Tag Archive | family life

Educate away from Stuff

As we move further away from the memories of Lockdown and staying away from crowded places and shops I realise how little exposure I’ve had over the past year to overwhelming amounts of ‘stuff’!

I recently visited a garden centre looking for a plant present for a dear friend. Thought this would be a nicer gift to give than another bit of useless rubbish for the sake of giving to someone who has everything they need anyway.

To get to the delightful growing things I have to walk through walls and stands full of ‘stuff’, much of it Christmas related already and completely unrelated to gardens and gardening and growing things and probably destined eventually for landfill.

Shelves and shelves of unnecessary stuff just for the sake of buying

Having been locked away from regular contact with it all, as we have on and off over the past eighteen months, it seemed overwhelmingly vulgar. I couldn’t help feeling the weight of it bearing down on the planet; the weight of manufacture, pollution, the use of precious resources, for what? Probably for a moment’s pleasure soon diminished as we search for the next big fix.

I think our addiction to shop, and to have, is probably to do with our primeval hunter-gatherer need. A very real need in our psyche, but maybe one we should try and fulfil in other ways.

Our children are raised in a consumerist culture. They are educated in a consumerist culture. They are taught to be consumers. The system aims them towards it as sure as an arrow to a target, with promises of high qualifications equalling high incomes equalling high consumption (although that bit is never admitted openly) which is promoted as leading inevitably to high happiness. This is the overall message. Adverts on the telly promote stuff as equalling happiness, and push parents towards believing that the more stuff they buy their kids the better parent they are, the more educated their kids will be, and the more this indicates they love them.

Total balderdash!

The more stuff we buy isn’t any more guarantee of a better education than having the right shoes! And we should examine carefully all the insidious ways in which we educate our kids to be consumers and instead educate them to be the opposite; to ask ‘do I really need this?’

For the bottom line is; the more stuff you buy the more you destroy the planet upon which your kids, your grandkids, your great grandkids, depend. How does that future destruction show you love them?

What is needed instead is to teach them that life can be happy, successful, fulfilling without huge amounts of stuff. Teach them them to be resourceful. Teach them to reuse, repurpose, recycle. Teach them to look for ways to do things differently or do without – not such a bad thing – not deprivation as it is held up to be. Instead, it’s a way of avoiding the environmental deprivation we’re inflicting on the planet.

We need to change our thinking, particularly if we’re addictive shoppers. Readdress our own habits as an example to our children. And as an added bonus, appreciate that all this challenging thinking increases the intelligence and skills and mental agility of children far more than buying an answer will!

I came away with a beautiful plant that will no doubt be returned to the earth at some point. I’m under no illusion at the dubious pollutive practices (and the inevitable plastic pot) that got it to this point, but at least the plant itself will not add to the plastic mountain of unnecessary ‘homestyle’ trash I could have bought. Perhaps I’d just do better rethinking birthdays and gifts, rethinking any type of shopping or consuming!

Learning and education never end do they! Rethinking our consumerist habits must become a valuable part of that.

Cycles of life

It’s time yet again to say another sad goodbye to a dear pet. These emotional partings seem to come around so quickly and you’re never really prepared even though you know their time is drawing near. It doesn’t seem two minutes since I was writing about a little furry hollow on a cushion, empty of cat, and here we are again with our faithful dog, years later, who came to us as a puppy at the time that blog was written. Read it here.

Charley snuggled up to her when she first came to us 15 years ago

The only difference really is that the children are grown and you’re telling adults rather than little ones about this ending of life that’s so hard to impart.

It isn’t any easier because they’re older. In fact the younger the children are the more accepting they are of the event, not yet perhaps understanding the consequence of grief if they’ve never experienced it before.

“Why did the cat die?” their young cousin asked on one such occasion. We adults looked at each other not knowing the answer.

“It was her time,” was the only answer I could think of in the moment. But it was an answer that was completely accepted.

Children are very stoic. Especially if they haven’t experienced the sentimentality and drama that some parents attach to the event of a passing. Sadness is inevitable. But my feeling has always been that we must face up to it, allow our sadness, be true and honest about death, and rather than wallow in histrionics give the children the tools they need to deal with their emotions surrounding it. They do that by our example.

