Tag Archive | learning

A perfectly imperfect approach to your Home Education

Happy New Year, and a happy new start to your home education!

As a fresh approach to it, which we were always ready for when we got back down to it again, how about adopting the philosophy of Wabi Sabi?

What is that, I hear you ask?

Well, I’m not going to be able to give you a clear definitive answer, basically because there isn’t one. I’ve read it’s as difficult to define as love; we all have ideas about love but to express what it is in words is almost impossible. It’s more a matter of feel than of definitions.

And it’s the same with Wabi Sabi.

Wabi Sabi is a Japanese approach to life which holds within it lessons about letting go of trying to make everything perfect, of letting go the idea that life can only be happy if we meet our expectations of perfectionism – many blasted at us through social media, and of accepting and appreciating things as they are in order to get the best from life. Acceptance of the fact that things don’t have to be perfect in order to be good.

If you’re anything like I was you’ll probably be worrying about making your home education perfect. You feel the responsibility of living up to this decision you’ve made to do it, of making it better than school, along with the inevitable comparisons and weight that subsequently brings. Worrying over the judgements made about you if you’re not getting on perfectly. Heavy weights indeed.

Having been through all this my advice to you would be to stop that immediately. All that will do is create tension and anxiety, stress and conflict none of which will be good. Certainly isn’t helpful in making a good learning environment.

Far better instead is to approach it with the wisdom this concept of imperfection brings. Understanding that imperfections are still experiences and all experiences teach us something; often show us the way forward, even when they’re the wrong ones!

And understand this about the educational process:

  • It doesn’t have to be perfect to be valid
  • Learning approaches don’t have to be perfect to be worthwhile
  • Each day doesn’t have to be perfect in order to usefully contribute to the overall development and progress of your youngster
  • Becoming educated is a diverse, sometimes messy, varied and experiential journey that has as many imperfections, as life does, and which never ends.
  • There is no perfect time frame, no perfect approach, no perfect outcome, no perfect strategy, no perfect answer.
  • But a perfectly imperfect education still works!

Many of your days at home will be less than perfect. Many days at school will be less than perfect. We wouldn’t actually expect them to be so, so why put that pressure on your home educating days?

And of course, children are not perfect either. Thank goodness for that, for all our diverse idiosyncrasies. Diversity is essential for our perpetuation. Accept your children as they are, where they are; they will change. Wabi Sabi embraces the concepts of impermanence, imperfection and incompleteness. As things are in all nature; as are we – children particularly!

So go gently with your days. Ditch any ideas about making them perfect.

Enjoy the good days. Accept and move on from the difficult ones. Take each day as it comes.

And allow imperfections to be naturally part of the rich pattern of home education.

Wishing you a happy new home educating year

(The book I read was ‘WABI SABI Japanese wisdom for a perfectly imperfect life’ by Beth Kempton)

Christmas tales…

A little Christmassy extract from ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ – the heartfelt story of our family’s learning days at home, when the girls were roughly nine and twelve:

“…With it being our third year of kids at home full time around Christmas you’d think we’d have engineered a plan for secrets. We decided we’d try honesty and appeal to their mature natures now that they were eleven and eight.

“Your dad and I are just going upstairs for a while and it’s important you don’t disturb us. Have you got things to do?”

“What for?” There was a little twinkle in Chelsea’s eye as she asked which reminded me distinctly of mum.

“It’s a secret,” I said smiling.

“A Christmas secret?” asked Charley also grinning now and knowing exactly what we were up to.

“Maybe,” said their dad. He tried to be mysterious but the girls are too clever for him. “So you won’t disturb us, will you?”

“Maybe!” returned Chelsea copying him and Charley smirked.

We went upstairs and de-hid all their presents from our various drawers.

“Do you think they’ll disturb us?” said Charles, cutting paper on the slant and wrestling to find the end of the sticky tape.

“I don’t think so, but look, we’ll turn back the bedcovers then if they come up whilst we’re wrapping we’ll throw the duvet over everything.” You have to be inventive when you’re a Home Educator.

“Do you remember doing this when they were at school,” I said.

“Yea, life was easy then,” he said grinning and spitting sticky tape from between his teeth.

