Tag Archive | curriculum

Don’t weed your children’s learning!

I find the need to be outside quite hard to accommodate this time of the year. I have to sometimes push myself out in dreary or battering weather to get some daily doses of the tonic everyone needs for indoor spirits. Without it I know I go stir crazy! So I tog up most days and get a daily walk.

Summer memories

Summer memories

It’s easy in the summer. All coffee breaks can be out there. And there’s plenty of light for walking after work hours. And weekends inviting me to garden, even if the format of that is just chopping back the weeds.

I’m not a great gardener. I find it a bit confusing. I’m puzzled by the desire to nurture some plants whilst killing others. Buttercups, daisies and dandelions spring to mind – what a delightful burst of yellow they are. I have great trouble classing them as weeds and pulling them up or worse still spraying them. There’s a hierarchy of plants I just don’t buy in to.

I have the same dilemma with education. There’s a hierarchy that’s evolved around academia which puts some important subjects and skills, like creative ones for example, in the ‘weeds’ category. And I think this is more to do with snobbery than value.

I admit, there are some skills that are invaluable for kids to learn – reading springs to mind. And it is essential for living in our society to have a practical comprehension of language, numbers, scientific concepts and technology. We want to communicate, budget and cook for example and need to skills and knowledge to do so.

But outside those practical applications why should our children’s learning be controlled by what others deem as essential subject matter? Why should the Romans be more important than Evolution. Or non-essential Grammar be more important than creating a story? Or the skill of long division be more important than the skill of inventing for example?

When we home educate we can really examine the curriculum. And this leads to examining the questions; what’s really important to know? And why is it important to know it?

Within the educational system, most of the why has evolved, not from value to the child or developing adulthood, but for the convenience of measuring them and perpetuation of the system – and the politics surrounding it. A truer reason for what we ask our children to learn is that it’s relevant to the child now as well as their lifelong development – what curriculum would cater for that?

What is more important when we’re guiding our children’s learning is not so much what they know, but cultivating a desire to know, to find out, to continue to learn. In fact, that desire is already there when they’re born – our job is to continue to nurture it rather than chop it off like some do dandelions.

We can look up knowledge and facts at any time, these days. Yet we’re constrained by the idea of curriculum that started way back when compulsory education did, when knowledge wasn’t available to all. Far better to consider a curriculum of skills, experiences and a cultivated mind that can be inventive, creative, and which nurtures the desire to develop continually, rather than weeding out the child’s true interests whilst enslaved to subjects for some extrinsic curriculum and killing their desire in the process.

Or maybe not use a curriculum at all and see where your learning life takes you!

Brain training is better done by playing a recorder

I’m often on about the need for diversity in children’s lives. I do hope not too many of them were sat in front of a game all half term.

Of course, gaming is a relevant part of children’s lives now, but like with everything, they need diversity of experience in both their recreational lives and education.

The education system continues to put the squeeze on that diversity, particularly within the Arts subjects, despite the fact that numerous studies show the benefits both to education and mental and personal development that these subjects have.

Music probably does something unique. It stimulates the brain in a very powerful way, because of our emotional connection with it.’ Illustration: Sophie Wolfson

Music probably does something unique. It stimulates the brain in a very powerful way, because of our emotional connection with it.’ Illustration: Sophie Wolfson

I spotted a report lately that talks about the benefits of musical training in children – although perhaps ‘training’ is a bit of a worrying word. It would sit more comfortably to think that kids picked up a musical instrument and wanted to play it of their own volition and, more importantly, were given the opportunity to do so. But that opportunity is dwindling in schools despite the fact that playing a musical instrument helps children’s all round learning skills and educational development.

The article in the Guardian tells how learning to play an instrument is one of the most effective ways of developing brain function that there is, far exceeding the benefits of Brain Training Games, despite their claims. Learning an instrument can have a good effect on memory and language development which endorses the fact that we should not see subjects in isolation but as collectively good for the intellect and personal development.

It’s not about being good at one particular subject. It’s about embracing many subjects which will impact on children’s all round progress. Diversity of subjects supports diversity of brain function.

Other creative subjects are equally important, (see my post on creative intelligence here) as is sport and physical activity, also increasingly sidelined in schools for the more measurable subjects. Read this one on art in education.  And another on the influence of physical activity on brain function. Of course, these measurable subjects feed league tables which makes them more popular than those which don’t!

It is criminal that schools are forced to lose these subjects to the demands of a narrowing curriculum

Another of the beauties of home education is that you can give the kids the diversity of experiences they need for healthy all round development.

Gaming, sports, arts, or learning an instrument need as much attention as the subjects you’d consider more academic, as they have an equal role to play in children’s development.

