Tag Archive | education

Feel the green

I find it hard to stay in and work when it’s so glorious outside.

Not having young children here any more I don’t even have them as an excuse to get outdoors every day! But I still do – I know how it affects me, or rather how I am affected by its absence.

Walking along the local footpath towards me the other day was a young family getting their littlies outside.

“They love to be out here,” Dad said, as we stopped to chat. “Don’t want to be in much at all.” The children were about three and eighteen months, exploring everything around them while we spoke, far too restless and curious to be still for a minute. they reminded me of our two.

We were lucky to have rural space on our doorstep for ours to help themselves to, everyday if they wanted. And they did seem to want to, the eldest loving flowers and often taking drawing or books out there, the youngest with her curiosity about creepy-crawlies or experiments with mud – as described in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’!

And even now in their twenties and living in urban places for the work, they suddenly feel the need to go seek out green spaces, hungry for the healthy, calming inpact it has on them. They sip of it like nectar, knowing

The footpath above the city

what it feels like.

In fact, on a recent visit to the city where my eldest lives and is immersed at the current time in a stressful working schedule, we climbed up a footpath out of the city to seek the benefits – her choice for her few hours off. She recognised her need. So many don’t.

I shared this with the family on the footpath.

“You always return to your roots,” mum commented.

But I replied; “I hope not; mine were in London and I’ve no desire to return there!” We laughed. But I knew what she meant – she’d been away and returned to her rural roots too. I needed to escape my concrete roots to something that suited me better. Not everyone’s the same, I acknowledge that. That’s why kids need a diverstiy of experiences, to find out about themselves and their needs. Ours were able to experience concrete living too and actually our eldest thrives in the city – but she still needs to touch green sometimes.

However, I thought how lucky ours had been, as this young family is, to have had that experience of green spaces just as a reference in their lives. A reference to making them feel good, naturally, because it inherently does. It impacts on our physical and mental health in ways we’re only just beginning to really understand. So even if we don’t live rurally we need to seek out contact with nature to remain wholly well. And I worry about parents bringing up families in places where it’s hard to access that. Because it’s vital that you do.

Vital that you make contact with green things; growing things, the range of species and their needs alongside ours, green space to run about in if possible, on a daily basis. Because the habits that you adopt now will be habits that demonstrate a way of living that encourages and promotes their well being and health. Our own habits are the most important teacher of all. Not forgetting that this contact is essential for raising their understanding of the earth and why we need to look after it.

Finding green, feeling the green, understanding the natural benefits of green spaces, is a vital part of any education.

There are some great outdoor projects to get involved in on Springwatch – check out their garden survey. here

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Read the real truth about home educating

There are still so many misconceptions about home education so I thought it was worth another airing as some might find it reassuring. And often over school holidays there’s renewed interest in this alternative educational option:

You can feel people’s resistance come up like a prickly shield when you mention home education. It seems to provoke the same fear as if you’d suggested jumping off Big Ben – ‘couldn’t possibly do that’!

Which is actually where many home educating families start too, but they’re forced to move from a position of ‘couldn’t possibly do that’ to ‘we’ve got to do something’. Because despite the government conveniently labelling home education as ‘elective’, for most parents it isn’t. Many parents they are forced into trying anything to save their children from dire circumstances in school, both personal and academic.

Most home educating families are just ordinary families trying to do the best for their kids. Most are not elite, or alternative, extremist or ignorant. But the government obviously thinks we need watching because they’re desperate to collect us all on a register and confine us within the same school-style boundaries and systems that made us home educate in the first place. And they do it because of fear. Because of the same outdated ignorance many folks have towards a learning style that thousands of families are now finding extremely successful.

I’m hoping that some of this ignorance will be eradicated. It needs to be because many children need the choice of this alternative to school. For some, home educating changes academic failure into success. It changes nil self-esteem into confidence. And in some desperate cases it probably even saves lives.

