What is education for except to learn about our world?

It’s nearly time for the Big Garden Bird Watch again, run by the RSPB. (26th – 28th Jan)

I’m mentioning it because it’s a great activity for the family to do. To help you all get connected to the other species we share the planet with.

And that’s the most important lesson for the children to learn; the fact that we do only share this planet. We don’t own it and we’re not necessarily the most important species on it.

Everything is inter dependent on everything else. Every species has a contribution to make. Our contribution is to use our bigger brains to learn and use our privileged position at the top of the food chain responsibly and wisely! Otherwise our children’s children will not be able to enjoy what we’ve had.

Any activities that help get this message across are a valuable part of education. After all; what else is education for except to learn about the world we inhabit, the species on it, how we relate to them and how to take up a responsible place among them.

Education is not just about maths and english and test passing and qualification- getting for a good job and lots of money as most see it, even though that may be part. Education is about becoming an educated person. And an educated person is one who has understanding and empathy, a conscience and sense of responsibility to the world in which they live, as well as a collection of facts and academic skills which support that.

First and foremost education is about people – and other species – learning to live together; why else would we need to be educated?

Far more important than an English, Science or Maths degree although that can contribute; the biggest contribution we as an educated species make, is the way in which we use our education to help us live in the world with the others that live here, from the biggest mammals, through the human race, past the birds, down to the smallest insect and beyond into the minutest of living organisms. And I haven’t even mentioned plant life within that, the ecology of which we all depend. This is stuff the kids need to know about!

So any awareness, like that raised by the Big Garden Bird Watch, is a valid part of that education. And a useful activity for any home educating family! See the links for more!

 

Advertisements

How can you home educate if you’re not a teacher?

This question comes up so often I thought it might be helpful to post this chapter from ‘A Home Education Notebook to encourage and inspire’ in answer.

As you probably know I did start my career in education in the classroom, but the trouble with folks knowing I was once a teacher is that, firstly, it makes them inclined to think that it was easy for me because I’d know what I should be doing. Laughable! And secondly, it makes people think that teaching is required for you to Home Educate and that if you’re not teachers you couldn’t educate anyone.

Absolutely not true!

During my time as a teacher I learnt how to do teacherish things by copying other teachers doing teacherish things, which were not always very nurturing or inspiring things, but what they had to do in order to get through what they had to teach and keep control over some children who were challenging. I’m not proud to admit that I wielded my power over the children too, pushed them towards expected outcomes en masse as I was expected to do. I had no regard for whether it was right or not, or for the individuals within that mass.

I’m ashamed of that now – but like many young green teachers I wasn’t experienced enough to know how else to do it.

Gradually, as I gained in confidence as a person rather than a pawn in an institution, I began to have severe misgivings about what was done to children in schools under the guise of educating them. I realised that much of what children have to do in schools is not worthwhile, not helpful, not healthy even, so it perhaps contributed to my confidence when home schooling, in feeling that our children were better off out of school than in it.

Other than that, much of what I learned when I was teaching I had to unlearn when I started to Home Educate.

Much of my thinking was governed by other teachers at that time. Teachers who believed that children had to be taught in order to learn anything – not true. Teachers who believed that unpleasant forms of coercion (like sarcasm for example) were acceptable ways to get children to learn – they’re not. Teachers who believed that some children were ‘no-hopers’ and un-teachable – very sad. Teachers who had been forced to believe that endless writing, testing, homework, academic exercises and exams were what constituted an education. It isn’t.

There were brilliant teachers too – you will have come across them. But sadly it’s often the less pleasant ones that have the biggest effect. And it was that type of ingrained thinking I had to unlearn, as none of it need apply to Home Education. It is very hard to break bad habits, but I had some serious habits to unlearn.

For to Home Educate successfully I did not need a ‘teacherish’ relationship with my children.

In order to learn children just need a caring, interested, mature mentor. But that person doesn’t have to be a teacher. Teachers aren’t required for parents to successfully Home Educate.

Having been a teacher did not make it any easier for me to know what I should be doing as a Home Educator, except that perhaps I’d already started to think about education generally. But once released from systemised schooling the education you can give your children is open to an enormous range of options. And many of those decisions are as much to do with parenting as teaching and I came from the same starting point as any other parent on that one – I knew zilch!

The things I saw when I was teaching in schools made me start to question. And I continued to question throughout. Should we learn this or shall we learn that? What’s an interesting way to learn it? How best can my children learn? What are their needs now and what suits them best?

These are the questions all Home Educators need to ask whether they are teachers or not. And the answers really have no relevance to what teachers are doing in schools unless you want them to. They have no relevance to whether you are a teacher or not. The answers will not come any easier if you’re a ‘trained’ teacher because all the answers are personal to your child. Just like education should be.

So not being a teacher doesn’t make you less well equipped to Home Educate than being one.

The thing that makes you well equipped to educate your children is to do with caring rather than to do with teaching. It is being a parent who’s prepared to learn a little too.

