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An exclusive reading…

There are new families joining the thousands who already make up the Home Educating community all the time and many have messaged me to convey their thanks for the books I’ve produced to support them. I am so grateful. Thank you. I’m especially moved to know they’ve helped.

In grateful thanks and in support of all those who want to know a little more about home schooling as it’s more commonly known, or choose an alternative to going back to school in September especially in these difficult times, here’s an exclusive reading from my book ‘A Home Education Notebook’.

Read more about the book on the My Books page on this blog and find it at Eyrie Press or on Amazon. And do feel free to share so if there are others anxious about going back to school they too will learn there are choices!

Break from education?

End of July and traditionally the time when you don’t have to worry about education for a while as the schools break for summer!

Of course, this year, there’s been little traditional about education and the routine learning life most are familiar with as Lockdown kicked in and everyone was learning without school. Life has been up-skittled, both for school users and those already home educating whose learning life was also disrupted by being unable to go out and about like normal.

It’s all been very weird. Hard work. And worrying for all families. I know there are thousands worrying about their children’s learning. The original home educators among them, even though they’re used to a slightly less orthodox learning schedule.

So I reckon it’s time to take a break from all that fretting about education and learning, about how much to do, or worrying about what has not got done! Now’s the time, as the lockdown restrictions hopefully lessen during the summer, to enjoy the outdoors even more, enjoy family activities safely spaced, and let go concerns about making it ‘educational’.

You never know; you may see magic happen.

For there’s something important to know about learning – something many home schoolers already know;

Even though you may not be thinking about it, it will still be going on.

Children learn and develop every day, from everything they do, see and experience.

They’re always learning, whatever they’re doing.

You can’t stop them learning. They’ll be developing in ways that enhance their skills and understanding which will in turn reflect on their progress when they get back to more formal activities.

So just enjoy your summer. Stay safe. and trust in the process.

And I may take a little blogging break too and return later in the summer with more words and pictures! Although I’ve tried that before and it hasn’t always worked for, like with learning; you think you’re not doing it but ideas are generated all the time.

Sometimes all we need is some space to let new ideas flow, children and adults alike!

What’s the point of education?

I suspect that millions of parents send their children off to school without ever really asking that question. Or believe the accepted view that education – and school – is to teach kids the stuff they need to pass exams, get good grades and consequently a ‘good’ job.

That’s how most see it, without ever stopping to examine the details, or define what a ‘good’ job is within the context of a fulfilling and happy life with warm loving connections – the best bits.

When you home educate and remove yourself from predetermined approaches to predetermined outcomes which is how the system operates, you have to think really deeply about those details. Because the children’s education is in your hands, in their hands, and you can literally design your own. And I suspect current circumstances have made parents question quite rightly what exactly schools are educating for. (Earlier post here)

But any time is a good time to question.

Question what is the real point of education, of school, tests, grades, or home education – whatever you’re doing. Because the real point of it all doesn’t discriminate between school or home education – it’s all LEARNING – that’s the point, not all the other systemised stuff.

And it’s the learning, and what you do it for, that matters.

So, what do you do what you do for? What’s the point?

I reckon:

What do you reckon? Something to think about over the holidays. Do let me know in the comments below.

And share or use the poster as much as you like!

Reflections on the early years by Alice Griffin

Alice Griffin is a writer and home educator living a wandering life with her little family. She also home educates and we’ve met her before when I invited her to tell us about her home educating life. (Read her articles here and here where she also writes about the value in play). This time she’s talking about her now teenager, how life has moved on, and reflecting on the life that others told her should be different!

Alice and family

I think you’ll find it reassuring! Over to Alice:

“Can I make you something to eat, darling,” I call out to my 13-year-old daughter, Isabella, as she gets on with a project in her room. “Um, yeah, I guess I’m hungry” she replies and quickly I jump into action. “Don’t worry! I’ll make you a snack! Shall I make those little finger sandwiches you like? Or perhaps a fruit salad?” The truth is, I would make a three-tier cake complete with fancy icing and sparklers if she wanted it… but I hold back. It’s just so rare these days that I am able to do anything for her.