Learning can occur in a myriad of different ways not just the way they do it in school. It’s about time the success and value of home education was recognised. It’s about time ignorance was replaced with some of the true facts. Facts like:

  • Home educated children achieve good grades like other children do. They go to university, college, or into work or businesses like other children do. Their academic, social and personal skills are reputed to be in front of those of their school peers.
  • Home educated children are not isolated or invisible. Most interact with a wide range of people, in a wide range of places, doing a broad range of activities. Some have far more life experience than those children in school. Most have mature social skills.
  • Thousands of families turn to home education because schools fail to provide for their children’s needs, both academic and personal. In some cases this has been a life line for children who’ve suffered in school the kind of abuse that just would not be tolerated by adults in a workplace. Home educators are the parents who take initiative to do something about their children’s suffering rather than just ignoring it.
  • Children who have been written off by the educational system or labelled as having ‘learning difficulties’ or ‘special needs’, for example, have gone on to achieve a good academic standard through home education.
  • Home educating families are as ordinary as any other families who have the same ordinary aspirations for their children to achieve and be happy. They come from all ranges of the social, educational, financial and cultural backgrounds that make up our society.
  • Home educated children usually achieve the same outcomes, if not better, than children in schools.
  • Contrary to what most parents think, children learn in a multitude of different ways, not just in the conveyor belt style of the educational system. Home educating gives children the opportunity to learn in the way that suits them best, increasing their chances of success. This doesn’t necessarily mean academic cramming. It means acknowledgement of the myriad of alternative approaches there are to learning, to opportunities, to qualifications, to being educated, and making best use of them.
  • In my experience as a home educator within a wide network of other home educators, and whilst researching for my books, I have never come across an incidence of abuse. However I saw plenty of cases of abuse when I worked in schools.

Feel free to share around as much as possible, most particularly to those who continue to lack understanding!

And to see how it works at family level, check out my home schooling books.

 

Thinking about Home Education instead of going back to school?

Whenever there’s a new school term starting there are a flurry of parents trying to decide about home educating instead.

If you’re one of those you’ll no doubt be wavering through nagging worries and doubts. Quite natural – all conscientious parents worry. It’s a condition of responsible parenting!

But look at it this way – you’d worry just as much if your children were in school. I know I did before we home educated. All home schoolers worry about the same old things:

  • Will the kids turn out okay?
  • Will they be able to make friends?
  • Will they achieve anything?
  • Will they be intelligent?
  • Will they still be speaking to me when they’re older?
  • Will we be able to enjoy a happy relationship?
  • Will they be able to fit into ‘mainstream’ life afterwards?
  • Will they be able to become independent?

I’d like to reassure you with the answer to those questions: YES!

Yes to all the above.

All the young people we knew who were home educated have grown into adults who have achieved, (many the same qualifications as their school contemporaries if that worries you), have all learned and developed their intelligence and knowledge (often exceeding that of their school contemporaries!), have good friend networks (and better social skills than many of them), have all integrated successfully into work, higher education, employment, the ‘real world’ for want of a better term. And have all continued a warm loving, respectful relationship with their parents.

So I hope you find that reassuring.

One way to manage inevitable worries is to focus on the NOW rather than the future. All worries are about the future and most of the educational approaches in schools are geared towards ‘the future’. The daft thing is no one can predict that, can predict how kids grow and change, learn and absorb, develop interests and intelligence. They change all the time in unpredictable ways. So trying to educate for some unforeseeable future is a waste of time.

What you can do is make the childrens’ educational experiences good ones at this moment in time. This way they’ll want to take over the learning for themselves, and will go on doing it until they see what they want and go for what they want. That’s what most home educated young people end up doing. Their education, which has been independent from an institution and decided upon through democratic discussions together, naturally leads them towards an independent life – not the opposite as some doubters would suggest.

So trust in yourself, trust the example of thousands of ‘graduated’ home schooled young people now successfully ‘out’ in society (they always were really – that’s how home education works), and be brave about deciding what’s right for your family.

Our two children are now in their twenties and out making their valid contribution to the working world and put me in mind of the things that were said about us which I wrote in ‘A Home Education Notebook’:

Hope that helps!

