Tag Archive | education

A successful alternative to school

Just reposting a few points about home education for those who might be considering this option.

-          Contrary to what many parents believe learning can occur in a myriad of different ways not just the way they do it in school. Through home schooling you can successfully use those alternatives.

-          Home educated children achieve good grades like other children do. They go to university, college, or into work like other children do. Their academic, social and personal skills are reputed to be in front of those of their school peers.

-          Home educated children are not isolated. Most interact with a wide range of people, in a wide range of places, doing a broad range of activities. Some have far more life experience than those children in school. Most have mature social skills.

-          Thousands of families turn to home education because schools fail to provide for their children’s needs, both academic and personal. In some cases this has been a life line for children who’ve suffered in school the kind of abuse that just would not be tolerated by adults in a workplace. Home educators are the parents who take initiative to do something about their children’s suffering rather than just ignoring it.

-          Some parents never send their child to school right from the outset. Others opt to home school because their child didn’t get a place in the school of their choice.

-          Children who have been written off by the educational system or labelled as having ‘learning difficulties’ or ‘special needs’, for example, have gone on to achieve a good academic standard through home education. Learning differences do not need to become learning difficulties.

-          Home educating families are as ordinary as any other families who have the same ordinary aspirations for their children to achieve and be happy. They come from all ranges of the social, educational, financial and cultural backgrounds that make up our society.

-          Children can learn in a multitude of different ways, not just in the prescriptive style of the educational system. Home educating gives children the opportunity to learn in the way that suits them best, increasing their chances of success. This doesn’t necessarily mean academic cramming. It means acknowledgement of the myriad of alternative approaches, experiential and practical, there are to learning, time use, activities, to opportunities, qualifications, to becoming educated.

-          Children do not need to be continually tested in order to learn.

-          Much valuable teacher time is wasted in schools with objectives and targets and tick sheets and such like admin which is of no value to the child. Children at home get one-to-one help and your time is your own to organise.

-          There is plenty of opportunity for different pursuits, interests and sports because you can achieve and learn much more quickly in a home environment. This results in well rounded children with multiple skills and interests.

-          There need by no more cost involved than with schooling. Ideas, printables, learning resources and support are readily available online.

-          Your child never, ever, needs to suffer bullying or abuse of any kind, physical, mental or emotional.

Search round this site for lots more. And if you want to read a story of how home education really works try my book ‘A Funny Kind of Education’. It’s great for a giggle too!

Missed my chance…

Well I completely messed up on the radio this morning.

I’d been asked to contribute a little on home education on Radio Berkshire this morning. Instead of using the opportunity to tell people about the wonderful opportunity to raise your children in an inspiring educative way, which home schooling is, I went all reactionary to the suggestion that we couldn’t be as professional. I suggested some of what went on in schools wasn’t professional either. I expect hate mail now!

And I’m kicking myself over the missed opportunity to tell people what a positive and uplifting experience home education is. How you can show your children the world, starting with the one on your doorstep, how it works, what’s in it, how they fit into it, the wonders of its quirks and systems, life and beings, its history, science and geography and how you can expand the children’s knowledge and skills out from there.

Okay, so you may well want to start with the school style approach we’re all familiar with through our own schooling, using academic exercises, workbooks, courses and programmes. But as you begin to explore resources and approaches, mix with others who are successfully home educating, see how they do it, you’ll begin to realise that everything is potentially educative and the world becomes your learning ground.

Your children’s education can be that broad. How amazing is that!

That’s what I really wanted to say!

So if you’re visiting here following that programme, looking for a bigger picture of home education, explore my site and stories and check out the list of other home educating family blogs listed here, as they give a far better and realistic picture of home education than I’m able to on the radio!

And you’ll be able to read all about the things I neglected to say!

Mud walls and exhibitions

In our garage there was a little ship and other models, some Lego and K’nex constructions, some pottery, lots of paintings and drawings, some hand-made jewellery and sewing, other craftwork, and the word ‘welcome’ chalked across the entrance.

This was for our ‘Gallery’; an idea we had for one of the get-togethers for home educating families we held at our house. It was to collect together all the things the children in our group had made recently and display them in an ‘exhibition’.

If your children were anything like ours you can end up with masses of things they’ve made and constructed and children love showing each other. Seeing other people’s work is such a great way to stimulate them, and copying ideas the highest form of compliment! We made many trips to other galleries and exhibitions so I thought; ‘why not have one of our own?’

