It’s not that I don’t like these programmes and I know they’re terribly popular. It’s just that we can’t seem to have something entertaining and enlightening without it being a competition.
And one of the worst things of all about them is that pregnant, sensationalist pause before the winner is announced, as if the judges enjoy the power they’re holding everyone ransome to. As if that is a good example of a way of behaving, which we’re demonstrating to all the young watchers, when it isn’t!
I know it’s just telly – (is that a good enough excuse?) – but I think it’s bad for us, individually and as a society.
But I think it’s especially bad the way this competitive culture invades education too, when we promote education as competitive and as the only way of being good at something or doing well.
Education is surely about the development of each individual and the only way competition serves us well in the educational field is to use it to compete with oneself in order to better oneself, regardless of beating others.
However, the really truly destructive thing about it is that competition is the opposite of cooperation. And it’s cooperation that makes the best societies; cooperation we should be educating for.
To develop cooperative societies we need education to build knowledge and understanding, which will more importantly build the skills of empathy in the children; the ability to understand another’s point of view and have some empathy towards what others are feeling and going through. This is the best way of using education to improve the world, rather than seeing education as something to be top at. Whenever competition is involved there are always losers. There don’t have to be losers in education.
That’s why I love home education so much. It is truly a way of educating for the betterment of the self, there is no top or bottom, winners or losers involved – or there doesn’t have to be. And it offers the chance for a happier education.
Why is this important? Because it benefits everyone. There’s a post about it here and how that happens.
Meanwhile I’ve been reading a beautiful book called ‘The Little Book of Lykke’ by Meik Wiking of ‘The Little Book of Hygge’ fame. It has a lovely story of an age old game and turning it into a chance to learn about empathy, rather than doing others down.
It’s musical chairs; I’m sure you’re familiar with it, there being one too many children for the amount of chairs so someone is going to lose out when the music stops and they have to find a seat. The game described in the book has one less chair than the amount of children but instead of being ‘out’ two children have to fit on one chair. During the second round another chair is taken away, so two pairs of children have to sit on a chair together which requires cooperation. As the chairs get less, more and more kids have to pile on less and less chairs which requires more and more cooperation and is far more fun than getting people ‘out’! And it teaches kids how to look out for others, a far better lesson than just thinking of oneself.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if education was more like that game of musical chairs, was more about helping each other along, than being the top at the expense of others?
When I come to think of it, I reckon that’s how most home educating families operate. Or is that cooperate!
Following on from last week’s post I thought it might be helpful to talk about this.
It’s such a huge question. How does anyone learn? How do you learn now you’re a parent?
Discounting any specific academic courses you may be undertaking I think you’ll agree your learning otherwise, (say about your new technology, or looking up how to fix, cook, parent), has little resemblance to the way schools do it – you probably do most of it online and by asking around too. Yet it will be just as effective.
School learning structures are the way they are because the learning there has to be measured – not because they’re the best way to do it!
However, learning doesn’t have to be measured in order to be successful. And for most home educators it isn’t measured – it’s just experienced. Families just encourage, prompt, provide resources and engage with what their learner wants to learn, along with essential skills to do so, and find ways to facilitate it, practically, physically, mentally and most importantly interestingly!
They do it through a multitude of ways; online, out and about, through meetings and sharing learning with others, in the local community, museums, galleries, sports and play centres, libraries, workshops, visits to various sites, nature reserves and places of interest, all so the learning experience is as first hand as possible, along with practice of academic skills and study at times.
But it’s very hard to get your head round those unfamiliar approaches that home educating families take to their learning. So I’ve written a whole chapter about it in my guide to home education; ‘Learning Without School Home Education’ which may help you get to grips with it. (For more details scroll down the ‘My Books’ page above) If you haven’t got a copy and prefer not to buy, you can request that your library do so, then others will be able to access it too.
The chapter looks at both a traditional view and a broader view of how children learn, what they need in order to do so, how they learn without teaching from everyday experiences including play, and then goes on to look at different approaches families use in more detail, the pros and cons, along with some suggestions on how to choose an approach that’s right for you. The chapter also talks about motivation and about children having charge of their own learning which may be a really radical idea for some, but is still doable and effective.
Learning and educating are such a personal experience – although schools tend to generalise it – every learner is different and everyone’s circumstances are different. But despite these diverse and idiosyncratic approaches which families take to their home education the young people all seem to end up in the same place; intelligent, articulate, socially skilled, and mostly with a portfolio of qualifications in line with their school contemporaries.
