Tag Archive | kids

A Home Education Notebook is now back on Kindle

It’s taken a while but finally I’ve sorted it; ‘A Home Education Notebook’ is available again on Kindle after a short absence.

The reason for the delay was because my focus got stolen by moving house, which is all consuming as anyone who’s ever done it knows.

Moving house means establishing new routines (like where the nearest food is), getting to know new people (builders, plumbers, tech gurus and fixers) and of course new friends and communities.

Meeting new people, who always ask about your life so far, means more explanations of home educating and I receive a variety of responses, mostly in the form of a barrage of questions; do you do lessons, do they have teachers at home, do you have a timetable, what about friends, tests, curriculum, GCSEs etc?

Whilst the Lockdowns made the concept of ‘Home Schooling’ more familiar, the more seasoned home educators among us knew it was nothing like home educating, it was just doing school stuff within the four walls of home. Completely different. (Expanded in a post here)

However I still find it difficult to explain those differences even now, how education is not necessarily about lessons, or tests, or teaching, or exams. To explain how children learn without lessons, or teachers, or tests and timetables, they can actually learn for themselves (Shock! Horror!) That learning can actually happen in an organic, holistic, autonomous, interest-led way from the things children are naturally curious about, by being out, observing, engaging in, analysing and involving themselves in finding out about the world and building the skills needed to do so, even without age-related structures usually imposed upon education. Along with all that how home educated children also have friends, develop social skills, and mix happily in company (see this post about socialisation).

The stories in ‘A Home Education Notebook’ written as it happened, demonstrate that the best. Along with ‘A Funny Kind of Education’. The articles themselves are an illustration of how the everyday experiences we had encouraged and developed children’s knowledge, skills and understanding of learning quite naturally. And how – even more surprising to some – this happens because children want to learn.

Children don’t necessarily want to be schooled. But they mostly want to learn, if they’re allowed to in their own way, in their own time, through subjects that matter to them in their worlds. The success of this has been shown time and time again by all the home educated youngsters who’ve grown up and out into the world, making their own decisions, incorporating any structure and traditional approaches and outcomes as and when (and if) needed to get them there. And so proving that home education really does work and adequately prepares young people for the ‘real’ world. The real world being the one outside that bizarre world of school!

This new edition of ‘A Home Education Notebook’ concludes with a chapter about all those home educated young people we grew up with and what they’re doing now post-twenty, who are proof indeed!

So if you’ve been waiting for the Kindle version of this new edition, it’s back again. It’s the book readers have told me that reassures and inspires them the most. Hope you enjoy it.

Kindle edition available now
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Only the curious can learn

Christmas and birthdays were tricky in our house. The children were always there so keeping secrets was a challenge. Especially since they were so incredibly curious and had eyes that didn’t miss a thing.

“What’s in that bag?”

I’d scurry upstairs furtively with some secret shopping and call out, “nothing.”

“What’s the postman brought?”

I’d stuff the parcel under my desk quickly and respond. “Nothing. Only some bills.”

“What’s in that box?”

Sometimes there was no getting away with it and I’d just have to say; “Your present, but you mustn’t look.”

I knew this would have the same effect as requesting a thousand word essay on the law of gravity and get the same result; the opposite.

So I’d search for a hiding place that would be big enough to conceal it and that they wouldn’t think of looking. I’d settle on their dad’s drawers, they wouldn’t dare look in there for fear of coming across his boxers.

That’s just the trouble with bright children, isn’t it? They’re more curious than the proverbial cat. But it’s our fault really; we’ve encouraged it because that’s exactly what we want; curious and questioning children.

Have you ever thought what curiosity is? It’s basically children wanting to know things. And wanting to know things also interprets as wanting to learn things. Children want to learn about the world around them – your secrets included. But curiosity, when it’s not focussed on your secrets, is as valuable an asset to motivation, to education, as you can get and wants encouraging.

Curious and questioning children cannot help becoming educated. It doesn’t even have to be curiosity about the subject in hand. Or about any specific subject come to that. Because having a generally curious attitude to life is the same as having a general eagerness to learn. Curiosity has the effect of inspiring children to learn for learning’s sake, without even realising it. And it makes the children not only interested in learning but also come to understand, again without realising, that learning itself is interesting. And this attitude is a precursor to becoming educated.

Children are born naturally curious. They’re born reaching, grasping, tasting. Put any infant in any room and they’re into cupboards, opening drawers, fiddling with switches and particularly fascinated with the contents of the dustbin. They are desperate to do these things because they are curious and want to find out.

In other words; they want to learn about their world.

They plague their parents with questions, get themselves bruised, grazed, and into trouble for their curiosity. In fact they are pure, unashamed, curiosity-led learning machines. Even as they get older. Unless of course they get their curiosity killed.

Unfortunately that happens a lot.

It’s easy to do. Most adults are driven to distraction by their child’s curiosity and most particularly by their questions. And the children more often than not get told off for it.

‘Don’t touch’. ‘Put that down’. ‘Leave that alone’. ‘Mind your own business’. We’ve all used those statements at some point I would guess.

But most particularly, I feel, children tend to get their curiosity killed when they go to school. Unfortunately the approach in most schools, the way in which they implement the National Curriculum, and the inevitable peer pressure, leaves no room for curiosity. In school it is not cool to ask questions, or to want to know more, or to be interested, or keen. And teachers don’t have time to answer thirty questions a lesson – and that’s only one per child – of course they don’t.

No one does curiosity. There’s no time. It’s more likely to get you ridiculed or snubbed. And there’s nothing worse than humiliation for killing curiosity dead.

