Agnitus ipad App

 

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We’ve been using the Agnitus App a while – since last year sometime.  It’s basically a touch enabled fun educational app for kids aged 2-7.  It used to be free but just when it was getting good they suddenly went subscription only.  Anyway we subscribed.  There are a lot of apps out there but what I liked about Agnitus (I’m getting to the things I don’t like or don’t understand) are the fact that there are lots of different very interesting educational ‘games’ within the app and these keep updating either to new levels or replaced by apps that keep pace with my son’s development, knowledge and skills.  They are very relatable with bright colours, sweet cartoons and a friendly learning buddy ‘Icky’.   I can also monitor his usage in my spare time – see where his time has been spent, see how he compares to other children and how well he ‘tests’ at these games. I can edit his collection of apps if I think he is just doing the ‘easy’ ones.  I don’t do that though. For instance I can see my son overwhelmingly prefers maths – over 350 minutes spent across all apps, 250 of those minutes went just on maths.  The categories change but include things like literacy, balance, memory, spatial awareness, quantity, daily routines, visual scanning (whatever that means). My son is really above average at visual scanning.  Proud!  Maybe this means he’ll be good at looking for bacteria under a microscope!

Who knew visual scanning would take me all the way to Harvard!

Who knew visual scanning would take me all the way to Harvard!

Which brings me to the things I don’t like about Agnitus.  They grade your child!  My three year old son spent 1 minute on science and got a C. Really? In a whole 1 minute?  I guess they are appealing to every kind of parent, not my kind.  Also I’m highly skeptical about Agnitus’ ability to teach skills.  I’m not an expert though.  The tagline used to be ‘Agnitus, games for learning’. Now it just says ‘Agnitus’.  Perhaps some regulatory body questioned its claims to teach.  For example  the tracing letters exercise which my son aced, brought him no closer to tracing letters in the real world.  If fact, it may have built some resistance as tracing was a lot easier on the iPad requiring less finger exertion.  Muscle strength in the hands is a huge part of fine motor skills so its not a small thing.  Likewise, he found it quite easy to treat Agnitus like a video game  and ‘score’ with random hits and also just enjoyed treating it as game not actually thinking about the content.

 

http://www.agnitus.com  – ignore the creepy lobotomised mom video intro!

 

But I have stuck with it because it is somewhat educational and it does interest him and it may give me a half an hour to do something else.  As he has gotten older – he’s almost four, I’ve noticed him using it more and more as an educational tool than a dartboard.  We do some games together and he is better at some of them than I am!  I think it has reinforced things I have taught him and perhaps even added to what he knows, although he still treats it as a game and so scores lower than I think his actual knowledge deserves.  It is also showing me where his self directed exploration takes him and that reinforces what I choose to do in homeschool.  It has shown me we can do a lot more with maths and shapes because this sort of thing he really likes but literacy and anything to do with handwriting has to be a lot more fun because he’s not so naturally inclined this way.  He loves reading though and loves being read to by the Agnitus talking books.

I’m not sure what else is out there that might have more value for money but I think I will stick with it because it really suits my needs as a homeschooler who already spends a lot of time ‘teaching’ my son 1-2-1. I don’t feel guilty about this screen time and it seems to be becoming more beneficial as time goes on.  I’m a little excited to see how the app keeps pace with my 4, 5 even 6 year old son.  The signs are good.

 

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Flying Solo

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I love collaborative learning and especially the way young kids will vibe off each other. When it works – it’s wonderful and often they don’t even realise they are learning, but how often does the magic happen? It’s certainly not most of the day or even every day. Some of my most vivid memories of school (and I loved school) where sitting in the group watching the magic happen for two or three members and feeling left behind (not understanding) or bored (I knew it already). I’ve never been that much of a team player, I don’t like working with others on a task. Being a writer is perfect for me because I like hanging out with people but doing the work alone. I liken the idea of the classroom to a false relationship as in the above meme because it’s not what it’s set up to be. We all remember fondly those teachers who really looked out for us as people, nurtured our talents and inspired us because it was pretty rare to have a great one to one connection with the teacher against up to 30 others. I saw a wonderful Ted Talk on Montessori education – it sounded so good – all the TED talks on preschool education sound good, but so much depends on the teacher, class sizes, other pupils and then the teacher and your child having that great connection. When you supervise one to one instruction, you know if the connection is there or not, if the instruction is effective or not and if your child is enjoying it or not. When you’re child is in a classroom, you’re not there and when you liaise with the teacher afterwards, you’re only getting one side of the story.

