Tag Archive | education

Mad hares and swallow moments

Bluebells to look forward to

Bluebells to look forward to

I’m excited now the equinox has passed! Now that from this time on, for six months, there will be more light than dark. Despite irritating disruptions like clock changes I shall be waking in the light and there’ll still be enough light after supper to meander outside.

Outside things are changing. Mad hares have been leaping. Birds are home making. Shoots are surging and bursting open and when the extra light shines on me I feel like doing the same. There will be bluebells to look forward to and one of these coming days I might even toss my thermals off!

Thermals are required both inside and outside this house. Apart from the fact it’s old and draughty and I get damn cold sitting writing, I also try to ration the heating for both budget and planetary reasons. I want to go on enjoying this light and atmosphere and it needs preserving for those coming along behind me so they can do the same.

Winters can be challenging and I know I’m taking conscience a bit too far when it’s so cold in the house the dinner won’t defrost. But when it’s bad I light the log fire. Or hoovering is good for a warm up – the house is much cleaner in the winter! And I have jumpers that reach my knees and plenty of woolly rugs.

Now though, with longer hours of sunshine, I can utilise natural radiation and sit by a sunny window. Sun warmth penetrates deeper and faster than any heating and although I may have grown soft with modern comforts I appreciate the sun’s heat and the turning of the season more than any fire. So I do what I can to preserve it, however little a drop in the ecological ocean that may be.

It all helps.

And whatever little action you take will help too. Never think it’s not worth it.

Because all these little actions we take, added together, not only make a difference in lessening the impact you make upon the earth and its atmosphere and sunlight, are also a message in example to others. It may influence others’ actions.

Just like everyone follows a trend, like saying ‘hey’ in greeting instead of ‘hello’ for example which changes societal behaviour, we can change people’s behaviour towards the earth by our example and create new trends and habits. A good one to start with would be not to buy wet-wipes – have you seen the damage they do?

So, yea, I’m getting more than a little excited to see that added sunshine. And if any words I write here in my appreciation of it educates others enough to change one small thing they do to help preserve it, then I’ll be well chuffed.

Just as I am chuffed to see the sun rise each day, to witness the first feathered arrow dart across the sky as the summer swallows come, or see the mad hares leap about the fields in mating games.

And after writing this I will get up and leap about just as madly in order to warm up and resist putting the heating on so that the order of the natural world is disrupted a little less by pollutive habits.

May I plead with you to do the same and make one small change in your actions today, thus setting an example to your children and future generations and showing them how important is this earth?

Children are made readers…

First morning back at my desk and I’m having a bad attack of post holiday blues!

I’ve had such a lovely time away with my eldest. But such a painful time when it comes to parting again. Such is the nature of being a parent of grown offspring. It’s made up of greetings and partings and gaps in between. How parents managed before mobiles and Skype when they were so completely cut off from each other I’ve no idea!

Although I tried hard not to think about the work I do here; the writing and blogging etc, I did sneak into a book shop for a good browse and stroke of all the lovely books. The aesthetic of them will forever appeal to me, despite the advantage of ebooks. They’re part of a writer’s world. That and the coffee shop and a chance to sit among books and eat cake; two delights in one!

And over one stand of books in the children’s department I noticed a little sign which said:

Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.

What a thought!  Couldn’t resist posting it here to remind all parents that time spent with a child on their lap looking at a book does so much more than you think; it teaches them about reading.

We can’t do it enough; we should read to them as much as we can, whatever age, however old they are. As long as they want us to. Such a simple thing. Such a loving thing to do. Such an important thing to do – give our time and attention to our children and develop a love of books and reading at the same time.

If we all did it enough – instead of assuming we needn’t bother as children will be taught to read by schools or schemes – children would read naturally and organically with a little encouragement and help. Their delight and curiosity about reading ignites the motivation to want to do it – why would they not read then? It’s parents who start that off.

Children are made readers on the laps of their parents – not necessarily in schools – a thought worth keeping in mind.

What happens after home education?