When she was a baby they said I needed to put her down otherwise she would never leave my side. As she grew they said we should send her to nursery or she wouldn’t be able to socialise. By the time my daughter reached five, they said school was where she would learn about the real world and that she wouldn’t have a friendship group if we kept her home, which would be cruel. And when we said we didn’t want to introduce technology until she was at least 10, they said that was cruel, too.

I can hear the voices even now, telling me what was right and proper, but luckily MY voice was louder and so—along with my husband—we stuck to our gut and decided to follow our instincts.

Now, as Isabella asserts her growing independence and runs ahead instead of begging to be carried and I ask if she will please remember to hold my hand just sometimes… Or as she busily natters with her wide-ranging friendship group on-line, making plans for when we move on from Coronavirus… Or when she runs off to do her farm job each morning and then returns to sit down with my husband and I and inform us (!) of what projects she’s planning to work on this week… I remember. I remember what they said.

SO, what I say is this: Hold your baby close for as long as you possibly can. Breathe in their scent and retain that memory tightly in your mind. Never ever complain when they reach for your hand. Play, read, explore… and trust that a love of learning will naturally grow from this rich exposure to the world. And if you have something deep within that tells you to parent in a certain way, be it technology-free or with technology, living on the road or in one place, maybe home education, TRUST yourself. Trust that you know your family best; that you know your child.

Choosing Home Education hasn’t always seemed the easiest route. There are times where I have been consumed with worries—about whether we’re doing enough or providing the right opportunities. There have been periods of overwhelm and self-doubt; moments when dropping her at the school gate each morning into the hands of professionals, appeared infinitely easier. But I know now that all these feelings are okay, because I have discovered that it doesn’t matter if you home-educate or send your kids to school—it’s parenting that presents challenges. And I wouldn’t change our decision, not for the world.

All that hugging and holding hands, all that playing together outside—picking flowers and examining trees—all that baking cakes and painting with fingers and feet and all that time we didn’t go near technology… It didn’t have any ill effect. Isabella is no different to any other teenager in her desire to grow in independence, hang out with friends and follow her own dreams. And I am no different to any other parent of a teen, by her side encouraging her to fly free.

So, if you’re at the beginning of the journey and the voices around you are shouting loud, take heart and stay strong. Enjoy these early years; enjoy your babies. Because before you know it, you’re left with empty arms and every time they step back into them, each time they reach for your hand and you’re able to do something for them—finger sandwiches, fruit salad or lavish cakes—it feels like gold.

Instagram: alice_is_in_wanderland

www.instagram.com/alice_is_in_wanderland/

http://www.alicegriffin.co.uk

Play, learn, research – it’s all the same to education!

A friend and I were talking about playing. This is not about the children you understand, they’re all adult now, we were talking about us and what we’d been playing at!

Play gets a bad press. Our target and objective obsessed culture – and education – leaves little room for play. It’s increasingly squeezed out of our lives, squeezed out of childhood, definitely squeezed out of learning.

The crime of that is that play is a very profound and valid way of learning.

But at the risk of being accused of ‘wasting time’ most of us don’t do it any more.

My friend and I are both branching out into new realms. And both of us need to put in a huge amount of hours to develop the skills needed. Much of this is experimentation and trial and error. Basically we need to play around our subjects to learn and become practised at them.

Me playing with ways of presenting words! Encourage your children to play with materials, tools, ideas.

But the label of play – to describe our associated activities in that way – gives us the shivers. For we’re supposed to be ‘working’ aren’t we?

And that’s where the confusion lies. Play is valuable work too.

You rarely come away from playing with various materials (think cooking, becoming proficient with your latest gadget, or all kinds of creative activities) without having learnt something.

Playing is an extremely useful form of research. Many important discoveries have been made by accident, and some of our most renowned genius’ like Leonardo Da Vinci for example, have come to greatness through playing around with ideas.

By making less and less time and opportunity in children’s lives – and education – for them to play, we are denying them valuable chances to develop their minds and skills. Whether that’s tiny tots playing with what’s around them as a form of discovery, children playing with bricks, books, junk, tools, utensils, household stuff, art and crafts materials, or teenagers with their gadgets, games and technology; understand that this is how they are learning and developing.