My 3yo son enjoys group activity very much and I notice he picks up vocabulary, cultural norms and general knowledge that way. But when he needs to master something, he generally needs 1-1 instruction. This was true for me. I know a lot of the ‘bright’ kids at school did work outside school to remain ahead of the class. Their magic was private tuition which starts at age 4 in Lagos for children in school.

Case in point – swimming. Over the past year he has had two sets of 10 weeks of lessons in group format. 4/5 kids every week with one highly qualified teacher. She’s one of very view certified swimming instructors in Lagos. But in those 20 weeks, my son wouldn’t get off the ring. He screamed his head off if you tried to take him out of it but would swim great with the ring on. There was consequently little improvement in his actual swimming ability or confidence. Three weeks ago after a 2 month break we started once weekly lessons with a new uncertified teacher in a format where each child would have their own 30 minutes in the water with the teacher. Yesterday my son was able to swim without any swimming aids for the first time.

In other areas of our homeschool I’ve noticed my son has days where he will move at a snail’s pace and days where he will zip through his activity and beg for more. Each stage we are able to go at his pace. That’s been very helpful.

Group activity has its role to play – but for now I’d just like to celebrate 1-1 instruction. solo-solodolo-Quotes-sayings-swag-swagger-swagg-Quotes

Mudpies to Magnets – science curriculum

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I’ve just started with Mudpies to Magnets and my first experiment failed to deliver so I’m not sure about some of these ideas.

we didn't win the Nobel Prize this year...

our air machine didn’t win the Nobel Prize this year…

Some are also very prep heavy or unsuitable  when you have an 18 month old running around.  However there are a lot of experiments in here (more than you could ever use)  so you won’t be lost for ideas and some of them will work I’m sure. Even my failed experiment generated an interesting conversation and so was not   in vain.  Plus it has a range of ages up to 5 so plenty of usage will be had I’m sure.

Singapore Maths -Essential Math Kindergarten A

 

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I’ve only just started using this Singapore Math workbook with my 3 year old but we both really love it! I have to pace ourselves so we don’t turn a good thing bad.  Never thought I’d say that about a math book but what I like is that rather than teaching what I’ve always understood to be ‘math’ (i.e rote learning and intimidating numbers) it engages young children with patterns, puzzles and activities to develop their understanding of mathematical principles. It encourages conversation rather than demanding ‘the right answer’.

500,000 reasons to homeschool in Lagos

Parents all over the world complain about the cost of travelling during school holidays where airlines routinely hike up the prices – it’s a huge issue in the UK where parents can be prosecuted for taking their kids out of school during term time – but Nigerian parents have it worse. Especially when you consider the already high cost of schooling here.  We get hit twice!

At time of posting the cost of a British Airways economy ticket from Lagos Nigeria to London UK is about 500,000 naira (£2000) – if you can actually get a ticket.  It’s usually around £600 give or take.  So for me, my older son (just a couple of hundred for the baby as he’s not yet two) and my husband £6000 to get  to the UK via economy. If we then want to move on the US to visit my husband’s family – add an extra couple of thousand pounds.

Lagos-UK is probably one of the priciest routes because of Nigeria’s strong links with the UK.  Lagos-US is even pricier. My parents are in the UK and my husband’s mother is in the USA so we try to visit both at least once a year and stay a while. I also want my children to experience the freedom of walking, public transport, parks and museums – things that are unavailable where we live in Lagos. For the price of these summer tickets, we can travel twice during term time and still have money left over.

It’s not the only reason to homeschool of course but and not an issue right up there the Israel-Palestinian conflict – I certainly never flew until I was able to pay for my own ticket aged 18 – but its just another reason to step back from the financial pressure of the school fees and the air fares and the inconvenience to family life and look at what works for your family.

Visiting schools

Although I planned to  homeschool my son for at least this next academic year, I decided I should visit some schools to put his name down for next year in case I thought he should enter school and to see what schools are doing.  Big mistake.  Huge.

Visiting schools is like being a vegan and going to steakhouse just to, you know, look.

Firstly,

Teachers really don’t like to hear that you homeschool. They take it personally and then look at you like you are and your progeny are odd and troublemakers. The teacher at one school immediately told me that if my son didn’t join them immediately he would on no account be allowed in next year. Because a homeschooled 4 year old is unteachable and maybe even a danger to others. I dunno.

