Tag Archive | Learning Without School

What do we need of our schools?

There was a time I didn’t rate home education! Can you imagine?

And that’s simply because of ignorance!

Like many other parents, some who thought it was downright wrong, this was because; I had no experience of it; had been influenced by too many other people who also had no experience of it; had a rigid view of education indoctrinated by the prescriptive system I was familiar with.

But I changed. I learnt different. I overcame my ignorance, not because I met others successfully doing it and had direct and first hand experience of its success. The nucleus of change started long before that.

It began when working in the system.

I was changed by seeing too many children glazed over, failed and let down by schooling, by seeing the methods used to get those children to fit in, by seeing them ostracised when they couldn’t, and knowing in my heart as a teacher (well before Home educating) that schools just didn’t suit too many kids.

And it wasn’t about youngsters’ ability to learn or study or engage. It was as much about the environment of schools as anything and what that did to some kids.

Something needed to be different.

Think about parties. you’re either someone who enjoys crowds and socialising and parties or you’re not. That’s just the way you are.

Equally, some of us can learn with hubbub and noise and distraction all around. Some can’t – some prefer it quiet and still. I’m one of those. Children are also like that. Some enjoy and thrive in the buzz of a school environment. Some don’t. Some can’t bear it. Some to the point of becoming mentally and emotionally unwell.

That’s just the way they are. But some people are too ignorant to see that – or unwilling because they’d need to provide something different.

They’d need to see that children should not have to be exposed to the crazy crush and stress of school if it’s not the way they learn best. And acknowledge that we are failing them if we expect them to be able to learn in an environment that doesn’t suit – and we haven’t even touched on the sometimes debilitating approaches used to get kids to learn, the bizarre content of much of the curriculum, etc etc.

So is home educating the answer?

It can be the answer for some who are able to manage it.

But – it certainly isn’t the answer for all; many family circumstances would make it impossible anyway.

What we need instead is a different sort of school. And a different approach to learning and education.

What we need is to see education not as the mass grade-getting industry and political strategy it’s become, but as a treasured opportunity for kids to grow and develop. A return to this core value.

We need schools to be smaller intimate places, more of them, nearer homes, so they are less crowded and less threatening – and less generic.

We need fewer children to each teacher so there’s a better intimacy, so teachers can get to really know their pupils, and consequently create better interaction and respect.

We need to stop making education and learning about testing. Teachers who know kids and know how to teach don’t need it, the kids don’t need it, it gets in the way of learning. It’s in complete opposition to everything education should be.

We need to rid schools of an oppressive curriculum and approach to learning, most of which is based on outcomes designed to perpetuate the system rather than perpetuate the good of the youngsters themselves.

We need schools to be places of nurture and personal development, not places of measurement and competition. And before you argue that kids need to be exposed to that in order to stand it in the ‘real’ world, – they don’t. Kids who’ve been home educated and never been to school still manage to make their way in tough competitive working worlds when the time comes, when they choose to do so.

And that’s another point: choice. You choose your working world to some extent and the people you’re with. Children and young people in the system have no choices, or choices manipulated to suit the system. They have no choice about what or who they have to endure and this makes a difference to their success. Young people deserve more choice over their learning and their destiny. If we offered the right opportunities and facilities they would make the right choices – whatever ‘right’ is! To not offer that demonstrates an abhorrent lack of respect for them on our behalf.

This strange lock down time will make it blatantly clear that home schooling is not for all, course not. But schools as they are, are not for all either. And this is becoming very evident through parents reporting that during this time out of school their children have grown, are beginning to thrive and bloom and maintain good mental health and well being that they didn’t enjoy when on the schooling treadmill. Surely kids don’t have to suffer that for an education?

It’s about time we asked the questions too long in coming – what do we want of our schools? Is what we have out of date? Acknowledge that this prescriptive system is turning too many children into failures and even destroying the health and well being of some?

Parents should wake up to the fact we need changes – it’s in their hands – they are the consumers of it. We need humanity back in our schools and to make them more about people, not about politics. And vote for changes and practices that honour our children not disrespects them through such shameful and manipulative disregard.

Learn more about the home schooling life from my books. See the Books page for more

Why you shouldn’t worry about ‘getting behind’

It’s threatened by schools constantly. A kind of subversive blackmail to keep parents in check. Keep them sending their kids to school so they can be kept on the conveyor belt of test scores, thus keeping schools high up the dreadful league table competition that the business of education has become.

