There really are times when you can take your enthusiasm for home educating and showing your kids the world too far! Decapitating a dead seal found on the shoreline, for scientific and creative purposes, was maybe one of them – her idea not mine!
I was reminded of this abnormal fetish of mine by an art and culture magazine the girls had (Frankie) because it had some colouring in for grown-ups drawn by artists.
You wouldn’t think anything so innocuous would stir me up, but then I was always a bit averse to doing what I was expected to do – like colour in between the lines. I can’t even write on lined paper now because the inhibition of it irritates me so!
I used to love colouring books as a kid. There’s just something so desirable about them isn’t there? But my rather artisan parents frowned on them by saying I ought to be making my own pictures rather than colouring in other people’s so my enthusiasm waned a bit. Can’t parental principles be irksome? I tried hard to be careful with mine.
And my kids did have colouring books – they liked them too. And they have a value in helping children to practise specific skills (e.g. hand-eye co-ordination and manipulation of tools needed for writing) and inspire ideas of their own. Like with all things in life there is a value to using structure when needed…as long as you have a go at the alternatives too.
For my folks did have a point in suggesting that we break out of those structured boundaries at other times. And it helps for our children to know that especially when their lives are so controlled all the time.
The colouring books are just my example of how conditioned we are to always stay within pre-set boundaries, forgetting that we can actually do differently when it serves us better. We do not always have to stay within the limits, structures, rules and routines that other people adhere to.
Other people do so because it serves them well. Or they’ve never thought about it or discovered there are options! But sometimes we go on and on in life sticking to ideas or rules or institutions simply out of habit or compliance not realising they don’t always serve us well as individuals,
Readers of this blog will know that our family decided to give up on the institution of school because it wasn’t serving our kids well and home educated. That’s one example of an alternative. But there are less dramatic alternatives we can choose every day if we just remember this simple idea; we don’t have to always stay between the lines – whether that’s in colouring books, or what’s trending on Facebook, or in life!
With the influence of social media we’ll need to be particularly vigilant in making personal decisions about how we want to lead our lives and the ideas we really believe in.
I have a super quote to remind me of this: When a man has once broken through the paper walls of everyday circumstance, those unsubstantial walls that hold so many of us securely prisoned from the cradle to the grave, he has made a discovery. If the world does not please you, you can change it. (From ‘The History of Mr. Polly’ by H.G Wells)
Whatever you’re doing today, don’t let any ‘paper walls’ hold you back.
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!
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.
There are increasing numbers of families now choosing to home educate. I’m not surprised; schooling is becoming so deeply sullied by politics it’s losing sight of the children. Home educating is a great way of rectifying that.
I notice from the home education forums that the same concerns pop up again and again. So I rummaged around in my archives to help answer them.
Here are five common threads:
1) You’re afraid you wouldn’t know what to do learning wise.
2) You think you couldn’t teach them because kids need qualified teachers to learn anything.
3) You worry your kids will have no friends and be isolated.
4) You don’t know how you’d cope with the kids at home all the time.
5) You worry about the future.
Looking at those individually, here are some answers that may put your mind at rest.
1) Learning wise you easily find out what to do. Information and support is readily available.There are home school networks to tap into, both through forums and groups meets.You can find answers to just about anything online. Walk into any bookshop and there are masses of workbooks which support the National Curriculum, but children learn all the time from daily life activities. There are also distance learning organisations which have complete, tutor supported courses which can take a learner right through to an exam if you wish. Where once it was just the domain of schools, the internet makes learning available to all.
2) Very few people know this but qualified teachers don’t know all there is to know. They look it up too. Some of them are also poor at teaching what they know even though they’re qualified. Children don’t necessarily need qualified people to learn with. They need caring, supportive, encouraging people. And as many of us have experienced, not every teacher could be described as that. So you may do better at helping your child learn than their teacher does. And in our information rich society, your role is more to encourage your child to learn, enable their learning, than it is to ‘teach’ facts. Anyone can find out facts. Not everyone can inspire. Not even many ‘qualified’ teachers! And as schools are increasingly turning to ‘independent learning’ where children are using tablets and laptops in class there is less and less teacher interaction anyway.
3) The friends issue? We met many home educating families. There wasn’t an isolated or friendless child among them. Forums, websites, social networking, have expanded the home educating community. Schools do not have monopoly on friendships; they’re not necessarily the best place to form them either. Or build social skills. Children learn social skills from a high proportion of adults in an un-threatening climate. And no one need home school in isolation. We had so much interaction with others, both social and educational, that we sometimes had to stay at home just to get some work done!
