Tag Archive | education

Playing to the system – or not!

If you’re a regular reader you’ll know I’m often on about the need for education to develop creative skills (read this blog and you’ll see why it’s important)

20170112_093050And it’s come back to mind again as I’m reading Grayson Perry’s book ‘Playing to the Gallery’. He is of course talking about art – but what he asks about art is exactly true of education; how do we tell if something’s good or not? Is it in financial terms – it’s potential to earn or have monitory value? Do we judge by mass popular opinion, or whether it works for us or not? Does tradition have a part to play in our assessment? Or do we judge by aesthetic qualities – whether we like it – which is of course tied up in all these things?

It struck me that those questions about artwork, equally apply to education.

When you home educate, out of the system of expected outcomes and assessment, you really have to consider answers to those questions. But whether you home educate or not – you should still be asking them.

Consider the financial aspect for a start. Business politics are now having a huge influence on schools and consequently education. Funding was always an issue. But in blinding us with budgets a valuable fact is being masked. The fact that you don’t have to throw money at learning to make it good – it’s the quality of the people involved that’s important and the time they have to inspire individuals. Home educators on very tight budgets are providing an alternative learning experience which leads to intelligent, social and qualified young people.

Our popular acceptance of schooling as the only means to education serves the political economy by looking after kids whilst both parents work – this is what many parents want. Whether it is an education that serves the children well is another matter!

Mass popular opinion also governs what goes on in schools, but being popular isn’t a sign that it is good, as Grayson says of art. We have been conditioned to think that the education children receive in school is going to be a good one because that’s the popular opinion and that’s the only one most of us know. But the politics of it has influenced the quality through demanding constant measurement and measurement has been interpreted as constant testing, which is neglecting true education in the broader sense.

There is also the matter of whether the kids like it or not. Do they have to like it? Certainly do – that’s if you want them to reach their potential, rather than just be child-minded. Deterioration in a child’s achievement, because of their unhappiness in school, has driven many a family to home educate where they can provide a better learning climate, where the child is comfortable and enjoys their learning, that doesn’t cost enormous amounts and can take any form you want it to take to make it good.

So how do we judge whether our home education is good or not?

To answer that you have to ask what education is for.

We had many a discussion about this over all our days of home educating and discovered that the answer lies more in the broader view.

The broader reason we all educate, both schools and home schoolers, is not necessarily for qualification as most traditionalists see it. But so that the children can take their place, independently, in the society in which we live. So they can contribute to it in their own way, be a productive, pleasant and caring member of the human race who is considerate and thoughtful and ever learning and developing their wider understanding of themselves, others and the wider world.

They may use qualifications to do that. They may not. But the archaic, dull and pressurised testing criteria schools use certainly does not have to play a part in it.

The approach you use  as a home educator will be determined by your circumstances, your own beliefs, your child and their needs and the interactions you make. But be assured that the system’s way is just one way to educate and one that’s not doing many children a lot of good. There’s a myriad of ways to learn – some you might not consider learning at all, like having a conversation for example, but which are equally valuable. You don’t have to play by the system’s rules just because of mass popularity and you get more Likes on Facebook!

As Grayson says of art; we’ve all come to it influenced by the system which got us there in the first place. Same with education; we’ve all come to accept the education system because it leads us to do so.

Doesn’t mean we have to play to it, though, to achieve educational success for our children.

Something other than writing!

One of my first on Instagram

One of my first on Instagram last Autumn

I’ve loved doing Instagram so far. I joined last Autumn, partly to try something new, partly to encourage myself to look in new ways at old routes I walk almost daily, and most of all because it gave me the chance to focus on something other than writing!

I know I write to supposedly enjoy it but, like with any work, there’s much of it that’s quite tedious. Same with my daily walks. Although I love to be outside and love the benefits of doing them, they’ve been grueling at times over the last few months in the chill and sometimes I really don’t want to go!

Helping me over that is the sense of wondering what I’ll find for my Instagram picture today.

Looking in a focused way at things takes time and attention. But it’s a great thing to do, especially with the kids. They often do it anyway, but we risk chivying them along towards our next destination.

Instead we should stop and give them the time to examine their world. From this observation and examination comes a host of other skills; questioning, increased attention skills, conversation – so consequently language development, perhaps extended research when you look it up, and  an inquiring mind, which is the foundation of learning.

But whatever you do – don’t suggest they write about it! Not unless the children want to. I made the mistake of doing this thinking that just because I was interested in recording my discoveries in written form, didn’t mean they would be. (You can read more of my tantrums and mistakes in ‘A Funny Kind of Education‘ see the Books page)

Not only that, writing things down for some children is the bane of their life.

