Tag Archive | education

Home Education and History…a guest post

Firstly, I would like to thank Ross for allowing me to publish a guest post about home education and history on her blog.  When I was forced to home ed my son (who has complex special educational needs), I was very scared and frightened by the entiredaunting prospect.  I am a professional business technologist with a lifetime of working in the City with “grown-ups”, so what did I know about teaching a child?  Especially a child with such a complex cocktail of special educational needs as my son? But Ross’s blog was a beacon of light in what could have been extremely dark and frightening months. So I’m delighted to be writing a guest post about home educating children in the exciting discipline of “history”.

What is history?
When you see the word “history”, do you instantly switch off and think “oh no, that’s so boorRring”?  Or do you think “I can’t possibly teach my child about history, it’s too academic/I’m not clever enough/I don’t know anything about history/I hated history at school”?

Well… I’d like to put it to you that history is one of the easiest, richest and most diverse of all topics you can undertake.  I can guarantee that wherever you live in the United Kingdom, there will be “history” in some shape or form all around you. Whatever is your background, culture, race, or religion, there will be “something” historical which you can explore with your children as part of a rich and rewarding home education programme.  Even if your child is like mine, a young person with severe learning disabilities, they will still be able to take part in learning about history.

Sometimes this “history” will be easy to spot: such as visiting London’s main museums.  But other times, history is not so easy and so will require more hard work from you.  For example, your local town will have its own history – some of it will be easy to work out, others less obvious, so you will have to ask questions about the subject you wish to explore.

  • What happened to your town during the industrialisation of Britain in the eighteen/nineteenth century?
  • How old is your local church and why does it look like a medieval castle?
  • Why does your village have a road called “Hanging Hill Lane”, or “Gallows Corner” or “Witch Lane”?
  • What is the history of your road? Your house? Your family?…

All of the above could become questions and projects to investigate for a home educating family.

The British Museum in London. A more “traditional” approach to including history within a home education programme?

 

Berbice Lane – a road sign on a side road near my house.  There is a historic reason why this road is thus named.  Local road names – an opportunity ripe for an project into local history by a home ed’ing family?

 Questions, questions, questions!

Questions are exactly what history is all about: looking for, and answering questions about a historical topic.  Professional historians often use the “6 w’s” to help with their historical investigations –

What happened?

When did it happen?

Who did it happen to?

Where did it take place?

Why did it happen? (This is often the most exciting historical prompt to explore and investigate!)

How did it happen? (ok, so that’s not a “w”, but it kind-of fits in!)

A famous painting of the Spanish Armada.  A fantastic home ed’ing project to investigate the “6 w’s” of this painting. What? When? Who? Where? Why? How?

School Trip Friday for the Academically Challenged
My child had been called “academically challenged” by one of his previous teachers (who should have known better). But I knew that he was more than capable and we could investigate history together.  Thus was born something we both called “School Trip Friday for the Academically Challenged” (to thumb our nose at his so-called “teacher”).  Each Friday, we went out and about on field-trips to investigate a topic or theme of historical interest.  In amongst all the “normal”  home education activities such as maths and English, our School Trip Friday became the highlight of our week.

So each term, I picked a historical topic that I thought would be good to study.  As I knew that ultimately my child would be returning to school, I decided to (very roughly) stick with the KS2 curriculum and keep to the historical topics covered there.  So some of the historical topics we studied included:

  • The Tudors.  We investigated stately homes, National Trust and English Heritage properties all connected with the Tudor kings and queens of England.  Our favourite Tudor School Trip Friday was when we made a trip to Leicester and Bosworth shortly after the body of Richard III was discovered in the local Council’s car park.  We turned that into an entire long weekend and had tremendous fun researching Leicester and its medieval king, and how the Tudor dynasty came to the throne of England via the bloody battlefield of Bosworth Field.

 

Here’s looking at you, kid.
My son came face to face with Richard III, the last truly medieval king.