A personal education philosophy

I’m popping this here because it’s something I’m asked about and some parents like help with, especially in the light of the LA often asking for it. The thought of ‘educational philosophy’ can be rather daunting. Don’t fret; it doesn’t have to be – it’s just your thoughts on education, so it’s best to have some, then call them philosophy!

However, it can be a bit difficult to think about if it’s new to you to do so, so some of these ideas might help with a starting point.

At the risk of shocking everyone with this admission; when I first starting out teaching I thought, like many others, that education was just something delivered by schools quantified by exams. I didn’t teach for long before I completely changed my mind about that.

I also soon worked out that ‘qualification’ was certainly not a measure of an educated person, judging by the way some of the supposedly educated behaved. And teaching for exam passes didn’t necessarily make young people educated either.

When we home educated our own two children we had to think about what education really was, if it was not something that was just learning a prescribed syllabus, delivered by schools for the purpose of grades, which by then I definitely didn’t believe it was – and we weren’t planning on doing anyway.

What was it then?

Our ideas changed over the time we home educated and have matured even since then. And this is an attempt to try and note some ideas down that may help you decide upon your own.

A precise educational philosophy is quite hard to capture because it is entirely based on your definition of education in itself. And that has been influenced by your own schooling and by society’s definition of it as a grade-getting process that is measurable in those terms only. And accountable in those terms only – in terms of how many and how high.

But I believe education is something far broader than that. And I look at it not in terms of grades, or perhaps in terms of what education is, but more in terms of what an educated person is.

My definition tends to be person based. Not qualification based. Because it’s not the qualifications that matter – it’s what you do with them. And you need far, far more personable skills and elements of character to apply yourself to an educated life than qualifications.  Elements like respect. Or responsibility. Or care. Or the ability to communicate.

Grades are no good without those.

You can have the most qualified, titled and knowledgeable person in the world who can be an arrogant arse and not care a damn for the next person. I wouldn’t call them educated. So care does come into it.

You can have a person who has been privately and expensively educated who looks down on those who’ve had less opportunity as if they deserve less respect. But I wouldn’t call that the behaviour of an educated person. So respect comes into it.

And you have people who seem to spend lifetimes collecting degrees but are unable to function happily, communicate and establish relationships, or understand how their awareness of others and the planet is important. Their educational qualifications don’t seem a lot of help. Awareness is part of being educated too.

So I believe that however ‘qualified’ or ‘educated’ in the conventional sense of the word a person is, it’s how he BEHAVES that matters and counts as to whether they are really educated.

People who are educated are people who not only have knowledge and skills but are people who show respect, responsibility and care towards others both near and far, towards their environment both locally and globally and who show awareness, compassion and understanding, who are keen to be the best they can, make the best contribution they can, and who strive towards good, happy and fulfilled lives. And I know that now we’d need to define good, happy and fulfilled but I’ll leave those definitions to you!

But these are the types of qualities I expect an educated person to have, however many grades. It is about the quality of a person – not the qualifications.

And that’s very difficult to measure. But schools feel the need to measure something so they focus on the measurable bits and neglect the rest. That’s where it’s gone so wrong.

Now, this is all very philosophical but how do you home school to that?

Well – creating good, happy and fulfilled lives on a daily basis is a start! One day at a time; make each day a good one and you make for a good education and fallow days count here too. (See this blog)

I also understand that many parents worry about describing it to the Local Authority. We did too and I spent many hours contemplating it. I describe what happened in my book ‘A Funny Kind Of Education’ including the letter with our educational philosophy we finally sent to the LA. So I thought it might help if I copied it here too:

We are unable to fill in your enclosed form because it is inappropriate to our Home Education situation and the education we plan to provide for our children.

We plan for the education of our children to be centred around their needs, for the most part autonomous, deriving from their own interests and daily pursuits, mostly democratic, where their learning is shared, helped, broadened and encouraged by our parental input. Our aim is for happy, confident, self motivated children who take pleasure in learning. We hope to provide a stimulating environment in which they may do this, both in the home with materials, books, television, computers, and in the community and further afield with trips to libraries, visits to places of interest, field trips and activities which encourage an interest and curiosity about their daily lives and environment, all of which are sources of learning and educational opportunity.

