Feeling grateful….

I can’t tell you how grateful I was last week to recieve another warmhearted message about my book ‘A Funny Kind Of Education’:

A Funny Kind Of Education is amazing!!! I’m speeding though it with pure delight, laughing and enjoying every moment. Your book speaks to me, explaining everything I think and feel about learning and education and schooling – the humour and love explode from the pages!!!”

Wow!

You’ve really no idea how rewarding it is to receive that – unless of course you’re also one of the people who’ve sat for hours scribbling in isolation, wondering if it’s worth the bother!

So I am immensely grateful when readers take the time to let me know they’ve been moved by my books and how helpful they’ve been. This review was particularly rewarding because it saw the book as a family book – as much as a home education one – and that’s what I like to think it’s mostly about. And that it was readable; so many books about education – and this is about education – bore you rigid. I know that feeling; I’ve read a few, and even though am passionate about the subject, it’s rare to read one that’s engaging.

Although the other books I’ve done to support home educating families; ‘A Home Education Notebook’ and ‘Learning Without School’ (see the Books page for more details) contain more general information and tips, this seems the most popular and certainly was my favourite to write.

If you’ve read and enjoyed it, (or any of them) and have a moment to leave a review of it on Amazon or around your networks I’d be most grateful. Not just because I’ve got a big head and like to feel reassured I haven’t been wasting my time! But more importantly because it helps spread awareness of this approach to educating and supports others who may be struggling in the system looking for an alternative. And if you’re a new mum, you might find my ‘Mumhood’ one helpful too!

But whether you review or not, this is still a VERY BIG THANK YOU for having supported what I do by reading my books.

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A reason to be old fashioned about cash!

It suddenly struck me the other day as I was paying for shopping with a contactless card that, with the increased use of contactless payments and credit cards, it is almost unusual for children to see real money being used in exchange for shopping, coffees, fares etc. So an understanding of money, amounts, and the useful maths skills that go with it doesn’t happen naturally as it did twenty years ago for example.

When kids see money practically changing hands – and can get their hands on it themselves – it reinforces the more academic maths they’ll be doing via the curriculum. But the way we use our money nowadays, so much of it online, denies the children opportunities of real contact and consequential learning about using it – and where it comes from!

Learning about money, for small kids, needs to be practical – so perhaps we should revert to using it the old fashioned way.  Let them count it, hold it, play with it and chat about coinage and their values. This could develop into counting in twos, fives, tens, twenties, etc, which in turn develops skills that are transferable to all numerical computation like adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing, for example.

So using cash can be a useful approach to show children how numbers and money work. If they can see it happening in front of them for real, get to handle and play with it physically, (using single pennies too as counters – while we still have them!) it helps reinforce their understanding and supports their wider mathematical learning.

So maybe:-

  • Keep a stock of coins for youngsters to play with and count and use for a play ‘shop’
  • Use cash instead of cards to pay for small things whilst they’re out with you so they can see the exchange
  • As they get older allow them their own pocket money, or allowance, and see what they can buy with it
  • Talk about how you earn money in exchange for the work you do and how you spend accordingly
  • Some find it helpful to provide the opportunity for youngsters to do ‘jobs’ in return for ‘earnings’
  • Talk to your older children about finance in a positive proactive way, what financial commitments you have and how you handle them.

A regular criticism of young people is that many of them finish their education with paper qualifications but without the important life skill of handling their finances, even though supposedly they can do the maths. So beyond teaching the smallest of our kids about coins and money value, it’s also important that older children go on to understand the wider implications of cash and credit, of living within your means, and how to avoid getting into debt. We can do this by openly discussing the way we use money, what we have to pay for and how we budget.

Using cash for transactions – whilst we still can – is a useful base for these skills. And to talk about money openly as a practical, rather than emotive, subject is a way to continue to reinforce them.

There’s some further interesting reading on money habits on the Money Advice Service website if you need it.

 

Feel the green

I find it hard to stay in and work when it’s so glorious outside.

Not having young children here any more I don’t even have them as an excuse to get outdoors every day! But I still do – I know how it affects me, or rather how I am affected by its absence.