I know its difficult to hold yourself together sometimes. I wrote about this in my book ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ when the children’s only grandparent passed away. You can only do the best you can.

Being home educated there is no distraction of school to ease a moment here and there when you’re grieving but, as ever, it’s an opportunity for learning! We had some searing conversations, searingly honest and scientific, that reassured the children that this is what happens and that we do all endure it and recover from loss in time. It’s so important I think to be carefully honest and not use generalisations like ‘they’ve gone to sleep’, for example which might terrify a child into not sleeping themselves. Answer their questions and give them the information they can process according to their age and understanding. (There are some ideas to help here on the Young Minds website).

Meanwhile my grown youngsters are of an age now where they can show empathy for me and the sad hole in the house they’re no longer in, as well as receive it themselves and I find many of my sayings from the past years when we’ve been dealing with loss, coming full circle and being quoted back to me!

One of them is that the horrible gap that is left by the passing of something or someone loved will eventually be filled up again.

Seasons always come and go, such is the season of sadness.

Comforting thoughts.

Considering home schooling instead of back to school?

With the return to school looming on the horizon I thought it would be a good time to repost this blog which asks;

What do you really know about home education?

The reason I ask is because there are still so many stories surrounding it. Including less than accurate stuff in the media often based around untrue myths. Add on to that the debacle of school-at-home style of home schooling that was forced onto parents during the pandemic and the concept of real home education has become quite blurred.

So I thought I’d put a few ideas here in case you were considering this approach to your child’s education in preference to school.

Firstly, did you know that there are thousands and thousands of families now successfully and happily home educating?

And did you know that most home schooled children go on to make a success of their education, career, life in the same way school children do, despite not having been in school for all those years?

Did you know that home educating doesn’t have to cost the earth and parents on very low incomes, including single parents, still manage to do it? Throwing money at a child does not make them educated!

Did you know that home educating children make friends, have friends, build excellent social skills, have a vibrant social life and socialise just as others do?

Did you know that there is a huge wealth of learning resources, lessons, curriculum, courses, printouts, both free and otherwise, available on line? You can literally find out anything.

Did you know that families never home educate in isolation (unless they choose to) and that there are broad networks of others to connect to that share resources, concerns, to learn from and find support via social media and other organisations which also lead to physical meet-ups and groups to get together with? Many of whom will probably be getting together for their annual ‘not back to school’ picnic right now!

Did you know that as much home schooling takes place outside the home as in it and your community is full of resources to facilitate it? You’re not at home day after day, on your own, not knowing what or how to learn.

Did you know that contrary to what many parents may worry about, being with the children all the time tends to improve their family relationships?

Did you know that parents are free to choose whatever approach to education suits their child’s needs? This could involve following a curriculum – or not, following age specific targets and objectives – or not, adopting either a structured or completely autonomous approach, or proceeding with complete flexibility according to your individual’s interests and the way they work best. And that parents find that home educating gives them the opportunity to successfully overcome any difficulties children encountered with learning in a school setting.

Did you know that it is completely legal, in fact it is the legal responsibility of the parents to see that their children are receiving an education suitable to their needs (see the law here), it’s just that most parents hand that over to schools? (I wonder how many schools get away with breaking the law in failing to provide that for some children?)

Did you know that most home educating families never use testing in their approach, yet home schooled children successfully go on to achieve a good educational standard, go on to further and higher education, including exams, or work without having done a test at all, and cope competently within those more formal settings? Testing does not make an education.

And finally consider this; home educating families are not weird or different or unable to participate in mainstream life, just because they don’t do mainstream school. They are just the same as any other family wanting to do the best for their children and that best may take a myriad of different forms yet all the home educated youngsters I’ve known have progressed into the working world just the same as their school contemporaries and once there you wouldn’t know they hadn’t been to school.

So if you want to know more, take a look at my books, Google some of the home educating blogs and groups (Facebook’s a good place to start) and connect with others to find out how it happens. And you can read our own story in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ which will give you an idea of a home educating life and hopefully make you warm and giggly!