 

Secondly

 

Once you leave the safe haven of your own convictions, you now fall victim to self doubt.  Teachers give a pretty hard sell  and will leave you in no doubt that if your  child doesn’t attend this particular school then they can’t be sure but they don’t think it will end well.

Thirdly

As soon as your family and friends hear that you are visiting schools they now feel emboldened to share their innermost misgivings about homeschool.  They will champion whatever school you have in mind if only to make it clear to you that up to now they have been discussing you privately in lowered gossipy tones.

Fourthly

The schools are so nice, you feel kind of silly – like really why am I killing myself homeschooling when my son could be sitting here like little Einstein doing puzzles every morning while I have coffee and cakes at the Wheatbaker Hotel with the other Desperate Housewives.

Fifthly

Your homeschooled child has built school up into this Disneyworld of possibilities in his mind.  At one school he was so enraptured when it was time to leave he burst into tears. I wanted to tell him that in ‘real’ school time they wouldn’t let him play in the pretend kitchen longer than 10 minutes and he would have to fight for kitchen space with 20 other children – but I bit my tongue as he wailed and railed.  I felt bad. I felt guilty.

Sixthly

Having ordered a thousand dollars of homeschool supplies for the year from Amazon, my husband is now looking at me with a thin lipped smile – presumably to avoid beating me (he doesn’t really beat me), when I now tell him ‘I don’t know’ what to do about the schooling and maybe Ru-bear should go to school after all.

If you want to homeschool – here’s my advice. Don’t go on school tours and don’t have a plan B.  Homeschool only works if you are committed.

Children teach themselves in good time.

I don’t think children can teach themselves everything but homeschooling my 3 year old has taught me that I can’t teach him everything.  He is learning way too quickly for me to keep up. In fact he prompts me to teach him, by showing me what he is currently teaching himself.

 

Like this past week or two, I’ve noticed that he is teaching himself a sense of time and past present and future.  He wants to talk about something that happened in the past so he will say it happened yesterday.  ‘We saw Mickey Mouse, yesterday, Mummy,’ when in fact it happened some weeks back.  ‘Is daddy coming today, in the night.’ He’ll ask.   He will strive to locate the days of the week.  ‘Is it Monday, Mummy?’ ‘Are we going to playgroup today?’.  So he is just showing me, now is a good time to give him guidance on days of the week, temporal spacing and past, present and future tenses.  He is ready!

I think if he was going to school, I would have missed this.

 

Homeschool Londoninium

Apologies for not blogging of late. I’m in London (and soon New York and then London again). I’ve been having fun but am mostly knackered. In Lagos I have a nanny and a housekeeper/cook and a driver. In London I have two kids swinging from my neck 24 hours a day (hubby working abroad).

Before I had kids I had seen a kid bounce off the walls (literally throw herself against a wall and use the ‘bounce’ to propel her towards the opposing wall) but I’d never experienced a kid suddenly grab you in a neck lock and use your neck as a swinging post without warning.

London is awesome – especially during clement weather but it always makes me appreciate my Lagos lifestyle. When you have staff you can ensure a peaceful, consistent routine for your kids. When it’s all on you the first thing to go south is bedtime, then bath time, then meal times and before you know it you’re approaching the sort of feral existence you only see on documentaries about social work.

So we’ve done museums and parks and walks and relatives and children’s centres and soft plays and zoos and farms and various modes of transport but not much cuisinaire rods or French.

There’s really not much to say about homeschooling in London other than that in the land where the school system mirrors the class system closely – opting out of the school system is seen as very anti-social and given the side eye anti-social behaviour deserves.

The kids have enjoyed the mod cons of London living but miss ochre stew (way too labour intensive for me – even if I knew how to make it) and consistent high standard of care. Food for thought…

Education anxiety is profitable

A British woman here in Lagos has just started a school that offers as its USP  a guarantee that ‘your kids won’t need a tutor’.  It sort of made me laugh and also reflect on the education culture here in Lagos where this could actually be a successful USP for a new school.

Schools are easy to start in Nigeria.  Where corrupt, ineffective government meets undersupply of decent education, there’s a sweet spot to start a profitable school.  Firstly, little competition with subsidised state schools.  These are inadequate in both availability and standards. Even domestic staff send their children to private schools where they can afford to. Secondly, little in the way of inspectors breathing down your neck. Thirdly, many schools here have waiting lists over a year long.  At every level,  there just are not enough schools and parents are always looking for something better.