“What? You think tears and illness every day were easy?” We laughed. I wrapped. He stuck. If he was in charge of the wrapping all the presents would look like parcels of fish and chips.

“No, it was awful. I can’t believe we’ve done this as long as we have. It just seems so ordinary now. You should hear the others at work going on about homework and packed lunches and stuff. Not to mention Christmas concert practises. They’re complaining the kids aren’t getting on with their learning” He stuck my finger to the parcel.

I extricated it and reached for some ribbon.

“I can imagine. Do they say anything about ours then?”

“Only how they can see why we do it.” He put his massive thumb on the delicate bow I created, squishing it. I tied his thumb down.

“Not enough for them to have a go though!” I laughed. Then the stairs creaked. Charles leapt off the bed, smacked his head on the sloping ceiling but still managed to toss the duvet over the presents as I stuffed the paper under the bed. We sat there and listened. Sniggering was coming from the landing.

“Go away,” Charles called.

“We’re not coming in, we’re only going to our rooms.” The giggling got fainter. We exchanged looks. Charles sneaked a peek through a crack in the old planked door.

“What they doing?” I whispered.

“They’ve gone into their bedrooms but their doors are open.”

“Let’s carry on. I don’t think they’ll come in. They wouldn’t want to spoil their Christmas surprises. Besides, I think Chelsea’s becoming aware of other things that go on in bedrooms!”

Charles raised his eyebrows in glee. “In that case, perhaps we should make good use of it.”

“What? You think you could enjoy sex with giggling going on at the bedroom door and creaking floorboards?” We laughed like naughty kids but continued wrapping.

“What you laughing at?” came from right outside the door. We bundled the duvet back over everything once more.

“Never you mind. Go back downstairs,” I shouted. I crept over and peeped to see if there was any peeping coming from the other side the crack. None.

“Come on, let’s get it done before they come up again.” The rest were wrapped in haste and I fear my parcels looked like fish and chips too.

Charley looked shocked and uncomfortable. Her face was full of both thunder and distress and very red. Her eyes looked like they were going to fill up any minute. She turned her head away and would not look at Charles or me either.

Chelsea just folded her arms across her chest, adopted her most disdainful position and stated emphatically “If anyone asks; you are not my dad.”

Charles couldn’t help it. All the staff were told to dress up for the Christmas market for charity but the girls weren’t impressed. And Charley absolutely hated anyone dressed up in costume.  I got a bit of a shock myself seeing this large rotund red fellow with two cushions up his jacket and his face adorned with a mass of flowing white stuff. It’s very off-putting seeing someone who you are as familiar with as your own body parts taking on another persona. He was sweating so much the bits of his face you could see were authentically shining as Santa’s does in all the pictures. It did the trick. A good crowd had gathered at the store and money was being thrown continually in the charity bucket.

“God, I keep losing my trousers,” he said grabbing a handful of red bottom and hoisting it up. I couldn’t help laughing.

“I knew you’d laugh,” he said.

“Sorry, I’m not laughing at you, it’s just your trousers.” I tried to help. But grappling with Santa’s trousers seemed even funnier. Obviously everyone else thought so too as two more pounds went in the bucket. It’s not every day people see Santa being groped.

“Do you have to behave like that?” demanded Chelsea, standing holding Charley’s hand a little bit distant whilst we tried to control our hysteria. She still wouldn’t look at him.

“Have a sweetie,” said Charles holding out the bucket to her.

“No!”

“It’s only a bit of fun,” I said.

“You look stupid.”

I didn’t care, I was in the Christmas spirit. I had a quick snog with Santa and left him to his collecting.

“We’ll go look round the Christmas Market. See you later.”

“Okay. See you later girls.” They ignored him and pulled me away. But Chelsea called back over her shoulder.

“Save us some sweeties, dad.”

We bought a few Christmas presents and then had to get some new wellies for Chelsea. Charley just got the hand-me-downs but she was still at the stage where anything of Chelsea’s was revered. Wellies had taken on a new persona of their own in the shops. They were more pictorial than the efforts we see in the Tate Modern and a hell of a price. I refused to be ripped off, plus the fact we had tight budgets. But Chelsea ogled the bright ones wistfully.

