Tag Archive | children

Home Educating and just needing a little bolster?

I well remember how daunted you can feel when home schooling. It’s incredibly exciting and inspirational but daunting just the same!

So I thought I’d repost this; knowing that is often the most simple – but less obvious – advice that helps the most, hoping it will bolster you up whether you’re starting out or been doing it awhile.

–          Keep light and flexible.

We are almost conditioned to get heavy over education. Worried. Intense. Objective led. Future obsessed. That’s how education has been seen throughout the decades. This isn’t the best way forward because whilst we are intensely pushing to specific objectives, we are often wearing blinkers and missing incidental learning that is happening all the time, here and now. Learning is just as effective when it happens by incidental experience as it is when it was planned. For example; did you need intense objectives to learn how to use your mobile? No – you just experienced it. Could other things be learnt the same way? Definitely! Focus as much in the here and now, making it a good learning experience.

–          Be patient.

You cannot force an education any more than you can force a child to grow. You have to nurture it instead. This takes time. Just because your child cannot grasp something now doesn’t mean they’ll never grasp it. Ignore the concept of achieving things by certain ages – kids will get there in the end. Time needs to pass by. Sometimes you have to leave it alone.

Relaxed and happy approaches work very well!

–          Relax and enjoy.

Who says education has to be all hard work to be effective? It doesn’t. Conversely, an enjoyable education is very effective. A child who learns in an environment that is relaxed and happy will achieve far more of use to living a successful life than one who is hung up about learning. If you’re hung up about learning, it hampers your whole life. Enjoy your children; enjoy showing them this wonderful world and the skills they need to live in it. That’s what education is for.

–          Remain open minded.

The traditional practices associated with learning in schools are so ingrained in us it’s hard to believe that any other approach could work. It does. Lots of approaches work. Learning through play being one of them (think phone again). Another simple example: children can learn maths on the settee, lying on the floor, in the car, in the chip shop, going round the supermarket, just as well as sitting at a desk. It’s only adults who think they can’t!

–          Remember why you’re doing it!

One sure thing that gave me big wobblies about our home educating was focussing on schools and the way they did things, instead of focussing on why we were opting to do something different. Most HE parents want their children to be happy, learning, achieving – if yours are doing so you don’t need to worry what other school children are doing. For example; there will be thousands of children who went to school during the years my two and their HE friends were home schooling, but they and ours have all ended up in roughly the same place at the same age. Different pathways; same results…although it turns out the home school children seem to know a lot more despite not sitting in classrooms all day.

Funny that!

Read just how terrified I was, how we got through our first few years and exactly what is was like living a home educating life in my story ‘A FUNNY KIND OF EDUCATION’. See the Books page for details.

In celebration of ‘Who’s Not In School?’

The cover illustration by James Robinson – the toy features throughout – if you can find it?

I really cannot believe it is five years since the first Little Harry book came out. But the publisher, Eyrie Press, assures me it is.

Little Harry evolved because I felt that home educated children needed a book about children like them, who didn’t go to school, illustrating an ordinary family in an everyday kind of home educating life.

‘Who’s Not In School?‘ was the first of these. Followed next by ‘The Wrong Adventure’ again featuring little Harry.

Although welcomed by most home educating families, and I’m told the children loved it especially looking again and again at the beautifully detailed illustrations by young home educator James Robinson (instagram @jamesrobinsonart), it also caused a bit of controversy!

This was because some felt it portrayed home educated children and consequently their parents in a bad light, particularly with reference to the illustration of Harry climbing on an exhibit to see what was inside. In his eyes and in the eyes of many children he was just making an innocent investigation, even if his behaviour was totally unacceptable to us. But it was that picture that caused upset by suggesting, some felt, that home educating parents would let their children do such things.

Of course, they wouldn’t, any more than any other parents however they’re raising their children. But the most well behaved still do things they shouldn’t when you inevitably take your eyes off them for a moment.

However, I was sorry to have riled the feelings of many home educating parents when my only wish was to support.

I do wonder if those same parents have seen the ‘Horrid Henry’ books (far worse behaviour than Harry!) and feel accused of bad parenting by those!

My intention was to create opportunities between parents and children to discuss behaviour, discuss the reasons why certain types of behaviour are desirable and others are not – like Harry at the museum, discuss the reasons behind all that he did and what reasons are justifiable.

Children need all sorts of examples, good and bad, to understand how to behave and more importantly, why it’s of benefit to them to behave with respect. It boils down to them developing a basic understanding that if they want to be liked and popular and respected in turn, they have to behave in certain ways – as we all do – and some behaviours have to be curbed however justified they they think they are.