4) Just because the kids are at home full time doesn’t mean you never get a minute without them. You manage it so you respect each others’ space. You time swap with others. You build in separate working times. You get out the house loads. (More education goes on out the house than in it, despite the myth you’re tied to the house!) And when you take away the conflict school sometimes causes you’ll grow a different relationship with your children. Despite myths surrounding home education, it tends to make them more independent and more able to occupy themselves without attention.
5) And finally; the future. Don’t you worry about their future in school? Everything always changes so rapidly. Nothing is guaranteed even when the children are in school. Opting to home educate doesn’t mean you do it for life. The best way to take care of the future is to make each day a good day with the children and all those days pieced together will make a good learning life. A good learning life will enable the children to enjoy education and make it part of their lives forever. As it should be. Education is for life, not just for schools. Home educating makes it even more so.
Put aside conventional workbooks with tedious academic exercises. Forget paper practise of English and Maths; those skills will grow with your child’s natural experience and exploration and real, relevant use.
Forget tests and check sheets and useless predictions based upon them. You can never accurately predict outcomes because with kids – you never know what’s going to happen. They are all different, grow differently from predicable, and all their personalities will develop in different ways. Obvious really, so why try and confine them in predictions – there is no ‘should’ when it comes to personality development. Or therefore educational development because it depends on it.
Forget the National Curriculum. It inhibits learning as much as informs it; make the list on page 5 of this book your curriculum instead. (See it on Amazon in ‘Look inside’) But do invest – it’s worth it! For you as well as the kids – it’ll open your mind to new ways of seeing! New ways of learning.
And it will fire your kids up to explore their world. To observe, document and investigate – as it says. To analyse and interpret and research. To consider, discuss and communicate with it. Because the world is what education is fundamentally about. And these are some of the essential skills needed to understand it.
This way your children will learn about their world and be inspired by it. And this is all the natural motivation they will need to progress into it in meaningful and productive ways, find their own place in it through meaningful and productive activities. And move towards meaningful, happy lives.
Forget curriculum and ‘workbooks’ and get exploring instead!
And thank you to Keri Smith for a fabulous book!
This is how the authors (Drs. Brock and Fernette Eide ) of the book ‘The Dyslexic Advantage’ present dyslexia. They’ve written a fascinating book based on the view of dyslexia not as a ‘disability’ or ‘learning difficulty’ that has to be corrected, but instead as a way the dyslexic brain has of functioning which gives dyslexics special talents.
In their introduction they explain their refreshing view; ‘There are two big differences between the traditional view of dyslexia and the one we’ll present in this book. First, we don’t see the reading, spelling, or other academic challenges associated with dyslexia as the result of a “disorder” or a “disease”. Instead, we see these challenges as arising from a different pattern of brain organisation – one whose chief aim is to predispose dyslexic individuals to the development of valuable skills…
Second, unlike most books on dyslexia this book won’t focus solely on making individuals with dyslexia into better readers. Instead it will focus on helping them become better at “being dyslexic”…dyslexic brains aren’t supposed to be like everyone else’s…Our goal is to help individuals…enjoy the full range of benefits that come from the dyslexic brain’.
Having come across dyslexic children in school settings I know what a handicap it can be when their learning is heavily based on the ability to deal with the written word.
But as parents who home educate begin to discover there are so many other ways to approach learning, e.g. experientially, or through image based learning (think films, documentaries or YouTube). And dyslexic children don’t have to be seen handicapped – it is perhaps our approach that is handicapped by our lack of providing for individual needs. Home educated children who are dyslexic have gone onto achieve as well as other children do.
If your child is bright and well functioning and intelligent in all areas non-reading related, yet seem to find it difficult to pick up reading as easily as you’d imagine, you might like to find out a little more about dyslexia. You could start with the British Dyslexia Association, Dyslexia Action or the Dyslexia Association
And this book is certainly worth exploring.
How lucky am I? I’ve got a twenty year old who still likes mooching round the toy shops! This means I get to mooch round them too and wax sentimental over the toys we looked at when they were little. She’s gone back to Uni now so I have no excuse!
We didn’t buy that many, most of them being far beyond our budget. But actually, through not buying them, I realised they got as much stimulation and fun from the things they improvised with. It got their brains and imaginations exercising too. My youngest could make whole soap operas out of a few twigs and a lump of mud!
You don’t necessarily need lots of toys or money or even technology to keep kids stimulated. You just need imagination.