We see learning as an integral part of our children’s daily lives and not separate from it or segregated into subjects. Therefore it is not timetabled or structured; this would be unnecessarily inhibiting. It may take place from the minute they wake to the minute they sleep, over meal times, social times, unusual times, any time, by discussions and questioning, conversations, investigations and research, not necessarily in a formal procedure. We see it therefore as mostly spontaneous and unplanned. Thus we can take advantage of the purest receptive moments when learning potential is at its peak.

We are quite confident that contact with family, friends, social events, clubs and activities of this nature provide our children with plenty of social interaction.

Having said all that I’m sure you must appreciate that our children have to recover from the numbing effects of school, which has damaged their learning potential, and it may take us some time to settle into our Home Education. We look forward to this with enthusiasm and excitement.

We hope this fulfils your requirements.”

An educational philosophy doesn’t have to worry you. You will already have ideas about what education should be or you wouldn’t contemplate home educating. These ideas are the basis for a philosophy and they just need formalising and getting down, always allowing room for change and moderation. Allow them to develop over a period of time and read lots others. Use any of the ideas you like here to help.

Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Think what you want for your children personally (things like confidence, keenness to learn, happiness, etc)
  • Think what you might want for them academically – helps to focus on skills here –  in line with where they’re at right now (it’s best to not look too far ahead at this point)
  • Think about others – have you ever seen a model of a family or child that you’d like to strive towards (probably you have examples of the opposite – also useful!)
  • Think what suits your child’s needs, your needs and your circumstances and what kind of lifestyle/approach will help you move towards the above.
  • A final point to remember; children change, so their needs change, so your approach and styles and philosophy may change throughout your home education. Therefore it is wise to include this fact in any statement you may make to the LA

Allow yourself room for flexibility – the key to successful home education – and development of ideas as, like ours did, these will change.

Just as home education changes you. Exactly like life really!

If you’re new to home education you’ll find more help in this book, especially for beginners.

Home education – not just for the rich and elite

You may have seen the headline in The Times the other week about the musician Paul Weller choosing to home educate his twins, which I shared to my Facebook page.

Home education is not just for the likes of him!

Although it’s wonderful to see more people joining the community, and home education hitting the headlines again, it does nothing for promoting the fact that home schooling as it’s also known – uncomfortable term- is an option to all parents not just the rich and the elite which some may think.

Home educators come from all groups of our very diverse society; rich and poor, all different backgrounds and cultures, both the academic and the non-academic, qualified teachers and non-teachers, those who are religious and those who are not, those who prefer to ‘buy in’ tutoring and pay others for ‘teaching’ and those who do it themselves, and all across the broad range of ethnic communities which now make up our country.

Income is a real concern for many parents who would like to home educate. Not because of the cost of ‘education’ exactly, but more because of the loss of an income whilst one parent stays at home with the children. Job sharing between parents is an option, if you’re two of course, but single parents also tackle the challenge and manage as best they can. You can home educate on a very low budget because it’s not the amount of money you throw at education that makes it worth anything, it’s the interactions and experiences that the learners have that really matter. And even more importantly the support and encouragement, love and happiness that are equally part of a successful life and understanding that living is educative in itself!

I’ve always maintained that you cannot ‘buy’ an education, you can only nurture it and that nurture comes from the people involved. See this post here, about affording to homeschool

And the costs are more about how you choose to live your life, how consumerist you are, your values and priorities and discovering together what really matters to you.

We made all kinds of sacrifices and did without many, many of those things that insidious advertising can make us believe we cannot or are less of a parent in doing so. However, when you really begin to unpick, when you really begin to investigate your buying habits and your budget, you might realise you can be far more economical than you thought and the things that you need the most in life, (after food and shelter of course) like love and togetherness, you don’t have to economise on at all.

An engaged and thoughtful parent is the best resource a home educated child can have. You don’t have to be rich to provide it!

 

Curriculum doesn’t constitute education – it can even choke it!

Parents who are fairly new to home educating often worry about curriculum. It’s a common mistake to think that without it there will be no education.

