Tag Archive | education

Room to learn?

When school term starts again there’s always a flurry of new interest in home education. As well as the usual questions about exams or socialisation (read this) there’s another one that always gets asked:

“But where are the kids going to learn?”

The thought of learning without a classroom seems to make people anxious, as if without this ‘school’ room the children wouldn’t be able to learn at all.

It’s based, of course, on the familiar view we have of learning only ever taking place in a classroom in a school. But just because that’s the way it’s done in the system, it doesn’t mean to say that it is necessary, or the only place a child can learn, or that learning can’t happen effectively without it.

Like any studying we’ve ever done at home, any space can be adapted to fit a purpose, we just have to get creative with it. We can use whatever is available from the kitchen table, bed, living room floor, sofa.

Most home educating families live in a family house and use general family spaces for learning activities. Some start out with a routine that involves grouping round the kitchen table for example, but soon find that in reality, learning can take place anywhere.

For children learn best when they are stimulated, interested and comfortable. That could just as easily be on the floor or in the garden, as in a more formal setting with table/desk and chairs involved. Reading together on the sofa is as effective as upright at the table – probably more so because the child associates it with a pleasurable experience and pleasurable experiences are usually ones that they remember and want to repeat. E.g. maths is just as effective whether it’s on the sofa, on the floor, or chanting or doing quizzes in the back of a car.

In some ways, different settings and experiences can aid learning, stimulating memory. A more formal setting that’s repeated day after day can become boring and easily forgotten.

Many home educating families who have seen their children learning in a variety of settings would go so far as to say that the world is their classroom, finding that they learn as much when they’re out, wherever it is, as they do at home. Valuable learning can happen incidentally from an everyday outing, field trip or visit, stimulating conversation, inquiry and investigation. Even a trip to the park can provoke that. Travel or new stimulating experiences are more examples and offer subjects to research further.

But it’s also the case that formal learning can be conducted outside or in different settings as much as incidental learning can. Just because it’s more formal learning doesn’t mean it needs a more formal space. You can take study anywhere you’re prepared to do it – a library for example, or cafe. One of the essays with the highest marks I ever attained was put together sitting in a field where I was undisturbed and enjoying the quiet surroundings.

Dedicated learning spaces are not a guarantee that effective learning will result. So don’t always stick with formal learning spaces and routines. Get creative – the more stimulating they are the better. It is often the most unlikely situations that stimulate the most lasting results.

And do let me know if you’ve had some unusual and crazy ones – I’d love to know!

Using nature to talk about mortality with kids

I wonder how the little Guillemot is? 

I think it was a guillemot anyway. It was standing forlornly at the edge of the water so still I thought it was an upstanding stone when I first caught sight of it in the distance. But as I walked nearer I realised it was a little bird. It was bedraggled and saturated and appeared to be shivering.

I guessed it had probably got exhausted and waterlogged. But had managed to come ashore with the tide.

What to do?

Leave it to recover in calm and solitude, or take it somewhere? The stress of being captured can often create further injury or cause them to die of shock anyway.

It was always a dilemma when we found exhausted or injured wild things. They rarely survived as a result of our attentions but the children always wanted to take them home and cosset and cuddle them back to health as we did them! None of which does wild things any good usually but it’s very hard to explain that to a child.

Nestlings were the worst. The children were adamant that they could save them with human ministrations, not understanding that most of them wouldn’t make it – human comforts are rarely what they need.

Living in the country animal fatalities were regularly witnessed. Another corpse in the tideline or a remnant of a fox’s meal, as well as farming, were opportunities for study and discussion and also conversations about the natural course of life.

These events, and the passing of pets, are a good opportunity to talk to kids about these difficult issues – although not difficult really if you make them a natural part of examining life.

More difficult when they’re not talked about and come as a terrible shock.