Just like you don’t need lots of equipment or expensive resources to educate. You just need an imaginative adult to inspire children to go on learning.
In the competitive race for clients schools try to outdo each other with wonderful resources; science labs, climbing apparatus, swimming pools, special rooms, technology. So we are lured into believing that these are necessary for a child to become educated.
They’re not. They’re just nice add-ons, but not a necessity. Much of the science kids do can be improvised with household things you can get your hands on or in the environment, and the more expensive stuff many don’t get their hands on anyway. Parks, trees, playgrounds and centres provide climbing apparatus, most towns have swimming pools, or you could try wild swimming. And most of us now have basic technology for a child to use – it’s free in the library. They can buy, beg or borrow more as they graduate.
But the thing that money really cannot buy is the thing that really, really makes a difference to an education:
An inspiring, encouraging, imaginative adult. One of those beats resources any day. One of those can make an education out of any resource.
Imagination beats resources. So does experience, adventure, real life. Not just academic or virtual life.
Our budget wouldn’t stretch to the kind of toy my twenty year old has just blown her Christmas money on via an Ebay bargain – she waited a long time didn’t she? Was she deprived?
Nah! I don’t think so!
And, more importantly, she wasn’t deprived of the opportunity to give her imagination plenty of exercise either!
We’ve got a beautiful morning here. A bit chilly maybe but nothing we can’t wrap up against.
It’s just the sort of morning that, when the children were younger and we were home educating, we’d have got layers on and gone outside. We’d go out and learn about the real world through real exposure to it, rather than learning about it through academic or virtual exposure.
Getting your kids out in the world makes an essential contribution to their development and impacts on their learning whether home schooling or not and is an essential part of their education.
Just something as simple as a walk gives you and the kids so much – even if it’s just walking to the shop:
- It changes moods and minds. Being stuck inside and often inactive, as kids increasingly are, leaves a residue of pent up tension. Getting up and getting out makes your blood surge, irritations diminish, lifts spirits and can improve aggravated relationships.
- The physical activity also promotes brain activity which in turn enhances brain function as much as mental exercise. In fact, physical activity is essential for brain health.
- And while you’re moving it’s an opportunity to develop many of those mental skills which enhance their education by observing and discussing, questioning and analysing what you see, hypothesising and imagining, just through chatting as you go. This develops an inquiring mind – the precursor to an educated mind.
- And you can do all that just through talking about what you see and experience on your way, whether that’s about the kinds of trees and plants you see – there being as many in towns and cities as rural areas, the environment, the buildings, or the food in the supermarket; where it comes from or the basis of good nutrition. Talking is a valuable tool for brain exercise and language development.
- And the children nearly always return refreshed and content and better able to settle into indoor activities much more relaxed. You might too!
So why not get layered up and take your child’s education out into the world, examine your world, interact with it and engage with it, even if only by having a conversation with the people at the bus stop.
Education is after all about the children learning about their world and how to be in their world. The best place to do that starts outside your door!
A question to start your children’s education in the New Year: Is it more important to focus on where your child’s going than where they’re at now and who they are?
I say this because it can easily become unbalanced, especially if school is in the equation. Although we need to keep longer term goals in mind, if we place all our attention on them we end up drilling the kids for something that is so intangible at present it’s meaningless, especially if they’re very young. And that spoils their education.
If you think about it, we can’t predict the future anyway. We can have ideals. But much more importantly we need to keep our ideals in line with who our children really are in themselves, rather than what everyone else’s children are. What our children are interested in now. What are their strengths and weaknesses. How they learn best now. What’s important to them and what we feel is important for them.
This is the way to keep their education in line with their particular needs, rather than in line with an agenda which others’ needs might dictate!
When we were home educating I could easily slip into a way of thinking about their learning that wasn’t in the best of interests of my child. But in the interests of teaching masses of children as per schools, politics, league tables and parental competitiveness.
None of that was relevant to my children. And none of it was relevant to our educational approach which paid attention to the individual rather than the masses.
We wanted our individuals to love learning and go on loving learning, to be able to communicate and integrate, to be both individual but relate to the wider world and to be able to contribute to that world, build lives that were fulfilling and confident and happy.
And we reckoned that the best way of doing that was not to have an irrelevant educational agenda based in an unpredictable future, but to make the present the best we could. And having had an experience of best the children could then build it for themselves.
So, perhaps a good New Year’s educational resolution would be; take care of the now. Because if you do that, the future will take care of itself!