Tag Archive | kids

Winter days; great for story telling!

National Story Telling Week

This week is National Story Telling week and it’s ignited in me a memory of my youngest balanced on the arm of her grandma’s easy chair by the fire telling stories (she couldn’t sit on her knee because the cat was on it!).

They did this a lot, just talked stories to one another, taking it in turns to add bits and produce ideas. It was an absolute delight to listen to. When I was allowed, mostly I got commanded, by my youngest, to go out the way, but I’d sneakily carry on listening.

It also reminds me of one of the biggest mistakes I made whilst we were home educating.

Listening to her story telling, her vivid imagination, the intonation and expression, I thought what a good idea it would be to get her writing stories at home. She’d love it.

What an idiot, I was!

When I suggested it her face dropped. She sat there looking totally miserable, blank page in front of her, pen unused, ideas vanished.

I encouraged. I cajoled. I suggested starts. I prompted memories of the brilliant story she’d been making up with grandma.

Nothing. The blankness went from her page to her face. Her imagination vacated her like she’d never had them in the first place. If I hadn’t heard it with my own ears I would have thought that she had a blank imagination too.

But I knew different. And luckily I spotted my stupid mistake; she loved making up stories – not writing them down.

Many children hate writing. Many adults do too. Trying to capture and clarify what’s in your head – often just in picture form – into the letters and symbols we use for language can be enough to switch people’s minds and ideas off completely.

I’ve seen it happen in children. I’ve also seen it happen to adults as old as I am, who’ve been writing all their life, yet who still find this transformation process hard.

I may have wanted her to practice her writing skills. But I didn’t want to ruin her inventiveness whilst doing so. I backed off.

Besides, far too much emphasis is put on being able to write, far too young. Having to continually write can even hamper the development of valuable language skills. And we shouldn’t confuse the two.

Children develop language skills by talking and listening, being read to and sharing books together, by continual use of the spoken word, as in story telling.

Formalising it into writing doesn’t need to happen until much later.

My youngest didn’t do much writing at home during the time we were home educating. Occasionally she did a bit, maybe filling in an eye-catching workbook she’d spotted whilst out. Sometimes, in order to practice, I’d suggest writing up some event or making a diary/scrapbook. (Outings are a good one for this as you can stick anything you’ve collected in the book too). We also made a variety of other books, pop-ups, mini-books, lists, games; just bits and pieces of writing that kept it going. Otherwise, the most writing she ever did was about half a small page at any one time. We did loads of other stuff instead.

However, when she went to college at 16 she managed easily, with a bit of formal tidying and guidance. And this is how it was for several of our home educating friends who went onto Uni without having done much formal writing earlier on.

Thought I’d tell you because I didn’t want you making the mistake I did of ruining something that, as well as being a valuable educational activity in its own right, gave her – and her gran – immense pleasure!

Don’t feel you have to be writing every day with your children whilst they’re learning at home. They don’t need it. Enjoy books and a good story telling instead!

Laying the foundations for education – Part 2

…continuing a two parter started in my last post about education, how you can influence your child’s learning from home and what you might be aiming for in the future…

Learning through play

Many parents underestimate the value of play, even though in our grown-up world we adults use play in order to learn about something.

For example we ‘play’ with our new mobile phones in order to get used to them and understand how they work. We ‘play’ with any new technology or gadget for the same reason. What we’re doing is learning through our real experiences of these things. And it is exactly the same for children.

Children like to ‘play’ at being grown-up. Especially games that involve role play like mums and dads, or hospitals, teachers and schools, shopping, going on ‘adventures’ (even if it’s just a den under the kitchen table or behind the sofa). It’s a kind of experimentation. And whilst they do it they are learning, practising skills, gaining experiences. This works particularly well if they can do an activity in a play way, alongside what you’re doing.

They can have their own tools and plants and ‘play’ at gardening. They can have their own bowls, cutlery, pans etc and wash up – or just stand there endlessly filling containers with water. This simple play activity teaches them a huge amount. For example they learn about capacity, about the properties of water, about the properties of the containers and how their size and shape governs their capacity in relation to other sizes and shapes. They learn about volume. They probably chat to themselves all the time developing language. They’ll be thinking and working out. They’ll be exploring, experimenting and building confidence. They’ll be developing hand eye coordination and the skills needed to manipulate tools.

They won’t know they’ll be doing any of that they’ll just be aware of getting their arms soaked. But these playtime experiences teach them much more than they’d learn from either being told or looking at it in a book. Experience provides the building blocks for more formal knowledge and academic skills later. And this is just one example.

Other activities that have the same educational impact which you can do at home with kids can be built round anything you do.