Did you realise that’s what the education system is mainly about?

The irony is: this is NOT a complete education.

And the tragedy is that this propaganda – this threat of ‘getting behind’ – has made parents desperately afraid; has created at FOMO of education, if you like!

However, true education has no ‘in front’ or ‘behind’. It’s the competitive and political system which has created it. A system which has become less about what’s good for the child and more about what’s good for the politics.

It doesn’t happen so much when home educating because most home educators treat education as something different from the prescriptive hot-house process based around child control and mass teaching. They generally see education as a personal process that a) is for the whole development of an individual not just the academic and b) doesn’t have to measured or scored or graded in order to be successful. And they’re proving this approach works.

But that aside, in these unprecedented times, when everyone’s in the same boat, it’s therefore true that no one is really missing out or getting behind.

What’s more important to focus on is addressing the trauma that everyone’s going through, particularly the children, with the unsettling disturbance of what they knew to be life, and having the concept of mortality brought much closer.

In fact, we’re all suffering a major emotional trauma that has disrupted work, family, life as we know it. And this is what we need to be nurturing ourselves and our children through, not worrying about getting educationally ‘behind.

Even more importantly; this time now is an education in itself.

It doesn’t look like the grade getting, measured process that most parents equate with education, but it is building many personal skills which are an essential element of it and without which grades are of no use at all.

I do understand that this is hard for many parents unfamiliar with this way of thinking to grasp. But maybe now’s the time.

The value of education, and what use it is beyond school, is not only based in grades. It’s also based in the learner’s ability to apply themselves to living and earning and working with others. To do this they need a whole range of non-academic skills; relationships skills, conversational skills, empathy, self-motivation, social skills, confidence, budgeting skills, respect, creative skills – not just for creative activities but to think creatively enough to solve challenges life throws at you, this current crisis being a great example. We’re all having to think creatively, beyond what we normally do, in order to get through it.

This time at home away from the normal institutions, is an opportunity for your children to develop those other aspects of themselves, through their personal pursuits at home and the way you respond to this crisis and live together as a family, that they never get the chance to develop in the treadmill of school. Everything they do out of school is as valuable to their development personally and educationally as that which they do academically.

So don’t worry about ‘getting behind’. Rethink this propaganda – which is what this concept is to keep parents and kids doing what the government wants – and take the opportunity to rethink what are your priorities for the education of your children and how those might be best facilitated. And trust that time will even it all out anyway.

And take care of yourselves whilst you do. Your children are learning from you!

(Scroll down the ‘About Home Education’ page to read about a philosophy of education)

Don’t panic about your child’s education

I’m sure now that many parents whose children went to school will be panicking about their education.

Guess what? Home educators panic too! Of course they do!

But there are several simple things to know about children’s learning that have helped them get a grip on that anxiety which might help everyone else too.

See this post; https://rossmountney.wordpress.com/2019/09/09/your-questions-about-home-education-answered/

I always tell home educating families and those new to it a simple fact about learning: children learn as much out of school as they do in it!

They don’t necessarily need schools in order to learn. And an education is not built solely on learning facts and taking tests, measuring progress and ticking off stages on a tick sheet, or those other things associated with schooling; it doesn’t have to be formal to be effective! Everything kids do is educationally useful, builds skills, mental as well as physical. A lot of what schools do is just for schools, not for education!

An education is built upon a developing brain (and body), which takes a lot of time. It’s built on a rounded development of a number of skills learnt through living a life that are transferable to education. Life educates as much as school does (more so probably). And a small interruption in schooling as we have now is not going to be noticed in ten years time!

So get on with every day life and enjoy the experience of sharing it with your child through discussions and debates and hypothesising and explorations online, through these incredible times that offer much to cogitate on (not scaremongering though).

Another fact to understand is that a developing and educationally growing brain is a busy brain, so keep busy, remembering that it’s not that important what that busyness is.

