Tag Archive | children

A curriculum for kindness

It gets harder and harder, doesn’t it; coping with the restrictions in life during this Lockdown, without the simple community and social pleasures we’re used to, never mind the distancing from loved ones.

There’s a whole range of challenges right from those who’re suffering total isolation, to the irritations of being clustered continually with those you could do with some space from! All that’s hard enough to deal with never mind the worry and anxiety about becoming ill. Add onto that the children’s progress and it’s enough to tip anyone managing to keep sane over the edge.

I hate to see these awful sensationalist headlines about youngster’s lives being ruined because of this ‘gap’ in their education. It’s so unhelpful and is basically about using our currently delicate emotions to sell news, regardless of the truth of the situation. It’s totally immoral.

This time now is not necessarily a ‘gap’ in education, it’s just a change; potentially an opportunity.

It is, however, a ‘gap’ in the meaningless measurement and box ticking process that the system has made of learning. And media coverage, like suggestions of kids’ lives being ruined, contributes to this sensationalist ignorance about learning.

The children will be learning, even though it’s different. They’ll be learning different skills, educational and practical, developing personally – you cannot stop that process despite what academics you do or don’t do. They’ll also be learning how to learn for themselves perhaps. Learning about life and living with kindness and compassion, and appreciation for those in tougher places than themselves.

This makes them grow into good, caring people and responsible, productive citizens, as much as anything academic will. Ironically, that was one of the reasons behind the setting up of this schooling system all those decades ago; to create literate, productive citizens in the industrial sense of the word. And that’s what the government agenda is right now; citizens who’ll contribute to the economy – that’s their main focus.

Contributing to the economy is desirable, rather than being a burden on it, obviously.

But there is a more important aspect of education that also needs to be contributed to, but which the government doesn’t bother with as it can’t be measured;

the wealth of kindness, empathy and compassion that is necessary in order for us to live happily and without harm alongside each other and upon this planet.

This starts at home and it should be perpetuated through any educational approach.

We’re seeing prompts for kindness all over the place currently. As if we need reminders. Perhaps we do.

In this business of building an industrial and consumerist life, which is what the system educates for, we have side-lined the essential fact that in order to survive, both as a species and in harmonious wellbeing, we need kindness and compassion as well as academic learning.

Do we educate for that?

Would it not be better currently to set exercises in living together with kindness, rather than leaving it as a by product of maths, English and science? Surely that’s what’s needed right now? To help children learn how to put themselves in other people’s shoes, both those in the house and out of it. Learn how to consider everyone’s hardships not just their own. Help youngsters see beyond their own difficulties to a wider picture. Build resilience. Practise everything and anything to do with kindness. Do anything we can just to get through these hard times.

These would be better targets for the day: How can we make this day better? This hard time easier? How can we accommodate all the different temperaments and needs in this household? How can we turn today’s procedures into kindly ones, rather than gruelling ones?

We’ve got to get through these hard times. A curriculum for kindness will make them easier to bear.

And I reckon the general educational progress will be the better for it!

Comforting thought: Everything always changes

Sometimes, looking after your children and their education is absolutely all consuming. I remember it!

Add the worry of the pandemic into the mix and it’s overwhelming. And overwhelm can mask a fact that can be really comforting at times like this: Everything always changes.

This time of challenge will change. Your children will change. Your circumstances will change. Your house will not always be full to claustrophobic as it may feel now. Hang onto that!

My house has long since emptied. Not only of the youngsters but of the clutter that inevitably accompanies home educating. And I still miss it!

The kitchen table, which was buried to unusable under bits, books, works of art, works of unidentifiable inventions and suspect experiments, is now bare. Even some of the glue, paint and ink patches are wearing off although the indentations from various craftwork will no doubt always remain.

Along with that are the empty beds, empty toy cupboards, empty bits and bobs drawers and empty shelves that not only housed books, boxes of pens, paper, tools, but also the other varied junk that you acquire for experiments, creations, investigations and constructions.

All gone. If any clutter remains I have to take the blame. But that busy homeschool time for us has passed. As yours will. We can never really imagine what lies ahead. Uncertainty is more common than the opposite with kids, even more so now with the pandemic.

And I have a double whammy at the moment as we also prepare to move on from this house. What timing?!

If you read ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ you’ll know the story of our move into this funny old place. I inherited it along with dubious critters in the roof and quirks of character that could make life very challenging. But the kids didn’t see all that, they just loved it. It was where their grandma lived. And although its dream location offered distant moonlight on the sea, unimaginable helpings of sky and sunsets and endless space across it’s adjacent marshes perfect for mud slides, it also meant we spent much time on the road accessing the facilities the kids needed for a broader educational experience.

This old house nestled in it’s trees from across the fields on one of my wet walks!

I’d never have thought I’d leave, but then, nothing is certain, remember. It’s been a monumental decision, and I’ve no idea where we’ll end up, but time and needs always change, as I said.

It may not be as monumental as moving house but things will change for you too. These circumstances we’re in right now, that are so difficult and overwhelming, will become different.