Here are some examples:

  • Cooking or preparing food (or ‘playing’ with pastry, mixing substances, using tools, cutting things up, warming or freezing etc.)
  • Cleaning or washing, in and out of the home.
  • Dealing with waste and rubbish.
  • Helping with other jobs outdoors, gardening – or den making whilst you do them!
  • Looking after the pets.
  • Using technology and the Net.
  • Managing a budget and money.
  • Looking at and enjoying books and magazines.
  • Dressing – dressing up especially in things they wouldn’t normally wear and using make up.
  • Playing games as a family.
  • Family outings and journeys.
  • Social occasions where there’s a mix of people and ages.
  • Anything creative that you do; making things, home decorating, rearranging a room, craft work and all creative activities like painting, collage – with anything at all, junk modelling, card making, drawing, colouring, cutting out, making scrapbooks, collecting and grouping, etc, – builds skills. Just let them have a go and make a mess and they learn loads simply from their minds and bodies being engaged.
  • Any constructional, experimental or inventive activities indoors and out.
  • Talking with you about anything and everything

Basically anything you do to live your lives and do your work your child can be involved in either through conversation and explanation, helping at their level or playing alongside. Involving your child with your activities teaches your child all about living a life.

And through these life experiences, where learning is something which is part of what they do day to day often without even realising it, they begin to see how learning is not something separate from life but something that is a natural part of it.

If learning is a natural part of it then they will be motivated to continue their learning throughout their life whatever form it takes, motivated to hopefully use education to develop and enhance their lives and give them greater access to the things they might want to do later on.

What are we aiming for – later on?

Many parents, when they think about what they might want their children to achieve in their education later on, tend to think about academic gain. They think about their children being good at the academic exercises that will get them good grades.

But other parents think more broadly and more holistically than that. They think about their child being happy and having confidence in themselves and academics fitting in around that. They think about their child having the skills to enjoy good relationships and social activities. They think about their child’s wellbeing; mental and physical, emotional and spiritual. They think about how their child’s personal strengths and interests can be developed; how they can get to know themselves well so they will be able to make informed and relevant lifestyle choices.

The ideal is perhaps to aim for a mix of both. And to maybe think through your priorities, keeping a holistic balance throughout.

Holistically, we need to be aiming for an outcome that is relevant to the whole child and within the perspective of the whole of their lives, not just the time they may be of school age, or the exams you want them to pass.

Sometimes it is best not to think too much about ‘later on’. Because you can never know what will happen. Far better to show your child the real relevant world on a daily basis.

Each day you spend with your child is a natural opportunity for you to help them develop and learn. And to make learning enjoyable.

Aiming for enjoyment in their day to day lives, for them to be stimulated and engaged in the activities they do at the time, is far better than having an agenda outside or ahead of the child. They soon suss it’s irrelevant to them right now and switch off. Switching off to things is the last thing we want them to do, because it switches them off to education too.

Sadly many school type activities switch children off to learning because they are often dull and the children cannot see the relevance of them. Adults might think they’re relevant to the child’s future, but are they really? How can we really predict a future which is so far away?

Taking care of the little times, making them good times, will make a good future. This is a much more natural way to build a future and the foundation for a natural and holistic education that will serve the child for life.

Laying the foundations of education

Thought I’d do a two parter about education – for parents with little ones at home. And all those who are wondering about it.

It doesn’t seem that we’ve had our babies long when we begin to worry about education.

How much, how soon, how clever are they going to be, what can we do to help? These are the kinds of worries all parents have. But whichever route you decide on for your child, whether that route be conventional schooling or home education, the experiences that have the most profound impact on their educational achievements are those when they’re at home with you.

Now, no way do you need to panic and rush to get books out and start doing formal lessons with tiny tots. This not what education is about, although this is how it’s sometimes perceived.

Education is about something broader than that which extends beyond doing writing, maths and other similar academic exercises. This article is about laying the foundations of a holistic education; the holistic development of a living being, as indeed education should really be if it is to be of value.

For a holistic approach when your child is mostly with you is what makes a more formalised education work well later on.

What do I mean by holistic?

To take a holistic view means to consider the whole of something rather than parts in isolation.

In terms of a child and their education, it means that we need to consider the whole of their development rather than just the development of their academic abilities. And we need to consider education, not as a race or competition to get qualification, but rather as part of a developing human being.