Most kids love to learn, Harry certainly does, but it is still not acceptable to do so in the way he does at the museum!

I do hope that controversial picture won’t spoil your enjoyment of the book, and your kids have fun reading about a family like them, or learning about a Home Ed life. But I also hope they spot the ways they are not alike too! And the book raises lots of discussion in your house, which is after all a valid approach to learning!

Another Illustration by James Robinson

You can buy the book direct from the publishers or from amazon.

Lockdown: a good time to question

Well I wasn’t going to put my own mugshot on here, my daughter’s much more photogenic!

My daughter’s given me a haircut.

Is she a hairdresser? No! Does she have any idea about what she’s doing? No! Has she had any training about shaping a short cut?

Nope!

But stuck in during Lockdown and unable to go to the hairdressers I decided to risk it or end up looking like a shaggy dog.

It’s turned out brilliantly. Choppy admittedly but that’s just how I like it. Which has made me question why the heck I’m bothering traipsing to the hairdressers once a month.

Lockdown is inevitably making us confront and question many parts of our life. And I suspect there are others who are now questioning those things they suddenly find they can do for themselves, children’s learning being one of them.

A huge majority of parents have been thrust into the scary position of having their children learn at home, when they wouldn’t choose to. But I guess in some cases, where it’s working quite well, it’s prompting questions about what goes on in schools.

Now I’m not questioning the incredible skills of good hairdressers or brilliant teachers. Neither am I suggesting they’re the same thing! And of course this is only a temporary situation.

What I am suggesting is that lockdown is raising questions about schooling and learning that have long needed to be asked. Questions like; what are schools actually providing – educationally, holistically, health wise, or in terms of child care perhaps? Do kids actually need teachers in order to learn? Or do they need a more nurturing environment in order to reach potential? Can a DIY style home education work just as well as that which schools provide?

The answer to the final question is a definite yes; thousands of home educating families have already proved it. And there is a generation of home schooled youngsters now out in the world working, earning, contributing, and no one would ever know they’d not been to school – as one colleague commented to my eldest.

So there is plenty of proof that home educating is a very successful approach to learning if a child isn’t thriving in school as ours weren’t, as many don’t.

Some just exist, or endure, but is that enough?

A lot of parents say that they’d like to home educate but are worried about the risk. My answer to that would be that we take risks with everything we do, home educating or sending kids to school – certainly with impromptu haircuts and even those at the hairdressers actually!

But whatever we do with our children we can engage in a continual process of review, reassessment, research and analysis of what’s not working and find an approach that does and adapt. Which is more than I can say when I take the risk with a haircut – can hardly stick it back on again if it goes wrong!

We are not going to remain unchanged by this time of lockdown. And perhaps one of the good things that will come of it will be that we review our ideas, values and priorities about many things. The approach to learning and educating our children among them.

This time of school-at-home is not the same as home educating, where you develop a completely different approach to learning than the prescriptive ones schools have to adopt. But if your child has thrived, and you have survived during your time without school in your family life, you might want to reconsider your priorities about schooling and take a more in depth look at the alternative that thousands find fulfilling and successful.

There is plenty of support now to help you!

Are you discombobulated about your children’s learning?

If you’re struggling with your children’s education right now, being mindful in the way you think about it might make you feel a little easier.

Whether you’re doing school-at-home or home educating many of the same issues arise in ‘doing the work’, creating pressures in family life that make everyone feel discombobulated!

I love that word. Discombobulated describes very succinctly what we’re all feeling during this corona crisis. It’s defined as confused and disconcerted. Fits the bill, doesn’t it?

And I imagine many parents are discombobulated about their children’s education right now, both those doing school-set tasks at home and those who were already home educating for whom the lockdown is just as inhibiting.

Some of our feelings are caused by the pressure that we put upon ourselves when we’re not mindful of the way we think about it.

For example; think about the school day. Parents tend to think about kids in school doing useful stuff from 9 am til 3 pm but it doesn’t exactly work like that. During those hours there is a lot of moving about, messing about, distractions, disruptions, wandering attention and general procrastination and time wasting. I averaged it once in a classroom; the children actually only get about 7 minutes an hour of constructive time! So if you’re pressurising your child to do 9 til 3 non stop ‘work’ because that’s what you think they do in school I should stop. Whether you’re home educating or doing school-at-home your child will work more quickly through stuff and will have a lot more time for other valuable pursuits which contribute to their educational advancement in ways you’d never imagine!

