Essential tips for being together

‘It’s not going to be easy’. That’s one of my partner’s favourite sayings. Doesn’t matter what we want to achieve, he trots it out; unhelpfully!

At this present time, I have to admit, that very saying has slipped into my mind. We are all facing challenges we never could have predicted. The least of which is being cloistered together most of the time, without the work, school, outings which are more the norm for family life and which affords necessary space from each other.

Irritations can escalate, tolerance lower.

We’ll have to learn to live round one another in harmony and respect if the family unit’s going to survive. Something it was very necessary to do whilst we were home educating, even though getting out and about was very much part of our routine.

There is much to be learnt from home educators’ way of living and learning. Not so much about education because this short period of parents doing school at home is not like home educating where you grow into learning together gradually and have time to work a completely different approach to it. Rather, we can learn a lot about how to develop a relationship that’s respectful and harmonious enough to work together.

Managing the continued close contact that we’re dealing with at the moment, and which might go on for a while yet, takes some working out and working at. It’s not going to be easy, says she!

Of course, home educating families don’t manage it all the time. There is just as much conflict and discord as in any home. There certainly was in ours, some of which I describe in my book ‘A Funny Kind of Education’. I think I had a complete meltdown at times. But we got over it – I was supposed to be the adult I reckoned; I had to find ways to mend, rebuild, and help us all learn.

You’ll find lots of giggles about our home educating days in here, along with the mishaps

Learning about relationships and living together is an essential skill to be passing on to the kids, one that’ll be useful for the whole of their lives.

Some of the ways we nurtured this were:

  • By finding ways to be apart, discussing the fact we all needed it regularly and that is okay; everyone needs it for their sanity, it’s not to do with love
  • By discussing how this might be achieved especially in small living spaces
  • By being ingenious with spaces to be apart, using the rooms/spaces we had, corners, hallway, outside, wherever
  • By making it okay to say; ‘I need some head space right now, so am going to switch off for a bit’ and everyone understanding that this means not to intrude, even verbally, if they’re in the same room
  • By building reciprocal respect and empathy for everyone’s need for these times, whoever it might be, child or adult
  • By getting creative with den making. A den is a perfect private space for kids, even if it’s just a blanket over a clothes horse or corner of the bathroom. They’ll occupy it for hours, especially if you keep creating new ones, giving you some space too
  • By having a regular time scheduled into your day which becomes a habit, when you ask for your lone time to be respected as you respect others’ needs for time to themselves too
  • By not being afraid to use the word ‘sorry’ when it goes wrong, thus showing the youngsters how to do the same, and that no one is perfect.

Building respectful relationships is an essential part of learning to live together, and education. But it does take consistent practise, ongoing respect, reviewing regularly especially what’s not working, and maybe a bit of teeth gritting!

I don’t know how long we’ll be shut up together. But I do know that it’ll be far better if we find ways to be so with harmony and respect.

Learning results from the simplest things

I’ve been told before that parents other than home educators visit here and some of the posts they read are still useful to help them understand and keep a healthy mind towards their children’s learning whilst they go through school.

I’m really chuffed to hear that! Because education is education wherever it’s happening and whatever you’re doing, home educating or not.

Of course, in these strange times, most families are forced to do ‘school at home’, which is not the same as home education where parents have a very different approach as some of my books and blogs explain. But with those parents in mind particularly I thought I’d re-post this little piece that was written for ‘school holidays’ to help reassure those who are worrying, especially about the children regressing. And it applies to home educating too!

Firstly, the children won’t regress during this not-at-school time – as much as schools like to threaten that – what is regress anyway? The children might not be keeping up with the school test scores but is that really educationally useful? (Article on testing here) You might like to think on that whilst they’re busy with other things that are equally educationally developmental!

Secondly; it’s a great opportunity to spend time engaged with the children that you haven’t had before – term-time or not. We should equally be spending time not engaged with the children. This is all part of parenting – and as some fail to understand – education is very much dependent on parenting!

Thirdly, there’s no point in stressing over it – instead we have to accept the circumstances and ask how we can make best use of them. Most of what we do with our children will further their skills and knowledge in some way or another, from story telling to playing with money, from gaming to doing star jumps, watching stuff together, chatting – it doesn’t have to be academic. Small things can make huge differences.

Taking that further, there are four very simple things to do right now that can have a huge impact on your children’s development, but which might be overlooked whilst you’re worrying about school stuff.

They are:

  1. Read to them as much as possible, be a reading family; encourage reading by reading yourself – doesn’t matter what
  2. Talk with them and respond to their thoughts, questions, ideas
  3. Encourage their curiosity (which is their inbuilt desire to learn) by facilitating activities that involve; exploration, variety, investigation, experimentation and creativity in all its many forms
  4. Be active as much as possible, essential not just for body, but heart and brain health too. You can do this in the house as well as out!