Don’t be daunted by an unfamiliar approach to learning that’s so different from the traditional. Traditions always need challenging to see if they’re still worth hanging onto, although I guess you know that already or you wouldn’t be challenging the tradition of schooling! By opening your mind about how children learn you will be able to give your youngsters a much more pro-active and enjoyable experience of learning that will set them up for life.
When we were home educating I often got asked the question, by people unfamiliar with home schooling and the variety of approaches to learning; ‘Do you sit the children down at the table at nine in the morning until three in the afternoon?’
That is the only vision some have about the way education and learning works, so it was a common one.
The trouble with this, if you’re asked it regularly, is it makes you think that perhaps you should be!
Doing ‘school at home’ or an impression of it, is something that many home educating parents can become anxious about. The system leads us to think that children have to be coerced to learn, that they’ll only learn if sitting still at a desk, that they have to learn certain things at certain times in order to succeed, that they have to be in a ‘classroom’ environment or similar, that they need teachers to learn, that there is no other way of learning except this schoolised way.
In reality none of this is true. And in most schools that’s not the reality either but some people are stuck with that age-old vision of classroom learning.
Neither is it the reality of home educating, as many experienced parents will tell you.
Children do not need to be coerced – they’re actually fascinated to learn – if they haven’t been put off as schooling sometimes does. They don’t have to be sitting, still, indoors, or be taught, learning can happen naturally without any of these structures, with encouragement and support from an engaged adult, and sometimes even without that.
So don’t fret about doing ‘school at home’. Instead place your focus on your children and how they learn best, what you feel they should achieve both in skills and knowledge, and then think about the multitude of ways there are to accomplish that – the more pro active the better.
For example, take reading. Schools tend to practice a very structured approach to reading, using a graded scheme of books, that children are meant to stick to. But this isn’t the only way to learn to read. Children can learn to read just as effectively through incidental reading, through being read to and enjoying books, through picking up on the reading that others are doing, by deciphering the reading all around them, through all sorts of materials; comics, posters, online, gaming, etc, even by attempting much more difficult texts than we’d probably recommend. This incidental and unstructured approach can be just as effective as a schemed approach which risks taking away the children’s enjoyment of books. The most important aspect of learning to read is to keep the children’s love of books alive along with their desire to interpret them.
Using workbooks is another example. Workbooks can be a useful tool to help you keep to a certain pathway of subject matter and skills practice. They can also be extremely dull in that they are second hand, academic practice rather than a first hand stimulating experience. For example it’s much more exciting for a child to be cutting up the pizza, cake, sharing stuff out, as first-hand fraction practice before they get to the computation of it in a workbook. Far more exciting to be experiencing science than filling in sentences about it. Finding interesting ways to tackle subjects and skills practice keeps the learner engaged – keeps the learning going. And is far more effective in that it’s more likely to be retained.
Using a curriculum is another aspect of ‘school at home’ that some parents worry about. Whether they should be following one or not.
Any curriculum is simple a tool, a tool to support learners in reaching certain subject objectives and it is simply that. It is not a guarantee of an education. It can be useful; it’s a useful way of covering subject matter, particularly if you want to stick to that which is covered in schools and use the National Curriculum. But it is not essential. It’s not an education in itself. You cannot follow a curriculum right through and then proclaim the child is educated. For if you think about it, that’s what schools do and there are far too many children come out of school with an uneducated mind. And lacking personal skills. But then you have to think about what an educated mind is! (An interesting view on that here)
Education is far more than a course, although a course helps you reach certain objectives and can be useful as such. But it’s important to think out for yourself what education is, (some thoughts here) and what schooling does, and most important of all what you want for your child and what approach will mean that they reach those objectives – many of which may be personal as much as academic, like confidence for instance. Keeping them engaged with learning by providing varied, stimulating experiences is probably more likely to do so than doing ‘school at home’.
There’s a detailed chapter on how home educated children learn in my book ‘Learning Without School’ (See the My Books page for more) But one of the best ways to find confidence and develop your own approaches is to be in contact with the home educating community, either online or through meet ups, listen to the experiences around you and do what works for you, ‘school at home’ or not!
When Susan Walklate first came across home education she thought it was “an odd thing to do” believing that school was a natural course of events.