“I’m sorry darling, these will have to do. The others are just too expensive,” I said picking up the plain green ones, the cheapest we could find. I felt a bit wretched about this. In order to Home Educate, time isn’t the only thing we sacrifice and all I ever seem to say is ‘we can’t afford it’. But she’s so intuitive she must have picked up on it.

“It doesn’t matter mum. I’ll paint my own with the paints we got from the recycling centre.”

I was so grateful for her magnitude I cuddled her up. “What a brilliant idea! And I bet they’ll be better than any in the shops.”

“Yea, and no one else will have any the same,” she said looking at a girl wearing some we’d just seen in Woolworths.

“Can I paint mine too?” asked Charley.

“Sure. We’ll have a wellie painting session. We could even paint your dad’s,” I said winking at them. They really liked that idea.

When we went back later Charles looked his normal self again. He opened his arms to Charley and she leapt into them with clear relief. Chelsea lobbed her arms round his waist.

“Is that better now?” he asked carrying Charley to the car. She inspected him slightly doubtfully. Chelsea smiled happily up at him holding the free hand.

“You did look daft, dad,” she giggled.

“Did you remember the sweets?” asked Charley.

He put her down and produced a packet from his pocket. Finally Charley grinned at him too. It was definitely better now.

“Mum! You can’t go out like that,” Chelsea said as I tied tinsel on my shoes ready for a Christmas party.

“Why not? It’s Christmas isn’t it.” I looked at her in feigned indignation. She’d got that suffering look on again.

“Doh! What do you look like?” She was getting to be a right Tweenager.

“I think you look nice,” said Charley clasping my leg in a cuddle from the carpet where she was building a structure with our logs.

“Well at least put some lipstick on,” said Chelsea still trying to make something out of me. She rummaged in a make up bag so extensive it would be the envy of Julian Clary. “How about this?” She produced something nearly black.

“Black?” I shrieked. “It’s Christmas, not Halloween.”

“It’s not black, it’s plum.”

“I’ll have some,” said Charley hopefully. She was ignored. I sneaked a look in the bag of sticky powdery tubs and jars and pencils. It staggered me how she loved it so, I wasn’t into it at all. But I humoured her and found a jar of lovely sparkly glittery gluey stuff with sequin stars in.

“Ooo, this is nice.” I opened the pot and smeared some across my chest. It made grubby stains as if I hadn’t washed for a week. “Oh!” I looked in the mirror, disappointed.

“Oh, mum, not like that.” Chelsea took over and I had the sense our mother and daughter roles were reversing. She wiped it about and the smudges disappeared leaving a myriad of glistening sparkles. Then she added the sequins.

“Can I have some?” asked Charley again, thinking her sister had softened her attitude.

“No!” was the emphatic retort.

“Can I have some then?” asked Charles.

“NO!” they both shrieked together. And give us their parents-are-prats look.

We finished getting ready.

“So do we look alright now?” I asked.

“Yes.” They smile united. But I couldn’t help a last word.

“You know it’s not how you look, it’s what’s inside that counts.”

“Yes, we know!”

They know too much, my kids.

Christmas continued sparkly all the way through.

The best thing about it was the painted wellies. They were works of art fit for exhibiting in The Tate themselves, with swirls and colours and rainbows. If I’d bought the coloured ones we never would have had such creativity. Being on a tight budget certainly makes you think creatively so maybe I shouldn’t worry after all. Charley painted gold stars on hers. But she painted straight over the mud so the stars had a brown tinge.

Charles and I used the ‘holiday’ from education to ignore the children and just live life. But it didn’t work. We didn’t want it to really. We were a family, we were a team. Life and education were as indistinguishable from one another as our family and love. I suspected it always would be.”

Best moments of home education

What are your best moments home educating?

Don’t know about you but I always found that a tricky one to answer – that’s because there are so many. And during all our years of home educating these matured and changed with the children.

