5 Tips for new home educators

Experimentation, trial & error, play are all valid ways to learn

It’s that time of year when the numbers of home schoolers suddenly shoots up!

And it’s a rise made up of all sorts of parents; those who never intend to start their child at school, through those who’ve done it a while and don’t want to ‘go back’ after the summer, right to those with teenagers who really need something different now.

Making the decision is often the hard part. Then it’s exciting and inspiring to get launched into it. However you sometimes get a rebound where you think; ‘Heck! What now?’

So I thought I’d post five quick tips to bump you over that bit.

  1. Relax! Be confident in the fact home education works for thousands – it can work for you. But it takes a long time and is a long slow process – obvious but oft forgot! And it takes a long adjustment period if you’ve come at it from schooling. We forever read that a relaxed and mindful approach to life creates just as much success as a tense and driven one – now is the time to really practise that. Your child’s education will be better for it. So take some time to find the best way forward; time to research, time to connect with others, time for trial and error until you find a way that works for you. You have the time – because you won’t be wasting it on tedious school processes where the kids are learning nothing!
  2. Enjoy it. Learning IS enjoyable, although that’s difficult to tell in the system sometimes. A learning life is enjoyable. Don’t think that if you’re enjoying it then it’s not ‘proper’ learning! And happiness is important for learning and achieving anyway. Unhappy kids don’t reach their true potential. (There’s a post here about that)
  3. Connect with others. Take some time to find other home educators and visit groups, read or see what others are doing. Learn from them. There’s a huge range of approaches and groups and it may take time to find one that works for you. And for goodness sake don’t worry about the ‘socialisation’ issue – there isn’t one! (As I point out in this post)
  4. Diversify your learning approaches – and your thinking. Consider the difference between schooling and educating – there is one! Learning can happen at any time, any venue, in or out, in a multitude of different ways from the way it’s done in school. (Read this post) It does not have to take place inside, at a desk or table, in silence, sitting still, or through academic exercises. Children learn best when they are inspired through observation, experimentation, trial and error, going out, experiencing things practically as much as possible. So you’re going to have to diversify your thinking if you’re stuck thinking about classroom ways of learning only!
  5. Get out lots. Play lots. Talk lots. Whatever kids are doing they are learning – they just can’t help it. You can formalise it later, just enjoy it for now. Wherever kids are there are opportunities for learning. whether it’s spotting ants on the pavement, discussing the dinner, playing with others in the swimming pool, journeying, holidaying, meeting others. Play is essential for learning too. Use libraries, sports halls, museums, galleries, garden centres, shops, parks, playgrounds, nature reserves, sites of specific interest – natural – historic – scientific. Learning out and about stays with kids far better than sat inside.

This may also be a useful reminder for all of you who’ve been home educating a while now. If you’re anything like me you can get all up-tight about it and forget these simple ideas. So enjoy your home education too.

Whatever stage you’re at, may you have as much fun home educating as we did.

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Learn for personal excellence – not for beating others

I’ve been reading the work of Alfie Kohn recently. In particular ‘The Myth of the Spoiled Child’. 

I applaud his ideas, especially those about education where he, like me, finds the obsession with competition, grading, testing and trophies for winning rather distasteful.

He says:

“When we set children against one another in contests—from spelling bees to awards assemblies to science “fairs” (that are really contests), from dodge ball to honor rolls to prizes for the best painting or the most books read—we teach them to confuse excellence with winning, as if the only way to do something well is to outdo others. We encourage them to measure their own value in terms of how many people they’ve beaten, which is not exactly a path to mental health.”

It illustrates something many people misunderstand; the difference between personal excellence for personal excellence’s sake, instead of for the sake of winning.

I’ve always abhorred the idea of competition in an educational climate. Competition is not about personal excellence or individual growth which education should be, it is about beating others. And in today’s school climate very much about league tables and the big commercial and political business education has become.

Some people are fine with that; it’s a competitive world, I hear people cry, and kids have to be taught how to cope. But Kohn has his own strong arguments against that position and why it’s of benefit to no one. Namely that driving our kids to learn and excel because ‘it’s a competitive world’ doesn’t have as much impact on their achievement or do a lot for their mental health as encouraging them to excellence because it is fulfilling. And also avoids making others feel bad – unlike competitive practices.

And isn’t that part of the idea of education? To learn how to live together and contribute with compassion?

He goes on in his book to talk about ways of parenting that revolve around ‘working-with’ the children rather than ‘doing-to’. That can also be applied to the way we educate and is probably the position that most home educators adopt within their approach!