Just because you can’t imagine it, it doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

And although it’s hard to look forward right now, if we can deal with the times we’re in and excavate the good bits, be grateful for any good fortune that comes our way, things WILL change. Some organically, some you’ll engineer. But be reassured, they will.

Hang in there while they do.

Together and Apart

It may be more challenging home educating during these times of corona crisis and all the anxiety that goes with it. But at least your kids are with you!

I know there’ll be times when you could do with more space when they’re with you 24/7 and managing that can be the more challenging part of home educating – and parenting for that matter. (There are some tips on that in this post here) Even more so since your options for getting out and about have become so limited.

But the other side of that is the fact you are all together and have more control over the youngsters exposure and contact with others.

Parents of older children and those off to Uni don’t!

When I think of the teenagers starting Uni this time, it must be fraught with worry, for kids and parents. It’s hard enough them moving out of the family home, without the added stress about how they’re mixing. I feel for you!

I still worry about mine, who’ve been living apart in the working world for many years now, and how they’re keeping safe.

It was many months this year before we got to see our eldest and once we managed to be all four of us together again it was insanely sweet. But there’s still that background niggle of ‘should we be doing this?’, and even expressions of love feel inhibited.

It’s all very hard for families, for friends, for us all. And we daren’t even think about Christmas!

But that’s possibly the best way to deal with the situation we’re in; not to think about things that far ahead. We cannot possibly have any certainty about it, best to stay with what we do have certainty about – this present moment!

It was inevitable when we were all together recently that the four of us talked about Christmas as it’s already coming into the politics of the situation. But only momentarily. We agreed that there are only hypotheses to be had, and these tend to induce worry and spoil the pleasure of being together at the time; the important thing.

And we had some lovely moments together when we managed not to think about the crisis, focus on the lovely things we could do, were doing; picnics, chats, walks, just being together. Even diving into a pub during a thunderstorm. The first time I’ve done that since last winter.

It seems the best way to cope with current times; to stay with the good moments you have, cope as well as you can with the troublesome ones and cherish having your children close whilst you can. It won’t always be the way of it.

I did some reckoning the other day and got a shock. It’s nigh on ten years now since both our youngsters were at home full time home educating. But they’re still educating themselves even if not at home because home educating showed them the possibility of self-educating however old they are and wherever they are. And that’s what they continue to do, particularly with the time they had during Lockdown, knowing that education doesn’t just mean academics, there are new skills to learn and things to research and try all the time.

So whatever you’re doing at home with your youngsters during these challenging times, appreciate that they are at home and safe. And understand that you’re not only home schooling them, but showing them a DIY approach to an educating way of life that will set them up for the future and help them cope with whatever is going on around them. Both now – and then.

And take it from me; you’ll miss being together one day!

Home education…never once regretted

September melancholy!

It’s a while since our home education days, even longer since my youngsters were at school in the early days, but that doesn’t stop that sense of melancholy come September. It has a sense of ending; ending summer; ending holidays; ending of freedom from school, it seems entwined with our culture.

When home education came into our family life it brought with it a whole new sense of joy about September, about our continued educational freedom, albeit tinged with a sense of sadness for those who were going back to school.

I know not everyone feels this. But when we started home educating after a brief spell doing school it was nothing but joy that ours weren’t among them.

So if you’re standing on the cusp of making that decision yourself, or having a bit of a wobble about it, I wanted to share the fact that we never once regretted it.

Of course, that’s not to say it was without wobbles and doubts at times. But then, don’t we always have those throughout our parenting over all the things we do?

Some of our wobbles are described in our story ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ and in ‘A Home Education Notebook’. But I also describe the antidote to some of these. And that was to remember how you got here and why you want to make the decision in the first place.

There are so many reasons parents choose to home school – almost too many to mention. They range from the philosophical distaste of the systematic and prescriptive style of learning in a school, the one-size-fits-all approach to make the child ‘fit’, lack of attention to individual learning needs, to the more personal like disrespectful relationships (and I include the adults in that), bullying, too much noise and hubbub (and there’s nothing wrong with children who don’t like that!) and the destruction of personality and the desire to learn, sometimes the destruction of good health and well being too.

Education and learning should be a liberating and life-enhancing experience. Schooling has made it into the opposite for many learners. That’s not because of a ‘fault’ with the child as the powers that be would like us to believe, it is because of a fault with the system and its blindness to a broader, variable approach to learning.

So if you’re having wobbles and doubts just remember that.

Also remember that were your children in school you would also be facing dilemmas and challenges and worries, they’re not just exclusive to home educating. You have no more chance of ‘ruining’ your children than schools do. In fact there is less chance because you’re keeping your eye on your individual who can become lost in mass schooling. You can review and adapt your style of learning to suit your child’s and family’s (ever changing) needs (schools don’t do that). And you can make education a broad and life enhancing opportunity for your youngster to grow, life long. Which is what education should be.