When we started, as well as being a teeny bit terrified at the enormity of the decision, there was a much stronger sense of liberation. Not liberation from school as much as the liberation to learn, the freedom to learn, without the obsessive restrictions regimented schooling imposes. It was quite a moment when I realised the potential that offered. We quite literally could learn any time – schedules not always necessary, anywhere – wherever we were, anything – whatever and whenever it came up. So some of our best moments were seeing the children blossom and develop as their curiosity (often quelled in school) expanded the subjects we studied. The possibilities are endless.

Following that was witnessing their health and happiness recover (school was detrimental to both). Why is happiness important? See this blog here – it’s vital!

One particular moment I’ll always remember. It was whilst we were out and about learning, the kids absolutely absorbed by the world around them, and as I watched them satiating their need to know with endless questions, inquiries and explorations I realised how absolutely ‘right’ this was. The moment. The home education. The approach to learning we’d adopted. It felt so good.

Anything, anywhere, any time can provoke learning.

Then there was the laughing moments. Yes – you can laugh and joke and mess around and still learn stuff! Not something encouraged in school. There’s a funny story here which shows what I mean. Education doesn’t always have to be serious!

Other best learning moments came when a concept, skill or understanding that had escaped them suddenly clicked. I wasn’t one for keeping to time frames or age frames or battling on with stuff that clearly was beyond them at the time. It was better that they came to stuff when they were ready; far better to leave it a bit. Then, quite often when we came back to it at a later date, it all fell into place. And their eyes lit up.

You miss those moments when they’re in school, especially when they’ve been made to feel a failure when they didn’t get it first time.

Then there were the social moments. Watching a group of home educated kids, who have no reason to compete or to bully, to ostracise or exclude, to do another down for there is no threat about who can do and who can’t, is an absolute delight. Age becomes unimportant. Kit is unimportant. Cleverness is unimportant. The whole ethos of the home educating groups we were involved with was one of support, care, looking after and helping one another without much segregation between parents and kids either, although this occurred naturally. No one ‘had’ to do, or to mix in any way they felt uncomfortable with and no one was forced. I describe a Christmas party in my ‘Home Education Notebook’ that really opened my eyes to what ‘social’ truly is. It is not what happens in school!

And the very best moments I think, were about us. Our togetherness. Our unity. Our bond. Our respect. The wonderful relationship which grew between us and the kids, us and the grown ups they are now.

What are your best moments? Do leave them below – they’ll make such lovely reading for anyone who might be looking at this and wondering whether they should home educate or not, or just a reminder to overcome a tricky day.

And besides I’d love to read about them!

You cannot photograph sensations

I’ve enjoyed Instagramming my regular walks – wanting to share a bit of the countryside with you all.

The danger of Instagram though, and other social media sites, is that you can be so busy photographing the moment, you’re not actually engaging with it. More than likely you’re engaging with the opportunity to show it off to others. In fact, holding your phone up almost creates a barrier – certainly a psychological one – between you and the sensation of mindfully enjoying.

I noticed this particularly on an autumn walk a month or so ago. I was so busy sharing the experience on my phone, and looking at the photos to see if they were good enough, I’d disengaged from the experience itself. Not just the sight of nature laid sweetly before my eyes, but all the other sensations of being there as well; a last bit of Lark song of the season, the smell of the damp foliage, the shine of the dew and the soft touch of the gentle breeze.

Instead of mindfully being there, I was missing it all. I put the phone away.

This is why I hardly took any photos at my daughter’s wedding. (See recent post here) There were several others snapping away, some who’d been particularly engaged to do so. There would be plenty of photographic memories, I could appropriate!

But you can’t photograph sensations. And it was the sensations of the day I wanted to bring away with me.

And it’s made me wonder, as I see so many photos of your delightful children and the activities they’re doing splashed across social media, whether some parents are so busy photographing their kids for posting on sites they’re actually missing out on the sensations of being there with them.

One day you won’t be! They’ll have flown.

A grainy one from the pre-digital days, when the odd personal photos were more treasured for being fewer, and we were consequently more engaged with the moment!

A single photo memory is nice to have, I agree. But I suspect our phones have pushed us beyond that, beyond even the sensation of wanting to share, towards an addiction of wanting approval, likes and endorsement. These gadgets and platforms are designed to be addictive.

Just a thought.

