Tag Archive | education

Don’t weed your children’s learning!

I find the need to be outside quite hard to accommodate this time of the year. I have to sometimes push myself out in dreary or battering weather to get some daily doses of the tonic everyone needs for indoor spirits. Without it I know I go stir crazy! So I tog up most days and get a daily walk.

Summer memories

Summer memories

It’s easy in the summer. All coffee breaks can be out there. And there’s plenty of light for walking after work hours. And weekends inviting me to garden, even if the format of that is just chopping back the weeds.

I’m not a great gardener. I find it a bit confusing. I’m puzzled by the desire to nurture some plants whilst killing others. Buttercups, daisies and dandelions spring to mind – what a delightful burst of yellow they are. I have great trouble classing them as weeds and pulling them up or worse still spraying them. There’s a hierarchy of plants I just don’t buy in to.

I have the same dilemma with education. There’s a hierarchy that’s evolved around academia which puts some important subjects and skills, like creative ones for example, in the ‘weeds’ category. And I think this is more to do with snobbery than value.

I admit, there are some skills that are invaluable for kids to learn – reading springs to mind. And it is essential for living in our society to have a practical comprehension of language, numbers, scientific concepts and technology. We want to communicate, budget and cook for example and need to skills and knowledge to do so.

But outside those practical applications why should our children’s learning be controlled by what others deem as essential subject matter? Why should the Romans be more important than Evolution. Or non-essential Grammar be more important than creating a story? Or the skill of long division be more important than the skill of inventing for example?

When we home educate we can really examine the curriculum. And this leads to examining the questions; what’s really important to know? And why is it important to know it?

Within the educational system, most of the why has evolved, not from value to the child or developing adulthood, but for the convenience of measuring them and perpetuation of the system – and the politics surrounding it. A truer reason for what we ask our children to learn is that it’s relevant to the child now as well as their lifelong development – what curriculum would cater for that?

What is more important when we’re guiding our children’s learning is not so much what they know, but cultivating a desire to know, to find out, to continue to learn. In fact, that desire is already there when they’re born – our job is to continue to nurture it rather than chop it off like some do dandelions.

We can look up knowledge and facts at any time, these days. Yet we’re constrained by the idea of curriculum that started way back when compulsory education did, when knowledge wasn’t available to all. Far better to consider a curriculum of skills, experiences and a cultivated mind that can be inventive, creative, and which nurtures the desire to develop continually, rather than weeding out the child’s true interests whilst enslaved to subjects for some extrinsic curriculum and killing their desire in the process.

Or maybe not use a curriculum at all and see where your learning life takes you!

‘Unruly’ and what to do about it.

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There’s times for running and times for not!

Been for a haircut. And the inevitable ‘chat’ with the hairdresser, which I freely admit I’m not very good at. But she cut the girls’ hair when we were home educating, without judgement on what we were doing, and always asks after them.

She’s a lovely young woman who has some fairly powerful views, many of them on parenting, even though she’s not a parent herself. She sees some fairly ‘unruly’ children in the hairdressers whose parents drag them in, dump them in the chair, then leave the responsibility of them to her whilst they pop to the shops!

Even without being a parent she’s aware that this is not ideal parenting. And she’s also aware that many parents should be far more engaged with their kids than they are, then maybe they wouldn’t be ‘unruly’.

The inverted comments illustrate the fact that I’m not sure what else to call them. We know what I mean; not doing as they’re asked or knowing the point of what grown-ups ask, exploring things when it’s not appropriate, inability to understand what’s appropriate behaviour in the circumstances, none of which is a crime but needs guidance.

We all see this all of the time. I saw a child running up and down in a cafe the other day where stressed waitresses were busily carrying out plates of hot food and having to dodge round her. Parents didn’t say a thing – couldn’t even see the problem and thought their child was just expressing important needs, clearly oblivious to whether this was appropriate or not – and to the fact others’ have needs too.

