Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Living in a conversation area

I am aware that we need to catch up here – and there's been plenty going on, but I'm bored of the list of busyness, and feel the need for a bit of reflection!

Things are going well here at the moment – after a rather shaky time over Easter. We tend to pack a lot into our holiday periods and we certainly overdid that break as far as Pearlie was concerned! Now we are back into regular commitments things are more settled.

This restored balance struck me this evening. I spent some time with both kids today, but quite a few hours alone with Pearlie and most of that time talking. I have been meaning to blog about conversation for some time – and how it seems to be at the heart of lives as home edders. With Pearlie today I made some little mental notes of the kind of things we talked about and I was astonished when I wrote them down tonight.

I know that no account, or analysis, of this sort of conversation can really do it justice but I'll try because I want to have some sort of record for the years to come. I think it is what Roland Meighan calls 'purposive conversation'. It is something more than 'will you hold my jacket?' or 'what's for lunch?' (not that those kind of exchanges are without educational content, even if only how much your mum will actually lug about for you before she notices and moans!) and it flows about in our day to day lives, bubbling up everywhere. Anyway, here are a few examples of this sort of conversation as they happened today.

We talked about how the Victorians built big, and imposing, constructions. We were looking at the viaduct that spans our town. Pearlie mentioned how the cities grew, and that there was overcrowding in Victorian cities. She wondered why people had to live near their workplaces and I said they worked very long hours. She told me that she knew that people got ill and we talked about how disease spreads and how important clean water and a proper sewerage system is. Pearlie told me of 'someone' (need to look this up!) who proved that a cholera outbreak was due to a contaminated water supply, by removing the pump handle in an area, and observing the decline in the illness.

Out of nowhere Pearlie asked me if 'black is the opposite of white'. I wasn't at all sure how to answer this but said that artists know a lot about colour and we could find out from some websites. She went on to tell me that she knew about colour wheels and how some colours are the opposite of others.

On the bus we noticed the brown signs that point tourists to some of the attractions in the town. Pearlie identified most of the signs ('that mask thing will be the theatre') and we talked about the need for the signs to be understood by people who don't speak English. There was one we didn't know (a filled triangle) that we need to look up. This conversation led on to one about different alphabets. Pearlie is very into Greek letters at the moment, and spends a lot of time writing little messages for us in English, using Greek letters. I told her that I thought that the Thai that I saw on signs at Bangkok airport (a re-fuelling stop, years ago) was very pretty.

Co-incidentally we then passed the tent and vans of the 'Lady Boys of Bangkok' who are here with their show. This is a pretty much an annual occurrence in Brighton. Last year I remember an educational conversation about 'lady boys' but this year it all took a more capitalist turn! Pearlie mentioned that they would need to have different posters for the different countries in which they toured. I told her I thought they probably kept their name in English but that she was right because the information would all need to be in the appropriate language. She said that they would need change in lots of different currencies. I explained that their show was a business, a touring company, that would have lots of people involved in the money management. We wondered if the performers and crew would get paid in local currency or if they would get money paid into bank accounts back home and then have to access it themselves.

In the stationers we bought a big piece of card and were interested to see that the colour was called Pompadour. Pearlie wondered if it was a colour first worn by Madame de Pompadour (thanks Dr Who!) and I wondered if Pompadour was a place where the colour was first used.

At home we were looking at a maths book of Pearlie's that had a page on percentages. Some of this she grasped very quickly, some was more troubling for her, and she asked when I, and Dani, needed percentages in our lives. I gave her some examples of writing reports on surveys at work, and how Dani's work might analyse usage, or implement a price increase. Then she chipped in that you needed percentages to understand loans. She is very interested in loans, as they get mentioned a lot on the satellite channels! She was horrified when I first explained the concept of interest to her and now she always notices it.