This is one of the sad things about the way the schools educate children. The teachers don’t have any time to make use of one of the best opportunities available for learning; answering and encouraging the questions. Through your child’s curiosity and their questions you have the perfect opportunity to extend their knowledge and understanding, encourage conversation and thus language development, provoke thinking skills and mental development.

I looked at our insatiably curious toddlers hell-bent on learning about everything, then I looked at some of the uncurious switched off adolescents that I saw and I’d think; what happened to your curiosity and interest in the world?

It probably got snubbed somewhere down the line. It probably got well and truly switched off. How sad is that?

For just think; wouldn’t it have been a loss if Isaac Newton had his curiosity snubbed before he wondered about the apple falling down? Wouldn’t it have been a loss if Darwin had stopped being curious about the origin of species?

I’m not advocating that we run ourselves ragged dropping everything to answer all our children’s questions there and then, pandering to their every curious whim. That wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing. Children have to fit into society and live with others and understand that adults are not simply question-answering machines. And they have to understand when to be safe instead of curious, and when it’s not appropriate to ask questions – especially loudly, as one of my children did one day as we sat on a park bench next to a complete stranger.

“Is that man wearing underpants, mummy?” I’ve never seen anyone cross his legs so quickly. He walked off adjusting his fly.

All I’m saying is that if we could be a little careful with our child’s curiosity we will perpetuate their desire to learn rather than destroy it. Even though there’s a time for answering questions and a time not to do so, curiosity is still desirable. Curiosity needs nurturing. If we can be frugal with, ‘don’t’, and ‘leave that alone’ and ‘for goodness sake stop asking me stuff all the time’ (yep – that was me one day), we can avoid the danger that they stop being curious about their world.

It helps to remember that those endless questions and irritating behaviours like eating earwigs (one of mine) and posting things in the CD player (the other one) are really them just learning about their world.

Curiosity means they’re motivated to learn and is one of the most invaluable assets our children can have for their education. A curious attitude has a knock-on effect upon all their learning. It develops an educated mind. And is something to be encouraged as much as possible. A curious mind cannot help but learn.

This story first appeared in my Home Education Notebook, where you’ll find plenty more to help you along your home education journey.

Share your story?

I’m a bit rubbish at communicating on Facebook these days. It seems to be less frequented or valuable than it was, full of adverts, and now there are many other forums we can use to connect.

Fb wasn’t a thing when we started home educating – I bet you can hardly imagine that. But it soon became an invaluable tool for parents to connect through, share ideas and resources, arrange meet-ups and reassure one another, making home education feel more doable than some people first thought.

It was the chance to so easily connect with that support which made home educating a less scary and isolating prospect than it potentially could be. Stepping away from the mainstream path millions of others were heading along can be daunting. Thanks to social media no one needs feel cut off, unsupported, or without anyone to turn to now.

And actually it’s been very supportive for me too, to receive your lovely messages and comments and see how my work and words get around and find their way to those who need it. And I feel so blessed when folks have taken the trouble to connect with me and let me know how my books have helped. If you’re one of those and I didn’t reply personally please know that your comments and messages have meant so much.

Meanwhile I recently had such a nice comment from a Fb friend, along with a potted version of her story, I asked her permission to post it here because I know many of you won’t see it on there and it’s most uplifting to read.

Here’s what she said;

It was your books that finally gave me the confidence to believe what I really already knew in my heart- that our youngest would be better off out of school. His older brothers were in a specialist residential school for very able boys with Asperger syndrome but he didn’t quite qualify for diagnosis, so mainstream-or not- was the only option.

After we took our son out of school in yr 5, I remember walking past the back to school signs and rows of uniform hanging up in the shops and just grinning because I knew I’d never need to buy any of it, ever again! The relief of knowing he wouldn’t be going back into that hellish place where he learned nothing except to feel that he was stupid and weird and generally rubbish, was immense and I just wanted to celebrate. It was definitely the best decision we made for him. He went to college for A levels because he chose to, a year ‘late’ and is now taking a gap year to work and save money before doing his degree. I’m certain that school would not have put him on this path. He’d have left as soon as possible, hating the idea of learning anything because he was ‘too stupid’. His confidence still isn’t great but at least he has ‘proof’ from his results that he is capable of learning anything if he chooses to and sufficient life experience to see the benefit of hard work to get where he wants to be. He also has friends!”

I think it’s these shared stories that make for the best support for parents starting out because they’re straight from the horse’s mouth. We can have faith in them as they are the reality of home education and consequently they are the ones that give people the confidence to go for it themselves. I know when we started out, hearing the stories from those further along were the most valuable, inspiring and reassuring. Although without the internet then we rarely heard them. Very different now!

So if you have a story to tell, or would like to share yours, maybe you’d like to get in touch and I can post it here and we can go on supporting each other in this wonderful alternative to school.

Thirteen years of writing this home education blog later…

And thank you once again to all of you who’ve been in touch over the many years I’ve been writing this blog. It is truly appreciated and I’m always so delighted to hear how my books have helped. Bless you!

Processed education can be as unhealthy as processed food

An exclusive exert from ‘A Home Education Notebook’:

Some days I got so tired I wondered how I was ever going to get the dinner. And it was those days that packaged and processed food I normally abhor looked really appealing.