Look at it like keeping a body fit. Physical activity is needed to keep a body fit but it doesn’t really matter what that physical activity is, in fact, the more variety the better, from walking to dancing, from leaping about in front of an exercise video to climbing trees, kicking a ball round an empty playground to skipping in the back yard. Same with the brain. Whatever the children are engaged in their brain will be exercising and developing their mental skills whether that’s gaming, exploring YouTube, reading, artworks of any kind (be diverse), learning how to cook pancakes, playing monopoly, constructing something, solving a problem, writing a story, drawing a story (comics are big business!) All these activities develop the brain, in other words educate, as much as times tables or workbooks or whatever academic exercise you associate with being at school. They all add to the pool of skills which can be transferred to more formal education practices at a later date.

Schools do not have the monopoly on learning and education. As thousands of home educating young people are proving. Kids learn anyway. All experiences educate, most of which you can facilitate, although I acknowledge that you are going to have to be more resourceful in finding them home based as we all are at present. Even these weird circumstances present a good opportunity for learning – looking back through history at other times when people had lives completely disrupted, like through times of war for example.

So I would suggest you stop panicking about academic things, which your children will have foisted back on them soon enough (even though it may seem ages to you) and just enjoy your children because these times are educative in themselves. Get busy with the kids whilst you have the opportunity too; make, bake, play, talk, find new films and documentaries to watch and chat about those, create new recipes from whatever you have in the cupboard, change rooms round, make dens, do all sorts of home based stuff because it will all contribute to your child’s education, developing skills and furthering their knowledge.

Be close, be loving and reassuring and trust that your child’s education will not be harmed, because it won’t be when you look at the bigger picture – something I encourage home educating families to do. In fact the opposite might happen, it might be enhanced from having this different out-of-school experience requiring independent thinking and problem solving; two great skills for life.

So don’t panic. Enjoy it instead. Keep busy. Be resourceful, during these odd times, which is a brilliant thing to teach your kids after all!

There’s another blog about coping with worries over here

And a whole chapter devoted to how children learn without school in my book of the same name, available through Amazon or JKP publishers.

How do homeschool kids learn?

Following on from last week’s post I thought it might be helpful to talk about this.

It’s such a huge question. How does anyone learn? How do you learn now you’re a parent?

Discounting any specific academic courses you may be undertaking I think you’ll agree your learning otherwise, (say about your new technology, or looking up how to fix, cook, parent), has little resemblance to the way schools do it – you probably do most of it online and by asking around too. Yet it will be just as effective.

School learning structures are the way they are because the learning there has to be measured – not because they’re the best way to do it!

However, learning doesn’t have to be measured in order to be successful. And for most home educators it isn’t measured – it’s just experienced. Families just encourage, prompt, provide resources and engage with what their learner wants to learn, along with essential skills to do so, and find ways to facilitate it, practically, physically, mentally and most importantly interestingly!

They do it through a multitude of ways; online, out and about, through meetings and sharing learning with others, in the local community, museums, galleries, sports and play centres, libraries, workshops, visits to various sites, nature reserves and places of interest, all so the learning experience is as first hand as possible, along with practice of academic skills and study at times.

But it’s very hard to get your head round those unfamiliar approaches that home educating families take to their learning. So I’ve written a whole chapter about it in my guide to home education; ‘Learning Without School Home Education’ which may help you get to grips with it. (For more details scroll down the ‘My Books’ page above) If you haven’t got a copy and prefer not to buy, you can request that your library do so, then others will be able to access it too.

The chapter looks at both a traditional view and a broader view of how children learn, what they need in order to do so, how they learn without teaching from everyday experiences including play, and then goes on to look at different approaches families use in more detail, the pros and cons, along with some suggestions on how to choose an approach that’s right for you. The chapter also talks about motivation and about children having charge of their own learning which may be a really radical idea for some, but is still doable and effective.

From the book; Learning Without School Home Education

Learning and educating are such a personal experience – although schools tend to generalise it – every learner is different and everyone’s circumstances are different. But despite these diverse and idiosyncratic approaches which families take to their home education the young people all seem to end up in the same place; intelligent, articulate, socially skilled, and mostly with a portfolio of qualifications in line with their school contemporaries.

Don’t be daunted by an unfamiliar approach to learning that’s so different from the traditional. Traditions always need challenging to see if they’re still worth hanging onto, although I guess you know that already or you wouldn’t be challenging the tradition of schooling! By opening your mind about how children learn you will be able to give your youngsters a much more pro-active and enjoyable experience of learning that will set them up for life.

