Educating without testing

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It was among the most commonly asked questions when we were home educating. Two most commonly asked questions actually.

Firstly, do you test them?

Secondly, how do you know they’re learning if you don’t?

I have two questions in response: have parents ever really thought about the value of the tests kids do in school and what they show? And, don’t we know our children anyway?

It’s so sad that parents have been so conditioned by political propaganda to believe that education cannot progress without testing.

It CAN. It DOES!

This is continually being proven by home educated children who become educated people without ever having been tested in the conventional, schooly way at home. Who still go on into higher education. Who still go on to sit exams – often their first taste of formal education. And who still go on to get the grades they want.

Okay, any wise parent would perhaps suggest some kind of practice papers first. But all other forms of testing, especially standardised ones (no child is standard) are usually a complete waste of a learner’s time, are not valuable developmentally, and can even be extremely damaging in that they label, create self-fulfilling (inaccurate) prophecies, often degrade and are in no way a fair representation of a person’s capabilities, knowledge or aptitudes.

But another insulting aspect of the practice of continually testing children as conventional schooling does, is the assumption that a) children don’t know themselves well (how would they in school – they never get an opportunity to really find out) b) the teachers don’t know the children (how could they when so much time is wasted on box ticking rather than truly getting to know the kids in their classes) c) the parents don’t either because they are so excluded from the educational process and treated as if they are ignorant.

The educational and testing system, that has been devised by politicians wanting to make themselves popular, has taken learning away from the learners and created one for an adult agenda. The adult agenda of needing to measure, or needing to satisfy social one-up-man-ship, of needing to prove something to someone else. The kids are used as pawns in adult games and testing has been the means by which this happens.

Many parents home educate just to get away from this harmful practice that furthers a youngsters education not at all.

And, as many home educators find out or already believe, becoming educated is a continuous, ongoing, personal process that doesn’t need measurement, is up to the individual, albeit facilitated by others helping that individual understand how to make their place in the world through their education and how to contribute. It therefore should be owned by the individual and not by the state. And consequently should not be constantly tested – purely for state purposes – which is the way it is.

Many home schooling families facilitate their young people in becoming competent, social, intelligent, productive, educated and qualified (those who want to) without testing ever having been part of their learning experience.

It’s such a pity that schools can’t stop this political game playing and do the same. The only way for that to happen is to keep testing and politics out of it. The youngsters (and teachers) would be a lot happier, have time to learn and discover a lot more, understand themselves better, and possibly the numbers of those with dwindling mental wellness would begin to drop!

There are many parents who believe that children are more than a score, who want to let kids be kids, and end the testing regime. But it needs many many more, especially those not involved in home education, to demand that this ludicrous testing system be stopped.

And be bold enough to believe in and practice education without testing.

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Home Educating – a few simple tips

Their ideas about how they want to learn are valid. This happened naturally on a history visit to a ruin!

Whether you’re new to home education or you’re doing it already it can seem overwhelming. But that might be because you’re making it more complicated than it has to be!

Children learning is quite a simple process – and very natural – they’re primed to investigate their world. But the schooling and education system we’re familiar with, and sometimes compare ourselves to (deadly), can interfere with that; it can put them off and dull their enthusiasm down. Home educators can avoid that by keeping it as natural and simple as possible and a mind on how you’re doing it.

So I thought I’d post a few tips that might help you keep it simple, keep it going, and keep it enjoyable – it will still succeed that way!