One particular day springs to mind where my youngest made mint creams which took a bit of supervision, mostly in the form of keeping her fingers out of it especially when they’d been other places. And the eldest made fudge and just needed an occasional question answering but then went onto maths which she was struggling with and needed explanations. This was much more demanding than anticipated as I couldn’t remember how to do half of it and had to look it up. Then the youngest was on a website trying to research something it wouldn’t and getting more and more frustrated. And I just seemed to seesaw between the two of them like this all morning. By afternoon I decided we needed to get out for a swim before I was torn in two, but that finished me off. So I admit to resorting to the easy option of opening a packet for dinner.

At least I thought it was the easy option.

Sometimes I think the packaging designers must sit in their studios laughing as they think up the most complicated arrangements of plastic and cardboard just to annoy tired parents at the end of a demanding day.

We rarely ate packaged or processed food. I like my meals to have ingredients as near to their natural state as possible – that’s where taste and nutrition comes from.

But when I’m beyond scrubbing potatoes or cooking anything inventive we resort to it at times, even though I never relish it. For processed and packaged food tastes like … well, it doesn’t taste of much at all. It is limp, lifeless, tasteless – apart from salt, suspiciously full of unknowns and mostly totally uninspiring.

And it was that day I thought; this is just like education really. Education has become so processed and tightly packaged it is almost unrecognisable as education.

Just like how hard it is to recognise nutritious ingredients in processed food, education has become so over processed it too is losing some of the value of the original ingredients. It has become as unpalatable as eating forced and cling-filmed strawberries in the middle of winter. There is no taste. There is nothing to arouse the senses and the effect doesn’t last.

Isn’t that like systemised schooling?

I used to think my mother was a bit of a nutcase insisting on buying dirty carrots. Now I know why she did it. Carrots with the soil still on them keep without rotting for ages. Those washed and plastic-packaged ones from the supermarket just turn gooey and stink like mad.

Packaged and processed education doesn’t last forever either. And I reckon it turns the children gooey.

I read of an experiment someone once did on a class of school children. They were told they were going to be tested on a certain subject at the end of the week and given information to learn for it. The children sat the test and the expected number did well. A few days later the same children did the same test without warning and hardly any of them scored well. The learning they had processed for the test didn’t last – just like the carrots.

Education like food needs to be as near as possible to its natural experience in order for it to be lasting, inspiring, arouse the senses and be worth having. Experiences are the basis for all learning, for meaningful learning. Learning packaged into tightly restrictive curriculum or second hand learning in workbooks, removed from the original experience, loses its appeal just as much as food. Learning and education need unwrapping.

It is natural for children to learn. During their everyday lives at home pre-school children learn loads of things. They acquire skills. They pick up knowledge. They do this naturally, experientially. Just as we all do all of the time.

All experiences teach us something. Our interests and pursuits broaden our minds. So do books, Internet, telly, ordinary every day interaction with people and things. And also our work, our outings, anniversaries, celebrations, social gatherings. Learning is natural. And learning from first hand experiences in this way is meaningful, rich, stimulating, and retained. Children learn naturally from this all the time.

Then they are removed from that natural learning environment just before they’re five and shut away from it in schools. We’re told that the only valuable learning is that which comes from teachers, packaged into a National Curriculum and contained in expected outcomes and objectives.

So children are processed through this type of learning and adults are conditioned to devalue learning outside of that. And what happens? Children begin to lose their ability to learn anything that isn’t neatly wrapped for them. And I see an awful lot of teenagers who have about as much enthusiasm in doing anything as I have in eating those out-of-season packaged strawberries.

In both the strawberries and the teenagers the zest has gone.

With food I have options. Mostly I buy food in its natural state. I am deeply suspicious of processed pies, potato alphabets, pasta shapes in suspect sauce and the infamous turkey Twizzlers! But sometimes at the end of a hard Home Educating day I’m as pleased as anyone else to open a pizza. When I can get it open that is.

But I do have the choice and you will probably know which is better for me. I suspect you might also be thinking that I would be a better parent for giving my child a natural potato that’s been baked than a processed pizza.

Yet it’s funny how people don’t seem to have the same view of education.

Everyone seems to think that a packaged and processed education is better for children than a natural one.

I got more criticism for allowing my children a natural education than I did putting them through an unnatural educational process. Yet if I continually gave them processed food instead of natural food I wouldn’t be considered a good parent at all.

Odd that!

Years ago, children didn’t have much opportunity to learn. They didn’t have opportunity to learn skills or access information like they do now. And many children didn’t live in homes where education was valued more highly than earning a crust of bread. Children were needed to mind siblings, pick potatoes, crawl along factory floors in between dangerous machinery and sweep chimneys.

Well I don’t know whether folks have noticed but that’s changed. Most of our kids today live in an environment where education is available, where there is access to information, where skills can be learnt. Naturally.

They are surrounded by people using skills and accessing information. And quite naturally they will learn from that.

But we as a society have been led to believe, as education has become more packaged and processed over the years, that this processed type of education is the only valuable one.

Our attitude to processed food is changing, thank goodness. We’re beginning to value unprocessed meals. We’re even beginning to see how processed food can make us ill.

I’d like to see our attitude to processed education changing too. For not only is some of it meaningless, unfulfilling and un-lasting, it too can make our children ill.

Like with unprocessed meals that I actually peel and prepare, I tried to give my children an unprocessed experiential education as near to its natural state as possible. If we were learning about plants – we had plants to hand that we dissected. If we were learning about history – we did it in a historical setting like museum or castle. Get the idea?

This way, just like fresh picked, in-season, unprocessed strawberries, the flavour of the educational experience we gave them was meaningful and stimulated all their senses in a way that is still lasting.

