Tag Archive | kids

How kids learn from living – more than from schooling!

Another exclusive from ‘A Home Education Notebook’ that illustrates so well how home education works:

…Sometimes when we were home educating I got the feeling that education was taking over my life.

I remember one incident when I felt rather near the end of my tether. (There was more than one; but this sticks in my mind because of the poo).

Not only was the meal late and everyone starved to the point of tantrums, but also I was eating it with a fork covered in wax, I’d had to drain the pasta in a sink which was purple with dye and eat off a table with bird poo on it.

It wasn’t fresh bird poo I hasten to add. Actually it wasn’t poo at all; it just put me in mind of it.

It was an owl pellet lovingly carried home like treasure, to be dissected and examined and crooned over after the boring exercise of having dinner was out the way. But bird poo or not it was the last straw and I wasn’t enjoying looking at it while I sat chewing in moody silence, trying not to give in to the feeling of mounting irritation.

My youngest gobbled hers down as fast as possible so she could get her hands on it. She was just itching to take it apart, she wriggled about, shoving pasta down her throat like there was no tomorrow.

“Finished!” she exclaimed. “Can I do it now?”

“No!” the rest of us shouted in unison with our mouths full and our plates only half empty.

“Dohhh!” She sat and sulked, her impatient eye flicking between our dwindling meal and the pellet. “She’s deliberately taking a long time,” she said of her sister. We ignored it and kept on eating.

The minute we’d all finished she whipped our plates away in a whirlwind of rare helpfulness and pounced on the pellet with a pair of tweezers.

We gave up. We’d gone off the pudding anyway and everything seemed to taste of melted candle wax. (We were doing batik earlier). The rest of the family drifted away from what they considered to be the most disgusting member of the household and she and I started the dissecting.

The pellet was indeed a treasure. My irritation was forgotten and I became as absorbed in the examination as she was. It was fascinating.

There were stones, shells, bones, fish scales, bits of shellfish, a beetle – in pieces, putting it together was fun, fur and hair. We were so enthusiastic that the others came back and took part and we were soon fighting over who was going to excavate the next gem. We wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Who needed pudding when we’d got the excitement of learning and discovery going on?

How often did learning get this exciting in school?

The trouble with organised education, conducted by people who are bound by so many constructs, is that so many wonderful but incidental opportunities to engage and educate during every day life and interactions are completely missed.

For children don’t always need teaching or schooling  – they learn anyway.

Education and real life do not need to be separate from one another. Most learning does not come from teaching.

Much valuable learning cannot be timetabled

Learning really does go on all the time. All of life is important to a child’s learning and education. And much is lost when people try to compartmentalise learning into neat little outcomes, as schools have to do, and force children to be taught rather than trust that they can learn anyway.

Also, many children are put off learning completely by schools and institutions like them trying to fragment education away from real life and force it into different strait-jackets in order to teach and measure.

They fragment by subject and content, by levels and ability, by age, by standards and testing, by time and period, and by clustering people together. They segregate it from life by the very action of removing children from real experience and experimentation and confining them in a situation that has no equivalent in the real world outside at all. And we are made to believe that learning cannot happen without teaching, which is not the case at all. Home learning can and does happen successfully without all these restrictions.

Out in that real world learning and education takes place by the simple act of living a life and being exposed to all manner of things, bird poo and owl pellets included.

What a loss it would have been if we hadn’t collected the owl pellet when we were out on our walk simply because it wasn’t our objective; we were supposed to be having our exercise. Or if I’d said we couldn’t dissect it because it wasn’t on our timetable and we had to do reading right now.

All right, I admit I did want my dinner first and so did the other members of the family. There may have been a more appropriate time and place for this activity. But my point is that restricting learning to what we’re ‘supposed’ to be doing at the time, in other words compartmentalising it with rigid rules, misses out on so much. It also devalues the learning the children are interested in and suggests that it is only taught learning that is of value.

