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Learning at home in a class of its own

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Pauline O'Reilly with her children Finn and Caragh. “A lot of people say to me, ‘aren’t you great’, but you get used to it,” she says of home-education. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Lifestyle – Judy Murphy meets a woman who is devoted to schooling her children through the world around them

Pauline O’Reilly’s son Finn was four when he announced that he didn’t want to go to ‘school school’. He’d been attending Montessori, where “everybody was lovely and kind”, according to his mother, but he had never settled, was constantly tired and was not looking forward to ‘big school’.

“A lot of children say that, but we were in the habit of trusting our child’s instincts,” says Pauline.

Until Finn made that utterance, she had been having sleepless nights, wondering what primary school to send him to. Suddenly everything fell into place.

Pauline and her husband Conor, who live in Galway City, began to explore the option of home-schooling, something that is legal under Ireland’s constitution.

These days, Pauline takes charge of educating Finn, who is now eight, and his four-year-old sister Caragh.  And, while home-education might not be for everybody, it’s an option worth exploring, says Pauline, who trained and worked as a solicitor before opting to focus on her children’s upbringing and education, via ‘unschooling’.

While she agrees that the term ‘unschooling’ might imply that somebody isn’t receiving an education, that’s not the case. The term was coined by American educationalist John Holt in the 1960s after his experiences as a teacher led him to believe that formal schools actually stunted children’s development, educationally and emotionally.

Unschooling is based on what children are interested in and has no formal curriculum as children discover the world around them and learn how to navigate it in co-operation with their family, friends and larger community.  That may sound a bit anarchic to those who believe in rules and regulations, but it works, says Pauline. And she has researched the subject extensively.

“You trust your children to want to learn in the first few years and that doesn’t stop as they get older,” she observes. Adults, too, are curious about the world around them, so she finds it difficult to see “why a human being needs to be forced to learn between the ages of four and 18, when for the rest of our lives we are interested in things and want to learn things”.

Very little research has been carried out into home-education in Ireland, but studies elsewhere have shown its benefits, she says.

She points to US psychologist Peter Gray, a professor at Boston College, who researched the role of play in helping children to learn. By ‘play’, he means self-directed play, initiated by children themselves. Like all mammals, such as cats and dogs, young humans have a natural instinct to learn.

Modern society “assumes that children are, merely because of their age, incompetent and irresponsible,”  and forces them into formal schooling, says Professor Gray. This type of schooling deprives them “of the time and opportunities they need to practise self-direction and responsibility”.

Self-direction is a big aspect of home-schooling and, says Pauline, “Finn can spend a period of months at something and then not go near it for ages”. He loves the computer game Minecraft and might spend hours playing it, but will then switch effortlessly to making things with cardboard. Minecraft is now on the syllabus in many schools and Pauline feels it’s important educationally, although “you’d hate to see them on the computer or iPad all the time”.

When it seems that might be happening, it’s a question of directing the child away from the computer, so as a home educator, “you spend a lot of time checking in on the child and on yourself” to see what is happening.

Pauline is clearly fascinated by the way children follow their own educational instincts and says that while Finn is into computers and war history, Caragh is already displaying far more artistic tendencies.

“When you have a second child, you see it’s nothing you have done [as regards rearing]. They are themselves.”

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

 

Country Living

Bemoaning loss of innocence in a sport driven by big bucks

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Brazil dazzled the world of football in 1970 with their mix of pace, grace and sheer footballing class.

Country Living with Francis Farragher

I’m not big into trying to resolve the huge issues of the world like wars, climate change or attempting to dethrone the obnoxious Elon Musks of this world, primarily on the basis that my influence would be akin to a moth trying to stop a herd of charging elephants.

And, I suppose at this stage, I have to accept that it’s far too late to try and call a halt to the World Cup proceedings in Qatar but for the life of me, the event doesn’t even send a sliver of enthusiasm through my nervous system.