Writing is so outdated! The handwriting part – I wonder if it’ll die a death?

With our technology there are so many other ways of recording and learning, why labour over writing when you’ve got that to hand? It’s the same question as to why labour over making bread when you can buy a sliced loaf?

Sometimes we do both the writing and the bread making for pleasure and that’s fine. And we probably want the children to have the basic skill of writing longhand, it’s still part of our educational tradition. But it doesn’t take hours and hours of laborious practice, and it doesn’t mean that everything has to be written down all the time – I made that mistake when we were home educating, putting the kids off doing anything because of their fear of having to write about it afterwards! Too much writing creates the danger of putting kids off learning altogether.

If you think about it, writing doesn’t necessarily have to be the basis of education, even if it plays a part in it. I knew many HE children, ours among them, who did very little formal writing at home when they were young but still polished up their skills when it became necessary.

Education is not simply to do with writing about stuff: it is the experience of learning, not the recording of it, that matters. And we don’t want to be forever spoiling a stimulating experience by writing it up like schools do.

I know, I know; that’s exactly what I’m doing here about Instagram, ironically! But just this once. The rest of the time I use it as a pleasing alternative.

So, have a think how many pleasing and alternative ways you can find to give your children experiences of learning that don’t involve writing about it?

(And if you follow me on Instagram you’ll be able to share in my daily walk)

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‘)

Deformalising learning to read

It’s so exciting to find researchers who acknowledge that home educators’ approaches make a valuable contribution to ideas about education. Harriet Pattison is one such person.

She describes herself as an erstwhile home educator still puzzling over the meanings of education, childhood and learning.  She continues to fly the flag for the alternative as a lecturer in Early Childhood at Liverpool Hope University.

Harriet on a day off from work and writing!

Harriet on a day off from work and writing!

But all the while she’s been researching the way in which home educated children learn to read and from those examples considers how all educators could do with rethinking, and perhaps deformalising, their approach to it.

She told me how her research for her new book ‘Rethinking Learning to Read’ came about:

Education is supposedly about opening up children’s minds.  I think those of us who home educate might say actually it is about opening up adult’s minds.   Certainly home educating made a great start on opening up mine.  It’s amazing watching children; just watching them – not watching them learn or watching them develop but just watching them live.  Therein for me has lain an on-going puzzle.  The living is crowded in with an adult agenda and what was just being becomes doing and doing becomes learning.  But learning is what the adult sees because that’s what we are looking for; what the child does is be.  The puzzle reached its crescendo over learning to read.  How can children just live their way into reading?

Stories about children who ‘just started to read’ always fascinated me.  I wasn’t prepared to find it going on in my own house though.  I wasn’t prepared for the different ways in which it manifested itself.  The more I saw and the more I thought about it, the less I seemed to understand what it was all about.  When I couldn’t get out of the dead end of my own thinking, I started asking everyone else.  All home educators it seems have a tale about reading and I was lucky enough to share some really mind-blowing ones; ones that really rattle the cage of educational convention and demand some heavy re-thinking.

311 families with 400 children contributed to the research, answered my questions and shared their  stories and insights.  What emerged was a kaleidoscope of experiences, shimmers of similarity that turned away from each other, reflected but unsettled each other.  Beautiful, certainly but also unknown and, maybe even for that dangerous.  This was a rough ground of real life; tangled and complicated and wild – not something over which a neat frame of ready to hand theory could be tidily laid.  The stories, the wilderness, the puzzles demand that reading be re-thought because, somehow, our children have lived their way into a new territory of meaning.

‘Re-thinking learning to read’ is my foray into that wilderness.  I take with me a back pack of questions from the old world – all the things we worry about, the educational cares but also a strong desire to take nothing for granted, to begin again,  to rethink.

I’m reading the book at the moment and shall do a longer post about it soon.

Harriet is also co-author of the book ‘How children Learn at Home’ with Alan Thomas which researched the way in which children who are home educated learn through their experiences outside school.

A word of thanks & to whet your appetite for Monday

Thank you so much to all those who supported my blog tour. It has meant so much. Thank you also to the wonderful host blogs; I’m so grateful to you for letting me gab on over on your blogs about education from all different angles! And to Bird’s Nest Books for organising it.

If you haven’t discovered these brilliant blogs yet click the links on my previous post. They’re worth a visit; it’s always inspiring to explore new ideas. Did you check any of them out – do let me know? Today (Thurs) is your last chance to win my latest book over at the Home Education Podcast. 

