Tag Archive | kids

5 Tips for new home educators

Experimentation, trial & error, play are all valid ways to learn

It’s that time of year when the numbers of home schoolers suddenly shoots up!

And it’s a rise made up of all sorts of parents; those who never intend to start their child at school, through those who’ve done it a while and don’t want to ‘go back’ after the summer, right to those with teenagers who really need something different now.

Making the decision is often the hard part. Then it’s exciting and inspiring to get launched into it. However you sometimes get a rebound where you think; ‘Heck! What now?’

So I thought I’d post five quick tips to bump you over that bit.

  1. Relax! Be confident in the fact home education works for thousands – it can work for you. But it takes a long time and is a long slow process – obvious but oft forgot! And it takes a long adjustment period if you’ve come at it from schooling. We forever read that a relaxed and mindful approach to life creates just as much success as a tense and driven one – now is the time to really practise that. Your child’s education will be better for it. So take some time to find the best way forward; time to research, time to connect with others, time for trial and error until you find a way that works for you. You have the time – because you won’t be wasting it on tedious school processes where the kids are learning nothing!
  2. Enjoy it. Learning IS enjoyable, although that’s difficult to tell in the system sometimes. A learning life is enjoyable. Don’t think that if you’re enjoying it then it’s not ‘proper’ learning! And happiness is important for learning and achieving anyway. Unhappy kids don’t reach their true potential. (There’s a post here about that)
  3. Connect with others. Take some time to find other home educators and visit groups, read or see what others are doing. Learn from them. There’s a huge range of approaches and groups and it may take time to find one that works for you. And for goodness sake don’t worry about the ‘socialisation’ issue – there isn’t one! (As I point out in this post)
  4. Diversify your learning approaches – and your thinking. Consider the difference between schooling and educating – there is one! Learning can happen at any time, any venue, in or out, in a multitude of different ways from the way it’s done in school. (Read this post) It does not have to take place inside, at a desk or table, in silence, sitting still, or through academic exercises. Children learn best when they are inspired through observation, experimentation, trial and error, going out, experiencing things practically as much as possible. So you’re going to have to diversify your thinking if you’re stuck thinking about classroom ways of learning only!
  5. Get out lots. Play lots. Talk lots. Whatever kids are doing they are learning – they just can’t help it. You can formalise it later, just enjoy it for now. Wherever kids are there are opportunities for learning. whether it’s spotting ants on the pavement, discussing the dinner, playing with others in the swimming pool, journeying, holidaying, meeting others. Play is essential for learning too. Use libraries, sports halls, museums, galleries, garden centres, shops, parks, playgrounds, nature reserves, sites of specific interest – natural – historic – scientific. Learning out and about stays with kids far better than sat inside.

This may also be a useful reminder for all of you who’ve been home educating a while now. If you’re anything like me you can get all up-tight about it and forget these simple ideas. So enjoy your home education too.

Whatever stage you’re at, may you have as much fun home educating as we did.

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Learn for personal excellence – not for beating others

I’ve been reading the work of Alfie Kohn recently. In particular ‘The Myth of the Spoiled Child’. 

I applaud his ideas, especially those about education where he, like me, finds the obsession with competition, grading, testing and trophies for winning rather distasteful.

He says:

“When we set children against one another in contests—from spelling bees to awards assemblies to science “fairs” (that are really contests), from dodge ball to honor rolls to prizes for the best painting or the most books read—we teach them to confuse excellence with winning, as if the only way to do something well is to outdo others. We encourage them to measure their own value in terms of how many people they’ve beaten, which is not exactly a path to mental health.”

It illustrates something many people misunderstand; the difference between personal excellence for personal excellence’s sake, instead of for the sake of winning.

I’ve always abhorred the idea of competition in an educational climate. Competition is not about personal excellence or individual growth which education should be, it is about beating others. And in today’s school climate very much about league tables and the big commercial and political business education has become.

Some people are fine with that; it’s a competitive world, I hear people cry, and kids have to be taught how to cope. But Kohn has his own strong arguments against that position and why it’s of benefit to no one. Namely that driving our kids to learn and excel because ‘it’s a competitive world’ doesn’t have as much impact on their achievement or do a lot for their mental health as encouraging them to excellence because it is fulfilling. And also avoids making others feel bad – unlike competitive practices.

And isn’t that part of the idea of education? To learn how to live together and contribute with compassion?

He goes on in his book to talk about ways of parenting that revolve around ‘working-with’ the children rather than ‘doing-to’. That can also be applied to the way we educate and is probably the position that most home educators adopt within their approach!