It’s all valuable research into the stuff of life. The stuff of work. Development of the mental as much as the physical. Development that will enhance their capacity to learn.

Play, learn, research; they are all inseparably interlinked. (Interesting article on the benefits of play here)

So we should encourage our youngsters to play as much as possible. It is never a waste of time.

And as my friend and I discussed; that applies to us adults too. We’ll just call it research from now on!

Home Educating and just needing a little bolster?

I well remember how daunted you can feel when home schooling. It’s incredibly exciting and inspirational but daunting just the same!

So I thought I’d repost this; knowing that is often the most simple – but less obvious – advice that helps the most, hoping it will bolster you up whether you’re starting out or been doing it awhile.

–          Keep light and flexible.

We are almost conditioned to get heavy over education. Worried. Intense. Objective led. Future obsessed. That’s how education has been seen throughout the decades. This isn’t the best way forward because whilst we are intensely pushing to specific objectives, we are often wearing blinkers and missing incidental learning that is happening all the time, here and now. Learning is just as effective when it happens by incidental experience as it is when it was planned. For example; did you need intense objectives to learn how to use your mobile? No – you just experienced it. Could other things be learnt the same way? Definitely! Focus as much in the here and now, making it a good learning experience.

–          Be patient.

You cannot force an education any more than you can force a child to grow. You have to nurture it instead. This takes time. Just because your child cannot grasp something now doesn’t mean they’ll never grasp it. Ignore the concept of achieving things by certain ages – kids will get there in the end. Time needs to pass by. Sometimes you have to leave it alone.

Relaxed and happy approaches work very well!

–          Relax and enjoy.

Who says education has to be all hard work to be effective? It doesn’t. Conversely, an enjoyable education is very effective. A child who learns in an environment that is relaxed and happy will achieve far more of use to living a successful life than one who is hung up about learning. If you’re hung up about learning, it hampers your whole life. Enjoy your children; enjoy showing them this wonderful world and the skills they need to live in it. That’s what education is for.

–          Remain open minded.

The traditional practices associated with learning in schools are so ingrained in us it’s hard to believe that any other approach could work. It does. Lots of approaches work. Learning through play being one of them (think phone again). Another simple example: children can learn maths on the settee, lying on the floor, in the car, in the chip shop, going round the supermarket, just as well as sitting at a desk. It’s only adults who think they can’t!

–          Remember why you’re doing it!

One sure thing that gave me big wobblies about our home educating was focussing on schools and the way they did things, instead of focussing on why we were opting to do something different. Most HE parents want their children to be happy, learning, achieving – if yours are doing so you don’t need to worry what other school children are doing. For example; there will be thousands of children who went to school during the years my two and their HE friends were home schooling, but they and ours have all ended up in roughly the same place at the same age. Different pathways; same results…although it turns out the home school children seem to know a lot more despite not sitting in classrooms all day.

Funny that!

Read just how terrified I was, how we got through our first few years and exactly what is was like living a home educating life in my story ‘A FUNNY KIND OF EDUCATION’. See the Books page for details.

Why I loved home educating so much

We loved every minute of our home educating years. Well – to clarify – it wasn’t roses all the time but then parenting isn’t roses all the time is it? And although it was a decision hard to make since the children had started school, it wasn’t a decision that we ever regretted, even for one single moment. And we don’t have any complaints from the now-adults we practised on either!

So what was it I loved so much?

Firstly, the children got their love of learning back, their wonder and curiosity about everything, destroyed in school whilst they had to learn and practice other stuff that was of no interest or relevance. I mean, what use is knowledge of frontal adverbials to a nine year old when there’s a treasure trove of real world stuff under their noses they want to know about?

Secondly, along with their passion to learn, their health was restored too which had dwindled into constant and miserable infections. Although their infectious laughter had been wiped out, along with their joyous mental health. Home educating reinstated both.

Learn any place – a treasure trove of real world stuff!