To be holistic education needs to be about developing a rounded human being who has many skills that are as important as academic skills – skills which will enable children to use their education to enhance their lives. Thinking skills, for example, or the skills required to integrate, socialise and be a good person. The skills required to show compassion, care and commitment to others. The skills needed to be responsible, maintain good moral standards and understand how we fit into the world and how the world can support us, what we need to contribute to it in return. The skills required to express ourselves, be articulate, self aware and self confident so that we can lead good and happy lives and find fulfilling work. The skills needed to maintain our health of mind and body and be responsible for our own wellbeing.

These are the kinds of skills we need to be human. Being human is a vital part of being educated. And these are all vital skills that enable an education to be successfully used to enhance lives and gain achievements.

If you think about it, an education in itself is of no value unless you have these personal skills with which to use it. Using education is what matters. Paying attention to the whole of the person’s development is what makes an education more useful and more holistic.

And much of what happens during a child’s time at home is what lays the foundation for that.

How can we do that at home?

It is really very simple to lay a foundation of skills which will help your child to get the best out of education. In fact it is so simple it is probably what you do already. It is what you do as part of your parenting.

Preparation for education is not only about priming your child ready for academics. It is more to do with teaching your child about living a life.

Living our lives we are learning all the time, although as adults we probably don’t realise that thinking that the majority of our learning took place within the school walls. However, many people say that they learnt more after they left school than during the time they were in it. And that is because once they left ‘schooling’ they began to learn the real skills needed to lead real lives.

For example; leading real lives we don’t often use some of the maths or science which was drummed into us at school for the purpose of exams, unless we’ve followed professional careers that require them. But we do use the skills needed to budget or understand nutrition and our bodies enough to know what food keeps us well.

Another example; we don’t necessarily need to be able to understand Shakespeare but we do need to be able to read, interpret instructions, and communicate in a variety of forms.

These life skills like communication or budgeting are the ones that are most important and they start at home. You can encourage them by simply chatting about what you’re doing each day and why. That’s why spending time at home with young children is so valuable, because actually, you are your child’s first teacher.

During those first five years it is not essential that they can read fluently, but it is essential they enjoy books, that times with books and stories are happy experiences. It is also essential that they understand a variety of social rules and can communicate appropriately, that they are able to manage their behaviour to a certain degree and why, understand what respect is – by being respected.

Small things that you do and discuss in your daily living teaches them these kinds of things. And the way in which they learn these things best is by being involved.

By being involved with what you’re doing, by chatting and questioning, they begin to interpret and understand how lives are lived. Interpreting and understanding things is the basis of learning. This is how you influence their learning and their education, both right now and for the future. All you have to do is to allow them to be involved. Spend time. Explain. Talk. Listen. Show.

As well as doing this another powerful influence on their learning is play. In order to learn children first need lots of opportunities to play.

And that’s part of what I want to talk about next time, along with ideas for simple activities, and some thoughts about their future!

Feel the wobbles and do it anyway!

Whichever home education forum/group you belong to there’s always one subject that comes up time and again: wobbles!

So if you’re having some wobbles right now about home educating your child take heart from the fact you are not alone!

The other thing you can take heart from is an idea I often remind people of; you would still be having wobbles or worries over your child’s education if they were in school! Every parent does. In fact parenting itself is enough to give you wobbles let alone having education in the equation!

So be reassured that wobbling is completely natural, would be happening whatever parenting or educating style you choose and is not happening just because you’re home educating. So no need to blame home education or think that you’re wrong to do it.

Home educating is a perfectly doable, successful and happy way of educating children that develops intelligent, sociable young people able to make a valid contribution to society and create a fulfilling future for themselves.

There’s living proof now as generations grow up.

The thing is; wobbling is understandable. It’s just you caring. People who care worry about stuff!

Worry is just you thinking and taking responsibility, making decisions and reviewing what you’re doing as a parent in a conscientious and intelligent way. So wobbles are part of what it is to be a good parent. It is part of what it is to be a good home educator too. So don’t beat yourself up, don’t doubt, or think it’s because you’ve made the wrong choice. You haven’t necessarily.

What you are doing is observing and re-evaluating your children’s circumstances, which is what you need to do throughout their lives. But just because something might need changing this doesn’t make a previous decision wrong.

It’s simply to do with the fact that children – and our personal circumstances – grow and change constantly. These changes can be challenging and can make us wobble and throws up a need to reassess at times. We need to keep learning ourselves as we keep on home educating – just as we do with parenting as our children grow older.

But wobbling still doesn’t mean you’re doing the wrong thing; it’s more likely to be a crisis of confidence rather than a crisis of circumstance, so I suggest that you go with the wobble, talk with others, and do it anyway as a famous book suggests. (Except it’s called ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway’).