  • The Romans. We headed up and out of East Anglia and into beautiful Northumberland to the area of Hadrian’s Wall, where we investigated the Romans in Britain.  This was another School Trip “Friday” which turned into a long glorious weekend of investigation.

My husband decided that we were having far too much fun on our history trips so joined us for our Hadrian’s Wall weekend. Our home education and School Trip Friday was for all the family to enjoy!

  • The Vikings. Living in Essex, we are extremely fortunate to live near one of the areas where the Vikings invaded in the year 991.  Today it is a beautiful area of outstanding beauty.  Yes, despite popular misconceptions about Essex, there are some incredibly beautiful and historic areas within our county!

The approximate location where the Vikings invaded England in 991.  History literally on our doorstep.

Dos and Don’ts of History and Home Ed
Like all things, there are dos and don’ts to history.  Here are some of mine…

  • When out and about, DO always be respectful of the historical site or ancient monument.  Bear in mind that you might be walking or exploring a monument or site whose very fabric may be extremely fragile.  No climbing on walls or touching/holding fragile objects – unless, of course, there is a sign (or a helpful warden) which explicitly states you are welcome to climb/touch/hold.  If you’re not allowed to climb that tempting wall/pile of rubble, then use other methods for engaging your child in learning.  For example, when we walked along some of the Roman forts at Hadrian’s Wall, instead of climbing the ruins (and running the risk of destroying 2,000 year old constructions!), we spent time looking at the perfect building techniques of the Romans and trying to understand how they achieved what they did without modern building techniques and equipment.
  • If investigating a historic site/building, DO engage with any staff, volunteers or helpers. Many of them will be absolute fanatical experts on that particular building/room/family and will love to spend time with you and your children telling you about their passion. For example, when we visited the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, there were some amazing volunteers stationed at each house, just absolutely dying to share their knowledge. There is nothing more captivating to a small child then being shown the marks a hob-nailed boot made on an earthenware tiled floor by countless generations of men who had come in from the fields and warmed themselves in front of a roaring fire. Or for a modern child to be shown the sleeping conditions/rooms/cupboards of children their age. Engage with staff and/or volunteers, and your child’s education will benefit.
  • DO thank any member of staff or volunteer who has gone the extra mile with your children’s education or experience.  When you have a passion for history, there is absolutely nothing like being thanked by someone – particularly a child – who has benefited from your knowledge.
  • DO age-appropriate / ability appropriate “history learning” with your children.  For example, a teenager could benefit from undertaking proper historical research using primary source materials from libraries and record offices.  Whereas a younger child could prefer a more “hands on” approach byphysically visiting sites and exploring historic buildings.
  • DO consider that history is nearly always a multi-disciplined topic.  For example, weather has had a massive impact on British/English history.  So if your child is interested in weather and storms etc, then consider how the weather may have impacted the historical theme you are studying.  Science and history can go together hand-in-hand!  Or, maybe look at geography as geography and history are also a perfect match.  For example, when I was researching my book about the town of Bishop’s Stortford, I discovered that the nearby river which runs through the town has had a massive impact on the town’s fortunes.  So, whilst I was writing my book I spent a great deal of time walking the entire length of the river and investigating the town’s industry which took place there in the 1800s.
  • DO use a variety of methods for teaching history.  For example, when driving to/from the historical sites we were investigating, we used both the Horrible Histories and Tony Robinson’s series of audio recordings about history to totally immerse ourselves in our chosen period.  We also listened to good children’s historical novels on audio recordings.  When we were looking at medieval/Tudor England, we watched the BBC’s recent broadcasting of the Hollow Crown – Shakespeare’s “take” on the medieval kings of England.  My small child, who, because of his special educational needs had been labelled as being “academically challenged”, sat enthralled watching, digesting and understanding very high-brow Shakespearean plays!
  • DON’T explore famous or popular historical sites/monuments during school holidays.  As you are home educating, you can miss these peak days and weeks, therefore creating a better learning experience for yourselves.  If you really want to visit a popular place so to benefit from school-holiday activities, then sometimes going the week immediately before or after the school holiday will be quiet but still geared up for school-aged children.  For example, we were desperate to see the Richard III display in Leicester.  I’d researched that they were increasing the displays, information and volunteers in the Guildhall during a half-term week.  So we visited on the Friday just before the half term week, with the result that the Guildhall was empty – up until that day, there’d been queues up out the door and up the road.
  • DON’T stick to a historical subject/theme/period because you feel “you have to”.   For example, part of key stage 2 is to study the Tudors but, if Henry VIII and his 6 wives bore you silly, then don’t do it!  Home educating history should involve the entire family so pick something which will excite and interest YOU.  After all, if you become enthusiastic and impassioned about a particular period/era/theme/topic, then your own enthusiasm and interest will fire up your children.

