Tag Archive | kids

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!

The success of failure!

Who’d equate success with failure?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe we should be careful not to teach it!

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

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

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

Nurturing confidence – the best objective of all

Children need all kinds of experiences to build their confidence

Children need all kinds of experiences to build their confidence

Nurturing, inspiring, varied and experiential, knowledge and opportunity rich. That’s what I said I wanted education to be in my last post.

Because that gives the children what they need to live successful and productive lives. It makes them happy, it makes them healthy and most important of all it gives them confidence. Confidence must surely be an objective for education.

Have you looked at your child’s education recently and considered what it’s doing for them?

You can’t build confidence in a system that gives you no choice. When you have no choice it is easy to become a pawn or a victim and fail to develop the skills needed to lead later life for yourself.

You won’t become confident from being unhappy, you won’t stay well either. You need to feel fairly content with what’s happening in your life, even if there are challenges, but challenges make you happy too. When there’s no choice about those though, there’s little happiness.

You can’t develop confidence if you’re continually undermined by lack of respect for your personal preferences. Confidence is built from being respected, whatever you are like.

It doesn’t make you confident when your ideas and opinions are disregarded and there’s little opportunity to express what’s important to you.

It doesn’t make you confident when no one trusts that you are able to learn for yourself and take some charge of your education.

It won’t enhance your well-being when no one seems to have any regard for you as a person or interest in nurturing your personal skills and strengths.

It’s hardly inspiring to be squeezed into someone else’s prescription of education towards objectives which have no meaning to you. That hardly keeps you motivated and happy. You need to understand your own objectives.

And it hardly keeps you motivated when your experience of education is dull and lack-lustre, year after year, with little variety in approach or experience.

What’s your child’s education like? Is it giving them confidence? If not, you might like to consider changing it!

What do you want for your children?

What do you want for your child in education? Whether you’re home educating or they’re at school, what do you want for them? What do you want them to end up with?

I’m asking this because there’s such a cross section of ideas on this one.

When I’ve asked before most people just mention qualifications, only measuring education by those outcomes.

Some people see education as not having an outcome but rather as an ongoing process, not answerable to grades, but a personal development and achievement which is not measureable.

Others don’t need it measured, they just want their children to grow, progress, thrive and be happy. A forward flowing process that works towards creating happy, productive people who are a pleasure to be with.

And that’s what I always wanted for my children. For I reckon they needed to be happy in order to achieve and build confidence. Children who are unhappy rarely reach their potential.

Having happy children doesn’t mean they never face up to challenges, or overcome difficulties. It’s not those things that stop us being happy. It’s being disrespected.

So whatever learning environment they were in I wanted them to be respected. This way they would know how to build respect for themselves and others, you cannot develop confidence if you’re in a climate where you’re disrespected and have no say.

That’s another thing I’d want – for them to have charge over their education, with guidance perhaps, but certainly some control over what happens to them. This is the only way they build independence. Keeping them bound to a prescribed or spoon-fed educational path over which they have no influence is no way to nurture independence.

And nurture is maybe one of the most important aspects of all. Education needs to nurture them. Nurture them as people as much as learners who are gaining knowledge and skills. Nurture them personally so they in turn understand what that feels like and how to pass it on to others. Nurture their individual needs and personalities, weaknesses and strengths, gifts and attributes.

And finally I’d want them to have inspirational experiences that make them even hungrier to learn about the world, to go out into it and make their own little difference, by being productive and proactive, loving and kind, respectful and responsible. Nurturing, inspirational, exciting, varied experiences and opportunities are what do that.

So I wanted their education to be the same; nurturing, inspiring, varied and experiential, knowledge and opportunity rich.

With the development of all those things, other outcomes like qualifications perhaps, fall into place naturally.

What do you want for your children? Do leave me your thoughts.

Letters to move the mind….

The Sunday papers are great for lighting the fire. There’s plenty of it, although the magazines aren’t that flammable with their shiny perspectives and shiny paper; they’re better for lining the dustbins.