I loved the freedom to learn in ways that suited us best whether that was going out or study, playing or doing practical stuff, visiting museums, castles and historical sites, galleries and exhibitions, nature reserves, parks and playgrounds and beaches, or the library. Or meeting others for exercise and get togethers, sports or workshops. The realisation that you can take your learning any place, anyhow, at anytime. Learn into the evenings if early mornings weren’t suited (as they’re not to teenagers).

I loved the freedom they had to pursue and develop their own skills, talents and interests, the flexibility of curriculum or timetables (when we used them), subject matter and approach. Instead of sticking to a rigid set of objectives deemed important by someone else but not important to the learner at all. The freedom to keep it balanced.

I loved the diversity and opportunity to match life and learning to our needs, rather than the needs of an institution, or a test. Learning and living became one and the same thing for that’s what education is all about anyway, isn’t it? Learning to live life in a happy, productive and successful way – not learning to be tested. Home educating gave us the opportunity to make truly independent decisions about what was happy and productive and successful. Which is ironic really since home educators are often accused of keeping their children dependent on their parents. The truth is, the opposite seems to happen; being independent learners makes them independent in many aspects of life and very competent decision makers – they’ve had the practice. Whereas most school children are so ‘schooled’ and have such little choice, they are the ones that become dependent; on an institution making a decision for them.

I loved the social side of it; the opportunity for the kids to make friends in real social groups, not enforced groups with limits on age and what brands you owned, the high proportion of adults to kids to set respectful social examples, the way we could chat confidently with all sorts of people in differing situations.

I loved home educating. It was the best thing this family ever did. It worked for our circumstances, for our personalities and I felt incredibly lucky that we were able to do it, for I know it certainly won’t work for all. But for us, it released the children’s learning from the strait-jacket of a political system and returned it to the holistic development of a balanced individual with an intelligence broader than that required to just pass exams.

And most of all I loved the fact that the children discovered the real truth about education; that it was not something inflicted upon them by others sometimes in dull and degrading ways. But a living and ongoing opportunity for investigation of the real world, for growth and personal development, that was fully theirs – not a school’s – that they had charge of and was a way of living that would enhance their life.

Life long!

See ‘A Home Education Notebook to encourage and inspire’ for the rest of this article about having a wobble and loving it anyway! Published by Eyrie Press and also available on Amazon.

School-at-home, home schooling, home education – what’s in a label?

Whilst schools have been closed and everyone’s children learning at home during lockdown the term ‘home schooling’ has been commonly used to describe all children’s learning out of school.

But those who were ‘home schooling’ before ‘school-at-home’ came into being know that it is not the same thing. And most experienced home educating families prefer the title ‘home educating’ anyway.

But why are we getting up tight about labels?

The main reasons school-at-home, and home schooling or home education which parents were already doing, are different is that school-at-home parents have been thrust into it without choice, but generally with some guidance and practical lessons from schools.

With home schooling or home education, which families were already practising prior to lockdown, parents take full responsibility for their children’s education and deregister themselves from any school and consequently any support from them.

Many experienced home educating families prefer not to use the term home schooling because of the connotations of the words ‘schooling’ and ‘educating’.

Their use of the term ‘home education’ is based on the definition of education in its broadest sense as in bringing out, or developing of potential, rather than the drilling of facts and skills into the young as it has become through schooling. There is a very interesting article ‘What Is Education’ on the Infed.org site which gives a definition of education as ‘the wise, hopeful and respectful cultivation of learning’ which is how many home educating families interpret it and which you can’t help but feel is lacking in many school approaches.

Most definitions of schooling mean educating in school, which is why most experienced home educators like to shy away from using the term ‘schooling’. It suggests a training or drilling of children that can disregard their needs and learning preferences and is often the reason parents step away from mainstream school. Schooling tends to have the agenda of the school at its heart, rather than the needs of the individual.

Home educators generally see the education of their children as a much broader more balanced undertaking and use approaches in line with that, which put the interests, preferences and needs of the child at its heart.

So the difference in the terms is important to them.