But when her son became introverted and stressed at school, and discovering that his needs were not going to be met, it became the right thing to do for them. Fast forward twenty odd years and she decided to write a book about their pathway, along with four other families doing the same, so people had a better understanding of this successful alternative to school and more importantly what followed.
I posted a blog about her book ‘Radical home Education’ a little while ago. Now I’ve asked Susan to talk about it personally and this is what she told me:
Tell us a little about you and your son.
My school experience was okay and I was reasonably successful. I went to teacher training college, then worked in chemistry laboratories. When I was 23 I decided to work with horses. This evolved over time to running a livery yard and riding school; I then bought my own land and set up Gable End Farm which developed into various businesses. Simon is my only child and was brought up with animals, at home and at the stables.
What drove you to home educate?
From being a happy baby and contented toddler, Simon became quiet and increasingly introverted after starting school. It wasn’t immediately obvious, as it happens over time and the changes are not noticeable on a daily basis. When he was 6 a friend commented on how clingy he had become. The school system was failing him as he wasn’t learning to read and write as quickly as they thought he should. He was on the special needs register, but the SENCO suggested that it wasn’t because he couldn’t do it, but that he couldn’t see the point; which ultimately proved to be the truth. By the time he was 8/9 he was stressy at home and quiet at school. He was being picked on by the class teacher and bullied by the other children. He had shut down and just got on with it as he didn’t think he had a choice. I spent about one year proactively trying to work with the school. Just before his 10th birthday we watched a programme on Channel 4 about home education. The next day Simon came to me and said that he didn’t want to go to school anymore. From the TV programme he had realised that he did have a choice. He never went to school again.
What kind of responses did you have from those around you?
While Simon was still at school I asked numerous people/friends about their school experience and, if it was bad, would they have preferred not to go to school, be home educated. The overwhelming answer was that children should go to school regardless. I think I might have home educated sooner if I’d had a more positive response. Once we decided to home educate and I told my parents, they were very supportive and offered help. Simon’s other grandparents thought that Simon would only end up on the dole. Simon’s father was concerned that Simon would not get any qualifications if he didn’t go to school. My response was that Simon would not get any qualifications if he did go to school.
How did you approach your education at home?
I knew that if I had sat Simon at a table with a piece of paper and a pencil he might have well been at school, as that was his stress. We took each day as it came and did child-led activities. I followed a child-centred autonomous learning process, which basically means that if he showed an interest in something we pursued it, if he didn’t we didn’t. I bought box games from charity shops that involved words and strategy. He helped with the animals and we discussed lots of things that involved language, arithmetic and lots of other things. We joined up with other home educating families for activities like swimming, ice skating, etc. Each family brought their interests to the group. The main activity that took over a lot of Simon’s time was the Robotics team that entered the First Lego League International competitions. He was part of this team for 3 years, from about 14 to 16. Simon did no formal work toward any qualifications while being home educated. He went to college at 16 and did all of his formal qualifications in the following 3 years. English and maths Skills for Life (GCSE equivalent); GCSE photography; A level fashion design and textiles; BTech in software development and web design (2 A Level equivalent); business studies course. Our home education life worked well for us. Each day was different. I think my self employed life enabled us to embrace the unstructured form of it.
What is your son is doing now?
Simon has helped with the animals all his life. He now takes a part share in the responsibility of running the farm. He has set up his own business as a freelance gardener and plans to expand it into employing others. He also aims to set up a portfolio of property.
What drove you to write the book?
I wrote ‘Radical Home Education’ because home education has a bad image and attracts bad press. Both Simon and I find it frustrating that no-one is telling the stories about the now-grown-up, successful home educated people. It was not something I had planned to do until we watched the Channel 4 programme in early 2019, which was very negative. I decided it was time to tell the true stories of home education through to successful adulthood, with four other families. My aim is to give encouragement and support to other would-be home educators.
What are you up to post-home educating?
My life has always been about taking each day as it comes and living the way I want to, which is how home education fitted into our lives and my life has just continued on.
Simon has always said that he would home educate his own children when he has some.
Since writing the book I have become more thoughtful about HE and I am considering being more proactive to promote HE.
What are your thoughts on the current education system?