A reminder of THE most important subject

A short pictorial thought this time to remind you, whilst you can get out and about during the holidays, what’s THE most important of all subjects for your child to learn about. You’ll see why when you read the original post here.

Do let me know your thoughts!

What do you do in the holidays?

Since it’s that time of year again I thought I’d bring up the subject of holidays and term times, with this story from ‘A Home Education Notebook‘.

Even after Home Educating for a while I could still be influenced by them even though I knew that education didn’t have anything to do with term times at all.

They were usually brought to my attention by the children – and the fact that most other families are controlled by them.

“Mu-um?”

Even this one word could make me feel I was about to be manipulated, probably by something I may not like.

“Ye-es?” I’d reply suspiciously.

“Ruth’s breaking up from school today; it’s end of term.”

“Oh, is it?” I’d feign ignorance knowing full well what was coming.

“Can we break up too?” She’d give a big sheepish grin.

I’d give the usual answer. “Well, I wasn’t aware we had anything to break up from.”

Another grin. “But can we?”

I’d pause, keeping the suspense and the pretence going a little longer. Then; “Yea, go on then – let’s.”

And she’d bounce off to go and do the same things she would be doing anyway, ‘breaking up’ or not.

We’d sometimes go through this little ritual when the schools finished their terms and my children knew their school friends were available for play during the day.

It was partly that, but also because our children did spend some time in school earlier on in their lives and, although freed from it, they still wanted the sense of celebration and release their mates were feeling.

And why not? We all need a change and a celebration. A release from that constant feeling that we perhaps should be doing something more educational than just having fun. It took quite a while for us to get over that idiocy and realise that education just went on all the time, term times, learn times, fun times and holidays.

We educated our children in a mostly autonomous way, with them deciding very much what they worked on but we’d still motivate them to be busy doing something. We’d encourage them to try new things, make and invent, play actively, be engaged, to read, we’d go out, meet others, whatever.

But it was good for all of us, adults and children in the family, to have a break from all that motivation. To switch off the driving force for a while and stop looking for activities or projects that would stimulate, and searching the internet for active learning sites.

We could drift. Do things that merely took our fancy and I could stop looking for an educational slant.

So, on one ‘end-of-term’ occasion, I thought I’d observe what the kids did instead.

The eldest took a heap of books, magazines, sketch book and pens out into the garden, spread herself out on a rug and designed all day, researching her books for inspiration, studying other people’s work and incorporating and adapting their ideas into her own work.

The youngest decided to build a den out there. This required searching out suitable materials within her environment, putting them together and solving the problem of making the structure strong and upright in discussion with me or whoever else was available. Then she spent the rest of the day in creative play, making up stories, reading to her toys, imaginative ideas passing through her faster than hot biscuits passed through her mouth.

In other words the children, ‘on holiday’, covered these skills; reading, research, writing and use of language, drawing and hand eye coordination skills, problem solving, estimating, analysis, use of materials, investigation, construction, exploration, interpretation, discussion, development of imagination and ideas and creativity. All those skills that teachers had to force reluctant children to practice in schools, usually in a boringly academic and repetitive manner, because the children had been removed from the natural opportunity to practice them anyway.

My children had been busy with all this simply because their minds were freed up from the confines of ‘doing education’, a trap we sometimes find ourselves falling into how ever autonomous we try and be.

It was a good reminder that we don’t always have to be forcing everything in order to further a child’s education. And just because there are not set schedules, timetables, term times or regulated practice, it does not mean there will be no learning taking place.

So, just in case you’re wondering what to do in the holidays, just back off and see what happens. Encourage them to develop their own ideas to relieve the ‘I’m bored’ syndrome, and keep these five simple daily practices in mind:

  • Be physically active at some point everyday.
  • Get outside, in green spaces if you can but playgrounds and streets are just as good.
  • Observe the wonderful world around you – on your doorstep – by giving time to looking deeply and mindfully.
  • Plan, shop for, prepare and cook meals or bake together.
  • Encourage them in their own projects beyond the usual screen based ones!