  1. Keep an open mind and don’t do comparisons! Learning through home educating is very different to learning in the system so the same bench marks don’t apply.
  2. Keep connected with others. Learn from them, try out ideas, be brave enough to adopt or abandon them, adapt ideas to suit your child and family.
  3. Do what works for you, changing often – and keep flexible – kids grow and change.
  4. It sometimes helps to find a routine in your household that works for you. But that will also need to be open to updates depending on the fit, as I said – kids change!
  5. Be bold enough to keep it informal and light – informal learning works far better than rigidity.
  6. Keep it in the here and now and don’t always be educating for a future (like grades for example). You don’t know what your youngsters will need for their future yet. You’ll do what’s right at the time when you get there.
  7. Don’t ‘do’ education all the time! In a school setting there’s is probably only about half an hour’s worthwhile learning time in a whole day, and a whole lot less teacher time. Your child achieves far more than that at home with you. But you have to back off and encourage them to be independent about their own activities too – and be independent about yours!
  8. If you’re getting strong resistance to your suggestions you’ll need to review and reconsider. I used to spend hours thinking up a wonderful activity (or so I thought) then they weren’t a least bit interested and I had to abandon it. Frustrating! But just because you think it up doesn’t mean it’s going to work for them. If there’s resistance you’re the one on the wrong track. It feels hard to let go sometimes but believe me it’s necessary. Start from what they’re interested in.
  9. So, allow and encourage your youngsters to discover and pursue their own interests. All activities educate in small ways. Listen to and engage with theirs.
  10. It’s not the case that the more money you spend the better education you’re providing. In fact, the more resourceful you are with ideas, activities, improvisation, the more inventive, entrepreneurial, creative and intelligent the youngsters become. Great life skills to have.
  11. Children love learning and discovering. And can do it very effectively for themselves. Trust them, and be careful not to ruin that by too much structure and control. Youngsters have their own ideas about what they want to learn, which are valid. Respect their ideas.
  12. Enjoy yourselves. It’s allowed. There’s no law against learning being a happy experience. The more the youngsters enjoy their education the more they’ll continue it lifelong – a skill that will be useful to them for ever after!

Your questions about home education answered

It is true what’s written in the poster! Although many parents don’t realise, or begin to comprehend how this would work, conditioned as we are to believe that formal, school-style approaches to education are the only ones worth doing.

They’re not!

The more you home educate the more it becomes apparent that diverse, incidental and informal activities, like play, investigation and experimenting for example, educate as much as formal academic exercises do.

To help understand how this happens there’s a whole chapter devoted to it in my book;  ‘Learning Without School Home Education’.

The contents of this book are based around the general questions parents ask all the time about home education:

What is home education and why do people do it?

How do parents start home educating?

How do home educated children learn?

How do they find friends and become socialised?

What about curriculum, subjects and timetables?

What about tests, exams and qualifications?

What is life like for a home educating family?

What about children with ‘learning difficulties’ or ‘special needs’?

Where do home educated families end up?

The chapters answer all the above questions in detail and the answers may well surprise you. And, as one teacher reported, may inspire many ideas about education in general that you’ve never thought of before!

So don’t let the schooling style of learning monopolise your thinking about education. Don’t let the system make you believe that testing, classrooms, teachers, curriculum are required or your child won’t learn. That’s untrue. Or make you believe that school is needed for socialisation – it’s not. (Read this about weird social behaviour and baked beans!)

Schooling is one way of doing it – a very unsuccessful way for many – which is why thousands of families are choosing home education as an alternative and making a grand job of it!

How kids learn from living – more than from schooling!

Another exclusive from ‘A Home Education Notebook’ that illustrates so well how home education works:

…Sometimes when we were home educating I got the feeling that education was taking over my life.

I remember one incident when I felt rather near the end of my tether. (There was more than one; but this sticks in my mind because of the poo).

Not only was the meal late and everyone starved to the point of tantrums, but also I was eating it with a fork covered in wax, I’d had to drain the pasta in a sink which was purple with dye and eat off a table with bird poo on it.

It wasn’t fresh bird poo I hasten to add. Actually it wasn’t poo at all; it just put me in mind of it.

It was an owl pellet lovingly carried home like treasure, to be dissected and examined and crooned over after the boring exercise of having dinner was out the way. But bird poo or not it was the last straw and I wasn’t enjoying looking at it while I sat chewing in moody silence, trying not to give in to the feeling of mounting irritation.

My youngest gobbled hers down as fast as possible so she could get her hands on it. She was just itching to take it apart, she wriggled about, shoving pasta down her throat like there was no tomorrow.

“Finished!” she exclaimed. “Can I do it now?”

“No!” the rest of us shouted in unison with our mouths full and our plates only half empty.

