Tag Archive | inspiration

Try some ‘Unsafe Thinking’!

Before you panic that I’m encouraging you to take suicidal risks, I’m not. Although I believe some parents have been told they’re taking suicidal risks with their children’s future just through home educating them! But some ideas I want to tell you about this time come from a book I’ve been reading called ‘Unsafe Thinking’ by Jonah Sachs. (He talks here – about wandering where no one’s been before!)

This book is not about taking stupid risks, it just talks about thinking creatively, about being able to spot and bypass our preconceived ideas and learned obedience from systems that would like to keep us compliant. The education system springs to mind!

Stepping away from mainstream education has been for many the start of a kind of thinking that would have been considered ‘unsafe’! Having the initial idea and courage to break out of our safe habit of educating in schools, ingrained into most of us all our lives, we’ve challenged convention and are showing that learning can happen in all sorts of other ways not just the approach sold to us through schooling (and political manipulation). And proving actually that it’s not ‘unsafe’. It works extremely well for most families.

And it’s ideas like this – ideas beyond the accepted norms – that this book is about. It is a discussion about the rules and conventions that keep us stuck with something, despite the fact it may not be working. Like schooling. And the dire impact that has on creativity which is essential for developing new strains of thinking, necessary for leading happy lives, or ones that could save the planet, for example.

Reading it, I spotted these relevant ideas:

  • Pay attention to your intuition. Many parents have intuitive thoughts about their children’s needs which most often turn out to be right.
  • Free yourself from the expectations of others and the games they play to manipulate you. Stick to your own intentions and your own ‘rules’ – if you must have them. Creative thinking works best without rules.
  • Develop, practice and enjoy your own strengths and those of your children. It’s these talents that will take them forward so it’s best to make good use of them. There are worthy talents outside the academic.
  • Don’t waste expensive time and energy on practices that don’t work for you. Many find formal academics don’t suit their kids as an approach to learning, until much later when they return to that approach successfully.
  • Step boldly out of comfort zones and try new ideas. Watch out for ingrained expertise too – ‘experts’ once told us the earth was flat! ‘Another example; experts’ (or politicians) tell us kids need measuring through SATs or GCSEs, yet people still manage to lead successful, productive and happy lives bypassing them!
  • Become a learner again. Learning or not knowing makes you vulnerable, by being in that position we learn what our learners are going through and what they might need.
  • Beware your biases. We have ingrained biases – like the one that learning only happens through teaching – which once we break away from allows us to explore all sorts of other creative approaches.
  • Remember that you don’t always have to be compliant – it’s good to challenge and encourage your kids to challenge. I believe it is the compliant ones who are the most ‘unsafe’! There’s a great phrase in the book; ‘intelligent disobedience’ which is worth keeping in mind!

These are the kinds of ideas we can use to review our approach to home schooling to get the best out of it. After all, we’ve abandoned mainstream schooling – lets make sure we abandon all the habits and practices associated with it that didn’t work and drove us to home educate in the first place! We don’t always have to accept the mainstream ‘safe’ ideas – we have to examine them and do what works within the context of our families, the wider society and the planet.

It’s the youngsters who have the ability to do that, who will help the world progress.

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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!

Home education – not just for the rich and elite

You may have seen the headline in The Times the other week about the musician Paul Weller choosing to home educate his twins, which I shared to my Facebook page.

Home education is not just for the likes of him!

Although it’s wonderful to see more people joining the community, and home education hitting the headlines again, it does nothing for promoting the fact that home schooling as it’s also known – uncomfortable term- is an option to all parents not just the rich and the elite which some may think.

Home educators come from all groups of our very diverse society; rich and poor, all different backgrounds and cultures, both the academic and the non-academic, qualified teachers and non-teachers, those who are religious and those who are not, those who prefer to ‘buy in’ tutoring and pay others for ‘teaching’ and those who do it themselves, and all across the broad range of ethnic communities which now make up our country.

Income is a real concern for many parents who would like to home educate. Not because of the cost of ‘education’ exactly, but more because of the loss of an income whilst one parent stays at home with the children. Job sharing between parents is an option, if you’re two of course, but single parents also tackle the challenge and manage as best they can. You can home educate on a very low budget because it’s not the amount of money you throw at education that makes it worth anything, it’s the interactions and experiences that the learners have that really matter. And even more importantly the support and encouragement, love and happiness that are equally part of a successful life and understanding that living is educative in itself!

I’ve always maintained that you cannot ‘buy’ an education, you can only nurture it and that nurture comes from the people involved. See this post here, about affording to homeschool

And the costs are more about how you choose to live your life, how consumerist you are, your values and priorities and discovering together what really matters to you.

