Tag Archive | books

An inspiring take on learning

Most of us have been deeply schooled! And that’s not just through being at school. We are schooled by our parents, by communities, culture, social media. Schooled to think, feel, act in certain ways and it’s very hard not to stick to these default biases (see this post), even when they don’t work terribly well. Consequently we obediently accept the school model of learning.

And for some, even those who are familiar with home education, it can be hard to get our heads round the idea that children can learn and become educated adults without this schoolish approach, or fully understand the concept of unschooling. This is an approach to parenting and raising youngsters in a way that allows them to engage with purposeful educational activities without being ‘schooled’ at all.

Unschooled’, is a book about that very concept.

The author, Kerry McDonald presents fresh and inspiring ideas about the way we see education and learning, how if we look beyond our traditional schooled biases and trust the learner, we can let go of the idea that they have to be schooled in order to learn and embrace the concept that learning is something that children naturally do. Like many of us, she questions how the one-size-fits-all style of schooling could possibly accommodate the diversity of the human experience, or work for all. And how, through looking at the way childhood and ‘schoolhood’ has changed, she has been led towards embracing an unschooling approach to learning and how this succeeds.

It is an inspiring and thought provoking book which will make you look at how the freedoms of past childhoods have been eroded and how this has impacted on children’s health, development, imagination and creativity – and learning abilities. And how schooling and adult-controlled learning environments have destroyed children’s natural and effective capacity for learning, creating learning and health issues in our teens – the group she believes is most let down by conventional schooling.

There are many first-hand examples of learning in the book, across subjects like literacy and numeracy, which are fascinating; eye-opening accounts of why and how unschooling works and why school-at-home doesn’t! And plenty of research and samples of other ‘non-school’ models and learning centres to be inspired by.

It also talks about how children are treated in coercive ways in our attempt ‘to educate’ them, which has always sat uneasily with me. Coercive practices destroy independence. The author shows how we build independent adults through self-directed education, in fact, we don’t need to educate young people at all – in the schooled sense of the word, they are completely able with our support to do that for themselves. If you’ve ever doubted that this is possible, this book may change your mind!

Although based in America, we can take much from it to apply to home education in the UK. It’s easy to read and each chapter is followed by a helpful summary of tips. If ever you’ve wanted to fully engage in child-directed learning, but never had the courage to go for it, this book will help you do it.

It’s an inspiring take on learning and education with thought provoking ideas on how we can rebuild a learning world for the future which abandons the out-of-date schooling system we have now.

Well worth a read!

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Ten years on….

Hiding behind a stunning installation made by my instagram friend @lincolnfarmflowers

I had such a sense of déjà vu!

It was when I was recently walking round a nature reserve with my youngest beside me balancing three big dead bugs on the palm of her hand.

The only difference between now and over ten years ago when we were home educating is that she’s 25 and we’re walking back to her car! It’s her in charge of the driving now – not me taxiing about (as described in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’). And she’s still interested in things around her! She’s still fascinated by bugs, by finding out what they are; we didn’t put her off learning by home schooling!

I get the same sense when I’m watching my eldest perform as I’ve done every year since she was 4! (Also described in the book). Except that these days it’s her who’s devised, produced, and directed the shows along with her project team. She has such innovation, energy and creativity just like when she was little. I somehow doubt she would have retained that in school.

They both now live and work independently and I never thought about being at this point when I started this blog ten years ago after the publication of my first book.

So this is a kind of anniversary post really.

Looking back at those first posts, I was feeling the gaping gap at their absence (read this – it describes what’ll come to you and yours – unimaginable now). And I was also hankering to be Jacqueline Wilson (as I described in this moving post about her) right at the start of my blogging days.

Since then, 800+ blogs later, we still get up to the same antics we did when they were little, only now they go back to their own pads and I only get the gorgeous loving hugs intermittently! But our bonds are just as strong – yes – even after home educating – so have faith!

And since then, I haven’t become Jacqueline Wilson but, as well as those 800+ blogs (can hardly believe that) there’s been five more books (see the My Books page) to support home educators, or parents in general – since school using parents need support with their children’s learning too as I reckon the system has become even worse. (There’s a post coming for you soon).

And I’m asking myself on the anniversary of this blog, whether it’s been worthwhile? Whether I should continue?

Your lovely messages and comments have kept me doing so, along with the feeling that if even just one family struggling down the school route, or wanting to home educate, stumbles here and finds comfort then it is!

I guess it’s unlikely but if you’re one of my wonderful readers, who’ve also been here ten years, help me celebrate by letting me know, I’d love to hear from you. This is as much a celebration of you and my gratitude for people reading my stuff as it is of blasted blogging – as I’ve called it sometimes!

Thank you for being here. You make it worthwhile!

And we looked them up like we always did – Dor beetles we think. Huge excitement! Like there always was in discovery, as any education should bring.

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.

The home education bedside book!

