Don’t weed your children’s learning!

I find the need to be outside quite hard to accommodate this time of the year. I have to sometimes push myself out in dreary or battering weather to get some daily doses of the tonic everyone needs for indoor spirits. Without it I know I go stir crazy! So I tog up most days and get a daily walk.

Summer memories

Summer memories

It’s easy in the summer. All coffee breaks can be out there. And there’s plenty of light for walking after work hours. And weekends inviting me to garden, even if the format of that is just chopping back the weeds.

I’m not a great gardener. I find it a bit confusing. I’m puzzled by the desire to nurture some plants whilst killing others. Buttercups, daisies and dandelions spring to mind – what a delightful burst of yellow they are. I have great trouble classing them as weeds and pulling them up or worse still spraying them. There’s a hierarchy of plants I just don’t buy in to.

I have the same dilemma with education. There’s a hierarchy that’s evolved around academia which puts some important subjects and skills, like creative ones for example, in the ‘weeds’ category. And I think this is more to do with snobbery than value.

I admit, there are some skills that are invaluable for kids to learn – reading springs to mind. And it is essential for living in our society to have a practical comprehension of language, numbers, scientific concepts and technology. We want to communicate, budget and cook for example and need to skills and knowledge to do so.

But outside those practical applications why should our children’s learning be controlled by what others deem as essential subject matter? Why should the Romans be more important than Evolution. Or non-essential Grammar be more important than creating a story? Or the skill of long division be more important than the skill of inventing for example?

When we home educate we can really examine the curriculum. And this leads to examining the questions; what’s really important to know? And why is it important to know it?

Within the educational system, most of the why has evolved, not from value to the child or developing adulthood, but for the convenience of measuring them and perpetuation of the system – and the politics surrounding it. A truer reason for what we ask our children to learn is that it’s relevant to the child now as well as their lifelong development – what curriculum would cater for that?

What is more important when we’re guiding our children’s learning is not so much what they know, but cultivating a desire to know, to find out, to continue to learn. In fact, that desire is already there when they’re born – our job is to continue to nurture it rather than chop it off like some do dandelions.

We can look up knowledge and facts at any time, these days. Yet we’re constrained by the idea of curriculum that started way back when compulsory education did, when knowledge wasn’t available to all. Far better to consider a curriculum of skills, experiences and a cultivated mind that can be inventive, creative, and which nurtures the desire to develop continually, rather than weeding out the child’s true interests whilst enslaved to subjects for some extrinsic curriculum and killing their desire in the process.

Or maybe not use a curriculum at all and see where your learning life takes you!

Less stuff – more love

December already and I’ve only just started my Christmas shopping. 20161129_103846

I don’t like to make a big thing of it. I don’t do present overload. I prefer to give less stuff, but more love.

Love is more important than shopping – more important than stuff. The best present you can give is your time and attention. Time to be engaged.

Nothing worse than being with someone who is only engaged with their gadget. Hope you’ll remember that this Christmas! As parents;  remember it for all the times you’re with the kids. There’s times for gadgets and times for kids; exclusively.

Talking of love, if you’re short of a pressie for a Home Ed friend this Christmas you might like to give them my newest book A Home Education Notebook. Because I wrote it as an offer of love and support for all those home schooling families since I can’t be in the room giving them a hand. This is my hand of help. Reviewers tell me it really does the job when they’re feeling wobbly! (Read some reviews here)

And if you are looking for a loving family read for a mum you know, you might like to offer them my story; ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ guaranteed to bring tears and laughter, folks say! (Lots of lovely reviews on Amazon)

Meanwhile, I’ll get back to my own small Christmas list. Always hoping I’ll get a book for Christmas!

Put yourself in a learner’s shoes

Being back in the position of a learner again would do all teachers good. Because you forget what it’s like and forget to look at learning from the position of a learner.

I’ve been reflecting on this. Because I find I’m a complete beginner in my new role in the bookshop, which I talked about before. Trying to work complicated tills is as alien to me as flying a spaceship and I realise what a horrible feeling it is when you can’t do it!

Kids are in this position all the time. And I bet they don’t like it either. But we don’t often give consideration to that. Even worse; we get annoyed when they don’t ‘get’ it, as if they’re doing it deliberately – I’ve certainly experienced that both first hand and observed, in schools and out.

I’ve observed that people who are trying to teach can be more concerned with their own agenda – that is, making someone learn – than with the learner’s needs and the manner in which they’re best able to learn it.

I believe the distinguishing feature of a good teacher lies with the focus (- subject matter aside). A good teacher is not focused on what they want to teach. A good teacher is focused on what or how the learner needs to learn. And if the way we’re teaching  isn’t working for the learner we need to look at changing ourselves, rather than trying to blame the learner, as so often happens.

Parents who are home educating have the opportunity to keep that focus balanced in favour of the learner, unlike teachers in schools who have to teach to the demands of a school’s agenda. Which, let’s face it, has nothing to do with most of our learners’ needs!

Being a complete beginner at something, or not knowing how to do it at all (me on the tills!) is a wretched position to be in. But many teachers and parents forget that as we sit smug in our elevated position of knowing and showing.