Finally, DON’T be frightened about history.  Embrace home education as a chance for you to explore something which really interests you and engages your entire family.  History is absolutely all around us – there is something there of interest for all ages and all abilities.

Hadrian’s Wall: Time to explore the science of how echoes work and how loud you have to shout to produce a magnificent rebounding sound. Also time to see how fast we could both run when we realised that we had been shouting loud enough to wake the dead. And we had absolutely no wish to wake the dead of thousands upon thousands of sleeping Roman soldiers!

 

About Kate Cole
Kate home educated her learning-disabled son during the entire academic year of 2012-2013 whilst she took her local authority to two Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunals (SENDIST).  Having “won” both cases, she is pleased to say that her son is now thriving in a specialist education placement.  But her son (and her!) learnt a great deal history during their year of home education together and are still continuing to actively learn history together.

She has recently had published her first local history book, Bishop’s Stortford Through Time, a pictorial history of a historic East Hertfordshire town.  She is pleased to report that, although her son was back at school whilst she researched her book, he helped her research her book by walking the length and breadth of the town with her, helping her to investigate items of local historical interest.  He appears in many of the modern-day photographs of the town.

http://www.essexvoicespast.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Bishops-Stortford-Through-Time.jpg

Kate blogs about East Anglian history on her blog, Essex Voices Past. This week, she is on a tour around various blogs talking about history and her new book, Bishop’s Stortford Through Time.  Catch her on the following blogs this week:-

 

 

© Essex Voices Past 2014

What are your social skills like?

The age old socialisation question raised its head the other day.

“What are your social skills like?” a home educated young person was asked at a job interview.

What kind of question is that F*S!!!

There are several irrational things about this (the question – not my response!):

  1. Couldn’t the interviewer tell – he’d been talking to the interviewee for over half an hour by this time?
  2. What on earth does he mean exactly – I doubt he could answer?
  3. How the heck could you – or any of us – answer such a question?
  4. Would he ask a school leaver the same question?

I always think it’s rather weird that the most pressing thing on people’s mind in relation to home educated children has little to do with learning and education – it’s about social development. And even more weird to think that ‘normal’ social development would take place within the abnormal social setting of a school.

Anyway, what are ‘social skills’? How would we answer? We’d better think about it in case any of your children get asked! By ‘social skills’ is it meant:

  • That we are polite and articulate?
  • That we can converse and interact in an appropriate way?
  • That we can assess and make suitable responses to people’s (sometimes weird) questions and behaviour?
  • That we’re chatty and articulate?
  • That we show empathy, consideration and respect when with others?
  • That we can pick up social cues?
  • That we are mature and act responsibly in company?
  • That we’ve got friends?!
  • Or that we are just nice people!
  • Maybe all of the above!

Every home educated child that I’ve ever met is all of those things anyway – and more.