We made all kinds of sacrifices and did without many, many of those things that insidious advertising can make us believe we cannot or are less of a parent in doing so. However, when you really begin to unpick, when you really begin to investigate your buying habits and your budget, you might realise you can be far more economical than you thought and the things that you need the most in life, (after food and shelter of course) like love and togetherness, you don’t have to economise on at all.

An engaged and thoughtful parent is the best resource a home educated child can have. You don’t have to be rich to provide it!

 

Home Educate for the present

You can’t help but have noticed the massive trend for mindfulness at the moment.

You rarely go into a bookshop without seeing a mindful colouring book or a manual of mindful prompts and practices. Many companies are pushing it at the consumer – the capitalism of which rather belying the point!

I always think of home educating parents as mindful people. You kind of have to be in order to do it.

I know some of you may recoil from the concept of mindfulness as a load of psychobabble that has no relation to the serious business of education.

But I don’t think I’ve ever met a home schooling parent who isn’t mindful in that they are making conscious choices about the way their children are educated. They are mindful of the fact that a learning life does not have to be endured for some future reward, it is important that the kids are happy and fulfilled now. And it’s that which leads towards a happy and successful relationship with life thereafter. That is the way parents are mindful. It means being conscious of what you’re doing.

Of course, there are all sorts of interpretations of being mindful – awareness being the one I’m using here. I don’t think you could home educate without being very aware of what you’re doing, both day-to-day and with regard to the future.

But therein lies a danger of conflict.

Because mindfulness is an approach that is based very much in the now. Yet our educational agenda can sometimes become obsessed with the future.

It certainly is in schools. It seems like every activity undertaken has an agenda that is focussed towards forthcoming results. Test results. Exam results. Qualification of it, in some form or another. The quality of the present learning experience is prostituted for that.

It is natural as we parent to wonder about the future for our kids. Obviously we want the best for them. We wouldn’t be human if our considerations didn’t stray beyond the present as we raise them and guide them towards living good lives.

However, it’s important as we educate to balance that with what’s happening now, what their needs are now, making now an inspiring experience.

In fact I’d go so far as to say it needs to be imbalanced – for the now is far more important. Simply because what’s happening now will determine the future and if you take care to make the present a good experience of learning, then the children will want to go on with it and that’s an attitude that sets them up for life. If you take care of the now the future will take care of itself.

Educate because learning is a great thing to be doing, at this present moment.

By adopting a mindful/awareness practice yourself you will inspire the children to have mindful practices of their own which promotes a healthy and conscious way of living; with themselves, with others, and with the planet. It escalates out in beneficial ripples all around.

Being mindful is good for parents. Good for home education. Good for kids. Good for everyone.

Worth taking a moment to be mindful of it!

There’s more generic reading about mindfulness here if you’d like to explore some more.

Home education: ‘a rich and wonderful endeavour’

I recently asked a fellow home educator about their learning life and had this wonderful account sent to me. It’s quite long but  incredibly uplifting, so when you have a moment grab a cuppa and have a read. I think you’ll come away inspired:

As the children and I settled on the train, a fellow passenger asks, ’Not in school today?’ On explaining that we home educate and we were on our way to the home education drama group, the typical queries began. ‘Are you a teacher? Do you follow the national curriculum? What about socialisation? But WHY do you do it…?

These questions can happen several times a week. I want to sit them down over a cuppa and explain our home education philosophy. But it is hard to explain this full-living (fulfilling) life in the time we have.

At its core, it is about a respectful and consensual education, one that fully supports their human rights. The children know they have a voice. They learn to trust themselves and are able to make decisions accordingly, giving them control over their bodies and thoughts. They decide when they need to eat, drink, rest, sleep, move and exercise, recover from illness and use the toilet. They are given the freedom to decide if they need quiet time in this busy world. We want our children to learn that human rights, respect, consent and empathy are important, and what better way to understand that than by living it, and talking about it?

The ‘socialisation’ issue is the one we are most questioned about.  But who dictated what socialisation looks like, and that it should look like it does in school? Do they need to be with the same kids every day, in a system where playtimes and free time can be short and they’re often told; ‘sit down and shut up, you are not here to socialise!’ At this point I will say, it is not usually the fault of the teachers, but of the system that makes this the reality. And I am glad it is not our reality anymore. My children find plenty of time to socialise. Their social life has never been as rich since they began home educating.

There are plenty of groups they attend regularly; drama, Lego club, swim class, museum groups, board games club at the library, the science museum, the archaeology club at the local university, and archaeological digs. There are casual meet ups in parks, playgrounds, and homes. My children were socialising when they sat under sketches by Leonardo da Vinci, working in their own sketch books and talking to the museum curator. They’re socialising when getting tips for a new project from a cousin who is a wonderful silk artist and during more planned experiences such as getting to help operate the traffic control signals in the city centre, or learning how to paint with light and build shadow puppets in workshops, they answer questions put forth by the archaeology club, which is a mix of home educated and school children.

