Tag Archive | kids

Feel the green

I find it hard to stay in and work when it’s so glorious outside.

Not having young children here any more I don’t even have them as an excuse to get outdoors every day! But I still do – I know how it affects me, or rather how I am affected by its absence.

Walking along the local footpath towards me the other day was a young family getting their littlies outside.

“They love to be out here,” Dad said, as we stopped to chat. “Don’t want to be in much at all.” The children were about three and eighteen months, exploring everything around them while we spoke, far too restless and curious to be still for a minute. they reminded me of our two.

We were lucky to have rural space on our doorstep for ours to help themselves to, everyday if they wanted. And they did seem to want to, the eldest loving flowers and often taking drawing or books out there, the youngest with her curiosity about creepy-crawlies or experiments with mud – as described in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’!

And even now in their twenties and living in urban places for the work, they suddenly feel the need to go seek out green spaces, hungry for the healthy, calming inpact it has on them. They sip of it like nectar, knowing

The footpath above the city

what it feels like.

In fact, on a recent visit to the city where my eldest lives and is immersed at the current time in a stressful working schedule, we climbed up a footpath out of the city to seek the benefits – her choice for her few hours off. She recognised her need. So many don’t.

I shared this with the family on the footpath.

“You always return to your roots,” mum commented.

But I replied; “I hope not; mine were in London and I’ve no desire to return there!” We laughed. But I knew what she meant – she’d been away and returned to her rural roots too. I needed to escape my concrete roots to something that suited me better. Not everyone’s the same, I acknowledge that. That’s why kids need a diverstiy of experiences, to find out about themselves and their needs. Ours were able to experience concrete living too and actually our eldest thrives in the city – but she still needs to touch green sometimes.

However, I thought how lucky ours had been, as this young family is, to have had that experience of green spaces just as a reference in their lives. A reference to making them feel good, naturally, because it inherently does. It impacts on our physical and mental health in ways we’re only just beginning to really understand. So even if we don’t live rurally we need to seek out contact with nature to remain wholly well. And I worry about parents bringing up families in places where it’s hard to access that. Because it’s vital that you do.

Vital that you make contact with green things; growing things, the range of species and their needs alongside ours, green space to run about in if possible, on a daily basis. Because the habits that you adopt now will be habits that demonstrate a way of living that encourages and promotes their well being and health. Our own habits are the most important teacher of all. Not forgetting that this contact is essential for raising their understanding of the earth and why we need to look after it.

Finding green, feeling the green, understanding the natural benefits of green spaces, is a vital part of any education.

There are some great outdoor projects to get involved in on Springwatch – check out their garden survey. here

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If home educating parents did this….

I’m so glad to see that parents of school children are taking some action against some of the abysmal practices forced upon their kids under the guise of educating them in schools.

I may be a home educator but I care deeply about the education of ALL children however they are learning.

Whenever researching news surrounding the system and listening to the parents who have kids in school, it’s dishearteningly negative and I’m sometimes really shocked by what I hear. No wonder home educating is constantly on the increase. No wonder that children’s mental health is suffering (although no one ever brings up the subject of school stress as part of the cause). And no wonder that teachers are leaving the profession disillusioned with what they’re told to do to kids to make them get the scores.

The latest protest is about the testing and I’m delighted to see a campaign against the shocking move to test reception children. See this article in the Guardian.

Testing is a complete waste of a learner’s time (whatever age), does nothing to enhance learning or the learner’s experience, is unreliable and invalid when it comes to both judging someone’s capabilities and predicting how capable they’ll be in the future, the results of which often act like an educational death sentence to those who don’t perform well on the day. See this post here.

I hope they instigate change – but it’s changes in mindset that is required as much as anything. See the More Than a Score campaign here.

The other shocking school news that’s hit the headlines recently has been the concern over the use of ‘isolation units’ in schools. According to a report from the BBC pupils can spend hours in these units, among them those with special needs, causing many of them upset and longer term damage to their wellbeing, let alone their education.

