Tag Archive | kids

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.”

You cannot photograph sensations

I’ve enjoyed Instagramming my regular walks – wanting to share a bit of the countryside with you all.

The danger of Instagram though, and other social media sites, is that you can be so busy photographing the moment, you’re not actually engaging with it. More than likely you’re engaging with the opportunity to show it off to others. In fact, holding your phone up almost creates a barrier – certainly a psychological one – between you and the sensation of mindfully enjoying.

I noticed this particularly on an autumn walk a month or so ago. I was so busy sharing the experience on my phone, and looking at the photos to see if they were good enough, I’d disengaged from the experience itself. Not just the sight of nature laid sweetly before my eyes, but all the other sensations of being there as well; a last bit of Lark song of the season, the smell of the damp foliage, the shine of the dew and the soft touch of the gentle breeze.

Instead of mindfully being there, I was missing it all. I put the phone away.

This is why I hardly took any photos at my daughter’s wedding. (See recent post here) There were several others snapping away, some who’d been particularly engaged to do so. There would be plenty of photographic memories, I could appropriate!

But you can’t photograph sensations. And it was the sensations of the day I wanted to bring away with me.

And it’s made me wonder, as I see so many photos of your delightful children and the activities they’re doing splashed across social media, whether some parents are so busy photographing their kids for posting on sites they’re actually missing out on the sensations of being there with them.

One day you won’t be! They’ll have flown.

A grainy one from the pre-digital days, when the odd personal photos were more treasured for being fewer, and we were consequently more engaged with the moment!

A single photo memory is nice to have, I agree. But I suspect our phones have pushed us beyond that, beyond even the sensation of wanting to share, towards an addiction of wanting approval, likes and endorsement. These gadgets and platforms are designed to be addictive.

Just a thought.

So this is a call for you to enjoy your kids while they’re there with you. Masses of pics are no substitute for living the moment, of being with them, engaged. The depth of those feelings cannot be reproduced in an other medium. Only that which you have experienced within.

Put your phone down and live your life as a parent for the experience at the time, not for the reproduction of it.

Decry the tidy – it’s not educational!

He’s one of the Marmite people. Someone who either provokes love or derision! Whichever, it’s usually a strong emotion towards the presenter, author and naturalist, Chris Packham. I’m not sure which it is from me except that I do have immense admiration for someone who’s stuck at his cause despite the difficulties and challenges he’s encountered.

I’ve been sitting outside reading his book ‘Back to Nature’, co-authored by conservationist and environmental activist Megan McCubbin. And it’s brilliant. It talks about how our need for nature was exacerbated by the Covid crisis and Lockdowns, bringing people back in touch with the natural world which too many have neglected for too long. But this very readable book is also a stark examination of the harm we do nature, much of it clandestine and political, dotted with facts and figures many of which I wouldn’t have believed possible, and exposes the many flaws in our conservation practices which most of us are ignorant of.

But we can make changes for the better in our own small, day-to-day ways. And one of these is to do with being tidy!

When you’re a home educator you need to learn to live with untidy!

An untidy house, with materials and resources, projects and creations strewn about, is far more likely to stimulate children’s brains into action than a bare a tidy one. And action, of whatever sort, gets the kids’ brains learning and developing, is good for their bodies, minds, spirits and education. (Read more on this in Chapter 25 of ‘A Home Education Notebook’) Basically, where there’s stuff about and things going on, there is stimulation and busyness and skills being learned as youngsters cannot resist the temptation to touch, handle, investigate, explore and use, all pre-cursors to learning. Untidy has enormous developmental potential and value. Far more than show-case, manicured rooms. They are as boring as Chris says manicured lawns are!

For it’s untidy in nature that Chris says we also need. We need little untidy patches, however big or small and wherever they are, to give nature hidey holes, and foot holds, and feeding stations in our concrete and commercial worlds. We need to encourage our kids to grow things, even if it’s a pot outside the door with weeds in. (Weeds are nature too). We need to observe and celebrate those bits of green growing out of cracks in pavements and walls. We need to get away from the idea of tidy gardens and environments and make any little space, garden or otherwise that we’re lucky enough to have, wildlife friendly rather than manicured. Leave leaves, stalks and stems, let old sticks and logs lie, and neglect little corners and scruffy places for these will all give some wild critter a home. And never spray your dandelions!

What this will also provide are opportunities for you and the family to explore and investigate what happens and who lives there, and ensure that your child’s educational understanding is of the fact that every little creature, plus all the invisible ones that will be part of their food chain, matters in the balance of all things, matters for the food we eat, for the homes we have, for the sustenance provided by the planet that we all depend upon.