Your questions about home education answered

It is true what’s written in the poster! Although many parents don’t realise, or begin to comprehend how this would work, conditioned as we are to believe that formal, school-style approaches to education are the only ones worth doing.

They’re not!

The more you home educate the more it becomes apparent that diverse, incidental and informal activities, like play, investigation and experimenting for example, educate as much as formal academic exercises do.

To help understand how this happens there’s a whole chapter devoted to it in my book;  ‘Learning Without School Home Education’.

The contents of this book are based around the general questions parents ask all the time about home education:

What is home education and why do people do it?

How do parents start home educating?

How do home educated children learn?

How do they find friends and become socialised?

What about curriculum, subjects and timetables?

What about tests, exams and qualifications?

What is life like for a home educating family?

What about children with ‘learning difficulties’ or ‘special needs’?

Where do home educated families end up?

The chapters answer all the above questions in detail and the answers may well surprise you. And, as one teacher reported, may inspire many ideas about education in general that you’ve never thought of before!

So don’t let the schooling style of learning monopolise your thinking about education. Don’t let the system make you believe that testing, classrooms, teachers, curriculum are required or your child won’t learn. That’s untrue. Or make you believe that school is needed for socialisation – it’s not. (Read this about weird social behaviour and baked beans!)

Schooling is one way of doing it – a very unsuccessful way for many – which is why thousands of families are choosing home education as an alternative and making a grand job of it!

Feeling grateful….

I can’t tell you how grateful I was last week to recieve another warmhearted message about my book ‘A Funny Kind Of Education’:

A Funny Kind Of Education is amazing!!! I’m speeding though it with pure delight, laughing and enjoying every moment. Your book speaks to me, explaining everything I think and feel about learning and education and schooling – the humour and love explode from the pages!!!”

Wow!

You’ve really no idea how rewarding it is to receive that – unless of course you’re also one of the people who’ve sat for hours scribbling in isolation, wondering if it’s worth the bother!

So I am immensely grateful when readers take the time to let me know they’ve been moved by my books and how helpful they’ve been. This review was particularly rewarding because it saw the book as a family book – as much as a home education one – and that’s what I like to think it’s mostly about. And that it was readable; so many books about education – and this is about education – bore you rigid. I know that feeling; I’ve read a few, and even though am passionate about the subject, it’s rare to read one that’s engaging.

Although the other books I’ve done to support home educating families; ‘A Home Education Notebook’ and ‘Learning Without School’ (see the Books page for more details) contain more general information and tips, this seems the most popular and certainly was my favourite to write.

If you’ve read and enjoyed it, (or any of them) and have a moment to leave a review of it on Amazon or around your networks I’d be most grateful. Not just because I’ve got a big head and like to feel reassured I haven’t been wasting my time! But more importantly because it helps spread awareness of this approach to educating and supports others who may be struggling in the system looking for an alternative. And if you’re a new mum, you might find my ‘Mumhood’ one helpful too!

But whether you review or not, this is still a VERY BIG THANK YOU for having supported what I do by reading my books.

A personal education philosophy

I’m popping this here because it’s something I’m asked about and some parents like help with, especially in the light of the LA often asking for it. The thought of ‘educational philosophy’ can be rather daunting. Don’t fret; it doesn’t have to be – it’s just your thoughts on education, so it’s best to have some, then call them philosophy!

However, it can be a bit difficult to think about if it’s new to you to do so, so some of these ideas might help with a starting point.

At the risk of shocking everyone with this admission; when I first starting out teaching I thought, like many others, that education was just something delivered by schools quantified by exams. I didn’t teach for long before I completely changed my mind about that.

I also soon worked out that ‘qualification’ was certainly not a measure of an educated person, judging by the way some of the supposedly educated behaved. And teaching for exam passes didn’t necessarily make young people educated either.

When we home educated our own two children we had to think about what education really was, if it was not something that was just learning a prescribed syllabus, delivered by schools for the purpose of grades, which by then I definitely didn’t believe it was – and we weren’t planning on doing anyway.

What was it then?

Our ideas changed over the time we home educated and have matured even since then. And this is an attempt to try and note some ideas down that may help you decide upon your own.

A precise educational philosophy is quite hard to capture because it is entirely based on your definition of education in itself. And that has been influenced by your own schooling and by society’s definition of it as a grade-getting process that is measurable in those terms only. And accountable in those terms only – in terms of how many and how high.