So we should take ourselves back to our own learning days and remember what it felt like (like getting behind the wheel of a car for the first time). And have some compassion for a learner’s position, rather than impatience. Impatience prevents the learner from learning well. Learning needs to be a positive experience for them to truly flourish.

Thankfully my teachers in the shop have enormous patience with me. The same patience I like to think I had with the learners in schools and my own two home educators here.

But maybe patience isn’t the point. As I said above, the point is the learners needs, sometimes what’s needed in a home ed household is to take advantage of the great flexibility you have with learning, try various approaches or just leave it for another day when the learner is more receptive or mature.

For unlike in the bookshop, there’s no queue of people waiting to see whether your learner can do it or not, or restrictions on when they need to do it. And that was one of the reasons you opted to home educate wasn’t it?

So, put yourself back in the position of a beginner and remember to educate to your learner’s needs and not to some other agenda!

‘Unruly’ and what to do about it.

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There’s times for running and times for not!

Been for a haircut. And the inevitable ‘chat’ with the hairdresser, which I freely admit I’m not very good at. But she cut the girls’ hair when we were home educating, without judgement on what we were doing, and always asks after them.

She’s a lovely young woman who has some fairly powerful views, many of them on parenting, even though she’s not a parent herself. She sees some fairly ‘unruly’ children in the hairdressers whose parents drag them in, dump them in the chair, then leave the responsibility of them to her whilst they pop to the shops!

Even without being a parent she’s aware that this is not ideal parenting. And she’s also aware that many parents should be far more engaged with their kids than they are, then maybe they wouldn’t be ‘unruly’.

The inverted comments illustrate the fact that I’m not sure what else to call them. We know what I mean; not doing as they’re asked or knowing the point of what grown-ups ask, exploring things when it’s not appropriate, inability to understand what’s appropriate behaviour in the circumstances, none of which is a crime but needs guidance.

We all see this all of the time. I saw a child running up and down in a cafe the other day where stressed waitresses were busily carrying out plates of hot food and having to dodge round her. Parents didn’t say a thing – couldn’t even see the problem and thought their child was just expressing important needs, clearly oblivious to whether this was appropriate or not – and to the fact others’ have needs too.

Children’s understanding of what’s appropriate or not evolves in the first instance from interaction with their parents in a variety of situations, where they’ve been talked to, guided, shown, had explained, engaged with. Interaction teaches kids what appropriate behaviour is.

I know some parents feel that a child should be allowed to express themselves in any way they want without that being inhibited. That we should never suppress them in any way.

But I look at it this way, we want our children to grow up to be liked. But we all need an understanding of the fact we are not the only ones in this world, that others need consideration too, that we have to grow and develop within those considerations even whilst being as true to ourselves as possible. We are social animals and social animals operate within boundaries of respect – for others, for self. Suppression is not the point. Guidance and explanation is. If they’re asked not to play with the stuff on the hairdresser’s trolley there will be reasons!

Neglecting to teach them the understanding of this simple truth is neglecting the parental duty of guidance and personal education.

Parenting is difficult. It tests us all the time. The children test us, test boundaries and want to break rules – course they do, they’re inquisitive little beings. Mine certainly did – and that brings us challenges. But the simple antidote to some of those challenges, like how to stop them rummaging in the hairdresser’s trolley of intriguing bits and pieces, is to build a good relationship with the child at every opportunity, one that is based on respectful interaction, dialogue and guidance as to what to do when – and when not! Dialogue and conversation is an effective learning tool. And the time we devote to nurturing that is an important part of our parenting.

It’s part of education too. And even this young woman, without any children of her own, could see that as the role of a parent more clearly than the parents themselves!

Helping your Home Ed household

After the post I did recently about the not-so-little girls who starred in the book ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ I had several super messages. It seems people are reassured to know these grown-up home educators turned out okay and thereby find comfort in knowing there’s a good chance that theirs will be the same one day.

It is hard to believe, I know. I remember having that feeling myself. We’re so all-consumed by the parenting stage we’re at, by the age our children are, it’s impossible to see anything other.

We can never see the future, obviously, but equally it seems downright scary to conceive being parents of adults. Or to imagine things other than how they are; kids as grown ups being one of them.

However, I know now that you don’t really need to worry about this. All you need to do is concern yourself with your children now, with their needs now, with making their learning life a good one, now. Just making ordinary life good now; for ordinary life is where learning happens as well as ‘doing educational’ stuff. And it creates a life that helps them grow and develop in ways you can’t imagine now – trust me – it does.

It’s not something you can control or force. I did try forcing, misguided soul that I was, but whenever I set about ‘doing’ education I failed disastrously, we often fell out disastrously. And we probably learned nothing useful, except not to do it that way perhaps.

It was these silly mistakes that could cause the most wobbles – wobbles that didn’t need to happen really. And the lessons I learned from them are what I hoped to pass on through my latest book; ‘A Home Education Notebook‘. Because anything to appease those wobbles and keep us strong has to help a Home Ed household. Our strength is the children’s strength.

