Tag Archive | education

What is education for except to learn about our world?

It’s nearly time for the Big Garden Bird Watch again, run by the RSPB. (26th – 28th Jan)

I’m mentioning it because it’s a great activity for the family to do. To help you all get connected to the other species we share the planet with.

And that’s the most important lesson for the children to learn; the fact that we do only share this planet. We don’t own it and we’re not necessarily the most important species on it.

Everything is inter dependent on everything else. Every species has a contribution to make. Our contribution is to use our bigger brains to learn and use our privileged position at the top of the food chain responsibly and wisely! Otherwise our children’s children will not be able to enjoy what we’ve had.

Any activities that help get this message across are a valuable part of education. After all; what else is education for except to learn about the world we inhabit, the species on it, how we relate to them and how to take up a responsible place among them.

Education is not just about maths and english and test passing and qualification- getting for a good job and lots of money as most see it, even though that may be part. Education is about becoming an educated person. And an educated person is one who has understanding and empathy, a conscience and sense of responsibility to the world in which they live, as well as a collection of facts and academic skills which support that.

First and foremost education is about people – and other species – learning to live together; why else would we need to be educated?

Far more important than an English, Science or Maths degree although that can contribute; the biggest contribution we as an educated species make, is the way in which we use our education to help us live in the world with the others that live here, from the biggest mammals, through the human race, past the birds, down to the smallest insect and beyond into the minutest of living organisms. And I haven’t even mentioned plant life within that, the ecology of which we all depend. This is stuff the kids need to know about!

So any awareness, like that raised by the Big Garden Bird Watch, is a valid part of that education. And a useful activity for any home educating family! See the links for more!

 

Advertisements

How can you home educate if you’re not a teacher?

This question comes up so often I thought it might be helpful to post this chapter from ‘A Home Education Notebook to encourage and inspire’ in answer.

As you probably know I did start my career in education in the classroom, but the trouble with folks knowing I was once a teacher is that, firstly, it makes them inclined to think that it was easy for me because I’d know what I should be doing. Laughable! And secondly, it makes people think that teaching is required for you to Home Educate and that if you’re not teachers you couldn’t educate anyone.

Absolutely not true!

During my time as a teacher I learnt how to do teacherish things by copying other teachers doing teacherish things, which were not always very nurturing or inspiring things, but what they had to do in order to get through what they had to teach and keep control over some children who were challenging. I’m not proud to admit that I wielded my power over the children too, pushed them towards expected outcomes en masse as I was expected to do. I had no regard for whether it was right or not, or for the individuals within that mass.

I’m ashamed of that now – but like many young green teachers I wasn’t experienced enough to know how else to do it.

Gradually, as I gained in confidence as a person rather than a pawn in an institution, I began to have severe misgivings about what was done to children in schools under the guise of educating them. I realised that much of what children have to do in schools is not worthwhile, not helpful, not healthy even, so it perhaps contributed to my confidence when home schooling, in feeling that our children were better off out of school than in it.

Other than that, much of what I learned when I was teaching I had to unlearn when I started to Home Educate.

Much of my thinking was governed by other teachers at that time. Teachers who believed that children had to be taught in order to learn anything – not true. Teachers who believed that unpleasant forms of coercion (like sarcasm for example) were acceptable ways to get children to learn – they’re not. Teachers who believed that some children were ‘no-hopers’ and un-teachable – very sad. Teachers who had been forced to believe that endless writing, testing, homework, academic exercises and exams were what constituted an education. It isn’t.

There were brilliant teachers too – you will have come across them. But sadly it’s often the less pleasant ones that have the biggest effect. And it was that type of ingrained thinking I had to unlearn, as none of it need apply to Home Education. It is very hard to break bad habits, but I had some serious habits to unlearn.

For to Home Educate successfully I did not need a ‘teacherish’ relationship with my children.

In order to learn children just need a caring, interested, mature mentor. But that person doesn’t have to be a teacher. Teachers aren’t required for parents to successfully Home Educate.

Having been a teacher did not make it any easier for me to know what I should be doing as a Home Educator, except that perhaps I’d already started to think about education generally. But once released from systemised schooling the education you can give your children is open to an enormous range of options. And many of those decisions are as much to do with parenting as teaching and I came from the same starting point as any other parent on that one – I knew zilch!