Walking along the local footpath towards me the other day was a young family getting their littlies outside.

“They love to be out here,” Dad said, as we stopped to chat. “Don’t want to be in much at all.” The children were about three and eighteen months, exploring everything around them while we spoke, far too restless and curious to be still for a minute. they reminded me of our two.

We were lucky to have rural space on our doorstep for ours to help themselves to, everyday if they wanted. And they did seem to want to, the eldest loving flowers and often taking drawing or books out there, the youngest with her curiosity about creepy-crawlies or experiments with mud – as described in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’!

And even now in their twenties and living in urban places for the work, they suddenly feel the need to go seek out green spaces, hungry for the healthy, calming inpact it has on them. They sip of it like nectar, knowing

The footpath above the city

what it feels like.

In fact, on a recent visit to the city where my eldest lives and is immersed at the current time in a stressful working schedule, we climbed up a footpath out of the city to seek the benefits – her choice for her few hours off. She recognised her need. So many don’t.

I shared this with the family on the footpath.

“You always return to your roots,” mum commented.

But I replied; “I hope not; mine were in London and I’ve no desire to return there!” We laughed. But I knew what she meant – she’d been away and returned to her rural roots too. I needed to escape my concrete roots to something that suited me better. Not everyone’s the same, I acknowledge that. That’s why kids need a diverstiy of experiences, to find out about themselves and their needs. Ours were able to experience concrete living too and actually our eldest thrives in the city – but she still needs to touch green sometimes.

However, I thought how lucky ours had been, as this young family is, to have had that experience of green spaces just as a reference in their lives. A reference to making them feel good, naturally, because it inherently does. It impacts on our physical and mental health in ways we’re only just beginning to really understand. So even if we don’t live rurally we need to seek out contact with nature to remain wholly well. And I worry about parents bringing up families in places where it’s hard to access that. Because it’s vital that you do.

Vital that you make contact with green things; growing things, the range of species and their needs alongside ours, green space to run about in if possible, on a daily basis. Because the habits that you adopt now will be habits that demonstrate a way of living that encourages and promotes their well being and health. Our own habits are the most important teacher of all. Not forgetting that this contact is essential for raising their understanding of the earth and why we need to look after it.

Finding green, feeling the green, understanding the natural benefits of green spaces, is a vital part of any education.

There are some great outdoor projects to get involved in on Springwatch – check out their garden survey. here

Read the real truth about home educating

There are still so many misconceptions about home education so I thought it was worth another airing as some might find it reassuring. And often over school holidays there’s renewed interest in this alternative educational option:

You can feel people’s resistance come up like a prickly shield when you mention home education. It seems to provoke the same fear as if you’d suggested jumping off Big Ben – ‘couldn’t possibly do that’!

Which is actually where many home educating families start too, but they’re forced to move from a position of ‘couldn’t possibly do that’ to ‘we’ve got to do something’. Because despite the government conveniently labelling home education as ‘elective’, for most parents it isn’t. Many parents they are forced into trying anything to save their children from dire circumstances in school, both personal and academic.

Most home educating families are just ordinary families trying to do the best for their kids. Most are not elite, or alternative, extremist or ignorant. But the government obviously thinks we need watching because they’re desperate to collect us all on a register and confine us within the same school-style boundaries and systems that made us home educate in the first place. And they do it because of fear. Because of the same outdated ignorance many folks have towards a learning style that thousands of families are now finding extremely successful.

I’m hoping that some of this ignorance will be eradicated. It needs to be because many children need the choice of this alternative to school. For some, home educating changes academic failure into success. It changes nil self-esteem into confidence. And in some desperate cases it probably even saves lives.