If we think back to when our children are small, pre-school, we manage to teach them – or rather to develop in them – an enormous number of skills. They learn with our help to walk, talk, use the loo, feed themselves, dress themselves, probably use the computer too…all manner of things. We show them the things around them, we show them how to do things, and we show them the wider world. We are already giving them information and showing them how to apply it.

Home Educating your child is nothing more than an extension of that.

As a parent you have already started encouraging your child to develop skills and acquire knowledge. That’s all education is. Education is the continuing process of encouraging your child to learn about the world, how they fit into it, how to relate to people, as you no doubt already have done.

There is no reason why you cannot go on doing that without any ‘teaching training’ at all. The skills and knowledge children need may become a little more challenging, sophisticated, complicated, but then, parenting is already challenging and you managed it so far. You can manage Home Educating. You can always find help with the bits you can’t. You can learn together – it sets a great example. Nearly everything – including support, is only a bit of research or networking away.

Teachers and teaching in the way that we normally understand them are not necessary to Home Educate. In fact may eventually become redundant in the mainstream, who knows!

All you need to be is a caring, interested, questioning, engaged parent, who is also willing to learn, which is probably what you already are, or you wouldn’t be reading this.

And what a great example you will be setting as such!

(Read the full chapter – and more tips and ideas – in the book. It’s on offer at Eyrie Press.)

 

Raise your voice…

I didn’t realise I liked to chat so much!

I recently spent several days trying to but I had no voice due to a nasty infection. Trying to say anything was a struggle.

It’s amazing how much you want to say when you can’t. And it’s very funny being out and about in the shops. I tried to avoid saying anything, just whispered the occasional thank you which often went unheard and people thought was very rude judging by the looks I got. But when I did manage to whisper a request they leaned in closer and started whispering back!

It reminded me of a day’s teaching I spent without a voice. I sat the children close, looking at me in amazement and somewhat apprehensively – kids hate you to be different in any way. Then, when I got their attention, I proceeded to whisper the predicament I was in and how I needed their help, how they’d have to be extra quiet to hear me and keep their eyes on me so I could wave, rather than raise my voice, in order to say something.

They were wonderful. And it was the quietest day I ever had in the classroom. They were soon all whispering too.

And it taught me a valuable lesson about learners; kids don’t have to be shouted at in order to learn. Shouting isn’t required in the learning relationship.

It’s also an important lesson for parents too – shouting isn’t required for parents to parent effectively, although judging by how some behave you’d think it was.

In fact, shouting isn’t required in any relationship. And if your kids are seeing you shout – at each other for example – then they’ll think it’s okay to shout in the relationships they build. No relationships require shouting. Relationships need communication in respectful ways in order for them to flourish. And shouting at the kids causes stress and can even affect their health.

If you drop something heavy on your foot, or your phone in the toilet, by all means have a good shout. And even though it doesn’t solve the problem it’s supposed to be therapeutic along with a flurry of swear words!

From ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ chapter 19

But if the kids are winding you up and you feel your own personal tantrum coming on, take some time to go elsewhere and have a good shout, where it’s not directed at anybody, certainly not at them. (You can read about my own tantrum in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ chapter 19 – not pretty).

If you don’t shout your household will generally be the quieter for it. And as adults we should be finding other ways to defuse our pent up frustrations and anger.

Otherwise raise your voice only in song! Shouting in family life isn’t required.

Boldly into January

I have to admit I find post-christmas hard. I guess most people do. It’s the lengthy dark hours, the cold, the end of christmas holidays and sparkle that does it. Not to mention work and routine to be confronted.

But a fresh year’s start can also be a time for hope, for review, for new beginnings. Time for looking beyond these first difficult bits. To take stock and consider changes.

Everything always grows and changes – people too!

It was a good time to review family life and our home education I found. Investigate what’s working, acknowledge what’s not! Winkle out all those rancid ideas I might be clinging onto that had become out of date.

It’s often forgotten that no pattern, strategy or plan will work forever. The snag with kids is you find something that works, think you’ve cracked it, then everything changes again. Of course it does; they’re changing all the time. We have to renew along with them. And the education we facilitate has to change too.

In fact, that’s another aspect of education often overlooked; learning stuff is all about change really. About embracing change. Change of ideas, of mind, of knowledge. You have to change in order to learn something; you have to be prepared to slough off old ideas in order to accept new ones. Some people find that really hard. Thankfully the kids are more readily able to do that to accommodate the things they need to learn, adults perhaps less so. But we all need to embrace new ways of working, new skills and new understanding. And a new year is a great time to do so.

We all learn, grow, change constantly if you think about it – the kids, the mums and dads, the grandparents, the ambience in the home. It’s all in a constant state of flux. And that’s how it should be. We don’t need to cling onto old stuff, old routines, old habits, that no longer serve us well. We need to allow change. We need to notice it’s necessary! I often didn’t and created conflict in the house for that simple reason. So learn by my mistakes!

And as you venture boldly into January with your family, embrace the change of the year, acknowledge the children’s need to grow and change as they learn, and don’t be afraid of bold new thoughts!