Meanwhile, another thought provoking book; ‘Rethinking Learning To Read’ has just come my way, which the author is going to talk about on Monday’s blog. Even its introduction got my educational juices going. It tells us how there is historical evidence to show that people learnt to read quite successfully through informal approaches long before schemes and schools came on the scene! (Just like many home educators do!)

Can’t wait to read the rest. Pop by Monday and listen to what the author has to say.

Building skills with the Big Garden Bird Watch

It might be a bit late to get a pack for the Big Garden Bird Watch this weekend but it’s never too late to encourage the children to learn about the bird life around them.

Find out more about what to feed your birds at www.rspb.org.uk

Find out more about what to feed your birds at http://www.rspb.org.uk

You might feel you’re not that interested in birds and neither are the children. But there’s more point to it than that.

Doing activities like this encourages the development of the skills children need for science in general.

The snag with the curriculum of science most parents are familiar with through their own experience in school is that you can feel very much removed from it. But the basis of science is quite simple really; it’s based in understanding the world and the things within it. As Albert Einstein famously said; ‘the whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking’. It evolves from there!

And the best place to start is with the things that are relevant to children now, the things they see – birds for example. And bugs. And flowers and plants. And  wondering about things, like what they’re are made of, what materials are used, where they come from, and why – from homes to helicopters to trees. And from these small beginnings their study stretches into the bigger questions like what’s the earth made of, what space is, and bigger aspects of chemistry and physics.

Yet the skills needed to pursue science into more complex subject matter are based right back in activities that are seemingly small and insignificant. Like bird watching for example. For this encourages the children to practice the most fundamental skill of all scientific study – observation.

From there will come other valuable skills like; questioning, identification, hypothesising, language, (through conversations about what they see), analyzing, classification, extended study and understanding how everything relates to each other as well as to them.

So use any opportunity you can to get the kids interested in the world that’s near to them and it will build the skills and understanding needed for when the time comes to study those things that right now seem further removed! The Bird Watch offers such an opportunity.

For more ideas you might also like to explore:

https://www.buglife.org.uk/

http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/

http://www.froglife.org/

www.rigb.org

 

Times to leave the kids alone

Back in the dark ages of teaching I had a class of 41 at one stage! As you can imagine it was difficult to see that every child got their needs met.

20170120_115136

It may have been a very old fashioned set-up but there was time for one to one teaching – just like home ed!

I switched from there to a small village school with only three classes and about sixty kids in the entire school. I had 14 in my class and it was an absolute delight. I could properly teach instead of manage crowds. Every child read to me just about every day and I got to know each of them individually which gave me a better chance of meeting their particular needs. Sadly, such days are just a distant bliss. The system has changed so much that real teaching on this scale is impossible. We misguidedly think big is better – it isn’t, always.

There was a down side to these tiny classes however; it could be a bit intense – the poor kids couldn’t get away with anything! A little natter. A little mischief. A little bit of relief when Hawk-eye wasn’t watching them.

I realised that this wasn’t always healthy. They needed a bit of time to swap notes, share concerns with their desk mate, just let off steam and skive a bit which is human after all. So I decided sometimes I had to turn a blind eye and just concentrate on the important misdemeanors. Not that there were many of those because we’d built a relationships of respect and trust in each other. You can do that with small numbers; build relationships.

It also taught me a valuable lesson for home educating.

Home educating one-to-one can be very intense. It would be easy for it to become overbearing. You have to learn to not watch the kids all the time. And certainly not ‘EDUCATE’ all the time.

This is beneficial for all sorts of reasons, as well as to save you from insanity and education overkill. If your kids are constantly directed and monitored and dare-I-say controlled they never learn to be independent. To think for themselves. To decide for themselves. To imagine and invent and create their own activities and consequently their own education. To be in charge. This is a set of skills lacking in young people when they get to Uni; they don’t know how to take charge, of themselves even, let alone their workload.

I know some home educating parents worry that if they’re not directing, instructing or ‘educating’ their kids all the time they will be considered neglectful.

This is rubbish. It may be the mentality of those who don’t understand the true nature of home education or self-directed learning, which is on the increase (think online courses), but it doesn’t have to be your mentality.

Leaving the kids alone is an essential part of their self development. Learning things together doesn’t take much time really. There will be plenty of time for their own activities – which they have to think up, even if they need some starters as to where to look or some stuff strewing around to tempt them. Each of you in the home ed household needs to learn to respect others’ space and time and to leave each other alone to achieve it, to develop in their own individual ways. They’re bound to be learning all the time through doing so.

So, for education’s sake, for self-development’s sake, make sure there are times you leave the kids alone!