All will develop important life skills without you even realising – trust me. And even better, they will enhance your well being too – an important skill for all.

What ever projects they want to work on they will always be learning

You’d never imagine…

I’ve just been to my daughter’s wedding! Can you imagine?

Yes – that little girl in the stories in ‘A Home Education Notebook’ and ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ who made things and created things and had ideas beyond those I’d ever taught her.

Can you imagine your littlies getting to that point? Or doing any of the everyday life things that everyone ends up doing like working, driving, living and earning independently beyond home educating, having their own place, getting out into a world other than ours?

I couldn’t. Still can’t believe it really. It’s a scenario unimaginable to all parents whether the kids are in school or not.

However, it’s perhaps more concerning for parents who home educate, who are not following a well trodden and tested path, who inevitably worry whether not being in school will inhibit the building of skills the youngsters need as well as their education, like life skills, workplace skills, social skills particularly.

This is to reassure you that of course they do.

And there, at the only-a-covid-little restricted, DIY, jolly, happy wedding were a wonderful group of people whose background education didn’t come into it at all. Also hard to imagine when you’re so wrapped up in the details throughout those home ed years. People whose warm loving connections were far deeper than the relevance of home schooled or not home schooled. Irrelevant as it is in life anyway really.

Hard to imagine that all this home ed intensity you may be going through now will become so diluted as to not matter a jot.

And what was even better was that for the most part nobody looked at their phones. An even bigger delight. We were busy sharing the occasion face to face.

It seems sad that staring at these soulless gadgets has become a strategy for avoiding looking at and engaging with others which can be less comfortable, especially if they are strangers. Phones have become a technological dummy to suck on, to escape the challenge of social skills. Ironic isn’t it, that ‘socialisation’ – or lack of it – is thrown up as a down side of home educating, when no one ever mentions the damage to the development of social skills created by staring at a phone rather than engaging with the person next to you; the behaviour of so many. I would say phones are a bigger threat to building social skills than home educating!

It was a glorious day. A delight to enjoy the happiness after so many thwarted plans, to wallow in the warm loving connections with family and friends that had nothing to do with school or not. Even though I continued to be freaked out wondering how my two lovelies ever got to this point when I’m still remembering life in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ as if it were yesterday.

How did they ever get to be so old, to be so grown up?

It’s a good job I’m not ageing at the same rate, I always say!

The two little girls from ‘A Funny Kind of Education’

Creating an environment in which kids can learn

Have you heard the saying; ‘you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink’?

Simple when you think about the concept behind it, and absolutely true. Whatever you think something or someone else needs you cannot control outcomes!

And whenever I think about schooling and learning and education this saying comes straight to mind.

I used to think about it a lot when I actually worked in schools, before home education came into my life all those years ago. For it is absolutely true that you can lead a kid to school but you cannot make them learn. I saw the evidence!

And I thought about it loads when we were home educating because it is the same when educating out of school: You cannot force a child to learn (as I posted about last year here).

You cannot force a child to learn just facilitate the right environment for their innate desire to learn to flourish

What you can do is facilitate the right environment for them to do so. But that environment is less about the physical and more about the emotional one. That’s one of the big failings in many school environments, the emotional climate is too strained for some children to thrive well. And that matters, I think.

The physical environment is important obviously. Children need shelter, to be fed, and be warm and relatively comfortable. Some need quiet, others need hubbub, some company, some isolation, we’re all different. And various accessories naturally facilitate and support the learning process; access to internet, materials and equipment, books, paper etc.

But the emotional environment is as equally important as any of this, goes hand in hand with achievement and success. And it’s us who provide that by creating the right emotional space in which a child can thrive.

We do this simply by the way we are. By the way we behave, the way we support and encourage the children, by our own positive attitude to learning – for learning anything – and the value we place on personal development which is what education is, of course.

In this emotional space we provide the children are never undermined, patronised or bullied. They are respected and listened to and included in discussions and decisions about what happens to them. They feel safe and loved. They can express their views about their own learning – and feel that this learning is theirs, is for them, and is not something imposed upon them by others, which they have a duty to endure. If they feel that, their learning will not last life-long.