There are all sorts of ways to live a family life. And all sorts of ways for kids to learn. We just have to remain open to things and prepared to go with the flow and flux and bold enough to implement what we believe in.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

HAPPY CHRISTMAS

I get fed up of looking at words so occasionally I do a bit of artwork especially at Christmas when I get the urge to make a few cards.

And I’m posting a card for you, dear readers, because Christmas seems like the perfect time to say thank you.

Thank you to you all. To all who’ve been with me through my books, to all who’ve shown such warm support for my work over the past year – for many years some of you. Your little messages here, on Facebook and other platforms, your reviews and your kind remarks have kept me going.

It’s been heartwarming. Thank you.

May your Christmas be heartwarming too and full of love and may that continue throughout the coming year.

Have a happy one!

You can tell who’s been talking…

Babies must wonder what all this Christmas palaver is about. They stare at all the going’s on in amazement, too young to understand what we’re up to, however much we talk to them. Our behaviour and our hype must seem bizarre,even if entertaining. But I’m sure they absorb the excitement if not the explanations.

Babies – their wonderful world on BBC2

And we should be explaining – well – talking to them, however young and however they look back at us in bewilderment. For talking with them is essential for their development whatever age they are and whatever we’re chatting about.

There have been some great programmes on the BBC recently about babies’ development which I’ve been absorbed in. It talks about how the interactions babies have impacts on their development later on. And engaging through talk and attention was one part of their growth which was discussed; how those babies and toddlers who’ve been talked to, and with, have a greater vocabulary and dexterity with language at a later date. Even more importantly; they are the ones who achieve better educationally. So even if you think your baby isn’t responding you need to keep chatting away to them about what you’re doing and the things you see as you take them out and about.

I cringe when I see babies – any kids actually – being ignored as if they were an uncommunicative blob, or being pushed along in their pushchairs, backs to their parent, whilst said parent is engaged with their mobile. I know there’s a case for this on occasion – maybe. But I suspect it happens too often. It may be a boring talking to a baby, but it is a responsibility that comes with the parent package.

In fact it’s just as important to talk with any toddler – any youngster – and that parents continue to do so. To explain, answer questions, observe, whatever, for it all impacts on the development of their brain.

I have heard that some teachers are dealing with children starting school who are so unused to being talked to, and to whom the concept of conversation is so alien, they hardly talk at all. Their spoken vocabulary is so inhibited that staff have to spend the first part of the term focussing on that, let alone anything else like reading and writing. A shocking sign of someone neglecting their parental duty to engage with their kids. Teachers can always tell which kids have been talked to!

What some parents perhaps don’t realise is that talking to the little ones whatever age they are doesn’t just impact at the time, but equally importantly affects their development later in life too. The fact that they need talking to carries on throughout their childhood. And it’s not only important for language development or academic achievement. Conversing also creates the foundations of relationships and social skills essential for our health and happiness.

So whatever is going on in your house this Christmas, make sure you chat about it with the littlies. Of course if you’re home educating you get to chat to them all the time – no wonder homeschooled kids turn out to be so well developed! And if you’ve got a baby in the mix make sure you include them in it too. You are contributing to their education even at that early age.

Cringing for Christmas

Nature’s decorations!

Why do I cringe at Christmas?

Is it the expense? No – although it is a consideration.

Is it because I have to find pressies for relatives I hardly know. Not really – I like choosing and giving gifts.

Is it the thought of the potential for overeating a mass of stuff that’s totally unhealthy but that I enjoy so much? Partly – but I get over it!

Is it because I am a Humbug?

No. It’s none of those things. The real reason I cringe at Christmas is because of the burden the earth has to bear.

So this is a plea that your family – you and the children – consider ways to make your Christmas less of a burden for the earth.

Part of their education is about the planet. To understand it better. To build knowledge of its species. To appreciate how they are part of it and how to relate to it in sustainable ways. We cannot abandon our responsibility to that just because it’s Christmas.

It doesn’t mean a kill-joy Christmas. It just means finding a better balance to what you do. And asking a few questions:

  • How can we moderate the waste we make?
  • How can we give without the earth bearing the brunt of it?
  • What can we reuse, recycle, make, rather than buy? (Wrapping paper as well as presents perhaps)
  • What throw- away articles can we do without? (Wipes, serviettes, paper tableware, for example)
  • How can you make a Christmas that doesn’t cost the earth? Make more of it instead of buying it!
  • Ask before you buy: do I really need this?
  • And consider how much more stuff the kids really need? Love isn’t bought or given through presents.

Giles Brandreth has a lovely idea that he expressed in the media recently. He’s going to tell his grandchildren that he doesn’t want any more stuff. What he’d like from them instead is for them to learn a poem off by heart for Christmas.

Learning poetry has a beneficial effect on the brain, helping with language development and flexible thinking – so he’s perhaps giving them a gift in releasing the kids from present buying whilst boosting their development at the same time!

But whatever you do for Christmas, creating or learning poetry or whatever, please do it with consideration of the earth.