Tag Archive | child learning

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’)

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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!

Seeing educating differently

“But how will the children learn anything if they’re not in school being taught?” is a question often asked by those new to the concept of home education.

The reason they ask is usually because, like most, they’ve been taught to think about learning in institutional ways – as the education system conditions us to do.

But when you step out of that institutional thinking, that conditioning, and acknowledge and understand the thousands of families raising and educating their kids without school, you begin to see something different.

You see children:

  • Learning for themselves. Yep – they can, and do, take charge of their learning, (if they’re not put off), right from being small when they’re interested in everything and are given the opportunity to develop those interests further, thus picking up the skills for learning as they go. To maturing into seeing how the world works, how they want to fit into it, and how education will enable them to do that, either through becoming qualified at something or polishing up skills needed for the workplace.
  • Acquiring learning skills, through a wide experience of learning, by being engaged with topics for their own sake and consequently motivated, by applying themselves in practical ways, getting out and seeing things, doing things, experiencing the real world and the people in it and learning from them as they go along.
  • Learning from the people around them, not necessarily teachers, through mutually respectful relationships rather than hierarchical ones. By making their own assessments about the people who can help them, where they can find these people, by discussion and questioning, by having time for conversations, by interacting with them in beneficial ways.
  • Developing mature social skills by being around a high proportion of people who have social skills themselves, rather than a bunch of kids their own age who still don’t. And by healthy, unforced, interaction with a wide range of children from tots to teens in a more natural setting across the ages like that found in the real world, unlike the unnatural clustering in schools.
  • Learning through a diverse range of approaches from the structured, course-led type of approach, through the practical, experiential, trial-and-error way, to a completely child-led, creative, personal investigative, autonomous approach that can be equally successful.
  • Becoming educated without ever being tested on it!

There are far more ways to approach education than the institutional way that has become the tradition through schooling. Schooling was a great idea at the outset. It’s not such a great way of doing things now that society, parenting and families are different and now that politics has trashed it by twisting it into something that’s got to be constantly measured.

Measured people aren’t always the best people, or the most intelligent either. So don’t be conditioned into thinking that measured schooling will be the best either. Think it out for yourself!

How the education system dishonours our young people

Click the picture for a link to a discount copy

My latest book; ‘A Home Education Notebook’ is not just about home education! It has important messages for all educators – and parents – shows another side to educating.

Here’s one of them in this extract:

It is when we become parents that we perhaps truly realise an important purpose.

I would never have said that before I was a parent. But the further into parenting I got the further I understood the human purpose to procreate, to perpetuate the species and to educate.

It truly is an honour to have a child. And I am truly lucky to have had this honour bestowed upon me, to have experienced the magical event of bringing a tiny being into the world and to have the chance to raise it. And thereafter celebrating every birthday, commemorating that honour.

When I say honour I do not mean that we indulge every whim or fancy, or ply them with material gifts, buy their love and affection, answer every indulgent demand or craving. That is not honouring them.

When I say honour, I mean honour the very spirit of having them. Honour the responsibility of looking after this new custodian of our planet and our race. For that’s what our children are, valuable custodians, as we all are, although many fail to see that or act as if they were.

This new being is an important part of a whole; a whole planet, a whole race, as well as being an individual. And we honour this new being by helping him to learn to integrate into the world, to learn about that world and the humanity he is part of, the environment he is responsible for. How he can join others to perpetuate this honour for himself. How to recognise what gifts and strengths he can contribute to that responsibility, contributions he can make to the world and others.

This is what honouring the child is. Seeing him not only as your child, but also as a valuable part of a race and a planet. A human race – a humane race. And a human who can make a difference.

Everyone makes a difference.

That is why we need to honour all that is human about our child to help him learn how his humanness can in turn be passed onto others. Learn that he is not the egocentric little animal in a tiny egocentric little world of ‘me’ that he thought he was, but part of a much bigger human race that he can contribute to.

And education fits into this. And is often where it seems to go so dreadfully wrong.

Education must honour that human being too and be a means to facilitate the development of both that individual human being, what he can offer, and his position in relation to other human beings.

Education surely must therefore be about being human.

Looking at our education system it seems to be as detached as possible from being about humans. And at times removed even from being humane.

Our education system seems to me to be concerned with honouring the system, and obsessing about a set of outcomes that have little relevance to being human or enhancing humane qualities at all. This is clear in the way the system focuses more on ‘taking over’ a child and making them fit into it, than on developing an individual in ways that will help them discover their unique potential, individual attributes, gifts, skills, and personal strengths that could make a humane contribution. Attributes which are not of the academic kind are generally disregarded

In disregarding these individualities I believe it also disregards the spirit, leaving these lovely young people unfulfilled and believing that their personal strengths are irrelevant and don’t actually matter. To me this is the same as saying that the people themselves don’t matter. I sense this feeling in some of the children I see in schools.

