Is this all that matters to parents?

So schools are doing their best to get punters before the term starts again.

I’ve just seen this banner hanging outside a school on my travels.

I found it incredibly sickening.

Are exam results the only thing kids go to school for? Are they the only thing that is the measure of an education or an educational establishment? Are results the only things that parents care about so the only thing that will ‘sell’ the school to them?

Is this all there is to sell?

Where does it say what EXPERIENCE the young people are going to have there? Does that not matter at all? Would you not as a parent want to know about your child’s LIFE in school while they are learning?

Okay I’ll stop ranting now and instead put my brain to answering the question; what would I like to know about a school that would induce me to consider it?

Here’s the five things that I came up with to put on a banner:

  • the widest range of inspiring activities your child will ever experience with a high proportion of adults to help them
  • encouragement of individualism, independence in learning, and choice making, irrespective of age
  • development of respectful relationships between ALL, regardless of age, stage or hierarchy
  • equal importance placed on ALL subjects including the practical, physical and creative and the freedom to choose between them
  • NO testing or publication of any results, emphasis instead on personal development

If schools don’t want to be considered as factories, as some are accusing them of being, then they should stop measuring themselves on a factory style output. Education is about developing young PEOPLE. Not producing commodities. Or percentages!

Tell me; what would your five most important things be?

The earth is more important than maths and grammar

Bread in the making!

Pulling out of London on the train recently I love to look upon the back gardens. Behind the terraced streets these little green oases must offer some much needed sanctuary to the wildlife (never mind the humans)!

From the centre of the city, where the soaring icons, office towers and blocks of flats butt up against each other without a scrap of space between, we begin to pass these tiny, tatty back gardens where people are making such a champion effort to provide that sanctuary with what little space they have. And even those rammed in high-rise blocks boast boxes and planters and gardens on rooftops in gallant attempts to create a little natural space where nature can flourish among places covered in concrete. Sometimes it does it on its own and a buddleia protrudes from a wall and weeds grow on sidings. But many Londoners are giving it a helping hand, creating spaces to invite insects, birds and critters we’ll never see to drop in.

When I see these awesome attempts to give nature a welcome I am filled with awe and wonder. And immediately stop taking for granted the abundance of natural space and greenery I have round me where I live now. I grew up in a top storey flat in London so I know what it’s like to be concreted in. I know how precious these few natural oases are. We didn’t have one!

I’m also thinking about the children who live without them now. About the generations of children who never experience countryside. And how they will ever be able to understand the significance of nature and natural science.

From the tiniest miniscule organism, through all the plants and animals, to the largest oldest tree everything has importance in the ecology of the planet. Everything needs a place. And we depend upon it all for our food, for our air, for our survival and that of the planet. And I worry that those children with shuttered, sheltered existences will never have the opportunity to know anything different, will never truly understand that significance, being so far removed from it on their pavement journeys between home and school and their virtual lives of indoor entertainment.

Surely this knowledge and experience is far more essential to an education, will have far more impact on a future, than times tables and grammar? It is imperative. But as kids follow academic curriculum and obedience to indoor culture I wonder how nature will make its impact known.

So I urge all families to help your kids understand the ecology of the earth that is battened down beneath that concrete, understand that it is still what everyone needs for their survival wherever they live, whether they have contact with it or not. Cities and towns have places to go to get down to the earth, they have planters and gardens and parks, and even farms, where that understanding can begin. And failing that you can simply stand in the supermarket by the fruit and veg and ask the question; where does all this come from and what aspects of nature do we depend upon to get it here, from the bees that pollinate, to the insects and leaf matter which make the soil, the animals that fertilise it, to the workers who make it possible. That question will take you on a journey.

The earth may not be under your feet as it is now under mine, but it is just as essential to your life. And it’s essential to every child’s education that they understand that!

Home Education – Less something you Do, More something you Are

I met with my friend, former home educator, and now publisher, the other day for a catch up, to talk a little bit about books, the publishing business, and a lot more about our children – well adults now really as most of them either approach – or are – twenty somethings!