The terrible irony of this is; if home educating parents were found to be subjecting their kids to hours of isolation in the booths pictured the Local Authority would be in uproar, probably deciding we were unfit parents and have the kids taken into care. Yet this is a legal and increasing practice in many schools.

Would you use this approach in your home education?

I understand there are many difficulties for staff in schools with pupils who will not engage and disrupt the learning of the others as a consequence.

But it strikes me that a) if the learning taking place there was inspiring and b) if it answered the needs of the diversity of the kids in our society and c) and if it wasn’t so rigid and inhibited by testing regimes designed for the adults and the politics and the politicians’ popularity, not the learners, we would have no need of isolation rooms and we also probably wouldn’t have a flood of parents opting to home educate. I’ve said before; if there was an inspiring and engaging place for our kids to go and learn with empathetic and understanding adults who were free to teach with the creative approaches many of them could if they were only delivered from the imprisonment of stupid rules and regualtions, then why would people take the enormous and scary step of not sending the kids there, giving up their time and doing it themselves?

But that’s the irony of education politics! The ministers are too blinkered – or uncomfortable – to realise the truth. They’re hopefully going to have a lot more protests on their hands!

 

Bringing you closer

Occasionally in an evening when my eldest is walking home through the city after rehearsals she rings me. This is so I can ‘keep her company’ if it’s a bit dark and spooky as she walks alone.

Sometimes, on a bright night I ask; ‘Can you see the moon?’

Picture from Wikipedia

When the youngsters lived here permanently in this rural spaciousness it’s something we’d always share – popping outside to see the moon – together.

She looks up now and we share the fact that we are both looking at the same moon – together. And even though there are two hundred earth miles between us now, when we share the sight of the moon in that moment the distance doesn’t feel so great.

Just thought I’d share that with you in case any of you, as you raise and some home educate your children, worry about the relationship you will have with them as a result.

Well, it will be as warm and loving and respectful as you make it now, full of memories of things you shared together. So make some lovely memories as these small times combine to make a loving life.

And, impossible though you might find to imagine now, one day you might even be sharing moonlight from different locations like we are!

Home education: ‘a rich and wonderful endeavour’

I recently asked a fellow home educator about their learning life and had this wonderful account sent to me. It’s quite long but  incredibly uplifting, so when you have a moment grab a cuppa and have a read. I think you’ll come away inspired:

As the children and I settled on the train, a fellow passenger asks, ’Not in school today?’ On explaining that we home educate and we were on our way to the home education drama group, the typical queries began. ‘Are you a teacher? Do you follow the national curriculum? What about socialisation? But WHY do you do it…?

These questions can happen several times a week. I want to sit them down over a cuppa and explain our home education philosophy. But it is hard to explain this full-living (fulfilling) life in the time we have.

At its core, it is about a respectful and consensual education, one that fully supports their human rights. The children know they have a voice. They learn to trust themselves and are able to make decisions accordingly, giving them control over their bodies and thoughts. They decide when they need to eat, drink, rest, sleep, move and exercise, recover from illness and use the toilet. They are given the freedom to decide if they need quiet time in this busy world. We want our children to learn that human rights, respect, consent and empathy are important, and what better way to understand that than by living it, and talking about it?

The ‘socialisation’ issue is the one we are most questioned about.  But who dictated what socialisation looks like, and that it should look like it does in school? Do they need to be with the same kids every day, in a system where playtimes and free time can be short and they’re often told; ‘sit down and shut up, you are not here to socialise!’ At this point I will say, it is not usually the fault of the teachers, but of the system that makes this the reality. And I am glad it is not our reality anymore. My children find plenty of time to socialise. Their social life has never been as rich since they began home educating.