What an excellent and valuable learning opportunity would have been lost if I’d dismissed this activity just then because it wasn’t what I wanted to teach them. Not only the opportunity to learn about science and the life of a species, but the opportunity to develop in the children something very special; a love of learning and finding out just for the pleasure of it.

This is what learning without teaching and schooling becomes; learning simply for the pleasure and fascination of discovery and knowledge.

What a loss it would be if I didn’t answer at the time those inquisitive questions that come at me constantly; in the car; in the supermarket; at bedtime; even when she’s sitting on the toilet, just because that subject wasn’t on our timetable just then. Or if I stopped the natural curiosity by saying the child was too young, or too old, or too slow a learner. Or even more bizarre; wasn’t wearing the right uniform; or in the right room; or sitting in the right position. Or if I withheld information because another bit hadn’t been learned yet and I was in charge of the teaching.

How much education would not go on if I restricted it to so many constructs, regulations, teaching, schedules, subject divisions and age segregation? How ridiculous that all seems in comparison to just living an educational life. As all life surely is.

I am not saying there is no place for any kind of structure. Of course there is. Most people have some kind of self-imposed structure in their day, in their Home Education, and for successful interaction with society.

But to separate children from real life experiences and opportunities for incidental learning, and to impose so many restrictions on what they should do, how and when, is to miss out on a wealth of opportunity and at its worst to kill their curiosity and enthusiasm for learning stone dead.

It’s their curiosity and enthusiasm for learning that produces educated young peoplenot teaching or schooling. So on days when you’re having a wobble about you not teaching them anything, or them not learning anything, it helps to keep this in mind.

By living a busy life, learning happens all the time. This is education with real meaning. For all of us; children and adults alike.

Education wasn’t taking over my life – it was my life, still is and always will be and that’s also true of my grown up young people who enjoy learning about stuff just as much as ever, even though they’re both over twenty now and never had learning rules imposed. They’re always looking up stuff on the wonder that is Google just out of curiosity and know far more than me.

Although, I do admit to feeling at the time that there may have been one rule I would have liked to apply: no bird poo or owl pellets on the table while I ate my dinner!

(For the rest – and more support for your home education see the My Books page. Or you can buy this book from Eyrie Press or Amazon)

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4 simple things that make a difference…

Someone told me recently that although they’re not home educators, some of the posts they read here are still useful to help them understand and keep a healthy mind towards their children’s learning whilst they go through school.

He’s not the first to have said that! I’m really chuffed! Because education is education wherever it’s happening and whatever you’re doing, home educating or not.

So with those parents in mind, along with all the home schoolers who visit here, I was thinking again about the holidays (see my recent blog post ‘Is there ever a break from education’) and how parents worry that they should be doing stuff with the kids through term breaks, or the kids will regress.

Firstly, they won’t regress – as much as schools like to threaten that! And secondly, it’s true; we should be spending time engaged with the children whenever it is – term-time or not. We should equally be spending time not engaged with the children. This is all part of parenting – and as some fail to understand – education is very much dependent on parenting!

But we don’t need to stress over it. Most of what we do with our children will further their skills and knowledge in some way or another, from outings to cooking, from gaming to catching a bus, watching stuff together, chatting – it doesn’t have to be academic. Small things can make huge differences.

Taking that further, there are four very simple things to do in the holidays that can impact on your children’s development, but which might be overlooked as we are seduced by stuff that’s more glam or expensive.

They are:

  1. Read to them as much as possible, be a reading family; encourage reading by reading yourself – doesn’t matter what
  2. Talk with them and respond to their thoughts, questions, ideas
  3. Encourage their curiosity (which is their inbuilt desire to learn) by facilitating activities that involve; exploration, variety, investigation, experimentation and creativity in all its many forms
  4. Be active as much as possible, essential not just for body, but heart and brain health too!

These can cost nothing but your time, but by doing the above at some point every day you’ll be furthering their education in ways you may not understand but which make an important difference.

Here’s a simple reminder:

Feel free to share, print and post, copy or use this pictorial reminder however works for you!

