Tag Archive | home schooling

Not scary, honest!

I’m not scary honest! But judging by a couple of messages I’ve received lately some people obviously think I am. They’ve said that they needed to ‘pluck up courage’ to message me, usually to tell me how much they’ve enjoyed the books and blog! How lucky am I?

It’s so wonderful to have your messages of support. Please do go on plucking up courage!

I feel enormously grateful and humbled by people letting me know how I’ve helped or given them a giggle. Writing is such a shot in the dark, for I’m only guessing what I think might help and could get it so horribly wrong.

So to know I’ve hit the mark on occasion for some people some of the time is extremely rewarding. That is of course what I do it for, as well as putting a crust on the table. My primary aim has always been to offer a bit of encouragement and support to others, especially those who feel alone in doing things differently. Remember – you’re not! But I know what it feels like!

I also know, having done it myself, that the thought of home educating – or doing anything off the beaten track – can appear to be scary along with the people doing it! I remember looking at long term home educating parents and feeling daunted by the thought of going up and speaking to them. They must be so clever, so wise and brave and confident.

As if!

Guess what? We’re no different to anyone else. We’re just as scared and daunted and confidence? – goodness, few have confidence. We just do it anyway, like all parents do as they muddle through trying to do the best for their child.

And another revelation; you’re not the only one plucking up courage. Writers have to do that too. We’re always scared that we’re going to be found out as terrible frauds, because after all, we’re just ordinary people like you, who don’t really know if we can write or not. We’re afraid we’re going to laughed at or ridiculed. And it’s enormously daunting exposing yourself to public criticism as you have to do to get your work out there.

But we just have to try and get over that, for there’s no good wanting to help people if they can’t access that help and it’s that desire to support or inspire others that pushes us on. Like all those wonderful bloggers who offer so much too.

I write basically in support of others; writing is just the medium I use to offer it!

So you see, I’m just as cowardly underneath – hardly scary at all!

Diversity and how it could transform education

002I recently read Ken Robinson’s book ‘The Element’ on finding your talents and passions. I was so uplifted by it.

One of the things I found so liberating was his explanation of why talents and passions are so important to the growth and perpetuation of the human race, not something that gets acknowledged in our education system! Especially with continuing cuts to arts subjects.

Most particularly dear to my heart is his chapter on education right at the end where he says how important it is for education to develop individuals rather than clone our children as if they were on a factory line, as he describes the educational system in America – it equally applies in the UK. It is through this individualism – through children finding their talents – that we will progress, both as a people and as a planet.

You’ll have to read it to fully understand his theories. But here’s a little taster from the final chapter that identifies why so many of the approaches home educating families use work so well simply because they pay attention to that individual development and thus escape the cloning he describes:

“….education puts relentless pressure on its students to conform. Schools…were created in the image of industrialism. In many ways they reflect the factory culture they were designed to support….Schools divide the curriculum into specialist segments: some teachers install math in the students, and others install history. They arrange the day into standard units of time, marked out by the ringing of bells, much like a factory announcing the beginning of the work day and the end of breaks. Students are educated in batches, according to age, as if the most important things they have in common was their date of manufacture. They are given standardised tests at set points and compared with each other before being sent out onto the market.

The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn’t need to be reformed – it needs to be transformed. The key to this transformation is not to standardise education but to personalise it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions…”

An insightful passage!

If only we could stop educating for standardisation and educate for diversity we would stand a chance of really transforming what goes on in schools and maybe lessen the increasing numbers of young people, parents and teachers who are completely disenchanted by what we still call education, but which amounts to little more than manufacturing.

Swinging along with the children

Half term brings a gaggle of buzzing children and families onto the streets, in the parks, the pool, the library and the shops. I love to see it. Love to see families swinging along together enjoying themselves. Those who are anyway.

There also seems to be a rash of parents who don’t seem to be enjoying it.

Although children and shopping don’t generally go together well, I still don’t like to hear the remark; ‘can’t wait for them to go back to school’. It’s like people don’t like to have their kids with them. These people make me wonder; why have children in the first place!

I suppose if your children are in school all day you might get out of the swing of doing things together. Not that this happened to us when ours were at school.

Then, when we were home educating, we had to get into the swing of doing the opposite. ; we had to practise not doing things together sometimes.

I was so into providing stimulating activities, of constant communication with the children, debating and hypothesising, coming up with ideas, I had to focus on doing the opposite and ignoring them at times.

Now, I would never normally advocate that parents ignore their children. I’m usually encouraging the opposite, especially when I see so many children who’ve been in school all the time trying to get the attention of a disinterested parent on their mobile phone chatting to someone else rather than the child at their side.