There are plenty of groups they attend regularly; drama, Lego club, swim class, museum groups, board games club at the library, the science museum, the archaeology club at the local university, and archaeological digs. There are casual meet ups in parks, playgrounds, and homes. My children were socialising when they sat under sketches by Leonardo da Vinci, working in their own sketch books and talking to the museum curator. They’re socialising when getting tips for a new project from a cousin who is a wonderful silk artist and during more planned experiences such as getting to help operate the traffic control signals in the city centre, or learning how to paint with light and build shadow puppets in workshops, they answer questions put forth by the archaeology club, which is a mix of home educated and school children.

At times we find there is too much socialising and cut back for a time, spending more time in home and garden. And even then, they are still ‘socialising’ by talking to the postman, the milkman, the neighbours, the shopkeepers, family and friends. There is also the benefit of strong family and sibling relationships, and I am sure our home educated children would not play together as much if they attended school. They don’t accept that boys and girls don’t play with each other, and more specifically, brothers and sisters, as they are sometimes told by others at playgrounds. My children have a brilliant relationship with their siblings and family. And another point to consider, some people need less socialising in their lives, so why should people who don’t know my children get to decide what their ‘socialisation’ should look like?

In the book’ Hold On To Your Kids’ by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate, it says that ‘Peer orientation has become the norm, but is neither natural nor healthy. It is better to learn from those who have already learned than from those who are still learning.’ This book points out that socialising with people of all ages throughout the day is more indicative of the lives our children will experience as adults.

Then there’s the idea that children need to experience bullying in order to learn how to deal with it. But the idea that children need to experience this in school is more to do with making us feel better that it is happening, because often the adults are powerless to deal with it at the root. I do know this as a fact since my husband and I have six older children who are at varying stages of teen and adulthood and we have over 30 years experience parenting, over 25 years with the schooling experience. Sadly, our family has had to deal with this in schools.

However, our home educated children certainly do come across bullying as they are in the community every single day, but they have more freedom to remedy it. They may confront the situation directly or simply walk away, but they can also ask for advice or help, just as adults can access legal means to stop both mental and physical bullying because it is harmful to be subjected to it. If it isn’t good for the adults who have more experience, knowledge and power to confront the situation, it certainly isn’t good for our children, especially as their growing minds and bodies are at their most vulnerable. Scientific evidence shows how unhealthy this sort of stress is, and the real damage it can do physically and mentally. They don’t need to be immersed in an environment where bullying can be a part of every single day in order to know how to deal with it.

How do they learn? It starts by having a culture of learning in our home. As parents, we are facilitators who guide our children on their learning journey. They learn how to learn – how to question, seek, research, and develop critical thinking skills, and how to communicate through reading, writing, conversations, film making, or any other form. It can be formal, but it doesn’t have to be, it can be through deep conversation over making dinner or taking a walk, through parents, children, teens and young adults, sharing knowledge and skills in areas of expertise that we all have.  No one knows everything, not even schools. If we don’t know it, we are certainly capable of learning it, or know how to look further through books, the internet, or through experts in groups, classes, businesses, or museums.  If we want, we can outsource like a school does. There is almost always a club or group for whatever we need.  And if we don’t follow the national curriculum, that is not an issue or a ‘failure’ in our education. Curriculums are specific to schools, for comparing schools, but they certainly don’t give everything kids need. We work at developing the skills our children need and desire, ones that are relevant to them, ones that are important for them as they grow. If children learn through their passions and interests, using skills and knowledge, this learning cannot be forgotten. That is authentic learning. Through following their interests, reading, writing and maths develop, because nothing is learned in isolation.

Our children are learning real skills in the real world, from coding, making animations, doing creative writing, film making, nature observations and recording seasonal changes, local flora and fauna in their journals, creating with textiles and crafting, to making their own homemade yogurts and sourdough breads (and the science behind it), to soups and meals. We have economy, science, reading, maths, art, life skills and nutrition right there! They know how the home runs and can contribute to it. And they have direct experience of what skills their father uses running his business. This is real life learning, it’s active and hands-on, and definitely not as sedentary as a typical school day.