In the bigger picture of nature and education untidy doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you can in these small ways make a contribution to the natural world. Understanding it is an essential element of any curriculum, of any educational process. It’s not just the big things that big conservation pioneers do that matters. The small things that you and the children do – and do without – matter just as much.

Love or hate Chris Packham his book is an examination of the world you’re potentially leaving your children and how you as a family can make it better for them. You might like to give it a read!

Considering home schooling instead of back to school?

With the return to school looming on the horizon I thought it would be a good time to repost this blog which asks;

What do you really know about home education?

The reason I ask is because there are still so many stories surrounding it. Including less than accurate stuff in the media often based around untrue myths. Add on to that the debacle of school-at-home style of home schooling that was forced onto parents during the pandemic and the concept of real home education has become quite blurred.

So I thought I’d put a few ideas here in case you were considering this approach to your child’s education in preference to school.

Firstly, did you know that there are thousands and thousands of families now successfully and happily home educating?

And did you know that most home schooled children go on to make a success of their education, career, life in the same way school children do, despite not having been in school for all those years?

Did you know that home educating doesn’t have to cost the earth and parents on very low incomes, including single parents, still manage to do it? Throwing money at a child does not make them educated!

Did you know that home educating children make friends, have friends, build excellent social skills, have a vibrant social life and socialise just as others do?

Did you know that there is a huge wealth of learning resources, lessons, curriculum, courses, printouts, both free and otherwise, available on line? You can literally find out anything.

Did you know that families never home educate in isolation (unless they choose to) and that there are broad networks of others to connect to that share resources, concerns, to learn from and find support via social media and other organisations which also lead to physical meet-ups and groups to get together with? Many of whom will probably be getting together for their annual ‘not back to school’ picnic right now!

Did you know that as much home schooling takes place outside the home as in it and your community is full of resources to facilitate it? You’re not at home day after day, on your own, not knowing what or how to learn.

Did you know that contrary to what many parents may worry about, being with the children all the time tends to improve their family relationships?

Did you know that parents are free to choose whatever approach to education suits their child’s needs? This could involve following a curriculum – or not, following age specific targets and objectives – or not, adopting either a structured or completely autonomous approach, or proceeding with complete flexibility according to your individual’s interests and the way they work best. And that parents find that home educating gives them the opportunity to successfully overcome any difficulties children encountered with learning in a school setting.

Did you know that it is completely legal, in fact it is the legal responsibility of the parents to see that their children are receiving an education suitable to their needs (see the law here), it’s just that most parents hand that over to schools? (I wonder how many schools get away with breaking the law in failing to provide that for some children?)

Did you know that most home educating families never use testing in their approach, yet home schooled children successfully go on to achieve a good educational standard, go on to further and higher education, including exams, or work without having done a test at all, and cope competently within those more formal settings? Testing does not make an education.

And finally consider this; home educating families are not weird or different or unable to participate in mainstream life, just because they don’t do mainstream school. They are just the same as any other family wanting to do the best for their children and that best may take a myriad of different forms yet all the home educated youngsters I’ve known have progressed into the working world just the same as their school contemporaries and once there you wouldn’t know they hadn’t been to school.

So if you want to know more, take a look at my books, Google some of the home educating blogs and groups (Facebook’s a good place to start) and connect with others to find out how it happens. And you can read our own story in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ which will give you an idea of a home educating life and hopefully make you warm and giggly!

Lockdown Home Schooling!

I may be a home educator at heart, but it doesn’t mean I don’t feel for all those parents of school kids who suddenly find themselves home schooling without having made that choice for themselves.

That’s extremely tough. Especially so if you have to keep working from home, doing the same hours you did before. It must be impossible to focus adequately on both.

Home educating families who’ve chosen to do so, have mostly made that choice after researched decisions and planning and re-jigging their lifestyle to fit. Not to mention a willing and inspired heart! I guess this won’t be the case for many parents in Lockdown right now. Not only that the facilities out of the house, which home educators would depend on, are no longer available. That’s tough for all of us, socially as well as educationally.

It helps, I think, to be aware of these stresses and challenges we’re all of us facing right now. And to be kind and gentle with your days, with your expectations, and especially aware of practising strategies to remain mindful of your mental and spiritual well-being too.

Last year when Lockdown first confronted us I posted some ideas to try and help those parents who are home schooling now. As I explained it might be time to examine your own ideas and attitude to schooling and learning and come to a different understanding in order to help yourself through, as some parents have rigid ideas and expectations that may not be serving them well during this difficult time.

Here are some examples:

Understand the concept of time differently. In a school day much time is wasted between classes, waiting for quiet, disruptions, etc. At home children can get through things much more quickly because they concentrate differently. So if you’re doing school stuff at home keep that in mind and let them use the free time they have for personal explorations, which are just as educative.