However, ‘home education’ it’s more of a mouthful! And ‘home schooling’ has become the most popular term, especially in the media, used to refer to those families whose children do not go to school but do their learning independently of them. But it is not to be confused with school-at-home which no doubt will end.

As parents progress with home schooling, taking advantage of the choices and flexibility it offers, and see how children learn and become educated almost by themselves through the many diverse and varied approaches available, they begin to appreciate these subtle differences.

There are other labels and philosophies attached to home educating, like De-schooling and Un-schooling and World-schooling, which parents also use.

De-schooling usually refers to the time and process of recovery needed for those children who’ve been in school and switch to home educating. It takes a while for children and parents to adjust to learning in different ways, to release any damaging effects of school and get used to new routines, approaches and choices open to them.

Un-schooling is similar, except that it doesn’t necessarily refer to recovery from school, more an approach to learning and educating that doesn’t rely on familiar habits and traditions we associate with a school style approach to learning many of us have ingrained within us. As the saying goes; we can take the child (and ourselves) out of school but it’s more difficult to take the schooling out of us! (Excellent book on the subject which I blogged about recently here).

World-schooling generally refers to parents who facilitate their children’s learning out in the real world, often through travelling, away from the school world, or those who have alternative lifestyles different from the mainstream. They see the world outside of school as a way of making their educational provision.

But labels aside, what’s more important than what it’s called, is what parents do as home educators/home schoolers. That they are guided by the needs of their child within the context of them taking their place in the world, by finding approaches that work for their circumstances and that all are happy with it.

Many understand all the above as the same thing anyway – and that’s okay. It doesn’t matter to the kids what we call it. It’s what we do that counts. And there’s a huge diversity and flexibility in what you can do to make home educating a success!

What do we need of our schools?

There was a time I didn’t rate home education! Can you imagine?

And that’s simply because of ignorance!

Like many other parents, some who thought it was downright wrong, this was because; I had no experience of it; had been influenced by too many other people who also had no experience of it; had a rigid view of education indoctrinated by the prescriptive system I was familiar with.

But I changed. I learnt different. I overcame my ignorance, not because I met others successfully doing it and had direct and first hand experience of its success. The nucleus of change started long before that.

It began when working in the system.

I was changed by seeing too many children glazed over, failed and let down by schooling, by seeing the methods used to get those children to fit in, by seeing them ostracised when they couldn’t, and knowing in my heart as a teacher (well before Home educating) that schools just didn’t suit too many kids.

And it wasn’t about youngsters’ ability to learn or study or engage. It was as much about the environment of schools as anything and what that did to some kids.

Something needed to be different.

Think about parties. you’re either someone who enjoys crowds and socialising and parties or you’re not. That’s just the way you are.

Equally, some of us can learn with hubbub and noise and distraction all around. Some can’t – some prefer it quiet and still. I’m one of those. Children are also like that. Some enjoy and thrive in the buzz of a school environment. Some don’t. Some can’t bear it. Some to the point of becoming mentally and emotionally unwell.

That’s just the way they are. But some people are too ignorant to see that – or unwilling because they’d need to provide something different.

They’d need to see that children should not have to be exposed to the crazy crush and stress of school if it’s not the way they learn best. And acknowledge that we are failing them if we expect them to be able to learn in an environment that doesn’t suit – and we haven’t even touched on the sometimes debilitating approaches used to get kids to learn, the bizarre content of much of the curriculum, etc etc.

So is home educating the answer?

It can be the answer for some who are able to manage it.

But – it certainly isn’t the answer for all; many family circumstances would make it impossible anyway.

What we need instead is a different sort of school. And a different approach to learning and education.

What we need is to see education not as the mass grade-getting industry and political strategy it’s become, but as a treasured opportunity for kids to grow and develop. A return to this core value.

We need schools to be smaller intimate places, more of them, nearer homes, so they are less crowded and less threatening – and less generic.

We need fewer children to each teacher so there’s a better intimacy, so teachers can get to really know their pupils, and consequently create better interaction and respect.

We need to stop making education and learning about testing. Teachers who know kids and know how to teach don’t need it, the kids don’t need it, it gets in the way of learning. It’s in complete opposition to everything education should be.

