Home education – can you only live it to understand?

Learning about the elements of the world

Whenever another researcher rings me up to talk about home education I face the same dilemma; how to explain the complexity and diversity of this approach to education when their thinking is so conditioned by the concept of schooling they cannot identify with the fact that schooling and education are different things.

The caller was doing some initial research for a potential informative programme about homeschooling. That would be nice!

“A programme to dispel the misconceptions” he said. That would be nice too.

But when the questions came I realise how far removed he and I are in the way we think about education as opposed to schooling.

Education, to my mind, is the ongoing personal development of the individual, a building of skills and knowledge, as much personal as academic as one’s no use without the other, that will enable a person to understand the world, find their way to fit into it and contribute to it, alongside others, in meaningful ways. Ongoing – as in its progression continues throughout life.

Yet education to most people seems to be the grooming of children towards a finite qualification, by any means, the measurement of which being the only important outcome.

Where to begin to open the mind of researchers to education as something broader? How to describe an approach that has the interest of the individual at its heart, rather than the commercial and political perpetuation of the establishment? Where to begin to describe the natural and organic way in which most home educated youngsters learn through the unmeasured interactions and experiences they have? And how this often unstructured, unprescribed, unpredetermined, child-led, approach leads in many cases to conventional results in the end, usually decided by the youngsters and not enforced by adults.

Enthusiastically, I tackle some explanations. Then realise, when I stop suddenly fearing I was gabbing on too much, that he wasn’t really listening anyway because there’s an embarrassing gap of silence before he responds. I sense he was busy reading a screen instead.

He wasn’t interested in explanations – he was just filtering everything out whilst looking for the right answers to his prescribed questions, as no doubt his own education had told him to do.

Maddeningly, being too busy answering the questions pumped at me, I didn’t get the chance to talk about the best bits of home education; the sheer wonder of seeing your kids blossom and grow, of seeing their confidence and their knowledge and their skills develop beyond what you might have taught them, or your delight in their social competence which seems to exceed your own, or their general wisdom about the world which they’ve acquired without you. Neither did I get the chance to talk about the joy home education brings to the household – not sure school ever did that when ours were in it.

But I suppose the researcher wouldn’t be able to take that on board really. And I remember that this is telly we’re talking about. And few people want to make a programme without salacious nuggets of drama in them how ever informative they promise to be.

And, just as happened last time, they ring off with profuse thanks that really doesn’t mask the fact that they’ve no idea what I’m on about and I didn’t give them the right answers.

Like with most things, home education is something you have to live to understand. But the more we do talk about it, the more you record all your adventures and approaches and ideas like some of you do with your great blogs and posts, the more that will hopefully change.

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Don’t forget to adjust and enjoy!

I always loved this picture of my eldest walking through the trees with the dog when she was little.

Twenty years later I snapped another one; same girl, same place, different dog! Which just goes to show how everything grows – kids and trees!

We know that obviously. But when you’re with little ones, and when you’re home educating especially, it’s not something you can ever possibly imagine. You don’t even need to really. You just need to make the most of the time you’re in.

That’s important, I think, to be in the now.

However, there will be times when the ‘now’ is driving you nuts. Wearing you down. Frustrating you into pieces! Be comforted by the fact that it’s not you, it’s not them, it’s not because you’re home schooling. It’s just the normal way of human relationships. It’s normal.

So don’t worry.

Instead, I found it helps to be proactive. Ask yourself if there’s something you need to do to help you past this little bit. Like; have some space from each other? Get outside? Get some physical activity? (essential for the wellbeing of both you and the children). Make changes?

Review your approaches to your parenting or your home education?

We know kids grow and change. We know we grow and change. But what we fail to notice sometimes is that we might need to adjust our behaviour to each other, adjust the way we speak, act, re-act, as a consequence of those changes. Not just carry on in the same old way – now possibly outdated. You wouldn’t react to a fifteen year old the same way you’d act to your five year old. But sometimes we forget that simple adjustment.

So if you’re having ‘one of those days’ take a step back, view it as an objective observer for a moment – as if you were someone else looking at you. There may be a sign of a simple solution. There may be change required to accommodate the way things grow. Relationships grow like the girl in the picture.

She and I have a lovely relationship now. We did then. It is obviously quite different. But there were times when it was less obvious to me that I had to halt a minute, review what I was doing, and adjust. Hard to see sometimes when you’re going through it. Just thought I’d give you a gently reminder to help your days grow better.

Adjust and enjoy whatever stage you’re at!

Uniform oppression and gender choices

I was at school in the late sixties and seventies where the rules about the uniform were like the head; totally dated and oppressive!

Our skirts had to be no more than an inch off the floor when we knelt; none of this mini-skirt nonsense. and you had to have five buttons on your cardigans. Not six or four. Did the staff have time to count in those days I wonder?

I adhered to the rules, even though I abhored uniform. I was the classic Miss Mouse. Miss Average Mouse. I hated attention – was scared stiff of everyone – and being an average mouse was the best way to avoid being noticed.