But I believe education is something far broader than that. And I look at it not in terms of grades, or perhaps in terms of what education is, but more in terms of what an educated person is.

My definition tends to be person based. Not qualification based. Because it’s not the qualifications that matter – it’s what you do with them. And you need far, far more personable skills and elements of character to apply yourself to an educated life than qualifications.  Elements like respect. Or responsibility. Or care. Or the ability to communicate.

Grades are no good without those.

You can have the most qualified, titled and knowledgeable person in the world who can be an arrogant arse and not care a damn for the next person. I wouldn’t call them educated. So care does come into it.

You can have a person who has been privately and expensively educated who looks down on those who’ve had less opportunity as if they deserve less respect. But I wouldn’t call that the behaviour of an educated person. So respect comes into it.

And you have people who seem to spend lifetimes collecting degrees but are unable to function happily, communicate and establish relationships, or understand how their awareness of others and the planet is important. Their educational qualifications don’t seem a lot of help. Awareness is part of being educated too.

So I believe that however ‘qualified’ or ‘educated’ in the conventional sense of the word a person is, it’s how he BEHAVES that matters and counts as to whether they are really educated.

People who are educated are people who not only have knowledge and skills but are people who show respect, responsibility and care towards others both near and far, towards their environment both locally and globally and who show awareness, compassion and understanding, who are keen to be the best they can, make the best contribution they can, and who strive towards good, happy and fulfilled lives. And I know that now we’d need to define good, happy and fulfilled but I’ll leave those definitions to you!

But these are the types of qualities I expect an educated person to have, however many grades. It is about the quality of a person – not the qualifications.

And that’s very difficult to measure. But schools feel the need to measure something so they focus on the measurable bits and neglect the rest. That’s where it’s gone so wrong.

Now, this is all very philosophical but how do you home school to that?

Well – creating good, happy and fulfilled lives on a daily basis is a start! One day at a time; make each day a good one and you make for a good education and fallow days count here too. (See this blog)

I also understand that many parents worry about describing it to the Local Authority. We did too and I spent many hours contemplating it. I describe what happened in my book ‘A Funny Kind Of Education’ including the letter with our educational philosophy we finally sent to the LA. So I thought it might help if I copied it here too:

We are unable to fill in your enclosed form because it is inappropriate to our Home Education situation and the education we plan to provide for our children.

We plan for the education of our children to be centred around their needs, for the most part autonomous, deriving from their own interests and daily pursuits, mostly democratic, where their learning is shared, helped, broadened and encouraged by our parental input. Our aim is for happy, confident, self motivated children who take pleasure in learning. We hope to provide a stimulating environment in which they may do this, both in the home with materials, books, television, computers, and in the community and further afield with trips to libraries, visits to places of interest, field trips and activities which encourage an interest and curiosity about their daily lives and environment, all of which are sources of learning and educational opportunity.

We see learning as an integral part of our children’s daily lives and not separate from it or segregated into subjects. Therefore it is not timetabled or structured; this would be unnecessarily inhibiting. It may take place from the minute they wake to the minute they sleep, over meal times, social times, unusual times, any time, by discussions and questioning, conversations, investigations and research, not necessarily in a formal procedure. We see it therefore as mostly spontaneous and unplanned. Thus we can take advantage of the purest receptive moments when learning potential is at its peak.

We are quite confident that contact with family, friends, social events, clubs and activities of this nature provide our children with plenty of social interaction.

Having said all that I’m sure you must appreciate that our children have to recover from the numbing effects of school, which has damaged their learning potential, and it may take us some time to settle into our Home Education. We look forward to this with enthusiasm and excitement.

We hope this fulfils your requirements.”

An educational philosophy doesn’t have to worry you. You will already have ideas about what education should be or you wouldn’t contemplate home educating. These ideas are the basis for a philosophy and they just need formalising and getting down, always allowing room for change and moderation. Allow them to develop over a period of time and read lots others. Use any of the ideas you like here to help.

Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Think what you want for your children personally (things like confidence, keenness to learn, happiness, etc)
  • Think what you might want for them academically – helps to focus on skills here –  in line with where they’re at right now (it’s best to not look too far ahead at this point)
  • Think about others – have you ever seen a model of a family or child that you’d like to strive towards (probably you have examples of the opposite – also useful!)
  • Think what suits your child’s needs, your needs and your circumstances and what kind of lifestyle/approach will help you move towards the above.
  • A final point to remember; children change, so their needs change, so your approach and styles and philosophy may change throughout your home education. Therefore it is wise to include this fact in any statement you may make to the LA

Allow yourself room for flexibility – the key to successful home education – and development of ideas as, like ours did, these will change.

Just as home education changes you. Exactly like life really!

If you’re new to home education you’ll find more help in this book, especially for beginners.

Curriculum doesn’t constitute education – it can even choke it!

Parents who are fairly new to home educating often worry about curriculum. It’s a common mistake to think that without it there will be no education.

But a curriculum doesn’t constitute an education. It is equally possible to become an intelligent and educated person without following one at all – as many home schooling families are proving.

For curriculum is nothing more than a set list of subjects or course of study. And whereas it can be a useful tool guiding a learner towards prescribed outcomes (exams for example) which most find valuable, a curriculum can also have a detrimental effect.

This has been highlighted in an enlightened piece of writing by a sixteen year old pupil who recently described curriculum as having a ‘chokehold on the throats of the nation’s children’.

This was Harriet Sweatman, who won the Scottish schools young writer of the year award with her piece about going to school.

Harriet Sweatman pictured in the TES

It is absolutely astounding and reflects what many of us feel about the system, including I suspect many parents who are not home educating! She goes on to say that she’s ‘been flattened by a concrete curriculum, so structured and unforgiving that I have forgotten how to function without it’. She feels that schooling has made her grow backwards, knowing less about herself now than when she started.

Can’t we just imagine that!

If you ever forget just why you ended up home educating this incredibly honest piece will remind you. I’ve copied it below for you to read.

And it also might remind you not to get hung up about which curriculum to use, whether you should be using one or not. Curriculum is a tool which can be extremely valuable, but do remember it doesn’t necessarily guarantee becoming educated – just as school doesn’t!

Here’s Harriet’s piece borrowed from the TES; 

The horde of hunchbacks slouch on, dragging their feet up the school drive. Hearts heavy and school bags even heavier, but what can you do? Lockers are expensive and always wind up graffitied or smeared with Vaseline anyway. The path is lined with overflowing bins, padded with empty coffee cups from the new Costa in the village (the place that, for the bargain price of £2, will sell me the sweet elixir that promises to make up for the fact that I only got four hours’ sleep last night).

Once inside, the scuffed yet shiny linoleum floors are covered in curious stains – blood or food? We may never know. The corridor walls are painted a jarring blue and covered in stickers and posters saying that mistakes are just part of the journey. And oh, the places you’ll go! This children’s hospital aesthetic is fooling nobody. We’re too old for that.

The abrasive B-flat bell sounds and so we traipse from room to room, ankles shackled with our stresses. CCTV watches all, waiting for one wrong move. The hallways are lit only by harsh fluorescent lighting, each door leads to a new prison cell complete with wired windows, to stop us breaking them, or breaking out of them.

In reality, school is not a place where you are imprisoned. In here, you are manufactured. You move along the conveyor belt of exam seasons, hoping for the grades you need, so you can be packaged up with a pretty label saying you got straight As and shipped off somewhere else. Capitalism tells us that if we are not fit to work, then we are worthless. There is no love in learning any more. Every student has given up or is about to. We envy the people that have left already, but we have no plans for what to do if we did.

By now I am the ripe old age of 16. Apparently, by now I am supposed to have a plan. By now I should know what I want to do for the rest of my life. I am supposed to already have experience in the field. We have lost the middle ground between child and adult. I am stuck in what remains. At the age of 12, I was asked what I was going to be when I grew up. I soon learned that “I want to be a wizard” was not an acceptable answer. I still don’t have an answer.

Fear not! There is help out there. If you want to study medicine or law that is.Advice on how to get the top grades, workshops where they cut things open and show you how they work, what oozes and what snaps. Meanwhile, the painter sits taut in front of their still life, ticking off a checklist of techniques they must display. The musician doesn’t dare push the boundaries, exchanging originality for safety in the hope it will be to the examiner’s taste. The historian memorises essay structures down to the word, the linguist knows how to write an essay not hold a conversation, and the writer wades through Shakespeare trying to pick out an essay from a play that was made to be performed not studied. Whatever happened to expanding your horizons? Now we must all ensure our tunnel vision is pinpoint thin.

