it takes a lot more planning and equipment to be taken and carried around for an entire day. For home educators though, there is the option of designing your own worksheets, questionnaires, tasks, based around your personal or family focus. If, for example, one person is studying paint techniques to use with feathers, reflection in eyes, or expressing character in animals, then they can get together a kit for that purpose. They may join others in their activities but they have a clear purpose for their day.
Another member of the family or group may be more interested in the conservation of owls in the UK and how that relates to global efforts so perhaps arranging an interview with staff and recording it or taking notes. If there is an interest in becoming an animal handler as a career choice then getting one of the sanctuary’s experiences could take their passion to a whole new level. If anyone is simply along for the ride then there are plenty of other things to do for them that don’t involve owls.
Celebrate the end of a stretch of work or project with a visit and see for real what it is you have been studying. Discuss your expectations on the journey there and back and see if it lived up to those expectations based on your ‘home work’. Take plenty of photographs to add back in to your studies at home so you can see how you have come full circle, from knowing little, learning a lot, and experiencing something magical with an understanding that you would not have had if you had simply gone for a grand day out.
Of course it may become the middle of your project again when you discover new things and want to learn more about that- no one ever knows everything that can be known!
So how can you do a project or use owls as a theme?
Do you want to move away from simple subject based approaches or are you wanting to learn different subjects through the theme of owls?
What if all your children are very different in age, interest, aptitude, ability and what if they have Special Education or Physical Needs?
There’s no need to worry about any of those things because the sanctuary caters for all ages and abilities; access to information here.
Here are a few simple ideas that help you see the potential of using owls as a central theme. As well all the potential reading, documentary watching, and questioning the staff for your research, add in some reading, poetry, and the odd interpretive dance whilst walking about the place, and you have a rich and diverse experience from just one starting point. It really is that simple- liberating your mindset is one of the key features of any form of flexible education.
If you are organising a group trip, let them know ahead what age, ability, and interest range you have so everyone knows what to expect. Home education groups or larger families are very different in that they usually have everything from babies and toddlers through to teens, as well as groups having people with very different parenting techniques. For venues, this can be a bit of a shock. I once observed a very experienced demonstrator at an animal rescue centre really struggle with a home education group because they had assumed that children ‘knew’ to put their hand up and wait to be picked before answering. They didn’t really appreciate that at home there is no reason to sit around putting your hand up to speak to your Mum or Dad. Even after the demonstrator asked people to, “Put your hands up to answer please,” the children happily put their hands up and immediately shouted out their answers all at the same time! So call ahead and have a chat
We just couldn’t resist giving you some stunning pictures of owls. Homo sapiens are after all sensual creatures. We crave visuals, texture, smells, sounds and the feel of things. We are hardwired to learn this way, it’s a survival drive that’s been many millions of years in the making. We can’t bring the owls to people so…
Our friends at the Screech Owl Sanctuary are offering EO members a discount!
Although they are closed from November to January, they can do a virtual owl talk instead. Contact them directly to organise an educational chat from the comfort of your own, rain free living room on [email protected] and follow them on all their social media.