Tag Archive | parenting

Does education have to be timed?

It felt delicious in September when all the other children went back to school and ours didn’t.

Always things to learn about

Always things to learn about

Although I felt a little sad for them shut inside on gorgeous days when the weather always seemed to take a turn for the better and we could make the most of it!

But that’s the school style education for you; timed and divided into fixed compartments as if that was the only way to learn.

It isn’t. It’s only necessary for schooling hundreds of children in the same things at the same time with as few members of staff as possible.

And it takes a while to rethink the idea of education only happening like that, to understand that children learn just as effectively when it isn’t timed or controlled by restrictive boundaries.

You might think that if we don’t time it; if we don’t ‘start learning’ at 9 and go on till 3 like a timed school day, we wouldn’t learn as much as kids do in school. However, thinking about that school day, there’s an enormous amount of wasted time when the child is not engaged. If they’re not engaged they won’t be learning.

Learning through an approach that’s integrated and engaged in real life, it actually happens that the children learn more. Life teaches us; improves our skills and upgrades our knowledge and understanding all the time as we live it and go about our daily activities.

For example, throughout the day, whatever the children are doing, there is opportunity to talk, observe, question, hypothesise, maybe research as a result, converse – a very effective way of learning with instant feedback and development of understanding. It could start with something as simple as going to the loo.

“How does the wee get in there?” my youngest once yelled through the toilet door. There followed a short explanation and then ongoing discussions at relevant times on the body, its functions, organs, the food and fluids it needs, the digestive system, with research online, pictures and games to follow up.

In other words, a continuous biology lesson pertinent to life which continued whenever it arose.

Another example; whilst boiling the kettle I posed the question ‘how would we manage without electricity?’ which sparked off more conversation, investigation into and experimentation with electricity, attempts to do without it, talking to grandma who had!

A maths example; there’s 8 of us for supper, we have 2 pizzas, how much do we get each? Doing the weekly shop involves budgeting, investigating nutritional content, countries of origin, social skills….the list is endless.

Engaging the children provokes learning and all subjects that are timed in a school setting can be covered in a natural relevant way. This approach builds understanding which is the basis for more formal academics at a later date perhaps. It doesn’t have to be timed, or age related, only relevant to the moment and the interest of the child. And the amazing self organising brain can piece this seeming unrelated patchwork of learning together seamlessly as it develops.

Home education also gives unlimited opportunity to play. Hours that would be wasted with boredom or disengagement in a school setting can be filled with play. Playing builds many essential skills, both mental and physical. It develops maturity, initiative, extends creative and innovative practises and their independence – all attributes needed for employment!

When I started home educating following an earlier career in the classroom I was stuck in timed educational thinking. But we only need that sort of timed control for institutional education, it is in no way essential for learning. And I soon realised that to contain the children’s education within unnecessary time limits was to restrict the potential for learning that is accessible at any moment.

Time control has nothing really to do with learning. It’s useful as a tool when we need it, perhaps to reach particular goals or to function round family schedules. But it is just that – a tool you are in charge of. It doesn’t have to be in charge of you. Or your child’s learning life!

So if it’s nice outside go out in it, you’ll never know what you’ll find to learn about.

Why not consider home schooling? Worried? Scared? Read on…..

garden 004

Educating out of the home as much as in it!

The beginning of the school year approaches – but why not consider home educating instead?

I prefer the term ‘home education’ to ‘home schooling’ because it better describes it as most parents don’t do school at home they educate in other ways. And they’re not at home that much either, they educate as much out of it as in, as much with others as on their own – just in case those were some of the reasons you might not consider having a go.

So why else might you not consider home education?

Worried about not knowing what to do? You might feel like this at first, but there is so much help, support, resources and information online, as well as all the network opportunities through Facebook and Yahoo groups, you shouldn’t let it worry you. And check out this post here about home ed resources to get you going.

So are you scared what others would say? It’s always a bit daunting leaving the mainstream and telling family and friends. But this can be overcome by making contact with other home ed families where you’ll gain instant support. You can boost your courage by keeping the company of people who support what you do. You can swot up your ideas and philosophies ready to answer doubters. And there will always be people who criticise or judge those who want to do things differently, after all, you’re indirectly challenging what they do and they might not want to face up to flaws in their choices! But you stick to your principles and maybe you’ll be able to show others that doing it differently is okay – it works – and you might even rescue a child from a dire situation in school!