So this is a call for you to enjoy your kids while they’re there with you. Masses of pics are no substitute for living the moment, of being with them, engaged. The depth of those feelings cannot be reproduced in an other medium. Only that which you have experienced within.

Put your phone down and live your life as a parent for the experience at the time, not for the reproduction of it.

Is shopping on the curriculum?

I know I was talking about not buying stuff on the blog last time but with home educating there were always a few essentials we went out for and it put me in mind of this story.

It was a typical home educating day – while back now I admit but as clear in my mind as it ever was. And that was because of the horrible git in the lift!

It was an out-of-the-house day. Very essential. We’d needed a library trip; we were loaded with books. We’d also been looking at buying a couple of books to learn from, which the kids had fallen in love with in the book shop. We needed some groceries anyway and then we’d got a trip to the park planned for outdoor lunch, exercise, a clamber on the apparatus there and observation of anything wild that came up. It always does.

So laden down with our stuff, picnic included, we were in the lift on our way down from the book department. Standing in there was an elderly chap looking down on us from his great height with clear disapproval.

Now quite often when we were out and about we’d get a smile for the kids from people who we came across. A look of interest. Maybe a gentle chat or enquiry. Today it was different. Today it was term time and my children were clearly not in school. Today this chap was clearly not pleased.

He ignored me, looked accusingly at the girls and said ‘Not in school today?’

Before I could answer my eldest pipes up confidently and proudly, hugging her books to her, ‘No we’re home educated.’ I was so pleased to see how she’d grown – she’d never done this before.

Again he directly ignored me and confronted her, with a cross tone and a glaring eye and said; ‘Shopping on the curriculum is it?’

She deflated like a spent balloon and that old oppressed and guilty look she wore in school – eradicated since we’d been home educating – fell back onto her face at his intended put-down.

I’m not usually a violent person but quite frankly I could have smashed his face in!

‘Actually, shopping is very educational,’ I retorted. And the lift doors opened and we parted before there was any time to argue the point further. Not that I probably would have bothered as you know how pointless it is against some people’s narrow minded ignorance.

I was so upset. Mostly because of the attack on my child by this arrogant bully who obviously thought he had some kind of authority and licence.

Happily, most people we came across when out were fairly interested. ( I think I describe some of the comments in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’) But way back then, when home education was still fairly unheard of, people were more suspicious. In fact you could easily feel that you shouldn’t have your kids out in public in term time as if they weren’t fit to be seen; they should be tidied away in school.

If there’s one thing this awful pandemic has done for us it’s brought home schooling to the fore. It’s much more recognised and possibly even understood better by thousands more than way back then. It’s certainly opened people’s eyes and minds to an approach to education that although unfamiliar, is totally workable, successful and a life saver for many children who through no fault of their own do not thrive in school. Not to mention the fact it’s encouraged more parents to question the awful flaws in schooling and the system.

Let’s hope this will be one positive outcome of the pandemic that will remain for good and continue to grow. And those parents who choose to home educate (and I don’t mean do school-at-home as many were forced to do during Lockdown) are supported in that decision. And whatever approach one chooses it is less divisive than it has been as understanding expands.

And actually – shopping is educational as it supports many concepts of the curriculum if you delve into it’s diverse subject matter with an investigative mind; maths, science, environment, origins, language, vocabulary, design… it’s all in there in various forms. So put it on your curriculum, get out as much as you can, try not to actually buy too much stuff and good luck with those you come into contact with!

Lots of investigative learning possible from just a basket of shopping!

Educate away from Stuff

As we move further away from the memories of Lockdown and staying away from crowded places and shops I realise how little exposure I’ve had over the past year to overwhelming amounts of ‘stuff’!

I recently visited a garden centre looking for a plant present for a dear friend. Thought this would be a nicer gift to give than another bit of useless rubbish for the sake of giving to someone who has everything they need anyway.

To get to the delightful growing things I have to walk through walls and stands full of ‘stuff’, much of it Christmas related already and completely unrelated to gardens and gardening and growing things and probably destined eventually for landfill.