Always interested in the variety of home educating experiences there are out there I asked her if she’d share her own. 

She has four children. Her first started at school as she knew little about home education and like many of us at the outset, just thought it was school-at-home. By accident she stumbled across it again on the Net, the diversity of approaches, and realised immediately that this was what she wanted to do as by then her two schoolers weren’t thriving there at all. And she herself was becoming increasingly unhappy with the teaching to the test, the box ticking, and no chance for the kids to learn through a pace or style suited to them.

When she started, she told me, she had a wonderfully idyllic idea of all the fab activities they’d do, across all their ages. But all they seemed to want to do was watch telly, and then they’d get bored. She tried several ways to inspire them and discovered that what worked best was a more project-based approach, mostly starting from their own interests, into which she could incorporate basic skills as and when needed.

“I never forced them to do stuff they didn’t want to, or to do it in a particular way” she told me. “The projects evolved as we got into them, we researched and did related stuff like watching films, relevant visits, cooking, and met others for activities and social events. If their enthusiasm waned – we stopped.”

“As time went on and the children grew up I realised that home education is less something you do, and more something you are,” she told me. “It became less planned. Themes emerged, they learned naturally through their own interest and motivation, and they started to join all the random things they’d learned into a coherent form.”

“Although we were quite rural, we travelled to meet other home educating families, but were also lucky in having a lot of youngsters in the village, and clubs and classes they joined in with so social isolation was never an issue.”

I asked if it got harder with teens:

“The hardest thing was for me to let go! Especially my expectations. And to properly listen to them. My two girls were academically minded so they opted to go down the GCSE route, knowing where they wanted to go later on. One is now at Uni, the other about to start A levels at college. The boys rejected the idea of GCSEs, were more sports orientated, and that was harder for me to let go of. However, my eldest decided to advance his interest in sport through college, gained qualifications that way which showed he had a standard and has gone into work. My youngest boy is looking to go straight into work, deciding he is happy starting on the bottom rung and working his way up. His attitude towards learning is very much that it is a lifelong activity; he has interests in video production, media and science and knows that these areas of study are always available to him, should he want to follow them.

“As I come to the end of my home educating years now, I’m really happy how it all worked out and am proud of my motivated, engaged young people who’ve basically done it for themselves! Along the way they learned that they could have control of their learning, it didn’t have to be done in certain time frames, they can learn whatever they want, when they want. It’s more the case that they are educating me now. We help each other. We talk together about what we’re all doing now – I share my business stuff with them.”

“I started Bird’s Nest Books aware of the lack of books featuring home school characters, but it’s broadened now into looking at books featuring communities whose lives are often under represented. As well as the desire to support new and local authors. And my children have been so supportive in encouraging me – almost as if the home educating has come full circle!”

Thanks so much to Jane for sharing her story!

 

A wonderful community experience

Thanks to Christine at HEFF for the picture!

I had such lovely afternoon chatting to families at the Home Educators Family Festival yesterday.

I am overwhelmed by so many inspirational people, by your heartwarming support for my books, and delighted to meet new people and see for real those I’ve been connected to online!

I hadn’t ever been to the festival before – not really being a festival kinda girl. But I perhaps regret that now as I come away with such a sense of camaraderie and unity that I’ve clearly missed out on.

For the first thing that struck me was the community; the fact that the children, who might have been feeling that they were a minority back home in their usual community, and consequently an oddity especially if all their other local friends were school users, will suddenly be surrounded by hundreds of other children doing the same as them – not going to school. This makes a huge difference to how you feel about yourself; when you connect with others like you. And that goes for the parents too. Particularly useful for those parents who may have had a lot of opposition locally and within their family because of their choice. It’s immensely confidence building to know that actually, home ed isn’t that strange – you’re not the only one – and that’s the sense you get when in the company of thousands of other home educating families at the festival.