Children’s understanding of what’s appropriate or not evolves in the first instance from interaction with their parents in a variety of situations, where they’ve been talked to, guided, shown, had explained, engaged with. Interaction teaches kids what appropriate behaviour is.

I know some parents feel that a child should be allowed to express themselves in any way they want without that being inhibited. That we should never suppress them in any way.

But I look at it this way, we want our children to grow up to be liked. But we all need an understanding of the fact we are not the only ones in this world, that others need consideration too, that we have to grow and develop within those considerations even whilst being as true to ourselves as possible. We are social animals and social animals operate within boundaries of respect – for others, for self. Suppression is not the point. Guidance and explanation is. If they’re asked not to play with the stuff on the hairdresser’s trolley there will be reasons!

Neglecting to teach them the understanding of this simple truth is neglecting the parental duty of guidance and personal education.

Parenting is difficult. It tests us all the time. The children test us, test boundaries and want to break rules – course they do, they’re inquisitive little beings. Mine certainly did – and that brings us challenges. But the simple antidote to some of those challenges, like how to stop them rummaging in the hairdresser’s trolley of intriguing bits and pieces, is to build a good relationship with the child at every opportunity, one that is based on respectful interaction, dialogue and guidance as to what to do when – and when not! Dialogue and conversation is an effective learning tool. And the time we devote to nurturing that is an important part of our parenting.

It’s part of education too. And even this young woman, without any children of her own, could see that as the role of a parent more clearly than the parents themselves!

Helping your Home Ed household

After the post I did recently about the not-so-little girls who starred in the book ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ I had several super messages. It seems people are reassured to know these grown-up home educators turned out okay and thereby find comfort in knowing there’s a good chance that theirs will be the same one day.

It is hard to believe, I know. I remember having that feeling myself. We’re so all-consumed by the parenting stage we’re at, by the age our children are, it’s impossible to see anything other.

We can never see the future, obviously, but equally it seems downright scary to conceive being parents of adults. Or to imagine things other than how they are; kids as grown ups being one of them.

However, I know now that you don’t really need to worry about this. All you need to do is concern yourself with your children now, with their needs now, with making their learning life a good one, now. Just making ordinary life good now; for ordinary life is where learning happens as well as ‘doing educational’ stuff. And it creates a life that helps them grow and develop in ways you can’t imagine now – trust me – it does.

It’s not something you can control or force. I did try forcing, misguided soul that I was, but whenever I set about ‘doing’ education I failed disastrously, we often fell out disastrously. And we probably learned nothing useful, except not to do it that way perhaps.

It was these silly mistakes that could cause the most wobbles – wobbles that didn’t need to happen really. And the lessons I learned from them are what I hoped to pass on through my latest book; ‘A Home Education Notebook‘. Because anything to appease those wobbles and keep us strong has to help a Home Ed household. Our strength is the children’s strength.

A peep inside A Home Education Notebook

A peep inside A Home Education Notebook

Home educating is a long term job. Parenting is a long job, come to that. To endure that we have to find and practice anything we can to give us the confidence to keep going. And I found it helped to:

  • keep contact with those who support you and minimise contact with those who don’t
  • never measure yourself with school benchmarks
  • share your concerns, but only with those you trust
  • join the Home Ed networks like those on Facebook (e.g home education uk) where you’ll find reassuring lists of what grown-up home educated kids are doing now
  • have faith in your intelligence and your children’s intelligence, it’ll get you there!

You won’t have made the decision to Home Ed lightly – don’t let others sway you from your intelligent considerations of it. Your considered intelligence will see you through long term – trust it.

Take care to focus on what you’re doing now, that’s where you’ll find your confidence, then you’ll also find that the long term will take care of itself!

And it’s your lovely feedback which gives me confidence too – thank you.

Will harmony and peace be well and truly Trumped?

A picture for peace and harmony

A picture for peace and harmony

It takes much tolerance to live together. Anyone who is living with others knows that. Family life is a bit like negotiating sea changes; sometimes it’s smooth, sometimes it’s choppy.