It was a great day. Weather was kind. ‘Oooos’ and ‘ahhhs’ floated around and the children were really interested. They love to show their creations beyond their usual family circle, that’s if your family circle is open-hearted enough to support your home education. I know some aren’t! So support from those who get what you’re doing is especially welcome when you may not have lots of other opportunities to show and tell.

Another aspect to this is the fact that making things is such valuable educational practise; it teaches all sorts of skills that aid children’s learning in ways you might not think. Reasoning and problem solving skills, hand-eye skills, research, use of tools, patience and achievement, motivation and independence. These in turn help academic achievement. And creativity develops the ability to think things out and be resourceful – both valuable life skills. We allowed no end of time for the children to exercise their minds and be creative.

At one point in our Home Ed lives there was a rocket taller than the girls were at that time, body sized paintings, and a roundhouse we were attempting to construct in the garden with whatever we had to hand as an exercise in learning about history, local resources, building materials etc, etc. Our youngest was dying to get to the stage where the walls were plastered in mud. Although we decided against using cow dung as part of the mixture so it wasn’t going to be entirely authentic!

It does get to the point where you have to demolish some of these creations otherwise you’d have to move house, so we started a photographic record of them, dated, and I still have those folders full of all the wonderful things the children made.

But I was just reminded about that exhibition today because I’m going off to Uni to see an exhibition of second year students’ work. And that little girl who wanted to make mud walls is one of them!

Forget testing – start trusting!

Why does my heart sink every time I read another report on testing our kids?

Read the latest in the Telegraph here.

It sinks because testing doesn’t do much good but can do a world of harm:

-          Because educating for results, which inevitably happens, is disruptive, destructive and not about the broad world of learning at all.

-          Because although it’s supposed to be a way of making adults accountable and improve, it inevitably reflects back on the children usually in coercive and unpleasant ways.

-          Because it pollutes the whole purpose and process of education which is about ongoing individual development, not chasing short term outcomes.

-          Because it creates labels – usually inaccurate ones – about the ability of a child which can entrap them for life.

-          Because the need to measure and have statistics is an adult obsession which only fulfils parental and political objectives and is of no value to a child.

-          Because every character and personality, every genetic and environmental influence is different in every child, but tests test as if these were all the same.

-          Because testing doesn’t make children cleverer or more educated, it puts them off and wastes their time.

-          Because it makes a farce of education, turning it into a grade grabbing race that leaves too many failures in its wake, rather than being an uplifting process and approach to life – for all – that carries on throughout life.

-          Because it assumes every child is the same and will grow in the same way in the same time and same climate which is totally wrong. Children are all very different and change radically as they grow.

Think about growing plants – the educational process has often been compared to that. When we set plants we know different ones need different approaches; different soil – sandy or peat, acid or alkaline, they need different climates – warm or cool, light or shade, open or protected. And however much you go out there with your ruler and measure how much your plant has grown, it’s not going to make one little tiny bit of difference whether that plant will thrive or not!

Same with education. As the famous educationalist John Holt said; nobody grew any taller for being measured.

Raising and educating children is a long and unpredictable process that is at the mercy of all sorts of intangibles; everything changes constantly as it happens. We cannot control it most of the time. We can just make it the best we can as we go along.

Constantly measuring it will not help the process one bit, but it will certainly hamper it through focus on outcomes which are outside the child, rather than focussing on the needs that are within.

What we need to do is trust, review our approaches and our parenting constantly, create a climate that is warm and encouraging, stimulating and supportive and our children will grow and become educated. Constant testing and measuring, and the unpleasant outcomes that result from it, are not necessary. They are not to do with the child, but are to do with our own adult failings.

We should sort out our adult inadequacies and have more respect and faith in our children than that!

Pedalling away the problems

I’ve dashed out on my bike. This charges both my limbs and my thought processes. Because it’s not only my legs that become flat and flaccid sitting under the laptop it’s also my mind! charleys photo wkend spring14 008

I only get half a mile down the lane and I have to stop, not from breathlessness – thankfully I’m more fit than that – but because the problems that were stuck under mind-flab when I was indoors come thick and fast. I have to dump bike down and whip out notebook or phone whichever I’ve remembered and make notes.

It happens like this so often.

I’m not surprised; increasing evidence illustrates how physical activity boosts mental activity and well-being.  It also increases mental productivity by stimulating the brain with blood flow. Which is why it’s so worrying that kids are kept in classrooms and in front of screens doing sedentary activities or chasing grades, with decreasing physical activity, turning to gaming to deactivate the stress, which actually can exacerbate it! Seems like a potential explosion of emotional and mental health issues to me. Never mind adding to obesity and poor heart health.