This evening I was reading blogs (some from other countries) and Pearlie checked with us that Amsterdam is in Holland and they speak Dutch there. She asked if German, Dutch and English were in a 'kind of group'. Dani explained that English is a bit different and how we have different influences in our language. She managed to come up with the example of how we have the word outstanding (with a Germanic root) and excellent (with a Latin root). Pearlie was pleased with this.

Looking through these little snippets of conversation I can see that there is art, history, science, language and linguistics, business, maths, geography, design and probably other 'subjects' I haven't spotted or didn't record. I am convinced that Pearlie's understanding of the world is ever changing and pretty damn sophisticated these days because of the things she observes, and the connections she makes between them. I think there is a real advantage to learning in this way, to building understanding through connections, rather than learning 'subjects' in isolation from each other. I never had much problem learning the facts that I was asked to learn at school but have often felt quite ill-educated in terms of how these things fit together. The gaps in my knowledge usually scared me and I strove to hide them when in 'educated circles'. Pearlie has none of this anxiety as she is happy to explore for linkages, to find bridges to, and mirrors of, the things she does know.

I also believe that being out and about in the world provides an incredibly rich learning environment. Every day there's a different newspaper billboard, a new shop opened, a new flower blooming in a garden, and different people passing by. A teacher can work hard to make a lovely classroom display but it will never be as rich and varied as the real world. In school, teachers can work hard to make the curriculum relevant to the children's lives but it will never be as relevant as real life. And no nine year old in a classroom would be able to talk quite as much as Pearlie has today!

This piece has been about Pearlie but, of course, Leo operates in much the same way – albeit with his own interests to the fore (more daleks, monsters, wee, poo, willies and shopping!). He spent a lot of today at the grandmothers' house but maybe I'll do this post again when I get a day with him.


Nic said...

That was lovely Allie, I so enjoy your posts, infact I was remembering your 'tyranny of the standard' one the other day when I got my copy of HE journal and thinking it would be an excellent article for it.
I've started to try and log some of 'those' conversations with my two a bit more recently and also love the fact that children, particularly HE children view information they don't possess yet as exciting and out there waiting for them rather than something they are ashamed of not knowing already.
I love the abstract way they ask questions and the fact that just by living alongside me they are quickly learning so many skills and ideas without any need for categorising what they've learnt.

a said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading that - well done for managing to note so much of the content. It's absolutely fascinating to me how learning happens through conversation like this. Also as soon as you think about the sheer amount of time available to HE families to talk to each other, ask questions, check things for clarification you immediately see how it would be almost impossible not to learn. And that applies to the bigger family members too - liked how your record showed a few things that you didn't know and would find out with Pearlie, learning alongside her.
Thanks Allie, very interesting post.

peri said...

Very interesting post.

The cholera thing was on discovery kids and Pearl was right it was from the water pump that the cause of the disease was discovered.

We have many conversations around the meal table and in bed in the morning that cover a whole plethora of subjects. I truly believe that J learns more from them than from many other resources. He is often inspired by them and this leads to him hunting for additional information. I love these moments - I love his unanswerable questions, that he and I go and research and I love his animation when we stike a chord with him.

Jules said...

Really enjoyed reading that, I must remember to write down some of my conversations with my lot, I never seem to. I'd like to be able to look back and remember them. Thanks for the nudge!

Jax said...

The pump handle was also on one of the multitude of Adam Hart Davis shows, but I'm not sure whether it was a "what they did" or "my heroes". gives the story though :)

Dunno how you pack so much into your conversations - I feel very ignorant when I read your blog.

Alison said...

Excellent post :)

I love those kinds of conversations :)

Linda said...

A really lovely read.
Like many others, I forget much of the conversational learning that goes on within our family. I must make more of an effort to recall the things we talk about as we are strolling around the shops or countryside.

Thanks also to Dani for her comment on my blog.

Em said...

What a great post. Makes us really appreciate the conversations we have with our children. Its easy to take them for granted. I had a great conversation with my two today about if the fish we were eating was sad or not covering all sorts of topics. I love how they are able to ask whatever questions pop into their heads, with no embarrassment or fear whatsoever.