Tag Archive | books

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!

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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!

Book offers: Celebrating ‘Who’s Not In School?’ and others

Back from the delights of Brighton Fringe and stunned as ever by Chelsea’s performance, not to mention production of the whole darn show along with her partner. Feeling in awe of their achievements and a little bit celebratory! Tearful stuff!

And this week also sees a celebration of another kind, along with Eyrie Press. 

It is three years since my first children’s book ‘Who’s Not In School’ was published by Bird’s Nest Books. I can hardly believe it, remembering back to when we were first discussing putting this book out there seems like only the other week!

It features Harry a home educated child who gets into all sorts of trouble because his desire to learn about and investigate his world is so strong it leads to inappropriate behaviour. So it was quite controversial and raised a few arguments. But he is basically like any other kid – schooled or not – full of the curiosity we parents need to manage, but not subdue!

In celebration of the anniversary of its publication the publishers have a give-away going on this week end so pop over here and take a look. And check out the 99p offer on kindle editions. You might get a great deal.

And enjoy your weekend.

An ‘Easy Peasy’ approach to parenting!

I’ve recently been in touch Jo Carter, Home Educator and author of the book Easy Peasy Parenting. Knowing that parenting certainly isn’t easy I was fascinated to know more, so I invited her here to talk a little about her home education, and her parenting philosophies.

This is what she says:

Could we have imagined how it would feel to be a parent? Even if others tried to explain it to us we couldn’t really understand until we experienced it for ourselves.

I was going to be the best parent ever and my children and I were going to have a beautiful relationship. The reality was much different. Oh, there were good times but far too many unhappy times for my liking.

I home educate because I want my children to learn what they want, when they want. There is so much potentially to learn and I believe my children are best equipped to know what serves their needs best. I describe myself as a facilitator. I love that we don’t learn in order to pass arbitrary tests. I love that we spend lots of time together having fun and this has made us close as a family. I love that my children get to choose how to spend each day and with whom.

But as home educators we also have the added responsibility of providing the best education for our children. Of course this will mean different things to different people but if things don’t seem to be going to plan for our child then we can’t even blame the school for failing them. The buck stops with us.

The responsibility of being a home educating mum could mean that I might neglect my own needs in order to give my children what I believe to be the best start in life. In fact, this is what I used to do.

Feeling overwhelmed by this responsibility, I came across a philosophy that radically changed my life and the way I approach home education and parenting.

I heard the theory, ‘We are meant to be happy’ and it resonated with me. I learned that our feelings are created by our thoughts about a situation rather than the situation itself. Rather than demanding circumstances to be a certain way in order for me to be happy I learned to find happiness in the current situation by changing my thoughts. The irony was that as I learned to accept and find the joy in the moment, my circumstances began to morph.

My mantra became, ‘The best thing I can do for my children is be happy.’ This simple philosophy has been a game-changer for me.  When I am feeling negative emotion in the midst of a busy family day I recognise that my thoughts are unhelpful. (I categorize thoughts as helpful or unhelpful rather than true or untrue.) My first priority is to find better feeling thoughts before I carry on with the task at hand.

Of course this is often easier said than done. Maybe the beliefs I hold run too deep to deal with in a short amount of time. Maybe I can’t stop what I’m doing in order to do one of the processes I share in my book, ‘Easy Peasy Parenting’. In times like these, I remember that my feelings are a result of my thoughts, rather than being caused directly by a person or circumstance. This keeps the focus of attention away from them and hopefully results in damage limitation until I can process the event, and my thoughts about it, more fully.

The philosophy is ‘Easy Peasy’ as all I have to do is be happy and everything else will fall into place. Putting it into practice though is often hugely challenging as we are forced to explore and challenge our, often deeply held, beliefs in the search of better feeling thoughts. I have found (and still do at times) the process to be simple yet soul searching. I imagine the goal of feeling better as my anchor or beacon as I manage the mammoth task of raising and home educating my children.

I share all the strategies and techniques I use on a regular basis to create the joyful family life I always dreamed of, in my book, ‘Easy Peasy Parenting’. Available on Amazon in paperback or kindle version.

Thanks to Jo for her thought provoking piece. Do explore her book and website for further tips and support with your parenting.

 

Which world is real?

I’ve been enjoying reading about the family, farm and parenting life of Amanda Owen of ‘The Yorkshire Shepherdess’ fame.

She tells the story of how she worked hard to become a sheep farmer, despite her city routes, and how she lives and works on the farm with her nine children.