And I love his idea, as the book draws to a close, of encouraging ‘reflective rebelliousness’ where young people are encouraged to question rather than practice mindless obedience, and we should as parents support their autonomy in a way that complements concerns for others.

Certainly sounds a bit like home educators to me! It’s well worth a read!

Could I really afford to homeschool?

One of the reasons people think they could not home educate is to do with money; they think they couldn’t afford to. There is obviously the consideration of parents working and earning and how to manage this around homeschooling. But home education doesn’t have to be expensive in itself; money doesn’t guarantee a good education!

I wrote about this in my ‘Home Education Notebook‘ (see the My Books page) so here’s the extract in case this is the way you’re thinking:

Some people think that the more money you have the better education you will be able to provide or access. Some people think the more money you throw at a child the cleverer they will be. Some people think the more costly the institution the better the education inside it will be.

But none of that is guaranteed.

You can of course buy a private institutional or taught education. You can buy into an area where the schools are considered top. You can buy courses and resources and tutors if that’s your thing. But none of these are guarantees of a quality education either.

This is because education is not really a commodity that can be bought like other items outside of a person like clothing for example. It’s not an App or an add-on or a piece of food.

Education is more a state of being. And that is very personal – not commercial. And open to anyone.

Developing an educated state of being is entirely personal, individual, and requires something that’s not stuck on the outside of a person. It requires something within to happen instead. It requires a human shift. Therefore, it is about people; all of whom are different, all of whom will respond to their educational opportunities differently, and all of whom will grow into a different person in reaction to learning opportunities.

For a person to become educated they have to engage with it themselves. They are the ones who have to make the shift. What happens on the periphery may make a little difference but it is the learner who has to make it happen within and that’s why it really cannot be bought.

There’s a saying that sums up what I’m getting at quite precisely, it goes; ‘you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink’.

I reminded myself of this several times during our home educating years. In fact it’s still relevant now when I want to try and control what the young people do and they’re having none of it – quite rightly. I can have all the ideas I want about what I think is best for them but unless they engage with those ideas they’ll have no effect at all. And they also have their own valid ideas!

Same with home education. I could lead the children towards all kinds of fascinating activities (in my view) but I couldn’t force them to engage.

I used to get intensely frustrated. Especially when I had all my planned activities dismissed as readily as I dismissed their choice in crap telly programmes. I used to spend enormous amounts of time and energy thinking up these engaging activities, then enormous amounts of time and energy in the frustration of them being disregarded, but it was my fault.

As they grew, they began to take over their education for themselves and it would have been a lot better if I’d butted out. But being a parent – okay a bit of an interfering parent – I still reckoned I had to have a lot of input. Some of the time it was welcome – most of the time it was more about me wanting control and doing my bit as an educator and as such was not welcome.

This, like trying to buy education, didn’t work. Because both with the buying and the control, neither guarantee that learning is going to take place. Whatever we try to buy or do – the learning still has to come from the learner.

It doesn’t matter how much you do, it doesn’t matter how much you buy or spend, or the energy you put into it, real education can only take place through the responses of your learner. You can’t buy that!

In a way, that’s quite a comforting thought; it does at least take some of the burden off your shoulders as a parent. Of course your burden maybe instead to facilitate those activities but even that isn’t always going to work. Sometimes the children are just not having any of it. Those days you just have to go with it knowing that things always change and others will be better. But in the end, you can lead a child towards being educated, but you cannot force them to partake of it. Canny provision of stimulating things around them often works as a strategy to engage or inspire them. But in the end it is up to them. And that’s no different whether it costs a little or a lot.

An educated person can come from a poor background or a rich background. Becoming educated starts with an attitude not an income. Being educated is a state of mind not a state of finance.

Poverty has been cited as being one of the causes of poor education. But the kind of poverty that really impacts is a poverty of thinking, more than a poverty of purse.

Obviously good nutrition and warm comfortable homes, opportunities to get out and about and see the world all contribute and money does play a part in those things. But you can still have an engaging education despite the challenge of not having those things – they are all influential in degrees anyway. And not guaranteed to have an impact. Money is not the only influential factor.

The poorest family can have the richest love and support of their children and the wealthiest attitude to learning and personal advancement. It’s that attitude that money has nothing to do with.

Money can’t make an education. A state of mind does. And an educative state of mind can evolve despite the state of the cash flow!

 

 

But – Could I really home educate?