You can read more supportive stories in ‘A Home Education Notebook’. And the new edition has a new added epilogue which tells the stories of the children we home educated alongside now that they’re grown up!

The health benefits of Home Education

“Her eczema has all cleared up. She’s been plagued by it for years but there’s no longer any sign of it now that she’s not going to school” he said.

This dad had stopped me in the lane he was so excited to tell me. He’d leaned out of the truck window to flag me down.

“And both the children have been so happy – and busy,” he went on. “They’re like different children. We can hardly believe it!”

I can!

I have heard the tale so often. About children who’ve had minor conditions and illnesses and health challenges, even behavioural issues, which remarkably disappeared once the children had been out of school for a while. It’s a tale often told among the home educating community.

It was the same for us. Our eldest, who suffered endless infections to the point of needing anti-biotics during her few years at school, hardly seemed to get any during our yeas of home educating. Despite the fact that our children were still in almost daily contact with mainstream groups through regular mainstream activities, clubs and classes that other children attended and as such exposed to all the usual germs.

Our home educating contemporaries remarked upon the same thing happening with their children. One child who was regularly hospitalised and missing school, to the point where the parent was being suspected of being the cause, ceased to have her condition once she came out of school to be home educated.

One of the most marked differences which parents reported was in their children’s behaviour. Tantrums, anger, migraines, bed-wetting, melt-downs over little things, disruption, withdrawal, lack of motivation, dwindling mental health, – all manner of issues – seemed to settle once the children no longer had the stress of being in school in their lives.

There is an argument that children will have to suffer stress later in life so they should get used to it in school. But it’s a poor argument for the simple reason that later life is nothing like school. Nowhere are the circumstances of school replicated, where you have absolutely no choice or autonomy in managing the stressful situations we find ourselves in. Unlike youngsters in a school scenario where they’re just expected to shut up and suck it up, regardless of whether it’s disrespectful or even harmful or not. Later in life we have a voice – and a choice, even though those choices may be extremely challenging or limited. And I think it is the voice-less helplessness that children feel in school, which gets to them, never mind the noise, crowds, threat and hubbub which many find overwhelming.

When schooling affects children’s wellbeing it affects their potential and their learning opportunities. Happiness is as important to their education as health is – the two are intertwined. (Read this article here on why happiness is important for education).

School should come with a health warning. Or better still it should be organised so it isn’t a health hazard at all! Because facts need to be faced – some children are just Not Fine in School or this organisation wouldn’t exist.

And we should not be treating this as if it doesn’t matter, as many parents and politicians would treat it. As the politics says; every child has the right to an education. It follows then that every child should have the opportunity of good health, as the two are intertwined, and if the government are providing institutions which cause the opposite by their pressured policies and structures, both on kids and teachers, then the politicians are denying the children that right. No question.

If you’re a home educator, let us know if your child’s health was affected by school and if home educating changed it.

Meanwhile, the dad above continued to regale me of their happy home educating adventures so far and I was delighted to listen. Another set of kids who no longer have to suffer for their education.

Beware contracting comparison-itus

What a indispensable tool social media has become. How lonely and isolated we would have felt during the Lockdowns, if we hadn’t been able to connect in this way. It offers us comfort and support, communication and connectivity, inspiration and help when we need it, the facility to share and exchange ideas. To feel less lonely. And of course to learn and educate.

It also provides the opportunity to show off, seek endorsement, criticise and slang off others, bully and torment, and become addicted to unfortunately. Plus the danger of perpetuating a disease as harmful as Covid; Comparisonitus!

Social media wasn’t a thing when we very first began home educating. In fact there was hardly any opportunity to see what others were doing. Support and communication with other home educators came through joining one of the support groups like Education Otherwise and then it was a question of cold calling someone listed in the organisation and finding local meet ups.

What a long way we’ve come since then and what a plethora of amazing supportive forums, groups, resources and facilities there is now to dip into and connect with.

But it needs managing. Because, as with all communities, there is a risk. The risk of comparing yourself to others and feeling like you’re not good enough.

You have to remember that sometimes a rosy cameo of perfection, which is how photos and shares on social media sometimes appear, can mask the reality of day to day grind and the tricky bits everyone always goes through. No one will be doing it perfectly whatever images on social media show. Whatever anyone else would have you believe.

In fact I have also been accused of it; of writing about home education so positively it gives the impression of never having got it wrong. I did (as illustrated in my books). And I’m truly sorry if anyone felt inadequate as a result of reading anything I’ve written. But I do want to be encouraging too. It’s hard to find the balance sometimes. Finding your balance through social media in relation to your home education is just as important.

Nothing is ever as perfect as it seems – a quiet studious moment among the majority of others not so!

Another thing to remember is that many Apps are designed to be addictive. And it can become an addictive habit to be constantly seeking endorsement about what you’re doing, notching up Likes and approvals. Beware that’s not what you’re using social media for in relation to your home educating.

Outside of the home school community there’s also the risk of comparisonitus with schools and their approaches. School approaches to education are designed not with the child’s welfare in mind but with results in mind. Schools have to produce measurable outcomes. And in the pursuit of them real learning and growth and development of the individual can be lost, often along with their potential. Not to mention their health and mental wellbeing.

Forget what schools are doing. forget what ‘results’ other kids and parents are bragging about, or tests they’re being put through as if that was a valuable part of their schooling. Don’t doubt yourself because of other kids ‘going back’ to the school regime and fitting in with that norm. Get on with educating your way.

