Have you got your children back?

So much to learn out of school

So much to learn out of school

It was during the school holidays that we got our children back! I don’t just mean their physical presence, I mean their personalities.

It was when we noticed they were suddenly the happy, smiley, easy-going and cooperative little people we’d known pre-school. Those people who disappeared in school term times and were replaced by fraught, difficult and chewed up little bundles of frustration, and sometimes even aggression, that we didn’t recognise.

I know we all change a little during holidays. Of course we’re more relaxed and have work pressures taken off. But the effect on our children’s personalities in school was more fundamental than this and it was a result of them finding the whole school package distasteful; the unnecessary and rigid control, the dull learning activities, pressure from other not-so-nice children and clear disrespect from some of the adults. Not something they’d been used to.

And why should they get used to it? If we suffered this in work we’d be able to do things about it. We could make ourselves heard, rather than put up with abuse or disrespect. We have opportunities to make choices. We can usually implement changes, even changing jobs if necessary.

Children are stuck. And in many cases are not even listened to. When they are listened to – usually by some adult paying lip service but quite clearly having their own agenda of making the child fit – it’s rare anything changes things for the better.

If I was in that position I wouldn’t want to carry on going to school either.

Yet many people just accept the school environment as the ‘normal’ place for children to be. They think it’s okay for children to put up with unpleasantness, thinking wrongly that it’s something ‘they have to get used to’. And some people even seem to think that we don’t have to listen to, or take into account their unhappiness.

I think we do. And I also think that’s it’s probably fairly intelligent of children to recognise that school is not always the best place for them. They are capable of making judgements and are capable of reassessing them as they grow.

What is also certain is that school is not the only place for education. Children can thrive, achieve and learn outside school too. There’s so much to discover; about the world, about themselves. And for increasing numbers of parents school is the last place they would want their children to do that.

The more home education is known about and the more home educating families that people meet, the more confident parents are about supporting their children and choosing alternative to school.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the child who doesn’t want to go to school. There is something more wrong in the adult community believing that school works for everyone.

A child who does not want to go to school has their reasons. It’s not that they don’t want to learn. Or they’re weak or shy or lazy. It just means that the climate in which they’ve been forced to do it is not good enough. And sometimes it’s so unsuitable it changes their personality.

Kids can make decisions about what’s good enough as well as adults!

That’s one of the major reasons we home educated ours, before school not only changed them into people we didn’t want them to be, but also put them off learning for good.

What are the five best things to teach your children over the holidays?

Will you be teaching yours over the holidays? Whether they go to school or you home educate, will you still be keeping their noses to the educational grindstone?

I hope you won’t be continually forcing academics on them. For they do need other things as well and there’s nothing like overkill to completely put a person off learning.

But have no doubt you will still be ‘teaching’ whatever you’re doing. Because parenting in itself is teaching. And parents affect education as much as teachers do, by the way we raise our children to be interested in the world, observe and be curious about it, talk and interact with it.

This is the real education – the academic bit is just – well – academic! And not a complete education in itself. No point in being able to do sums on paper but have no idea how to budget or save your pocket money!

So what you do as parents over the holiday, all the things you do at home and out of it, all the things they see you do, are the things that broaden your child’s curriculum of life and impact on those academics when they get down to them. And we will be ‘teaching’ them most of it through our own example.

So I was trying to identify the best things we can pass on to our youngsters as we raise them? Things that are just as useful if not more than writing and maths. So these are the things I would hope to ‘teach’ them:

  • To be confident and think of themselves well; as loving caring people important in themselves and how they contribute, not just rate themselves through the things they might be measured by (like grades).
  • To understand how to look after themselves well. To encourage them to build a healthy lifestyle that keeps them fit as in how much they move or don’t, what they eat and don’t, and understanding of what nurtures their general emotional and mental wellbeing as well as the physical.
  • To be happy in their own company as well as the company of others, as it is in time for yourself that you begin to understand yourself and what feels right for you as well as through the perspective others bring.
  • To achieve, resolve and create things for themselves rather than always relying on passive or pre-packaged entertainment or solutions that can fill in time and lives, often letting it slip by unnoticed and eventually unfulfilled.
  • To understand that independent and informed choice fulfils us far more than accepting institutions and mainstreams and trends (and Facebook is an institution as much as school is!) and that we need to make conscious decisions about what we think, what we do and how we behave

What can you add to my list? It’d be lovely to have your thoughts below!

For those who do things differently

Okay I admit it! Sometimes, just sometimes, I wanted to be in a position that wasn’t quite so different.

It got increasingly tedious to have those conversations outside the dance or pottery clubs whilst I waited for the girls as there was always the inevitable question; ‘So where do yours go to school?’

I’d pause a moment, then say; ‘They don’t actually. They’re home educated’

Slight neurotic giggle and other mother moves away from me like I’m diseased.

Of course, it wasn’t always like that; many parents who asked really engaged with the idea and were keen to know more. And I grew more skilled at judging who I wanted to mention it to.