But in some of the home educated children I know, I see the opposite.

These are children who’ve been listened to, conversed with, had their preferences, interests, strengths and individualities incorporated into the process of them becoming educated. They have been respected for what they bring to the process. This in turn makes them respect others, respect those who support them and facilitate opportunities. Others they are united with rather than distanced from.

Respect has been part of the way they’ve been honoured and educated. And I believe this is what encourages them to develop a positive attitude to themselves, to education, to what they could achieve, and to others. Some young people I see come away from schooling with a negative attitude because they have not been honoured in this way.

I believe children in school need something more akin to what the home educated kids get.

There is much to be learned from observing other home educating families, the way they facilitate their children’s learning and the way they respect what the individuals bring to it. How they integrate that learning into everyday life experiences and how they learn from those everyday life experiences. You only have to browse round the many home educators’ blogs to see this illustrated first hand.

These records can teach us much. It’s clear that being out of school educating around daily life teaches the children much about human interaction, what the real world’s like as opposed to a school world, what they need to live in it, as well as building the skills to study academic subjects.

I believe this is just the type of education all children need and thankfully many home educators are providing proof. Proof that something less prescriptive and more humane, which honours an individual rather than squashes an individual, works just as well as school – if not better for some.

In our progressed world, as we’ve progressed so far into replacing mankind with machines and technology, it is almost as if we’ve forgotten what mankind is.

In chasing prescriptive curricular outcomes there’s a danger of forgetting that we need to encourage the intelligence to be human, not simply the intelligence required to perform academic tricks. We need to develop human skills, not only academic and technological skills – they came after being human.

We need to know how to live fully alongside other human beings, not only alongside a computer or a system.

The education system is in danger of creating mere androids. Filled up with qualifications; empty of human souls. And in doing so dishonours our young people.

Home education is an example of how to redress the balance.

 

There’s no magic strategy to ‘teach’ your child to read

Bit of a shock/horror title I know. But further to my last week’s post on reading when I was talking about the book ‘Rethinking Learning to Read’ there was something else I wanted to tell you. Something most people don’t know.

Create a relaxed approach to enjoying books

We don’t know because we’re led to believe the opposite. We’re led to believe that there is a specific strategy for teaching reading that professionals know but parents don’t.

The real truth is – brace yourself – there isn’t!

There is no one single magic approach to reading that will guarantee that your child will read.

This is what Harriet Pattison shows in her book. And I was talking to another academic about this recently, a professional who is engaged in teacher training, and he confirmed that there is no strategy that training teachers are taught in order to get kids reading. They are in exactly the same position as parents!

Okay, so teachers learn a bit about the psychology of learning (soon forgotten) and about various schemes, and graded readers and devices like phonics or whatever the latest fad is. But nothing is fool proof, will work for all, because everyone is different and responds differently. But those differences don’t have to be difficulties – only if you’re in school.

There are a multitude of activities that parents can encourage that will help their child to read; games for example, reading aloud to them, shared reading and stories, providing material for their reading, allowing them to use computers and computer games and similar, texting included, encouraging any reading material comics included, providing a reading happy climate, reading themselves, reading signs when out etc.

What is more important and something that parents can do easily, is provide a reading rich environment and encourage – without pressure – a relaxed approach to enjoying books and print. When home educating, it doesn’t matter when a child reads fluently – there are all sorts of ways to learn (films for example). It’s only in school, where learning is print based, that anxieties mount and ‘difficulties’ are created. Out of school, there doesn’t have to be a difficulty.

It’s important to acknowledge and encourage your child’s own personal relationship with reading, which means you might have to keep out of it sometimes! Something teachers can’t do. Perhaps the only ‘difficulty’ is keeping our anxieties under control.

Children are inquisitive about what we do, about stuff online, about phones and words and stories. Your encouragement of that interest will be what eventually leads them towards reading.

And that is something that all parents can do. No magic strategy involved!

Beware the biased propaganda!

It’s always helpful – uplifting – to get comments. Most come to me via Facebook, and I’m so grateful and moved to know this work is a help and is encouraging. That’s basically what I write for!

Not everybody likes it – obviously. But it’s also interesting to read other points people raise when they’re disagreeing with what’s written here. I appreciate anyone taking the time – they’ve clearly been moved to do so and other people’s feelings are important. I’m thankful to report I rarely get obnoxious comments which aren’t backed up by intelligent argument.

One such comment sticks with me though. It’s a while back now, written by someone entrenched in the education system who accused me of writing ‘biased propaganda’.