I wonder sometimes how many parents, when they send their children to school to mix among a population of socially inept youngsters, how they think this is going to ‘socialise’ them. How many children or parents even know what that is? How many school using parents think about it? Yet bizarrely they are the ones who challenge home educating families with such doubts and sometimes accusations.

So I’ll say it again – and home educators will probably need to go on saying it until there are so many choosing this option others begin to notice how socially unskilled many school children are – home educated kids:

  • are sociable,
  • have friends,
  • do talk to others,
  • do get out with others,
  • can mix appropriately,
  • can hold a conversation,
  • are very socially mature
  • and are usually nice people!

And they are like this because they don’t go to school; because they mix with many others out in society in the natural social clusters found in society (not the unnatural one found inside schools), with a high proportion of adults who do have social maturity.

Perhaps if you’re home educating you should go about asking ‘what are your social skills like’ to everyone you meet? This way we might get some answers that would prepare the children for bizarre and ridiculous questions like these.

Or maybe just prime them with the answer; ‘excellent thank you!’ And that will be the end of it!

Autumn….not just a prep for Christmas!

Nooooo!! – not Christmas decorations already! Not when Autumn’s blazing away outside with its own decorations. Let’srain and sun july14 003 not miss out on those because gaudy tinsel is taking over far too soon.

I know the weather’s a bit challenging but there’s still a lot to see, just keep your hood up!

There are bright little hawthorn leaves as red as the berries. Rosy hips all glossy with wet (I don’t mean mine!) and even the odd little apple. There’s an abundance of nuts to collect and baubles of berries the birds have missed still enriching the parklands. And sentinel seed and reed heads in rough patches which, when you look up close, are strung with filigree webs and bunting of wetlets.

Where I live there’s the first murmurings of wild geese as skeins of them arrive to winter here. They are looped along the horizon decorating the sky like drifting paper chains. But other places, even cities, have murmurations of starlings making far better entertainment than anything on a screen. Maybe there’s one near you. (Look here)

Let’s enjoy these Autumnal decorations a whole lot longer before considering those glittery ones big businesses are trying to con us into believing we need to start buying now to spread the cost.

I won’t be hoodwinked whatever the season.

For there is the view that if the cost requires spreading we perhaps should consider whether it’s a cost that’s essential at all. Or whether there are more ecologically sound and fulfilling ways of creating a decorated home and a festive bounteous time to come in December.

And get out and about in Autumn first and learn how she does it!

Challenging the addiction to getting

Is it just me or is there far too much emphasis on ‘getting’ in our culture?

So many aspects of our lives are bombarded with images of getting. Getting more. Getting bigger. Getting newer. Getting updated. Getting thinner. Getting the games. Getting beauty. Getting better than the next man.

If we’re not careful, even our parenting can be occupied with getting. The educational system certainly is.

It perpetuates the ‘getting’ doctrine. Get grades, get results, get higher than your peers, get further up the tables. Get better degrees or more degrees to get more wages to get more stuff. Adverts tell us that more stuff for our kids makes us better parents. Getting more grades makes a better education.

Does it? Rubbish!

Getting is addictive. Are we leading our children towards this addictive way of life? Towards a way of feeling that as soon as the quick fix from the latest thing you’ve got wears off you have to get another one. Towards feeling that we’re not as good as others if we haven’t got the latest, newest update that others have.

This way of life is a self-perpetuated treadmill driven by big industry and the politics that supports it, also perpetuated in our schools.

Schools threaten pupils with having no life without getting the grades. But that’s political, not personal about the student; the reality is that without the pupils getting the grades the schools don’t get themselves higher up the league tables and get the rewards they’re after. They never mention the fact that people can and do lead happy successful lives even without getting, by progressing through life in different ways.

One of the dangers of this getting is that it pulls us away from being good and being giving.

It would be nice to have a cultural shift away from a getting style of parenting and education, away from a getting style of learning, to a style more filled with giving.

Giving attention. Giving time. Giving respect. Giving inspiration experiences. Giving love.