And I love his idea, as the book draws to a close, of encouraging ‘reflective rebelliousness’ where young people are encouraged to question rather than practice mindless obedience, and we should as parents support their autonomy in a way that complements concerns for others.

Certainly sounds a bit like home educators to me! It’s well worth a read!

Could I really afford to homeschool?

One of the reasons people think they could not home educate is to do with money; they think they couldn’t afford to. There is obviously the consideration of parents working and earning and how to manage this around homeschooling. But home education doesn’t have to be expensive in itself; money doesn’t guarantee a good education!

I wrote about this in my ‘Home Education Notebook‘ (see the My Books page) so here’s the extract in case this is the way you’re thinking:

Some people think that the more money you have the better education you will be able to provide or access. Some people think the more money you throw at a child the cleverer they will be. Some people think the more costly the institution the better the education inside it will be.

But none of that is guaranteed.

You can of course buy a private institutional or taught education. You can buy into an area where the schools are considered top. You can buy courses and resources and tutors if that’s your thing. But none of these are guarantees of a quality education either.

This is because education is not really a commodity that can be bought like other items outside of a person like clothing for example. It’s not an App or an add-on or a piece of food.

Education is more a state of being. And that is very personal – not commercial. And open to anyone.

Developing an educated state of being is entirely personal, individual, and requires something that’s not stuck on the outside of a person. It requires something within to happen instead. It requires a human shift. Therefore, it is about people; all of whom are different, all of whom will respond to their educational opportunities differently, and all of whom will grow into a different person in reaction to learning opportunities.

For a person to become educated they have to engage with it themselves. They are the ones who have to make the shift. What happens on the periphery may make a little difference but it is the learner who has to make it happen within and that’s why it really cannot be bought.

There’s a saying that sums up what I’m getting at quite precisely, it goes; ‘you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink’.

I reminded myself of this several times during our home educating years. In fact it’s still relevant now when I want to try and control what the young people do and they’re having none of it – quite rightly. I can have all the ideas I want about what I think is best for them but unless they engage with those ideas they’ll have no effect at all. And they also have their own valid ideas!

Same with home education. I could lead the children towards all kinds of fascinating activities (in my view) but I couldn’t force them to engage.

I used to get intensely frustrated. Especially when I had all my planned activities dismissed as readily as I dismissed their choice in crap telly programmes. I used to spend enormous amounts of time and energy thinking up these engaging activities, then enormous amounts of time and energy in the frustration of them being disregarded, but it was my fault.

As they grew, they began to take over their education for themselves and it would have been a lot better if I’d butted out. But being a parent – okay a bit of an interfering parent – I still reckoned I had to have a lot of input. Some of the time it was welcome – most of the time it was more about me wanting control and doing my bit as an educator and as such was not welcome.

This, like trying to buy education, didn’t work. Because both with the buying and the control, neither guarantee that learning is going to take place. Whatever we try to buy or do – the learning still has to come from the learner.

It doesn’t matter how much you do, it doesn’t matter how much you buy or spend, or the energy you put into it, real education can only take place through the responses of your learner. You can’t buy that!

In a way, that’s quite a comforting thought; it does at least take some of the burden off your shoulders as a parent. Of course your burden maybe instead to facilitate those activities but even that isn’t always going to work. Sometimes the children are just not having any of it. Those days you just have to go with it knowing that things always change and others will be better. But in the end, you can lead a child towards being educated, but you cannot force them to partake of it. Canny provision of stimulating things around them often works as a strategy to engage or inspire them. But in the end it is up to them. And that’s no different whether it costs a little or a lot.

An educated person can come from a poor background or a rich background. Becoming educated starts with an attitude not an income. Being educated is a state of mind not a state of finance.

Poverty has been cited as being one of the causes of poor education. But the kind of poverty that really impacts is a poverty of thinking, more than a poverty of purse.

Obviously good nutrition and warm comfortable homes, opportunities to get out and about and see the world all contribute and money does play a part in those things. But you can still have an engaging education despite the challenge of not having those things – they are all influential in degrees anyway. And not guaranteed to have an impact. Money is not the only influential factor.

The poorest family can have the richest love and support of their children and the wealthiest attitude to learning and personal advancement. It’s that attitude that money has nothing to do with.

Money can’t make an education. A state of mind does. And an educative state of mind can evolve despite the state of the cash flow!

 

 

Shocking practice – for so-called education

Education is about people – I’ve always said that. If you think about it; how could it be about anything else?