When we were home educating my two cherubs got whisked out regularly. It wasn’t always nice weather. It wasn’t always nicely received! There was often reluctance, sulking, sighing. (Some of that might have been from me)! But it always changed the moods, it charged minds and calmed emotions. Mine and the children’s.

Sometimes it was just a local walk. Sometimes a visit out with others. Sometimes going to the pool, the park or a bike ride. Occasional bribes were used – on myself too. (I like to think of them as rewards)! But I considered it an essential part of our learning routine, our education, and our overall physical and mental health. No education is complete, surely, without learning about ourselves.

And I also considered that it was essential to set that example. If my own well-being mattered to me they could see it was important and worth including in the way they lived their lives. It carries on now.

I know some parents are as reluctant to get moving and get outdoors as their kids are when the weather’s rubbish and the Xbox lures. Some parents lack the confidence to just get up and go outside, especially lacking confidence in exercise. But physical activity doesn’t have to mean gruelling practises in figure hugging Lycra which make you look gross and grunt for breath. Getting out for a walk right now, in whatever you’re wearing, counts just as much. And the beauty of it is; the more you do the more confidence it builds. In you. In the children. What better could you be giving them than that?

As parents we have to set an example. This influences kids far more than anything we could say. Demonstration is the most powerful way of teaching, inspiring and motivating youngsters. We have to live the way we want them to live. Making physical activity as normal a part of our daily living as putting our socks on will give them a way of building their mental and physical well-being for life. It shows how to look after yourself, how they can look after themselves, take responsibility and take charge of it. And is as important as teaching them maths english or science.

In fact it is science, as usually the walk is interrupted for observation of our fascinating world. You can certainly discuss it as you go along – even if you’re puffing. In fact, you’ll be doing more good if you’re puffing.

So, better get back to the pedalling!

The return of a Home Ed moment

I didn’t get out that much as planned, but I did have a little Home Ed moment this weekend!

charleys photo wkend spring14 017My youngest popped back from Uni to do some more photography shoots and I got dragged out onto the marshes as tripod caddy. I say dragged – I love it really, even if the wind was so strong we could hardly stand up let alone keep the tripod still.

Doing this kind of stuff again reinstates the kind of energy and awe you can lose when you think you’ve seen it all before. You won’t have – there’s always new stuff to discover.

I was just as excited – still – by the acres of space and sky and landscape now seen through a photographer’s eyes. Just as excited to try and identify all kinds of bits and bones, and which creature they came from, that were extracted from the owl pellet we found. Excited to investigate the strandline and pounce on the treasures in it. charleys photo wkend spring14 010

Maybe not so excited by the stink of the dead things brought home for further study. But if you want to know about the world you have to explore the world, even the bits we are conditioned to recoil from. They’re sometimes the more interesting for being previously disregarded, but you have to retain an open mind.

Parenting from the point of ‘don’t touch’ or ‘don’t do that you’ll get dirty’ or ‘that’s disgusting, leave it alone’ was never my style.

Obviously some things don’t need to be touched, sometimes you need your children not to get dirty, and they can at times be disgusting!

But too often we stop kids from discovering their world out of habit or convention or saying what we’ve heard others say (our own parents) without thinking.

Most things need exploring and investigating, certainly explaining, however unappealing. How else do we get to understand our world and the things around us? This is the foundation of science, how all great scientists make their discoveries, by wondering about stuff. Messing in it if necessary. Asking questions, trying things out, getting it wrong but understanding it better because of it.

For example the programme Springwatch often investigates ‘signs of life’, poo included, to help us further our understanding of the natural world!

And as another Home Ed friend said to me recently; children are natural scientists, they are inquisitive and curious. We have to encourage that all we can.

When education gives children the chance to do these things, not only does it enhance and develop their learning practises, it also maintains their interest and awe in learning. And it’s that interest and awe, their sense of investigation and excitement about the world and its potential, that keeps their motivation to learn going far more effectively than any academic means. Thus a learning way of life is created that progresses and grows as they do. Education and life become so intermingled it becomes a way of living, living an educative life, just because they love it.

Just like we were doing this weekend.

Another act of kindness

My last blog before the weekend Random was a bit sentimental; this could be the same. But it starts with suspicion.

I reckon we’ve grown to be a suspicious lot – is that a trait of society or circumstance? Whatever; suspicion was my first reaction to a weird comment on my blog the other day that was completely off topic – I do get them occasionally from Randoms looking to further their own popularity.

It roughly read; Hi Ma’m, I’ve found the passport of Chelsea Mountney at Paddington station and would like to return it…..and it went on to say that if we’d like to contact him he’d make arrangements to return it.