I know this is a question on many parents’ minds and I’ve recently been talking to some young people now graduated from home educating for an article about it for Education Outside School magazine. (Look out for the next issue) But one young lady; Beth Levicki, wrote so much so well I thought parents would be interested in reading it separately.

She is now 19, having been home educated since September 2001, trying primary and secondary school for short periods. She began taking GCSEs at home when she was 14 and, by the time she was 18, had passed 6 GCSEs. She currently attends College studying A-levels and hopes to go to university in a couple of years.

This is what she wrote:

…I did year one at primary school and became home educated in September that year. I returned to primary to try mainstream education once more, but soon left to become home educated again. I didn’t return to primary school but decided that I wanted to give secondary school a try. I started secondary school at the age of eleven but found it wasn’t for me and left to be home educated again seven weeks later. I remained home educated for about eight more years, until last year when I decided I wanted to do A-levels at college, and have been attending college since September of last year.

While home educated, I did six GCSEs including English Language, English Literature, Maths, History, Biology and Psychology.

My first GCSE was Biology which I did with a distance learning course with mum’s guidance. The tutor would send me tasks, worksheets and practice papers to complete, and I would send them back so she could mark them and give feedback.

The other GCSEs I did with more of a DIY approach that mum helped with. We would buy the textbooks for the subjects and download the syllabuses, go through them, complete practice papers and tasks in the books and learn all of the information needed for the exam.

When it came down to doing the work, I really enjoyed the subjects and learning about them, but I didn’t enjoy the way in which I was supposed to learn them because it just came down to ticking the correct boxes to pass an exam, which I found very frustrating. But I realised that in order to open some doors in the future I had to just push through.

I worked best in the evenings so it was easier and more comfortable for me to sleep late, and work later on in the day, than forcing myself to get up in the morning when I definitely didn’t feel motivated. I also attended a drama group and a scout group so I had to find time to study around these activities.

I found the atmosphere in secondary school very patronising. It seemed none of the students actually wanted to be there and rebellious students made lessons very difficult. Some of the subjects I didn’t like but I was still forced to learn them which impacted my enjoyment negatively at school. There was also a lot of pressure to get questions right and do well which was very stressful at such a young age.

However, in home education, everything was a lot more relaxed. I was able to study subjects I wanted to learn, at my own pace. I believe that home education was the best choice for me during my childhood and teenage years because it was the most enjoyable and comfortable way for me to learn.

College, on the other hand, is more laid back than secondary school ever was. It’s very autonomous and requires self-motivation but, because I was able to choose the subjects that I wanted to do, self-motivation isn’t a big problem. Students are treated like adults and most of them want to be there and do the work to go to university or get good jobs. Instead of calling teachers ‘miss’ or ‘sir’, the tutors are called by their first name, making the environment friendly and comfortable which helps.

Overall, I suppose I’ve always wanted to be treated as an adult. I got that treatment at home and college but never had it in secondary school which is probably why I never enjoyed it.

I’m not a huge fan of working in big groups, especially in primary and secondary school where other students were rebellious, distracting and complaining a lot of the time. That atmosphere really stressed me.

Independently, however, it was much more relaxed. There was no pressure to be right all the time or to be as good as other students.

In college, even though I’m working with other people, the lessons are more like conversations. Ideas are bounced around and questions are asked about the subjects and there’s a lot of learning from each other rather than just the knowledge being spoon-fed by the teacher.

I’ve always been a bit of a not-very-confident introvert, so have had doubts about making friends that I could be myself around in the past and thought it was going to be much the same when I started mainstream education again. But I knew that I had to come out of my shell, so I pushed myself to talk to people and I now have a wonderful group of friends whom I feel comfortable (and share a lot in common) with. I’ve also been very open to the fact that I was home educated which doesn’t bother them in the slightest.

So, I suppose being home educated doesn’t change who you are or what you’re interested in. You just need to find the people who share similar interests and get to know them like anyone would.

…A big thank you to Beth for sharing that with us!

The educational finishing line

We’re never finished!

That might seem to be an odd thing to say but the way some people talk you’d think failing GCSEs or other qualifications, or having none at all, is going to finish you off for life.

