Dealing with wobbles over home educating teens.

I popped over to Rachel’s home education blog (here) recently and felt such empathy for her wobbles!

Meet Rachel over on her blog

We all get them – I did too – even though when writing about home education I always try and herald the positive.

However, it’s not entirely accurate to consider wobbles a down side of home education, because wobbles are a down side of any educational route, school or otherwise. And if the kids were in school there’d be just as many concerns. Actually – there were – as ours went a while.

And wobbles are in fact a down side of parenting, for, whatever style you adopt, whatever sort of person you are, anxieties about the children are ever present. Wobbles are a natural part of family life and not exclusive to home education. The up side is; it’s because we care. We’re caring parents and caring parents worry.

However, we have to keep that in perspective and one of the techniques I used regularly and one that many parents are bad at is self-care. We have to look after ourselves to home educate (and parent) long term. (This post explains)

The other thing that sometimes worries us about home educating longer term is that you can feel as the children get older it gets more serious and that ‘time is running out’.

I’ve put that in inverted commas to identify the fact that it’s not true. Time is not running out. You can take as long as you like (or the kids like) with their education. They don’t have to be finished, polished, qualified by the time they’re 16. It’s not law. There are variations that work just as well. And the whole point of home education is that you do whatever suits the needs of your child.

Inevitably we compare our kids with those in schools. And that always gives us wobblitus! Best to forget what schools are doing and stick to your principles to educate to suit your child’s needs, rather than the system’s needs.

And as for serious; thinking back to when the children were little I imagine that you took quite a lightweight, inspirational, almost playful approach to their learning life. Well, just because the children are teens does not mean it has to be any different. Whatever you do as part of their education can still be done with a light touch.

Children’s education in schools, between the ages of 14 and 16 suddenly becomes a heavy slog of GCSEs with little other inspiration. If left up to the school, the more GCSEs they can pile on a youngster the better they tell us it is. It’s not! They do this not for the good of the child, but for the good of the stats of the school – I heard that from a head. Large numbers of GCSE qualifications has nothing to do with the personal educational development of a child, unless it’s their choice.

The educational development of children between the ages of 13-16 can feel like a plateau. This is what both myself and friends who were HEing at the time felt like. It is already a physiological difficult time for them; their neural pathways are changing which up-skittles their personalities, their thought processes, their sleep patterns, as well as their bodies. What a terrible time for them to be doing exams anyway. (Some useful info here)

It’s also a time they begin to challenge their dependency – sometimes in less than pleasant ways for us. We have much to tolerate. But understanding that they mostly can’t help it, and maintaining as much mutual respect as possible, will help.

So it’s a tricky time whether parenting or educating. The youngsters do literally lose their way a bit, unless they’re incredibly lucky to have found a course they’re passionate about.  Otherwise they can become extremely unmotivated sofa-sloths who want to do little other than game.

Parents I knew tried various strategies to push them on past this inertia, usually in the form of continued dialogue about what they might do, why they might do it, what they’d like to do, what’s good to do both personally and health wise. And what they might need educationally in order to progress. As well as suggesting stimulating activities other than gaming! Sometimes it worked, sometimes not.

But I’d like to reassure you that all those gaming, sofa loving sloths have gone on to do something. Some did GCSEs at home, over a space of several years, some post 16. Some went to FE colleges when they discovered courses they might like or to do qualifications there. None I know did more than the statutory Uni entrance requirement of 5 or 6 yet, despite competing against others with ten or more, still were interviewed, awarded places, or jobs. They all found a way forward.

On the Home Education UK Facebook group (you have to ask to join this one) there is an inspirational document about autonomously home educated youngsters who are grown up and what they’re doing now which is reassuring reading.

It is very much a question of trust.

Kids want to get out into the adult world, with adult possessions and have a crack at gaining the adult income that goes with it. I’d guess that you’ve educated yours to the degree of intelligence that, with your guidance, will help them find ways to do that.

Educating teens is the same as parenting teens – education being very much influenced by parenting whether they’re in school or not. It requires tolerance, empathy, compromise, confidence (you had the confidence to HE, after all), and trust.

Trust in yourself as a parent.

Trust in them as intelligent young people who will go for what they need when they need it, whatever form it takes, despite the odd plateau.

So wobble not!

Look after yourself. Be patient. Personal development doesn’t happen to order. Education is life long. It’s never too late and we don’t have to do it like sheep! That’s what you home educated for in the first place, wasn’t it?