Learning can occur in a myriad of different ways not just the way they do it in school. It’s about time the success and value of home education was recognised. It’s about time ignorance was replaced with some of the true facts. Facts like:

  • Home educated children achieve good grades like other children do. They go to university, college, or into work or businesses like other children do. Their academic, social and personal skills are reputed to be in front of those of their school peers.
  • Home educated children are not isolated or invisible. Most interact with a wide range of people, in a wide range of places, doing a broad range of activities. Some have far more life experience than those children in school. Most have mature social skills.
  • Thousands of families turn to home education because schools fail to provide for their children’s needs, both academic and personal. In some cases this has been a life line for children who’ve suffered in school the kind of abuse that just would not be tolerated by adults in a workplace. Home educators are the parents who take initiative to do something about their children’s suffering rather than just ignoring it.
  • Children who have been written off by the educational system or labelled as having ‘learning difficulties’ or ‘special needs’, for example, have gone on to achieve a good academic standard through home education.
  • Home educating families are as ordinary as any other families who have the same ordinary aspirations for their children to achieve and be happy. They come from all ranges of the social, educational, financial and cultural backgrounds that make up our society.
  • Home educated children usually achieve the same outcomes, if not better, than children in schools.
  • Contrary to what most parents think, children learn in a multitude of different ways, not just in the conveyor belt style of the educational system. Home educating gives children the opportunity to learn in the way that suits them best, increasing their chances of success. This doesn’t necessarily mean academic cramming. It means acknowledgement of the myriad of alternative approaches there are to learning, to opportunities, to qualifications, to being educated, and making best use of them.
  • In my experience as a home educator within a wide network of other home educators, and whilst researching for my books, I have never come across an incidence of abuse. However I saw plenty of cases of abuse when I worked in schools.

Feel free to share around as much as possible, most particularly to those who continue to lack understanding!

And to see how it works at family level, check out my home schooling books.

 

Just because I’m ‘contrary’…

I’ve often been accused of being contrary! Usually by people whose point of view I don’t readily accept.

You can imagine that happens regularly when talking about education. And especially with the fact that I consider home education – and education – to be the same thing. Although most people wouldn’t share that perspective!

So in order to continue my reputation I’ve come up with a contrary way of answering all these home education questions you get by people who; a) have no experience of it and don’t want to be contaminated by radical ideas, b) are blinkered by what the institution of school has taught them and don’t want to take their blinkers off and c) who don’t really want to know anyway!

Unhappily I was with one of those recently. So in order not to waste their or my time, (don’t get me wrong – I’m happy to elucidate  on the subject of Home Ed for hours if the person’s genuinely interested) I’ve decided now I’m going be contrary and turn all their questions round in order to deal with it.

It goes a bit like this:

Question – but won’t the kids miss out not being in school? Answer – don’t the kids shut in school miss out on real life?

Q – how do they socialise if they’re not in school? A – How do they learn how to socialise shut away from normal society in a place where it’s considered weird to socialise with those outside your age group, copying a bunch of people with immature social skills?

Q – how will the kids learn about the real world without going to school? A – how do the kids learn about the world shut away from it in a place that’s nothing like the real world?

Q – how do kids learn without being taught? A – how did you learn to use your mobile phone without being ‘taught’?

Q – how do you teach if you’re not a teacher? A – how do teachers know how to relate to kids if they’ve had no experience with them, as parents have?

Q – how do kids make proper friends when they’re not in class? A – how do they make friends when class mates all their own age are the only people they interact with, which is hardly a true reflection of society?

Q – won’t they get bored being at home all the time? A – won’t they get bored being in school all the time?

You get the idea! I’m sure you can think of lots more ways to make it work! Do please comment below. And try it out for yourself when you next get a barrage of questions from someone you know has made up their negative mind already!

Don’t let curriculum suffocate creativity

There’s an exhibition about the work of Quentin Blake touring the country at the moment and I was lucky enough to see it.

If you’re not sure who he is just think about your Roald Dahl books, as most of us are familiar with his work through his illustration of them – the BFG or Matilda being among them. Quentin Blake also produces his own books in collaboration with John Yeoman.

I suspect most parents who’ve read a Roald Dahl book to their kids will be familiar with Blake’s beautiful scribbly drawings, the characters and their expressive faces clearly displaying the emotion and telling parts of the story the writer cannot with simple words! He is extremely clever.

The beauty of his drawings when you consider them as art works, particularly as an example to our children, is that they’re not exact representations of what people actually look like. They’re better than that – and showing so much more as such.