Well then, perhaps the real adventure is the friends you make along the way. The cast of lively characters who go on adventures: the love interest, the comedy relief, the antagonist and their schemes. Until the seating plan in the classroom changes and you never talk to them again. You may see them on your way to or from school, at breaks and lunch, but at the weekends not a whisper. These are not the friendships that novels are written about. These are barely friendships at all. After we leave, when the battles are over and the war is won, most of us will never see each other again.

When we leave, will we even survive? Yes, I can do differentiation and also integration, but can I do taxes? I don’t know how insurance works or how to buy a house. I barely know basic first aid, so let’s all hope nobody starts choking to death anywhere near me. I can talk for days about condoms, but birth control is another story. We just learn by the book everything we need to get us through exams, competing with peers for the most approval.

Primary school was better and I still miss show-and-tell. Posters about the ancient Egyptian god of the underworld, a presentation about the Wombles of Wimbledon, projects on anything that captured my imagination. At high school there is little time for such fanciful feats. Assignments where you can research what you want count for almost nothing, and even then there are strict rules. Finding out who I am and what I care about has been deemed unimportant. I have been flattened by a concrete curriculum, so structured and unforgiving that I have forgotten how to function without it. With no bell throbbing at even intervals and no marking scheme to build our lives around, how will we cope?

They say high school is the best years of your life – but not in this world, where qualifications matter more than personal qualities. I feel like I have grown backwards, as if I now know less about myself and who or what I could be than when I started. We can pretend that we are happy all we want, that our lives look just like the teen movies we used to idolise (it is true that we often burst into song, a chorus of “kill me now”, and only half of us are joking). Yes, we may be the next generation of leaders and scientists but we are also the next to be shoved on to the production line known as the world of work.

There is still time to change things. The curriculum can release its chokehold on the throats of this nation’s children and let them breathe. We can still save our siblings or maybe even our children. But for us, it is too late. For now, we just have to wait until the final bell rings and we walk out of the school door forever.

Congratulations and thanks to Harriet (and the TES for publishing it)

And if you want to learn more about using the curriculum – or not – I’ve written about it in my book ‘Learning Without School Home Education’. 

See My Books page for more.

Kids don’t particularly needs schools to learn!

For some, it’s scary to think about their children learning without schools or ‘proper’ teachers. Especially if that’s all you’re used to.

Getting your head round that idea is a problem for most home educating families when they start out.

They learn just as well on the floor, lying down, wriggling about, having a chat...

They learn just as well on the floor, lying down, wriggling about, having a chat…

Because parents mostly believe that in order to learn kids need the following:

  • qualified teachers
  • to be taught
  • to be in classrooms, sitting still mostly
  • to be told what to do, when to do it and how
  • to follow a curriculum
  • to learn in incremental stages
  • to be tested regularly
  • to learn through academics

But those who’ve been home educating a while are discovering that other ways of learning work just as well without any of this stuff in place. Successful home educated graduates are proof.

For example they’re finding out that, contrary to the points above:

  • Qualified teachers can help children learn – granted. But equally there are plenty of other adults, parents being among them, who can also help children learn by being engaged with them, by answering their questions and encouraging more, by being interested, facilitating experiences and spending the time. Time that teachers don’t have.
  • Anyway, children also learn without teaching, through the incidental activities they do, through conversations, explorations and investigations.
  • Learning can take place anywhere. At any time, doing anything, however wriggly and unstill they are, without ever entering a classroom actually – given the right climate. And many are proving it now.
  • And they don’t always require to be told what to do, when to do it and how, if at all!
  • So therefore a curriculum isn’t always necessary. It’s just a useful tool which you can use or lose, depending on how you want to use it rather than have it use you!
  • Some learning is built on understanding that’s gone before. some learning happens in a kind of non-structured patchwork that’s being proven to be equally successful. It depends which approach suits the child and family’s needs best. Stage- or grade-led learning is not the only approach that works. Or a guarantee of successful education.
  • Testing IS NOT necessary. I repeat; testing is not necessary. It doesn’t advance the learner. It’s just another tool you can use or lose depending on your preference. (There’s a previous post which explains here)
  • And there are all sorts of non-academic ways to learn; conversation, watching films or YouTube clips, experiential, practical and firsthand, trips, trial and error, field study. The more the learning experience ignites all the senses the firmer it will be established!