Triple Package author Amy Chua describes Nigeria as one of the most successful ethnic groups in terms of education, hard work and prestige oriented success. I can testify to that somewhat as my father in law grew up in a very remote village and somehow (while also working as a houseboy) made his way to Harvard. He is now the king of that village.

So back to this school that guarantees your kids won’t need a tutor.  It has to be understood in the context of Nigeria’s woefully underfunded universities.  Nigerians want to leave and study abroad at superior institutions and then get lucrative jobs, so the parents are very anxious about and prioritise academics plus they want to see a return on the money they’ve already paid. Even in schools costing 20 thousand dollars a year – it’s not uncommon for children finish school and come home to a few hours of private tuition costing up to 10 thousand Naira (£40) a night to ensure they are up to international standards.

This is from the age of 4 by the way.

It’s a reminder to me of everything that’s wrong with education here.  I find such a guarantee to be highly suspect.  Surely no child aged 4 ‘needs’ a tutor.  This is all relative to the parents’ mindset.  Then on what basis can you guarantee an outcome?  I’ve never heard of this before. such a claim suggests that your guarantee is going to be prioritised above the child’s needs.

Perhaps I am being too harsh and she means benignly that each child will simply have the attention and support they need to stay with the class. Education is any man’s game and most people go into it from the well meaning motivation of wanting to provide something better.  Unfortunately lot of those starting schools do so with gimmicks or cheap imitations of antiquated British models. Often white skin and an English accent are all that are needed to convince parents of their credentials. Unfortunately that’s indeed sometimes the best guarantee that people know what they are doing here.

But then why pander to education anxiety?  And at the end of the day,  anxious parents are still going to hire tutors.  They can’t help it. They want more, better, faster, higher.  It’s a competition and they are going to win whatever it takes. A more successful peer group for their child will only heighten their anxiety.   Only therapy can fix that, by the way, not a guarantee.

It’s not rocket science – it’s preschool!

My first nursery report for my son said ‘distracted easily – disruptive – can be heavy handed with his peers – and also listed all the things he could/couldn’t do – like identify colours. It left a bad taste in my mouth for a two year old. Cos if it said, sits very still, compliant and knows his periodic table would that sound any better for a toddler? It was the start of me questioning other things – like the fact that this nursery had a small play area but no space for the children to run/wander etc. The rooms were on the small side and while very nice to look at seemed more catered to girls who sit playing with dolls than boys.  And all this for a tidy $1500 per term for 3.5 hours a day.

I’ve seen people commenting on early education online saying they can’t bear people who say they homeschool when the children are under five as if there’s really nothing to say about that. Don’t these same kids go to nurseries or schools? Isn’t there a huge body of research dedicated to early years education? Don’t some of these schools cost nearly $40K per year not including the extra curricular activities you might want them to do? Seems like there’s something to talk about – sorry if the pictures of playdough and cardboard crafts bore you!

On the other hand I do sometimes wonder why we have needed so much research and science and disappointed parents to tell us what we already know to be true – kids under 5 should be playing with playdough and cardboard, making a mess, getting wet, doing chores, dressing themselves and talking and being read to and being exposed to the real world gradually and positively. It doesn’t seem like rocket science – why make it so?

I admit I worry that they are learning things in nursery that my son isn’t. But of course they are! And vice versa. And it’s likely preschool kids are going to do better on standardised tests because that’s where their learning is focused. There’s no point me homeschooling if I’m gonna cry that my son is not going to ace those tests. Nurseries and preschools here mostly teach children to sit still and take direct instruction (and grade it like it’s a subject) even though the research is pretty clear that this is diminishing children’s creative ability. Children need to PLAY – some more than others, kids are individuals and some of them do actually dig sitting still and reading but even they need to do a lot more playing than they need to sit still and learn. They need time to have conversations with adults about what they are doing and they need to do it outside of a printed list of adult expectations about their general knowledge.

Actually if you talk to teachers, most of them want to do more play but they are terrified of the parents howling to them that their kids can’t read by 5 or won’t get into the Ivy League school that they (the parents) have set their heart on. Parents come with their own educational baggage and ignorance and prejudice. They really need to go examine those rather than pushing teachers to go against recommended wisdom. Parents either don’t know or don’t want to know about the education that will make their kids into well rounded individuals. They still want to teach rocket science to preschoolers.