Perhaps you are just scared you’ll fail your child? Well, I always say that nearly all parents who home educate can’t fail their child because parents who choose this route are thinking parents. Thinking parents review, assess, make changes, find solutions to challenges, and are able to overcome any difficulties by thinking them through. Some continue to home educate throughout their child’s education. Some use schools, colleges and Unis later on. Some decide it’s not for them. All are valuable decisions. The decision to home educate is not set in concrete. Like all intelligent parents you make new decisions when required.

Or maybe you’re concerned about being with the children all the time? Maybe that thought is a bit too overwhelming. Happily, most parents who home educate report a strong and loving bond. Some report that taking school out of their family life changed their relationships with the children for the better – even with teens. It also happens that the children become gradually more independent in what they do and families find ways to create space from each other when or if they need it. For most it’s never a problem.

Perhaps your biggest worry is the thought of being alone and your child not mixing? This is another myth about home educating. What we found was that we had so many home educating friends to share activities and go out with we had to make sure we planned some time to stay in on our own. There are increasing home education groups to interact with, where the children have opportunity to develop social skills, conversation, friendships – parents too! It is normally the case that home educated children are far more socially skilled than school children who are shut away from normal society.

Or perhaps you’re scared your kids will turn out weird? I know many adults out in the world now who were home educated and no one could ever tell – as someone once said to my daughter. I think it was meant as a compliment! You can judge for yourself and meet her here – she presented a little film for me.

Home education is a growing alternative to school that thousands and thousands of parents are finding successful. It’s an approach to education that means the children develop and mature, grow in competence, intelligence and independence, without suffering. And who go on to make as valuable and productive a contribution to the world as any other child.

So if you’re thinking of home schooling, maybe you should do a bit of research and then dive in. You’ll find a whole community or people just waiting to befriend and support you and join you on the route towards a completely different, inspirational and uplifting style of education.

Which is what it should be anyway!

Check out my books for lots more info and a peep into a real home educating life!

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.

What are the five best things to teach your children over the holidays?

Will you be teaching yours over the holidays? Whether they go to school or you home educate, will you still be keeping their noses to the educational grindstone?

I hope you won’t be continually forcing academics on them. For they do need other things as well and there’s nothing like overkill to completely put a person off learning.

But have no doubt you will still be ‘teaching’ whatever you’re doing. Because parenting in itself is teaching. And parents affect education as much as teachers do, by the way we raise our children to be interested in the world, observe and be curious about it, talk and interact with it.

This is the real education – the academic bit is just – well – academic! And not a complete education in itself. No point in being able to do sums on paper but have no idea how to budget or save your pocket money!

So what you do as parents over the holiday, all the things you do at home and out of it, all the things they see you do, are the things that broaden your child’s curriculum of life and impact on those academics when they get down to them. And we will be ‘teaching’ them most of it through our own example.

So I was trying to identify the best things we can pass on to our youngsters as we raise them? Things that are just as useful if not more than writing and maths. So these are the things I would hope to ‘teach’ them:

  • To be confident and think of themselves well; as loving caring people important in themselves and how they contribute, not just rate themselves through the things they might be measured by (like grades).
  • To understand how to look after themselves well. To encourage them to build a healthy lifestyle that keeps them fit as in how much they move or don’t, what they eat and don’t, and understanding of what nurtures their general emotional and mental wellbeing as well as the physical.
  • To be happy in their own company as well as the company of others, as it is in time for yourself that you begin to understand yourself and what feels right for you as well as through the perspective others bring.
  • To achieve, resolve and create things for themselves rather than always relying on passive or pre-packaged entertainment or solutions that can fill in time and lives, often letting it slip by unnoticed and eventually unfulfilled.
  • To understand that independent and informed choice fulfils us far more than accepting institutions and mainstreams and trends (and Facebook is an institution as much as school is!) and that we need to make conscious decisions about what we think, what we do and how we behave

What can you add to my list? It’d be lovely to have your thoughts below!

For those who do things differently

Okay I admit it! Sometimes, just sometimes, I wanted to be in a position that wasn’t quite so different.