Mortality is usually conveniently hidden away like a taboo. But it is far better that it is confronted honestly, that children understand about the cycle of life, that we are sad and bereft for some time after losing someone or something, and that this passes, new aspects of life flood in and make us feel better and we survive and move forward.

Children are very matter-of-fact. They deal far better with honest answers than with cover ups. They see through those. They can only trust us if they know we’re honest. That way they’ll believe us when we say that we can recover from grief and loss, rather than thinking this is just another grown up lie.

The loss of pets or things in the wild and natural world provide good opportunities for us to talk about both the living and the passing of life, not in a morbid way. But in a matter-of-fact way with the children. And we shouldn’t shy away from it.

Had little children been with me when I saw the guillemot they would no doubt have wanted to do something about it. But I thought it best to leave it to find itself somewhere quiet to recover as it looked reasonable robust. After I’d had a good look at it – a rare treat to be so close.

But it popped into my mind occasionally throughout the day as I wondered about its fate.

Wish we could get the heart back into learning

I miss having children around. I miss being able to show them things and take them places and those quiet little cuddles at any time.

The former village school – now a nursery

It was wonderful watching their amazement as they learn and enjoy the world and grow. In fact, I’ve even missed them so much I’ve thought of returning to teaching.

Then I come to my senses when I remember.

I remember all the reasons why I left. Like my unhappiness at having to force kids to do stuff that didn’t seem appropriate or relevant or worth anything. Like having to drive and pressurise and push until they got the required points. Like having to teach stuff in certain ways when I could clearly see it wasn’t what the child needed. Having to implement stupid policies devised by  some idiot who knew little about the needs of kids. And worst of all, watching their keen little faces glaze over with apathy as another boring objective is confronted; practices that just made kids feel bad and switch off. And worse still, giving them the blame for their failure instead of acknowledging that the fault lay with the approach not the kids.

And that was years ago – it’s ten times worse than that now.

I used to think I was just a cynic. But current remarks from parents and colleagues and recently one new young teacher who was so unhappy because what she felt she was required to do to kids wasn’t really ethical, let alone valuable, make me think I have a cause to be so. And some of the articles on the Secret Teacher site support that cynicism. They make for grim reading.

I used to teach in a small village school, where we all knew all the kids, where everyone functioned for the good of everyone else, where the climate in a school was one of care and nurture directed at the children And their happiness and enjoyment was important.

I don’t sense that about schools any more. I only have to walk in one and something in me shrivels. But thankfully I feel it among the home educating community.

The home educating community seem to base their educational provision on something that all educational provision should be based on: a love of learning. They at least are putting the heart back into learning.

Kids come into the world already programmed to learn – it’s as natural as survival and part of it. But schools change learning into something else – into point scoring, usually for the good of the school.

Keep a child’s love of learning intact and education follows naturally. It’s so sad that the educational system has completely lost sight of the pleasure of learning as they turn it into big political business.

So I’m sure glad to know so many wonderful parents who are brave enough to follow their hearts to learning, rather than the politics!

There’s no magic strategy to ‘teach’ your child to read

Bit of a shock/horror title I know. But further to my last week’s post on reading when I was talking about the book ‘Rethinking Learning to Read’ there was something else I wanted to tell you. Something most people don’t know.

Create a relaxed approach to enjoying books

We don’t know because we’re led to believe the opposite. We’re led to believe that there is a specific strategy for teaching reading that professionals know but parents don’t.

The real truth is – brace yourself – there isn’t!

There is no one single magic approach to reading that will guarantee that your child will read.

This is what Harriet Pattison shows in her book. And I was talking to another academic about this recently, a professional who is engaged in teacher training, and he confirmed that there is no strategy that training teachers are taught in order to get kids reading. They are in exactly the same position as parents!

Okay, so teachers learn a bit about the psychology of learning (soon forgotten) and about various schemes, and graded readers and devices like phonics or whatever the latest fad is. But nothing is fool proof, will work for all, because everyone is different and responds differently. But those differences don’t have to be difficulties – only if you’re in school.