Shelves and shelves of unnecessary stuff just for the sake of buying

Having been locked away from regular contact with it all, as we have on and off over the past eighteen months, it seemed overwhelmingly vulgar. I couldn’t help feeling the weight of it bearing down on the planet; the weight of manufacture, pollution, the use of precious resources, for what? Probably for a moment’s pleasure soon diminished as we search for the next big fix.

I think our addiction to shop, and to have, is probably to do with our primeval hunter-gatherer need. A very real need in our psyche, but maybe one we should try and fulfil in other ways.

Our children are raised in a consumerist culture. They are educated in a consumerist culture. They are taught to be consumers. The system aims them towards it as sure as an arrow to a target, with promises of high qualifications equalling high incomes equalling high consumption (although that bit is never admitted openly) which is promoted as leading inevitably to high happiness. This is the overall message. Adverts on the telly promote stuff as equalling happiness, and push parents towards believing that the more stuff they buy their kids the better parent they are, the more educated their kids will be, and the more this indicates they love them.

Total balderdash!

The more stuff we buy isn’t any more guarantee of a better education than having the right shoes! And we should examine carefully all the insidious ways in which we educate our kids to be consumers and instead educate them to be the opposite; to ask ‘do I really need this?’

For the bottom line is; the more stuff you buy the more you destroy the planet upon which your kids, your grandkids, your great grandkids, depend. How does that future destruction show you love them?

What is needed instead is to teach them that life can be happy, successful, fulfilling without huge amounts of stuff. Teach them them to be resourceful. Teach them to reuse, repurpose, recycle. Teach them to look for ways to do things differently or do without – not such a bad thing – not deprivation as it is held up to be. Instead, it’s a way of avoiding the environmental deprivation we’re inflicting on the planet.

We need to change our thinking, particularly if we’re addictive shoppers. Readdress our own habits as an example to our children. And as an added bonus, appreciate that all this challenging thinking increases the intelligence and skills and mental agility of children far more than buying an answer will!

I came away with a beautiful plant that will no doubt be returned to the earth at some point. I’m under no illusion at the dubious pollutive practices (and the inevitable plastic pot) that got it to this point, but at least the plant itself will not add to the plastic mountain of unnecessary ‘homestyle’ trash I could have bought. Perhaps I’d just do better rethinking birthdays and gifts, rethinking any type of shopping or consuming!

Learning and education never end do they! Rethinking our consumerist habits must become a valuable part of that.

The decision to Home School

Decisions! Decisions! Parenting throws so many at you. Home education (a term much preferred to home school – here’s why) throws a load more!

But don’t worry; it’s all going to come right in the end. And if it’s not right, whatever you’re doing, you can change it. That’s the beauty of Home Ed; you can do what works for you. But just for now be reassured that this decision to Home Ed or not, is the hardest one you’ll ever have to make. The rest follows naturally.

It was about this time of year, this time of term – even though it wasn’t the start or logical time wise, that we finally made our decision all those years ago. I remember it clearly. The idea had been gestating for ages. Having worked in schools I was already dubious about what went on there; some of the practices were highly suspect and downright unhealthy at times. Then, after our children had been there a little while and I watched their health, happiness, personality and zest for life, and even more alarming their enthusiasm to learn, falter and fade, I felt we had to do something different.

Surely, I thought, there has to be another way, a better way.

There is. Thousands are proof of it, having done it and come out the other end with intelligent, educated, sociable, employable young people. Thousands are still proving it in the doing. Thousands now know that you can become educated without school.

And I think thousands would also agree that, like us, it’s a decision that was never regretted. The only thing that I personally regretted was not doing it sooner.

There are, of course, many considerations. But there’s a whole chapter to help with this in my book ‘Learning Without School Home Education’. It’s also part of the story of our home educating days told in ‘A Funny Kind of Education‘.

I also ask the question ‘can I really homeschool?’ in this little talk here

There’s a blog here about your worries concerning the decision to home educate that might help.

There’s also a blog with tips for those new to home education here.

Once you start researching and Googling you’ll find all sorts of forums for advice and support and help with your decision….Be brave, home educating is not as scary as you think!

So if you’re teetering on the edge of making that decision I hope some of this helps. In the end, like with any monumental change in lifestyle, you have to jump right in and see how it fits. And you might find, as we did, that it’s the best decision you ever made.