It’s rare we buy them as I generally don’t read them; far too much ego stroking claptrap to make the good bits worthwhile. But The Sunday Times found its way into the house this last weekend and I had a flick through it.

I stopped at the Editor’s letter in one of the shiny bits, not sure why. It must have been the word ‘creative’ on the first line. Her piece was a good little take on being creative which, as anyone who visits here regularly knows, is one of my mini obsessions in education: that it is not education without it!

Tiffanie asks what we do to be creative?

And there’s a lovely bit where she even describes shopping as creative; it’s a ‘way of curating your life’ she says. Fabulous phrase – I’m sure my eldest will be glad to read that!

But she also goes on to quote Richard Wurman of TED fame who says that most of us don’t know how to question and that the foundation of the word question is quest and so few have a quest in life. He says that creativity comes from a quest.

I would add that creativity also comes from questioning. And that questioning is not only the foundation of creativity, it is the foundation of scientific progress and discovery and the foundation of education.

Education is surely a creative and scientific quest to fulfil our innate curiosity and thirst to know about life and create the best lives we can.

I also believe that school is increasingly disabling youngsters from doing that.

I’m backed up in thinking that by the artist Bob and Roberta Smith. An old friend who popped up on The Culture show like a blast from disconnected pasts. Our connections are linked to childhoods, and although not well maintained, do sometimes cross the tangle of life and ignite shared values. And I rediscovered his fantastic piece of work directed at Michael Gove, a man who understands children’s educational needs as much as I understand infant heart surgery. Bob explains why creativity is important and says that it is beaten out of children by the stagnant system, even by taking away their control of their own art.

Their insatiable curiosity, inherent from being born, also disappears along with their desire to question and discover. It takes away control of their own life too and their own quests. Without a quest they have no motivation, or direction when finally spewed out of institutionalisation with little understanding of the world outside.

This is what results from lack of creativity, lack of questioning, lack of life-lust. No education should result in that.

So we should perhaps all be writing our own letters to papers, to ministers, online, to try and get them to see there is another approach to life and education through creative, questioning thinking. The approach most home educators tend to use.

One that creates ideas that do more than just line dustbins.

The insanity of home education?

I found this story from a while back – it’s just one way of seeing it I know – but thought I’d repost for new visitors as there are so many now doubting the school way of educating……

….There he stands all smart and sparkling in his new too-big uniform, looking too small for school but with a sparkle of enthusiasm also in his eye.

He’s excited; everyone’s told him what an exciting place school is with lots of nice people and great activities he’ll love doing. He’s very keen – everyone’s been so nice each time he’s visited…

A few lessons in and the sparkle goes out his eyes faster than it goes off the uniform.

His first lesson is that not everyone is so nice, not even some of the people who smiled before. They’re too busy. Too concerned with having to do other things like keep control and make kids sit still.

His next lesson is that you rarely get exciting things to do. In fact, you never learn about things you want to learn about because you have to learn what the learning objective says. He doesn’t get what a learning objective is but writes it down in his book like he’s told to do.

And the third lesson he learns is that, despite the fact his mum shouts and gets cross sometimes, it’snothing compared to being humiliated by the teacher. And the worst thing of all is that at least he knew what mum was cross about. The teacher just seems cross all the time and about things he doesn’t understand.

And he begins to learn that he doesn’t actually like school that much but that doesn’t seem to matter.

Over the years he learns a lot more about school but only a little about the world outside.

He learns that test results and grades are more important than learning about the world outside. In fact, they are so terribly important that if you don’t get the right ones, he’s been told, you won’t have a life. They are so important it makes him and some of the other kids ill trying to get what the teachers want them to get. They try so hard but still some of them don’t manage it. Those kids are disregarded.

And the grade getting does something to the teachers too. Where once there was a glimmer of something warm in their eye, this is wiped out by getting grades and by the word Ofsted.

Ofsted makes the teachers very impatient, very tense and very stressed. Except the day when someone sits in the classroom and watches them. Then they behave differently. They’re not impatient or humiliating that day.

As time goes on and the sparkle is long erased something else becomes erased too; parts of his personality.

