Why we chose Cambridge at home and love it!

Karin Janse van Rensburg, Owner & Founder, Homeschoolbooks

16 August 2018

When we started the journey of home-education we knew we had to think outside of the box. Our children, as most homeschoolers, are not conventional learners.  We wanted to create a relaxed, fun learning environment while leading our children towards an international school leaving qualification. We want to unlock as many future opportunities as possible for them and we decided to use Cambridge International curriculum as a vehicle taking us to towards those goals, for the following reasons.

Child-Centered

The curriculum was designed with the individual child, within a class environment, in mind. As such it has a varied level of competencies in mind and provides the teacher (read parent) with many strategies to convey concepts so that each child can find the best-suited strategy for their ability and learning style. The Science Teacher resource, for example, has differentiated activities for learners of different abilities. Each lesson starts with an investigation and many of them take the child outside the home into nature. Math lessons have equally hands-on discoveries at the beginning of each lesson. The child learns through playing a game,  analyses their assumptions and are guided to correct interpretations.  We facilitate learning instead of lecturing at them.

Critical Thinking

While on these exploration adventures (also called walks in the garden or neighbourhood) the child is not presented with facts, but rather with questions. These enquiries spark their own questions and before you know it a whole investigation is on its way with numerous rabbit trails to explore! The Teacher’s guide gives printable worksheets that the children use to start their analysis. This guides them into the scientific method of collecting and analysing data, before drawing a conclusion. It is done so simply at first that the child learns to investigate and think scientifically as a natural part of their learning journey.

Child paced

We have all felt overwhelmed when a child struggles to finish a task and we know how many more pages are still looming before the week, term or year-end deadline. By doing Cambridge International Primary as a self-study program at home, you can take your time to revisit concepts that the child needs extra support with, while quickly going over work that is well established. The child sets the pace for progress so that real learning takes place in a relaxed and unpressured environment. As the child matures the parent can lead them to challenge themselves to set and achieve their own goals. We are not slaves of the curriculum. We are not obliged to complete every page in every book for us to have extracted value from it. The curriculum is a tool that we use to facilitate development. We are free to explore areas of interest more thoroughly and digress on rabbit trails, but we come back to our roadmap because we know where we are heading. They can study further, in any developed country, if they so choose. And if they choose not to, then that is ok. But having the option and the confidence to exercise choice is a very empowering thing.

Low preparation and easy to use lessons.

I have certainly spent my fair share pouring over making wonderful lapbooks and hours compiling unit studies, only to find that my kids were not “into” the topic at hand at that moment! (where they were enthralled just two days ago). Browsing through Pinterest to only get a knot in the pit of my stomach seeing all the things “we are not doing yet”. All this stress leads to decision fatigue and ultimately stress-related burnout of the primary caregiver. As home-educators, our task is to facilitate and lead our children in the holistic development of their person. Having a low prep, easy to follow lesson plan, that was developed by some of the best development and educational specialists in the world, gives me the energy and time to focus on the parenting aspects that only I know how to handle. Our attention as parents is much better spent on guiding our children towards emotional intelligence, self-discovery and confidence, than on preparing interesting fun-based self-paced-kinesthetic-auditory-sensory-factually-sound lessons.

Lessons build on prior learning

As a non-professional-teacher (read normal parent), I struggled to communicate what I understood about topics, into digestible blocks of knowledge, that are age appropriate, and that can build onto each other as the child develops. We see this most clearly in mathematics, although language arts and science follows the same principals. New knowledge is added to existing knowledge/understanding progressively, little by little, in much the same way as speech and motor skills develop.  The grouping of knowledge in a year by year progression helps tremendously with scaffolding new knowledge/understanding. Making use of things that the child understands to learn about new things.

The child is not limited to completing any subject within the designated year and can progress further in a specific field of interest and aptitude, or take as much time as they need to grow into a subject.

Cambridge has also incorporated cross-curricular links into the program. Concepts learnt in science, for example, is again looked at in Language arts through the lens of reading for meaning, or skills from the English program is practised in science, such as following instructions. The curriculum strengthens the bonds between the different subjects so that the child is both learning content and growing in their ability to learn, through their growing understanding of language and how it is used to describe abstract concepts.