But it came to the day in the sixth form when I just felt too oppressed to wear it any more and I had a lightbulb moment – why was I doing this? So I just stuck my jeans on.

I got into a lot of trouble. Obvs! I had heated discussions with the head when I got sent to her office. We had rousing discussions in class when all the others wanted to do the same. And I created such a furore because they didn’t know what to do with this good little mouse they hadn’t even noticed before. I think the word expulsion was threatened but didn’t come.

Eventually, when I turned up for school day after day still with my jeans on (and still the only one despite what friends had promised – but I guess their parents were horrified), and after many school debates about uniform, the rules were changed. Sixth formers were allowed to wear their own clothes from that day forward and I never wore a uniform again. Even one female member of staff thanked me as women staff had formerly not been allowed to wear trousers either. Can you imagine that now?

Boys who weren’t allowed to wear shorts!

However, I find it very alarming that gender inequality still goes on in schools (did you see these programmes?) and affects our kids achievement.

And I find it equally distressing that it is still women who mostly have to fight it. Despite this recent article about boys (girls are rarely as newsworthy – have you noticed?)

That it is women and even young school age girls who are criticised for their looks, style, weight, sex, when it is irrelevant to their education and profession, and those kinds of references are rarely used about men. Even more saddening that this starts right back in schools, as the remarks about girls in this article about gender neutral uniforms recently showed.

I thought we’d moved on from the day when, doing some supply teaching, I was taken aside by the male head to be asked if I’d wear skirts to work instead of trousers, without any professional reason.

“Think of it as humoring my male preference,” he said.

Doesn’t that make your skin crawl?

As a young vulnerable teacher needing a job what could I say? Children are even more vulnerable when people and attitudes like his persist.

So we need to raise and educate our youngsters to understand the true meaning of equality, of gender equality particularly, to be bold and make sure they know their right to choose, to open conversations about it regularly, and make sure we parents are not perpetuating the wrong attitude to each other, whatever gender

And a final ironic note; home educated kids still manage to become educated even with uniform! Funny that!

Going over to the other side

I’d be really interested to know your experiences of dealing with Local Authority representatives who contact you with regard to your home education.

I was wondering if the relationships between us – us as home schooling families and them being part of the system – had changed?

My interest has been aroused because a home educator I know has been asked – yes asked – to join the team at their local authority to help them monitor the increasing numbers of home educating families. His immediate reaction, he said, was to recoil in horror at ‘going over to the other side’.

But does it not seem the best solution to this whole distasteful business of home educating families being monitored? Who better to offer support – as the LA now begin to see it – than someone who’s had experience of it? I’m not saying it’s right that families are monitored, and the authorities still have no statutory duty to regularly do so, I’m just saying that if it happens wouldn’t the best person for the job be a former home educator? Anyone who isn’t, is just not qualified. But then, we’ve had education ministers with no experience of the classroom, so what’s new!

See the Ed Yourself site for full details of the law and your rights

(See the Ed Yourself site for the full details and your rights)    

It all boils down to the individual really. Like with anything, it’s the manner of the visitor and the agenda they bring to their visit that counts. I’ve heard horror stories in the past about visitors whose whole remit is to get kids back in school as if this home educating lark was a whim. Or those who are bullying, disrespectful and downright ignorant of both home schooling approaches and the rights of parents. Even ignorant of the law in some cases.

But I read increasingly of LAs wanting to – and managing to – change these stories and offer more in terms of support, rather than judgement. Now that there is continuing evidence of home educating successes, they can hardly dispute that it works. Whether it’s an enlightened individual who can accept those successes is another matter. But it would be blinkered ignorance for them not to know that and they shouldn’t be doing the job it that’s the case. So maybe it is better that former home educators take on this role? And as home educating parents the best thing you can do is to know your rights, the law surrounding home education, and what they’re not entitled to do! (The site above is a great resource for this)

What’s your view? And what experiences have you had with the LA?

Do leave a comment and share this around your groups. It’d be great to hear your thoughts.

Bringing on the tears

It’s not my intention to make people cry! But this seems to be what’s happening.

Many parents have told me that they read ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ and ended up in tears.

Not in a bad way I hasten to add. And not usually because of a tragic event that happens in the story.

They are instead mostly tears of relief and emotion to discover that someone has felt the way they do, tears of joy to find their own feelings about children and their learning are empathised with, tears on discovering they are not the only one!

Two little home edders volunteering as part of their education

Here’s a message I received recently:

“We have just started out on our home ed journey and we knew in our hearts that it was the right decision – but reading a Funny Kind of Education just hit home so much with us. I cried when I read the first couple of chapters because I finally had something to relate to – this is what we were going through. My two were being crushed by the system and I have been wholly disgusted that many children so young are experiencing so much stress, and their self-esteem taking a dramatic nose dive because they NEVER feel good enough, and never ever will at school. My son who is nearly ten practically got on his knees and begged me every night and morning not to send him into school – repeating over and over again I have had enough mummy no more please. Now only after two weeks of our journey his face and his sister’s light up with the thought of what we are going to be learning about on a new day. That sense of wonderment with the world is back big time already (it came back in the holidays but left pretty soon after the start of a term) – they are questioning everything and are coming up with all sorts of ideas of their own – and I don’t care that my kitchen is a tip or the dog keeps eating the science experiments or cooking ingredients that drip on to the floor -hahaha – they are happy little bunnies and we are just going with the flow. I know I will have my wobbles too I know and moments of needing to calm down when we are having ‘one of those days’ (dipping in and out of your Home Ed Notebook also) – but we are already starting to feel part of a lovely home ed local community online and in person”.