Look and learn from others – that’s important. Share and support one another. But keep it all within the perspective of the fact that no one is doing it best, better, or any more perfectly than you are. This will help immunise you from comparisonitus. Check you’re not addicted to constantly seeking approval. Be bold and confident about this amazing thing you’re doing and hold your nerve – true to what you’re doing it for. Keep real.

I’m always saying, yet still finding it needs saying again; we’re all different. No one will be home educating like you do, no child will be like yours, learn like yours, or other parent do it the way you parent. You do not need to compare yourself with anyone else. You only need to keep your integrity with what you think is right for you in your circumstances, keep researching and connecting, keep your eye on what’s working and what’s not, keep flexible and open minded.

This is the way to keep yourself well – well away from comparisonitus. You need that dis-ease about as much as you need Covid!

Take care!

The Beastly Bill

I’ve written to my MP. I don’t usually like to get involved with politics but the proposals in the School’s Bill are so horrendous I guess any voice will help. So I thought I’d post it here in case anyone wanted to use, share, lift bits or quote from it. Feel free to do so. The further it goes the better.

Also, at the bottom, I’ve put a couple of links to articles much more erudite than mine you might find useful. Plus the link to the petition in case you haven’t signed yet.

Meanwhile, this is the bulk of what I’ve said:

I am deeply concerned by the proposed School’s Bill, because of its many flaws, and would be most grateful if you’d take a moment to give your attention to the points below.

It’s obviously going to impact on all families with children in school, or otherwise, consequently a huge percentage of the population. But it appears to be based more on blinkered and biased assumptions rather than well researched facts, by people who have little understanding of education, learning, or children’s needs, which is not what I would expect from governmental proposals. And more worryingly, if implemented, could cause irreparable damage to thousands of children and consequently the education of our society.

I’m particularly worried about those children whose needs, through no fault of their own or their parents’, are unmet in school.

The proposals in this Bill are based on the misconception that all children can thrive in school, without regard for neurodiversity and the fact that all children are different, and some not at all suited to a school environment. For these children the choice of parents to educate through other approaches, has been a life saver – literally – for some who are suicidal. Through varied approaches, often via home educating, these children have had their failures and their ill health turned round into successes and well-being. Fact.

But the snag is that most people – including many MPs and decision makers – are ignorant, or blinkered, about this and about other approaches to learning and educating than those familiar through schooling. And reluctant to acknowledge their successes. As a result the Bill proposes to measure the performance of those children educated out of school, by the very same structures that failed them in the first place. And consequently make judgements about the parents. Just like Sats tests fail to give accurate indications of true progress and achievement, (ask any teacher), using school standardisation to measure alternative approaches will fail to realise the longer term benefits of home education and other methods of learning. Then, is in danger of criminalising parents with children not in school.

Some children are NOT fine in school, do NOT thrive in school, achieve and progress perfectly well OUT of school, as many graduating home educators are now proving. It is shocking that this basic truth is being ignored and unacknowledged. Parents who turn to alternative approaches to learning are not doing so to threaten the status quo; but to meet children’s basic needs where the system failed to do so. And are doing so successfully. Fact.

To restrict parent’s choice in the education of their children, to homogenize children’s abilities as identical, measure all approaches by the same (failing) bench marks, or fine parents whose children cannot attend school for personal reasons (usually their mental health) is nothing short of discrimination. And NOT of benefit to the children themselves.

What’s even more alarming is the danger that most of the staff who will be making decisions about the education of children out of school have absolutely no knowledge or understanding of school refusal, school phobia, mental ill-health caused by school, home education, or the very successful approaches to learning that home educating parents use. Surely this is no more acceptable than a doctor’s ability to manage their own child’s health being judged by any man on the street? It just wouldn’t be considered appropriate.

To fine and threaten parents, most of whom want to do the best by their children, is in no way helpful or supportive of those families who are already suffering because of their children’s issues and unmet needs in school. As a member of the home educating community myself, I have always felt that the term Elective Home Education is a complete misnomer. In fact home education probably wouldn’t exist if parents were confident and happy with what schools provide, that their children would thrive there, and that it would meet their needs. For most home educators it is not really ‘elective’; they had no choice, not if they wanted their child to thrive and achieve. Have you ever considered that? And have you ever considered why there are so many teachers among the home educating community now? It’s not because they think they know how to educate. It’s because they have seen what goes on in schools and know that it is unsuitable for so many kids because of inappropriate structures imposed there.

The rights and wishes of children, which is supposed to be the point of the Schools Bill, are in no way evident in it. This is more about the wishes of the government wanting to control what parents do, irrespective of the individual needs of children. And it will create more damage, more special needs, more mental health issues, more misery, and in the end a far less educated society than is already the result of a school system which is broken.

We need alternative methods to mainstream schooling. We need alternative opportunities for those neurodiverse children who cannot thrive in a uniform system. We need to acknowledge and embrace the pioneering methods both families and professionals are evolving that are enabling children with different needs to succeed where they didn’t in school.

No one would dispute that all children should be well cared for and given a suitable education. But this Bill is in no way going to implement that, especially if people continue to think, wrongly, that this can only result through governmental intervention.

It is a common scientific fact that our species will only survive, our planet will only survive, through the opportunity to diversify. It follows then that we should allow and encourage educational diversity in order to enhance our species’ evolution. And support those who need to diversify away from the stultifying systematic processing of the young, which schooling is in danger of becoming, towards approaches where they can succeed. This bill is a threat to that happening.