It’s a bank holiday weekend. Who wants to think about education?

Of course, if you’re a home educator there is little distinction between education, learning and life. Which is really as it should be.

If you’re not a home educator and you’re perhaps considering it you might be interested to discover that there are thousands who are not going back to school after the summer but are continuing their learning life out of it – and much of it isn’t at home anyway!

Many parents think they couldn’t do it. A few are right – it takes a certain kind of parent, a certain kind of relationship with your children, and most importantly a mind that’s open to different ways of doing things.

But there are many parents who think they couldn’t homeschool who possibly could, with a little research and altered ways of thinking.

If you’re one of those I thought it might be helpful for me to repost my YouTube talk here to see if it might change your mind!

Click on the picture!

For more information and increased understanding of how home education really works see my books; ‘Learning Without School Home Education’, ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ and ‘A Home Education Notebook’. Details and extracts on the My Books page.

Shocking practice – for so-called education

Education is about people – I’ve always said that. If you think about it; how could it be about anything else?

Children excluded from the school picnic as reported on BBC news

It is about the development and evolution of our species – although we’re more normally concerned with our own particular individuals within it. But our individuals are part of the wider community, the human race, the planet and other species living on it. And how to live harmoniously in order to sustain it.

That’s what education is about – when you can see the bigger picture.

If anyone dropped in from outer space and observed it I doubt they’d know that – they’d just think it was about statistics and results and a huge political treadmill.

The bigger picture is of course made up of smaller parts; it’s children that most concern us when we think about education.

So when those individuals are treated in a less than harmonious way – like these children I read about recently as an example – it seems a complete contradiction of what education should be and proves the point about statistics – they’ve become more important than humanity.

This reported how a group of children who were unable to maintain a 100% attendance at school were excluded from a party.

I found this a shocking practice that creates a poisonous and divisive attitude to others and to education, clearly focussed on building school statistics not developing educated people. And I’m also shocked that the so-called educated people who make such policies are too uneducated to see it.

In order to develop educated people we have to demonstrate care for them, inspire them, nurture their skills and talents, enable them to extend and apply them to the wider world. This is what education is for isn’t it? It is about people going into the world, developing a relationships with it and the people in it, how this is sustained, so therefore its premise and its role must extend far beyond the small world of schools, institutions, their stats and results and the ensuing politics. And it starts with individuals.

Thankfully there are some in the profession are beginning to see this.

Geoff Barton writing in the TES agrees. He says that education is becoming so insular it is failing to relate to the bigger world out there and the people in it.

He says we must reclaim education as ours.

Well, that’s exactly what thousands of home educators are doing. Their inspirational approaches bypass the institutional treadmill education has become based on stats and attendance, records and results, yet the result of homeschooling is often the same; qualifications for some, higher education, employment, social adept individuals. Yet their approaches are nearly always centred around people – not stat-building.

Which just goes to show how unnecessary it all is. And how unnecessary it is to put kids through the cruel practice described above.

Shocking!

Fascinating approaches to home education

I had a long and thought provoking comment from Nav on my recent post ‘The Hypocrisy of Educational Discrimination’, about her home education – did you see it?

It was so interesting I invited her to expand the ideas she’d touched upon about their approaches in a post here. She describes being inspired by many other thinkers which she’s condensed in to five big ideas that influence their home education. I think you will be inspired too so do read on. Here’s her piece:

A Vernacular Home Education By Nav K

A science session outside with friends

I’m an English psychiatrist of Punjabi-Indian heritage, on an extended career break (possibly permanent one) and my husband is an English writer (with recentish Cypriot heritage mixed in). We live with our two primary school aged children in a rather small house, on a bit of land in rural Ireland (a move we made partly to make home education possible for us). My husband and I have always been drawn to the vernacular (I’m using that to mean designed or developed specific to the place) and to being part of nature, rather than separate from it. These ideas have guided our home education and made it a family and personal journey.

I’m the main educator in our home and I can’t tell you then that we follow a specific approach such as Unschooling, or specific school curricula, or Reggio Emilia or Charlotte Mason approaches – I think we are probably drawing on them all to different degrees in pursuit of the best education that we can access. I have some favourite educational thinkers (a bit of Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky is very influential and contemporary thinkers Kieran Egan and Gillian Judson are wonderful guides) but I also try to read widely and influences come from many thinkers outside the discipline of education. As a result, we’ve developed some underlying big ideas / philosophies or principles for our family education, which keep evolving of course, as we learn more together. The overall aim is not just to get clever, but to develop wisdom.