Once I got over the shock, I was totally bemused by the irony of it. For surely biased propaganda is exactly what the education system perpetuates?

All the way through a child’s time in school there’s an enormous bias: towards grades. These are less for the good of the child and more for the good of the system. Grades mean climbing league tables, which means more Points for schools, which means more funding…etc. And never was there such powerful propaganda surrounding the drilling of the children towards that outcome, than the emphasis on the myth that without these grades their lives will amount to nothing. Which is absolutely untrue.

We don't always have to stick to what we're told!

We don’t always have to remain on a prescribed route!

Good grades and qualification are certainly useful and a way of presenting proof of having reached certain standards which employers use as a benchmark. But they are not an entire education and not the only road to successful work or a fulfilled life. Anyway, ‘successful’ and ‘fulfilled’ need defining in individual terms. But schools fail to acknowledge all other routes than those which perpetuate their own desired outcomes.

And as big business takes over education, schools have another developing bias; towards perpetuating big corporate business! Consequently perpetuating the propaganda that this is the only definition of success or fulfillment. It might be for some, but not for all.

Then there’s also the mythical propaganda, which the system perpetuates, that leads people to believe that without schools, teachers, target led learning, and tests young people won’t learn anything. Also completely untrue. But the establishment bias is to keep everyone obedient to the establishment which they do by perpetuating these myths!

Home education is exploding these myths and dispelling this kind of propaganda. Out-of-the-system approaches encourage individuals to learn for learning’s sake and progress in ways that work for them however varied and diverse they may be, however broad and all-inclusive. It opens minds to a multitude of possibilities not available in the confines of the system.

Surely then, by it’s very nature, home educating is as far away from the narrowing of ‘bias’ as you can get? I admit there may be opportunities for bias, towards religion or academic cramming perhaps, when families choose to remain isolated. But these are very rare. Much more rare than the mass propaganda schooling perpetuates.

In most cases, home education gives youngsters the opportunity to free themselves from the narrow, biased, destructive competitive mentality created by schooling and develops in their education and their mind a creative, intelligent, innovative and open-ended attitude towards learning and life, equipping them with the skills they need to contribute to the working, social, achieving world, business included.

Surely the bias comes from the narrow minded people who fail to acknowledge that!

Kids don’t particularly needs schools to learn!

For some, it’s scary to think about their children learning without schools or ‘proper’ teachers. Especially if that’s all you’re used to.

Getting your head round that idea is a problem for most home educating families when they start out.

They learn just as well on the floor, lying down, wriggling about, having a chat...

They learn just as well on the floor, lying down, wriggling about, having a chat…

Because parents mostly believe that in order to learn kids need the following:

  • qualified teachers
  • to be taught
  • to be in classrooms, sitting still mostly
  • to be told what to do, when to do it and how
  • to follow a curriculum
  • to learn in incremental stages
  • to be tested regularly
  • to learn through academics

But those who’ve been home educating a while are discovering that other ways of learning work just as well without any of this stuff in place. Successful home educated graduates are proof.

For example they’re finding out that, contrary to the points above:

  • Qualified teachers can help children learn – granted. But equally there are plenty of other adults, parents being among them, who can also help children learn by being engaged with them, by answering their questions and encouraging more, by being interested, facilitating experiences and spending the time. Time that teachers don’t have.
  • Anyway, children also learn without teaching, through the incidental activities they do, through conversations, explorations and investigations.
  • Learning can take place anywhere. At any time, doing anything, however wriggly and unstill they are, without ever entering a classroom actually – given the right climate. And many are proving it now.
  • And they don’t always require to be told what to do, when to do it and how, if at all!
  • So therefore a curriculum isn’t always necessary. It’s just a useful tool which you can use or lose, depending on how you want to use it rather than have it use you!
  • Some learning is built on understanding that’s gone before. some learning happens in a kind of non-structured patchwork that’s being proven to be equally successful. It depends which approach suits the child and family’s needs best. Stage- or grade-led learning is not the only approach that works. Or a guarantee of successful education.
  • Testing IS NOT necessary. I repeat; testing is not necessary. It doesn’t advance the learner. It’s just another tool you can use or lose depending on your preference. (There’s a previous post which explains here)
  • And there are all sorts of non-academic ways to learn; conversation, watching films or YouTube clips, experiential, practical and firsthand, trips, trial and error, field study. The more the learning experience ignites all the senses the firmer it will be established!

It takes a while to trust in this process. You have to open your mind, your eyes, and watch and learn how your children really are learning without any of the conventional requirements you might have thought were needed.

But trust this; there are thousands of home educated young people now proving this to be true!

(If you want to know more there’s a long chapter on learning approaches in my book Learning Without School Home Education‘)