Another example, thinking about the basics; the maths, english and science done in schools is designed to be done in schools and in such a way it can be measured. This can make it dull and the children switch off from seeing them as interesting subjects. However maths, english and science come up in everyday life at home all the time in much more relevant ways. For example, budgeting (maths) is a constant consideration (and essential life skill). Messaging, searching online, reading anything, comics, any form of writing like lists for example (not forgetting drawing and colouring are excellent for practising skills involved in writing) all increase the use and understanding of vocabulary and language as do discussions and chats – all useful literacy practice. And we are involved in science all the time in everything we do if you just notice – and use it as a starting point for investigation. We have bodies – biology. We use stuff and live in stuff which all originated at some point from the earth (materials, properties, sources etc). Not only do we have a virus crisis (what’s a virus?) we have a planetary crisis – the planet being one of the most important subjects for scientific research. Do you see what I mean? Scientific questioning and discussion develops a scientific mind as much as anything you might do in a workbook – and it’s real. Making maths english and science relevant to the youngsters’ lives through real stuff is as valuable as the maths, english and science you do on the curriculum. Be innovative about how you tackle it; relating it to life makes it more interesting and doable.

And finally be mindful of the idea that everything you do has the potential to be educative; your family interaction, discussions, contact by tech, cooking, organising, getting your exercise, playing, looking after yourself, managing life together, clapping the NHS. All builds skills, mental, physical, life skills – all has a worth.

This is a time of trauma for everyone. No one needs added pressure brought by needless worry about ‘school work’ or dull academic exercises.

We are all discombobulated! Many of our comfort blankets are gone and we’re all having to work life out in new ways for the time being. Fretting about academics will not help. And is not necessary for I bet that when the kids are in their twenties you’ll never even notice the school days they missed or this time of home schooling – however you’re doing it!

Family harmony, security, nurture and getting through as happily as you can are more important than academics right now. Far better the children remember a happy time of family learning together than the pressure of being forced to do stuff that’s less than relevant in this discombobulated time. Not forgetting that even discombobulated, and how you tackle it, can be educational!

So I suggest you take the pressure of yourselves – and the kids – and rethink it!

Mind your attitude

I’m aware there is some conflict!

Hardly surprising in these tricky times.

It’s really odd to suddenly have ‘home schooling’ thrust into the limelight when there’s times home educators have been made to feel like anti-establishment, boat rocking, nuisances who ought to get real! As if school is ‘real’? And as if that’s what we do it for.

We don’t. We do it for the good of our kids. Why would anyone put themselves through the enormity of the challenge of home educating if it wasn’t from the deep desire to do that?

Now, of course, everyone’s having to ‘home school’.

Or are they?

Most experienced home educators wouldn’t even use the term ‘home schooling’ (there’s a post about the differences here) or equate it in any way with what’s going on now. What’s going on now is basically school-at-home and biding time until the mass child minding centres open again and start testing and scoring and grading and pitching kids against one another through the mass political institution that is known as education.

But enough of that; I don’t want to rant and it’s not the point here.

The point is that we’re all in it together. Because we all have the same parental desire and are headed in the same direction: To have intelligent, well developed and happy kids who are able to move forward in caring and productive ways and get where they want to go, whether through employment or work of their own.

And we should respect that there are many approaches to doing this successfully, whatever you want to call it and wherever it takes place.

I knew families whose children never went to school. Ever.

I knew families who started with school then switched to home educating.

I knew families who had some children in school and some home educating.

I knew others who had all their children in school.

Others still who started home educating then switched to school at secondary. And vice versa.

I knew some who generally used school but home educated for a term/year/however long it was needed for the good of the child’s development, returning them to school at a later date.

And here’s the thing: All these approaches worked.

There are many different approaches to learning and any can work as long as they are managed carefully and respectfully.

And the point at the moment is not what you call it, is not home educating or doing school-at-home whilst there’s an abnormal interruption in the service most parents are used to. The point is everyone is struggling with a strange situation, whatever approach they started out with. And it will best be weathered if we support one another and refrain from making any judgements about what each is doing. We’re not politicians after all. 😀

All the parents who are having to deal with the children being at home instead of school could maybe grow a little more respect for home educators. All the experienced home educators, although conscious of school-at-home being very different from what they do, may be able to increase awareness of home educating that has previously been misunderstood.

And everyone can focus on the important thing; keeping the needs of the children at the heart of everything they do.

There need be no conflict between schools, home schooling, school-at-home, or home education – or parenting for that matter.

We are all different. We are all trying to survive these unprecedented times in the best way we can. But one thing we can do is care for each other, try and see other points of view, and be supportive rather than in conflict.