The things I saw when I was teaching in schools made me start to question. And I continued to question throughout. Should we learn this or shall we learn that? What’s an interesting way to learn it? How best can my children learn? What are their needs now and what suits them best?

These are the questions all Home Educators need to ask whether they are teachers or not. And the answers really have no relevance to what teachers are doing in schools unless you want them to. They have no relevance to whether you are a teacher or not. The answers will not come any easier if you’re a ‘trained’ teacher because all the answers are personal to your child. Just like education should be.

So not being a teacher doesn’t make you less well equipped to Home Educate than being one.

The thing that makes you well equipped to educate your children is to do with caring rather than to do with teaching. It is being a parent who’s prepared to learn a little too.

If we think back to when our children are small, pre-school, we manage to teach them – or rather to develop in them – an enormous number of skills. They learn with our help to walk, talk, use the loo, feed themselves, dress themselves, probably use the computer too…all manner of things. We show them the things around them, we show them how to do things, and we show them the wider world. We are already giving them information and showing them how to apply it.

Home Educating your child is nothing more than an extension of that.

As a parent you have already started encouraging your child to develop skills and acquire knowledge. That’s all education is. Education is the continuing process of encouraging your child to learn about the world, how they fit into it, how to relate to people, as you no doubt already have done.

There is no reason why you cannot go on doing that without any ‘teaching training’ at all. The skills and knowledge children need may become a little more challenging, sophisticated, complicated, but then, parenting is already challenging and you managed it so far. You can manage Home Educating. You can always find help with the bits you can’t. You can learn together – it sets a great example. Nearly everything – including support, is only a bit of research or networking away.

Teachers and teaching in the way that we normally understand them are not necessary to Home Educate. In fact may eventually become redundant in the mainstream, who knows!

All you need to be is a caring, interested, questioning, engaged parent, who is also willing to learn, which is probably what you already are, or you wouldn’t be reading this.

And what a great example you will be setting as such!

(Read the full chapter – and more tips and ideas – in the book. It’s on offer at Eyrie Press.)

 

Boldly into January

I have to admit I find post-christmas hard. I guess most people do. It’s the lengthy dark hours, the cold, the end of christmas holidays and sparkle that does it. Not to mention work and routine to be confronted.

But a fresh year’s start can also be a time for hope, for review, for new beginnings. Time for looking beyond these first difficult bits. To take stock and consider changes.

Everything always grows and changes – people too!

It was a good time to review family life and our home education I found. Investigate what’s working, acknowledge what’s not! Winkle out all those rancid ideas I might be clinging onto that had become out of date.

It’s often forgotten that no pattern, strategy or plan will work forever. The snag with kids is you find something that works, think you’ve cracked it, then everything changes again. Of course it does; they’re changing all the time. We have to renew along with them. And the education we facilitate has to change too.

In fact, that’s another aspect of education often overlooked; learning stuff is all about change really. About embracing change. Change of ideas, of mind, of knowledge. You have to change in order to learn something; you have to be prepared to slough off old ideas in order to accept new ones. Some people find that really hard. Thankfully the kids are more readily able to do that to accommodate the things they need to learn, adults perhaps less so. But we all need to embrace new ways of working, new skills and new understanding. And a new year is a great time to do so.

We all learn, grow, change constantly if you think about it – the kids, the mums and dads, the grandparents, the ambience in the home. It’s all in a constant state of flux. And that’s how it should be. We don’t need to cling onto old stuff, old routines, old habits, that no longer serve us well. We need to allow change. We need to notice it’s necessary! I often didn’t and created conflict in the house for that simple reason. So learn by my mistakes!

And as you venture boldly into January with your family, embrace the change of the year, acknowledge the children’s need to grow and change as they learn, and don’t be afraid of bold new thoughts!

There are all sorts of ways to live a family life. And all sorts of ways for kids to learn. We just have to remain open to things and prepared to go with the flow and flux and bold enough to implement what we believe in.

