Tag Archive | child learning

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‘)

Put yourself in a learner’s shoes

Being back in the position of a learner again would do all teachers good. Because you forget what it’s like and forget to look at learning from the position of a learner.

I’ve been reflecting on this. Because I find I’m a complete beginner in my new role in the bookshop, which I talked about before. Trying to work complicated tills is as alien to me as flying a spaceship and I realise what a horrible feeling it is when you can’t do it!

Kids are in this position all the time. And I bet they don’t like it either. But we don’t often give consideration to that. Even worse; we get annoyed when they don’t ‘get’ it, as if they’re doing it deliberately – I’ve certainly experienced that both first hand and observed, in schools and out.

I’ve observed that people who are trying to teach can be more concerned with their own agenda – that is, making someone learn – than with the learner’s needs and the manner in which they’re best able to learn it.

I believe the distinguishing feature of a good teacher lies with the focus (- subject matter aside). A good teacher is not focused on what they want to teach. A good teacher is focused on what or how the learner needs to learn. And if the way we’re teaching  isn’t working for the learner we need to look at changing ourselves, rather than trying to blame the learner, as so often happens.

Parents who are home educating have the opportunity to keep that focus balanced in favour of the learner, unlike teachers in schools who have to teach to the demands of a school’s agenda. Which, let’s face it, has nothing to do with most of our learners’ needs!

Being a complete beginner at something, or not knowing how to do it at all (me on the tills!) is a wretched position to be in. But many teachers and parents forget that as we sit smug in our elevated position of knowing and showing.

So we should take ourselves back to our own learning days and remember what it felt like (like getting behind the wheel of a car for the first time). And have some compassion for a learner’s position, rather than impatience. Impatience prevents the learner from learning well. Learning needs to be a positive experience for them to truly flourish.

Thankfully my teachers in the shop have enormous patience with me. The same patience I like to think I had with the learners in schools and my own two home educators here.

But maybe patience isn’t the point. As I said above, the point is the learners needs, sometimes what’s needed in a home ed household is to take advantage of the great flexibility you have with learning, try various approaches or just leave it for another day when the learner is more receptive or mature.

For unlike in the bookshop, there’s no queue of people waiting to see whether your learner can do it or not, or restrictions on when they need to do it. And that was one of the reasons you opted to home educate wasn’t it?

So, put yourself back in the position of a beginner and remember to educate to your learner’s needs and not to some other agenda!

You’re not finished yet

If you’ve read ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ you’ll remember me telling the story of a close friend and the terrible angst she experienced because of the neglect of her Dyslexic son in school. (Find it on the Books page)

Basically they’d written him off completely and he and a class of ‘disruptive’ others who no one cared about were told they were ‘unteachable’. Enough to make any one disruptive. As the lad said at the time; ‘what’s the point of even trying when they’ve already decided we’re not going to make the grade?’ He was willing to learn. But without support and understanding he was unable to in that climate.

She and I met for coffee the other day. Yep – we still do that together after all these years, still support each other

Trying to hide behind her glasses!

My dear friend trying to hide behind her glasses!

through the tough bits, and still swap notes about our ‘children’ now successfully out in the world despite our angst.

We were remembering the times back then when her worries were intense. Following the time described in the book  her young teen was farmed out of the school to do various other ‘activities’, none of which he wanted to do and none of which were really of any value. Except to keep him off the school stats, of course, as she sees it now. (She’s been with me too long!)

“The one thing that kept me going and kept my faith in him intact,” she said over cake – yep we still do that too, “was something you kept saying to me at the time when my doubts were uppermost.”

“What was that?” I was thinking back fast. I’ve made some terrible gaffes in the past.

“Well you were always adamant he was intelligent, even though dyslexia was hampering his results in school. But the best thing you kept saying was ‘he’s not finished yet’. It was so reassuring. And I think about that a lot now. Even in relation to myself and the things I still want to do’.

It’s a good one to keep by you for when you’re fretting over the kids or something you feel you’re not achieving. You can use it about schooling, home education or about your own personal development.

As an update, thanks to her continual support from home and working through stuff with him, her son went on to college where he received suitable help for his dyslexia, then Uni, graduated, has a good job. She kept her faith in him throughout and credits me with prompting her by say ‘what are his needs now?’ whenever she panicked about ‘the future’.

Her daughter whom she home schooled for a while (starting at the end of the book) has just completed her doctorate. That would not have been the case, she feels, if their education had been left in the hands of the system without parental help and belief.

So whether you home educate or your children are in school, if you’re wobbling over certain things not being achieved yet just remember; the kids are not finished yet. Stay on their side, keep believing and keep with their needs now.

And remember, you’re not finished yet either, whatever age you are!

Extend your parenting towards home education

If you want to home educate and are not sure you have the skills consider this; home educating is simply an extension of your parenting skills.

Of course, parenting isn’t exactly simple – we know that. But since you’re already on your way with it, you can extend what you’ve already learned about parenting into home educating with relative ease as it contains all the same elements; conscious attention to your child, trial and error approaches, patience and empathy, understanding and encouragement. And research – as much as asking your friends, other parents, home educators and through online forums as academic stuff.

Like you were forced to do when your baby came and upskittled your recognisable world. What a steep learning curve that was! But you did it. You didn’t teeter or waver or hang indecisively about on the edge of parenthood, wondering whether you should parent or not. You were thrown in the deep end and learnt as you went along. You connected with other parents, read, went online, shared problems, found solutions. When your baby’s born there’s no should-we-or-shouldn’t-we, you just got on with it. And you’ve grown enormously I would guess, certainly in experience. Experience teaches and develops confidence.

You can do that with home education. You can jump right in – probably after a little preliminary research as you no

A rather grainy one from the archives!

A rather grainy one from the archives! Charley and I pond dipping and you can read how the wellies got painted in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’

doubt did before the first baby, learn as you go along, connect with others and find the answers you need. There is such a treasure trove of information and support in online forums, blogs, websites, social media sites which also lead to physical groups and meet ups. Like with parenting you can sift advice, copy what others do, try out approaches, review, modify and adapt to make things work for you. The more you’re in it the more you’ll understand about it, how different learning approaches work and what works for you.

We develop many skills as we parent our 0 – 5 child. We taught them many skills too. You didn’t need ‘qualified’ parent status to do so.

The simply truth is we don’t need a ‘qualified’ educator status to extend those skills into facilitating our child’s further learning. We can begin with the skills we have already that are based in our parenting; care, encouragement, communication, inspiration, respect, interest in learning. These are the skills we need more than any other. From these all the more complicated stuff will grow and develop.

Any interested parent who is caring and engaged, interesting and respectful, can extend their parenting skills into home educating skills. It’s as simple as that.

Important message!

No one wants to read long blogs right now. I’m not that keen on writing them whilst everyone’s holidaying. So have created another way of leaving you with an important message:

DSC06124

Feel free to pass it on!