Tag Archive | kids

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….

Education and the sock drawer mentality!

I contributed to a discussion about home education on the Radio this week.

I always find it so hard – there is so much to say. And the questions fired at you about children’s learning are so embedded in a school perspective of education it’s impossible to know where to start.

Now I’ve grown away from that schoolised conditioning I know that learning and education are not exclusive to school, nor dependent on it, and have no need to be confined in that familiar structure. But trying to explain that to people who think that home schoolers are just lazy wasters trying to avoid hard work is not easy.

Schooled education reminds me of a sock drawer. You know; those tidy divided ones you see advertised where there’s a little compartment for each pair. I look at them and think life’s too short for that sort of control!

But school learning has become as comparable and controlled as that, dividing education up into little structured cells, controlled by time, age and subject and doled out to children one section at a time.

Climb out of that concept and you see the educational world more expansively and certainly more enjoyably.

For what is education anyway? Is it a set of unrelated targets that kids must regurgitate parrot fashion, irrespective of their individual needs, for the sake of measurement, grades or politics? Or is it an enriching process pertinent to living that overlaps all subjects, concepts, skills and personal development, which enables children to become competent in the ways of the world and interact with it?

The sock drawer view relates to the former!

So when asked about children’s learning and ‘doing the work’ it’s difficult to overcome the sock drawer mentality and explain in a second or two that ‘doing the work’ is not a problem because there doesn’t have to be such a great division between learning ‘work’ and living. Learning is a natural, interrelated process that is ongoing; a natural part of a child’s everyday life, not separate from it and compartmentalised.

When children are involved with life they want the skills to engage with it for themselves. For example; skills that might range from simply being able to speak, to the more complex written use of language, reading and enjoying books or the Net, to being able to use it to text and communication, or getting a GCSE in English because they grow up wanting to go to Uni to do computer programming.

This desire to learn and progress develops with the child, with encouragement and facilitation from others, with experience and contact with the real world and understanding of the real skills they’ll need to access it. When learning is a natural and enjoyable part of their life youngsters know they will benefit from, why would they not want to become educated?

If learning is as dull, controlled and structured as a sock drawer no wonder they want to climb out!

This is hard to explain in a moment or two on the radio under pressure.

It is thinking, developed over time, which requires us to accept that traditional schooled approaches are not the only ways which work. And there are now thousands of home educating families taking a less controlled approach who are proving it!

Are you walking unconsciously through life and teaching your kids the same?

Gone walking!

Gone walking!

I got up from the computer and wandered outside. I was immediately aware of the soft caress of breeze and birdsong. The swish of stems and leaves sang with them and I inhaled the scent of fresh mown grass with every breath.

I just stood and absorbed it for a while. A much better break than going on Facebook! And part of the practice of being mindful which I’ve been trying to invest in after reading about it recently.

My first thoughts about mindfulness were; we certainly have to be mindful as parents. Mindful of what we’re doing, how we behave towards our kids, what messages we might be giving them through our attitudes and responses to life and to them, what kind of people we might be steering them towards being – by how we’re being!

But then I thought; maybe that’s also a reason to be mindful for ourselves. For our own restorative well being, so we can be supportive and calm people as well as parents!

Practising mindfulness is just practising consciousness, in ourselves, of ourselves, so that we keep ourselves centred and strong and not knocked about by outer things – like Facebook!

Usually once during the day I go out and walk. This is to stretch my limbs as much as the dog’s. But I’ve noticed, since reading about mindfulness, how although my body’s taking a break my mind isn’t.

I’m charging along, usually churning over some concern and missing the time to give my mind a rest. What I thought was an opportunity for mindfulness had become as stressful as sitting at the computer. Body was out there – brain was still at work.

How often have you done that?

I’m going to try and change that as I practice mindfulness more consciously for if it isn’t conscious – then it’s not mindfulness. And stop filling moments that could be song filled and soft with raging, tossing warfare between issues all vying for attention. Issues need attention, but to be resolved wisely, we need to put them aside sometimes too.

Instead, I’ll allow concerns that inevitably muscle in to flow on through with the breeze, concentrate on what my body and senses are doing and receiving, refreshing my mind. Which is, after all, what I was walking for in the first place.

So many of us walk unconsciously through life, not only missing half of it and then wondering when life went and stress came, but also inadvertently teaching our kids to do the same. And now our kids are becoming so stressed that schools are finding they need to make time for this practice. How bizarre is that!

Surely the practice of mindful, conscious living should come from home?

Better get started! A holiday weekend the perfect time!

Rain and perfect lifestyles

rain and sun july14 004There’s a lake in the garden that shouldn’t be there. Goodness – did it rain!

It was like driving through walls of wet. The lanes were streams and the garden and fields awash. The gulls are floating round the cabbage crops.

And there was me wanting a few drops to water the parched soil. The torrents were even too much for me to go out in.

I usually like walking in the rain. There’s a shared sense of community with others huddled under hoods, uniting in the challenge you all face; to dodge the raindrops. And lovely scents and sights, or droplets on stems that remind you it doesn’t have to be a perfect day to be enjoyed.

It’s easy to get obsessed with perfect. The media, especially advertising, barrages us with images of perfect skin, perfect bodies, perfect germ-free cleanliness, perfect homes and cars, and perfect kids, it can make us feel inadequate if we’re not careful to guard against this insidious conditioning.

It can also make us think perfect is always the best to strive for – but is it?

Maybe there’s something else to strive for; the wisdom to know and appreciate yourself for who you are even without being perfect. Human is better than perfect surely?

Our bodies, skin, lifestyles will never be the media’s idea of perfect. But they serve us just as well, don’t they? And it’s how well you feel and how well they serve you, how good life is that matters most.

Anyway, who wants kids so inhibited by perfection (you’ve been in those homes haven’t you?) that they, and you, are unable to have relaxed and happy times.

We strive for certain goals, obviously. We strive to maintain certain codes too; codes of consideration for others, kindness, responsibility, etc.

But to be a wonderful person you do not have to be perfect. To raise wonderful young people does not require perfect parenting. And to have caring, loving children who are great to be around is far more valuable than anyone else’s idea of perfect!

All life has its flaws and raindrops. They pass by, floods recede, the garden will flourish again.

We do not need it not to rain for life to be good just as it is.

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.

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!

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!