Our own too come to that – so I’d better get off Instagram and get the guitar out!

Wish I could pay bills with buttercups!

DSC06049What utter delight it is to walk out on a May morning. When the sun is up and the buttercups are awakening to it with me, opening their faces with an early smile of petals, the sun warming the may blossom and wafting its scent through my senses.

Is this my bank holiday? No! My normal working life. My breaks from early work at laptop, and keyboard to return to after this stretch of back and brain.

Such is my writer’s life. Does it sound idyllic? This bit of it is, but when I wither under worry about not enough pennies coming in to provide for necessities let alone luxuries, it feels different.

Thankfully, this luxury is free. But living here also comes at the price of winter hardships, travel challenges and an internet speed so slow messenger pigeons would be quicker.

I’m not whinging, just telling how it is; penny pinching is more normal for writers than the giddy heights of people like J K Rowling and Steven King more usually getting coverage. Each have had their hardships too, but it is their millionaire status that hits the headlines most of all, creating a picture of wealth and glamour the rest of us rarely achieve.

Like with all jobs we all have to take the rough with the smooth and measure out whether the compromises are worth it. And that comes down to what you value.

Values are part of the curriculum now, as if you could teach something so inherently learnt from living and experiencing life. Heaven forbid that values will be compartmentalised into subjects and targets and tests like everything else curriculum. That would be one sure way of losing the point. For the test of having values and understanding what it is we value, is evident only in living your life and knowing yourself. There’s no test for that. Only time and experience qualifies it for you. Allows you to know what you value.

Like me walking out on a May morning. I may not have enough money to buy a posh coffee or move somewhere with a faster internet speed but the buttercups are my reward and the peace and the birdsong. Things I truly value as well as having enough to pay the bills.

So don’t take for granted what you read about authors. Most writers labour with love not with money. And all sales are most gratefully appreciated and help to keep us going. So look out for some new books to buy coming within the next month or so.

But also remember to enjoy those things around you that cost nothing but are worth so much.

Re-starting the Home Education adventure

The time after the Christmas hols can be a bit gloomy! Families go back to work, back to school and back to routine.

So I always felt a sense of joy that home education didn’t have to be like that. It was like restarting an exciting adventure of doing it a bit differently!

Course, it’s a fine line between excitement and sheer panic. But then it was the same with the children in school, except none of it was exciting.

Panics like whether they’re really well enough to go, whether they’re going to be in trouble because they’re bored, whether they’re going to be picked on again – and I don’t just mean by the other children! And why they had a radical personality change in term time and always looked so glum.

Home Education took those panics away. They children remained mostly well, they had radiant smiles and remained cooperative, motivated, achieved and were great to be around. We just loved being and learning together.

There is a view that children have to ‘get used’ to school stresses to harden them to life’s stresses. But we, and other home educating families like us, feel that this is not the case. Children learn how to deal with stress as and when they need to because they are confident, competent and in charge of their education and their lives, have learnt that they have some control over it and how to manage it.

Besides, there are a few things about education that we learnt as home educators that belie what you might think from schooling:

  • Education doesn’t have to be stressful.
  • It doesn’t have to be a fast and furious treadmill to be effective. Nor dulled with routine.
  • It doesn’t have to be constantly measured (or tested) to be successful.
  • Neither does it necessarily need to be structured, timetabled, curriculum bound or age related, to work well, although all of these are useful tools at times.
  • Children learn better when they’re relaxed, engaged with and enjoying their learning.
  • And it doesn’t take years and years of practice to learn something. Children learn very quickly when they’re inspired, motivated, developmentally ready and see the purpose, are stimulated and happy!
  • Which means they have far more time for other personal pursuits; as developmentally valuable as anything labelled education!

There are plenty of home educated young people now out in the world living successful and productive lives who are living proof.

Just wanted to remind you of those things as you settle back into your home education after Christmas! Although when you lead a home educating life, learning never ceases does it!

Letters to move the mind….

The Sunday papers are great for lighting the fire. There’s plenty of it, although the magazines aren’t that flammable with their shiny perspectives and shiny paper; they’re better for lining the dustbins.

It’s rare we buy them as I generally don’t read them; far too much ego stroking claptrap to make the good bits worthwhile. But The Sunday Times found its way into the house this last weekend and I had a flick through it.

I stopped at the Editor’s letter in one of the shiny bits, not sure why. It must have been the word ‘creative’ on the first line. Her piece was a good little take on being creative which, as anyone who visits here regularly knows, is one of my mini obsessions in education: that it is not education without it!

Tiffanie asks what we do to be creative?

And there’s a lovely bit where she even describes shopping as creative; it’s a ‘way of curating your life’ she says. Fabulous phrase – I’m sure my eldest will be glad to read that!