Yet here’s me later on in life launching down avenues new, exactly the same as my twenty-somethings are doing. Which is what prompts me to remind folks that we’re never finished. Learning and opportunities go on as long as life goes on and it’s not a race to achieve everything by eighteen.

Most people’s perception of learning and education is rather warped. They’ve been conned and pressured into believing that it can only happen between the ages of four and eighteen and you’re doomed if you don’t achieve what you’re expected to achieve in that time.

Yet, in reality, some of the most fundamentally valuable learning you do in life takes place before you are four when essential learning connections are made. And post eighteen when you get beyond the schooling institution which in many ways inhibits learning because it’s so busy priming youngsters for exam passing it neglects to build the skills needed to lead a real life.

When you get beyond the institution of school – and Uni if it’s even worth going these days – you begin to educate yourself in the ways of the real world and how to function in it. That’s the real valuable stuff.

The trouble with institutionalised education is that it institutionalises minds – both children and parents. And it does a great job of preventing folks understanding that learning is not dependent on an institution. And qualification is not a measure of education – or intelligence either.

The young manager of the cafe was chatting to me about it as he made my coffee. He felt that he’d been let down by college, had been disenchanted by school and was certainly not going to get another stomach full of ‘education’ at Uni. He’d got the measure of it. He also knew that he was not finished by a long way and despite that raw educational deal he wasn’t going to believe that it was the measure of him. He thought quite like a home schooler, even though I hadn’t mentioned it. It was great to hear.

None of us are ever finished – not until we’re finished off that is! You’re no more finished at eighteen or twenty one or thirty odd or over fifty. And school age is not the only chance you have at learning.

Learning and education are about a constantly developing state of mind, not a state of institution.

Although with the state of the politics you wouldn’t know that! So try to look beyond institutionalised propaganda and maybe even have the courage to believe in your kids, allow them to learn when and as they need to and don’t worry about them getting to an educational finishing line:

There isn’t one!

Children are such natural scientists

Everything you observe is science...

Everything you observe is science…

Isn’t nature wonderful! It may still be cold outside, but that doesn’t stop the pigeon sidling up to his mate, or the blackbird singing over his territory. And blowing a gale it may be, but those valiant daffodils still manage to bloom.

Even in the concrete surround of a town or city you can find nature making a home in the most unlikeliest of places, like ants do between paving slabs or hardy buddleia that clings to walls and rooftops.

If you can just stop and observe a moment, you come across the most amazing things.

Kids are really good at this. Grown-ups can be especially bad, rushing on as we do with our day’s agenda.

As a parent, or home educator, it’s best to stop that and follow their example. Because these little observations are the beginnings of science, whether it’s plants or bricks, buses or bees.

Science is one of the subjects that many parents feel unable to help their children with. Yet, the daft thing is, science is so enmeshed into our daily life if you think about it. It’s just that school curriculum has disjointed it and made it unrecognisable.

And the other daft thing is that being in a school can remove children from the opportunity to develop the foundation of a scientific mind. For this foundation starts with simple observation. Observation of ourselves, the world and our interaction with it, followed by the question why, or how or what, is the evidence of their scientific mind developing – and they’re really good at those questions – have you noticed!

A third daft approach to science in schools is that it is made so academic, when in the real world it is very much a practical subject. A real hands-on, get-involved subject you can do in ways with children which immediately engages their interest. Observation and inquiry being one of the most effective ways to start.

By observing as you go, whatever you are doing, discussing what you see, you begin the study of science – the study and understanding of the world around them – both natural and man-made.

Children are fascinated little beings, already full of curiosity and the desire to experiment. It is the desire to experiment and find out that resulted in some of the most important scientific advancements so far.

Children are born scientists most of them, so by encouraging their observation, curiosity and discussion you are encouraging scientific thinking and understanding. And this lays the basis which can be formalised into more complicated academic study and research at a later date.

There are so many subjects on the curriculum which can be linked to the real world of our children through practical means, which makes science relevant and meaningful and develops their understanding. Then there are programmes and YouTube clips and fun scientific games online to extend it.