(You might like to look out for my new book especially to help both new and longer term home educators with the wobbly bits – coming later this year. Pop over to the publisher’s website and sign up for their newsletter, so you’ll get first news of when it’s available).

Now my daughters are home educating me!

I got in a right stress making the little talk on You Tube. I’m not good in front of the camera. filmmaking 010

“You can take a break and swallow, mum” advises the photographer in the family, grinning from behind the lens. ‘I can always cut bits out’.

Her skills with the camera and technology far exceed mine. Pity she can’t do anything about my grimace, I thought, as I try and rid my mouth of the fur balls that seem to have filled it.

When I look at it later I cringe with embarrassment.

“We can all think we look rubbish on film at times,” reassures the performer in the family when I whinge at her down the telephone and recount our film making adventures. “Play with the setting and light, and make sure you have something on that helps skin tone and things like that.”

I was picking out all the things wrong with it when I realised something; they were using the same strategy on me that I’d used when they were here full time home educating. Namely; polish up your courage, do it don’t judge it, use all errors to learn from, and above all have another go.

Throughout our home educating days, mistakes, or not getting it right first time, were a valuable opportunity to grow, discover and point us in the right direction. Not the mountain of shame that’s often associated with them in a classroom.

Mistakes mean you’re having a go a something new that’s obviously a challenge. When you’re challenging yourself, you’re growing and learning. Examining your not-quite-right attempts in an analytical (not self-demeaning) way teaches you things about yourself and your skills that will be developmental.

But being overly critical or judgemental in a personal or negative way is of no value to the learning process at all. Getting it wrong is a positive opportunity to learn, which helps us grow and extend who we are.

It took a while for the girls to recover from the scars of schooling where getting it wrong was terrible, humiliating, and a cause for pain. Now they set themselves challenges and see them as an opportunity for growth. Getting it right or wrong in the early stages of growth is not personal. And not a crime.

They were both so beautifully encouraging when I was having a go at this. And morally supportive. Stayed on my side. Helped me push on through the tricky bits.

This is just what any learner needs, me included.

I changed some things round in the film. And did it anyway – as I’ve always told them to do. (Funny how we forget our own words). We none of us ever have to be perfect, I was always telling them that too. And yes; they fired that one straight back at me right away.

Thank you girls, for continuing to home educate me!

(If you missed it last week you can watch the film on Youtube here)

Applauding our children’s achievements

Are we there yet?

Look back to see how far you've come

Look back to see how far you’ve come

Is there a parent who hasn’t heard that on long journeys?

But it’s maybe something we’re also guilty of thinking as parents; about our children’s progress. And missing the ‘journey’ because of it. Wondering if they’ll ever ‘get it’ or ‘get there’, especially in regard to their education.

And therein lies the problem; ‘getting there’ can be a false concept, because life doesn’t always happen like that, or to order. There isn’t always a ‘there’ to aim for. And whilst you’re striving you can sometimes miss the little things that have been achieved.

It’s like hill walking; I could bet my boots that as soon as I reached the top of one summit there’d be another one waiting just beyond that was even higher, diluting the achievement of climbing the first one. Unless I looked back and acknowledged how far I’d come.

We can do that with our children sometimes, always pressing them for more. Missing what’s achieved and what is now.

Yet now is where life resides.

There may be many days when you feel there’s no progress. It certainly can feel like that when you’re home educating long term. You may feel that your days are boring and pointless, the children haven’t gained anything. That you have nothing to show – no progress.

Life can be like that whatever you’re doing, whether it’s raising babies, or doing a tedious job day after day to feed them and keep a roof over your head, life may feel stagnant.

But; progress isn’t always measurable in tangible terms. 

And each day IS a progression in itself, even the dull days.

If you have lived, that is progress. Because each day however mundane supports us in some way, however small and insignificant. Each day is a demonstration to the children about living a life, will have taught them something. Each day makes up a life, so each one has it’s value as such even if you can’t feel it at the time.

If you look back to years gone by, or when your children were little – good excuse to get the photos out – you’ll see a huge progression and many achievements.

Life is a long journey. Life with kids is a long journey. A journey of learning and experience. Each day is another footstep on our way. And we mustn’t devalue a step because of a false concept of not being ‘there’ yet. Or it not being as you first imagined.

And each day is worth, even if not applauding, simply blessing for what it is. We don’t have to be ‘there’ to acknowledge that. And the children don’t need to be ‘there yet’ for us to cherish their achievements so far.