But a curriculum doesn’t constitute an education. It is equally possible to become an intelligent and educated person without following one at all – as many home schooling families are proving.

For curriculum is nothing more than a set list of subjects or course of study. And whereas it can be a useful tool guiding a learner towards prescribed outcomes (exams for example) which most find valuable, a curriculum can also have a detrimental effect.

This has been highlighted in an enlightened piece of writing by a sixteen year old pupil who recently described curriculum as having a ‘chokehold on the throats of the nation’s children’.

This was Harriet Sweatman, who won the Scottish schools young writer of the year award with her piece about going to school.

Harriet Sweatman pictured in the TES

It is absolutely astounding and reflects what many of us feel about the system, including I suspect many parents who are not home educating! She goes on to say that she’s ‘been flattened by a concrete curriculum, so structured and unforgiving that I have forgotten how to function without it’. She feels that schooling has made her grow backwards, knowing less about herself now than when she started.

Can’t we just imagine that!

If you ever forget just why you ended up home educating this incredibly honest piece will remind you. I’ve copied it below for you to read.

And it also might remind you not to get hung up about which curriculum to use, whether you should be using one or not. Curriculum is a tool which can be extremely valuable, but do remember it doesn’t necessarily guarantee becoming educated – just as school doesn’t!

Here’s Harriet’s piece borrowed from the TES; 

The horde of hunchbacks slouch on, dragging their feet up the school drive. Hearts heavy and school bags even heavier, but what can you do? Lockers are expensive and always wind up graffitied or smeared with Vaseline anyway. The path is lined with overflowing bins, padded with empty coffee cups from the new Costa in the village (the place that, for the bargain price of £2, will sell me the sweet elixir that promises to make up for the fact that I only got four hours’ sleep last night).

Once inside, the scuffed yet shiny linoleum floors are covered in curious stains – blood or food? We may never know. The corridor walls are painted a jarring blue and covered in stickers and posters saying that mistakes are just part of the journey. And oh, the places you’ll go! This children’s hospital aesthetic is fooling nobody. We’re too old for that.

The abrasive B-flat bell sounds and so we traipse from room to room, ankles shackled with our stresses. CCTV watches all, waiting for one wrong move. The hallways are lit only by harsh fluorescent lighting, each door leads to a new prison cell complete with wired windows, to stop us breaking them, or breaking out of them.

In reality, school is not a place where you are imprisoned. In here, you are manufactured. You move along the conveyor belt of exam seasons, hoping for the grades you need, so you can be packaged up with a pretty label saying you got straight As and shipped off somewhere else. Capitalism tells us that if we are not fit to work, then we are worthless. There is no love in learning any more. Every student has given up or is about to. We envy the people that have left already, but we have no plans for what to do if we did.

By now I am the ripe old age of 16. Apparently, by now I am supposed to have a plan. By now I should know what I want to do for the rest of my life. I am supposed to already have experience in the field. We have lost the middle ground between child and adult. I am stuck in what remains. At the age of 12, I was asked what I was going to be when I grew up. I soon learned that “I want to be a wizard” was not an acceptable answer. I still don’t have an answer.

Fear not! There is help out there. If you want to study medicine or law that is.Advice on how to get the top grades, workshops where they cut things open and show you how they work, what oozes and what snaps. Meanwhile, the painter sits taut in front of their still life, ticking off a checklist of techniques they must display. The musician doesn’t dare push the boundaries, exchanging originality for safety in the hope it will be to the examiner’s taste. The historian memorises essay structures down to the word, the linguist knows how to write an essay not hold a conversation, and the writer wades through Shakespeare trying to pick out an essay from a play that was made to be performed not studied. Whatever happened to expanding your horizons? Now we must all ensure our tunnel vision is pinpoint thin.

Well then, perhaps the real adventure is the friends you make along the way. The cast of lively characters who go on adventures: the love interest, the comedy relief, the antagonist and their schemes. Until the seating plan in the classroom changes and you never talk to them again. You may see them on your way to or from school, at breaks and lunch, but at the weekends not a whisper. These are not the friendships that novels are written about. These are barely friendships at all. After we leave, when the battles are over and the war is won, most of us will never see each other again.