However, when you home school and are mostly together a lot you have to find ways of being separate, to have separate activities, to give the children time to direct and manage their own time rather than us always doing it for them. They need opportunities for their own pursuits, to make their own mistakes, to resolve their own problems, to interact, fall out and solve their own disputes, to work play and occupy themselves independently.

This is vital for developing independent maturity. And independence builds confidence.

Obviously we need to do this safely. And always in balance with other activities. But one mistake I made early on in our home educating life was to think I should always be in charge of providing stimulation, engaging and encouraging them to be busy, all the time.

Not only is this unrealistic – children need ‘down time’ as much as stimulation – but it also inhibits the development of other vital skills they will need to lead their own lives.

I see this in school children. Released from the control school has over their lives some are lost to know what to do without it. Many children also have their lives filled for them with out-of-school activities, play dates, workshops and courses organised by pushy and obsessive parents without consulting the children. So these children rarely have the chance to build the skills needed to organise themselves. To have a taste of leading their own life rather than being lead along a life someone else has mapped out for them.

As with everything, there needs to be balance and contrast in what we provide for our kids. Children need directed time and undirected time, they need engaged time and solo time, they need attentive parents and parents who’ll leave them be at times.

And this is true in all aspects of our parenting whether home educating or not.

Winter days; great for story telling!

National Story Telling Week

This week is National Story Telling week and it’s ignited in me a memory of my youngest balanced on the arm of her grandma’s easy chair by the fire telling stories (she couldn’t sit on her knee because the cat was on it!).

They did this a lot, just talked stories to one another, taking it in turns to add bits and produce ideas. It was an absolute delight to listen to. When I was allowed, mostly I got commanded, by my youngest, to go out the way, but I’d sneakily carry on listening.

It also reminds me of one of the biggest mistakes I made whilst we were home educating.

Listening to her story telling, her vivid imagination, the intonation and expression, I thought what a good idea it would be to get her writing stories at home. She’d love it.

What an idiot, I was!

When I suggested it her face dropped. She sat there looking totally miserable, blank page in front of her, pen unused, ideas vanished.

I encouraged. I cajoled. I suggested starts. I prompted memories of the brilliant story she’d been making up with grandma.

Nothing. The blankness went from her page to her face. Her imagination vacated her like she’d never had them in the first place. If I hadn’t heard it with my own ears I would have thought that she had a blank imagination too.

But I knew different. And luckily I spotted my stupid mistake; she loved making up stories – not writing them down.

Many children hate writing. Many adults do too. Trying to capture and clarify what’s in your head – often just in picture form – into the letters and symbols we use for language can be enough to switch people’s minds and ideas off completely.

I’ve seen it happen in children. I’ve also seen it happen to adults as old as I am, who’ve been writing all their life, yet who still find this transformation process hard.

I may have wanted her to practice her writing skills. But I didn’t want to ruin her inventiveness whilst doing so. I backed off.

Besides, far too much emphasis is put on being able to write, far too young. Having to continually write can even hamper the development of valuable language skills. And we shouldn’t confuse the two.

Children develop language skills by talking and listening, being read to and sharing books together, by continual use of the spoken word, as in story telling.

Formalising it into writing doesn’t need to happen until much later.

My youngest didn’t do much writing at home during the time we were home educating. Occasionally she did a bit, maybe filling in an eye-catching workbook she’d spotted whilst out. Sometimes, in order to practice, I’d suggest writing up some event or making a diary/scrapbook. (Outings are a good one for this as you can stick anything you’ve collected in the book too). We also made a variety of other books, pop-ups, mini-books, lists, games; just bits and pieces of writing that kept it going. Otherwise, the most writing she ever did was about half a small page at any one time. We did loads of other stuff instead.

However, when she went to college at 16 she managed easily, with a bit of formal tidying and guidance. And this is how it was for several of our home educating friends who went onto Uni without having done much formal writing earlier on.

Thought I’d tell you because I didn’t want you making the mistake I did of ruining something that, as well as being a valuable educational activity in its own right, gave her – and her gran – immense pleasure!

Don’t feel you have to be writing every day with your children whilst they’re learning at home. They don’t need it. Enjoy books and a good story telling instead!

Laying the foundations for education – Part 2

…continuing a two parter started in my last post about education, how you can influence your child’s learning from home and what you might be aiming for in the future…

Learning through play

Many parents underestimate the value of play, even though in our grown-up world we adults use play in order to learn about something.

For example we ‘play’ with our new mobile phones in order to get used to them and understand how they work. We ‘play’ with any new technology or gadget for the same reason. What we’re doing is learning through our real experiences of these things. And it is exactly the same for children.

Children like to ‘play’ at being grown-up. Especially games that involve role play like mums and dads, or hospitals, teachers and schools, shopping, going on ‘adventures’ (even if it’s just a den under the kitchen table or behind the sofa). It’s a kind of experimentation. And whilst they do it they are learning, practising skills, gaining experiences. This works particularly well if they can do an activity in a play way, alongside what you’re doing.