Those are the things that children need both for their well being and for their education.

You can’t ‘get’ education any more than you can ‘get’ goodness. Both those things can only ever be developed in themselves. And if you’re not educated in goodness you’re not educated at all because goodness is a quality of intelligence that goes hand in hand with an educated person.

A life that is joyful and good is a life that is full of warm loving relationships, also part of a rounded educated person.

You cannot get those you can only grow them. A ‘getting’ approach won’t help. Being a warm, giving human being will.

My dream is for the emphasis in our culture to change from getting to giving, for education to change from getting to growing. Growing warm, loving human beings with a sensitive intelligence that is of value to each other and the wider world.

That’s a priority with education and parenting surely?

Drawing your children’s attention….

leaf pic 002

Pen and wash drawing

Are you cursing the leaves on the garden and pavements or enjoying them? Maybe you’re collecting them and having leaf fights with the kids. Or perhaps leaf printing or making collage.

I’m a sucker for the bright red ones, keeping and pressing them. I get so many I don’t know what to do with them.

Once, I actually stopped messing about with them and really looked – hence the drawing.

There’s nothing like doing a drawing to make you stop and observe the world. Which is one of the reasons for The Big Draw – a campaign to encourage children to get busy with their pencils, or any kind of media they like really, and draw.

The organisers behind The Big Draw say that “drawing helps us to understand the world…” an essential part of any education.

Education is about observing, learning about and understanding the world around us and how we are to relate to it. Drawing is one way of making that observation. You don’t have to make your drawing look like the real thing – just interpret it your way. But it makes you stop and look and think.

It is also a part of the whole creative process and another aspect of education which gets neglected in favour of the more measurable ones – like maths for example. And the snobbish hierarchy of subjects puts creative ones right down at the bottom of the pile, as if they weren’t important.

Big mistake!

Creativity is imperative for our growth, intelligence and education. Read this post where I’ve blogged about it before and you’ll see what I mean.

I’m not the only one who thinks so; an article in The Huffington Post suggests that more employers are looking for creative skills in their employees, skills which enable them to think in diverse ways, find creative solutions and come up with new innovative ideas. Innovative ideas are the foundation of our progress – in all its forms.

And all forms of creativity need nurturing during the educational process, whether that’s through drawing or making or just inventing things to do with collected leaves! So I hope you’re getting some in with the children every day.

And I’d love to know what creative pursuit you’ve been involved with today, if you felt like leaving a comment!

Schooling our kids out of learning

There was a bright little pre-schooler running through the town the other day. She was on an adventure away from mum. She stopped suddenly, turned round and realised there was an awful lot of people who weren’t mum. Her face dropped.

Mum, ever watchful, called out to her and she went running back happily. Despite that slight panic at mum being momentarily out of sight, she didn’t hesitate to go off and explore again. After all, there’s such an intriguing amount to learn – about everything, why would she not?

Twelve years later and learning doesn’t look so appealing. In fact most of her inclination to learn has been switched off, like for many young people.

What happened?

My theory is that schooling happens.

What happens is that we corral our wonderfully idiosyncratic and diverse children into institutions which enforce comparison and competition in their most destructive forms, judge them by a narrow set of margins only a particular few could hope to excel at, lead them to believe that anything else they might be good at is unimportant, stress them witless by endless irrelevant testing, and expect them to develop emotionally, socially, intellectually and personally within that unfortunate climate.

It has always seemed a bit ludicrous to me.

This schooling of our children is putting them off education and learning. Education of their whole being, of their diverse potential, individual talents, and original personalities, all of which are essential to the longevity of our world.

Instead we are chiselling them down into one set of talents, one way of thinking and performing, measurable by a narrow set of definitions, invented by politicians who are ignorant of education, out to impress those parents only interested only in social stature or getting the kids off their hands.