Climbing the hill to see the sun rise

Our school experience was brief play at break and lunch time, and P.E. once or twice a week. And sometimes that was lost as a class punishment which meant less physical activity and fresh air. We probably spend on average around 5 hours a day exploring and playing outdoors (a little less in winter). This is different day to day, it might mean outdoor play in the garden, or walks, bug and bird watching, gardening, or getting up early and walking up the hills to watch the sunrise. We don’t often get snow, so when it happens, whole days are spent playing, sledding, walking, examining snow and ice, only coming in for meals and warming up. We spend hours exploring rock pools, shells, seaweed, pebbles, sea glass, and even the occasional fossil. Science first hand is alive and exciting! To learn through nature and play as biologically designed is amazing, and to do it as a family is even better. The outdoors also gives you space to be on your own when you want. Many creative ideas are born and put into action outside. The children recently built their’ time machine’ which needed the full space of the garden to be played out. You could hear them talking about the preparations needed if they were to land in the Tudor times or in the time of dinosaurs, and the various dangers they had to confront. You know the learning is rich when this happens. In the children’s tree fort/potion kitchen/veggie patch (also known as the mud patch), they find their own quiet space, observe nature’s creatures, climb trees, set up a tent, or even dig for treasure. And they can get as dirty and noisy as they like! It is the happiest and healthiest of lifestyles.

One question I was recently asked was, ‘Is there ever time for negativity to fit into this beautiful space they live in?’

I loved this question, and I took it a step further: Is there a place for all those bumps in the road that challenge us and help us to grow? Yes, there is! But it doesn’t need to crush the joy out of them. Struggles over personal projects and goals, developing a growth mindset, and failure, are all part of the learning process. But it does not mean they are ridiculed, humiliated, or kept in at playtime to redo it. We are open to the idea of failure as a stepping stone to further learning. As Einstein said, ‘Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new’. I remember watching a teacher from Finland say, ‘…education is anything that makes the brain work.’ Simple words, but powerful, we don’t need to overcomplicate it.

One of my children has dyslexia and dyscalculia and works very hard to overcome the challenges. As she is developing skills she needs in the world, she is also developing her own unique engineering and artistic skills that are her personal strengths. She couldn’t nourish these strengths while in the school system because everything was about ‘fixing’ her weaknesses, there was no focus on her strengths. By time she got home, she was tired from the extraordinary amount of energy used to overcome her challenges. Even weekends were too short to truly grow her gifts, and self-confidence was most definitively chipped away. Since beginning home educating we have met an experienced educator who says this same child demonstrates a true entrepreneurial spirit of exploration, risk and creativity, and she is excited to see where the learning takes her.

Home educating is such a wonderful endeavour and rich part of our lives. We are experts when it comes to our children’s learning; we know what they need, and how they learn best.

So, why do we home educate?

It’s for the personalised education, and wherever the adventure might take us!

 

(If anyone else would like to talk about their home educating days here, do let me know in the comments below and I’ll get back to you. If we can spread our positive stories around it might help counterbalance some of the negative we receive!)

How can you home educate if you’re not a teacher?

This question comes up so often I thought it might be helpful to post this chapter from ‘A Home Education Notebook to encourage and inspire’ in answer.

As you probably know I did start my career in education in the classroom, but the trouble with folks knowing I was once a teacher is that, firstly, it makes them inclined to think that it was easy for me because I’d know what I should be doing. Laughable! And secondly, it makes people think that teaching is required for you to Home Educate and that if you’re not teachers you couldn’t educate anyone.

Absolutely not true!

During my time as a teacher I learnt how to do teacherish things by copying other teachers doing teacherish things, which were not always very nurturing or inspiring things, but what they had to do in order to get through what they had to teach and keep control over some children who were challenging. I’m not proud to admit that I wielded my power over the children too, pushed them towards expected outcomes en masse as I was expected to do. I had no regard for whether it was right or not, or for the individuals within that mass.

I’m ashamed of that now – but like many young green teachers I wasn’t experienced enough to know how else to do it.