We need to rid schools of an oppressive curriculum and approach to learning, most of which is based on outcomes designed to perpetuate the system rather than perpetuate the good of the youngsters themselves.

We need schools to be places of nurture and personal development, not places of measurement and competition. And before you argue that kids need to be exposed to that in order to stand it in the ‘real’ world, – they don’t. Kids who’ve been home educated and never been to school still manage to make their way in tough competitive working worlds when the time comes, when they choose to do so.

And that’s another point: choice. You choose your working world to some extent and the people you’re with. Children and young people in the system have no choices, or choices manipulated to suit the system. They have no choice about what or who they have to endure and this makes a difference to their success. Young people deserve more choice over their learning and their destiny. If we offered the right opportunities and facilities they would make the right choices – whatever ‘right’ is! To not offer that demonstrates an abhorrent lack of respect for them on our behalf.

This strange lock down time will make it blatantly clear that home schooling is not for all, course not. But schools as they are, are not for all either. And this is becoming very evident through parents reporting that during this time out of school their children have grown, are beginning to thrive and bloom and maintain good mental health and well being that they didn’t enjoy when on the schooling treadmill. Surely kids don’t have to suffer that for an education?

It’s about time we asked the questions too long in coming – what do we want of our schools? Is what we have out of date? Acknowledge that this prescriptive system is turning too many children into failures and even destroying the health and well being of some?

Parents should wake up to the fact we need changes – it’s in their hands – they are the consumers of it. We need humanity back in our schools and to make them more about people, not about politics. And vote for changes and practices that honour our children not disrespects them through such shameful and manipulative disregard.

Learn more about the home schooling life from my books. See the Books page for more

In celebration of ‘Who’s Not In School?’

The cover illustration by James Robinson – the toy features throughout – if you can find it?

I really cannot believe it is five years since the first Little Harry book came out. But the publisher, Eyrie Press, assures me it is.

Little Harry evolved because I felt that home educated children needed a book about children like them, who didn’t go to school, illustrating an ordinary family in an everyday kind of home educating life.

‘Who’s Not In School?‘ was the first of these. Followed next by ‘The Wrong Adventure’ again featuring little Harry.

Although welcomed by most home educating families, and I’m told the children loved it especially looking again and again at the beautifully detailed illustrations by young home educator James Robinson (instagram @jamesrobinsonart), it also caused a bit of controversy!

This was because some felt it portrayed home educated children and consequently their parents in a bad light, particularly with reference to the illustration of Harry climbing on an exhibit to see what was inside. In his eyes and in the eyes of many children he was just making an innocent investigation, even if his behaviour was totally unacceptable to us. But it was that picture that caused upset by suggesting, some felt, that home educating parents would let their children do such things.

Of course, they wouldn’t, any more than any other parents however they’re raising their children. But the most well behaved still do things they shouldn’t when you inevitably take your eyes off them for a moment.

However, I was sorry to have riled the feelings of many home educating parents when my only wish was to support.

I do wonder if those same parents have seen the ‘Horrid Henry’ books (far worse behaviour than Harry!) and feel accused of bad parenting by those!

My intention was to create opportunities between parents and children to discuss behaviour, discuss the reasons why certain types of behaviour are desirable and others are not – like Harry at the museum, discuss the reasons behind all that he did and what reasons are justifiable.

Children need all sorts of examples, good and bad, to understand how to behave and more importantly, why it’s of benefit to them to behave with respect. It boils down to them developing a basic understanding that if they want to be liked and popular and respected in turn, they have to behave in certain ways – as we all do – and some behaviours have to be curbed however justified they they think they are.

Most kids love to learn, Harry certainly does, but it is still not acceptable to do so in the way he does at the museum!

I do hope that controversial picture won’t spoil your enjoyment of the book, and your kids have fun reading about a family like them, or learning about a Home Ed life. But I also hope they spot the ways they are not alike too! And the book raises lots of discussion in your house, which is after all a valid approach to learning!

Another Illustration by James Robinson

You can buy the book direct from the publishers or from amazon.