These can cost nothing but your time, but by doing the above at some point every day you’ll be furthering their education in ways you may not understand but which make an important difference.

Don’t panic about your child’s education

I’m sure now that many parents whose children went to school will be panicking about their education.

Guess what? Home educators panic too! Of course they do!

But there are several simple things to know about children’s learning that have helped them get a grip on that anxiety which might help everyone else too.

See this post; https://rossmountney.wordpress.com/2019/09/09/your-questions-about-home-education-answered/

I always tell home educating families and those new to it a simple fact about learning: children learn as much out of school as they do in it!

They don’t necessarily need schools in order to learn. And an education is not built solely on learning facts and taking tests, measuring progress and ticking off stages on a tick sheet, or those other things associated with schooling; it doesn’t have to be formal to be effective! Everything kids do is educationally useful, builds skills, mental as well as physical. A lot of what schools do is just for schools, not for education!

An education is built upon a developing brain (and body), which takes a lot of time. It’s built on a rounded development of a number of skills learnt through living a life that are transferable to education. Life educates as much as school does (more so probably). And a small interruption in schooling as we have now is not going to be noticed in ten years time!

So get on with every day life and enjoy the experience of sharing it with your child through discussions and debates and hypothesising and explorations online, through these incredible times that offer much to cogitate on (not scaremongering though).

Another fact to understand is that a developing and educationally growing brain is a busy brain, so keep busy, remembering that it’s not that important what that busyness is.

Look at it like keeping a body fit. Physical activity is needed to keep a body fit but it doesn’t really matter what that physical activity is, in fact, the more variety the better, from walking to dancing, from leaping about in front of an exercise video to climbing trees, kicking a ball round an empty playground to skipping in the back yard. Same with the brain. Whatever the children are engaged in their brain will be exercising and developing their mental skills whether that’s gaming, exploring YouTube, reading, artworks of any kind (be diverse), learning how to cook pancakes, playing monopoly, constructing something, solving a problem, writing a story, drawing a story (comics are big business!) All these activities develop the brain, in other words educate, as much as times tables or workbooks or whatever academic exercise you associate with being at school. They all add to the pool of skills which can be transferred to more formal education practices at a later date.

Schools do not have the monopoly on learning and education. As thousands of home educating young people are proving. Kids learn anyway. All experiences educate, most of which you can facilitate, although I acknowledge that you are going to have to be more resourceful in finding them home based as we all are at present. Even these weird circumstances present a good opportunity for learning – looking back through history at other times when people had lives completely disrupted, like through times of war for example.

So I would suggest you stop panicking about academic things, which your children will have foisted back on them soon enough (even though it may seem ages to you) and just enjoy your children because these times are educative in themselves. Get busy with the kids whilst you have the opportunity too; make, bake, play, talk, find new films and documentaries to watch and chat about those, create new recipes from whatever you have in the cupboard, change rooms round, make dens, do all sorts of home based stuff because it will all contribute to your child’s education, developing skills and furthering their knowledge.

Be close, be loving and reassuring and trust that your child’s education will not be harmed, because it won’t be when you look at the bigger picture – something I encourage home educating families to do. In fact the opposite might happen, it might be enhanced from having this different out-of-school experience requiring independent thinking and problem solving; two great skills for life.

So don’t panic. Enjoy it instead. Keep busy. Be resourceful, during these odd times, which is a brilliant thing to teach your kids after all!

There’s another blog about coping with worries over here

And a whole chapter devoted to how children learn without school in my book of the same name, available through Amazon or JKP publishers.

Tips for parents doing school at home

“So how do we do school at home?” I’ve been asked since the Corona virus has closed the schools and home educators are being turned to for advice. That’s a change! It’s more often we’re turned away from as a bunch of weirdos as has happened in the past.

What most parents are not aware of, since they probably have little understanding or even awareness of home education up until this point, is that most home educating families don’t do ‘school at home’. Home educating is a completely different approach that I won’t go into now but you’ll get the gist of if you search this site (particularly if you look at the About Home Education Page and scroll down to the philosophy there).