Children excluded from the school picnic as reported on BBC news

It is about the development and evolution of our species – although we’re more normally concerned with our own particular individuals within it. But our individuals are part of the wider community, the human race, the planet and other species living on it. And how to live harmoniously in order to sustain it.

That’s what education is about – when you can see the bigger picture.

If anyone dropped in from outer space and observed it I doubt they’d know that – they’d just think it was about statistics and results and a huge political treadmill.

The bigger picture is of course made up of smaller parts; it’s children that most concern us when we think about education.

So when those individuals are treated in a less than harmonious way – like these children I read about recently as an example – it seems a complete contradiction of what education should be and proves the point about statistics – they’ve become more important than humanity.

This reported how a group of children who were unable to maintain a 100% attendance at school were excluded from a party.

I found this a shocking practice that creates a poisonous and divisive attitude to others and to education, clearly focussed on building school statistics not developing educated people. And I’m also shocked that the so-called educated people who make such policies are too uneducated to see it.

In order to develop educated people we have to demonstrate care for them, inspire them, nurture their skills and talents, enable them to extend and apply them to the wider world. This is what education is for isn’t it? It is about people going into the world, developing a relationships with it and the people in it, how this is sustained, so therefore its premise and its role must extend far beyond the small world of schools, institutions, their stats and results and the ensuing politics. And it starts with individuals.

Thankfully there are some in the profession are beginning to see this.

Geoff Barton writing in the TES agrees. He says that education is becoming so insular it is failing to relate to the bigger world out there and the people in it.

He says we must reclaim education as ours.

Well, that’s exactly what thousands of home educators are doing. Their inspirational approaches bypass the institutional treadmill education has become based on stats and attendance, records and results, yet the result of homeschooling is often the same; qualifications for some, higher education, employment, social adept individuals. Yet their approaches are nearly always centred around people – not stat-building.

Which just goes to show how unnecessary it all is. And how unnecessary it is to put kids through the cruel practice described above.

Shocking!

The academic snobbery of the 1950s still exists!

I’m reading an old favourite to put me to sleep at night.

My retro edition

The simplest of books are needed sometimes to slow my thoughts down after a busy day. Plot led ones are no good; they either stir me up or I’m too tired to remember what’s happened. Inspirational books set my mind racing when I’m hoping for the opposite effect.

So I’m visiting a bit of Miss Read. In particular her ‘Village Dairy’, a rather romantic reflection of old fashioned rural lives.

I read ‘Village School’ years ago when I was teaching in one myself and thought it so dated. Now I love the gentleness of it and realise that some of the things the old school mistress observes about the life of the times are almost relevant today. I think some of you homeschooling readers will see what I mean!

I came across this passage where she reflects on the lives of the country children she teaches, many of whom would rather be out earning a living in the country they know, rather than being forced to do ‘book work for which they had little sympathy’:

It is not surprising that today some (children) still resent being kept at school, particularly if there’s nothing new or absorbing to learn offered them’.

Sound a bit familiar? And these days they have to stay till they’re 18!

She talks about how many of them have in depth knowledge of the world around them and, out of the classroom, are building the life skills to go with it. And she maintains that forcing language, grammar, book learning and theoretical maths is of no use to them when, as they get older, they already know what they want to do and are already building the skills with which to do it.

This was in the 1950s! I still get what she’s saying in today’s world!

Obviously no child should be denied the opportunity to explore other avenues, other areas, other skills and interests than those on their doorstep or pursued by their parents. With today’s Internet opportunities they have that chance. But it’s always limited for the more practical occupations are still devalued by educational emphasis only placed on the academic. It’s almost as if the snobbery that existed back in Miss Read’s day, about the more practical and physical occupations being for the less intelligent, still exists.

The trouble is so many kids are not suited to academics, however intelligent they are, and do not learn well through academic approaches. And what saddens me even more is that we still look down on them for it, even in our so called inclusive way of looking at the world.

We perhaps need a much more practical and life relevant approach – as many home educators use – to what youngsters learn and how they learn it, in order to provide the inclusivity that politics boasts about.

Inclusivity does not only apply to ethnicity or disability, it applies to all learning needs and should provide for all learning preferences, personal strengths and aptitudes.

And recognise the fact, without judgement, that not everyone’s needs can be catered for through academic approaches, test related curriculum content, or even being in a school setting.

I guess it would be almost impossible to completely cater for the diversity of our young people. But how much do we even try?