Summer of change!

I don’t want you to be here over the summer reading long laborious sentences about education! I want you to be outdoors enjoying the world with your kids. That’s where I’m going to be too although, as you know, the ‘kids’ are adult now!

However, there’ll still be some support and inspiration here; it’s just going to be presented in more creative ways!

Like education could be.

Education doesn’t have to be formal and word heavy and academic all the time, even if parts of it are. It can be light, visual and thought provoking as much through images as words. For example, children learn as much by watching YouTube clips as formal exercises in a workbook.

Consequently, I’m practising what I’m preaching and working on some visuals to offer support that way instead of you having to wade through print, although print options may also be there to elucidate on certain themes. But I’d rather give you instant inspiration that may change the way you think about your children’s education.

So in reference to that, here’s one to start you thinking:

And if you want to read more on why happiness is important for education you’ll find it here.

Is there ever a break from home education?

Learning, whatever they’re doing

Whenever we approached the time of year associated with school holidays we always got asked in relation to being home educators; “Will you stop educating for the holidays?”

Which just goes to show how most people are still conditioned to think that education only ever happens within certain times and structures like timetables and terms.

Of course; it doesn’t!

We witnessed proof of that regularly throughout all the years our children were learning out of school. And the longer you home educate the more you’ll see that happen in your house too. How learning takes place all the time, through all activities, even sitting on the toilet we discovered one day when a little voice pipes up from behind the bathroom door;

“Mum, how does the wee get inside?” And we have a short biology lesson at night before bed.

These are the little ‘lessons’ the children remember the most. And despite seeming a terrible hotch-potch style of learning, the amazing computer that is the brain pieces the bits together into a coherent body of learning and knowledge that contributes to the children becoming educated. Consequently, holidays don’t mean the children stop learning – so you can cease to worry about that!

However, there is another aspect that you home educating parents might like to consider and a question that regularly arose in my exhausted mind early on – do we have to do ‘learning’ all the time? Is there ever a rest?

Well the answer is this; although children never switch off from learning – it’s just a natural part of how they live their inquisitive lives. (See the chapter ‘What about term times, learn times and holidays’ in ‘A Home Education Notebook’). But as parents you have to occasionally switch off from the incessant drive to make use of every learning opportunity (like the toilet incident). And you have to also switch off the feeling of guilt if you don’t!

If you step back from it occasionally nothing terrible will happen! Okay – you might have missed an educational opportunity, but this will not scar your child for life and there will be other opportunities. More importantly, if you don’t, you’re the one who will be scarred from not giving yourself a mental break and keeping it all in balance.

Balance develops healthy individuals; children and parents.

I thought this was worth a mention because like the saying; once a parent – always a parent, it is also the case that; once a home educator – always a home educator. In both cases you have to find a healthy and balanced way to proceed through it all.

Don’t ever fret that your children are not learning whilst you step back a bit. They actually need you to back off a bit as much as you need to. And never feel guilty. Just because you home educate, it does not mean that you have to utilise every second. Kids at school wouldn’t. Teachers wouldn’t either.

So you could use the term time holidays as an opportunity to step back, or you could just try and create a generally balanced family life and approach to learning and resting whatever you’re all doing and whenever you’re doing it, and disregard what the school lot are doing and the term times associated with them!

Try some ‘Unsafe Thinking’!

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

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

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

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

Reading it, I spotted these relevant ideas:

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

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

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

Education with a smile!

There’s a lovely article in Green Parent magazine about laughter. About how it impacts on our relationships with our kids and our overall happiness and general well-being. It’s called ‘Laugh your way to a happier family’ and is well worth a read.

Laughter is something we forget sometimes, burdened as we can become with the seriousness of life and trying to be a good parent.

And it’s definitely something to keep in mind when you’re involved with your children’s learning, whether that’s home educating or helping with school work. For if you can make it into a laughing matter it’s so much better, more enjoyable and makes the learning experience something that the children are far more likely to engage with – and remember.

