Tag Archive | child learning

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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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

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!

A funny way to find out about home education

It’s hard to describe what it means to me when people let me know how inspired they’ve been by my book ‘A Funny Kind of Education‘ (see the My Books page) And how it gave them the courage to abandon schooling and change how their child learns.

I feel both humbled with gratitude for the kind words and the fact that folks take the trouble to let me know (if you enjoy a book – how often do the authors get to know that?) And am elated and delighted that the book has succeeded in its aims to help families find the courage to make changes to something that wasn’t working for them.

I remember when we were in that situation. When our dull-faced children (who weren’t like that pre-school), became switched off, unmotivated and uninspired by the world around them as time in school went on. And how they developed an ingrained sadness – often illness – that also switched off their smiles as well as their desire to learn.

Thank goodness home education switched it all back on again.

When I began to meet other home educating families I heard similar stories about their child’s altered behaviour more dramatic than ours; stories of tantrums, aggression, frustration and anger leading to shouting and violent moods. All changed once removed from school.

For the short time our two remained in school I deliberated with the decision, weighed the pros and cons, looked at what little info was available at that time (hardly any), until the climax described in the book pushed my decision to go for it. We felt nothing but jubilation as a consequence. I wished I’d done it sooner.

For most people I know that home schooling appears to be an unimaginable step, so unimaginative are we at seeing other approaches to learning having any kind of success.

Such have we been conditioned!

So I wanted to tell our story of educating in a lively, enjoyable way in the hope that not only could parents begin to imagine how it actually does work, but also introduce different ideas about alternative learning approaches which can be just as successful, but which parents rarely come across. Who’d ever read a book on education, after all? I knew I needed to make this book on education – for that is what it is – more readable.

So when I read how the book has achieved those aims I set for it I am immensely moved.

I hope it continues to do so. And I hope I continue to hear about it!

And to all those who’ve already let me know; a Great Big THANK YOU!

Disconnected!

We’ve been another week without an internet connection. I’ve had to decamp to a friend’s house to use hers. For the other problem with rural living is poor mobile signal – not enough for me to go online on my phone at home.

Such are the disadvantages of living in remote places. But we’re used to it!

It has its upside. It means that without the seduction of social media, emails and messaging I focus more intently on new writing rather than allowing my time to be eaten away by responding to notifications. It’s easy for that to be an excuse for not getting the real work done. I admit I can be a bit dilatory at managing that!

The absence of the internet also reminds me to practice skills that are independent of it, to be more resourceful, to re-visit other activities, perhaps less sedentary, that do not depend on that connection. And it’s a good reminder that we need variety in our daily lives to bring a healthy balance and outlook, to help us maintain other skills and interests, practical and physical as well as social, to make us more rounded people.

Exactly the same for our children. They need this variety too; involvement in an assortment of skills as well as internet ones, most particularly the physical, practical and personal, to make them healthy, rounded, skills-rich adults.

I’ve enjoyed watching some of the ‘Back in time…’ programmes that have taken families back to life in earlier times, mostly before internet and telly. And some of the comments the youngsters on the programme have made suggest that they have enjoyed living without their phones, internet and telly at times because it has made them focus on each other. Conversation has become a pastime for example, or communicating over board games. Another remarked they’ve become closer as a family.

Now, I acknowledge that I was as grateful as anyone to distract a restless child with some screen based pursuits.

But I’m now aware that this has become such an overused activity that children are lacking in many of the skills they would have naturally gained from connected family time. Some cannot converse adequately, use language effectively, interact with peers appropriately and are starved of the nurture family closeness brings because of long isolate hours entertained by screens, disconnected from real people. Even communal meal times have been overturned by TV dinners.

I enjoy a TV dinner, but not all the time.

What I need, and what children need even more as their on going development is more important, is a rich diversity of experiences. They need opportunities to try a range of different activities, explore potential interests, chances to develop a variety of skills, physical, practical and personal for their well being, resourcefulness and healthy maturity.