There are a multitude of activities that parents can encourage that will help their child to read; games for example, reading aloud to them, shared reading and stories, providing material for their reading, allowing them to use computers and computer games and similar, texting included, encouraging any reading material comics included, providing a reading happy climate, reading themselves, reading signs when out etc.

What is more important and something that parents can do easily, is provide a reading rich environment and encourage – without pressure – a relaxed approach to enjoying books and print. When home educating, it doesn’t matter when a child reads fluently – there are all sorts of ways to learn (films for example). It’s only in school, where learning is print based, that anxieties mount and ‘difficulties’ are created. Out of school, there doesn’t have to be a difficulty.

It’s important to acknowledge and encourage your child’s own personal relationship with reading, which means you might have to keep out of it sometimes! Something teachers can’t do. Perhaps the only ‘difficulty’ is keeping our anxieties under control.

Children are inquisitive about what we do, about stuff online, about phones and words and stories. Your encouragement of that interest will be what eventually leads them towards reading.

And that is something that all parents can do. No magic strategy involved!

Beware the biased propaganda!

It’s always helpful – uplifting – to get comments. Most come to me via Facebook, and I’m so grateful and moved to know this work is a help and is encouraging. That’s basically what I write for!

Not everybody likes it – obviously. But it’s also interesting to read other points people raise when they’re disagreeing with what’s written here. I appreciate anyone taking the time – they’ve clearly been moved to do so and other people’s feelings are important. I’m thankful to report I rarely get obnoxious comments which aren’t backed up by intelligent argument.

One such comment sticks with me though. It’s a while back now, written by someone entrenched in the education system who accused me of writing ‘biased propaganda’.

Once I got over the shock, I was totally bemused by the irony of it. For surely biased propaganda is exactly what the education system perpetuates?

All the way through a child’s time in school there’s an enormous bias: towards grades. These are less for the good of the child and more for the good of the system. Grades mean climbing league tables, which means more Points for schools, which means more funding…etc. And never was there such powerful propaganda surrounding the drilling of the children towards that outcome, than the emphasis on the myth that without these grades their lives will amount to nothing. Which is absolutely untrue.

We don't always have to stick to what we're told!

We don’t always have to remain on a prescribed route!

Good grades and qualification are certainly useful and a way of presenting proof of having reached certain standards which employers use as a benchmark. But they are not an entire education and not the only road to successful work or a fulfilled life. Anyway, ‘successful’ and ‘fulfilled’ need defining in individual terms. But schools fail to acknowledge all other routes than those which perpetuate their own desired outcomes.

And as big business takes over education, schools have another developing bias; towards perpetuating big corporate business! Consequently perpetuating the propaganda that this is the only definition of success or fulfillment. It might be for some, but not for all.

Then there’s also the mythical propaganda, which the system perpetuates, that leads people to believe that without schools, teachers, target led learning, and tests young people won’t learn anything. Also completely untrue. But the establishment bias is to keep everyone obedient to the establishment which they do by perpetuating these myths!

Home education is exploding these myths and dispelling this kind of propaganda. Out-of-the-system approaches encourage individuals to learn for learning’s sake and progress in ways that work for them however varied and diverse they may be, however broad and all-inclusive. It opens minds to a multitude of possibilities not available in the confines of the system.

Surely then, by it’s very nature, home educating is as far away from the narrowing of ‘bias’ as you can get? I admit there may be opportunities for bias, towards religion or academic cramming perhaps, when families choose to remain isolated. But these are very rare. Much more rare than the mass propaganda schooling perpetuates.

In most cases, home education gives youngsters the opportunity to free themselves from the narrow, biased, destructive competitive mentality created by schooling and develops in their education and their mind a creative, intelligent, innovative and open-ended attitude towards learning and life, equipping them with the skills they need to contribute to the working, social, achieving world, business included.

Surely the bias comes from the narrow minded people who fail to acknowledge that!

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)