Tag Archive | home schooling

Just because I’m ‘contrary’…

I’ve often been accused of being contrary! Usually by people whose point of view I don’t readily accept.

You can imagine that happens regularly when talking about education. And especially with the fact that I consider home education – and education – to be the same thing. Although most people wouldn’t share that perspective!

So in order to continue my reputation I’ve come up with a contrary way of answering all these home education questions you get by people who; a) have no experience of it and don’t want to be contaminated by radical ideas, b) are blinkered by what the institution of school has taught them and don’t want to take their blinkers off and c) who don’t really want to know anyway!

Unhappily I was with one of those recently. So in order not to waste their or my time, (don’t get me wrong – I’m happy to elucidate  on the subject of Home Ed for hours if the person’s genuinely interested) I’ve decided now I’m going be contrary and turn all their questions round in order to deal with it.

It goes a bit like this:

Question – but won’t the kids miss out not being in school? Answer – don’t the kids shut in school miss out on real life?

Q – how do they socialise if they’re not in school? A – How do they learn how to socialise shut away from normal society in a place where it’s considered weird to socialise with those outside your age group, copying a bunch of people with immature social skills?

Q – how will the kids learn about the real world without going to school? A – how do the kids learn about the world shut away from it in a place that’s nothing like the real world?

Q – how do kids learn without being taught? A – how did you learn to use your mobile phone without being ‘taught’?

Q – how do you teach if you’re not a teacher? A – how do teachers know how to relate to kids if they’ve had no experience with them, as parents have?

Q – how do kids make proper friends when they’re not in class? A – how do they make friends when class mates all their own age are the only people they interact with, which is hardly a true reflection of society?

Q – won’t they get bored being at home all the time? A – won’t they get bored being in school all the time?

You get the idea! I’m sure you can think of lots more ways to make it work! Do please comment below. And try it out for yourself when you next get a barrage of questions from someone you know has made up their negative mind already!

Advertisements

Don’t let curriculum suffocate creativity

There’s an exhibition about the work of Quentin Blake touring the country at the moment and I was lucky enough to see it.

If you’re not sure who he is just think about your Roald Dahl books, as most of us are familiar with his work through his illustration of them – the BFG or Matilda being among them. Quentin Blake also produces his own books in collaboration with John Yeoman.

I suspect most parents who’ve read a Roald Dahl book to their kids will be familiar with Blake’s beautiful scribbly drawings, the characters and their expressive faces clearly displaying the emotion and telling parts of the story the writer cannot with simple words! He is extremely clever.

The beauty of his drawings when you consider them as art works, particularly as an example to our children, is that they’re not exact representations of what people actually look like. They’re better than that – and showing so much more as such.

And why that’s important is this: people get so hung up about drawing and trying to make something actually look like the object being drawn – rather than making their own personal representation of it, their own art work. And this inhibits so many creatives, puts a stop to many people being creative when they’re feel their work is no good. When they’re judged.

Our daughter was seven when she was told that by a teacher in school; that she’d drawn something badly, (?!! at 7 for goodness sake!!!) and it took her a long time to recover from that and begin once more to practise her creativity in its many forms, as part of her home education. (The tale is told in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’)

No art work is wrong or bad! Any art work or creative endeavour in whatever form is incredibly personal, and incredibly individual. That’s the whole point of it and why it’s so special – no one else could do it the same as you. ‘Wrong’ doesn’t come into it!

Although skills can be learnt through studying technique or understanding materials and marks, the raw creativity and imagination needed to produce drawings and artwork of any kind is unique to an individual and should never be made to ‘fit’ or ‘look like’ anything else necessarily. Original expression is inherent in each of us and needs to be nurtured as such not inhibited by comments such as my daughter received. And that’s a great flaw in curriculum in relation to creativity; if we’re not careful curriculum can be the death of it. Curriculum diktat ruins originality. It can stop you being creative and thinking outside the norm with your education too!