Finally, I’d like you to consider this; what if your child was being bullied or unhappy at school, was not achieving to their potential, had emotionally based school avoidance issues, or if the school was not meeting their needs, or the child was failing to thrive? What would you do if you then faced fines and criminal charges when you tried to opt out of state education – the cause of their problem – to pursue alternative approaches to their education, in an attempt to do the best for them? Which is what most parents want. As I imagine you do.

I’m asking that this has your attention. That you extend your own education by learning the truth about alternative approaches and successes, home educating included. By acknowledging the obvious fact that schools cannot possibly meet all needs and parents require support in attending to that, rather than criminalising. Please represent my concerns at every stage of the Bill’s development by raising the issues I’ve discussed here and listen to the voices of the thousands who are opposed to it for all the varied and valid reasons.

Thousands of children educate out of school successfully, that is a fact. There are thousands of young adults who have been alternatively educated, without governmental interference, now working and contributing to society in productive ways. Fact. To ignore or fail to acknowledge that, as the Bill appears to do, is morally wrong, disrespectful, discriminative and consequently, surely, in breach of the rights of the young.

See also:

https://www.connectandrespect.co.uk/post/the-dangers-of-the-schools-bill

Powerwood.org.uk the Proposed schools Bill article by Joanna Merrett

And sign here;

https://www.change.org/p/updated-attendance-guidance-encourages-prosecution-and-fines-of-families-facing-barriers-to-attendance-undiagnosed-children-with-send-are-particularly-at-risk-please-don-t-criminalise-our-families

Learning is not the result of teaching…

I had such a treat the other day; the opportunity to meet some fresh new home educators just starting out on their home education adventure.

They had two young children who’d only been at school a little since they’d started due to the pandemic. And it was this which had presented the parents with an opportunity to witness other approaches to learning. And see a change in their children’s health and wellbeing when out of school.

The biggest reason for them finally making the decision to take the children out of school now that they were attending again full time, they told me, was the deterioration in their children’s happiness and health again, both of which had dramatically improved in the months they’d been forced into doing school-at-home.

That was exactly what we witnessed in ours and a story that I hear so often from others.

It happens, I feel, because of something so many people fail to see or acknowledge: It’s not that children don’t like to learn – their curiosity and endless questions are proof that they do. It’s more because schools do not provide an environment in which all learners will thrive. That’s through no one’s fault. It’s just the way it is – although huge improvements could be made – but no one wants to acknowledge the needs of some children for something different.

Not every child’s personality is suited to the hubbub of school. And why should they be forced to endure it at the expense of their learning potential and wellbeing. These parents felt exactly the same about this and it’s what fuelled their decision.

Another interesting conversation I had with them stemmed from the fact that mum was a primary teacher. But she admitted she had an immense amount of un-learning to do herself, about the way children were taught, in relation to the way children learnt. And that these, in fact, are two very different things. She’d begun to see that now as she examined other approaches to educating, especially the more autonomous ones that she’d read about.

It put me in mind of an idea I came across very early on in our home educating days which was so helpful: That learning is not the result of teaching. It is the result of the activity of the learners.

During our early home educating days I thought a lot about what that actually means and kept the word ‘activity’ to the forefront of my approach to the children. It really helped.

Some valuable science going on here but sometimes the activities of my little learners seemed questionable. However, they all piece together to make a stimulating and successful education

This new home educating parent felt like I did about much of what went on in schools and what teachers were obliged to do to children under the guise of educating them. And how much of that was not only a waste of time, but also on occasion not doing the kids any good at all!

When you’re stuck in an institution you learn to do what the institution dictates. Schools are institutions which are at the mercy of decision makers and politicians who mostly have little knowledge of learning, education, children’s development and what is needed to become truly educated. Indeed what education truly is and what it’s for; in life beyond school and at a personal level. It’s not just about exams. (Read more on this in my educational philosophy by scrolling down the page ‘About Home Education) All politicians think about are the stats which tests and exams provide. But stats have nothing to do with the humanity of children and the way they learn and how to integrate into society.

These two little ones I met were happy, articulate, social, busy, engaged and had an actively developing intelligence.

This little family are clearly going to be okay as they find their way along the home educating road, making it up as they go along, as most of us do. Just like we do with parenting. And I’m confident it will all turn out okay as it does for most, despite the fact that it feels like a bit of a patchwork, DIY affair when you start out. It all works.

Of course, the big exams of the future question came up, even though these children were only at the primary stage. And I know it’s what a lot of parents worry about – politics has taught us to!

I told them that parents find their way with that at the time and not to look too far ahead. I always say that if you take care of the little learning moments, conversations, activities of your learners, and their well being each day, the future will take care of itself.

It was such a delight to be in the company of this little home educating family. And it made me feel again how I miss all those Home Ed times and the activities of my little learners!

Home School Wobbles?

Home educating is a glorious experience.

But it’s also no picnic – well – not all the time anyway. Although most if it for us did feel like a joyful romp away from the restriction of mainstream, with an expanding horizon of liberated learning all the way.

Even so, that doesn’t mean to say we didn’t lose the plot on occasion; have wobbles and tantrums (mine mostly) and doubts and bad days.

We did.

They passed!

Someone messaged me recently to tell me that whenever that happened to them they just picked up my book ‘A Home Education Notebook’ and could find comfort and reassurance. That’s good to know. For that’s exactly why it came to be written.

Because I knew exactly what those moments, or days, felt like and I wanted to offer something to help. In fact a reader of another of my books (Learning Without School), which came before the Notebook, said that she kept it on her bedside table for just those occasions. And that nearly became its title; the home education bedside book!