At times we find there is too much socialising and cut back for a time, spending more time in home and garden. And even then, they are still ‘socialising’ by talking to the postman, the milkman, the neighbours, the shopkeepers, family and friends. There is also the benefit of strong family and sibling relationships, and I am sure our home educated children would not play together as much if they attended school. They don’t accept that boys and girls don’t play with each other, and more specifically, brothers and sisters, as they are sometimes told by others at playgrounds. My children have a brilliant relationship with their siblings and family. And another point to consider, some people need less socialising in their lives, so why should people who don’t know my children get to decide what their ‘socialisation’ should look like?

In the book’ Hold On To Your Kids’ by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate, it says that ‘Peer orientation has become the norm, but is neither natural nor healthy. It is better to learn from those who have already learned than from those who are still learning.’ This book points out that socialising with people of all ages throughout the day is more indicative of the lives our children will experience as adults.

Then there’s the idea that children need to experience bullying in order to learn how to deal with it. But the idea that children need to experience this in school is more to do with making us feel better that it is happening, because often the adults are powerless to deal with it at the root. I do know this as a fact since my husband and I have six older children who are at varying stages of teen and adulthood and we have over 30 years experience parenting, over 25 years with the schooling experience. Sadly, our family has had to deal with this in schools.

However, our home educated children certainly do come across bullying as they are in the community every single day, but they have more freedom to remedy it. They may confront the situation directly or simply walk away, but they can also ask for advice or help, just as adults can access legal means to stop both mental and physical bullying because it is harmful to be subjected to it. If it isn’t good for the adults who have more experience, knowledge and power to confront the situation, it certainly isn’t good for our children, especially as their growing minds and bodies are at their most vulnerable. Scientific evidence shows how unhealthy this sort of stress is, and the real damage it can do physically and mentally. They don’t need to be immersed in an environment where bullying can be a part of every single day in order to know how to deal with it.

How do they learn? It starts by having a culture of learning in our home. As parents, we are facilitators who guide our children on their learning journey. They learn how to learn – how to question, seek, research, and develop critical thinking skills, and how to communicate through reading, writing, conversations, film making, or any other form. It can be formal, but it doesn’t have to be, it can be through deep conversation over making dinner or taking a walk, through parents, children, teens and young adults, sharing knowledge and skills in areas of expertise that we all have.  No one knows everything, not even schools. If we don’t know it, we are certainly capable of learning it, or know how to look further through books, the internet, or through experts in groups, classes, businesses, or museums.  If we want, we can outsource like a school does. There is almost always a club or group for whatever we need.  And if we don’t follow the national curriculum, that is not an issue or a ‘failure’ in our education. Curriculums are specific to schools, for comparing schools, but they certainly don’t give everything kids need. We work at developing the skills our children need and desire, ones that are relevant to them, ones that are important for them as they grow. If children learn through their passions and interests, using skills and knowledge, this learning cannot be forgotten. That is authentic learning. Through following their interests, reading, writing and maths develop, because nothing is learned in isolation.

Our children are learning real skills in the real world, from coding, making animations, doing creative writing, film making, nature observations and recording seasonal changes, local flora and fauna in their journals, creating with textiles and crafting, to making their own homemade yogurts and sourdough breads (and the science behind it), to soups and meals. We have economy, science, reading, maths, art, life skills and nutrition right there! They know how the home runs and can contribute to it. And they have direct experience of what skills their father uses running his business. This is real life learning, it’s active and hands-on, and definitely not as sedentary as a typical school day.

Climbing the hill to see the sun rise

Our school experience was brief play at break and lunch time, and P.E. once or twice a week. And sometimes that was lost as a class punishment which meant less physical activity and fresh air. We probably spend on average around 5 hours a day exploring and playing outdoors (a little less in winter). This is different day to day, it might mean outdoor play in the garden, or walks, bug and bird watching, gardening, or getting up early and walking up the hills to watch the sunrise. We don’t often get snow, so when it happens, whole days are spent playing, sledding, walking, examining snow and ice, only coming in for meals and warming up. We spend hours exploring rock pools, shells, seaweed, pebbles, sea glass, and even the occasional fossil. Science first hand is alive and exciting! To learn through nature and play as biologically designed is amazing, and to do it as a family is even better. The outdoors also gives you space to be on your own when you want. Many creative ideas are born and put into action outside. The children recently built their’ time machine’ which needed the full space of the garden to be played out. You could hear them talking about the preparations needed if they were to land in the Tudor times or in the time of dinosaurs, and the various dangers they had to confront. You know the learning is rich when this happens. In the children’s tree fort/potion kitchen/veggie patch (also known as the mud patch), they find their own quiet space, observe nature’s creatures, climb trees, set up a tent, or even dig for treasure. And they can get as dirty and noisy as they like! It is the happiest and healthiest of lifestyles.