With all the online facilities and opportunities to network and connect with others now, and with Covid concerns, home education is growing and growing. Real home schooling is not the same as school-at-home (post here). It is a successful and liberating approach to learning and educating in it’s own right which thousands have been practising for years – long before Covid.

And as well as ourselves, I didn’t come across anyone else who regretted doing it either. The only thing I did regret perhaps, was not doing it sooner!

What do you really know about home education?

What do you really know about home education?

I ask this question because there are so many stories surrounding it. Including less than accurate stuff in the media often based around those untrue myths. Add on to that the debacle of school-at-home style of home schooling that was forced onto parents during the pandemic and the concept of real home education has become quite blurred.

So I thought I’d put a few ideas here in case you were considering this approach to your child’s education in preference to school.

Firstly, did you know that there are thousands and thousands of families now successfully and happily home educating?

And did you know that most home schooled children go on to make a success of their education, career, life in the same way school children do, despite not having been in school for all those years?

Did you know that home educating doesn’t have to cost the earth and parents on very low incomes, including single parents, still manage to do it? Throwing money at a child does not make them educated!

Did you know that home educating children make friends, have friends, have a vibrant social life and socialise competently just as others do?

Did you know that there is a huge wealth of learning resources, lessons, curriculum, courses, printouts, both free and otherwise, available on line? You can literally find out anything.

Did you know that families never home educate in isolation (unless they choose to) and that there are broad networks of others to connect to that share resources, concerns, to learn from and find support via social media and other organisations which also lead to physical meet-ups and groups to get together with?

Did you know that as much home schooling takes place outside the home as in it and your community is full of resources to facilitate it?

Did you know that contrary to what many parents may worry about, being with the children all the time tends to improve their family relationships?

Did you know that parents are free to choose whatever approach to education suits their child’s needs? This could involve following a curriculum – or not, following age specific targets and objectives – or not, adopting either a structured or completely autonomous approach, or proceeding with complete flexibility according to your individuals’ interests and the way they work best.

Did you know that it is completely legal, in fact it is the legal responsibility of the parents to see that their children are receiving an education suitable to their needs (see the law here), it’s just that most parents hand that over to schools? (I wonder how many schools get away with breaking the law in failing to provide that for some children?)

Did you know that most home educating families never use testing in their approach, yet home schooled children successfully go on to achieve a good educational standard, go on to further and higher education or work without having done a test at all, and cope competently within those more formal settings? Testing does not make an education.

And finally consider this; home educating families are not weird or different or unable to participate in mainstream life, just because they don’t do mainstream school. They are just the same as any other family wanting to do the best for their children and that best may take a myriad of different forms yet all the home educated youngsters I’ve known have progressed into the working world just the same as their school contemporaries.

So if you want to know more, take a look at my books, Google some of the home educating blogs and groups (Facebook’s a good place to start) and connect with others to find out how it happens. And you can read our own story in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ which will give you an idea of a home educating life and hopefully make you giggle!

You cannot force a child to learn…

I’m working on sharing ideas with pictures right now – I know it gets boring wading through print all the time!

Here’s my latest thought:

It’s something that most people never think about, as they threaten dire consequences to force kids to learn with sayings like; you’ll never have a life if you don’t do exams, or; you’ll fail in life if you don’t do your school work, or; if you don’t learn this now you’ll never have another chance. All complete balderdash – I’ve seen the opposite happen!

And anyway threats like this don’t work because, although children may be giving the impression of taking it in, it’s absolutely true that:

All you can do is provide the right environment, nourishment and encouragement; physical, mental and spiritual, give their roots and limbs room and time to expand and grow and connect, and let go….

Break from education?

End of July and traditionally the time when you don’t have to worry about education for a while as the schools break for summer!

Of course, this year, there’s been little traditional about education and the routine learning life most are familiar with as Lockdown kicked in and everyone was learning without school. Life has been up-skittled, both for school users and those already home educating whose learning life was also disrupted by being unable to go out and about like normal.

It’s all been very weird. Hard work. And worrying for all families. I know there are thousands worrying about their children’s learning. The original home educators among them, even though they’re used to a slightly less orthodox learning schedule.

So I reckon it’s time to take a break from all that fretting about education and learning, about how much to do, or worrying about what has not got done! Now’s the time, as the lockdown restrictions hopefully lessen during the summer, to enjoy the outdoors even more, enjoy family activities safely spaced, and let go concerns about making it ‘educational’.

You never know; you may see magic happen.

For there’s something important to know about learning – something many home schoolers already know;

Even though you may not be thinking about it, it will still be going on.

Children learn and develop every day, from everything they do, see and experience.

They’re always learning, whatever they’re doing.

You can’t stop them learning. They’ll be developing in ways that enhance their skills and understanding which will in turn reflect on their progress when they get back to more formal activities.

So just enjoy your summer. Stay safe. and trust in the process.

And I may take a little blogging break too and return later in the summer with more words and pictures! Although I’ve tried that before and it hasn’t always worked for, like with learning; you think you’re not doing it but ideas are generated all the time.

Sometimes all we need is some space to let new ideas flow, children and adults alike!

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!