Having been right through home education, and those little children in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ living and working independently now, it’s as if it never happened. It certainly isn’t really relevant to their days any more. You ‘couldn’t tell’ if they went to school or not – as someone once offered as a response to being told they were home educated. We did laugh over that! But it might reassure you to know that although it feels like an enormously unorthodox and controversial step to you now, come the future it will all even out into mainstream life.

So don’t panic.

When you’re panicking and wobbling and losing the plot – which is downright natural anyway, we’re only human – consider some of the following:

  • you would be worrying just as much about your child in school
  • bad days are natural – whatever you’re doing
  • remember all the wonderful opportunities it gives you and why you did it in the first place
  • you might just be tired – back off and trust
  • not every single moment of every day needs to be filled with work and learning. It wouldn’t be in school. You achieve things quicker at home with individual attention, so your kids have more free time which is equally valuable to their development
  • being a thinking and intelligent person as you must be to do this in the first place, you will not spoil your child. None of my contemporaries who’ve also come out the ‘other side’ have spoiled theirs – I don’t know a home educator who has
  • love and happiness are as important to educational development as academics
  • being social doesn’t come from being in school
  • test results don’t equate to being an educated person
  • learning ‘difficulties’ often disappear outside of school
  • everything is always easier when you get outdoors – use that opportunity you have
  • consider what you think an educated person is and aim for that, as much as ‘results’!
Just one of the chapters from A Home Education Notebook

All of these topics and more are covered in my ‘Home Education Notebook’ so it might help you to have one handy to dip into on such occasions as these when, like us, you lose the plot.

But always remember that whenever the plot is lost – you can always find it, or renew it, or recharge it, and get going again!

Meanwhile, enjoy your home education. It won’t be there forever!

Oh – and a little head’s up; keep your eye on this space – there’s a new edition of ‘A Home Education Notebook’ coming soon with a completely new chapter which revisits many of the young people we home educated with to see what they are doing now! Always a subject everyone wants to know about!

Christmas tales…

A little Christmassy extract from ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ – the heartfelt story of our family’s learning days at home, when the girls were roughly nine and twelve:

“…With it being our third year of kids at home full time around Christmas you’d think we’d have engineered a plan for secrets. We decided we’d try honesty and appeal to their mature natures now that they were eleven and eight.

“Your dad and I are just going upstairs for a while and it’s important you don’t disturb us. Have you got things to do?”

“What for?” There was a little twinkle in Chelsea’s eye as she asked which reminded me distinctly of mum.

“It’s a secret,” I said smiling.

“A Christmas secret?” asked Charley also grinning now and knowing exactly what we were up to.

“Maybe,” said their dad. He tried to be mysterious but the girls are too clever for him. “So you won’t disturb us, will you?”

“Maybe!” returned Chelsea copying him and Charley smirked.

We went upstairs and de-hid all their presents from our various drawers.

“Do you think they’ll disturb us?” said Charles, cutting paper on the slant and wrestling to find the end of the sticky tape.

“I don’t think so, but look, we’ll turn back the bedcovers then if they come up whilst we’re wrapping we’ll throw the duvet over everything.” You have to be inventive when you’re a Home Educator.

“Do you remember doing this when they were at school,” I said.

“Yea, life was easy then,” he said grinning and spitting sticky tape from between his teeth.

“What? You think tears and illness every day were easy?” We laughed. I wrapped. He stuck. If he was in charge of the wrapping all the presents would look like parcels of fish and chips.

“No, it was awful. I can’t believe we’ve done this as long as we have. It just seems so ordinary now. You should hear the others at work going on about homework and packed lunches and stuff. Not to mention Christmas concert practises. They’re complaining the kids aren’t getting on with their learning” He stuck my finger to the parcel.

I extricated it and reached for some ribbon.

“I can imagine. Do they say anything about ours then?”

“Only how they can see why we do it.” He put his massive thumb on the delicate bow I created, squishing it. I tied his thumb down.

“Not enough for them to have a go though!” I laughed. Then the stairs creaked. Charles leapt off the bed, smacked his head on the sloping ceiling but still managed to toss the duvet over the presents as I stuffed the paper under the bed. We sat there and listened. Sniggering was coming from the landing.

“Go away,” Charles called.

“We’re not coming in, we’re only going to our rooms.” The giggling got fainter. We exchanged looks. Charles sneaked a peek through a crack in the old planked door.

“What they doing?” I whispered.

“They’ve gone into their bedrooms but their doors are open.”

“Let’s carry on. I don’t think they’ll come in. They wouldn’t want to spoil their Christmas surprises. Besides, I think Chelsea’s becoming aware of other things that go on in bedrooms!”

Charles raised his eyebrows in glee. “In that case, perhaps we should make good use of it.”

“What? You think you could enjoy sex with giggling going on at the bedroom door and creaking floorboards?” We laughed like naughty kids but continued wrapping.

“What you laughing at?” came from right outside the door. We bundled the duvet back over everything once more.

“Never you mind. Go back downstairs,” I shouted. I crept over and peeped to see if there was any peeping coming from the other side the crack. None.

“Come on, let’s get it done before they come up again.” The rest were wrapped in haste and I fear my parcels looked like fish and chips too.

Charley looked shocked and uncomfortable. Her face was full of both thunder and distress and very red. Her eyes looked like they were going to fill up any minute. She turned her head away and would not look at Charles or me either.

Chelsea just folded her arms across her chest, adopted her most disdainful position and stated emphatically “If anyone asks; you are not my dad.”