Gradually, as I gained in confidence as a person rather than a pawn in an institution, I began to have severe misgivings about what was done to children in schools under the guise of educating them. I realised that much of what children have to do in schools is not worthwhile, not helpful, not healthy even, so it perhaps contributed to my confidence when home schooling, in feeling that our children were better off out of school than in it.

Other than that, much of what I learned when I was teaching I had to unlearn when I started to Home Educate.

Much of my thinking was governed by other teachers at that time. Teachers who believed that children had to be taught in order to learn anything – not true. Teachers who believed that unpleasant forms of coercion (like sarcasm for example) were acceptable ways to get children to learn – they’re not. Teachers who believed that some children were ‘no-hopers’ and un-teachable – very sad. Teachers who had been forced to believe that endless writing, testing, homework, academic exercises and exams were what constituted an education. It isn’t.

There were brilliant teachers too – you will have come across them. But sadly it’s often the less pleasant ones that have the biggest effect. And it was that type of ingrained thinking I had to unlearn, as none of it need apply to Home Education. It is very hard to break bad habits, but I had some serious habits to unlearn.

For to Home Educate successfully I did not need a ‘teacherish’ relationship with my children.

In order to learn children just need a caring, interested, mature mentor. But that person doesn’t have to be a teacher. Teachers aren’t required for parents to successfully Home Educate.

Having been a teacher did not make it any easier for me to know what I should be doing as a Home Educator, except that perhaps I’d already started to think about education generally. But once released from systemised schooling the education you can give your children is open to an enormous range of options. And many of those decisions are as much to do with parenting as teaching and I came from the same starting point as any other parent on that one – I knew zilch!

The things I saw when I was teaching in schools made me start to question. And I continued to question throughout. Should we learn this or shall we learn that? What’s an interesting way to learn it? How best can my children learn? What are their needs now and what suits them best?

These are the questions all Home Educators need to ask whether they are teachers or not. And the answers really have no relevance to what teachers are doing in schools unless you want them to. They have no relevance to whether you are a teacher or not. The answers will not come any easier if you’re a ‘trained’ teacher because all the answers are personal to your child. Just like education should be.

So not being a teacher doesn’t make you less well equipped to Home Educate than being one.

The thing that makes you well equipped to educate your children is to do with caring rather than to do with teaching. It is being a parent who’s prepared to learn a little too.

If we think back to when our children are small, pre-school, we manage to teach them – or rather to develop in them – an enormous number of skills. They learn with our help to walk, talk, use the loo, feed themselves, dress themselves, probably use the computer too…all manner of things. We show them the things around them, we show them how to do things, and we show them the wider world. We are already giving them information and showing them how to apply it.

Home Educating your child is nothing more than an extension of that.

As a parent you have already started encouraging your child to develop skills and acquire knowledge. That’s all education is. Education is the continuing process of encouraging your child to learn about the world, how they fit into it, how to relate to people, as you no doubt already have done.

There is no reason why you cannot go on doing that without any ‘teaching training’ at all. The skills and knowledge children need may become a little more challenging, sophisticated, complicated, but then, parenting is already challenging and you managed it so far. You can manage Home Educating. You can always find help with the bits you can’t. You can learn together – it sets a great example. Nearly everything – including support, is only a bit of research or networking away.

Teachers and teaching in the way that we normally understand them are not necessary to Home Educate. In fact may eventually become redundant in the mainstream, who knows!

All you need to be is a caring, interested, questioning, engaged parent, who is also willing to learn, which is probably what you already are, or you wouldn’t be reading this.

And what a great example you will be setting as such!

(Read the full chapter – and more tips and ideas – in the book. It’s on offer at Eyrie Press.)

 

Boldly into January

I have to admit I find post-christmas hard. I guess most people do. It’s the lengthy dark hours, the cold, the end of christmas holidays and sparkle that does it. Not to mention work and routine to be confronted.

But a fresh year’s start can also be a time for hope, for review, for new beginnings. Time for looking beyond these first difficult bits. To take stock and consider changes.