‘Let Them Play’

A little while ago fellow home educator Alice Griffin posted a piece about her home education journey and how their learning can be integrated into everything they do – even sewing. She’s writing on a new topic this time which I’m sure you’ll find inspiring. It’s that difficult feeling we all experience about allowing the kids to learn through play.

Here’s what she says about it in her own words:

“Honestly, let her play, she will learn so much” was the advice offered during my first ever interaction with a home-educating parent “But what about reading and writing?” I questioned, “well, I know my daughter is ready for numbers now as when we take the goats out she says ‘look Mummy, two plus two is four’” said this woman to me about her daughter, who at that point was seven.

Had I been drinking a cup of tea I probably would have spat it out and in my mind all I could think was ‘whaatttt?’ Every traditional thing I had ever known (including being taught to read, write and do sums at age 4) was blown out of the water in that conversation on a Portuguese hillside and I was left wondering, but what does ‘they learn so much through play’ actually mean?

Now, nine years on, it tickles me that I am now that person.

It’s not that I harbour negativity towards my own traditional upbringing, it’s just that I now know there are other ways to learn and my daughter, now not far off 12, is proof of that. Everything she has achieved she has come to with no forcing and with our utmost respect for letting her play and thus, has moved naturally onto next steps.

But it wasn’t always that way… at age 5 when we were new to home-ed and believed we must recreate school, we tried hard to get her to do maths. She would cry and scream and despite buying numerous pretty workbooks, it would always end in nothing but frustration, tears and fallings out. At 6 we decided it was time to ride a bicycle and duly removed the stabilisers, encouraging her to take to her bike and peddle. She stomped her feet, we shouted and agonised before, exasperated we decided that we would put the stabilisers back on and leave it. In fact… during that conversation we pretty much decided to leave off forcing anything, and we have never looked back.

At 8 she came to us – came to us! – asking to do maths. It seems that once she recognised the benefit of being able to work out what you could afford to buy at the shop when with friends, maths became infinitely more appealing. It was around the same time that, when playing in a friend’s garden, she turned to me and said: “you know, I think I’m ready to ride a bike now” and promptly hopped on her friend’s bike and cycled off, leaving me open-mouthed and laughing. All that pressure and heartache and there she was, cycling around as if she’d always done it.

Earlier this year she announced she was going to write a book. Even in my now fairly relaxed knowledge of her coming to things when it’s the right time, I’d been secretly worrying about when she might start writing and spelling a bit more. “I just feel I want to write now so I’m going to just put the words down and then you can correct them” and together, we have watched her love for the written word blossom. Right now it’s requests for science workbooks and Portuguese courses so that she can work towards her current dream of being a wildlife biologist studying wolves… and that’s after years of letting her run around with a tail on just being a wolf.

So, if I could say something to myself seven years ago it would be, ‘let her play, shower her with love and support, surround her with books and look at everything as a learning opportunity… and please don’t worry’ and if your child works in a different way (which they will!), I would say ‘trust your instinct and know that when you spend time with your children and really know them, you will see the route to take’ and if, on that journey, you meet a home-educating parent who extols the value of learning through play; please listen… and try to not spit out your tea.

Alice Griffin is a home-educating mum and writer living between the UK and open road.

www.alicegriffin.co.uk

www.facebook.com/alicegriffinwrites

 

3 important things you need to home educate

I was thinking what the three most important things you need in order to home educate and I kept coming up with the same answer:

Respect. Respect. Respect.

Respect came up in my last blog. I was talking about successful home schooling being dependent on succesful relationships with your kids and they in turn are based on having respect for one another. It’s essential.

Here’s what I mean:

Respect within relationships.  

This Australian kids’ helpline site has some excellent simple ideas about respect; click on the pic

Your learning life is going to be based upon the respect you share with your children. and I say share because it’s a two way thing. You have to command it as well as demonstrate it. Both are important. Commanding respect doesn’t mean anything authoritarian – as some people interpret it. It just means showing care and consideration and asking that it be shown to you in return. It means being honest and truthful, owning up sometimes, keeping strong and consistent with your values even if it’s hard – your strength will become their strength, your consideration will become theirs. It means having integrity, thinking things through, making decisions. making mistakes. Putting them right. Accepting and working with imperfections and things less than ideal. Finding solutions. Respecting that’s how life is. That’s how love is. Love requires respect for it to be true.