He no longer has a personality truly his own. He has a school persona, one that enables him to fit in.Fitting in means not being who you want to be but being the same as everyone else.

Not fitting in means braving an emotional and physical pain far, far worse than falling off your bike or Gran dying. This pain is intensified every day by the group you don’t fit into sticking knives in the wound of who you are and twisting them. Telling the teachers makes it worse because some kids have control over the teachers too.

Even human kindness is secondary to fitting in.

Fitting in is the only way to survive. Fitting in with the teachers. Fitting in with peer groups. Fitting in with what you’re supposed to learn however irrelevant it is to your normal life. And fitting into the big institution that is school which to him, now he’s studied Aldous Huxley, is worryingly similar to ‘Brave New World’where everything is for the greater good and not the good of the individual. Where everything is manufactured, even people.

You have to fit in with that. If you don’t, you won’t get an education.

But finally he realises that even fitting in doesn’t guarantee an education because, on the whim of an adult who sometimes abuses their position of power, you could easily fall out of favour and fail to get the scores. He’s seen that happen to his friend. His friend’s done for. He won’t have a life – he’s been told.

So he doesn’t think about being an individual. In fact he doesn’t think at all. No one wants him to. They just want him to do the work, fit in and get the grades, whatever the cost…

Home education insane?

Well, everything is relative, and compared to the insanity described above, it seems to me to be a relatively sane, natural and appropriate way to educate our kids!

Bare house, bare minds

untidy 002You know the days when the house is strewn with children’s debris? When you have to unbury the kitchen table from the latest craze of paints or gels, sticky bits or building sets, in order to eat? When you have an entire mini-brick city across the living room carpet? Or there’s not a foot of floor to be seen?

Well, I know it can seem a bit desperate sometimes, when you crave for the bit you tidied just to remain so for a while, but untidy does have its uses.

As a home educator you get a double dose of this marvellous mayhem. The kitchen can become the nearest thing to an art studio or science lab and the garden a space for the messiest of experiments, often with disgusting components. And the living room? It’s constantly disrupted by the latest den of the furnishings, or a growing community of characters that are living out the latest imaginary adventure and cannot be moved.

“Oh mum! Can’t I leave it up – just for today?”

“Well….!” You waver.

A month later, your feet still sore from treading on sharp things and longing for a sit on a normal settee not some kind of cushion construction, you feel inclined to try and tidy again. Or not!

Best not really. And the reason being that while all these things are going on your children are stimulated, developing skills and most important they are learning. And when there’s stuff around they’re likely to want to do something with it creating mental activity as well as physical.

They need all sorts of things around them to do that, to spark their imagination. When their imagination is sparked their brain is functioning, they are increasing their thinking skills, their language will be developing and their intelligence growing.

Nothing switches that off faster than terribly tidy environments.

There’ll be plenty of time for tidy when they’ve grown and the house is empty.

My kitchen table has been acutely bare of late, apart from that stain from experiments with dye and the odd sparkle of glitter glue. The carpet has been naked except for a black patch where some sticky substance got spilled. And the settee has been vacant of those constructions, little bottoms and cuddly toys.

Not any more as student comes home for summer and there is paraphernalia all over again. The table strewn with more mature experiments – in bleaching this time, various camera equipment, fabric and sewing stuff is dotted about, there are threads all over the carpet and even teddy has emerged from retirement for a quick hold.

And I’m loving it! Loving the busy. Loving the clutter, after months of aching tidiness even I got bored of! My mind is also buzzing with the busy of it.

So although you might long for that decluttered look they go for in magazines, be patient; reassure yourself that clutter means busy and busy means stimulated and stimulated means development and learning going on.

A bare house can mean bare minds and we want children with minds so full they cannot help but grow!

Treasure at the library

library 004Have you ever taken your child to the library? Have you ever listened to the absorbed silence as little ones suddenly find themselves surrounded by hundreds of picture books to open and investigate and drool over?

It’s enthralling! Far better than bookshops; it’s less embarrassing when they drool!

We had a wonderful service when we home educating. We had a visiting library van trundling down our rural road every two weeks. Don’t know how it managed it, mounting the bank that the lane weaves over and turning round in a farm yard.