Before ‘A Home Education Notebook’ was completed a friend and fellow home educator said to me that they kept their other home education books  of mine by their bed. This was so that, if the day had been a little tough, they could dip into my words and be inspired again. Remember why they were doing it.

from the intro…

I was delighted to hear that. Made my day!

“Perhaps I should call this next one the home education bed side book then, “I laughed. “For that’s exactly what I’m hoping it will do.” And that’s how it was referred it when I was working on it.

I then decided this perhaps wasn’t a strong enough title for publication and changed it to what it is now; ‘A Home Education Notebook to encourage and inspire’.

A year or two after publication of the Notebook another home educator writes to me: “The children tease me that my copy, which I keep by my bed, is like my “bible “ of home education!!! I refer to it when I need to be uplifted.” Maybe I should have left the title after all! I am so moved.

I’m always so grateful to you for letting me know that the stuff I write is doing the job I set out for it to do. It makes it all worthwhile. Delighted to know it brings comfort when you need it – I know I certainly needed it at times!

So thank you for sharing that with me. And for the encouraging reviews. I appreciate them so much.

If you’ve read the ‘Notebook’, or any of the others, and could find a moment to leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever you hang out that would be incredible. Because what this does is spread it further around so that any others also needing comfort may come across it too.

Thank you for all your support – it brings me comfort too. And wherever you keep your copy, bedside table or not, I hope it helps you ease your worries and sleep better!

A present for a home school family

I hate to mention Christmas but it is getting that time of year and if you need a gift for a home educating parent one of my books might be an idea.

Home educating is an inspiring and uplifting choice of lifestyle and learning. But not without its challenges especially if you’re doing it longer term. ‘A Home Education Notebook to encourage and inspire‘ is to support parents through the wobbles that all families face at times, with tips on how to manage them. A book that has driven even those who never write reviews to do so on Amazon – I’m most grateful for the wonderful words there. There’s many a homeschool family would appreciate having one by their side. See the My Books page for a fuller description.

And for those who are curious about the homeschool life or who just want a warm funny family read ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ is the one.

One reviewer describes it as “…a home education reassuring hug”. It’s easy to read and full of ideas about learning and new ways of seeing it, told in humorous ways. It may even change your mind about education for ever! Again, there’s more on the My Books page.

And if you’ve read one and enjoyed it do leave me a comment here, or review. Always so warmly appreciated. 🙂

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!

The academic snobbery of the 1950s still exists!

I’m reading an old favourite to put me to sleep at night.

My retro edition

The simplest of books are needed sometimes to slow my thoughts down after a busy day. Plot led ones are no good; they either stir me up or I’m too tired to remember what’s happened. Inspirational books set my mind racing when I’m hoping for the opposite effect.

So I’m visiting a bit of Miss Read. In particular her ‘Village Dairy’, a rather romantic reflection of old fashioned rural lives.

I read ‘Village School’ years ago when I was teaching in one myself and thought it so dated. Now I love the gentleness of it and realise that some of the things the old school mistress observes about the life of the times are almost relevant today. I think some of you homeschooling readers will see what I mean!

I came across this passage where she reflects on the lives of the country children she teaches, many of whom would rather be out earning a living in the country they know, rather than being forced to do ‘book work for which they had little sympathy’:

It is not surprising that today some (children) still resent being kept at school, particularly if there’s nothing new or absorbing to learn offered them’.

Sound a bit familiar? And these days they have to stay till they’re 18!

She talks about how many of them have in depth knowledge of the world around them and, out of the classroom, are building the life skills to go with it. And she maintains that forcing language, grammar, book learning and theoretical maths is of no use to them when, as they get older, they already know what they want to do and are already building the skills with which to do it.

This was in the 1950s! I still get what she’s saying in today’s world!

Obviously no child should be denied the opportunity to explore other avenues, other areas, other skills and interests than those on their doorstep or pursued by their parents. With today’s Internet opportunities they have that chance. But it’s always limited for the more practical occupations are still devalued by educational emphasis only placed on the academic. It’s almost as if the snobbery that existed back in Miss Read’s day, about the more practical and physical occupations being for the less intelligent, still exists.

The trouble is so many kids are not suited to academics, however intelligent they are, and do not learn well through academic approaches. And what saddens me even more is that we still look down on them for it, even in our so called inclusive way of looking at the world.

We perhaps need a much more practical and life relevant approach – as many home educators use – to what youngsters learn and how they learn it, in order to provide the inclusivity that politics boasts about.

Inclusivity does not only apply to ethnicity or disability, it applies to all learning needs and should provide for all learning preferences, personal strengths and aptitudes.

And recognise the fact, without judgement, that not everyone’s needs can be catered for through academic approaches, test related curriculum content, or even being in a school setting.

I guess it would be almost impossible to completely cater for the diversity of our young people. But how much do we even try?

I fear that we are moving away from recognising the need to try by making all young people fit into a system that continues to force children to learn through doing ‘book work’ (or in today’s terms – online work), just as in the days of Miss Read!