Today though home education is far more popular and widely known as parents find school practices more and more distasteful. There’s a liberal helping of information and support on the net and an ever-increasing community to dip into, groups to attend, others to network with, so it feels less scary.

Community is the theme of this issue of The Green Parent magazine and I was thrilled to be asked to contribute as it’s a special anniversary issue. The editor, Melissa Corkhill, asked me to write about the home education community and the many and diverse groups that support it. (A big thank you to all of you who helped with my research and offered your thoughts). So you’ll find me in there too this time.

But the real reason for this post is to tell you about the lovely opening story in this issue in the welcome from the editor. It’s about a mum who wanted to do things a bit differently from her own peer groups and family tradition and how hard it was at first to find support for her ideas. She felt very sad and alone. I think many of you will identify with this. But a chance encounter with another mum initiated her rescue.

Now we have the Internet to find like minds but that is no comparison to a warm human connection in real physical terms. Nothing like being with people to learn from.

Melissa follows her editor’s column with a little piece about what she has learnt from her ten years at the magazine and it’s so encouraging I thought I’d quote it here:

It’s possible to have a job that makes you desperate-to-get-in-the-office excited, You can run a business from home with a home educated child on your lap, next to you at their own mini desk or playing noisy games outside the door, sometimes you might even get a bit of help from those children but being with them through their childhood is the most important work”

So absolutely true!

There’s plenty else in the magazine to read too. And perhaps there’s some mum nearby that you could help do it differently like the mum in the story. For having that community support is irreplaceable!

Sod genius – it’s kindness that matters most!

I can’t bring myself to watch the child genius programmes on channel 4. Even the trailer is enough to put me off.

I cannot bear the mass acceptance and propaganda that genius is so worthy we have to parade our kids across the telly as tools for our own self gratification.

Makes me cringe! (Read what Charlotte Runcie says in the Telegraph)

As does yet another annoying mathematical puzzle on Facebook asking ‘How smart are you?’

Interesting how ‘smart’ is measured by maths. Couldn’t it equally be measured by our ability to create an artwork?

Well that depends on how you define smart, or genius, doesn’t it. And the way in which we’ve been told to define it. We also have to decide on what matters most.

What matters to me over smart is kind. In fact, kind is smart anyway – one is no good without the other, because it doesn’t matter how smart you are, if you’re not kind with it you don’t have access to what makes our life ultimately happy; relationships with others. You have to be smart enough to work out that ‘kind’ is as useful as ‘smart’.

We never see a challenge on Facebook asking ‘How kind are you?’ But then, how could you measure that? And therein lies the problem.

Everybody wants testable evidence. And we’ve been conned to think that testable evidence must be the truth. It isn’t, as anyone who manipulates data will testify! Data can be construed to make out what you want it to make out. Politicians use this strategy all the time. The telly programme isn’t testing genius, it’s making viewing. And making the producers a lot of money with very little outlay, such a good drama would cost! Basically, they are using our kids for cheap telly.

I don’t mean to be unkind to the youngsters taking part in the programme. But I do want to point out that kindness is as valuable an attribute as genius, more valuable I would say. But how will our children learn that if the only thing we appear to admire is testable genius? When I see those kids squirming with the pressure they’re under to be genius I wonder if somewhere along the line they’ll learn to be kind. They might not if unkindness has been the methods used to put pressure on them.

Shouldn’t we be educating towards good, kind people and allowing genius to naturally follow on through?

And shouldn’t we be applauding many, many other attributes of human nature as well as smart?

We need to be applauding our children for the people they inherently are, not whether they can answer questions or not!

Rural living: it’s not only roses

outdoorsMay2014 005It’s Countryside Awareness week. And the beauty of it is that it’s as much about the people who live and work in rural areas as it is about countryside in itself – beautiful though it is.

We don’t often think about them, other than they’re lucky bods and it’s all roses. Few understand that at times it can be the opposite of roses, it can be downright thorny. Not that you’d get that impression through the media or from the politicians who unwind in second homes without any of the hardships country living brings, making policies from the comfort of their city towers that stick in the throat of those who reside there all the time.

For example, in their campaign to get everyone using public transport, putting road and fuel taxes up, they forget that this absolutely cripples those who have no public transport on their doorstep. Who are dependent on their cars to get to work, get their kids to school/college/activities, fetch shopping, get to surgeries, etc. They don’t face that reality on a daily basis as we do.

Another example, in supporting everyone getting online to do business, banking, pay bills etc. they forget that for some their download speeds are so low it’s well nigh impossible to conduct any kind of business without lengthy waits, never mind bothering with Youtube! Mobile signals are just as bad – what use an App when you’ve no signal?

And when people moan about services being disrupted because of leaves on the line or the buses are late they should remember that they at least have services. Getting about in snow, ice, gales, fog, floods and living on a daily basis with exposure to the same is no joke. The only service we have here is our bins emptied and that doesn’t always happen.

It’s all relative of course. And our rurality also brings us a deeply tranquil connection to nature instead of city stresses – unless we’re stressing because the car won’t start!