It got increasingly tedious to have those conversations outside the dance or pottery clubs whilst I waited for the girls as there was always the inevitable question; ‘So where do yours go to school?’

I’d pause a moment, then say; ‘They don’t actually. They’re home educated’

Slight neurotic giggle and other mother moves away from me like I’m diseased.

Of course, it wasn’t always like that; many parents who asked really engaged with the idea and were keen to know more. And I grew more skilled at judging who I wanted to mention it to.

Today though home education is far more popular and widely known as parents find school practices more and more distasteful. There’s a liberal helping of information and support on the net and an ever-increasing community to dip into, groups to attend, others to network with, so it feels less scary.

Community is the theme of this issue of The Green Parent magazine and I was thrilled to be asked to contribute as it’s a special anniversary issue. The editor, Melissa Corkhill, asked me to write about the home education community and the many and diverse groups that support it. (A big thank you to all of you who helped with my research and offered your thoughts). So you’ll find me in there too this time.

But the real reason for this post is to tell you about the lovely opening story in this issue in the welcome from the editor. It’s about a mum who wanted to do things a bit differently from her own peer groups and family tradition and how hard it was at first to find support for her ideas. She felt very sad and alone. I think many of you will identify with this. But a chance encounter with another mum initiated her rescue.

Now we have the Internet to find like minds but that is no comparison to a warm human connection in real physical terms. Nothing like being with people to learn from.

Melissa follows her editor’s column with a little piece about what she has learnt from her ten years at the magazine and it’s so encouraging I thought I’d quote it here:

It’s possible to have a job that makes you desperate-to-get-in-the-office excited, You can run a business from home with a home educated child on your lap, next to you at their own mini desk or playing noisy games outside the door, sometimes you might even get a bit of help from those children but being with them through their childhood is the most important work”

So absolutely true!

There’s plenty else in the magazine to read too. And perhaps there’s some mum nearby that you could help do it differently like the mum in the story. For having that community support is irreplaceable!

Rural living: it’s not only roses

outdoorsMay2014 005It’s Countryside Awareness week. And the beauty of it is that it’s as much about the people who live and work in rural areas as it is about countryside in itself – beautiful though it is.

We don’t often think about them, other than they’re lucky bods and it’s all roses. Few understand that at times it can be the opposite of roses, it can be downright thorny. Not that you’d get that impression through the media or from the politicians who unwind in second homes without any of the hardships country living brings, making policies from the comfort of their city towers that stick in the throat of those who reside there all the time.

For example, in their campaign to get everyone using public transport, putting road and fuel taxes up, they forget that this absolutely cripples those who have no public transport on their doorstep. Who are dependent on their cars to get to work, get their kids to school/college/activities, fetch shopping, get to surgeries, etc. They don’t face that reality on a daily basis as we do.

Another example, in supporting everyone getting online to do business, banking, pay bills etc. they forget that for some their download speeds are so low it’s well nigh impossible to conduct any kind of business without lengthy waits, never mind bothering with Youtube! Mobile signals are just as bad – what use an App when you’ve no signal?

And when people moan about services being disrupted because of leaves on the line or the buses are late they should remember that they at least have services. Getting about in snow, ice, gales, fog, floods and living on a daily basis with exposure to the same is no joke. The only service we have here is our bins emptied and that doesn’t always happen.

It’s all relative of course. And our rurality also brings us a deeply tranquil connection to nature instead of city stresses – unless we’re stressing because the car won’t start!

But we should remember that there are 12 million people living and working in the countryside and it isn’t all tranquillity. In fact the suicide rate among farmers is one of the highest. Employment is sparse to non-existent and working on the land can be an extremely hard way of life with the minimum of wages in return. Yet as Robin Page says in a comment in the Telegraph last weekend the coverage rural living gets is stacked in favour of urban living dismissing issues of country dwellers as less important.

But without those who do work the land, there would be NO FOOD! The land would not be managed as it needs to be to sustain our life. And there would be no land to give us all the resources we need to support our city lives.

Life does all come back to the land and the people who look after it.

So maybe you could pay that some respect as you organise a walk with your kids in support of people working hard  in rural areas. And teach them to understand that the land beyond the cities and the people who work it are equally important.