Respect for the learner

Every learner is different – but sometimes we neglect to act as if they are and try and make them all the same. Every child has varied learning preferences, learning strengths and weaknesses, learning needs. We can’t ride roughshod over individualities and try to ignore them or make kids fit. That’s not respecting them. Equally we have to show them how to get through the challenging or tedious bits, why that’s valid, be patient with their imperfections, give them room and time to grow. Some kids learn well in school – we need to respect that too. But some can’t – some need alternatives. Some develop later than othes – allow them time for that. Some can be still while they learn – some can’t. They need to wriggle, run, play, experiment and learn in practical ways without having to read and write. Respect they’ll be able to do what’s necessary and right for them as they grow. Respect means having to back off sometimes and be uncomfortable with the way your learner needs to learn. Trust – and wait. Respect that education is a long term thing and you have to acknowledge it might not happen in the way you want it to.

Respect for yourself

You won’t know everything! But that doesn’t mean you cannot have respect for yourself and what you do as you flounder about, doubting and worrying at times. Give yourself a break! You will be able to learn about the home educating life, you will be able to find a way forward that works for you, and whatever doesn’t you can change it. However, respect that although you are a home educating parent you are not a ‘dog’s body’. Respect that you have needs too which equally deserve to be addressed along with your learner’s needs. Respect that you will get it wrong sometimes – we all do – we can put it right. Have as much consideration and compassion for yourself and your needs as you do for others.

So I guess those are the three most important things. You’ll probably differ – do say in the comments below.

But consider this; every time you demonstrate respect within your home schooling life you are teaching your children how to build respect too, how to respect others, how to have self respect. Through that respect youngsters come to learn about living, working (and what it takes to get work), how to understand themselves, others, society, the planet, how they can make their own contribution to the interchange this is and how worthy that is.

Which is, after all, an itegral part of becoming an educated person.

Learning is for living – not just for targets

We’re a such quick-fix target-driven nation now. Both in work and education.

Everything is about results – measurable results. A quantifiable outcome a god-like goal, out-valuing the process of getting there, whatever it costs you. Tangible results overtaking what education is supposed to be for; building a warm, happy successful life.

Some of the stuff on the English curriculum provides a good example of what I mean, with its dissection of English into obscure parts you can’t even pronounce let alone remember or apply to the context of our daily living. Some of the maths can be the same. Small kids are expected to understand complicated mathematical concepts at a younger and younger age, concepts that are not only irrelevant to their young lives, but which make them feel like failures, as they grapple to comprehend them. So schools can put ticks on sheets and politicians can pretend this system is working.

Education is as long term a process as growing a tree!

It’s tragic. And it doesn’t have to be that way, as many homeschoolers prove, as they leave the more complex and academic stuff for when the children are older yet still achieve mainstream outcomes such as qualifications.

What’s even more tragic is that the target-led approach to learning puts many kids off. Too many rigid targets means learning becomes for targets only not for the experience of enhancing a life – which is really what education is for. And it suggests that learning success is dependent on falling into these measurable compartments, at specific times, which it isn’t.

Becoming educated is instead a long, ongoing, experiential process that continues beyond specific learning outcomes and can be the result of many diverse approaches that do not need to be measured to be successful.

I look at it in a similar way to growing things.

To grow a tree you’d need to provide the right environment for it to grow in; the right soil, the right place, the right climate. The right climate needs to be conducive to its ongoing growth. It needs the right nourishment, compost and care, and the right support to hold it up to start with, not to be overshadowed by too many others.

These are not outcomes, just un-measurable on-going processes that guide the tree towards flowering and healthy growth. But measuring them along the way will not make them grow taller or bloom brighter. Neither will it make them grow faster.

So now apply that to education.

For a child to learn to their potential they need the right environment; a base that provides for their need for love, security, calm, safety, encouragement. A place for them to flourish in their own time.

They need the right climate that will change as their needs change and grow; different things at different times, sometimes quiet and solitude, sometimes buzz, sometimes inspiring others, sometimes comfort, a feeling of belonging, acceptance of their differences as all kids are different. They need a climate where they do not feel afraid of failure or being trampled by others.