All parents know this. Couples know this. Families know this. In fact, my single friends know this too, as they listen to my dilemmas and family challenges and count their single blessings.

But I know my own blessings come family shaped. And when my two delightful family shapes are home again, as they recently have been, my blessings are rich despite the inevitable choppy bits.

These take some negotiating. There’s times I’m trying to calm rippled feelings and no doubt times I’m causing them! Mostly though, they are just ripples of laughter that permeate the house.

This is what family life – in fact all life with others – is about; storms, ripples and rainbows as we accommodate living together, whether that’s on a family scale, a friend and colleague scale, or population scale. In order for us all to live together we have to tolerate each others differences, learn to give and take, build understanding of and empathy for those with different ideas from our own, educate ourselves to be compassionate, curious, considerate and kind. Above all practice respect for one another.

So I rather fear for peoples when we have someone in charge of a major populace who lacks most of those characteristics, instead who openly practices racism, sexism, bigotry and a disrespectful style of communicating with others he fails to understand.

Is that the family climate Trump grew up in? And is it the kind of global togetherness he endorses?

I have to not concern myself too much with it; it’s too depressing a thought.

What I can concern myself with instead is the practices which I believe perpetuate love, respect and togetherness, as we all can. Right from our family doorsteps, throughout all our relationships, both online and in the flesh, so that these actions spread out from us and make our world a more loving and inclusive place.

I believe that always starts at home. With our relationships at home. It certainly should be part of our parenting and education.

Learning to love and live well together is the most important part of our human existence. You can look up any knowledge on Google – you can only learn about love and peace through experience. It should be the most important part of family development, education and politics – but I don’t bear to think about that right now.

I’ll just continue to go on loving and respecting my precious family shapes so they can in turn pass that on around.

Brain training is better done by playing a recorder

I’m often on about the need for diversity in children’s lives. I do hope not too many of them were sat in front of a game all half term.

Of course, gaming is a relevant part of children’s lives now, but like with everything, they need diversity of experience in both their recreational lives and education.

The education system continues to put the squeeze on that diversity, particularly within the Arts subjects, despite the fact that numerous studies show the benefits both to education and mental and personal development that these subjects have.

Music probably does something unique. It stimulates the brain in a very powerful way, because of our emotional connection with it.’ Illustration: Sophie Wolfson

Music probably does something unique. It stimulates the brain in a very powerful way, because of our emotional connection with it.’ Illustration: Sophie Wolfson

I spotted a report lately that talks about the benefits of musical training in children – although perhaps ‘training’ is a bit of a worrying word. It would sit more comfortably to think that kids picked up a musical instrument and wanted to play it of their own volition and, more importantly, were given the opportunity to do so. But that opportunity is dwindling in schools despite the fact that playing a musical instrument helps children’s all round learning skills and educational development.

The article in the Guardian tells how learning to play an instrument is one of the most effective ways of developing brain function that there is, far exceeding the benefits of Brain Training Games, despite their claims. Learning an instrument can have a good effect on memory and language development which endorses the fact that we should not see subjects in isolation but as collectively good for the intellect and personal development.

It’s not about being good at one particular subject. It’s about embracing many subjects which will impact on children’s all round progress. Diversity of subjects supports diversity of brain function.

Other creative subjects are equally important, (see my post on creative intelligence here) as is sport and physical activity, also increasingly sidelined in schools for the more measurable subjects. Read this one on art in education.  And another on the influence of physical activity on brain function. Of course, these measurable subjects feed league tables which makes them more popular than those which don’t!

It is criminal that schools are forced to lose these subjects to the demands of a narrowing curriculum

Another of the beauties of home education is that you can give the kids the diversity of experiences they need for healthy all round development.

Gaming, sports, arts, or learning an instrument need as much attention as the subjects you’d consider more academic, as they have an equal role to play in children’s development.

Our own too come to that – so I’d better get off Instagram and get the guitar out!

What’s it really like to home educate?

In case there’s a few parents out there wondering what it would be like to home educate instead of restarting school after half term, here’s a post from when ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ was published which will tell you!