Maybe, it’s an old-fashioned streak that’s there inside of me, but the thought of watching World Cup matches in the run-up to Christmas just doesn’t seem right. Okay, so it will be about 30°C in the heart of the Qatar desert but watching a World Cup semi-final in the middle of the Christmas office party is just a stretch too far for me.

Alas, World Cup memories go back a long way with me to a late Sunday in July 1966 when as a ‘small boy’ I was given the job of ‘minding’ the house while the ‘rest of them’ saved a small field of hay a couple of miles away from the house.

Of course, at the time there wasn’t even a faint chance of a black-and-white TV in the house, while visits to any abode that might have a telly, were strictly confined to a Sunday with the stipulation that Galway footballers had to be involved.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Artists in frame for MADRA Auction

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Colm O’Donnellan getting ready for the MADRA auction. PHOTO: JOE O' SHAUGHNESSY.

LIFESTYLE – Finding suitable homes for dogs that have been abandoned, neglected or abused is what drives the staff and volunteers of animal charity, MADRA. Its services are under strain currently, due to an increase in the number of animals being abandoned or given up for adoption, coupled with rising costs and staffing issues. MADRA’s founder Marina Fiddler tells JUDY MURPHY about its work and the importance of its annual arts auction.

Well-known city auctioneer Colm O’Donnellan will be in full flight this Saturday afternoon, using his mellifluous tones to best advantage as he encourages people to flash their cash and buy the goods he’s selling.

But instead of the bricks and mortar that are his normal fare, Colm will be auctioning paintings that local and national artists have donated to the Camus-based dog shelter MADRA – Mutts Anonymous Dog Rescue and Adoption. The event will be held at the PorterShed, in the city’s Market Street car-park, and will also be accessible online.

Nationally, those who have donated work for this year’s auction include Kevin Sharkey, Frank O’Sullivan, Paul Crozier, Pádraig McCaul, Jin Yong and Ausrine Kuze.

Here in Galway, Grace Cunningham, Joan Kilfeather, Elena Santos, Rachel Dubber and Aoife Dowd are among the artists who’ve contributed.

Unsurprisingly, many of the pieces have wildlife themes and sometimes these are quirky, as is the case with Lithuanian-born Ausrine Kuze – she and several others have donated more than one piece.

This annual auction is an important event for MADRA, serving as a fundraiser and also helping to raise its profile.

It’s been a busy year for the charity which works to rehouse dogs that have been abandoned, neglected or abused – and there’s no sign that there will be a let-up any time soon, says the group’s founder Marina Fiddler.

As we speak, she’s working to sort out a litter of pups that was left outside Galway Dog Pound. Rather than complaining about this, Marina observes that the person who abandoned those pups didn’t just dump them in the wilds for other animals to eat. By leaving them at the pound, the pups have been given some hope of a future. It’s just one of five litters that MADRA has taken charge of in the past three weeks.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Galway in Days Gone By

Galway In Days Gone By

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The construction of a new wheelchair-friendly footbridge by Galway Corporation over the Friar’s River Canal at Newtownsmith on October 20, 1998. It replaced the old temporary bridge that had become dangerous and could not take wheelchairs.

1922

Posting poor returns

Postal rates and telephone charges in Ireland are at the moment probably as high as they are in any country in the world, higher than they are in most.

The penny post has been restored in Great Britain, following the wage cut, which was introduced without any stoppage in the public service.

And the postal facilities in Ireland at the moment are probably worse than in any civilised state in the world. This is not altogether the fault of those who control the post office.

But, while much of this is due to conditions over which postal officials can have no control, a very considerable percentage of it is due to a badly run post office.

There is something very rotten in a service that loses a million a year, and yet gives the public only very indifferent results; for not merely are the Irish people paying abnormal postal and telegraph rates, but they are paying for the deficit in the form of taxation, so that their letters cost them much more than twopence.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

 

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