They can have their own tools and plants and ‘play’ at gardening. They can have their own bowls, cutlery, pans etc and wash up – or just stand there endlessly filling containers with water. This simple play activity teaches them a huge amount. For example they learn about capacity, about the properties of water, about the properties of the containers and how their size and shape governs their capacity in relation to other sizes and shapes. They learn about volume. They probably chat to themselves all the time developing language. They’ll be thinking and working out. They’ll be exploring, experimenting and building confidence. They’ll be developing hand eye coordination and the skills needed to manipulate tools.

They won’t know they’ll be doing any of that they’ll just be aware of getting their arms soaked. But these playtime experiences teach them much more than they’d learn from either being told or looking at it in a book. Experience provides the building blocks for more formal knowledge and academic skills later. And this is just one example.

Other activities that have the same educational impact which you can do at home with kids can be built round anything you do.

Here are some examples:

  • Cooking or preparing food (or ‘playing’ with pastry, mixing substances, using tools, cutting things up, warming or freezing etc.)
  • Cleaning or washing, in and out of the home.
  • Dealing with waste and rubbish.
  • Helping with other jobs outdoors, gardening – or den making whilst you do them!
  • Looking after the pets.
  • Using technology and the Net.
  • Managing a budget and money.
  • Looking at and enjoying books and magazines.
  • Dressing – dressing up especially in things they wouldn’t normally wear and using make up.
  • Playing games as a family.
  • Family outings and journeys.
  • Social occasions where there’s a mix of people and ages.
  • Anything creative that you do; making things, home decorating, rearranging a room, craft work and all creative activities like painting, collage – with anything at all, junk modelling, card making, drawing, colouring, cutting out, making scrapbooks, collecting and grouping, etc, – builds skills. Just let them have a go and make a mess and they learn loads simply from their minds and bodies being engaged.
  • Any constructional, experimental or inventive activities indoors and out.
  • Talking with you about anything and everything

Basically anything you do to live your lives and do your work your child can be involved in either through conversation and explanation, helping at their level or playing alongside. Involving your child with your activities teaches your child all about living a life.

And through these life experiences, where learning is something which is part of what they do day to day often without even realising it, they begin to see how learning is not something separate from life but something that is a natural part of it.

If learning is a natural part of it then they will be motivated to continue their learning throughout their life whatever form it takes, motivated to hopefully use education to develop and enhance their lives and give them greater access to the things they might want to do later on.

What are we aiming for – later on?

Many parents, when they think about what they might want their children to achieve in their education later on, tend to think about academic gain. They think about their children being good at the academic exercises that will get them good grades.

But other parents think more broadly and more holistically than that. They think about their child being happy and having confidence in themselves and academics fitting in around that. They think about their child having the skills to enjoy good relationships and social activities. They think about their child’s wellbeing; mental and physical, emotional and spiritual. They think about how their child’s personal strengths and interests can be developed; how they can get to know themselves well so they will be able to make informed and relevant lifestyle choices.

The ideal is perhaps to aim for a mix of both. And to maybe think through your priorities, keeping a holistic balance throughout.

Holistically, we need to be aiming for an outcome that is relevant to the whole child and within the perspective of the whole of their lives, not just the time they may be of school age, or the exams you want them to pass.

Sometimes it is best not to think too much about ‘later on’. Because you can never know what will happen. Far better to show your child the real relevant world on a daily basis.

Each day you spend with your child is a natural opportunity for you to help them develop and learn. And to make learning enjoyable.

Aiming for enjoyment in their day to day lives, for them to be stimulated and engaged in the activities they do at the time, is far better than having an agenda outside or ahead of the child. They soon suss it’s irrelevant to them right now and switch off. Switching off to things is the last thing we want them to do, because it switches them off to education too.

Sadly many school type activities switch children off to learning because they are often dull and the children cannot see the relevance of them. Adults might think they’re relevant to the child’s future, but are they really? How can we really predict a future which is so far away?

Taking care of the little times, making them good times, will make a good future. This is a much more natural way to build a future and the foundation for a natural and holistic education that will serve the child for life.

Laying the foundations of education

Thought I’d do a two parter about education – for parents with little ones at home. And all those who are wondering about it.

It doesn’t seem that we’ve had our babies long when we begin to worry about education.

How much, how soon, how clever are they going to be, what can we do to help? These are the kinds of worries all parents have. But whichever route you decide on for your child, whether that route be conventional schooling or home education, the experiences that have the most profound impact on their educational achievements are those when they’re at home with you.

Now, no way do you need to panic and rush to get books out and start doing formal lessons with tiny tots. This not what education is about, although this is how it’s sometimes perceived.