I fear that we are moving away from recognising the need to try by making all young people fit into a system that continues to force children to learn through doing ‘book work’ (or in today’s terms – online work), just as in the days of Miss Read!

Still hungering to open minds!

I would like to think things had changed from when I first wrote this quite a few years ago. Judging by the accusations still thrown our way I sometimes wonder!

Out in the real world experiencing real things

As home educators you get accused of a lot of things:

–          You get accused of tying your children to your apron strings and being unable to let them go.

–          You get accused of narrowing their education to the confines of your home.

–          You get accused of wanting to molly coddle them instead of allowing them to acclimatize to the rough and tumble of the ‘real’ world.

–          You get accused of both wanting to academically cram your children and the opposite of totally neglecting their education.

–          You get accused of being weird and alternative.

–          And the worst thing of all; you get accused of being a parent who does not care about education since you don’t send your child to school.

What is so galling about these accusations is that firstly, in the case of most home educating families, the exact opposites are true. And secondly they are usually made by people who have no first hand experience of home education and who speak in complete ignorance! Often in fear.

Far from tying the kids to their apron strings most home educating parents are giving their children an opportunity to be out in the ‘real’ world. The real ‘real’ world that is, not the artificial world of school.

Far from narrowing their education, home education extends the child’s experiences far beyond the home and the world becomes their learning environment, gaining them an understanding of how the world works and how they fit into it beyond the classroom. Home educated children are exposed to a wide range of people and a wide range of social experiences over and above the limits and unnatural clustering of school ones.

As for academically cramming or neglecting their education; most home educating families strive to achieve a far better balance in their educational provision than that which a child would normally achieve within the restrictions of the national curriculum. A balance between first hand learning and study, a balance between passive learning and active engagement, a balance between physical activities, arts, sciences, field trips, experimentation, personal development, independent learning, investigation, creative innovation, intellectual stimulation and a social diversity which extends way beyond that which they would receive going to the same school with the same bunch of people, day after day, year after year.

Far from being molly coddled most home educating families give their child some say in the educational process, unlike their educationally spoon-fed contemporaries in school, thus building essential skills needed for independence.

And far from being weird and alternative we are actually very ordinary parents who want the same simple things every parent wants for their children; their health and happiness, continued development and achievement, and realisation of their individual potential.

And finally, far from being neglectful of their education, we are totally and one hundred percent committed to it. Why else would any parent take such a mammoth step?

Things have changed a bit – there are thousands more families accepting home schooling for the workable option it is.

But I still hunger to open closed minds. To invite people to do a little personal learning, step beyond their normal conditioned responses and seek to understand that there are many, many approaches to education that are as equally successful as the one they are used to through school. And to grow a little tolerance and compassion towards those people who would make different choices to their own.

Please pass it on!

The teacher who couldn’t read

A little while ago I read the most amazing story on the BBC news by John Corcoran. He was a teacher for 17 years who had hidden the fact that he couldn’t read.

The teacher John Corcoran who kept it secret that he couldn’t read or write. Read his moving story

A teacher who couldn’t read? How shocking is that?

Or is it? Is it more shocking that someone who was so devoted to trying to better himself, despite his inability to pick up this skill, should be so ashamed of it that he had to keep it secret.

But perhaps the real shocker is the fact that our so-called inclusive society so looks down on people who cannot read that they feel compelled to do so?

Read his amazing story here.

The subject of his story is something that often bugs me; that we make judgements about people’s intelligence and about them as people just because they are different from us and cannot develop the skills required for reading in the same way we might.

Reading is a skill – a multitude of skills combined together – just like driving, for example. The ability to drive is also a set of skills that some people never manage to acquire, despite persistently trying. Reading is the same; a set of skills that because of the differences in people, some are unable to develop the same way as others.

We are all different. What works for some doesn’t work for others. Do we acknowledge that? For some things we do. For reading we seem to forget it.

Some learners need very different approaches, need very different time frames, in order to get to grips with reading.

But this is not an indication of low intelligence or ignorance or a defect. It’s just how some people are.

The readers among us are not superior to the non-readers. Just as the drivers are not superior to the non-drivers.

We’re just different.

Let’s take away the snobbery, the pressure, and the judgement people like John and others like him have felt over the years and let’s support everyone in their differences, whatever they are.

Let’s live up to our claim of being an all-inclusive society and stop the shocking judgements that exist about those who do not read in the same way as others so that there’s no shame or secret surrounding it. And so that more can tell their story and get the proper support they need without feeling as bad as he did.