We should never betray them.

This all happens through the way we and others relate to them. It comes through our conversations; one of the best ways to show they’re respected is by the way we listen to them, as well as asking that they listen to others.

Conversations are such a valuable part of the learning process, as valuable as writing and studying, however since there’s not usually anything tangible to show after a conversation, parents often underrate them. But children glean so much from being able to converse, ask questions, delve deeper, be curious in an environment where they are not put down. Conversations also develop language, social and emotional skills, understanding and mental agility, and promote maturity. You may not have got anything down during a day learning at home, but through conversation and engaging with your child they will have learnt much more than you think!

You may not be able to tick sheets now, but you will see the proof when they are older and seem to know so much that you don’t remember teaching them

That’s the point – you didn’t! You lead them towards education and allowed them to drink of it for themselves. That’s the best you can do!

Missing out

There’s been much talk of ‘missing out’ with the children out of school during lockdown. And for most a sense of relief now that they’re back.

I cringed at the use of that terminology at the time because it’s extremely unhelpful and, after all, just a point of view!

Yes – the kids might have missed out on the school type of stuff, but we could change attitudes and look at what the children might have gained instead; new experiences for one – always educational.

Let’s face it, for the kids, school is as much about mates as anything. And we’ve all been missing our mates – still are in the way we’d normally be meeting, during these final days (hopefully) of covid restrictions. We’re missing those real life, in the same space, meetings like mad. Even if we can’t hug the person just to see them for real is wonderful. The kids want the same, course they do, that’s what they’ve really been missing out on.

The home educators are still missing out on that, until their larger groups can get together again. However, most of their educational activities at home have been going on just the same.

The irony is that many home educating parents, when they get together for all the educational, social and experiential activities that make up a part of a home school day, consider that it’s the school kids who are ‘missing out’ by being in school. Especially when the home school kids are enjoying things like field trips, museum visits, use of historical, geographical and environmental sites and resources first hand which facilitate their learning at a range of different venues, and which support the smaller amount of sit down, formal academic learning they do. Home educators’ view is that the school kids miss out on this wealth of learning inspiration when they’re stuck in an institution nine till three, day after day.

The school children also miss out on the opportunity to forge real life relationships, instead of school life relationships which aren’t always so healthy being structured and inhibited chronologically and institutionally by the limitations schools inevitable construct.

Whereas there are so many families home educating now it’s so easy, thanks to social networking, to be in touch. Home school kids have as vibrant a social life and interactive learning life as they choose. They don’t ‘miss out’ on that either.

It depends what you’re used to, life wise and learning wise.

We all have different lives, priorities and things that are important to us. Sometimes though we fail to see the reality, so immersed are we in institutional thinking. (Great book here called ‘Unsafe thinking’ by Jonah Sachs – full of ideas)

When we make one choice we obviously miss out on another. And we always have decisions to make about choices. There are misses and gains with any choice. The scare mongering in the media about school kids ‘missing out’ was all about academic measurement and failed to acknowledge the gains that could be had by a change in experience which is always educational and developmental. However since it can’t be tested these gains tend to be disregarded – but they will have happened.

Anyway, despite all that, I wish all the children and their families, who’ve have been pleased to get back to a school routine, health and happiness.

And I wish all home educating families the same, whether you’re well established or just starting out. And hope that the restrictions continue to lift so you can get back to your normal learning life.

You will have missed it!

Learning for Life – not for schools

So the school children have gone back to the classroom. But the home educators still can’t go out in the way they’re used to. That must be tough, as I know that home education is a misnomer – learning takes place out of it as much as in!

I guess it’s tough though for many school parents worrying about their children becoming infected with coronavirus, although the general overall vibe I’m sensing is one of relief!

School closures certainly turned a very different spotlight on home education, genuine home education that is, not school-at-home (blog here) which is what most have been doing and is completely different. I wonder if home educators will gain more respect and understanding of what they do after every parent has endured this time without the facility of school.