Children and young people need encouragement to create. Especially when these days they’re more practised at holding a console than a pencil. But essentially creativity is the foundation of many valuable skills that can be transferred across education, and enhances brain development far more broadly than learning times tables for example.

Anyone can learn times tables – they already exist. But creative endeavours are unique to each individual, who knows what will be created, and they play an essential part in the perpetuation of our species and our planet. Read this to see why. We need creative skills like we need air! It’s an irreplaceable part of the educational process.

So drawing, painting, modelling, telling stories, drawing stories like Quentin Blake, scribbling, doodling, all develop part of our children’s intelligence in a way nothing else can. Along with being creative in how you curate education!

I suggested our daughter spent some time ‘drawing badly’ to get over those remarks!

And I suggest you encourage your kids to draw in whatever style suits them, like Quentin Blake draws in his own distinctive style.

You never know, you might have another Blake in the making!

Did you see Planet Child?

I watched the first in a new series about children’s development last week called Planet Child. Did you see it?

In it the twin doctors, Chris and Xand van Tulleken, were observing how children in other parts of the world are given greater independence at a very young age, having very different lifestyles from those in the UK, and how this impacts on their development.

As a result of these observations the doctors set up an experiment for three groups of seven year olds to simulate that experience of  independence, where the children had to navigate their way across London on their own without their parents. (Safely under observation – although the kids didn’t know that).

It was dead scary watching!

Scary for me as a parent – not the kids – they seemed happy enough, and it was fascinating to watch.

Now, I know ‘it is telly’, as in it’s all very contrived, well edited to get us to believe what they want us to believe, and has many flaws as an experiment as such. And there were many unanswered questions.

However a fascinating premise that came out of it was that it seems the more time children spend on unstructured activities, the better it is for their overall development.

And this immediately made me think of all the home educating families who use less structure and more autonomy in their approach to their children’s learning and are often criticised for it, many educationists believing that kids learn nothing without a structured regime of learning. Yet it appears it is exactly this autonomy which gives the opportunity for the children to develop many essential personal skills, needed in order to be able to apply themselves and what they’ve learned to real life. Life-skills in other words. Skills which are often inhibited by an approach that spoon feeds them a curriculum in a structured environment where they’re told what to do, when and how to do it. Like school.

Ironic! Since it is so often this autonomous approach, often interpreted as the parents being uninvolved (so wrong!), which many professionals find so hard to get their so-called educated heads around, even though there is increasing proof as these home educators graduate that an autonomous approach works well.

Autonomous approaches to education don’t drill kids to follow an extrinsic curriculum, pass tests and get grades, as schools do, (even though most of the home schooled youngsters go on to choose to gain qualifications in their own autonomous way). What it does, is develop a broad-thinking, educated person with a wide range of skills that enable them to make appropriate independent choices.

Unstructured activities are good for kids, the programme concluded (although clearly within certain boundaries – ‘it is telly’ after all!) Unstructured education has the same advantages.

Just thought I’d say in case you’re having doubts about your autonomous home educating approach!

If home educating parents did this….

I’m so glad to see that parents of school children are taking some action against some of the abysmal practices forced upon their kids under the guise of educating them in schools.

I may be a home educator but I care deeply about the education of ALL children however they are learning.

Whenever researching news surrounding the system and listening to the parents who have kids in school, it’s dishearteningly negative and I’m sometimes really shocked by what I hear. No wonder home educating is constantly on the increase. No wonder that children’s mental health is suffering (although no one ever brings up the subject of school stress as part of the cause). And no wonder that teachers are leaving the profession disillusioned with what they’re told to do to kids to make them get the scores.

The latest protest is about the testing and I’m delighted to see a campaign against the shocking move to test reception children. See this article in the Guardian.

Testing is a complete waste of a learner’s time (whatever age), does nothing to enhance learning or the learner’s experience, is unreliable and invalid when it comes to both judging someone’s capabilities and predicting how capable they’ll be in the future, the results of which often act like an educational death sentence to those who don’t perform well on the day. See this post here.