So rather than a long winded explanation here’s a few tips to implement right now:

Personal explorations are just as educative
  • understand the concept of time differently. In a school day works much time is wasted between classes, waiting for quiet, disruptions, etc. At home children can get through things much more quickly because they concentrate differently. So if you’re doing school stuff at home allow for that to happen and let them use the free time they have for personal explorations, which are just as educative.
  • Understand also that kids learn from everything they do, whatever they’re doing, playing included. Experience educates more than anything else.
  • Use this time to engage them with other activities that you may not have had time for but which are equally developmental like creativity of any sort; from changing a room round to making dens, building structures, whatever. Cooking, growing, customising, artworks, experiments with anything you have in the cupboard. An inventive mind is a stimulated and developing mind – good for brain development – good for building valuable skills.
  • You may not be able to get out to museums, galleries, workshops, libraries and public places like them right now, which make up part of a home educators week, but most of them have amazing sites online to explore with games and facts and videos that are intriguing. As do the Wildlife Trust, Blue Planet and programmes like them, National Geographic magazine has a kids section, all full of educational activities.
  • There’s also the BBC learning website, Channel 4 Learning, the Open University etc. But there are many intriguing sites not directly associated with education that are equally valuable to explore as well as watching historical documentaries.
  • Home educating families generally bring balance to their days by making sure they pursue a mix of activities that contrast each other like the sedentary and the active, the indoor and out, alone or in company, screen based or written and the practical, which helps keep interest fresh and alive.
  • Resist from leaping to solve the ‘I’m bored…’ syndrome! Instead encourage an exploration of how they might solve that for themselves perhaps with a few simple prompts but after that… it’s an important skill for them to be able to problem solve!
  • You may not be able to get out and do it socially but you can exercise in the house as much as out of it. Exercise, or movement of any sort, is as important to the brain’s development as it is to the body’s as well as overall well being. Google will provide some ideas.

But I would say most of all don’t do ‘school at home’ just enjoy your kids whilst you have the time… it’s all educative! More on that next time!

To all mums everywhere

I guess there’s a few disappointed mums not getting to see their precious ones today because of the virus – I’m the same.

But it’s made me realise I have been so blessed!

Not only was I blessed with my own mum with whom I had such a wonderful relationship, but I also have a joyous relationship with my own children. Yes – they still speak to me even after being home educated! 😉

In addition to that I feel blessed because I know it’s a joy that not everyone has the opportunity to feel. I’m doubly lucky.

My relationship with my own mum whom you may have read about in my book ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ (see the Books page for more details) was filled with non judgemental friendship, warmth, love and unfailing support, with a helping of unorthodox fun thrown in. And respect too, which is of course manifest in all of those.

And through that relationship with her I had a good insight into how to be that kind of mum to my own children, how to grow that kind of unity, build the same strengths. I feel we’ve gone far in doing that, my grown up children tell me regularly, their loving and respectful actions speaking far louder than anything they may tell me.

Mumhood is incredibly tough – which is why I felt compelled to write a book about it. (See the Books page)

If you were to write a job description it would be nearly a book in itself. And probably no one would apply! It’s the longest job you ever do and in my eyes all mums are incredible for doing it. All mums are incredibly important – even though most don’t feel like it. But the whole world depends on them and I show exactly how in my ‘Mumhood’ book.

But to paraphrase that; it’s mostly the mums (and I acknowledge many dads do too), who are doing the basics of raising the next members of society, the next custodians of the planet, the next Ghandi or Greta Thunberg or David Attenborough, or maybe some small insignificant and unheralded being (in those terms), who will make just as significant a contribution as those more well known, who can send ripples of good we can’t foresee across the pool of the human race. That’s what mums have the potential to do.

And this blog is in celebration of that work which mums do which for the most part goes unnoticed and unrewarded yet is the most important job in the world. It’s in acknowledgement of the sacrifices mums make, the strength they have, the love they bring to the world, as they do their stuff.

So whether you’re treating your own mum, or being treated by your own children, think on that! And use it as an opportunity for you to celebrate the worth of all mums everywhere.

Enjoy it. Commemorate it. Pass it on! And I wish you all the joy and blessings that I have had.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Ask of schools what you ask of Home Ed!

I find it slightly bizarre that the questions people generally ask of home educating parents are not questions they’ve asked about schools, yet they happily send their children there! I know some who never give it a second thought, let alone question it.

Have you noticed the same?

For example, take the socialisation issue which is always raised. Namely the question; how will my children become used to a social world without going to school? That’s a common one. (Article on socialisation here)

But why is no one asking of schools; how will my children become used to a social world, used to mixing with all sorts of people of all ages, and form appropriate relationships with adults who are not only teachers and do not have a sole agenda obsessed with grades, if they’re confined with a bunch of kids all their own age who have no social skills themselves and when they sometimes have to endure some adults who are little better?

Makes you think when it’s put that way round!

Another question always asked of home educators; how will the children become educated if they’re not in school? I would ask; how do school children become properly educated about this wide, diverse world whilst shut away from its myriad of subject matter – social, scientific, geographical, philosophical, humanitarian, creative and sustainable – how will they develop all those personal aspects needed for empathy, inclusiveness etc – when they’re confined to an academically discriminative strait-jacket of a curriculum solely designed for fact-stacking for exams?