What is certain is that our culture of family life, of economy and working and how that operates with regard to parenting, is for the most part dependent on the school system being there to child mind, let alone educate. Whether that justifies what goes on in there is questionable!

The recent pandemic has raised many questions about education, economy, family life, culture – everything really. As parents are more involved in what their kids are learning many are coming face to face with the absurdity of some of the stuff on the curriculum. As this article in Prospect illustrates

School learning has become so far removed from learning about real life, living and surviving challenges like the pandemic – all important things we really need to know – it’s no wonder people are asking of their child’s work; ‘what’s the point of this?’

There must be better things to learn?

There certainly are, and maybe this is why so many parents now are turning to home education. Because most are beginning to see that home education is life education. Unlike school education. And true education is not the consumption of facts and tricks and strategies for the sole purpose of measurement and qualification, even though qualification may be part of it. True education needs to be about enabling people to live a life that is useful, fulfilling and non harming.

Education is after all about learning to understand life, how it works, how you work in it, how you find a place, make a place, make a social life, integrate, communicate, care, and do all this without harm to others or the environment.

Home educators seem to understand that to facilitate this requires a far more organic and life-led approach for most than the systematic drilling of useless grammar and mathematical processes that none of us will ever use again but is more likely to put us off the subjects if forced upon us too early.

This is what most enlightened parents have spotted about their children’s school-at-home stuff, that much of it is like that; beyond the kids, useless in a real world outside school, not even interesting!

A school world and school academics are not a true reflection of the world beyond it.

That’s why learning as a home schooler takes place as much out of the home as in it. And why most home educated youngsters graduate from it with a broad intelligence and range of skills, including those associated with socialisation, that equips them so well for real life.

They understand that learning is not just for schools! That it is a life-long tool and they can take it on themselves, any time, any age.

I’m wondering how many school youngsters understand that.

Your three best things

‘So, what’s your three best things today?’ my daughter asked me recently. I think I was being a moany pants at the time!

During these locked down times it’s easy to do. If you’re anything like me you’re beginning to run out of positivity.

So I took a look at the BBCs facility ‘HEADROOM’, have you discovered it yet? It’s well worth a visit, especially the essential everyday tips. And something you could do along with the children. It’s all education after all.

There are many helpful and interesting articles, watches, and inspiring reminders. I say reminders because often we already know what’s recommended to keep our mental well being on track, but sometimes we either forget, are too worn down to do them, or are just lethargic from the struggle and cannot face it. These gentle and encouraging prompts are a real help in pushing through the inertia of this long pandemic haul.

One of the recommendations is to acknowledge that we are facing a struggle, we are sick and fed up and anxious and tired, and that we are failing to maintain our well being at times. To admit, own up, share; because by doing that we can then move on to finding ways to help ourselves and consequently our children.

Sharing conversations with our children about how we’re coping – or not coping at times – and giving them the room to share theirs, will be a help to all. But then we must take the conversation forward towards ideas on what we can do about it. Like, for example, making a plan for things to do daily; the exercise, learning, walk, outdoor time, cooking, making, whatever. Like making space for each other and respecting we probably all need time apart. Like making on-line dates to connect with others. Focus on the things you can do, rather than those you cannot, at the moment.

These are all pro-active strategies that will not only help to maintain resilience at this time, but will also provide your children with tools to help them do the same for themselves one day when things get tough as they inevitably do at times through life, pandemic or not. Such a valuable part of their life’s education, don’t you think!

One of the simplest strategies I picked up when I looked at some of the videos was a reminder to keep with the positives. I know that’s wise and healthy. And I’m usually a positive person. But I, like many no doubt, had buried the practice under moans and missing of the things I couldn’t do, rather than thinking about those I could (as my daughter spotted).

one of my three best things

To help you continue to weather the current hardships the pandemic has thrust upon us, keep a mindset and attitude in the house that allows a quick moan if need be, but which is counteracted by what you’re going to do next. And at the end of the day a quick recount of your three best things of the day. I managed to find some after she got the discussion going, pulling us back to our usual up-beat mentality.

I like to think I helped her develop her positivity, even if I’d lost sight of mine for the moment!

You can do the same for yours.