5 Big Principles and their influence on our learning:

  1. Seeing the grand, beautiful whole

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”~ Albert Einstein. Recent research into the brain has shown that the right hemisphere tends to take in a whole, complicated ‘picture’ of the world and the left brain specialises in breaking this down into smaller pieces (I’ve simplified this incredibly here). The writer Iain McGilchrist argues that humans have let the left brain dominate too far. For example, the left part of our brain helps us develop computers and artificial intelligence but would not be able to “see” what could go wrong by hurtling down this path so entirely and so quickly. Did you know that many university biology courses now have little or no outside-the-classroom work, looking at plants in their natural setting? If you love nature and plants and want to study them at that level of education, you’ll probably end up in a lab looking at tiny, tiny details through a computer aided microscope and manipulating genes for 3 years. So at home we use technology such as the laptop and internet but in a careful, thought out way for our learning and much of what we do means going outside, visualising and manipulating with our bodies, using all our senses if possible. We’ll do maths through dance and art rather than a online maths app. When we aim to discuss any topic that involves breaking something into its parts to study them closely, I try very hard to bring the whole back together again with my children.

  1. Everything is connected

All the educational school ‘subjects’ could be described as different but true ways of seeing the world and as individuals we might find ourselves able to understand or enjoy some ways of seeing in preference to others. At home we often discuss how knowing something of all these major ways of seeing the world could complement each other, rather than just being separate entities and I try to help my children find connections, for example the maths in music, dance, and nature (or any of these to learn maths); how science tries to pinpoint things more precisely, but so does language. We spend a lot of time exploring metaphors and analogies for anything we study. Have you noticed how all the greatest thinkers on any aspect or area of expertise have used striking metaphors? (Einstein being an example above!).

  1. Serious practice leads to serious fun!

(I stole that quote from my children’s wonderful music school director and it has become a mantra at home when things are tough.) Persistence and tenacity, focusing on small specific goals in each practice session to gain mastery at something the children have chosen to pursue (like learning to play a piece of music or completing that story or poem) rather than giving up when it gets tricky, allows you not only to feel the pleasure of mastery but then get incredibly and ably creative with it. We talk about this a lot at home using examples of people whose work inspires us. For example, the artist Georgia O’Keeffe who is widely recognised as starting American Modernism mastered painting ‘life-like’ from observation before she went on to develop her own original amazing style, as did many other great painters.

  1. Learn from inspirational masters and experts

We rarely find ourselves using specific teaching materials aimed at primary school these days. We find someone who inspires us or is an expert, somehow. This is usually through reading their books or finding their work on the internet. For example, we love the Royal Institute Lectures for science and maths, available online. We sometimes manage to persuade experts leading classes for adults to let our older daughter attend (like a recent series of archaeology lectures about our part of Ireland). We grab skilled friends to teach us what they know whenever they visit. I support the children to learn anything science or maths related and my husband focuses on creative writing because of our own knowledge and experience in those areas.

  1. Play to learn

Play is necessary for health, learning and for having fun! We make a lot of time for unsupervised free play. From experience we have found huge benefits to adventurous physical play, particularly outside: there is lots of rough and tumble wrestling, tree climbing, exploring rivers, swimming in lakes and the sea (when we can make it happen); but also other quieter (…well sometimes quieter!) forms of play, like fantasy / role-play and constructional play. We try to encourage that it occurs outside, in all weather. If quantum physics entanglement theory is correct, then whatever we spend time looking at (and perhaps listening to, smelling, tasting and touching) could help us become a little bit of what we interact with. So if the children spend much of their time out together with other nature, they might truly be part of it, value and defend it, rather than covet and relate more to screens and machines.

There is a lot more to our personal and vernacular home-education than I can write here and there isn’t the scope to give each big principle or the thinkers behind them, the words or time they are due, but I hope I’ve made a fair attempt at describing some of them.

After lots of encouragement to do so, I am currently busy putting together a simple website to document and share these ideas in greater depth. I hope they will be useful to parents thinking about, embarking on or already on a home education journey. If you would like to know when it goes up on-line please send an email to home.edgeucated@gmail.com

Calling Home Educating families

I’ve been contacted by a researcher looking for information about home education with regard to making an informative programme about it. They’ve sent me this poster to share around in the hope of hearing from anyone who’d like to get involved.

Take a look at Blakeway North here

And get directly in touch with them if you’d like to help further understanding about your home education. The more the merrier!