I hope they instigate change – but it’s changes in mindset that is required as much as anything. See the More Than a Score campaign here.

The other shocking school news that’s hit the headlines recently has been the concern over the use of ‘isolation units’ in schools. According to a report from the BBC pupils can spend hours in these units, among them those with special needs, causing many of them upset and longer term damage to their wellbeing, let alone their education.

The terrible irony of this is; if home educating parents were found to be subjecting their kids to hours of isolation in the booths pictured the Local Authority would be in uproar, probably deciding we were unfit parents and have the kids taken into care. Yet this is a legal and increasing practice in many schools.

Would you use this approach in your home education?

I understand there are many difficulties for staff in schools with pupils who will not engage and disrupt the learning of the others as a consequence.

But it strikes me that a) if the learning taking place there was inspiring and b) if it answered the needs of the diversity of the kids in our society and c) and if it wasn’t so rigid and inhibited by testing regimes designed for the adults and the politics and the politicians’ popularity, not the learners, we would have no need of isolation rooms and we also probably wouldn’t have a flood of parents opting to home educate. I’ve said before; if there was an inspiring and engaging place for our kids to go and learn with empathetic and understanding adults who were free to teach with the creative approaches many of them could if they were only delivered from the imprisonment of stupid rules and regualtions, then why would people take the enormous and scary step of not sending the kids there, giving up their time and doing it themselves?

But that’s the irony of education politics! The ministers are too blinkered – or uncomfortable – to realise the truth. They’re hopefully going to have a lot more protests on their hands!

 

Thinking about Home Education instead of going back to school?

Whenever there’s a new school term starting there are a flurry of parents trying to decide about home educating instead.

If you’re one of those you’ll no doubt be wavering through nagging worries and doubts. Quite natural – all conscientious parents worry. It’s a condition of responsible parenting!

But look at it this way – you’d worry just as much if your children were in school. I know I did before we home educated. All home schoolers worry about the same old things:

  • Will the kids turn out okay?
  • Will they be able to make friends?
  • Will they achieve anything?
  • Will they be intelligent?
  • Will they still be speaking to me when they’re older?
  • Will we be able to enjoy a happy relationship?
  • Will they be able to fit into ‘mainstream’ life afterwards?
  • Will they be able to become independent?

I’d like to reassure you with the answer to those questions: YES!

Yes to all the above.

All the young people we knew who were home educated have grown into adults who have achieved, (many the same qualifications as their school contemporaries if that worries you), have all learned and developed their intelligence and knowledge (often exceeding that of their school contemporaries!), have good friend networks (and better social skills than many of them), have all integrated successfully into work, higher education, employment, the ‘real world’ for want of a better term. And have all continued a warm loving, respectful relationship with their parents.

So I hope you find that reassuring.

One way to manage inevitable worries is to focus on the NOW rather than the future. All worries are about the future and most of the educational approaches in schools are geared towards ‘the future’. The daft thing is no one can predict that, can predict how kids grow and change, learn and absorb, develop interests and intelligence. They change all the time in unpredictable ways. So trying to educate for some unforeseeable future is a waste of time.

What you can do is make the childrens’ educational experiences good ones at this moment in time. This way they’ll want to take over the learning for themselves, and will go on doing it until they see what they want and go for what they want. That’s what most home educated young people end up doing. Their education, which has been independent from an institution and decided upon through democratic discussions together, naturally leads them towards an independent life – not the opposite as some doubters would suggest.

So trust in yourself, trust the example of thousands of ‘graduated’ home schooled young people now successfully ‘out’ in society (they always were really – that’s how home education works), and be brave about deciding what’s right for your family.

Our two children are now in their twenties and out making their valid contribution to the working world and put me in mind of the things that were said about us which I wrote in ‘A Home Education Notebook’:

Hope that helps!

Happy Spring: What better time…

Easter Holidays!

What better time than this to celebrate the season of rebirth, regrowth and the earth’s burgeoning vitality. When days of longer light can make me feel that my own sap is rising along with that of the trees and plants!