But we should remember that there are 12 million people living and working in the countryside and it isn’t all tranquillity. In fact the suicide rate among farmers is one of the highest. Employment is sparse to non-existent and working on the land can be an extremely hard way of life with the minimum of wages in return. Yet as Robin Page says in a comment in the Telegraph last weekend the coverage rural living gets is stacked in favour of urban living dismissing issues of country dwellers as less important.

But without those who do work the land, there would be NO FOOD! The land would not be managed as it needs to be to sustain our life. And there would be no land to give us all the resources we need to support our city lives.

Life does all come back to the land and the people who look after it.

So maybe you could pay that some respect as you organise a walk with your kids in support of people working hard  in rural areas. And teach them to understand that the land beyond the cities and the people who work it are equally important.

The dog on the advert and your view of education!

There’s a clever advert on the TV at the moment (yea – I know – I need to get out more!). It fools us into thinking we’re seeing something from another viewpoint. (Watch it here)

It does happen sometimes that we’re not sure what we’re looking at – until we get our ‘eye in’ as the saying goes. This is a good example of it. It makes you think.

Our brain is taught by past experiences to think we’re seeing something different to what’s actually in front of us sometimes and it struck me that home education is a bit like that. It’s difficult for some to see how it could possibly work because we’ve been taught to see education in certain way – a school way.

To see things in new ways we have to abandon our old views. And that’s the same with learning. To learn, you have to change; often change what you thought was true. And it’s something we have to do in order to be able to take advantage of the huge flexibility we can have with education – home education in particular.

Our school view tells us that children have to be in schools to become educated. Not so – they can become educated just as well in other places out of school. Where better to learn about the world – which is what education is for – than out in the world?

Our school view holds that education requires things like uniforms, masses of other kids, qualified teachers, curriculum, tests and inspections for it to be successful. Not so – many families home educate successfully without these things.

Our school view tells us that education is about teaching children to pass exams. Not so. Education is much more than that; passing exams only one small part of it. It also leads us to believe that children need daily repetitive practise in order to learn anything or pass those exams. Not so – if it’s inspiring they’ll learn and retain it anyway.

Our conditioned view has led us to believe that children have to be disciplined in order to learn, disciplined by adults who know better. This is not the case. Not all adults know better and their role is to guide more than anything. Guide children to understand that the only discipline that is of any use to us is self-discipline and to help them understand why that is the case.

And the systemised view makes us believe that children have to be coerced into learning. But the truth is that children are born wanting to learn and it is the system that switches them off. Learning is something that happens naturally for them from the moment they are born and we can extend this learning desire quite naturally into the educative process.

Finally, the most bizarre thing of all when you begin to think about it differently, is that in order to learn about the world we shut children away from it. That’s like shutting them in a room and telling them about swimming – then throwing them in deep water. The best place to learn about our world is out experiencing it.

Challenge your view of education and see if you can transcend what you think you know. Maybe you’ll be able to see things a little differently too!

The success of failure!

Who’d equate success with failure?

Not many perhaps – except all the successful entrepreneurs; they’ll have failed many times in order to finally achieve but we don’t often get to hear about that background to their success.

One of the most important ways to help our children to succeed is to encourage them to understand that failure isn’t a negative thing. It is a natural part of the learning and achieving process from which we learn. And those people who succeed are not necessarily the cleverest, the luckiest or the richest. They are the people who didn’t stop when it didn’t go right, but went on trying and trying until they finally got there. And that if you can maintain enough resilience to do that, you are bound to succeed.

Think about it; we can only fail when we stop at a failed attempt.

Our children will have failed many, many times in their tiny lives even before they get to the age of five when everyone suddenly starts talking about succeeding or failing in school. Although no one measured it and no one made their early attempts into failure.

For example they will have failed to walk, fallen over many times, but just kept on getting up again. They will have failed trying to balance their food on a fork or get it in their mouths. They will have failed to catch a ball, do up laces, build a tower, climb up something, ride a bike, master the things they want to say. But none of those failures mattered so they just kept on going, learned from trial and error, until they achieved what they wanted.

And that’s the important part of it – they hadn’t been taught by the others around them that those failings mattered. So why teach them later on – particularly in relation to education? Why teach them that failing makes them into failures, as we tend to in schooling?

If we told our toddlers that they were failures and made them feel shame when they were trying to walk and talk then maybe they wouldn’t keep going.

Our negative attitude to failing is something that children learn – usually from adults. Wouldn’t it be great if that was something they never learned?

Maybe we should be careful not to teach it!

Perhaps instead of hidden signals of negativity towards failure we should be boosting their resilience. Supporting their confidence in their intention to achieve. Showing them how to learn from the things that don’t go right first time. Helping them understand that failing is positive in that it makes us extend ourselves and grow.

And that failing is only a failure if you stop there – and you don’t have to! If you keep going you can eventually turn your failure into a success, even if by deciding you need to take another route.

That’s how failure creates success. And that’s what our children need to know about it!