It takes a while to trust in this process. You have to open your mind, your eyes, and watch and learn how your children really are learning without any of the conventional requirements you might have thought were needed.

But trust this; there are thousands of home educated young people now proving this to be true!

(If you want to know more there’s a long chapter on learning approaches in my book Learning Without School Home Education‘)

Another little word on worry…

People considering home schooling are often stopped by thinking it’s going to be too much of a worry! So I thought I’d repost some ideas here to try and put some of those to rest.

The worry that comes attached to parenting makes life pre-children look like a picnic. Add home schooling into the picture and it doubles.

However, if you think about it, there’s just as much worry attached to schooling isn’t there? There was for me.

The daft thing is; worry is pointless. It doesn’t help anything, it warps reasonable perspective, it wears you down and becomes counter-productive. So you might as well stop it.

The million dollar question is; how?

I’m a worrier and had to work hard at dealing with it so as not to spoil being a mum. Here are some of the ideas I came up with; perhaps they’ll work for you.

–          Look at your concern realistically. Usually worry is nothing more than us imagining the worst scenario. It’s not something that is actually happening. So try and switch your imagination off and focus on the reality now. Or…

–          Imagine instead the best scenario. Imagine how it looks when it’s positive – what you want to happen rather than thinking about the worst case. This is visualisation. It’s very powerful, but it’s ironic that we rarely imagine the best. Visualise what it looks like when everything is working perfectly, your children being angelic!

–          Worrying is nothing more than your thoughts – not events – just negative thinking. The best antidote to this I found was to stop thinking and start doing. Take action to change whatever is bothering you. Or if that’s not possible involve yourself in an activity that takes your mind off the worry and onto something else. This refreshes you, dilutes the worry, brings a new perspective.

–          Another point; worrying is about future events. You’re not there yet and you cannot predict what future is in store anyway – everything always changes. So stop living for the future, start making this moment the best it can be.

–          Obviously we want to do the best we can to secure our children’s future, whether that’s in the way we raise them or the way we educate them. But nothing can be secure really and sometimes we’re so busy doing that we forget that right now is what matters. Love matters. Happiness matters. Interest and fun matter. Putting those in place now is the best way to build a fulfilling, successful future – I don’t think fulfilment and success can happen without them.

–          There is no guarantee you can make for your child’s future except that. By doing that each day, but being aware of the way you are, by being relaxed, attentive, busy and FUN you can show your child how to build a life the same!

–          Worry also occurs when we’re focussing intensely on the smaller picture. Often a blinkered picture – an inaccurate one. Like your child not being able to achieve something that others can like sharing for example. It’s easy to get obsessed about it – this puts pressure on which makes it worse, creates an intensity which communicates itself to the child which prevents them from sharing because they know it’s something you’re worried about …etc…etc. To stop this take your mind’s eye out from the intensity of this small picture to the whole of your child’s life– I bet your child will be as considerate over sharing as anyone else by the time they’re twenty. So be patient – children are all different and are allowed to be. Look at the bigger picture.

–          Keep contact with others to help your perspective. Talk about your concerns – then stop and talk about something else – something positive! Don’t measure your child against your friend’s. If you must, measure instead against the millions and millions of children who started out with these noticeable differences then by adulthood have become insignificant.

–          Look after yourself! Worry is increased by tiredness, frustration, stress, unhappiness. Your needs as a parent are as important as the child’s. Happy parent equals happy child. Some of the things I did to help myself with this were; reading inspirational books, regular exercise, getting outdoors and enjoying nature’s beauty, meeting with others,  avoided too much junk food (food affects your mind), attention to my mental/spiritual wellbeing.

–          If your child sees you doing this you’ll be teaching them how to look after themselves as they grow which is a far better lesson to be teaching them than how to worry!

I’ve suggested other ways of looking after yourself as a mum in my new book ‘Mumhood How to handle it Why it matters’. And there are ideas about dealing with worry if you’re a home educating parent in ‘Learning Without School’. But for a read to give you a giggle and a lift away from it all try ‘A Funny Kind of Education’. All the details are on my book page.

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