At first I thought it was some kind of new spam or stalking and was dubious about contact. I didn’t even know my daughter had lost her passport. But then I remembered her stressy text from Paddington earlier about how she’d had to race through the station nearly missing her train.


Could it really be that a complete stranger had picked it up, gone to the trouble of googling to track us down, and would put himself out enough to return it? I rang my daughter who was doing some filming in London that day. She was shocked at what I told her as she hadn’t missed it yet. But she checked – it was gone from her bag.

Several texts with this complete stranger later proved it to be genuine. Mine were full of gratitude and thanks for the trouble taken. He sounded surprised at that and said that where he came from honesty was taught from birth!


He’d obviously looked round my site too and in further texts expressed his admiration for home schooling. He also said that as parents we all have the chance to raise our children with this sort of kindness and honesty and thus a chance to change society!

I felt moved by his trouble and kindness all day. And maybe a little ashamed of my earlier suspicions. And wondered; are we all suspicious because it is so rare to experience or express this sort of random kindness?

Perhaps because of media coverage we are scare mongered into being more wary than openhearted. Maybe in our desperation to protect our children from stranger danger we have sacrificed the idea of being helpful to each other. Maybe, despite the wonders of our global communication through the Net, it has also made us too anxious to consider kindness.

Perhaps we have to get a little braver.

There are some lovely sites about Random Acts of Kindness which are incredibly uplifting to read. http://www.randomactsofkindnessuk.co.uk/home.php http://www.randomactsofkindness.org/ 

And I felt uplifted by the kindness shown to us. Am going to make sure I pass it on.

And that’s what I hope this story will do. Plus offering a reminder that while we are raising our children to be wise about the contacts they have with the wider world, we also need to teach them to be kind. Talk to them. And make sure we are kind every day to each other – even to strangers. Because if kindness is what you’re teaching it will change the entire focus and feel of what you do not just for today but for the tomorrows too.

And the passport? It arrived by post just two days later as promised.

Frustrating teaching and listening to our kids

Frustrated doesn’t really describe it! My friend is seething.

That’s because she’s spent some tedious hours stuck listening to a guy who is supposed to be delivering a course on computers for business. Instead he’s been indulging in the sound of his own voice, his own anecdotes and his own ego.

“Now I know how the kids in school feel,” she ranted. “It’s hell being stuck listening to someone who is not sticking to the subject and waffling on about pointless trivia that’s off topic; it’s driven me nuts. I haven’t learnt anything new.”

I bet it drives children nuts too – although they of course are not allowed to have an opinion on such things!

What made it worse was that she’d had a taste of how it could be. Part of the course was delivered by a brilliant tutor, who was right on topic throughout, who didn’t fill time with irrelevant tangents and selling himself, who responded to the learners requirements.

“But today’s guy today was gruesome!” She went on.

“He kept asking patronising questions for something he already had answers for, making us kind of guess when I wanted to shout ‘just give us the bloody information’. He didn’t seem to be aware of our irritation or whether we were getting a good experience from him, he was so in love with his own agenda. I have complete sympathy with the kids in school. Why should they put up with idiots like him?”

Why indeed! It also struck me as I listened that most of us are prepared to listen to an adult friend ranting about a tutor on an adult learning course, yet we’re not prepared to take seriously the fact that some kids are enduring the same thing.

The thing about qualifying teachers is this; getting a degree doesn’t make you a good one.

A good one starts with a good person. A person who cares about learners more than themselves – this guy didn’t seem to. A person who can give up their own ego for their learners’ needs – this guy didn’t do that either. Who can identify needs which are different from their own, who can put themselves in others’ shoes, who are empathetic towards others’ lack of knowledge rather than patronising. And who understand that they are there for the learners, not for their own glory.

But how do you qualify for that? It’s less about academics and more about being human.

Her final remark on the subject:

“I think every teacher should be made to sit through the same teaching as the kids do on a regular basis and see how mind-numbing some of it is. Just imagine enduring that day after day for ten years.”

Yea – just imagine! Imagine what some kids go through in schools. I know we have many brilliant and inspiring teachers doing a very tough job and much of what they’re required to deliver is already boring and not their fault. They’re at the mercy of the system both training wise and in classrooms. But kids know who can make good of it – or not!

And I find it hard to understand why parents expect their children to tolerate it and don’t credit them with knowing which are which.

For, just like my friend, they usually do!

Catching up with what Home Educators already know…

Goodness gracious me! Are schools going to finally catch up with the thinking of home educators?