Now I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t take education seriously. Most of us treat the subject very seriously and angst about it regularly. I’m just suggesting that even though we treat the subject seriously, we don’t always have to approach the doing of it in a serious way and never have a laugh while we’re at it.

Instead, we can be lightweight. We can have fun with it. It CAN be enjoyable, not heavy and dull and no laughing matter.

I remember a moment from our home schooling days (well, far more than one but this is a good example) that illustrates the point perfectly.

Chelsea was looking at words that end in l-e, like table for example, so we were all tossing out words that fitted.

“Able!”

“Pebble.”

“Apple.”

Except that their dad was up to mischief. And every word he said was filled with innuendo.

“Grapple” he offered, grinning at me.

“Fiddle,” said Chelsea.

“Piddle,” returned their dad.

“Puddle,” said Charley laughing.

“Muddle, mumble,” said Chelsea, beginning to see what he was up to and trying to do it ‘properly’.

“Fumble, wobble,” added dad. But by now Chelsea was grinning too.

“Pedal,” offered Charley.

“No that’s a-l,” I added.

“But fondle, follicle and nipple work,” said dad giggling.

By this time he and I were sniggering like a couple of teenagers and the girls were openly laughing, sensing there was something going on that was perhaps a little rude!

But they learnt how to spell a lot of words that day. And it improved their spelling no end just because of the laughter.

Nowhere is it written that in order to be successful education has to be serious and dull and endured without a smile on our faces.

In fact it is more likely to be the case that children will engage with and remember things far better if they are happy and enjoying their education and laughter is part of it.

So this is just to remind you to have fun with learning. And not to let the tedious seriousness that can sometimes be associated with it, be the overriding approach.

A happy approach works much better.

A reason to be old fashioned about cash!

It suddenly struck me the other day as I was paying for shopping with a contactless card that, with the increased use of contactless payments and credit cards, it is almost unusual for children to see real money being used in exchange for shopping, coffees, fares etc. So an understanding of money, amounts, and the useful maths skills that go with it doesn’t happen naturally as it did twenty years ago for example.

When kids see money practically changing hands – and can get their hands on it themselves – it reinforces the more academic maths they’ll be doing via the curriculum. But the way we use our money nowadays, so much of it online, denies the children opportunities of real contact and consequential learning about using it – and where it comes from!

Learning about money, for small kids, needs to be practical – so perhaps we should revert to using it the old fashioned way.  Let them count it, hold it, play with it and chat about coinage and their values. This could develop into counting in twos, fives, tens, twenties, etc, which in turn develops skills that are transferable to all numerical computation like adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing, for example.

So using cash can be a useful approach to show children how numbers and money work. If they can see it happening in front of them for real, get to handle and play with it physically, (using single pennies too as counters – while we still have them!) it helps reinforce their understanding and supports their wider mathematical learning.

So maybe:-

  • Keep a stock of coins for youngsters to play with and count and use for a play ‘shop’
  • Use cash instead of cards to pay for small things whilst they’re out with you so they can see the exchange
  • As they get older allow them their own pocket money, or allowance, and see what they can buy with it
  • Talk about how you earn money in exchange for the work you do and how you spend accordingly
  • Some find it helpful to provide the opportunity for youngsters to do ‘jobs’ in return for ‘earnings’
  • Talk to your older children about finance in a positive proactive way, what financial commitments you have and how you handle them.

A regular criticism of young people is that many of them finish their education with paper qualifications but without the important life skill of handling their finances, even though supposedly they can do the maths. So beyond teaching the smallest of our kids about coins and money value, it’s also important that older children go on to understand the wider implications of cash and credit, of living within your means, and how to avoid getting into debt. We can do this by openly discussing the way we use money, what we have to pay for and how we budget.

Using cash for transactions – whilst we still can – is a useful base for these skills. And to talk about money openly as a practical, rather than emotive, subject is a way to continue to reinforce them.

There’s some further interesting reading on money habits on the Money Advice Service website if you need it.