It is broken, too prescriptive, too rigid. It does not allow for the differences in learning styles and development. I am increasingly concerned by the number of people asking for help and advice re school. I feel overwhelmed by the number of children being failed by the system; being bullied; demonstrating stress and depression; developing ADHD, etc. Parents appear to be very concerned about how their child will learn; be taught the ‘appropriate’ work; take exams; where can they find tutors; afford it. This I find sad, as society has been indoctrinated into believing that formal education is the only route to a successful education and a successful life. I do not know the answer, but I feel that the increase in knife crime, suicide, truancy, depression is in part due to the pressure our education system and society puts on children and families to succeed.
What would you say to other families wanting to home educate?
Do it! It is the best thing that we did. (Simon said don’t send them to school!)
I have a close relationship and understanding with my son. I believe that I, as his mother, am responsible for him and his well-being. I grew up with a good relationship with my parents and feel that it is important to support ones children as much as possible. I hope that I am his role model. I believe the best learning is through example.
I’ve been having a clear out and have come across something funny in my old files from our home educating days.
It wasn’t this report (totally useless) that the County sent to us after their visit regarding our provision for Charley. It was the one I sent them in return!
But here’s theirs for a start:
Our part of Lincolnshire wasn’t too bad in terms of the home education monitoring officers that visited. Not like those which some families experienced. However, I hadn’t intended to tolerate any disrespect coming into our home – neither to me or the children. I also made it clear that I would, in turn, be sending them a report about how they behaved!
They thought I was joking.
But I actually went and did it, setting it out in a formal style like theirs, in the hope that the authority would learn something and behave accordingly and the ill mannered and irreverent visits that some families suffer would gradually be a thing of the past. And it was this report that I came across today – made me laugh, so I thought I’d share it! Here it is:
I would love to know what was said when they read it – probably not repeatable!
Now I’m thinking that if all home schooling parents did the same; sent their own report on how visiting officers behaved, we might go some way to eradicating the offensive and disrespectful way some are treated by the authorities that visit their homes. And help to assert that home educating is a valuable, workable and successful approach to children’s education and that most of us doing it are utterly committed. And are not to be messed with!
Feel free to copy or use my version/idea in any way you wish. And stick together with others to give you support and confidence in dealing with the LA if you need to.
There’s a splendid new book on home education by home educator Susan Walklate to add to your library! I read it at the end of last year, shortly after it was published, and am hoping to post an interview with the author here soon. Meanwhile, let me tell you a little about it.
It is compelling reading; I was fascinated by the stories of the home school lives and how they progressed. Most particularly because most blogs and forums tend to feature families who are currently home educating rather than those who have been through it and are ‘coming out the other side’ for want of a better phrase. So it’s always reassuring and uplifting to read about the lives of older children who were home educated and what they move on to. This book illustrates just that and how it happens.
The second part of it looks more closely at details like; how to work it out at home or out and about, places to go and use, the diversity of activities it’s possible to get involved in, how academic pursuits are integrated into it all and how the incidental is just as valid as the planned. It moves on through various approaches and includes the subject of exams, finally looking at interesting learning styles and tools.
I know the idea of ‘radical’ home education seems a daunting to prospect to some families, particularly those new to home schooling, but don’t be put off by that. This is an inspiring read which, although short, will be very reassuring to those families who are still on their home educating journey, whatever approach you’re taking.
I was already aware that eating meat is having a detrimental impact on the health of the planet.
But I was totally uneducated as to why or the scale of it until I saw this programme: ‘Meat: A Threat To Our Planet?’ on BBC1.
This amazing and disturbing programme has put me right and probably should be part of everyone’s education. Well worth a watch.
We know our eating habits have a huge impact on our individual health. But perhaps we’ve all been less aware how those habits impact on our planetary health and our CHILDREN’S FUTURE because of it.
Encouraging the youngsters to learn about and know themselves should be part of any education and understanding where their food comes from and how it affects them is part of this. This is the only way they – and you – can make informed choices about enjoying food and nutrition in ways that are SUSTAINABLE and of least threat to the planet, as all of our lifestyle habits need to be. So help them learn what this really means.
After all, it is the children who will be living on it when we are gone. So it is nothing less than our duty to establish habits and understanding as families now, that protect the planet from growing threats. There cannot surely be any part of education more important than how to sustain life; theirs, all others, and the planet on which they all depend.
We’re all making important changes, like reducing our use of plastic for example, but this is a change that receives less coverage and the programme helps us see other valuable changes we can make to help keep the planet going for our children.