Insulting!

Still giggling! Lovely to be with those girls from ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ again!

It’s always so lovely to spend time with the girls. Those two lovely beings I’ve blatantly used as material in my books and blogs about home education!

My saving excuse is that they did know I was doing that, so kind of gave their permission, and I did it with good reason – to support all the other families coming along the home schooling road behind.

Your kind hearted comments tell me that it does. Thank you!

One story that I told was when Chelsea was about 14 and at her drama group along with other youngsters who were in mainstream school. (Ironically, she teaches it now!) Someone commented, after hearing she was home educated, that ‘you couldn’t tell’ and we had a laugh over that! Mostly at the suggestion that she wasn’t weird or double headed as some people seem to think home educators are bound to be. She was home educated and still ‘fitted in’; surprise, surprise! So in a sense I suppose that was reassuring.

However…

Recently we were able to spend time all together again. Now in their mid twenties, we still have the giggles and the fun, although the conversations are a lot deeper. And the content of that story came up again, as it’s a comment still commonly received even in adulthood, but Chelsea has a very different attitude to it now.

In the light of so many minority groups who are different, like those who come under the LGBTQ+ umbrella for example, she feels very strongly that none of us should have to either defend or justify the way we are – home schoolers included. Everyone should be more open and inclusive.

And in relation to the fact she was home educated, she finds it offensive to equate that with an expectation of someone being ‘weird’ just because of it.

She says she is a person who may be described as different to many others in that she is very creative, confident, fairly feisty and chooses a entrepreneurial working lifestyle, which is unlike the mainstream lives many others choose, often lacking the courage to do so. If that makes her weird, so be it. But she finds it insulting to imply that home education is to blame.

She looks at it this way; there are plenty of ‘weird’ people who have been through school yet no one thinks to blame their educational past – i.e. school – as a reason for it. And this attitude is more a reflection of people’s discriminatory narrow mindedness, and is in complete contradiction to the inclusiveness society is aiming for. It’s incredibly insulting and she’s not prepared to put up with it.

Consequently she puts people straight!

We thought we’d share that with you in case you’d like to use the argument if ever you needed to!

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Is there ever a break from home education?

Learning, whatever they’re doing

Whenever we approached the time of year associated with school holidays we always got asked in relation to being home educators; “Will you stop educating for the holidays?”

Which just goes to show how most people are still conditioned to think that education only ever happens within certain times and structures like timetables and terms.

Of course; it doesn’t!

We witnessed proof of that regularly throughout all the years our children were learning out of school. And the longer you home educate the more you’ll see that happen in your house too. How learning takes place all the time, through all activities, even sitting on the toilet we discovered one day when a little voice pipes up from behind the bathroom door;

“Mum, how does the wee get inside?” And we have a short biology lesson at night before bed.

These are the little ‘lessons’ the children remember the most. And despite seeming a terrible hotch-potch style of learning, the amazing computer that is the brain pieces the bits together into a coherent body of learning and knowledge that contributes to the children becoming educated. Consequently, holidays don’t mean the children stop learning – so you can cease to worry about that!

However, there is another aspect that you home educating parents might like to consider and a question that regularly arose in my exhausted mind early on – do we have to do ‘learning’ all the time? Is there ever a rest?

Well the answer is this; although children never switch off from learning – it’s just a natural part of how they live their inquisitive lives. (See the chapter ‘What about term times, learn times and holidays’ in ‘A Home Education Notebook’). But as parents you have to occasionally switch off from the incessant drive to make use of every learning opportunity (like the toilet incident). And you have to also switch off the feeling of guilt if you don’t!

If you step back from it occasionally nothing terrible will happen! Okay – you might have missed an educational opportunity, but this will not scar your child for life and there will be other opportunities. More importantly, if you don’t, you’re the one who will be scarred from not giving yourself a mental break and keeping it all in balance.

Balance develops healthy individuals; children and parents.

I thought this was worth a mention because like the saying; once a parent – always a parent, it is also the case that; once a home educator – always a home educator. In both cases you have to find a healthy and balanced way to proceed through it all.

Don’t ever fret that your children are not learning whilst you step back a bit. They actually need you to back off a bit as much as you need to. And never feel guilty. Just because you home educate, it does not mean that you have to utilise every second. Kids at school wouldn’t. Teachers wouldn’t either.

So you could use the term time holidays as an opportunity to step back, or you could just try and create a generally balanced family life and approach to learning and resting whatever you’re all doing and whenever you’re doing it, and disregard what the school lot are doing and the term times associated with them!

Try some ‘Unsafe Thinking’!

Before you panic that I’m encouraging you to take suicidal risks, I’m not. Although I believe some parents have been told they’re taking suicidal risks with their children’s future just through home educating them! But some ideas I want to tell you about this time come from a book I’ve been reading called ‘Unsafe Thinking’ by Jonah Sachs. (He talks here – about wandering where no one’s been before!)