They may not be glamorous or measurable, but they are still achievements. And can always be appreciated.

It’s alright for you but could I home educate?

“Have you ever thought about doing a talk about home education?” my friend asked.

I think I may have snorted derision! Not the kindest thing to do.

“Are you joking?” I responded. “It’s taken me all this while to emerge from my writing cupboard and publish stuff, there’s no way I’d manage an audience”.

How I ever spawned a performer as a daughter I’ll never know. It’s alright for her but…

“But you have so much to say” she persisted.

“Yea, but chatting one to one is different. I could gab on about home education forever when people are truly interested, and it’s different one to one, isn’t it? A talk is just not for me”

I retreated to the back of the cupboard again and we changed the subject.

But once the seed of an idea is thought there’s no un-thinking it is there! And even writers get bored of writing stuff all the time.

There’s so much to say and do to help raise awareness of this option of educating, I argued with my cupboard myself, so many who might just stumble here in desperate need of something different to school. Being quiet about it doesn’t help them!

Steven Hawkins says that it is often the quietest people who have the loudest minds. And sometimes my mind is so loud and random that the written word can be too slow for getting it all out. And maybe I could just give it a go and talk to an empty room.

It’s a start.

So I’ve had a go talking to an empty room! Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 21.43.47

It’s not perfect, I make some mistakes, but like with educating it doesn’t matter because I’m learning from them, like children do. And anyway, you don’t have to be perfect to successfully home educate.

And as part of this Monday series for those fairly new to home schooling the question I’m asking is;

Home Education: Can I really do it? (Watch it here)

If you watch it, you’ll see why you can.

Nurture your kids with nature!

It’s the Big Garden Bird Watch this weekend. 

This has nothing to do with big gardens so don’t think because you haven’t got one you can’t take part! It’s just an opportunity to bring the kids closer to nature and help wildlife out at the same time. Not to mention a day out at one of the events.

(Check out the details here)

But why bother?

Well, involving your children in activities like these not only helps the birds (or butterflies, or bees, or frogs, or bugs, or whatever – they have their own organisations too if you want to look them up), it helps the children as well.

Firstly, creatures are usually fascinating to children. So learning about them makes learning fascinating in itself. this will increase their skill of learning to learn and therefore their desire to do so. This enthusiasm and skill in learning will spread across to other subjects and activities so both their knowledge and ability to learn will snowball.

Secondly, as well as those benefits, this type or learning outdoors and about outdoors, makes the learning first-hand. First hand learning engages far more senses than doing it academically. Once these other senses are stimulated the children are stimulated. Stimulated brains develop into intelligent brains, so mental development increases. Physical activity promotes mental activity.

As if that wasn’t enough another benefit is that being outdoors has an added positive impact on well-being, on physical health and strength, and consequently self-confidence.

Children who are outside frequently, who are physically active, are reported to be less stressed, less hyper, and to have more self confidence than those who are not. It also counteracts the sad fact that these days too many children spend far too much time indoors becoming frightened and ill at ease once outside and with physical activity. They lack confidence in the natural world if it is unfamiliar to them. Which is not at all healthy for them, or healthy for the natural world, as we need contact to build understanding; understanding the way in which we relate to it.

Birds are one small part of the bigger picture of the natural world in all its forms. But this is a great opportunity to get your kids connected and acquainted with it in a way that both the birds and the children benefit.

A great way to nurture your children with nature!

There’s no single ‘right’ way to educate

Having home educated our children people often ask what advice I would give to those just starting out. So with the surge in interest I thought I’d repost some ideas for those who are new to it.

One of the most important pieces of advice is to get your head round the idea in the title!

Schooling has made us think that the opposite is the case – that we have to educate the school way otherwise the children won’t learn anything. In reality there are as many ways to approach learning as there are to approach parenting.

The biggest advantage of home educating is that you can tailor your approach to suit your child and your circumstances. But to do that it might be that you have to change the way you think about education and learning.