“Dohhh!” She sat and sulked, her impatient eye flicking between our dwindling meal and the pellet. “She’s deliberately taking a long time,” she said of her sister. We ignored it and kept on eating.

The minute we’d all finished she whipped our plates away in a whirlwind of rare helpfulness and pounced on the pellet with a pair of tweezers.

We gave up. We’d gone off the pudding anyway and everything seemed to taste of melted candle wax. (We were doing batik earlier). The rest of the family drifted away from what they considered to be the most disgusting member of the household and she and I started the dissecting.

The pellet was indeed a treasure. My irritation was forgotten and I became as absorbed in the examination as she was. It was fascinating.

There were stones, shells, bones, fish scales, bits of shellfish, a beetle – in pieces, putting it together was fun, fur and hair. We were so enthusiastic that the others came back and took part and we were soon fighting over who was going to excavate the next gem. We wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Who needed pudding when we’d got the excitement of learning and discovery going on?

How often did learning get this exciting in school?

The trouble with organised education, conducted by people who are bound by so many constructs, is that so many wonderful but incidental opportunities to engage and educate during every day life and interactions are completely missed.

For children don’t always need teaching or schooling  – they learn anyway.

Education and real life do not need to be separate from one another. Most learning does not come from teaching.

Much valuable learning cannot be timetabled

Learning really does go on all the time. All of life is important to a child’s learning and education. And much is lost when people try to compartmentalise learning into neat little outcomes, as schools have to do, and force children to be taught rather than trust that they can learn anyway.

Also, many children are put off learning completely by schools and institutions like them trying to fragment education away from real life and force it into different strait-jackets in order to teach and measure.

They fragment by subject and content, by levels and ability, by age, by standards and testing, by time and period, and by clustering people together. They segregate it from life by the very action of removing children from real experience and experimentation and confining them in a situation that has no equivalent in the real world outside at all. And we are made to believe that learning cannot happen without teaching, which is not the case at all. Home learning can and does happen successfully without all these restrictions.

Out in that real world learning and education takes place by the simple act of living a life and being exposed to all manner of things, bird poo and owl pellets included.

What a loss it would have been if we hadn’t collected the owl pellet when we were out on our walk simply because it wasn’t our objective; we were supposed to be having our exercise. Or if I’d said we couldn’t dissect it because it wasn’t on our timetable and we had to do reading right now.

All right, I admit I did want my dinner first and so did the other members of the family. There may have been a more appropriate time and place for this activity. But my point is that restricting learning to what we’re ‘supposed’ to be doing at the time, in other words compartmentalising it with rigid rules, misses out on so much. It also devalues the learning the children are interested in and suggests that it is only taught learning that is of value.

What an excellent and valuable learning opportunity would have been lost if I’d dismissed this activity just then because it wasn’t what I wanted to teach them. Not only the opportunity to learn about science and the life of a species, but the opportunity to develop in the children something very special; a love of learning and finding out just for the pleasure of it.

This is what learning without teaching and schooling becomes; learning simply for the pleasure and fascination of discovery and knowledge.

What a loss it would be if I didn’t answer at the time those inquisitive questions that come at me constantly; in the car; in the supermarket; at bedtime; even when she’s sitting on the toilet, just because that subject wasn’t on our timetable just then. Or if I stopped the natural curiosity by saying the child was too young, or too old, or too slow a learner. Or even more bizarre; wasn’t wearing the right uniform; or in the right room; or sitting in the right position. Or if I withheld information because another bit hadn’t been learned yet and I was in charge of the teaching.

How much education would not go on if I restricted it to so many constructs, regulations, teaching, schedules, subject divisions and age segregation? How ridiculous that all seems in comparison to just living an educational life. As all life surely is.

I am not saying there is no place for any kind of structure. Of course there is. Most people have some kind of self-imposed structure in their day, in their Home Education, and for successful interaction with society.

But to separate children from real life experiences and opportunities for incidental learning, and to impose so many restrictions on what they should do, how and when, is to miss out on a wealth of opportunity and at its worst to kill their curiosity and enthusiasm for learning stone dead.