Understand also that kids learn from everything they do, whatever they’re doing, playing included. Experience educates more than anything else.

So use this time to encourage experience of other activities that you may not have had time for but which are equally developmental like creativity of any sort; from changing a room round to making dens, building structures, whatever. Cooking, growing, customising, artworks, experiments with anything you have in the cupboard. An inventive mind is a stimulated and developing mind – good for brain development – good for building valuable skills. More motivational than workbooks as well! (See the poster below – it’s true!)

You may not be able to get out to museums, galleries, workshops, libraries and public places like them right now, which make up part of a home educators week, but most of them have amazing sites online to explore with games and facts and videos that are intriguing. As do the Wildlife Trusts and organisations, Blue Planet and programmes like them, National Geographic magazine has a kids section, all full of educational activities. Not forgetting the BBC learning website, Channel 4 Learning, the Open University etc, historical films and documentaries.

To maintain freshness, pursue a mix of activities that contrast each other like the sedentary and the active, the indoor and out, alone or in company (when possible), screen based or written and the practical. Contrast helps motivation too.

Encourage separate times. Discuss and plan for each to have some personal time and space in the house without others interruptions and promote this as a valuable and important recharge time. (You might have to suggest things to do with it at first) Talk about respecting each others’ space and needs to help you keep sane.

Resist from leaping to solve the ‘I’m bored…’ syndrome! Instead encourage an exploration of how they might solve that for themselves perhaps with a few simple prompts but after that… it’s an important skill for them to be able to take charge of this independently.

You may not be able to get out and do it socially but you can exercise in the house as much as out of it. Exercise, or movement of any sort, is as important to the brain’s development as it is to the body’s, as well as overall well being. Google will provide a range of ideas.

Finally remember that this time will change, try not to worry that the kids are missing out – they’re just experiencing something different which can be just as educational, search some of the blogs I posted last March April for further inspiration and keep in mind what the poster says.

Good luck!

Lockdown: a good time to question

Well I wasn’t going to put my own mugshot on here, my daughter’s much more photogenic!

My daughter’s given me a haircut.

Is she a hairdresser? No! Does she have any idea about what she’s doing? No! Has she had any training about shaping a short cut?

Nope!

But stuck in during Lockdown and unable to go to the hairdressers I decided to risk it or end up looking like a shaggy dog.

It’s turned out brilliantly. Choppy admittedly but that’s just how I like it. Which has made me question why the heck I’m bothering traipsing to the hairdressers once a month.

Lockdown is inevitably making us confront and question many parts of our life. And I suspect there are others who are now questioning those things they suddenly find they can do for themselves, children’s learning being one of them.

A huge majority of parents have been thrust into the scary position of having their children learn at home, when they wouldn’t choose to. But I guess in some cases, where it’s working quite well, it’s prompting questions about what goes on in schools.

Now I’m not questioning the incredible skills of good hairdressers or brilliant teachers. Neither am I suggesting they’re the same thing! And of course this is only a temporary situation.

What I am suggesting is that lockdown is raising questions about schooling and learning that have long needed to be asked. Questions like; what are schools actually providing – educationally, holistically, health wise, or in terms of child care perhaps? Do kids actually need teachers in order to learn? Or do they need a more nurturing environment in order to reach potential? Can a DIY style home education work just as well as that which schools provide?

The answer to the final question is a definite yes; thousands of home educating families have already proved it. And there is a generation of home schooled youngsters now out in the world working, earning, contributing, and no one would ever know they’d not been to school – as one colleague commented to my eldest.

So there is plenty of proof that home educating is a very successful approach to learning if a child isn’t thriving in school as ours weren’t, as many don’t.

Some just exist, or endure, but is that enough?

A lot of parents say that they’d like to home educate but are worried about the risk. My answer to that would be that we take risks with everything we do, home educating or sending kids to school – certainly with impromptu haircuts and even those at the hairdressers actually!

But whatever we do with our children we can engage in a continual process of review, reassessment, research and analysis of what’s not working and find an approach that does and adapt. Which is more than I can say when I take the risk with a haircut – can hardly stick it back on again if it goes wrong!

We are not going to remain unchanged by this time of lockdown. And perhaps one of the good things that will come of it will be that we review our ideas, values and priorities about many things. The approach to learning and educating our children among them.

This time of school-at-home is not the same as home educating, where you develop a completely different approach to learning than the prescriptive ones schools have to adopt. But if your child has thrived, and you have survived during your time without school in your family life, you might want to reconsider your priorities about schooling and take a more in depth look at the alternative that thousands find fulfilling and successful.

There is plenty of support now to help you!