Tag Archive | kids

What are your social skills like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taking the switch to the child

Can you imagine it? Can you ever even conceive of taking a stick to your child as punishment for some errant behaviour?

It makes me feel quite sick to think about it, but this is what happens in some cultures – there’s a controversy about it in America now which Hugh Muir talked about in the Guardian last Sunday (read the article here).

As he says in his closing statement our ‘cultural baggage’ can impact on our own parenting. We are inclined to pass on what was passed down to us if we’re not thoughtful and considered.

There was never ever any kind of violence in our parenting, despite what was doled out to us. I find the concept quite disgusting and no different to assault. And it’s certainly not good parenting; there’s another approach that works in guiding our children’s behaviour without any kind of horrendous ‘corrective’ measures.

It’s the power of demonstration.

The most powerful parenting tool we have is our own behaviour. This is similar to passing things on as Hugh Muir suggests, it’s just that we pass on the idea of ‘good’ behaviour to our children instead of passing on the punishments we received!

A child’s natural instinct is to learn by copying. So basically, we can parent and teach by the way we are.

We ‘teach’ our children how to behave by the way we behave.

Show our children how to learn by the way we learn.

Show them how to treat others by the way we treat them.

Show how wonderful the world is by our own interest and reactions of wonder.

Show them how to interact, make responses, be polite and caring and considerate by the way we do.

Show them how the real world works by engaging with real things and encouraging them to do so.

Show them how useful technology or language, or maths or science is to us every day as we use those things in our every day lives.

We teach them how to respect by the respect we show.

We teach them what’s acceptable by acting in acceptable ways.

And above all we show them what it is to love by the way we love.

Our actions are the most influential parenting of any sort, the most influential way of educating. Because ‘actions speak louder than words’ as the saying goes. Our actions will be a far more powerfully guiding influence than anything we might say.

Besides, anything we dole out to our children we are endorsing as something acceptable for them to dole out to others.

So whether we are parenting or teaching our own at home it’s worth examining our actions and deciding what it is we want to pass on!

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.