Warfare about our approaches and responses to the education of the children during this time is as unhelpful as the stupid and ignorant warfare between politicians when they’re campaigning.

It’s also the opposite of an open and inclusive attitude we want to foster within education – within society – within life.

So it’s not only what you’re doing with the kids that’s the point. The attitude you’re doing it with matters just as much.

Be easy. Reserve judgement. Open your mind. Learn.

This time is short and will quickly change and we’ll wonder what all the fuss was about. And hopefully some better attitudes will result!

Essential tips for being together

‘It’s not going to be easy’. That’s one of my partner’s favourite sayings. Doesn’t matter what we want to achieve, he trots it out; unhelpfully!

At this present time, I have to admit, that very saying has slipped into my mind. We are all facing challenges we never could have predicted. The least of which is being cloistered together most of the time, without the work, school, outings which are more the norm for family life and which affords necessary space from each other.

Irritations can escalate, tolerance lower.

We’ll have to learn to live round one another in harmony and respect if the family unit’s going to survive. Something it was very necessary to do whilst we were home educating, even though getting out and about was very much part of our routine.

There is much to be learnt from home educators’ way of living and learning. Not so much about education because this short period of parents doing school at home is not like home educating where you grow into learning together gradually and have time to work a completely different approach to it. Rather, we can learn a lot about how to develop a relationship that’s respectful and harmonious enough to work together.

Managing the continued close contact that we’re dealing with at the moment, and which might go on for a while yet, takes some working out and working at. It’s not going to be easy, says she!

Of course, home educating families don’t manage it all the time. There is just as much conflict and discord as in any home. There certainly was in ours, some of which I describe in my book ‘A Funny Kind of Education’. I think I had a complete meltdown at times. But we got over it – I was supposed to be the adult I reckoned; I had to find ways to mend, rebuild, and help us all learn.

You’ll find lots of giggles about our home educating days in here, along with the mishaps

Learning about relationships and living together is an essential skill to be passing on to the kids, one that’ll be useful for the whole of their lives.

Some of the ways we nurtured this were:

  • By finding ways to be apart, discussing the fact we all needed it regularly and that is okay; everyone needs it for their sanity, it’s not to do with love
  • By discussing how this might be achieved especially in small living spaces
  • By being ingenious with spaces to be apart, using the rooms/spaces we had, corners, hallway, outside, wherever
  • By making it okay to say; ‘I need some head space right now, so am going to switch off for a bit’ and everyone understanding that this means not to intrude, even verbally, if they’re in the same room
  • By building reciprocal respect and empathy for everyone’s need for these times, whoever it might be, child or adult
  • By getting creative with den making. A den is a perfect private space for kids, even if it’s just a blanket over a clothes horse or corner of the bathroom. They’ll occupy it for hours, especially if you keep creating new ones, giving you some space too
  • By having a regular time scheduled into your day which becomes a habit, when you ask for your lone time to be respected as you respect others’ needs for time to themselves too
  • By not being afraid to use the word ‘sorry’ when it goes wrong, thus showing the youngsters how to do the same, and that no one is perfect.

Building respectful relationships is an essential part of learning to live together, and education. But it does take consistent practise, ongoing respect, reviewing regularly especially what’s not working, and maybe a bit of teeth gritting!

I don’t know how long we’ll be shut up together. But I do know that it’ll be far better if we find ways to be so with harmony and respect.

Weather for the brain!

What a tough challenge of weather! Storms Ciara and Dennis have made it grim to be out and this coming from someone who generally walks all weathers. It’s even been too much for me sometimes, let alone rather unsafe. But I get damn twitchy in body and mind shut inside for too long.

Just like the kids do.

I remember those twitchy little bodies on home educating days when it somehow happened that we didn’t get out under the sky – even if sky between buildings and not the usual green space we preferred. It made such a difference to moods when we got out, despite challenging weather. And made a huge difference to the atmosphere in the house when we got back. It was like a miracle. (There’s a little story about it in my book ‘A Home Education Notebook’ called The Outdoor Miracle which shows how this happened, even to the teenager!)

whatever the weather…

As modern day life and the constant prod of technology place ever more demands upon us, and create ever more stress, the need to get kids outside especially in green spaces is often in the media. And ever more urgent. How they need this for their health; physical and mental. How we all need it for our health, physical and mental; parents too.

We need to pay it attention. It’s crucial we set the example, even when it’s tough.