Spring amid the concrete

And what better time than this also to get yourselves and the children outside, experiencing and learning about our essential connection to the earth, how all species are connected to the life of others and imperative for the longevity of the planet, for our own health and wellbeing and that of the children.

I was reading recently about how the increase in childhood conditions and diseases may be exacerbated by our children’s decreasing contact with the earth, the soil, fresh air and green spaces in particular. And how parents should do all they can to reconnect, to encourage learning about the natural world supporting us, and perpetuate a care of it. From the tallest tree, to the tiniest insect, and all those essential organisms we can’t even see – it’s all important!

What better time to do this than when Spring makes it easier to be outside, when it is so pretty and inviting and downright dramatic with its April showers!

So why not get out to spot and experience:

  • Birds – with bits in their mouths, either for nest building or for baby feeding, or singing their Springtime songs
  • Insects – from creepy crawlies in the crevices to the first bee or butterfly you’ve seen this year
  • Rain – appreciating the fact that it is essential for survival. How often do you consider that? And consider also ways in which you can economise with your water usage – waste less of this essential resource
  • Young – the best time for seeing newborns, especially lambs. There may be a farm or a centre nearby you can visit, a river for ducklings
  • Plants, shrubs and tress that are beginning to leaf up or bloom. If you have a garden get the kids involved in growing things, in pots if you don’t, in order to learn about the vital elements needed in order to grow; nourishment, light, water – which we need too! Along with health giving contact with soil!

You may live in a concrete environment, but that is all the more reason you need to teach the children about the earth that lies underneath and to find ways to get them back in contact with it. Otherwise how will they know it’s there, grows our food, supports our lives, and that it needs our attention? Use the season to celebrate this earth and the abundance of life bursting around us, on which all ultimately depend, however city central we live.

Have a Happy Spring!

 

 

A personal education philosophy

I’m popping this here because it’s something I’m asked about and some parents like help with, especially in the light of the LA often asking for it. The thought of ‘educational philosophy’ can be rather daunting. Don’t fret; it doesn’t have to be – it’s just your thoughts on education, so it’s best to have some, then call them philosophy!

However, it can be a bit difficult to think about if it’s new to you to do so, so some of these ideas might help with a starting point.

At the risk of shocking everyone with this admission; when I first starting out teaching I thought, like many others, that education was just something delivered by schools quantified by exams. I didn’t teach for long before I completely changed my mind about that.

I also soon worked out that ‘qualification’ was certainly not a measure of an educated person, judging by the way some of the supposedly educated behaved. And teaching for exam passes didn’t necessarily make young people educated either.

When we home educated our own two children we had to think about what education really was, if it was not something that was just learning a prescribed syllabus, delivered by schools for the purpose of grades, which by then I definitely didn’t believe it was – and we weren’t planning on doing anyway.

What was it then?

Our ideas changed over the time we home educated and have matured even since then. And this is an attempt to try and note some ideas down that may help you decide upon your own.

A precise educational philosophy is quite hard to capture because it is entirely based on your definition of education in itself. And that has been influenced by your own schooling and by society’s definition of it as a grade-getting process that is measurable in those terms only. And accountable in those terms only – in terms of how many and how high.

But I believe education is something far broader than that. And I look at it not in terms of grades, or perhaps in terms of what education is, but more in terms of what an educated person is.

My definition tends to be person based. Not qualification based. Because it’s not the qualifications that matter – it’s what you do with them. And you need far, far more personable skills and elements of character to apply yourself to an educated life than qualifications.  Elements like respect. Or responsibility. Or care. Or the ability to communicate.

Grades are no good without those.

You can have the most qualified, titled and knowledgeable person in the world who can be an arrogant arse and not care a damn for the next person. I wouldn’t call them educated. So care does come into it.

You can have a person who has been privately and expensively educated who looks down on those who’ve had less opportunity as if they deserve less respect. But I wouldn’t call that the behaviour of an educated person. So respect comes into it.