The younger a child is the more we have to shape their knowledge/understanding base so that they do not make the wrong assumptions, deduce erroneously or fall into common misconceptions as they explore and interact with their world. We do it when we parent them in aspects such as speech acquisition and emotional intelligence, which happen with a whole lot of guidance, correction and even teaching (I dare say). It is therefore just as needed that we guide them in how to learn. We have to think of ourselves as the facilitators of development. We guide them not only in their understanding of their world but also in how to process new ideas and information. We are teaching them how to learn, until they become well trained self-evaluating self-teachers, able to exercise good judgement. Only then can they take up a book and begin questioning what they are reading, filtering through a well-trained mind, that which is relevant and irrelevant. Nonsense and sensible. What is fact and what is a theory. Cambridge started us very well on this path and progresses them to become self-teachers.

Real life learning

Cambridge guides Children by engaging with their surroundings through real-life, every-day events to gather information and data from their own environment. It is so well suited to the ethos of home-education where learning is connected to all of life.

“The correction of misuse is not disusing, but correct use”  Unknown.

Predictable

As adults, we understand that road safety rules are not restrictive, but liberating. We would not dare go out in a car if people were allowed to drive wherever and however fast they liked. Unfortunately, so many families are still recovering from years of damage caused by an emprisoning school structure, unyielding, unrelenting, stressful and disempowering. That kind of structure is not life-giving. It’s autocratic and debilitating.

There is another way.

We all know that children need predictability to thrive. They need boundaries and rules within which they have the freedom to grow and learn. Structure and rules are there for the safety of the whole family. In no way am I advocating a school at home structure that imitates the oppressive school system which we just escaped. We need an alternative. A life-giving, gentle structure that serves the people in the home, not the other way around. I see so many moms frazzled and anxious because they are told that routines, structure and guidance are the enemies. They see their children only doing what is easy and fun instead of what is good and healthy. They wait for boredom to set in and curiosity to spark creativity, but children grow older and are still not natural learners. They hear that kids should only play and that that is the only way that real learning happens. Yes, learning happens through play and we can not have our children play too much. We can, however, neglect to connect their interactions with understanding.

We have worked hard on shaping life-giving structure in our family and will keep on working at it. We created spaces for activities, timeframes in which to complete them and times of the day for tiding up. There is storage for each thing so that children are empowered to pack things away. We plan our family calendar so that we honour each person’s needs. I found that a daily and weekly routine saves this mom from decision fatigue. I don’t have to get up every day and worry about how the family will build healthy habits.  Planning liberates us from getting up every day and making decisions on the go. Before, we were missing out on things that are important to us, because we didn’t plan for it. Somedays are plodding days where we only do a little bit, some days we make big strides forward, but it is in the consistency of getting up, brushing hair, making beds, doing chores, sitting down for devotionals and lessons that we learn not only content but character.

Nothing good ever came without perseverance AND nothing good ever came out of striving. We have to find the middle ground. The equilibrium, the peaceful balancing act between resting and working. Diligence and fun. Routine and novelty. We don’t have to fear structure, we just have to harness is to serve the family.

Using a preplanned learning plan (curriculum) helps us grow towards our goal. We all have a learning plan. We either have it mapped out in advance or we make it up as we go along. The stress of unplanned schooling burns moms out very quickly.

Let’s not aimlessly decide daily and weekly what we are going to learn, to teach and to reach toward. Our children deserve our intentionality. We typically put more thought into a family holiday than the direction of our lives, and we should reassess. Take a moment and think about where you want your children’s education to lead to. What will be the best resources to get you there? Don’t be afraid to plan, to reach and to challenge yourself and your children. They will thank you for believing in them.