Following are some things to consider:

  • There’s no single right way to learn. A good way to approach your home educating life is to always keep your child’s needs – and the way they learn best, rather than how others are learning – at the forefront of your thinking.
  • Don’t get tied up in trying to stick to one approach, e.g. either ‘autonomous’ or ‘structured’ for the sake of it, just use what works when it works.
  • Your child grows and changes constantly. This means you’ll need to change your approach as they do so. Review and adapt, meet new people and try out their ideas. A flexible approach is far, far better than a rigid one.
  • Discard the idea, which schooling promotes, that certain things have to be achieved within certain time frames. They don’t – and this won’t harm your child’s education. There’s no rush and it’s no race against others either. Your child won’t ‘miss out’ if they don’t learn something at the same time others do. Most of the HEors we grew with did things within different time frames and now they’re all over twenty it doesn’t make any difference.
  • And another aspect of time; we know it takes years for a child to grow – yet with education we seem to want results overnight. Remember that education is a bit like growing your hair; you keep staring at it in the mirror and it doesn’t seem any longer. But next year, when you look back at old photos you know it has grown. Education is like that – like when relatives haven’t seen the kids for ages and then say ‘my, haven’t you changed’! That’s how education develops – without you even knowing it’s happening.
  • And you don’t need to test that it’s happening either. This doesn’t help kids grow. Tests in schools are not for the kids’ sake – they are for the grown-ups and the politics. I was talking to an ex-head teacher the other day and she said that they prepared masses of notes and test results for the teachers when their primary children moved up to secondary but they were never looked at.
  • Education is a long-term thing. And there are no short cuts. The very best you can do is to make your children’s activities enjoyable each day, and be patient.
  • Another thing about time is that children only take one small moment to learn something. There is a huge amount of time wasted in a school day. Your child at home with you will have lots and lots of time for play and personal pursuits. These are as valuable, educative and developmental as anything academic.
  • Contrary to what most people think kids don’t necessarily learn from being taught. They learn from experiences and from being actively engaged in their learning. Find practical ways for them to be practically engaged.
  • Nowhere is there any law that says education has to be stressy, rushed, tense or unpleasant. It is far more effective if it is the opposite.
  • Each day your child is physically active, busy, practically engaged or creative they will be learning. Academic exercise is only one small part, best left till later.
  • Make each day a good one; happy, busy, fulfilling, relaxed – as much as possible and don’t worry about the not so good, because there’s plenty of not-so-good in school! Then, all those good days pieced together will eventually make a good education.

Since there is so much information dotted around this blog supporting home educators, rather than you having to trawl through my other posts, they’re going to be collated in one new book; ‘Tales From My Home Education Notebook’ – hopefully out in the Spring. If you sign up to the publishers newsletter here you’ll get first news of when it’s due.


Even Celebs are choosing to Home Educate!

Nadia and her lovely girls

Earlier in the week there were several papers covering the news about Nadia Sawalha revealing that she was another parent who home educated.

It was lovely to have some positive coverage among the ignorant dross that’s usually trotted out by people who’ve no experience of home schooling. (Like the other presenters on ‘Loose Women’ who discuss it here all of whom are under the usual misconceptions like; kids who haven’t been used to getting up in the morning won’t be able to go to work!)

But it will help to raise awareness of this option for families whose children are not thriving in school.

And there are all sorts of reasons for that; for not thriving. Most of which generally have nothing to do with learning and education, and much to do with the school climate, the prescriptive nature of enforced learning matter and means, the obsession with testing and measurement – not particularly helpful to the learner themselves, and the neglect of individual intelligence in favour of a generic cloning.

And another thing – many, many of us would not thrive or reach our potential in a school atmosphere with masses of others where we feel threatened and put down, where despite government promises needs are not met. They can’t be, simply because of the corporate business that a school is, with so many to cater for. And the vote hungry politics which makes it so.

What’s so deplorable about this is that parents are made to feel there’s something wrong with children who need a different kind of atmosphere from that horrid hubbub of school in which to learn. School is fine if it suits – horrendous if it doesn’t. These kids are not necessarily cowards, softies, introverts or ‘special’ as they’ve been called – they are discerning! And many of the home educated kids who I know, who were removed from school because they hated it for that very reason, have gone on to be productively working adults with better social skills than many school grads.

After watching the Loose Women clip, particularly the suggestion that kids without structure won’t get up in the morning, my youngest who was home educated from the age of 6 commented that it was always the school kids who were late for college or lectures at Uni where she was always punctual despite this ‘lack’ of schooling structure. As Nadia said; home educated children take their learning on board for themselves unlike than those who’ve had it imposed on them and have therefore no idea how to be independent.

What I find most interesting about the idea of celebrities choosing home education (Emma Thompson another one) when they could presumably afford a ‘really good’ private school, is that whatever a ‘really good’ school may be these parents find their children need something different from a school experience. And it is the schooling that most want to get away from. Usually so they can get on with the real business of learning in an uplifting, inspiring and life-enhancing way.

Which is fundamentally what education is about.