A peep inside A Home Education Notebook

A peep inside A Home Education Notebook

Home educating is a long term job. Parenting is a long job, come to that. To endure that we have to find and practice anything we can to give us the confidence to keep going. And I found it helped to:

  • keep contact with those who support you and minimise contact with those who don’t
  • never measure yourself with school benchmarks
  • share your concerns, but only with those you trust
  • join the Home Ed networks like those on Facebook (e.g home education uk) where you’ll find reassuring lists of what grown-up home educated kids are doing now
  • have faith in your intelligence and your children’s intelligence, it’ll get you there!

You won’t have made the decision to Home Ed lightly – don’t let others sway you from your intelligent considerations of it. Your considered intelligence will see you through long term – trust it.

Take care to focus on what you’re doing now, that’s where you’ll find your confidence, then you’ll also find that the long term will take care of itself!

And it’s your lovely feedback which gives me confidence too – thank you.

All for a pound!

When I decided to stop teaching in schools (way back in the dark ages) I planned ahead how I was going to manage without income and a mortgage to pay. Of course, that’s a lot easier as a single person without family.

But I got a job waitressing on weekend evenings and gave riding lessons in the day. I worked every day in order to save.

I remember thinking as I served suppers in a posh restaurant that, even with the stress of getting hot meals out on time, even with customers who treated waitresses like dirt, it was amazing to earn money doing a job that seemed so easy compared to the same hours in a classroom!

There was an occasional embarrassing moment like when I served the parents of the kids who were in my class. But dad just laughed it off saying ‘Blimey – I didn’t realise teachers were so badly paid’.

‘Well, now you know,’ I said plonking his plate down and scurrying off.

How we have any teachers at all putting themselves through they crap they endure for the pittance they’re paid is what amazes me now. According to the news, they increasingly leave.

But I miss the teaching and the children. So am hoping to involve myself in some tutoring soon, maybe helping those who struggle through a system which neglects their learning differences, or those who don’t fit into schools’ narrow little targets.

However, it’s also because writers, like teachers, are so poorly paid. You wouldn’t think so because it’s only ever the high-earning writers that you get to hear about like Dan Brown or Stephen King for example, who earn thousands. For lesser writers like me, every book I sell makes me less than a pound. And with the pirating of e-books, I don’t get paid at all.

Back to the bookshop!

Obviously books get passed around. And I’m very happy that they do. But when you next stand in a book shop and think you’ll get the book in ‘other ways’ perhaps you’d spare a thought that if you’re not paying for it, the writer won’t get paid for their hours of hard work either! And it is hard work. Hard as teaching – I should know – I’ve done both full time.

Hence I find myself back working in the book shop for Christmas, mostly so I can treat the girls, turn the heating up (I’m writing this with mitts on!) and maybe have something a little sumptuous for us all too.

I admit it also does me good in other ways; it can be very reclusive writing all the time. And although I revel in your delightful appreciative messages (thank you – do keep them coming, it keeps me going), real human connection is also needed and I get to see what people are reading and chat about books.

So, if you didn’t know that ordinary writers like me were so poorly paid, now you do!

And now you also know why we are so grateful when you buy our books rather than getting them in ‘other ways’.

THANK YOU!

Will harmony and peace be well and truly Trumped?

A picture for peace and harmony

A picture for peace and harmony

It takes much tolerance to live together. Anyone who is living with others knows that. Family life is a bit like negotiating sea changes; sometimes it’s smooth, sometimes it’s choppy.

All parents know this. Couples know this. Families know this. In fact, my single friends know this too, as they listen to my dilemmas and family challenges and count their single blessings.

But I know my own blessings come family shaped. And when my two delightful family shapes are home again, as they recently have been, my blessings are rich despite the inevitable choppy bits.

These take some negotiating. There’s times I’m trying to calm rippled feelings and no doubt times I’m causing them! Mostly though, they are just ripples of laughter that permeate the house.

This is what family life – in fact all life with others – is about; storms, ripples and rainbows as we accommodate living together, whether that’s on a family scale, a friend and colleague scale, or population scale. In order for us all to live together we have to tolerate each others differences, learn to give and take, build understanding of and empathy for those with different ideas from our own, educate ourselves to be compassionate, curious, considerate and kind. Above all practice respect for one another.

So I rather fear for peoples when we have someone in charge of a major populace who lacks most of those characteristics, instead who openly practices racism, sexism, bigotry and a disrespectful style of communicating with others he fails to understand.

Is that the family climate Trump grew up in? And is it the kind of global togetherness he endorses?

I have to not concern myself too much with it; it’s too depressing a thought.

What I can concern myself with instead is the practices which I believe perpetuate love, respect and togetherness, as we all can. Right from our family doorsteps, throughout all our relationships, both online and in the flesh, so that these actions spread out from us and make our world a more loving and inclusive place.

I believe that always starts at home. With our relationships at home. It certainly should be part of our parenting and education.

Learning to love and live well together is the most important part of our human existence. You can look up any knowledge on Google – you can only learn about love and peace through experience. It should be the most important part of family development, education and politics – but I don’t bear to think about that right now.

I’ll just continue to go on loving and respecting my precious family shapes so they can in turn pass that on around.