Living forward, schooling forward

Self-study and self-assessment

Doing Cambridge International at home is a totally independent learning experience. There is no governing body or school to register with and therefore no strict schedule and study regime to follow. The parent is at the steer of the home-school and can do so confidently and empowered by an excellent program. The program includes self-evaluation for learners and helps them to self-correct rather than being marked and graded. There are formative assessments included in the English Teacher’s manuals and “check your understanding” sections at the end of each unit in the Science learner books. If a parent wishes to have children take examinations at home then the UK national yearly assessments are available online, free of charge. This includes a marking rubric, together with well-detailed instructions on how to administer the examinations. Many homeschooling parents find that this helps them to prepare their children for taking the IGCSE and A-level examinations, in a stress-free familiar environment. The outcomes help the parent see which areas need to be recapped the next year. Our children value receiving a mom-made progress card where they can see their growth. We include a section where each child reviews their own goals and celebrate progress made.

It builds to an internationally accepted school leaving qualification

Cambridge International Primary (reception to year 6) is followed by lower secondary (also called checkpoint, years 7-9) and then IGCSE, AS and A-levels. The progression is steady and well paced so that the child is well prepared for the examinations. There are many very capable tutors nationally, who can assist with secondary level subjects and many parents have tutored their own children through all the levels and examinations successfully. The exams are written at the British Consulate or many independent international schools in SA. Each examination facility having their specific subject lists that they can oversee testing of. Some schools may not have the facilities for practical subjects like chemistry for instance. The parent will need to inquire beforehand to know if their child’s chosen subject exams can be taken at that centre.  The qualifications are awarded by the University of Cambridge in the UK and are very strictly marked and moderated by themselves. This ensures a very high standard of score reliability. The A-levels rank higher on our SA University entrance scores than an SA Senior Certificate and is accepted by leading universities worldwide. The child can write the examinations when he/she is emotionally and intellectually ready. This means better results than when pressured to write an exam at a given age.

Identify learning difficulties

Children develop at their own unique individual pace, sometimes they have learning hurdles that keep them from enjoying learning and discovering. They can develop mental blocks if they struggle to master a task eg writing or reading on their own and sometimes all they need is guidance in helping them understand why their brains and bodies are finding a task difficult, strategies to overcome/manage it and finally confidence as they see themselves progress at their own pace, towards an appropriate goal for their abilities.

The curriculum itself is not a diagnostic tool, but by following the traditional “reading, writing and arithmetic” set out we were able to establish areas where our children needed additional support. We were able to reach out to a pro-homeschool educational psychologist with an educational philosophy that complements our own. She helped us to pinpoint areas where each child needed additional support such as occupational therapy; emotional support or more investigation to establish the exact cause of a learning difficulty. If we had left our children to do what they felt like doing, they would not have overcome their difficulties by themselves. They would naturally focus on their competencies and do what is easiest, not what is needed. That is where parenting comes in. We know that our children need more than what they are naturally drawn to. They will only self-regulate up to a point. Curiosity is stifled when learning difficulties interrupt the learning process. They need parenting precisely because they are children. They cannot completely self-regulate or self-correct yet, they don’t have the frame of reference to know what they will need as adults. If they did that would make them independent adults. They need us to guide them, not by force or coercion, but by lovingly challenging, encouraging and supporting them to develop into the best version of themselves.

I know, as a parent I bristled at the thought of evaluating and labelling children. So many “educational experts” do more harm than good by carelessly imposing diagnoses on children. The school system trains us to think that those who are different are inferior. That those who don’t learn in one specific environment/style/predetermined pace has failed the system, where in-fact the system is failing all our children. There is no-one who is the average. Every person has areas where they are not “on schedule” with their development. Children have developmental growth spurts in physical, emotional and intellectual development that children who were tested and placed at the beginning of a year as “slow” in a subject, had caught up later in that year, but were still labelled and grouped as the “lower achieving learners” by the teacher. Homeschooling gives us the opportunity to throw off all the restrictions imposed on our children by an impersonal, oppressive, unfriendly and belittling system.

We celebrate our children for the unique individuals that they are and won’t compare them to a system or average scores for developmental milestones. No one knows our children better than us as parents, we love them unconditionally for the complex wonderful people they are. And knowing how they are wired empowers us to parent them in their uniqueness, being equipped with knowledge about any difficulties and also strengths. Celebrating both. Yes, both. We are proud of them for who they are, which includes (and not excludes) that which they are not. Self-knowledge grows from this place of understanding and celebrating all the aspects that is you.

You are the best person to guide your child on the journey of educational discovery. Where will you lead them?

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