This fabulous service meant that we didn’t always have to make the twenty mile round trip for the children to enjoy the revelation of being among loads of books. And it was almost like a special delivery service for me as I could order my books online from the catalogue, books that probably wouldn’t be in our local library anyway, and have them brought out on the van. So both me and the children were in heaven.

Of course that disappeared with all the other cuts to public spending. And I’m not surprised – it was rather lavish. But it will be utterly tragic if our smaller libraries get closed. Or funding to get the library van out the remote villages is stopped.

Because however small we sometimes find these local libraries, they are a lifeline to worlds not otherwise available. Worlds that are seen through encounters with books and computers that some can only access through libraries.

The trouble is with the politicians who make the decisions about cuts is that they have little experience of what it’s like to be poor. Most come from a position of having everything they need to be able to go where they want and the money to pay for it. Most of the rest of us don’t. Many people will never know the world beyond their own lane end or city street. Except for the unrealistic junk on television and the gross idolisation of celebrity, often breeding envy and idleness and even the hopelessness of ever attaining those riches.

So libraries promote another culture. A culture of access and worldliness, knowledge and wordiness, for those without other means.

For despite the middle classes all clustered together in their exclusive enclaves we have other clusters of cultural poverty where people may never get the flavour of aspiration that can change their lives.

Maybe it suits the politicians to keep us down that way, for it fuels their luxurious lifestyles. And closing down these small but vital public services is a way of also closing down those aspirations.

We mustn’t let them get away with it.

But I didn’t mean to get political. I just meant to say that it is an important part of our parenting to take our kids to libraries, to show them what a worth of both opportunity and immense pleasure there can be in books and stories and technological tales from a wider world than the one they inhabit. We need to fight for them.

For the most irreplaceable impact of regular library visits is that when children are surrounded by beautiful books they are inevitably inspired to read.

We are all teachers and educators really

I reckon it’s a shame we have the title teachers! Not that I think we don’t need them or that I want to devalue the hard work, skill and dedication many teachers have.

It’s more that it tends to exclude people without that ‘qualified’ label from believing they are teachers too.

Schools and strategies and silly systems of politics have stolen away the simple fact that actually education begins at home and parents are teachers too.

This notion came up with a parent worrying that she wouldn’t be able to home educate because she wasn’t a qualified teacher. Not true!

Quite often, a qualified teacher is not what kids need. In fact it is often because of some less-than-professional qualified teachers, and the gamble of getting a good or a bad one in school, which makes parents consider home education anyway.

The thing is; we’re all teachers. We are all educators. Because the biggest impact on our children’s education comes not from teaching, but from the demonstration, attitude, and personality of the people our children come into contact with. That starts with parents.

All of us, particularly parents, have an equally important role to play in the education of children, a role that doesn’t need to be ‘qualified’, or is necessarily improved by training. Because it comes more from who we are and how we behave, than what we ‘teach’.

What matters in our children’s education is our attitude to it, how we act towards our kids, our demonstration of respect, our own learning journey – and that isn’t one that is ever complete but is ongoing, the support we give – and I mean humane support not priming our kids parrot fashion, the way in which we allow our children to develop all aspects of their own personalities through the variety of experiences we provide.

All these things impact on our children’s education more than anything we could ‘teach’ them. Because it impacts on them as people. And we tend to forget that it is people we are raising, not box-ticking, test-passing robots primed to regurgitate useless facts and figures.

To enable our youngsters to develop as human beings they need a humane being cheering them on. And there are no qualifications in humane.

Children learn far, far more from who we are, the values we demonstrate, our personality, our ability to communicate, the way we react to challenges, the way we tackle the new things we have to learn – which we do all the time.

And what will aid them in their learning is our patience, understanding, encouragement, inspiration, stimulation, kindness, awareness of their needs, our own learning growth and our attention to all those little details that make a person lovely.

You can’t get qualifications for those attributes. They are personal.

But we can all grow them and be the ‘teachers’ we need to be. In fact, it is our duty as an adult to all the other little beings in the world, to do so.