Here’s a report on the BBC website http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-26118581 making statements about children’s education and schooling which are amazingly similar to the beliefs of many home educating parents that; ‘there’s more to good education than exam results’.

Yay! At last – people are beginning to catch on to an idea that many home schooling parents have known for years!

The main point of the report suggests that educational focus should move away from concentration purely on academic results and include ‘personal development’.

Surely, this was always what education was about anyway!

The snag is that they want to build ‘character and resilience’ into the educational system which sounds decidedly worrying. What are they going to do? Start testing character? Will there then be a GCSE in character building?

Goodness gracious me!

That worry aside it looks like thinking is going in the right direction. Christine Blower, secretary of the National Union of Teachers also quoted in the article says that; education was “about skills and knowledge transmission, but also about personal development all round”.

“It remains the case, however, that the present curriculum and high-stakes testing are far too rigid,” she said.

“The personal development of pupils is very important. This will not be achieved unless the obsession with testing and targets ends.”

I think if there’s one overall reason why increasing numbers of parents are turning to home education it’s because they are concerned for personal development and worried about the destructive obsession with tests and silly objectives.

Because the most important point is that if you take care of the personal development of a child, high achievement is often what follows – naturally.

It works like this; if a person is taken care of, if they feel they matter, if they are given the respect of choice, if they are encouraged, stimulated and inspired, if they have the chance to explore and investigate life, to learn about and experiment in life, then they begin to see how achievement has value and begin to take it on for themselves.

Most children want to be grown up, want the skills grown ups have, want to follow their grown up mentors out into the world of work and pay and play and achievement. That’s all the motivation they need to develop and achieve. Just give them a good example and they’ll normally follow. As long as they are developed enough personally, in character, socially, intellectually (and that doesn’t have to mean academically).

It’s the personal bit that comes first.

Home educating parents pay attention to that personal development through the care, respect, stimulation and interaction they have with their children. That’s all it takes really. And they are breaking new ground in approaching the education of their young through this personalised approach and creating educational successes.

I wonder if one day the schools (or rather the politicians) will turn to them to understand better just how this is achieved!

Re-educating the so-called educated

I’ve been writing about home education for several years now and I was hoping attitudes were changing. But from what I hear on the forums I’m not so sure. So I’m re-posting this in the hope we might stop unjust accusations and re-educate those uneducated about the world of other learning approaches!

….As home educators you get accused of a lot of things:

-          You get accused of tying your children to your apron strings and being unable to let them go.

-          You get accused of narrowing their education to the confines of your home.

-          You get accused of wanting to molly coddle them instead of allowing them to acclimatise to the rough and tumble of the ‘real’ world.

-          You get accused of both academically cramming your children to make them brighter than other kids and the opposite of totally neglecting their education.

-          You get accused of being weird and alternative.

-          And the worst thing of all; you get accused of being a parent who does not care about education since you don’t send your child to school.

What is so galling about these accusations is that firstly, in the case of most home educating families, the exact opposites are true. And secondly and even more irritating, they are usually made by people who have no first hand experience of home education and who speak in complete ignorance! Often in fear of having their own institutionalised ideas challenged.

Far from tying the kids to their apron skins most home educating parents are giving their children an opportunity to be out in the ‘real’ world. The real ‘real’ world that is, not the artificial world of school.

Far from narrowing education, home educating extends the child’s experiences far beyond the home and the world becomes their learning environment, gaining them an understanding of how the world works and how they fit into it unlike the cloistered world of a classroom. And far from molly coddling them, home educated children are exposed to a wide range of people and a wide range of experiences more extensive than school ones.

As for academically cramming or neglecting their education; most home educating families strive to achieve a far better balance in their educational provision than that which a child would normally achieve within the restrictions of the national curriculum. A balance between first hand learning and study, a balance between passive learning and active engagement, a balance between physical activities, arts, sciences, field trips, experimentation, personal development, investigation, creative innovation, intellectual stimulation and a social diversity which extends way beyond that which they would receive going to the same school with the same bunch of people, day after day, year after year.

And far from being weird and alternative we are actually very ordinary parents who want the same simple things every parent wants for their children; their health and happiness, continued development and achievement, and realisation of their individual potential.

Finally, as for being neglectful of their education; we are totally and one hundred percent committed to it. Why else would any parent take such a mammoth step and heart pumping responsibility?

If there is one thing I hunger to achieve with these writings here it would be to open closed minds. To invite people to do a little personal learning themselves, step beyond their normal conditioned ideas and seek to understand that there are many, many approaches to education and learning that are as equally successful as the one that’s familiar through schooling.

And to show a little tolerance and compassion towards those people who would make different choices to their own.