A balance of life’s activities in other words. Not a life that’s dependent on one.

Nothing like a week with disconnection to make me check whether my time usage was balanced.

If this extreme weather continues I suspect I might be in for another one!

What’s a good start to education?

A similar event in a Suffolk library

There was the sound of giggling and tiny tots voices coming from the children’s section. I was in the library returning books and couldn’t help having a peep to see what was going on.

The toddlers and parents were sat in a circle on the floor having such a happy time together doing rhymes and actions and songs etc. Lovely to see. Fab to see parents engaging and interacting with their kids (no phones anywhere). And full marks to the library for initiating it to help them achieve it.

It’s not something that comes naturally to everyone; engaging with tiny beings, pre-conversation, especially when you’ve only been used to adult chat. I remember wondering what to do with the littlies sometimes – not being a great chitterer myself it didn’t come naturally. So groups like this are great to help those of us who are less inspired in that department to get going.

Because it’s really important that we do. For the simple reason that all the chat, chant, song and engagement with the youngsters we have, at whatever age, is the foundation of education. 

This contact, connection, interaction in whatever form is the pre-cursor for essential skills on which education is built – communication being one, as well as listening, observing, responding, thinking, vocabulary development, the basic skills needed for learning to progress. All founded in those simple little sing-songs, chats with your child, constantly reading to them, engaging in whatever way. They are the building blocks from which the mastery of language, communication, mental agility and other skills for wider learning can grow. Just from the stimulation of these types of activities when they are young. Well – it should continue throughout childhood really.

Parents think that getting kids reading early or writing their name, recognising numbers etc will give them a good start to their education. It does.

But the reality is that it starts much, much earlier than that. A good start to education is you!

(For more, check out the last section; ‘How you influence your child’s education’, in my book ‘Mumhood. How to Handle it. Why it Matters’)

Doing the human race a favour!

Charley sat picturesquely on the bridge with the dog! 

It seems ages since she was small enough to wade through the tunnel without bending over! And ages now since the adventures she had doing so, described in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ when we’d take off into the countryside for the afternoon, with picnics and usually granma too.

She and I were revisiting one of the favourite places for our homeschool adventures recently when I snapped this.

They always learnt so much wherever we went, especially when they had the opportunity to explore, talk about, investigate and discover. The simple experience of the afternoon was educative enough – it doesn’t always have to be formal.

That’s something missing from a formal education which takes place in institutions day after day, keeping the kids busy with a predetermined curriculum. It leaves no room for imagination or personal discovery. It masks the fact that informal activities can be just as educative. More so perhaps because along with their own investigations comes the opportunity to think for oneself, making a far more independent learner than one that is regularly spoon fed and who is constantly led to believe their own ideas are invalid.

A more investigative approach keeps the children’s curiosity alive – their wonder at the world intact – and this keeps them motivated to go on learning because it is far more engaging. I’m not saying there’s no room for formal activities sometimes – when they serve a purpose. But many school activities don’t – other than ticking political boxes.

Schools have to keep kids busy. But keeping them busy within formal prescribed structures does not guarantee learning is taking place. Equally the reverse is true. Informal activities do not mean there’s no learning taking place.

And I wish people would understand that just because the children may be learning informally, it doesn’t mean the parents are not taking it seriously. We took the children’s education very seriously, as all home educators do, whatever approach they adopt. Would anyone ever take this decision lightly? Doubt it.

People are conditioned to think that a school style approach to education is the ‘real’ one and the one that matters because that’s all they know. Their own education has failed to show them that there are all sorts of ways to learn! They fail to comprehend anything different.

But random learning, however diverse, promotes the ability to learn randomly – or diversely. And the ability to think diversely. We could certainly do with more of those types of people. Diversity is essential for the perpetuation of the species so Darwin said!

So getting out like we did, and giving your kids a range of experiences as you educate, will actually be doing the human race a favour. And even though it may be informal, don’t be fooled into thinking that there is no serious education going on!