Then they need the right nourishment. Not only in the form of healthy food, but other types of nourishment which comes in the form of stimulation and exercise for their minds, bodies and spirits. A wealth of experiences and opportunities to discover who they are and what they can do.

And they need the right support from others they can trust, peers and adults, friends and family. Support that’s able to adapt to their changing requirements. Warm loving encouragement that shows them ways to have a go, to discover their potential, develop new skills and work with any weaknesses.

These conditions will compost into an education that can be applied to living a life – a real life, not just a set of outcomes only useful in one instance of time.

Targets and outcomes are often only valid within a given period of time.

But education is for life, to build an understanding of learning as a life-long attitude and opportunity to enhance and improve that you can never fail at simply because, if what you’re doing is not working for you, you can change it.

This is the beauty of home education. Through home educating you can ditch the obsession with targets and short term outcomes and educate towards an ongoing learning life that can diversify approaches until the right one is found. One that is free from the idea of ‘failure’. One that instead perpetuates the idea that learning is for living – not just for targets!

For more notes on this see my ‘Home Education Notebook’ available from Eyrie Press where it’s on offer and Amazon.

5 Tips for new home educators

Experimentation, trial & error, play are all valid ways to learn

It’s that time of year when the numbers of home schoolers suddenly shoots up!

And it’s a rise made up of all sorts of parents; those who never intend to start their child at school, through those who’ve done it a while and don’t want to ‘go back’ after the summer, right to those with teenagers who really need something different now.

Making the decision is often the hard part. Then it’s exciting and inspiring to get launched into it. However you sometimes get a rebound where you think; ‘Heck! What now?’

So I thought I’d post five quick tips to bump you over that bit.

  1. Relax! Be confident in the fact home education works for thousands – it can work for you. But it takes a long time and is a long slow process – obvious but oft forgot! And it takes a long adjustment period if you’ve come at it from schooling. We forever read that a relaxed and mindful approach to life creates just as much success as a tense and driven one – now is the time to really practise that. Your child’s education will be better for it. So take some time to find the best way forward; time to research, time to connect with others, time for trial and error until you find a way that works for you. You have the time – because you won’t be wasting it on tedious school processes where the kids are learning nothing!
  2. Enjoy it. Learning IS enjoyable, although that’s difficult to tell in the system sometimes. A learning life is enjoyable. Don’t think that if you’re enjoying it then it’s not ‘proper’ learning! And happiness is important for learning and achieving anyway. Unhappy kids don’t reach their true potential. (There’s a post here about that)
  3. Connect with others. Take some time to find other home educators and visit groups, read or see what others are doing. Learn from them. There’s a huge range of approaches and groups and it may take time to find one that works for you. And for goodness sake don’t worry about the ‘socialisation’ issue – there isn’t one! (As I point out in this post)
  4. Diversify your learning approaches – and your thinking. Consider the difference between schooling and educating – there is one! Learning can happen at any time, any venue, in or out, in a multitude of different ways from the way it’s done in school. (Read this post) It does not have to take place inside, at a desk or table, in silence, sitting still, or through academic exercises. Children learn best when they are inspired through observation, experimentation, trial and error, going out, experiencing things practically as much as possible. So you’re going to have to diversify your thinking if you’re stuck thinking about classroom ways of learning only!
  5. Get out lots. Play lots. Talk lots. Whatever kids are doing they are learning – they just can’t help it. You can formalise it later, just enjoy it for now. Wherever kids are there are opportunities for learning. whether it’s spotting ants on the pavement, discussing the dinner, playing with others in the swimming pool, journeying, holidaying, meeting others. Play is essential for learning too. Use libraries, sports halls, museums, galleries, garden centres, shops, parks, playgrounds, nature reserves, sites of specific interest – natural – historic – scientific. Learning out and about stays with kids far better than sat inside.

This may also be a useful reminder for all of you who’ve been home educating a while now. If you’re anything like me you can get all up-tight about it and forget these simple ideas. So enjoy your home education too.

Whatever stage you’re at, may you have as much fun home educating as we did.