One question I was recently asked was, ‘Is there ever time for negativity to fit into this beautiful space they live in?’

I loved this question, and I took it a step further: Is there a place for all those bumps in the road that challenge us and help us to grow? Yes, there is! But it doesn’t need to crush the joy out of them. Struggles over personal projects and goals, developing a growth mindset, and failure, are all part of the learning process. But it does not mean they are ridiculed, humiliated, or kept in at playtime to redo it. We are open to the idea of failure as a stepping stone to further learning. As Einstein said, ‘Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new’. I remember watching a teacher from Finland say, ‘…education is anything that makes the brain work.’ Simple words, but powerful, we don’t need to overcomplicate it.

One of my children has dyslexia and dyscalculia and works very hard to overcome the challenges. As she is developing skills she needs in the world, she is also developing her own unique engineering and artistic skills that are her personal strengths. She couldn’t nourish these strengths while in the school system because everything was about ‘fixing’ her weaknesses, there was no focus on her strengths. By time she got home, she was tired from the extraordinary amount of energy used to overcome her challenges. Even weekends were too short to truly grow her gifts, and self-confidence was most definitively chipped away. Since beginning home educating we have met an experienced educator who says this same child demonstrates a true entrepreneurial spirit of exploration, risk and creativity, and she is excited to see where the learning takes her.

Home educating is such a wonderful endeavour and rich part of our lives. We are experts when it comes to our children’s learning; we know what they need, and how they learn best.

So, why do we home educate?

It’s for the personalised education, and wherever the adventure might take us!

 

(If anyone else would like to talk about their home educating days here, do let me know in the comments below and I’ll get back to you. If we can spread our positive stories around it might help counterbalance some of the negative we receive!)

Boldly into January

I have to admit I find post-christmas hard. I guess most people do. It’s the lengthy dark hours, the cold, the end of christmas holidays and sparkle that does it. Not to mention work and routine to be confronted.

But a fresh year’s start can also be a time for hope, for review, for new beginnings. Time for looking beyond these first difficult bits. To take stock and consider changes.

Everything always grows and changes – people too!

It was a good time to review family life and our home education I found. Investigate what’s working, acknowledge what’s not! Winkle out all those rancid ideas I might be clinging onto that had become out of date.

It’s often forgotten that no pattern, strategy or plan will work forever. The snag with kids is you find something that works, think you’ve cracked it, then everything changes again. Of course it does; they’re changing all the time. We have to renew along with them. And the education we facilitate has to change too.

In fact, that’s another aspect of education often overlooked; learning stuff is all about change really. About embracing change. Change of ideas, of mind, of knowledge. You have to change in order to learn something; you have to be prepared to slough off old ideas in order to accept new ones. Some people find that really hard. Thankfully the kids are more readily able to do that to accommodate the things they need to learn, adults perhaps less so. But we all need to embrace new ways of working, new skills and new understanding. And a new year is a great time to do so.

We all learn, grow, change constantly if you think about it – the kids, the mums and dads, the grandparents, the ambience in the home. It’s all in a constant state of flux. And that’s how it should be. We don’t need to cling onto old stuff, old routines, old habits, that no longer serve us well. We need to allow change. We need to notice it’s necessary! I often didn’t and created conflict in the house for that simple reason. So learn by my mistakes!

And as you venture boldly into January with your family, embrace the change of the year, acknowledge the children’s need to grow and change as they learn, and don’t be afraid of bold new thoughts!

There are all sorts of ways to live a family life. And all sorts of ways for kids to learn. We just have to remain open to things and prepared to go with the flow and flux and bold enough to implement what we believe in.

A present for a home school family

I hate to mention Christmas but it is getting that time of year and if you need a gift for a home educating parent one of my books might be an idea.

Home educating is an inspiring and uplifting choice of lifestyle and learning. But not without its challenges especially if you’re doing it longer term. ‘A Home Education Notebook to encourage and inspire‘ is to support parents through the wobbles that all families face at times, with tips on how to manage them. A book that has driven even those who never write reviews to do so on Amazon – I’m most grateful for the wonderful words there. There’s many a homeschool family would appreciate having one by their side. See the My Books page for a fuller description.

And for those who are curious about the homeschool life or who just want a warm funny family read ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ is the one.

One reviewer describes it as “…a home education reassuring hug”. It’s easy to read and full of ideas about learning and new ways of seeing it, told in humorous ways. It may even change your mind about education for ever! Again, there’s more on the My Books page.

And if you’ve read one and enjoyed it do leave me a comment here, or review. Always so warmly appreciated. 🙂