It’s collected some super reviews on Amazon since then so if you’re one of the wonderful parents who left one a massive THANK YOU! If you haven’t and you’d like to I’d be eternally grateful, as I am to all my readers.

For those who haven’t read it yet, it’s basically the story of an ordinary family.

Make a good present for someone!

Make a good present for someone!

Yes – ordinary. Not extreme, or alternative, academic or religious because we’re not necessarily any of those things. We just felt that we could no longer watch our kids becoming unhappy, unwell, and switched off to the learning they’d always been so keen on before they went to school. So we decided to withdraw them from the system and do something else; home educate. And we built an extraordinary happiness doing it.

It wasn’t all roses – course not! No family life is. But it wasn’t as hard as you might think either. What it was – or turned out to be – was a continued joy and something we never regretted for one single instant.

If the idea of home schooling freaks you out this will help you realise it doesn’t need to. Because, if you think about it, you will have already been home educating your child. You just weren’t aware of it. But you will have been teaching your child no amount of stuff pre-school; how to walk and talk, use tools and the toilet! Get dressed and use technology. All sorts of things.

It’s just that this little family returned to that full time, educating through every day life, through all the little dramas all families go through, from indecision, bereavement and moving house, to what to cook for tea and how to think about the future. It all has the potential for learning – even going to the loo!

So, if you’ve ever wondered what a home school family life was like, this will give you a peep. A peep at the learning and laughter and love all rolled into one, that home educating turned out to be.

Read an exert or two on the MY BOOKS page.

And for more tips and insight into the home educating life see my newest book; ‘A Home Education Notebook to encourage and inspire’

Are you neglecting part of your child’s education?

We love our kids. We lavish care and attention on them, buy them treats, take them places, see to their education and welfare. That’s our responsibility as parents.

So if we’re taking that responsibility seriously, why then is obesity becoming an epidemic?

I know that’s a sensitive and contentious question. No one wants to point the blame at anyone. Parents have enough of that.

But I look at it this way; we would consider it total neglect if we did not educate our kids in the skills of reading and maths for example. Yet we don’t see it as neglect when we fail to educate them in the skills of maintaining a healthy weight, and teach them through our own demonstration.

I’m raising this issue after watching this shocking report on Inside Out East about Type 2 Diabetes and how, in many cases, it leads to surgery which could have been preventable. It’s here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b07zcmx3/inside-out-east-24102016

It’s a subject that has had much coverage around the news to raise awareness of this growing problem. (Read more here)

I also live in one of the poorer areas like those in the programme where there are almost more people who are obese than otherwise, and I can see the size of the problem, if you’ll forgive the pun.

When you are surrounded by people who are all similar to you, you begin to see this as the norm; it becomes a cultural norm, you begin to think it doesn’t matter as everyone seems to be overweight – it must be okay. And it’s all too easy to over indulge when fast food, buns, cakes, chips and chocolate leap out and tempt you at every turn. I should know; I have a dangerously sweet tooth that’s very difficult to manage!

But it does matter and when it comes to causing harm to our kids no one can take the responsibility other than ourselves as parents and mentors. I agree that companies cash in on our weaknesses. But they can only do that if we comply; the ultimate responsibility lies with us.

According to the report people are having amputations that could have been prevented by taking some of that responsibility. Is that what we’re leading our kids towards too?

What’s it worth to develop a lifestyle that avoids such dire consequences?

Kids do what we do. Whilst they’re kids we have an opportunity to lay down some fundamental habits that set them up for life. You cannot control them forever. But you can give them a good start – you have, in this case, to practice what you preach. Be what you want them to become – that’s the most influential way. Words don’t work as well as actions.

The habits you cultivate in your family now are the ones that will impact on your children the most, whilst they are children. After that it’s up to them.

But habits of lifestyle and habits of learning are equally important subjects of an education. And are surely all part of the duty we share to facilitate a future for our kids that is happy, healthy and wise.