I have done posts on the subject over the years I’ve been doing this blog, supporting parents who want to home educate, hoping to help through wobbling times. But it’s such a popular topic on forums and groups I thought it might help to collate some of them in one place. Hope the links below are useful and I haven’t repeated myself too much! Here goes:

Why not consider HE – worried – scared – read on…

Do you worry?

Answers to common concerns

When you’re starting out HEing

Where do you find the courage?

Imagine

Contrary to critics

 

Meaningless crap!

sundaygardensundown 005

perfect for decoration

Apologies for the title but I can’t think of anything else to call it.

It came upon me when I was standing writing this first draft in a damp notebook out in the dusky field, with dripping stems and little creatures settling into night. And I haven’t managed to refine it – the title sums it up too well.

You see, I’ve had a couple of excursions to city lately and it’s a bit of a shock!

I love the city and the contrast of it and had some shopping to do towards Christmas. But I get a bit overwhelmed with the crowds and the crush after this rural solitude, especially as we visited a huge shopping outlet which I would normally recoil from in terror. But I was even more overwhelmed than normal.

Actually, I came away appalled.

It was the amount that did it! The mountains of totally meaningless crap that people are persuaded to buy for those who have everything they need anyway. Most of it disposable meaningless crap that has no doubt cost the planet in resources to produce and will doubly cost the planet when it ends up in landfill after Christmas.

The pointlessness of it! The vulgarity of the amount!

Could we not all take a serious moment to consider this? To consider the cost earth-wise of all this dustbin bound paraphernalia? Of yet another present for a child who probably is inundated with presents to the point of boredom, another ornament or plastic trash for the Christmas house already creaking under the strain?

The earth will certainly be creaking.

More does not mean better. But judging by the amount we buy at Christmas this seems to be the ethos we’re upholding and the lesson we’re teaching our children.

Don’t get me wrong; I like buying gifts – a few. I also like making them, purchasing them second hand, or finding something that’s valued. And I suppose I have my share of meaningless crap too – just not that much – the decoration, wrapping and gifts have been thoughtfully created or reused. Nature has a hand in it too.

But couldn’t we create a more meaningful way of gift giving and enjoying Christmas with loved ones than one which is charged with commercialism, materialism and trashes the planet far worse than the living room floor is trashed  after present opening?

What kind of lies is this telling our kids? That the more we buy the better Christmas is? That the more presents we get the more people love us? That waste or pollution doesn’t matter at Christmas and yet another set of lights or disposables is okay?

I don’t think so.

As the sun sinks itself into its rosy bed for the night and my nose and finger ends start to chill I ponder this. I ponder ways of making Christmas more meaningful than materialistic. With less cost to the purse and the planet. Less commercial hype for the children. And more imbued with a sense of togetherness than a sense of buying.

Meaningful lives cannot be bought. They are made. Meaningful celebrations are the same. And we certainly need to think about the meaning in planetary terms.

The 29th is Buy Nothing Day (check it out) – we need to do it for far more than a day!

It’s never all plain sailing!

I’m not a sailor so I don’t know why I’m using this analogy! Except my brother is and having listened to stories of his sailing adventures with his family, both local and world wide, I suddenly see how pertinent the cliché about plain sailing is to home education. And parenting come to that.

Whilst raising awareness of home education I obviously want to champion the wonderful advantages, the exciting diversity of the approach, the successful way in which children can learn without school and what a delightful way it is to raise and educate children.

But despite that wonder and delight for the most part, it wouldn’t be true to maintain it is plain sailing all the time; there are some rough waters to negotiate.

This is a little about those:

Sometimes the going is choppy. The sea of family life gets whipped up with concerns and conflicts that, like a windy day in a boat, need negotiating in a different way. Home education doesn’t always proceed in a unwavering, pre-determined journey on smooth water. And that’s okay, because choppy seas do calm down when the wind drops. Steer as best you can through the choppy times and don’t worry or blame yourself for them. Expect choppy at times – nothing is always smoothly perfect.

So you won’t always be proceeding in a straight line through your child’s education. Like zigzagging a sail boat to make the best of the wind you have to do the same with home education. Children don’t develop in straight lines. Neither will they learn and progress in straight lines. Sometimes you will need to go about things in a different way to achieve. If one approach isn’t working, try another. If it’s just not working at all that day, drop anchor and wait for a better learning climate when emotions have subsided.

Neither does education progress at the same speed or gradient like on charts professionals try and make us believe. Sometimes it surges forward, the children are motivated and fired up like they’ve got wind in their sails. Other times they’re completely becalmed and plateau for a while. That’s okay. School kids are the same. Be patient – they’ll pick up again. (Read this blog for comfort).