Education is about something broader than that which extends beyond doing writing, maths and other similar academic exercises. This article is about laying the foundations of a holistic education; the holistic development of a living being, as indeed education should really be if it is to be of value.

For a holistic approach when your child is mostly with you is what makes a more formalised education work well later on.

What do I mean by holistic?

To take a holistic view means to consider the whole of something rather than parts in isolation.

In terms of a child and their education, it means that we need to consider the whole of their development rather than just the development of their academic abilities. And we need to consider education, not as a race or competition to get qualification, but rather as part of a developing human being.

To be holistic education needs to be about developing a rounded human being who has many skills that are as important as academic skills – skills which will enable children to use their education to enhance their lives. Thinking skills, for example, or the skills required to integrate, socialise and be a good person. The skills required to show compassion, care and commitment to others. The skills needed to be responsible, maintain good moral standards and understand how we fit into the world and how the world can support us, what we need to contribute to it in return. The skills required to express ourselves, be articulate, self aware and self confident so that we can lead good and happy lives and find fulfilling work. The skills needed to maintain our health of mind and body and be responsible for our own wellbeing.

These are the kinds of skills we need to be human. Being human is a vital part of being educated. And these are all vital skills that enable an education to be successfully used to enhance lives and gain achievements.

If you think about it, an education in itself is of no value unless you have these personal skills with which to use it. Using education is what matters. Paying attention to the whole of the person’s development is what makes an education more useful and more holistic.

And much of what happens during a child’s time at home is what lays the foundation for that.

How can we do that at home?

It is really very simple to lay a foundation of skills which will help your child to get the best out of education. In fact it is so simple it is probably what you do already. It is what you do as part of your parenting.

Preparation for education is not only about priming your child ready for academics. It is more to do with teaching your child about living a life.

Living our lives we are learning all the time, although as adults we probably don’t realise that thinking that the majority of our learning took place within the school walls. However, many people say that they learnt more after they left school than during the time they were in it. And that is because once they left ‘schooling’ they began to learn the real skills needed to lead real lives.

For example; leading real lives we don’t often use some of the maths or science which was drummed into us at school for the purpose of exams, unless we’ve followed professional careers that require them. But we do use the skills needed to budget or understand nutrition and our bodies enough to know what food keeps us well.

Another example; we don’t necessarily need to be able to understand Shakespeare but we do need to be able to read, interpret instructions, and communicate in a variety of forms.

These life skills like communication or budgeting are the ones that are most important and they start at home. You can encourage them by simply chatting about what you’re doing each day and why. That’s why spending time at home with young children is so valuable, because actually, you are your child’s first teacher.

During those first five years it is not essential that they can read fluently, but it is essential they enjoy books, that times with books and stories are happy experiences. It is also essential that they understand a variety of social rules and can communicate appropriately, that they are able to manage their behaviour to a certain degree and why, understand what respect is – by being respected.

Small things that you do and discuss in your daily living teaches them these kinds of things. And the way in which they learn these things best is by being involved.

By being involved with what you’re doing, by chatting and questioning, they begin to interpret and understand how lives are lived. Interpreting and understanding things is the basis of learning. This is how you influence their learning and their education, both right now and for the future. All you have to do is to allow them to be involved. Spend time. Explain. Talk. Listen. Show.

As well as doing this another powerful influence on their learning is play. In order to learn children first need lots of opportunities to play.

And that’s part of what I want to talk about next time, along with ideas for simple activities, and some thoughts about their future!

Muesli and Molehills!

Whilst I was eating my breakfast I watched the robin doing the same. robin 010

Mine was only muesli, but served up in my favourite bowl.

His was served up in a molehill which I couldn’t help observing looked the same consistency as the stuff I was eating even if a shade darker.

I like to pick my bowl with care. I’m not keen on crusty bits left over from ineffective washing up.

The robin clearly chose his molehill with the same discernment – knowing where the best breakfast was to be had. For suddenly the earth under his toes started to shuffle upwards and spill over as a mole pushed from underneath turning up a fresh living breakfast for the robin.

He gobbled down a grub and waited for the main course in the form of a succulent mini worm. I suddenly imagined a similarity in texture between it and the sultana I was chewing. At least my sultana wasn’t wriggling.

He bobbed about from molehill to molehill as I watched and chewed, absorbed in him, until my bowl was empty yet the robin was getting afters! How is this fair?

However his vibrant buffed up plumage brought a flash of delightful living warmth to what looked like a lifeless January morning.

And as I scrubbed my bowl of crusty bits it made me think of these natural soap operas going on around us every day if we just take a moment to observe and appreciate the world, so full of wonderful things.

Perhaps you can find your own to share with your kids today. And maybe have a discussion about who prefers their breakfast wriggling!

And don’t forget that next weekend is the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch and an opportunity to really observe your garden birds and get involved with valuable research.