And the question that really makes me incredulous is this one; how will they be prepared for the real world if they don’t go to school?

In answer I repeat something I regularly say; school in no way replicates the real world I’ve experienced – I don’t know about you?

In the real world we are not restricted as to whom we mix and learn with (unless you’re racist, ageist, sexist or in some other way discriminative). You mix with a wide range of people who show you respect and probably move away from those who don’t, which you cannot do in school, and you mix with those whom you respect in return. You have choice – that makes a difference. You have opportunities to make informed and relevant choices – relevant to your real world that is, rather than choices made for you to suit an institutional agenda. And the real world I’ve inhabited over the years has enabled me to develop the skills to think for myself, not discouraged independent thinking in favour of training for mass obedience to establishment and corporate ideas alone.

I don’t want to persuade everyone to home educate. Of course not. It isn’t suitable for all and is not the answer.

But I would like to encourage people to ask the same questions of schooling that they ask of home schooling. Because we need something different now.

We should all be questioning an outdated institution – just like we’re questioning our outdated use of plastic now we know better. Questioning an institution that in many instances fails to equip children with the skills they need for the contemporary world, and support those with specific needs so all can have equal access to an equal education, and learn how to fit into and engage with a real world much changed from what it was when compulsory education began.

A very independent questioner!

And perhaps the only way that can happen is to change the corporate model of education we now have, to develop diverse and indie thinkers and questioners, who will think up solutions and act out solutions (think Greta Thunberg) far better than those trained simply for mass institutional obedience!

Which raises another question; is that what schooling does?

Read an article about ‘intelligent disobedience’ from the book ‘Unsafe Thinking’ here It certainly looks like it does at times!

How the education system is contributing to the climate crisis

I’m absorbed in a wonderful book. ‘The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide’ by Jen Gale. It’s a practical look at the things we can do to to help lessen our damage to the planet.

I know; you’re sick of hearing about the climate crisis!

But this is full of real doable things we can all do, we must do, in order to help make changes. That responsibility lies with us all. It is part of our own life learning, part of being an educated intelligent person. Got to be part of any child’s education.

We like to think that education is an answer to the climate crisis. And of course it is; people need to become informed about the earth, what impact we’re making and how to minimise the damage we make.

But education, and the education system, are different things. And it’s the education system that’s contributing to the problem. Because we have a system that is educating people to be consumers.

It does this by making education big business. By training learners and their parents to be consumers of it; passive recipients. And by making education all about an end product, i.e. results, grades and qualifications and more is better, rather than an enlightening process of learning that develops educated people who see themselves as part of something much bigger – the planet. And more is not always better.

The system leads people to believe that education is about what you can get in a narrow, consumerist, grade-grabbing way, rather than education as part of understanding a world upon which we all have impact, qualified or not.

Youngsters are trained to believe through this system that they’re only worthy if they get the most and highest grades possible. Because this, they are told, will lead to higher salaries – in other words, getting more.

Rarely are job satisfaction, humane qualities like kindness, well being – personal or planetary – mentioned.

Or the fact that the higher your salary, the more likely you are to be buying stuff and wasting stuff and jetting off in a blaze of pollution. Let’s face it – it’s not the poor or the homeless who are doing this; a fact that doesn’t get much coverage!

And seldom is it mentioned that consumerism, materialism which is a political issue, and bog standard buying endless stuff is the real cause of the problem. Or that the businesses thriving on conning us into having stuff we don’t really need, contributes to it. And I believe that the education system perpetuates this by its immoral and discriminative, high stakes obsession with testing, getting exams and qualifications and teaching people to be consumers. Which, after all, furthers its corporate and political cause.

If we want to save the planet we must stop incessant and unnecessary consuming. We must stop educating people to be consumers within a system that subversively suggests you’re a better person for doing so. For that’s what this corporate education system dictates, although few seem to spot it.

I’ve heard said that the education system is broken. The planet is certainly breaking. Perhaps the two could be mended hand in hand.

It’s no good blaming the politicians and doing nothing, neither with regard to the planet nor the education system which is contributing to ruining it. We must change our consumerist habits and change what we expect of education.

What we need is not a system or a political game plan that ensures the rich get richer and the poor to stay where they are. Not an education to make more money but to educate us to use the money we do make to live more wisely. What we need are learning experiences not based around winning or getting or high stakes, but based around learning to live with each other and the planet without detriment to either. Something I see home educators do all the time.

There is no higher stake than the health of the planet. Don’t need a qualification to tell us that.

Do make the book part of your family’s education!