And why that’s important is this: people get so hung up about drawing and trying to make something actually look like the object being drawn – rather than making their own personal representation of it, their own art work. And this inhibits so many creatives, puts a stop to many people being creative when they’re feel their work is no good. When they’re judged.

Our daughter was seven when she was told that by a teacher in school; that she’d drawn something badly, (?!! at 7 for goodness sake!!!) and it took her a long time to recover from that and begin once more to practise her creativity in its many forms, as part of her home education. (The tale is told in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’)

No art work is wrong or bad! Any art work or creative endeavour in whatever form is incredibly personal, and incredibly individual. That’s the whole point of it and why it’s so special – no one else could do it the same as you. ‘Wrong’ doesn’t come into it!

Although skills can be learnt through studying technique or understanding materials and marks, the raw creativity and imagination needed to produce drawings and artwork of any kind is unique to an individual and should never be made to ‘fit’ or ‘look like’ anything else necessarily. Original expression is inherent in each of us and needs to be nurtured as such not inhibited by comments such as my daughter received. And that’s a great flaw in curriculum in relation to creativity; if we’re not careful curriculum can be the death of it. Curriculum diktat ruins originality. It can stop you being creative and thinking outside the norm with your education too!

Children and young people need encouragement to create. Especially when these days they’re more practised at holding a console than a pencil. But essentially creativity is the foundation of many valuable skills that can be transferred across education, and enhances brain development far more broadly than learning times tables for example.

Anyone can learn times tables – they already exist. But creative endeavours are unique to each individual, who knows what will be created, and they play an essential part in the perpetuation of our species and our planet. Read this to see why. We need creative skills like we need air! It’s an irreplaceable part of the educational process.

So drawing, painting, modelling, telling stories, drawing stories like Quentin Blake, scribbling, doodling, all develop part of our children’s intelligence in a way nothing else can. Along with being creative in how you curate education!

I suggested our daughter spent some time ‘drawing badly’ to get over those remarks!

And I suggest you encourage your kids to draw in whatever style suits them, like Quentin Blake draws in his own distinctive style.

You never know, you might have another Blake in the making!

Did you see Planet Child?

I watched the first in a new series about children’s development last week called Planet Child. Did you see it?

In it the twin doctors, Chris and Xand van Tulleken, were observing how children in other parts of the world are given greater independence at a very young age, having very different lifestyles from those in the UK, and how this impacts on their development.

As a result of these observations the doctors set up an experiment for three groups of seven year olds to simulate that experience of  independence, where the children had to navigate their way across London on their own without their parents. (Safely under observation – although the kids didn’t know that).

It was dead scary watching!

Scary for me as a parent – not the kids – they seemed happy enough, and it was fascinating to watch.

Now, I know ‘it is telly’, as in it’s all very contrived, well edited to get us to believe what they want us to believe, and has many flaws as an experiment as such. And there were many unanswered questions.

However a fascinating premise that came out of it was that it seems the more time children spend on unstructured activities, the better it is for their overall development.

And this immediately made me think of all the home educating families who use less structure and more autonomy in their approach to their children’s learning and are often criticised for it, many educationists believing that kids learn nothing without a structured regime of learning. Yet it appears it is exactly this autonomy which gives the opportunity for the children to develop many essential personal skills, needed in order to be able to apply themselves and what they’ve learned to real life. Life-skills in other words. Skills which are often inhibited by an approach that spoon feeds them a curriculum in a structured environment where they’re told what to do, when and how to do it. Like school.

Ironic! Since it is so often this autonomous approach, often interpreted as the parents being uninvolved (so wrong!), which many professionals find so hard to get their so-called educated heads around, even though there is increasing proof as these home educators graduate that an autonomous approach works well.

Autonomous approaches to education don’t drill kids to follow an extrinsic curriculum, pass tests and get grades, as schools do, (even though most of the home schooled youngsters go on to choose to gain qualifications in their own autonomous way). What it does, is develop a broad-thinking, educated person with a wide range of skills that enable them to make appropriate independent choices.

Unstructured activities are good for kids, the programme concluded (although clearly within certain boundaries – ‘it is telly’ after all!) Unstructured education has the same advantages.

Just thought I’d say in case you’re having doubts about your autonomous home educating approach!