Harsh words maybe, but how many politicians know about the world outside their elite existence – let alone what’s useful for survival in it? And I’ve come across many parents who only want scores and grades for their own adult gain, or their kids minded; there are relatively few who’ve actually thought it through and reached an understanding about what’s good for their individual developmentally.

Childminding aside, the fallacy that most believe is that kids need teachers, tests and schools to learn, develop and progress towards a fulfilling and productive life.

But in reality they don’t, as many successfully home educating families are proving.

What they need instead is to be happy, confident, interested, curious and motivated like the little girl running through the precinct. With those traits kids move themselves forward into work and life successfully, but there’s only a relative few who come out of schooling with those personal attributes intact.

And you have to define success.

Some would define a successful education from a consumerist point of view as the getting of lots of ‘good’ grades.

I wouldn’t. In fact, it’s hard to define education at all because any definition would suggest it is finite and it isn’t, it is ongoing and doesn’t have an end.

My definition of a successful education would be so interlinked with what I consider a successful life to be which has nothing to do with getting anything, grades or otherwise.

It is more to do with a practice of living that is happy and mindful and content for the most part, full of warm loving relationships, fulfilled through purposeful work, independent and responsible and that continues to build and grow and improve as we learn and educate ourselves. It’s something with encouragement young people could do for themselves – if they haven’t been put off.

Education, like life, should not be something our children have to endure till it ends so they can get on with real life, as many feel it is.

It should be an integrated part of their real lives from day one, ongoing and always accessible. It should inspire. It should be something youngsters are gagging to involve themselves in not playing truant from. And something that serves our needs as humans to develop creatively, personally and emotionally as well as intellectually. And finally, something that we should be brave enough to accept is not actually measurable as such, yet is still wonderfully successful.

Roll on the day….

Is school really educating?

When you’ve been through school yourself and it was a successful experience you’d probably never think about it?002

And some people prefer to be silently led and feel part of an institution without challenging traditions, or ‘being difficult’ as it’s sometimes labelled!

I think I must be one of the ‘difficult’ ones. Because I’ve suspected from the outset that school doesn’t really educate as we need it too. In fact it inhibits the kind of thinking required for us to develop and progress.

Thankfully I’m no longer alone in those thoughts. And it’s really wonderful to find others who think, like I and other home educating parents do, that school is beginning to look more and more like a farming process for the benefit of the institution – and politics – than it is about the education of individuals.

Ken Robinson is another of those who also challenges this cloning of our children and their diverse talents, increasingly neglected in the laboratory of controlled experiences for a narrow set of outcomes, as schooling has become. (Find him here)

He talks about schooling in his book ‘The Element How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything’ and how he feels it is outdated. He raises three key issues.

Firstly, he says that schools are preoccupied with specific academic ability rather than the broader intelligences that each human being is capable of. So school can become a narrowing experience rather than an developmental one.

Secondly, he says that the hierarchy of subjects, with maths, sciences and language skills at the top, humanities in the middle and arts at the bottom, neglects the fact that it is diverse thinking developed through creative practises which help the world progress and which are at the forefront of human progress (like the Net for example). So we desperately need the creative subjects that are becoming squeezed out along with the more physical and practical.

And thirdly, the obsession with particular types of assessment, via a narrow range of standardised tests, negates the developmental progress of an individual and essential creativity of thinking.

The result is a narrowing of intelligence, capacity and talent, rather than a broadening of it, and a complete dismissal of all the more human elements like relationships, character, emotions and expression, which are an essential part of our intelligent growth.

He goes on to explain how ‘getting back to basis’ is far from a good thing because we need new ‘basics’ for our new world.

We basically need new thinking, both educational and personal, for our new world. But schools are not supporting that need as their goals and targets become narrow and political.

It makes for fascinating reading. And I applaud his ideas; it’s so comforting to find others thinking the same.

So if you’ve never looked at schooling like this before his book will ignite some exciting thinking! Excited thinking being exactly what we need to help the world progress.