‘Nurture Learning’ started when I wanted to provide my own children with a good grounding in science. My middle son, and a school friend of his, used to explore science together one evening a week in my apartment. I then set up pre-school classes for my third son and his friends. As I moved towards home educating all my children, I expanded the classes to include other families and to teach science at varying levels. We use the NSW syllabus as a starting point but explore the science in a different way to that found in schools.
The children who come to my classes have a range of interests and skills. I believe in starting from the students’ interests and addressing all the different learning styles with a range of engaging activities. My experience with the pre-schoolers, in particular, led me to focus on hands-on activities with very little reading and writing. Many students can start out passionate about science and maths but be put off because of the focus on learning the subject through words rather than actions.
The importance of scientific literacy
Mathematical and scientific literacy are extremely important in today’s world. Science affects every aspect of our lives. How can we make informed decisions about our food, our health, our interactions with the environment, our understanding of the news without an understanding of science? Yet many people feel that science is not important, or, worse, they feel distrustful of science. And many people who might be interested in science feel from an early age that they are just no good at it.
Maths seems to be even more polarising. Children learn to say ‘I’m just not good at maths’ instead of applying a growth mindset and acknowledging that practice is important and that they can learn from their mistakes.
Children are natural scientists
I have a dream to help children who are struggling in school to rediscover that early passion for the natural world – to see science and maths in their everyday lives and realise that they too can be young scientists and mathematicians. Then as adults, they can not only associate science with happy days from their childhood but can use their knowledge to become informed citizens.
Learning delays, learning disability and behavioural issues
It seems to me that often the children who are most passionate about science are the ones who do not fare well in conventional classrooms. This can be for many reasons. Maybe they learn best by doing hands-on work rather than sitting still reading and listening. Maybe they have a slow processing speed but they are the ones who notice details that other children skip over.
I have experience with various learning and behavioural disabilities both in my own family and amongst my previous students. I want science and maths to be fun and accessible for everyone, not just the people who are good at reading, writing and sitting still.
Start with the child’s interests
I do not believe that learning follows a clearly defined linear path. If a child is interested in black holes at the age of 6 years, why not let them learn about them? If a child says they are no good at maths but they are fascinated by the stats of their NRL team, why not use this interest to show them how useful maths can be? It’s harder in groups, but I always try to follow children’s interests rather than telling them what we should be studying. I see my role as being a facilitator and guide more than a teacher.
“The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.” Herbert Spencer