Everything always grows and changes – people too!

It was a good time to review family life and our home education I found. Investigate what’s working, acknowledge what’s not! Winkle out all those rancid ideas I might be clinging onto that had become out of date.

It’s often forgotten that no pattern, strategy or plan will work forever. The snag with kids is you find something that works, think you’ve cracked it, then everything changes again. Of course it does; they’re changing all the time. We have to renew along with them. And the education we facilitate has to change too.

In fact, that’s another aspect of education often overlooked; learning stuff is all about change really. About embracing change. Change of ideas, of mind, of knowledge. You have to change in order to learn something; you have to be prepared to slough off old ideas in order to accept new ones. Some people find that really hard. Thankfully the kids are more readily able to do that to accommodate the things they need to learn, adults perhaps less so. But we all need to embrace new ways of working, new skills and new understanding. And a new year is a great time to do so.

We all learn, grow, change constantly if you think about it – the kids, the mums and dads, the grandparents, the ambience in the home. It’s all in a constant state of flux. And that’s how it should be. We don’t need to cling onto old stuff, old routines, old habits, that no longer serve us well. We need to allow change. We need to notice it’s necessary! I often didn’t and created conflict in the house for that simple reason. So learn by my mistakes!

And as you venture boldly into January with your family, embrace the change of the year, acknowledge the children’s need to grow and change as they learn, and don’t be afraid of bold new thoughts!

There are all sorts of ways to live a family life. And all sorts of ways for kids to learn. We just have to remain open to things and prepared to go with the flow and flux and bold enough to implement what we believe in.

You can tell who’s been talking…

Babies must wonder what all this Christmas palaver is about. They stare at all the going’s on in amazement, too young to understand what we’re up to, however much we talk to them. Our behaviour and our hype must seem bizarre,even if entertaining. But I’m sure they absorb the excitement if not the explanations.

Babies – their wonderful world on BBC2

And we should be explaining – well – talking to them, however young and however they look back at us in bewilderment. For talking with them is essential for their development whatever age they are and whatever we’re chatting about.

There have been some great programmes on the BBC recently about babies’ development which I’ve been absorbed in. It talks about how the interactions babies have impacts on their development later on. And engaging through talk and attention was one part of their growth which was discussed; how those babies and toddlers who’ve been talked to, and with, have a greater vocabulary and dexterity with language at a later date. Even more importantly; they are the ones who achieve better educationally. So even if you think your baby isn’t responding you need to keep chatting away to them about what you’re doing and the things you see as you take them out and about.

I cringe when I see babies – any kids actually – being ignored as if they were an uncommunicative blob, or being pushed along in their pushchairs, backs to their parent, whilst said parent is engaged with their mobile. I know there’s a case for this on occasion – maybe. But I suspect it happens too often. It may be a boring talking to a baby, but it is a responsibility that comes with the parent package.

In fact it’s just as important to talk with any toddler – any youngster – and that parents continue to do so. To explain, answer questions, observe, whatever, for it all impacts on the development of their brain.

I have heard that some teachers are dealing with children starting school who are so unused to being talked to, and to whom the concept of conversation is so alien, they hardly talk at all. Their spoken vocabulary is so inhibited that staff have to spend the first part of the term focussing on that, let alone anything else like reading and writing. A shocking sign of someone neglecting their parental duty to engage with their kids. Teachers can always tell which kids have been talked to!

What some parents perhaps don’t realise is that talking to the little ones whatever age they are doesn’t just impact at the time, but equally importantly affects their development later in life too. The fact that they need talking to carries on throughout their childhood. And it’s not only important for language development or academic achievement. Conversing also creates the foundations of relationships and social skills essential for our health and happiness.

So whatever is going on in your house this Christmas, make sure you chat about it with the littlies. Of course if you’re home educating you get to chat to them all the time – no wonder homeschooled kids turn out to be so well developed! And if you’ve got a baby in the mix make sure you include them in it too. You are contributing to their education even at that early age.