I can’t tell you how overjoyed I was to receive that wonderful message and I thought it worth sharing here for ongoing encouragement!

When I shared our story I hoped that people would find comfort and support from the fact that they are not the only parent to have a child who is not thriving in school. So I’m delighted to know it’s doing it’s job. And that the ‘Home education Notebook’ is also doing its job of supporting those wobbly moments.

I say so many times that schools work well for many families. But they don’t work for all. And that’s not the fault of the child.

If there is one over-riding message I’d like to get out there among the mainstream community it is that one.

Some children need something different. And it’s about time home education was respected for providing a doable and successful alternative for those children. About time it was not looked down upon as a second rate education just because it didn’t happen in a school. And about time people stopped being so scared of it!

Doing the human race a favour!

Charley sat picturesquely on the bridge with the dog! 

It seems ages since she was small enough to wade through the tunnel without bending over! And ages now since the adventures she had doing so, described in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ when we’d take off into the countryside for the afternoon, with picnics and usually granma too.

She and I were revisiting one of the favourite places for our homeschool adventures recently when I snapped this.

They always learnt so much wherever we went, especially when they had the opportunity to explore, talk about, investigate and discover. The simple experience of the afternoon was educative enough – it doesn’t always have to be formal.

That’s something missing from a formal education which takes place in institutions day after day, keeping the kids busy with a predetermined curriculum. It leaves no room for imagination or personal discovery. It masks the fact that informal activities can be just as educative. More so perhaps because along with their own investigations comes the opportunity to think for oneself, making a far more independent learner than one that is regularly spoon fed and who is constantly led to believe their own ideas are invalid.

A more investigative approach keeps the children’s curiosity alive – their wonder at the world intact – and this keeps them motivated to go on learning because it is far more engaging. I’m not saying there’s no room for formal activities sometimes – when they serve a purpose. But many school activities don’t – other than ticking political boxes.

Schools have to keep kids busy. But keeping them busy within formal prescribed structures does not guarantee learning is taking place. Equally the reverse is true. Informal activities do not mean there’s no learning taking place.

And I wish people would understand that just because the children may be learning informally, it doesn’t mean the parents are not taking it seriously. We took the children’s education very seriously, as all home educators do, whatever approach they adopt. Would anyone ever take this decision lightly? Doubt it.

People are conditioned to think that a school style approach to education is the ‘real’ one and the one that matters because that’s all they know. Their own education has failed to show them that there are all sorts of ways to learn! They fail to comprehend anything different.

But random learning, however diverse, promotes the ability to learn randomly – or diversely. And the ability to think diversely. We could certainly do with more of those types of people. Diversity is essential for the perpetuation of the species so Darwin said!

So getting out like we did, and giving your kids a range of experiences as you educate, will actually be doing the human race a favour. And even though it may be informal, don’t be fooled into thinking that there is no serious education going on!

Home Ed in a few words – really?

It’s always so difficult to narrow an explanation of home education down into a few minutes.

Maybe it’s because I’m a writer who is over indulgent with words!

Or maybe it’s because home education is so varied and diverse, so beyond most people’s understanding of how learning works without conventional classrooms, teachers, structures, etc., it’s an impossible task.

Anyway I said I’d give it a go when Radio Humberside rang me to speak on the breakfast show with Lizzie and Carl about home schooling as it’s always referred to these days.

Lizzie and Carl from Radio Humberside

It’s not my thing really. Like most home educating families I just like to get on in my own quiet way. But conversely I also feel it’s also important to raise awareness and respect for this valid and successful approach to children’s education. Especially as I continue to read of more and more mental health issues among kids, school refusals and phobia, and ‘learning difficulties’. For I strongly believe that these issues are not the fault of the kids – they’re the fault of a failure to acknowledge that all kids are different and may need different environments/approaches in which to achieve their potential.

So I grit my teeth and do my bit in the hope it’ll help other families find and pursue this approach to education if they need the option.

I don’t do the public bit very well and often end up being rather defensive than informative, which is what happened this morning.

It’s just that I often feel we’re still justifying the position and combatting myths and age-old conditioned thinking. A hard task sometimes and I come away kicking myself for not handling it better. But if it ignites a gem of hope to a family whose child is suffering in the system then I’ll be happy.

Anything to help folks understand that the problem lies not with their child – as the professionals would like us to believe, but with the system we’re forcing them into.

Home educated children, who were ‘failing’ in school and who achieved out of it, are testimony to that fact!

You can listen here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05f8q4q around 1:10:28 if you wish and there’s more from others on home educating later in the programme.

(Browse through my books for more information and the story of how home education worked for us)