Research into our brain health and development constantly updates our understanding of our brains and the need for physical activity to promote brain and body health and well-being. They are all connected. And just like a healthy muscle needs the action of blood rushing round it to keep it fit, so too do our brains. And active body has a direct impact on the way the brain functions.

There’s an interesting article here which talks about that impact along with some ideas about getting them moving. Thought provoking, but like with everything on the net; be discerning! It isn’t all about raising smart kids as in the title, it’s about raising happy, well balanced kids and time outdoors, moving about, contributes to that. And is all part of their education.

So whatever the weather (as long as it’s safe) get outside for an active blast. Most kids find rain, winds, storms quite exhilarating if we promote them as such. And you’ll be ever so relieved you did when you get back. You too will experience the outdoor miracle!

Meanwhile I hope you haven’t suffered too much, my thoughts are with those of you who have!

Do you forgive yourself as you do the kids?

Pic doesn’t do the ‘glow’ justice – well – it was raining!

I walked round a nature reserve a few weeks ago and the trees were positively glowing and illuminated with their autumn yellows, oranges and auburns.

I was glowing too. Sadly not with Autumn but with anger! Anger at a stupid mistake I’d made in my schedule, wasting time and petrol (and consequently pollution) as a result.

Seething doesn’t describe it! And all the noble words I spout off to others about letting go of angst came back to mock, along with berating myself for being such an idiot. So, as well as an idiot, am also a hypocrit!

Finally, back absorbed in work again, I gained some balance and relief, forgiving myself my mistake – as I would others. Finally!

How many times as parents, I wonder, have we been forgiving and comforting to the children for their mistakes, yet carry on berating ourselves for our own?

Go on – be honest – do you offer the same comfort and forgiveness to yourself as you do them? Have you ever thought about it?

Maybe you could. Maybe it would help sometimes.

And maybe we could practice the same forgiveness and approach to dealing with the mistakes we inevitably make as parents – especially home educating parents – all the time, by owning it, by sorry if it involves them, by learning how to do it differently next time, and thereby demonstrating to the kids a valuable life lesson; not only about forgiveness. But also, just as important; that parents are equally worth the same consideration and respect that we show to them. A lesson on how to forgive oneself – how to make mistakes and move on, a useful part of learning about life!

Just an observation.

And talking of learning, I’ve now put in place a strategy for hopefully not doing the same thing again!

When in school…

Not everyone can home educate! Of course not; not everyone is the same or lives the same circumstances. Obvious!

And some families who do home educate, have children in school as well, running both approaches alongside each other.

Having an awareness of home education though, does bring a different perspective to learning in school, as many of my school using friends commented. They said that some of the ideas I talked about, and the way we saw education, helped them embrace a different attitude which in turn supported their child’s education through school.

So I thought I’d post some of those perspectives here for those who have school in their lives, although they equally apply to homeschooling parents:

1) Take on the idea that schooling and education are different things. And decide what you’re schooling for so you can keep a healthy balance between personal skills, grades and scores. (This post might help)

2) Focus on their learning experience, not results, decide on the important bits. Keep engaged. But don’t take over. Create space (emotional as well as physical) to do the tasks they need to.

3) One of the best ways to support learning development is by reading to them!

4) As well as by listening. Let them air their concerns, news and ideas, without judgement or dismissal. Then they’re more likely to talk to you. Sometimes listening will ease concerns, other times you may need to discuss them and get involved.

5) If you’ve chosen school, then you’re probably bound by school rules like homework, uniform, tests, etc. But if you feel these are too intrusive you need to say. Many parents are against homework and SATs etc., so get together and get these things changed – it’s the parents that have the power in the end as a collective.

6) Understand the importance of playtime, outdoor time, exercise. These activities support learning, not detract from it, and are a vital part of a child’s day/life.

7) Create family times that are sacrosanct. Engaged family times and shared conversations are a way of supporting your child that is irreplaceable.

8) Social interaction and friendships in schools are tricky! Negotiate a sensitive pathway through the ups and downs by listening, discussing why people do what they do, by trying to remain non-judgemental, but at the same time setting out what you value in relationships and whether you want friends who don’t uphold these values. That goes for adult behaviour too! Make respect for all absolutely paramount regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, learning differences, whatever.

9) A friend said a simple idea she found most helpful was remembering: the children are not finished yet! Give them time. Stay on their side. Keep faith. Allow them to develop at their own rate and don’t compare them with others all the time. Magic happens at all different stages of young people’s development. Believe in your youngsters.

10) Finally, always be encouraging.

Whichever way you approach your children’s learning do please share your thoughts below – all perspectives are useful to hear!

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.