Cycles of life

It’s time yet again to say another sad goodbye to a dear pet. These emotional partings seem to come around so quickly and you’re never really prepared even though you know their time is drawing near. It doesn’t seem two minutes since I was writing about a little furry hollow on a cushion, empty of cat, and here we are again with our faithful dog, years later, who came to us as a puppy at the time that blog was written. Read it here.

Charley snuggled up to her when she first came to us 15 years ago

The only difference really is that the children are grown and you’re telling adults rather than little ones about this ending of life that’s so hard to impart.

It isn’t any easier because they’re older. In fact the younger the children are the more accepting they are of the event, not yet perhaps understanding the consequence of grief if they’ve never experienced it before.

“Why did the cat die?” their young cousin asked on one such occasion. We adults looked at each other not knowing the answer.

“It was her time,” was the only answer I could think of in the moment. But it was an answer that was completely accepted.

Children are very stoic. Especially if they haven’t experienced the sentimentality and drama that some parents attach to the event of a passing. Sadness is inevitable. But my feeling has always been that we must face up to it, allow our sadness, be true and honest about death, and rather than wallow in histrionics give the children the tools they need to deal with their emotions surrounding it. They do that by our example.

I know its difficult to hold yourself together sometimes. I wrote about this in my book ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ when the children’s only grandparent passed away. You can only do the best you can.

Being home educated there is no distraction of school to ease a moment here and there when you’re grieving but, as ever, it’s an opportunity for learning! We had some searing conversations, searingly honest and scientific, that reassured the children that this is what happens and that we do all endure it and recover from loss in time. It’s so important I think to be carefully honest and not use generalisations like ‘they’ve gone to sleep’, for example which might terrify a child into not sleeping themselves. Answer their questions and give them the information they can process according to their age and understanding. (There are some ideas to help here on the Young Minds website).

Meanwhile my grown youngsters are of an age now where they can show empathy for me and the sad hole in the house they’re no longer in, as well as receive it themselves and I find many of my sayings from the past years when we’ve been dealing with loss, coming full circle and being quoted back to me!

One of them is that the horrible gap that is left by the passing of something or someone loved will eventually be filled up again.

Seasons always come and go, such is the season of sadness.

Comforting thoughts.

Decry the tidy – it’s not educational!

He’s one of the Marmite people. Someone who either provokes love or derision! Whichever, it’s usually a strong emotion towards the presenter, author and naturalist, Chris Packham. I’m not sure which it is from me except that I do have immense admiration for someone who’s stuck at his cause despite the difficulties and challenges he’s encountered.

I’ve been sitting outside reading his book ‘Back to Nature’, co-authored by conservationist and environmental activist Megan McCubbin. And it’s brilliant. It talks about how our need for nature was exacerbated by the Covid crisis and Lockdowns, bringing people back in touch with the natural world which too many have neglected for too long. But this very readable book is also a stark examination of the harm we do nature, much of it clandestine and political, dotted with facts and figures many of which I wouldn’t have believed possible, and exposes the many flaws in our conservation practices which most of us are ignorant of.

But we can make changes for the better in our own small, day-to-day ways. And one of these is to do with being tidy!

When you’re a home educator you need to learn to live with untidy!

An untidy house, with materials and resources, projects and creations strewn about, is far more likely to stimulate children’s brains into action than a bare a tidy one. And action, of whatever sort, gets the kids’ brains learning and developing, is good for their bodies, minds, spirits and education. (Read more on this in Chapter 25 of ‘A Home Education Notebook’) Basically, where there’s stuff about and things going on, there is stimulation and busyness and skills being learned as youngsters cannot resist the temptation to touch, handle, investigate, explore and use, all pre-cursors to learning. Untidy has enormous developmental potential and value. Far more than show-case, manicured rooms. They are as boring as Chris says manicured lawns are!