This book is not about taking stupid risks, it just talks about thinking creatively, about being able to spot and bypass our preconceived ideas and learned obedience from systems that would like to keep us compliant. The education system springs to mind!

Stepping away from mainstream education has been for many the start of a kind of thinking that would have been considered ‘unsafe’! Having the initial idea and courage to break out of our safe habit of educating in schools, ingrained into most of us all our lives, we’ve challenged convention and are showing that learning can happen in all sorts of other ways not just the approach sold to us through schooling (and political manipulation). And proving actually that it’s not ‘unsafe’. It works extremely well for most families.

And it’s ideas like this – ideas beyond the accepted norms – that this book is about. It is a discussion about the rules and conventions that keep us stuck with something, despite the fact it may not be working. Like schooling. And the dire impact that has on creativity which is essential for developing new strains of thinking, necessary for leading happy lives, or ones that could save the planet, for example.

Reading it, I spotted these relevant ideas:

  • Pay attention to your intuition. Many parents have intuitive thoughts about their children’s needs which most often turn out to be right.
  • Free yourself from the expectations of others and the games they play to manipulate you. Stick to your own intentions and your own ‘rules’ – if you must have them. Creative thinking works best without rules.
  • Develop, practice and enjoy your own strengths and those of your children. It’s these talents that will take them forward so it’s best to make good use of them. There are worthy talents outside the academic.
  • Don’t waste expensive time and energy on practices that don’t work for you. Many find formal academics don’t suit their kids as an approach to learning, until much later when they return to that approach successfully.
  • Step boldly out of comfort zones and try new ideas. Watch out for ingrained expertise too – ‘experts’ once told us the earth was flat! ‘Another example; experts’ (or politicians) tell us kids need measuring through SATs or GCSEs, yet people still manage to lead successful, productive and happy lives bypassing them!
  • Become a learner again. Learning or not knowing makes you vulnerable, by being in that position we learn what our learners are going through and what they might need.
  • Beware your biases. We have ingrained biases – like the one that learning only happens through teaching – which once we break away from allows us to explore all sorts of other creative approaches.
  • Remember that you don’t always have to be compliant – it’s good to challenge and encourage your kids to challenge. I believe it is the compliant ones who are the most ‘unsafe’! There’s a great phrase in the book; ‘intelligent disobedience’ which is worth keeping in mind!

These are the kinds of ideas we can use to review our approach to home schooling to get the best out of it. After all, we’ve abandoned mainstream schooling – lets make sure we abandon all the habits and practices associated with it that didn’t work and drove us to home educate in the first place! We don’t always have to accept the mainstream ‘safe’ ideas – we have to examine them and do what works within the context of our families, the wider society and the planet.

It’s the youngsters who have the ability to do that, who will help the world progress.

Education with a smile!

There’s a lovely article in Green Parent magazine about laughter. About how it impacts on our relationships with our kids and our overall happiness and general well-being. It’s called ‘Laugh your way to a happier family’ and is well worth a read.

Laughter is something we forget sometimes, burdened as we can become with the seriousness of life and trying to be a good parent.

And it’s definitely something to keep in mind when you’re involved with your children’s learning, whether that’s home educating or helping with school work. For if you can make it into a laughing matter it’s so much better, more enjoyable and makes the learning experience something that the children are far more likely to engage with – and remember.

Now I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t take education seriously. Most of us treat the subject very seriously and angst about it regularly. I’m just suggesting that even though we treat the subject seriously, we don’t always have to approach the doing of it in a serious way and never have a laugh while we’re at it.

Instead, we can be lightweight. We can have fun with it. It CAN be enjoyable, not heavy and dull and no laughing matter.

I remember a moment from our home schooling days (well, far more than one but this is a good example) that illustrates the point perfectly.

Chelsea was looking at words that end in l-e, like table for example, so we were all tossing out words that fitted.

“Able!”

“Pebble.”

“Apple.”

Except that their dad was up to mischief. And every word he said was filled with innuendo.

“Grapple” he offered, grinning at me.

“Fiddle,” said Chelsea.

“Piddle,” returned their dad.

“Puddle,” said Charley laughing.

“Muddle, mumble,” said Chelsea, beginning to see what he was up to and trying to do it ‘properly’.

“Fumble, wobble,” added dad. But by now Chelsea was grinning too.

“Pedal,” offered Charley.

“No that’s a-l,” I added.

“But fondle, follicle and nipple work,” said dad giggling.

By this time he and I were sniggering like a couple of teenagers and the girls were openly laughing, sensing there was something going on that was perhaps a little rude!

But they learnt how to spell a lot of words that day. And it improved their spelling no end just because of the laughter.

Nowhere is it written that in order to be successful education has to be serious and dull and endured without a smile on our faces.

In fact it is more likely to be the case that children will engage with and remember things far better if they are happy and enjoying their education and laughter is part of it.

So this is just to remind you to have fun with learning. And not to let the tedious seriousness that can sometimes be associated with it, be the overriding approach.

A happy approach works much better.

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.

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