Amanda Owen and growing family

She sounds like an amazing woman. And I love her descriptions of how her family works, her no-fuss approach to everything, to her parenting, to her children and the way they all live in a remote farmhouse miles from anywhere.

Although her children go to school, she has that down-to-earth approach to her children’s lives that many home educating families have. One that sees the true educative value in everyday, real life experiences, how the children are involved in their very tough life on the farm, and how much they learn from it.

This question of ‘real’ life is something that’s often thrown at home educators. Like we should send them to school because it’s a taste of ‘real’ life – which of course it isn’t! ‘Real’ life is nothing like school. But most people don’t see that.

Amanda has the the same accusation thrown at her with her children being so isolated on the farm.

“You can’t keep the children cooped up here, this isn’t the real world” she was once told!

Sound familiar – I think someone once said the same thing to us about home schooling.

I loved her response. She was understandably indignant because that was their real world, and that statement devalued it. Home educating was our real world and it was often devalued too. But some people can’t acknowledge a life that is different from theirs. Many people want everyone to be all the same, do the same, follow the same path. And get really twitchy at those who choose a different one.

Amanada says her children have a good work ethic – many home educators do too, because they’ve been working in an independent way for so long. She goes on to say that living where they do they understand that if they want something they have to put the work in. They become more self sufficient, consequently learn that nothing must faze you. It’s about building mental strength as well as physical strength and the willingness to have a go at anything.

A great philosophy she’s built through her farming life and one that will serve her kids well when they move on. A great philosophy I also witnessed many home educating families adopt.

She goes on to say that she gets a lot of people telling her what she should be doing with her children (sounds familiar)! But she believes they’re having a good childhood involved in the farm, it’s just different. And her only hope is that they’ll look back on their childhood as a happy one.

I think most home educators feel the same!

But as for which world’s real – that’s an ongoing philosophical debate that will never be answered.

The more important question is – which world works?

Home educating works for some. Life in alternative places work for others. City life works for many.

But whether people live in cities, or farm in remote places, or home educate, the children can see all sorts of other worlds now via the internet. They have opportunities to explore and learn about other worlds different from their own. And Amanda says, like most home educating parents say, that the children may well move away and choose their own different worlds one day and that’s fine. However, no single world is more ‘real’ (or valuable – which is the hidden meaning of the expression) than another.

And no one should be criticised for choosing a way of life that is different from mainstream.

I leave you with Amanda’s words from the end of her book; “We get such pleasure out of the children and take a pride in bringing them up in a free and natural way”. I think many of you will identify with that!

Merry Christmas

The winter solstice.

It’s almost as important to me as Christmas. For when I get here I know that many of the dark days are done and yet we’ve still got the joy of Christmas to come.

Two celebrations! Three, counting New Year.

Then, after the Christmas and New Year sparkle are fading in memory (even if not in waistline), we will be able to look forward to a gentle increase in the light hours, even if only infinitesimal at first, stirring hope anew as the year begins.

But that’s then, this is now.

And what I wanted to do in this moment was to wish you happiness for Christmas and the coming year. And to thank you warmly and deeply for all the support you’ve shown for my work throughout the year. For the encouragement, the lovely messages, the compliments and the comments. I so appreciate all my readers and the time you take to message me. Thank you!

It has meant so much.

Merry Christmas!

How writing is like homeschooling

I’ve just realised that writing books is a bit like home educating.

What next I wonder?

Why?

Well:

  • the initial prospect is terrifying and you think you can’t do it
  • you’re daunted by the fact it’s going to be one helluva long haul
  • there’s not much tangible proof you’re going in the right direction
  • there are no concrete ‘results’ until years have gone by
  • and just because you chose to do it doesn’t make it easy.

And there was me thinking life would be easier after my little home edders had graduated!

But the thing is; you get over these things by just ploughing on through.

Whether on the brink of home educating or on the brink of writing a book I have some advice:

  • don’t look at the long haul for now – keep focussed on doing each day
  • keep reminding yourself what you’re doing it for
  • keep faith with those ideals and keep going anyway, unless something dire isn’t working, then make adjustments and press on
  • don’t base your judgement on mainstream expectations, focus on how your kids’ (or your books’) progress
  • ignore all those who think you should do ‘mainstream’. If they haven’t experienced your route first hand what do they know about it?

And whether you’re home educating (which is also parenting and all the same things apply), or writing a book, remember that you are fundamentally doing it for love! And choice. You can make change at any time. And it’s an amazing thing that you do which takes grit, determination, stamina and courage… in case you needed reminding!