It’s their curiosity and enthusiasm for learning that produces educated young peoplenot teaching or schooling. So on days when you’re having a wobble about you not teaching them anything, or them not learning anything, it helps to keep this in mind.

By living a busy life, learning happens all the time. This is education with real meaning. For all of us; children and adults alike.

Education wasn’t taking over my life – it was my life, still is and always will be and that’s also true of my grown up young people who enjoy learning about stuff just as much as ever, even though they’re both over twenty now and never had learning rules imposed. They’re always looking up stuff on the wonder that is Google just out of curiosity and know far more than me.

Although, I do admit to feeling at the time that there may have been one rule I would have liked to apply: no bird poo or owl pellets on the table while I ate my dinner!

(For the rest – and more support for your home education see the My Books page. Or you can buy this book from Eyrie Press or Amazon)

New to Home Education? It’s worth a look…

Please feel free to share the post as much as you like!

You might be surprised to hear a former home educator say that home schooling isn’t suited to everyone. But, of course, that’s the truth because of the simple fact that every family is different, every child has different needs and everyone lives with different characters and in different circumstances. So it’s obvious really!

It’s also the truth that school does not suit every child and that IS NORMAL!

We should not de-normalise those who don’t flourish in a school setting. Firstly, it’s discriminative. Secondly, there’s nothing ‘wrong‘ with those who don’t – it’s criminal to suggest there is. Thirdly, some of us quite rightly need alternatives. Finally – and obviously – we are NOT all the same!

So for those of you who want to consider an alternative education – and home education is as valid and successful as school education – I’ve collated some posts especially for you:

The real truth about home education dispels the common myths

Thinking about home education instead of going to school looks at common doubts.

The ‘About Home Education’ page above briefly answers the usual questions, has a link to my talk about whether you could home educate or not, and further down has a wider educational philosophy which may help you formulate ideas.

The post 5 tips for new home educators may help get you going!

Among my books you’ll find my guide to Home Education; ‘Learning Without School’, the story of how we approached it; ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ which is an easy read, and lots of tips in ‘A Home Education Notebook’. All details on the My Books page above.

Meanwhile link up with me on my Facebook page or Twitter (or Instagram just for fun!) I’m happy to answer questions there or in the comments below.

There is a vast and on-growing community of parents who want something different from schooling. No one home educates alone and most find it an inspiring and liberating experience that they never once regret!

Education involves the heart…

Why?

The short answer lies in the fact that without the heart to bring a balance to what the head knows we cannot live with care and compassion. And that’s important isn’t it? (See the links in last week’s blog post)

The longer answer has to do with what education is for. Education has traditionally been associated with academics only. With improving society through the learning of reading and writing and numbers and knowledge. That was back in the day, before everyone had access to learning. But since learning is accessible to us all now through new technologies, perhaps we need something different for our contemporary society and culture. What’s education for now? To help build societies that are inclusive, compassionate responsible and caring? That goes beyond reading and writing and scores and ticksheets.

We need human qualities as well as knowledge and academic skills. We need more personal skills. We need to know ourselves, what makes us happy, and most importantly how to live sustainably alongside each other and the planet. How to take responsibility. That requires a far bigger emphasis on care and compassion and understanding; heart skills as much as head skills, than is currently present in the education system.

There’s a longer version on why happiness is essential for education and why we should educate the heart as well as the head in this post here.

Meanwhile as your children are educated, however they are educated, listen to all your hearts as well as your heads. And be brave enough to educate the whole person, not just grade the head!

More important than Maths and English!

Why is it more important than Maths and English?

Because without you and your children taking care of the earth and understanding its needs as well as theirs and how to live sustainably, there won’t be a planet earth for them to learn maths and english on! Read more on this blog post here. This WILL affect your grand-family. It’s urgent!

Here’s an inspiring student who gets it: Greta Thunberg. She’s worth listening to: Her TED talk is here.

And there are other important side effects of taking care, discussed on this post here.

All worth thinking about and acting upon!

Please feel free to share the material here as widely as possible! The more who understand the better.