For it’s untidy in nature that Chris says we also need. We need little untidy patches, however big or small and wherever they are, to give nature hidey holes, and foot holds, and feeding stations in our concrete and commercial worlds. We need to encourage our kids to grow things, even if it’s a pot outside the door with weeds in. (Weeds are nature too). We need to observe and celebrate those bits of green growing out of cracks in pavements and walls. We need to get away from the idea of tidy gardens and environments and make any little space, garden or otherwise that we’re lucky enough to have, wildlife friendly rather than manicured. Leave leaves, stalks and stems, let old sticks and logs lie, and neglect little corners and scruffy places for these will all give some wild critter a home. And never spray your dandelions!

What this will also provide are opportunities for you and the family to explore and investigate what happens and who lives there, and ensure that your child’s educational understanding is of the fact that every little creature, plus all the invisible ones that will be part of their food chain, matters in the balance of all things, matters for the food we eat, for the homes we have, for the sustenance provided by the planet that we all depend upon.

In the bigger picture of nature and education untidy doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you can in these small ways make a contribution to the natural world. Understanding it is an essential element of any curriculum, of any educational process. It’s not just the big things that big conservation pioneers do that matters. The small things that you and the children do – and do without – matter just as much.

Love or hate Chris Packham his book is an examination of the world you’re potentially leaving your children and how you as a family can make it better for them. You might like to give it a read!

Considering home schooling instead of back to school?

With the return to school looming on the horizon I thought it would be a good time to repost this blog which asks;

What do you really know about home education?

The reason I ask is because there are still so many stories surrounding it. Including less than accurate stuff in the media often based around untrue myths. Add on to that the debacle of school-at-home style of home schooling that was forced onto parents during the pandemic and the concept of real home education has become quite blurred.

So I thought I’d put a few ideas here in case you were considering this approach to your child’s education in preference to school.

Firstly, did you know that there are thousands and thousands of families now successfully and happily home educating?

And did you know that most home schooled children go on to make a success of their education, career, life in the same way school children do, despite not having been in school for all those years?

Did you know that home educating doesn’t have to cost the earth and parents on very low incomes, including single parents, still manage to do it? Throwing money at a child does not make them educated!

Did you know that home educating children make friends, have friends, build excellent social skills, have a vibrant social life and socialise just as others do?

Did you know that there is a huge wealth of learning resources, lessons, curriculum, courses, printouts, both free and otherwise, available on line? You can literally find out anything.

Did you know that families never home educate in isolation (unless they choose to) and that there are broad networks of others to connect to that share resources, concerns, to learn from and find support via social media and other organisations which also lead to physical meet-ups and groups to get together with? Many of whom will probably be getting together for their annual ‘not back to school’ picnic right now!

Did you know that as much home schooling takes place outside the home as in it and your community is full of resources to facilitate it? You’re not at home day after day, on your own, not knowing what or how to learn.

Did you know that contrary to what many parents may worry about, being with the children all the time tends to improve their family relationships?

Did you know that parents are free to choose whatever approach to education suits their child’s needs? This could involve following a curriculum – or not, following age specific targets and objectives – or not, adopting either a structured or completely autonomous approach, or proceeding with complete flexibility according to your individual’s interests and the way they work best. And that parents find that home educating gives them the opportunity to successfully overcome any difficulties children encountered with learning in a school setting.

Did you know that it is completely legal, in fact it is the legal responsibility of the parents to see that their children are receiving an education suitable to their needs (see the law here), it’s just that most parents hand that over to schools? (I wonder how many schools get away with breaking the law in failing to provide that for some children?)

Did you know that most home educating families never use testing in their approach, yet home schooled children successfully go on to achieve a good educational standard, go on to further and higher education, including exams, or work without having done a test at all, and cope competently within those more formal settings? Testing does not make an education.

And finally consider this; home educating families are not weird or different or unable to participate in mainstream life, just because they don’t do mainstream school. They are just the same as any other family wanting to do the best for their children and that best may take a myriad of different forms yet all the home educated youngsters I’ve known have progressed into the working world just the same as their school contemporaries and once there you wouldn’t know they hadn’t been to school.

So if you want to know more, take a look at my books, Google some of the home educating blogs and groups (Facebook’s a good place to start) and connect with others to find out how it happens. And you can read our own story in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ which will give you an idea of a home educating life and hopefully make you warm and giggly!