Charles couldn’t help it. All the staff were told to dress up for the Christmas market for charity but the girls weren’t impressed. And Charley absolutely hated anyone dressed up in costume.  I got a bit of a shock myself seeing this large rotund red fellow with two cushions up his jacket and his face adorned with a mass of flowing white stuff. It’s very off-putting seeing someone who you are as familiar with as your own body parts taking on another persona. He was sweating so much the bits of his face you could see were authentically shining as Santa’s does in all the pictures. It did the trick. A good crowd had gathered at the store and money was being thrown continually in the charity bucket.

“God, I keep losing my trousers,” he said grabbing a handful of red bottom and hoisting it up. I couldn’t help laughing.

“I knew you’d laugh,” he said.

“Sorry, I’m not laughing at you, it’s just your trousers.” I tried to help. But grappling with Santa’s trousers seemed even funnier. Obviously everyone else thought so too as two more pounds went in the bucket. It’s not every day people see Santa being groped.

“Do you have to behave like that?” demanded Chelsea, standing holding Charley’s hand a little bit distant whilst we tried to control our hysteria. She still wouldn’t look at him.

“Have a sweetie,” said Charles holding out the bucket to her.

“No!”

“It’s only a bit of fun,” I said.

“You look stupid.”

I didn’t care, I was in the Christmas spirit. I had a quick snog with Santa and left him to his collecting.

“We’ll go look round the Christmas Market. See you later.”

“Okay. See you later girls.” They ignored him and pulled me away. But Chelsea called back over her shoulder.

“Save us some sweeties, dad.”

We bought a few Christmas presents and then had to get some new wellies for Chelsea. Charley just got the hand-me-downs but she was still at the stage where anything of Chelsea’s was revered. Wellies had taken on a new persona of their own in the shops. They were more pictorial than the efforts we see in the Tate Modern and a hell of a price. I refused to be ripped off, plus the fact we had tight budgets. But Chelsea ogled the bright ones wistfully.

“I’m sorry darling, these will have to do. The others are just too expensive,” I said picking up the plain green ones, the cheapest we could find. I felt a bit wretched about this. In order to Home Educate, time isn’t the only thing we sacrifice and all I ever seem to say is ‘we can’t afford it’. But she’s so intuitive she must have picked up on it.

“It doesn’t matter mum. I’ll paint my own with the paints we got from the recycling centre.”

I was so grateful for her magnitude I cuddled her up. “What a brilliant idea! And I bet they’ll be better than any in the shops.”

“Yea, and no one else will have any the same,” she said looking at a girl wearing some we’d just seen in Woolworths.

“Can I paint mine too?” asked Charley.

“Sure. We’ll have a wellie painting session. We could even paint your dad’s,” I said winking at them. They really liked that idea.

When we went back later Charles looked his normal self again. He opened his arms to Charley and she leapt into them with clear relief. Chelsea lobbed her arms round his waist.

“Is that better now?” he asked carrying Charley to the car. She inspected him slightly doubtfully. Chelsea smiled happily up at him holding the free hand.

“You did look daft, dad,” she giggled.

“Did you remember the sweets?” asked Charley.

He put her down and produced a packet from his pocket. Finally Charley grinned at him too. It was definitely better now.

“Mum! You can’t go out like that,” Chelsea said as I tied tinsel on my shoes ready for a Christmas party.

“Why not? It’s Christmas isn’t it.” I looked at her in feigned indignation. She’d got that suffering look on again.

“Doh! What do you look like?” She was getting to be a right Tweenager.

“I think you look nice,” said Charley clasping my leg in a cuddle from the carpet where she was building a structure with our logs.

“Well at least put some lipstick on,” said Chelsea still trying to make something out of me. She rummaged in a make up bag so extensive it would be the envy of Julian Clary. “How about this?” She produced something nearly black.

“Black?” I shrieked. “It’s Christmas, not Halloween.”

“It’s not black, it’s plum.”

“I’ll have some,” said Charley hopefully. She was ignored. I sneaked a look in the bag of sticky powdery tubs and jars and pencils. It staggered me how she loved it so, I wasn’t into it at all. But I humoured her and found a jar of lovely sparkly glittery gluey stuff with sequin stars in.

“Ooo, this is nice.” I opened the pot and smeared some across my chest. It made grubby stains as if I hadn’t washed for a week. “Oh!” I looked in the mirror, disappointed.

“Oh, mum, not like that.” Chelsea took over and I had the sense our mother and daughter roles were reversing. She wiped it about and the smudges disappeared leaving a myriad of glistening sparkles. Then she added the sequins.

“Can I have some?” asked Charley again, thinking her sister had softened her attitude.

“No!” was the emphatic retort.

“Can I have some then?” asked Charles.

“NO!” they both shrieked together. And give us their parents-are-prats look.

We finished getting ready.

“So do we look alright now?” I asked.

“Yes.” They smile united. But I couldn’t help a last word.

“You know it’s not how you look, it’s what’s inside that counts.”

“Yes, we know!”

They know too much, my kids.

Christmas continued sparkly all the way through.

The best thing about it was the painted wellies. They were works of art fit for exhibiting in The Tate themselves, with swirls and colours and rainbows. If I’d bought the coloured ones we never would have had such creativity. Being on a tight budget certainly makes you think creatively so maybe I shouldn’t worry after all. Charley painted gold stars on hers. But she painted straight over the mud so the stars had a brown tinge.

Charles and I used the ‘holiday’ from education to ignore the children and just live life. But it didn’t work. We didn’t want it to really. We were a family, we were a team. Life and education were as indistinguishable from one another as our family and love. I suspected it always would be.”