And you have people who seem to spend lifetimes collecting degrees but are unable to function happily, communicate and establish relationships, or understand how their awareness of others and the planet is important. Their educational qualifications don’t seem a lot of help. Awareness is part of being educated too.

So I believe that however ‘qualified’ or ‘educated’ in the conventional sense of the word a person is, it’s how he BEHAVES that matters and counts as to whether they are really educated.

People who are educated are people who not only have knowledge and skills but are people who show respect, responsibility and care towards others both near and far, towards their environment both locally and globally and who show awareness, compassion and understanding, who are keen to be the best they can, make the best contribution they can, and who strive towards good, happy and fulfilled lives. And I know that now we’d need to define good, happy and fulfilled but I’ll leave those definitions to you!

But these are the types of qualities I expect an educated person to have, however many grades. It is about the quality of a person – not the qualifications.

And that’s very difficult to measure. But schools feel the need to measure something so they focus on the measurable bits and neglect the rest. That’s where it’s gone so wrong.

Now, this is all very philosophical but how do you home school to that?

Well – creating good, happy and fulfilled lives on a daily basis is a start! One day at a time; make each day a good one and you make for a good education and fallow days count here too. (See this blog)

I also understand that many parents worry about describing it to the Local Authority. We did too and I spent many hours contemplating it. I describe what happened in my book ‘A Funny Kind Of Education’ including the letter with our educational philosophy we finally sent to the LA. So I thought it might help if I copied it here too:

We are unable to fill in your enclosed form because it is inappropriate to our Home Education situation and the education we plan to provide for our children.

We plan for the education of our children to be centred around their needs, for the most part autonomous, deriving from their own interests and daily pursuits, mostly democratic, where their learning is shared, helped, broadened and encouraged by our parental input. Our aim is for happy, confident, self motivated children who take pleasure in learning. We hope to provide a stimulating environment in which they may do this, both in the home with materials, books, television, computers, and in the community and further afield with trips to libraries, visits to places of interest, field trips and activities which encourage an interest and curiosity about their daily lives and environment, all of which are sources of learning and educational opportunity.

We see learning as an integral part of our children’s daily lives and not separate from it or segregated into subjects. Therefore it is not timetabled or structured; this would be unnecessarily inhibiting. It may take place from the minute they wake to the minute they sleep, over meal times, social times, unusual times, any time, by discussions and questioning, conversations, investigations and research, not necessarily in a formal procedure. We see it therefore as mostly spontaneous and unplanned. Thus we can take advantage of the purest receptive moments when learning potential is at its peak.

We are quite confident that contact with family, friends, social events, clubs and activities of this nature provide our children with plenty of social interaction.

Having said all that I’m sure you must appreciate that our children have to recover from the numbing effects of school, which has damaged their learning potential, and it may take us some time to settle into our Home Education. We look forward to this with enthusiasm and excitement.

We hope this fulfils your requirements.”

An educational philosophy doesn’t have to worry you. You will already have ideas about what education should be or you wouldn’t contemplate home educating. These ideas are the basis for a philosophy and they just need formalising and getting down, always allowing room for change and moderation. Allow them to develop over a period of time and read lots others. Use any of the ideas you like here to help.

Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Think what you want for your children personally (things like confidence, keenness to learn, happiness, etc)
  • Think what you might want for them academically – helps to focus on skills here –  in line with where they’re at right now (it’s best to not look too far ahead at this point)
  • Think about others – have you ever seen a model of a family or child that you’d like to strive towards (probably you have examples of the opposite – also useful!)
  • Think what suits your child’s needs, your needs and your circumstances and what kind of lifestyle/approach will help you move towards the above.
  • A final point to remember; children change, so their needs change, so your approach and styles and philosophy may change throughout your home education. Therefore it is wise to include this fact in any statement you may make to the LA

Allow yourself room for flexibility – the key to successful home education – and development of ideas as, like ours did, these will change.

Just as home education changes you. Exactly like life really!

If you’re new to home education you’ll find more help in this book, especially for beginners.