When we leave, will we even survive? Yes, I can do differentiation and also integration, but can I do taxes? I don’t know how insurance works or how to buy a house. I barely know basic first aid, so let’s all hope nobody starts choking to death anywhere near me. I can talk for days about condoms, but birth control is another story. We just learn by the book everything we need to get us through exams, competing with peers for the most approval.

Primary school was better and I still miss show-and-tell. Posters about the ancient Egyptian god of the underworld, a presentation about the Wombles of Wimbledon, projects on anything that captured my imagination. At high school there is little time for such fanciful feats. Assignments where you can research what you want count for almost nothing, and even then there are strict rules. Finding out who I am and what I care about has been deemed unimportant. I have been flattened by a concrete curriculum, so structured and unforgiving that I have forgotten how to function without it. With no bell throbbing at even intervals and no marking scheme to build our lives around, how will we cope?

They say high school is the best years of your life – but not in this world, where qualifications matter more than personal qualities. I feel like I have grown backwards, as if I now know less about myself and who or what I could be than when I started. We can pretend that we are happy all we want, that our lives look just like the teen movies we used to idolise (it is true that we often burst into song, a chorus of “kill me now”, and only half of us are joking). Yes, we may be the next generation of leaders and scientists but we are also the next to be shoved on to the production line known as the world of work.

There is still time to change things. The curriculum can release its chokehold on the throats of this nation’s children and let them breathe. We can still save our siblings or maybe even our children. But for us, it is too late. For now, we just have to wait until the final bell rings and we walk out of the school door forever.

Congratulations and thanks to Harriet (and the TES for publishing it)

And if you want to learn more about using the curriculum – or not – I’ve written about it in my book ‘Learning Without School Home Education’. 

See My Books page for more.

Home Educate for the present

You can’t help but have noticed the massive trend for mindfulness at the moment.

You rarely go into a bookshop without seeing a mindful colouring book or a manual of mindful prompts and practices. Many companies are pushing it at the consumer – the capitalism of which rather belying the point!

I always think of home educating parents as mindful people. You kind of have to be in order to do it.

I know some of you may recoil from the concept of mindfulness as a load of psychobabble that has no relation to the serious business of education.

But I don’t think I’ve ever met a home schooling parent who isn’t mindful in that they are making conscious choices about the way their children are educated. They are mindful of the fact that a learning life does not have to be endured for some future reward, it is important that the kids are happy and fulfilled now. And it’s that which leads towards a happy and successful relationship with life thereafter. That is the way parents are mindful. It means being conscious of what you’re doing.

Of course, there are all sorts of interpretations of being mindful – awareness being the one I’m using here. I don’t think you could home educate without being very aware of what you’re doing, both day-to-day and with regard to the future.

But therein lies a danger of conflict.

Because mindfulness is an approach that is based very much in the now. Yet our educational agenda can sometimes become obsessed with the future.

It certainly is in schools. It seems like every activity undertaken has an agenda that is focussed towards forthcoming results. Test results. Exam results. Qualification of it, in some form or another. The quality of the present learning experience is prostituted for that.

It is natural as we parent to wonder about the future for our kids. Obviously we want the best for them. We wouldn’t be human if our considerations didn’t stray beyond the present as we raise them and guide them towards living good lives.

However, it’s important as we educate to balance that with what’s happening now, what their needs are now, making now an inspiring experience.

In fact I’d go so far as to say it needs to be imbalanced – for the now is far more important. Simply because what’s happening now will determine the future and if you take care to make the present a good experience of learning, then the children will want to go on with it and that’s an attitude that sets them up for life. If you take care of the now the future will take care of itself.

Educate because learning is a great thing to be doing, at this present moment.

By adopting a mindful/awareness practice yourself you will inspire the children to have mindful practices of their own which promotes a healthy and conscious way of living; with themselves, with others, and with the planet. It escalates out in beneficial ripples all around.

Being mindful is good for parents. Good for home education. Good for kids. Good for everyone.

Worth taking a moment to be mindful of it!

There’s more generic reading about mindfulness here if you’d like to explore some more.