The other thing that struck me was in relation to one of those myths that always gets cited about home educated children – that they’ll be so tied and attached to their parents they won’t be able to get out in the real world and be independent. I saw the opposite; that there was hardly a child to be seen attached to its parent! Most of the kids meet up with others and go off with their friends to explore, play, engage in the music, activities and workshops laid on and generally ditch their parents for the duration! In fact, a couple of parents told me that when they go to the festival they often don’t know what to do with themselves because the kids have abandoned them and they hadn’t planned for that. Which of course is a wonderful opportunity for parents to get together and swap notes – or just have fun of course.

If you’ve never been to HEFF you should think about it for next time. Or visit one of the other getherings around the country – and abroad, there are quite a few if you have a look on Google and the Facebook groups.

It was an uplifting and positive experience to be there. Thanks so much to the friends I met at HEFF for being such wonderful hosts.

There’s no ‘right’ way to educate

Children learn best from experiences

Having home educated our children I’m often asked for advice.

I’m no expert – there are many who home educated longer than we did, but I thought I’d offer this post again in the hope you might find some useful tips.

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 actively 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 developing. 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 collated in one book; ‘A Home Education Notebook – to encourage and inspire’, so check it out when you need another lift. And the fun story about the home educating life; ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ also has plenty of tips.

The Home Educating Families’ Festival

How many of you are going to the Home Educating Families’ Festival this time? Isn’t it amazing to think that there are so many families out there home educating now they’re the size of a small festival! Even without the many who don’t go!

Not being a festival kinda girl I’ve never been before. But one of the organisers approached me last year with a charming ask so I have agreed to go over and chat to people about home education, answer any questions you’d like to ask and talk a little about the books – especially A Funny Kind of Education and how it came to be. I’ll take a few books across with me too, so you’ll get the chance to buy a slightly cheaper copy!

I’m really looking forward to meeting new people and maybe some of you who have connected with me already. We’ll be able to see each other in the flesh; much better than online! That’s the bit I’m looking forward to most.

Many people get in touch with me and tell me so kindly how I’ve inspired their family’s choices. Well that works both ways; you inspire me too. Every time I meet new families on the home educating path I am inspired also.

So do come and say hello, especially if you’ve connected already and bring any questions you’ve wanted to ask as that’s the kind of session it’s going to be. Although I’d better apologise up front if I don’t remember your online handle and recognise who you are. But even under those circumstances I’ve always so appreciated your warm support.

I’m around on Monday afternoon, between 2 and 4, stage 2. Any concerns; bring them along.

A cuddle on the sofa like we used to do!

She and I having a cuddle!

You know when you’re with the little ones a hundred percent of the time, most particularly when home educating? And you know how you sometimes long for a bit of space for yourself, even though you love them to bits and love home schooling?

Well, I’ve just been with my eldest (Chelsea, from A Funny Kind of Education) one hundred percent of the time, for the last few days, and now I’ve left her in her grown up life again and returned to being one hundred percent of the time without and one hundred percent missing, until it wears off again! And I never imagined that would ever be the case.

One day it will be like that for your family even though it is unimaginable whilst they’re tiny – I know some of you are already reaching that point; when they’re launched into their working lives, living independently with conscience and responsibility, as you raise them to do.

Hard to believe isn’t it?

I’ve had a lovely holiday doing – surprisingly – much of what we did when they were here full time home schooling; picnics, walking, looking at nature, observing things, beach, meeting friends, endless chatting and sometimes just sitting on the sofa having a cuddle like we used to do. I’m glad that neither of us are too old for that!

But instead of that chatter being about infant things, it’s adult chatter, yet just as lovely, better even as we have long, in depth conversations about all sorts of things from clothes to politics, philosophies to mindless giggles! But then I suppose we always did that. And it’s perhaps no surprise at all.

So you see, home education DOES work! These children that learn without school go on to being independent, working people just the same as those who’ve been in school, same as young people everywhere. Thought I’d say just in case you were wobbling today, or someone was criticising you for it.

And I also wanted to tell you that with home educating, there are continual pleasures to look forward to, even when they’re grown.