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Learning at home in a class of its own

Judy Murphy

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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

Seeking out little solaces from gloom of November

Francis Farragher

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Advent is on the way in what has turned out to be a full year of penance!

Country Living with Francis Farragher

NOVEMBER is probably one of those months that’s akin to Patrick Kavanagh’s famous line on dandelions ‘growing on headlands, showing their unloved hearts to everyone’.  I’ve yet to meet someone who told me that November was their favourite month of the year, but like the dandelions, it won’t go away and despite the efforts of rugby people to give in an autumn status in terms of titling their international games, for me it will always be that time of darkest Winter.

Mind you, it’s not so bad once you accept your lot with the month. The sunrises, whenever we’re lucky enough to see them under clearer skies, have now slunk back to after 8 o’clock, while each evening the sun’s indecent haste to retreat often ushers in darkness shortly after 4pm.

Our current predicament hasn’t been helped by what’s going around us and by the greyness of the weather, so overall it is a bit of a battle to ease the gloom of November. However, in the midst of all those dark clouds, for those of us who are fortunate enough to have shelter from the elements and who can sit in front of a glowing turf fire, the month does have its little consolations.

Gone are the long evenings when the ‘to do list’ of outdoor chores stretched all the way up to double digits; and now at least there’s the consolation of not feeling one ounce of guilt at getting comfy on an armchair, opening a bottle of Peroni, and listening to the Atlantic tempests belting against the windows.

For those of us lucky (or unlucky) enough to have an interest in sport, there are some real television treats like the hurling and football championships (admittedly not much of a consolation last weekend if you’re of maroon extraction); the Masters’ golf from Augusta; and the rather less-attractive sight of our Irish soccer team getting a mauling from the ‘Auld Enemy’ at Wembley.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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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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Connacht Tribune

Honouring a master of music

Judy Murphy

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Steve Cooney. Photo by Colin Gillen

Lifestyle – Australian-born Steve Cooney moved to Ireland 40 years ago, instructed to do so by his Aboriginal tribe. Since then his contribution to Irish music has earned him admirers and friends at home and abroad. Next week, he will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award in RTÉ’s Folk Awards. He tells JUDY MURPHY of his journey.

When ground-breaking guitar player Steve Cooney played the Clifden Arts Festival shortly before Covid-19 Level Five restrictions were re-imposed, he had no idea he’d won the Lifetime Achievement award in this year’s RTÉ’s annual Folk Awards.

The accolade, announced last week, has topped off a good year for Steve who was performing in Clifden with Cúil Aodh singer Iarla Ó Lionáird, and whose new album Ceol Ársa Cláirsí: Tunes of the Irish Harp for Solo Guitar has been getting rave reviews.

On it, Steve has taken Irish harp tunes, which were composed or collected between the early 17th century and late 18th century, playing them on steel-string and nylon-string guitar.

It’s a project he embarked “for personal satisfaction” and the result is a multi-layered, magical, meditative album.

Among the people he credits on the album is the renowned harpist Kathleen Loughnane, who lives in Galway City and whose extensive research into the tradition offered new insights into the tunes of the Connellan brothers from Sligo. Four of their tunes feature on Steve’s album, alongside work by Turlough Ó Carolan, Denis Ó hAmsaigh, Ruaidhrí Dall Ó Cathain and others.

Given that the harp has such a sacred place in Irish music, interpreting these tunes on guitar seems like a brave move. But Steve has always followed his own musical path and loves the harp. So, it’s no surprise that he feels guitar players “should be able to claim it: we pluck strings and should not feel that territory is forbidden to us”.

He has enormous respect for the harpers who were an intrinsic part of the ancient Gaelic tradition that fell victim to English rule, and he praises the complexity of their tunes.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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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

Stephen Corrigan

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A view of Galway City captured from atop Galway Fire Station in 1979, taking in Wolfe Tone Bridge and some of Fish Market Square. The site of McDonogh's Fertilizers is now home to Jury's Hotel, while there have also been significant changes to the buidings on Quay Lane over the years.

1920

Workers for peace

English Labour, which appears to have found itself as impotent in the face of the mechanical Coalition majority at Westminster as the Irish Party found itself against Carsonism in the days of the Curragh revolt, has at last been afforded an opening towards making an effective bid for peace with Ireland.

The Irish Trades’ Congress this week accepted the British workers’ conditions of settlement, and noted that their teams, unlike those of British Ministers, leave no loopholes and are devoid of ambiguity.

Briefly, the British workers suggest that the present campaign of militarism against the Irish people should end; that a constituent Irish assembly should be elected by proportional representation, and that it should devise a constitution subject only to the safeguards of minorities and the naval and military interests of the British Empire.

It is a significant advance that democracies on each side of the Irish Sea find themselves not merely in agreement as to the methods by which peace may be brought about, but ready to translate these methods to action if the opportunity is given.

Older politicians, however, will not fail to register the initial criticism that when British parties are out of power, they are always ready to extend the hand of friendship to Ireland and to back up the gesture with promises that they cannot at the moment fulfil.

Witness to the case of Mr. Asquith who as Prime Minister in 1914 gave the lead in the doctrine that the Irish minority must continue to rule the majority and in 1920 when he is out of power, pours his anathemas upon his successors for carrying his policy to its logical outcome.

Nevertheless, we have not lost faith in a constitutional settlement. It must be obvious to all sane thinkers that sooner or later peace will have to be brought about by negotiation. The sword can never produce a settlement; only those who would recklessly ignore the lessons of history could hold with the doctrine that force can remedy a situation that has become intolerable.

There is a strong will to peace in Ireland to-day, and it is clear that the cumulative effect of the limited publicity that has been gained from present-day conditions in Ireland is having its effect upon English opinion.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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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