You don’t get to know how to home educate just from books. Like sailing a boat or driving a car no amount of theory will make you good at it before you start because doing it is what will make it work well for you. To observe and learn from others is enormously valuable, but it is through your own home education practices (and mistakes) that you will begin to see what works for your child, for you as a parent, in your household, with your routines. Everyone is different, every child is different, just as my brother tells me each boat handles differently. You have to live it to get the hang of it.

There will be days you feel you’re sinking. This is normal for everyone. They say that you’re not a true sailor until you’ve got wet. Actually, it’s not getting wet that matters, it’s how you learn and become a better sailor for it. The same is true with home educating. Bad days are normal. After all, teachers in schools have bad days and poor teaching is the result. We are all human. We all have to overcome bad days. Even if you’re having a bad day and you can’t give any more to your children, they can amuse themselves and they will be learning something. You’ll bob up to the surface again. And how you deal with your bad days will be teaching your children how to deal with theirs – such a valuable life skill. (A post for those sinking days)

Once you’ve got going you’ll be able to change direction. As with a boat which you cannot turn it if it’s not moving, once you’re into your home education process you will be able to see where and when to make changes, go in another direction, or try something new. So don’t dabble on the edge, get stuck into your home education and see where it takes you. You’ll find your direction better as you do it and see what works. This direction will change regularly as you progress and as your children develop and mature.

So home education is definitely not all plain sailing. But the comforting thing is; no family life is whatever route you choose.

However, most of the time it is a wonderfully exhilarating and inspiring experience, possibly made all the more exciting by those choppy days!

How a parent helped her child through school by knowing how home education works

Messages from readers are such a joy to receive – most of them anyway!

I had another recently from a parent telling me how useful my posts were in helping them keep a balanced view of their child’s education.

The interesting thing was that it came from a parent with a child in school; the posts about home education helped keep schooling in perspective too.

One of my best friends was delighted to hear this – she’s been telling me the same thing for years; how we helped her see education a bit differently and consequently support her child in school. So her words have been endorsed – she had the pleasure of saying ‘I told you so’ when I rang her today!

She had a dyslexic child who had the classic labels; ‘lazy’ ‘thick’ daubed onto him in class. But she had me in her other ear saying that they were wrong. Hers was a bright child who was just not having his learning needs met by a system which disregards individuals (and very often dyslexics), clumps everybody together within a narrow framework of measurement then, when the obvious happens and some don’t achieve, say it’s all the kids’ fault.

It’s not, but she, like most parents, assumed all teachers and schools knew what they were about.

Sadly, not always, they also have agendas other than the needs of an individual child. I’ve worked in them – that’s how I know – and that’s one of the things I told her.

I also know that there’s no magic training that makes a person a good teacher, no magic technique for teaching that makes teachers recognise children’s needs more intuitively than many parents, and most teachers have no training in dealing with children with special needs anyway.

If you’ve got a child who fits happily within the very narrow criteria schools use for measuring success, you’re very lucky.

Most children don’t actually fit, but that doesn’t mean they ‘fail’ either; instead they are failed by this system.

Anyway, thanks to her faith in her child, her intuition (and my words, she says) she enabled him to succeed against awful odds, go onto Uni and he’s now started his first job. So I asked her what were some of the things she did as a result of our conversations and her observation of our home education that supported them through the many challenges they faced within the school system.

These are some of the points she mentioned, which we’d talked about when we were homeschooling:

  • Stay on the side of the child (particularly when the child feels the school is not), listen to them, believe in them, rather than unquestioningly believing what the school wants you to believe.
  • Remain focussed on the needs of your child. Not on the needs of the institution. Basically we should remember that the school is there to serve the education of your child – your child is not there to serve the school! Challenge them!
  • Understand that children take different amounts of time to learn something, gain skills, to develop and mature. This is quite normal and they are not abnormal if they don’t fit into a prescribed and generalised timeframe. Just because a child hasn’t learnt something when the curriculum says they should, does not mean they’ll never learn it, or that they’re failures, so don’t panic or worry or pressurise. Try and keep it lightweight and be patient.
  • Listen to your guts and your intuition and your child. If you sense something is wrong then it probably is.
  • Don’t always assume that the school and the teachers are right, are professional, or are to be unwaveringly respected. We are trained in obedience to these institutions (banks, schools, health care centres spring to mind). That’s how celebs got away with abuse – no one could believe that these icons weren’t right or good. Basically we know and respect when someone’s doing a good job – and when they’re not. All professionals have to earn respect by their continued integrity and respectful behaviour. Question them if it’s not.

Home educators are told that they have to by law provide an education suitable to a child’s age, ability and aptitude and any special educational needs they may have. I often wonder just how many schools really do that!