But the best way to start is to modify our own agendas, pay attention when our kids say ‘look’, or ask why, and begin to observe the real world and find out about it with them. This is the basis of their scientific skills.

Diversity and how it could transform education

002I recently read Ken Robinson’s book ‘The Element’ on finding your talents and passions. I was so uplifted by it.

One of the things I found so liberating was his explanation of why talents and passions are so important to the growth and perpetuation of the human race, not something that gets acknowledged in our education system! Especially with continuing cuts to arts subjects.

Most particularly dear to my heart is his chapter on education right at the end where he says how important it is for education to develop individuals rather than clone our children as if they were on a factory line, as he describes the educational system in America – it equally applies in the UK. It is through this individualism – through children finding their talents – that we will progress, both as a people and as a planet.

You’ll have to read it to fully understand his theories. But here’s a little taster from the final chapter that identifies why so many of the approaches home educating families use work so well simply because they pay attention to that individual development and thus escape the cloning he describes:

“….education puts relentless pressure on its students to conform. Schools…were created in the image of industrialism. In many ways they reflect the factory culture they were designed to support….Schools divide the curriculum into specialist segments: some teachers install math in the students, and others install history. They arrange the day into standard units of time, marked out by the ringing of bells, much like a factory announcing the beginning of the work day and the end of breaks. Students are educated in batches, according to age, as if the most important things they have in common was their date of manufacture. They are given standardised tests at set points and compared with each other before being sent out onto the market.

The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn’t need to be reformed – it needs to be transformed. The key to this transformation is not to standardise education but to personalise it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions…”

An insightful passage!

If only we could stop educating for standardisation and educate for diversity we would stand a chance of really transforming what goes on in schools and maybe lessen the increasing numbers of young people, parents and teachers who are completely disenchanted by what we still call education, but which amounts to little more than manufacturing.

Swinging along with the children

Half term brings a gaggle of buzzing children and families onto the streets, in the parks, the pool, the library and the shops. I love to see it. Love to see families swinging along together enjoying themselves. Those who are anyway.

There also seems to be a rash of parents who don’t seem to be enjoying it.

Although children and shopping don’t generally go together well, I still don’t like to hear the remark; ‘can’t wait for them to go back to school’. It’s like people don’t like to have their kids with them. These people make me wonder; why have children in the first place!

I suppose if your children are in school all day you might get out of the swing of doing things together. Not that this happened to us when ours were at school.

Then, when we were home educating, we had to get into the swing of doing the opposite. ; we had to practise not doing things together sometimes.

I was so into providing stimulating activities, of constant communication with the children, debating and hypothesising, coming up with ideas, I had to focus on doing the opposite and ignoring them at times.

Now, I would never normally advocate that parents ignore their children. I’m usually encouraging the opposite, especially when I see so many children who’ve been in school all the time trying to get the attention of a disinterested parent on their mobile phone chatting to someone else rather than the child at their side.

However, when you home school and are mostly together a lot you have to find ways of being separate, to have separate activities, to give the children time to direct and manage their own time rather than us always doing it for them. They need opportunities for their own pursuits, to make their own mistakes, to resolve their own problems, to interact, fall out and solve their own disputes, to work play and occupy themselves independently.

This is vital for developing independent maturity. And independence builds confidence.

Obviously we need to do this safely. And always in balance with other activities. But one mistake I made early on in our home educating life was to think I should always be in charge of providing stimulation, engaging and encouraging them to be busy, all the time.

Not only is this unrealistic – children need ‘down time’ as much as stimulation – but it also inhibits the development of other vital skills they will need to lead their own lives.

I see this in school children. Released from the control school has over their lives some are lost to know what to do without it. Many children also have their lives filled for them with out-of-school activities, play dates, workshops and courses organised by pushy and obsessive parents without consulting the children. So these children rarely have the chance to build the skills needed to organise themselves. To have a taste of leading their own life rather than being lead along a life someone else has mapped out for them.

As with everything, there needs to be balance and contrast in what we provide for our kids. Children need directed time and undirected time, they need engaged time and solo time, they need attentive parents and parents who’ll leave them be at times.

And this is true in all aspects of our parenting whether home educating or not.