Tag Archive | Learning Without School

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.

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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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Just a great big THANK YOU!

This post is really just a massive THANK YOU!

Thank you to all you kind and encouraging people who have sent me such lovely messages about my work, who have written me such warm reviews for my books on Amazon, who have visited and left comments on my blog and Liked my Facebook pagecafe books 005

These lovely efforts of yours do not go unnoticed, even if I don’t get round to responding and I want you to know they are IMMENSELY APPRECIATED!

So THANK YOU. I am so inspired by your support.

And not only does it support me, you support others too because every Like or comment or review spreads the ideas a little further afield, bringing it perhaps to the attention of those who might feel trapped in boundaries they would not otherwise be brave enough to step beyond – as many have told me it supported them!

So THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart! I feel incredibly blessed to be so supported.

 

School; so wrong for so many

book coverSchool is very right for so many too, although you maybe wouldn’t expect a home educator to say that.

However I readily acknowledge that for some it works extremely well. But I thought I’d repeat this post because of the sudden increased interest in Home Education as parents don’t get places for their children in the schools of their choice. And also as some don’t understand that school doesn’t have the monopoly on learning.

We’ve been sold school for so long as the only way to an education. But, actually, it isn’t and it isn’t good for many children – and that’s just the climate I’m talking about never mind the learning – and some children don’t learn much of value there anyway. They are educated for something else instead; how to survive in a school setting and pass tests. Which is a bit of a waste as once outside the school setting life’s nothing like that, had you noticed?

For example; what if when you went into work you were only allowed to work and mix with people who were the same age as you? What if you had to endure the disruptive, frightening and bullying behaviour of your peers, which bosses could do nothing about, and you had NO POWER to do anything about either? What if your work was considered of no value unless it put the company up league tables? And what if you were told you had to endure it for the next ten years or so – for your own good apparently even though it may make you ill – and you had NO VOICE in the matter whatsoever? No CHOICE at all? How would you feel about working in a culture like that?

Yet this is the culture in which many children find themselves in school. For some kids it’s okay, some are lucky, others it doesn’t seem to bother, or they’re in schools which are more respectful of children. For others it’s hell.

When I worked in schools I saw much that wasn’t doing kids any favours. It was the wrong approach to learning for many. Some failed to thrive in that environment. The emphasis was on scores not on people. It was an unpleasant and threatening atmosphere at times. But no one seemed bothered about the impact on the kids.

After we started to home educate a GP friend of mine said that he was seeing an increasing number of school-stress related illnesses among children, so much so that he did sometimes make the parents aware of the choice to home educate.

And that’s where the crux of the matter lies – in CHOICE!

In our lives outside school we always have choice. We think we don’t but it’s really that some of our choices are far too difficult to contemplate! However, the choice is always there. But choice has its drawbacks; you have to make decisions all the time. You have to take charge.

Children are so disempowered by the choice-less system of schooling that they have no ability to take charge – of anything. Sometimes they don’t even get a chance to in the home. Then parents and employers moan that young people have no common sense, no motivation, no initiative, no ability to make decisions, little understanding of what’s required of them outside school.

Is it any wonder really? When do they ever have the chance to learn to use their initiative, their common sense, to make decisions? And why would they understand about life outside school when school is nothing like it?

Schooling is SO prescriptive now that it takes away all opportunity for children to develop these kinds of essential life skills. But because we are so used to it, because we are threatened with the misinformation that without grades our kids won’t have a successful life and that justifies any means to get them, because it has become so ‘normal’ to subject our kids to this and call it education, little changes for the better.

What we need is less prescription, more people to care. And to understand that school isn’t that ‘normal’ in comparison to a working life outside, and parents to really think about what it’s all for and what it’s doing to their children.

This is what home educators do. Home educating parents are just ‘normal’ parents who have begun to understand that school isn’t the only answer to educating children. And the more there are of them choosing that route the more it will provide proof that other ways work too for those who want them. And maybe even schools can learn from that.

School is so wrong for so many. Thanks to home education we can choose to make a difference.

 

Towards an educational philosophy

Just letting you know I’ve added a new page today…

I know that many parents worry about formulating an educational philosophy when they start out home educating, not only for themselves but also to explain their ideas to the Local Authority.

So to try and support those of you who need it I’ve added a page with ideas and tips to aid the development of your own. The ideas here are only ideas – not intended as truth or gospel – and may well not be in line with your own thinking. But even that might help you move towards what is!

Hope it’s useful. You can find it here: https://rossmountney.wordpress.com/towards-an-educational-philosophy/

Do please comment and let me know your thoughts on the matter. The more ideas here the more people are helped towards a successful and happy education for their children.