But she also goes on to quote Richard Wurman of TED fame who says that most of us don’t know how to question and that the foundation of the word question is quest and so few have a quest in life. He says that creativity comes from a quest.

I would add that creativity also comes from questioning. And that questioning is not only the foundation of creativity, it is the foundation of scientific progress and discovery and the foundation of education.

Education is surely a creative and scientific quest to fulfil our innate curiosity and thirst to know about life and create the best lives we can.

I also believe that school is increasingly disabling youngsters from doing that.

I’m backed up in thinking that by the artist Bob and Roberta Smith. An old friend who popped up on The Culture show like a blast from disconnected pasts. Our connections are linked to childhoods, and although not well maintained, do sometimes cross the tangle of life and ignite shared values. And I rediscovered his fantastic piece of work directed at Michael Gove, a man who understands children’s educational needs as much as I understand infant heart surgery. Bob explains why creativity is important and says that it is beaten out of children by the stagnant system, even by taking away their control of their own art.

Their insatiable curiosity, inherent from being born, also disappears along with their desire to question and discover. It takes away control of their own life too and their own quests. Without a quest they have no motivation, or direction when finally spewed out of institutionalisation with little understanding of the world outside.

This is what results from lack of creativity, lack of questioning, lack of life-lust. No education should result in that.

So we should perhaps all be writing our own letters to papers, to ministers, online, to try and get them to see there is another approach to life and education through creative, questioning thinking. The approach most home educators tend to use.

One that creates ideas that do more than just line dustbins.

A wonderful ‘Workbook’

blog post 002 If there’s one ‘workbook’ you buy your older kids then let it be this one!

Put aside conventional workbooks with tedious academic exercises. Forget paper practise of English and Maths; those skills will grow with your child’s natural experience and exploration and real, relevant use.

Forget tests and check sheets and useless predictions based upon them. You can never accurately predict outcomes because with kids – you never know what’s going to happen. They are all different, grow differently from predicable, and all their personalities will develop in different ways. Obvious really, so why try and confine them in predictions – there is no ‘should’ when it comes to personality development. Or therefore educational development because it depends on it.

Forget the National Curriculum. It inhibits learning as much as informs it; make the list on page 5 of this book your curriculum instead. (See it on Amazon in ‘Look inside’) But do invest – it’s worth it! For you as well as the kids – it’ll open your mind to new ways of seeing! New ways of learning.

And it will fire your kids up to explore their world. To observe, document and investigate – as it says. To analyse and interpret and research. To consider, discuss and communicate with it. Because the world is what education is fundamentally about. And these are some of the essential skills needed to understand it.

This way your children will learn about their world and be inspired by it. And this is all the natural motivation they will need to progress into it in meaningful and productive ways, find their own place in it through meaningful and productive activities. And move towards meaningful, happy lives.

Forget curriculum and ‘workbooks’ and get exploring instead!

And thank you to Keri Smith for a fabulous book!

Travels on the curriculum

054I’m having a bit of a holiday so I might go quiet.

Holidaying as a writer is a bit like holidaying as a mum – you don’t! You just take your work with you wherever you go. And even if you do slip away without your little charges sometimes, or I without the laptop, we’re still virtually connected as well as in mind and concern! Once a parent always a parent wherever you are!

Besides, travels away are such a good opportunity. They open eyes, broaden minds, develop maturity, intellect, language, extend horizons and experience – and experience educates more than schooling. Holidays away should be a statutory part of the curriculum rather than schools trying to stop parents taking their kids away.

Taking our children away when we were home educating was a delight. To be able to give them new adventures, show them new parts of their world and watch their faces light up with stimulation and awe, was the most delicious part of our home education and as such was never a chore. A change is as good as a rest anyway – that’s so true.

And we all do need a change. Going away always refreshes and brings a different viewpoint, even if it’s not very far away. We always end up learning something and changing within ourselves even if subconsciously.

The odd thing for me now is that going on a little holiday, away from this desk and writing for hours uninterrupted as I longed to do when little ones were around, has done a turnabout. Instead of going away from my children I’m actually going to see them. This is my holiday! I go to spend time with them in their new adult worlds and do things together with adults. And they will be showing me new stuff and new ways of living instead of it being the other way round!

Some things in life you really can never imagine when you’re so immersed in it never considering that it will ever change. Yet the daft thing is we know life changes constantly, if we think about it. The one thing that remains constant is change – if that isn’t a contradiction in terms!

So maybe if you’re wishing for a little break from the demands of children, you could imagine that one day in the future your holiday might just be going to see them!

And whatever parenting or home educating stage you’re at you can be sure there are always new delights to come!