Tag Archive | learning

Learning is not the result of teaching…

I had such a treat the other day; the opportunity to meet some fresh new home educators just starting out on their home education adventure.

They had two young children who’d only been at school a little since they’d started due to the pandemic. And it was this which had presented the parents with an opportunity to witness other approaches to learning. And see a change in their children’s health and wellbeing when out of school.

The biggest reason for them finally making the decision to take the children out of school now that they were attending again full time, they told me, was the deterioration in their children’s happiness and health again, both of which had dramatically improved in the months they’d been forced into doing school-at-home.

That was exactly what we witnessed in ours and a story that I hear so often from others.

It happens, I feel, because of something so many people fail to see or acknowledge: It’s not that children don’t like to learn – their curiosity and endless questions are proof that they do. It’s more because schools do not provide an environment in which all learners will thrive. That’s through no one’s fault. It’s just the way it is – although huge improvements could be made – but no one wants to acknowledge the needs of some children for something different.

Not every child’s personality is suited to the hubbub of school. And why should they be forced to endure it at the expense of their learning potential and wellbeing. These parents felt exactly the same about this and it’s what fuelled their decision.

Another interesting conversation I had with them stemmed from the fact that mum was a primary teacher. But she admitted she had an immense amount of un-learning to do herself, about the way children were taught, in relation to the way children learnt. And that these, in fact, are two very different things. She’d begun to see that now as she examined other approaches to educating, especially the more autonomous ones that she’d read about.

It put me in mind of an idea I came across very early on in our home educating days which was so helpful: That learning is not the result of teaching. It is the result of the activity of the learners.

During our early home educating days I thought a lot about what that actually means and kept the word ‘activity’ to the forefront of my approach to the children. It really helped.

Some valuable science going on here but sometimes the activities of my little learners seemed questionable. However, they all piece together to make a stimulating and successful education

This new home educating parent felt like I did about much of what went on in schools and what teachers were obliged to do to children under the guise of educating them. And how much of that was not only a waste of time, but also on occasion not doing the kids any good at all!

When you’re stuck in an institution you learn to do what the institution dictates. Schools are institutions which are at the mercy of decision makers and politicians who mostly have little knowledge of learning, education, children’s development and what is needed to become truly educated. Indeed what education truly is and what it’s for; in life beyond school and at a personal level. It’s not just about exams. (Read more on this in my educational philosophy by scrolling down the page ‘About Home Education) All politicians think about are the stats which tests and exams provide. But stats have nothing to do with the humanity of children and the way they learn and how to integrate into society.

These two little ones I met were happy, articulate, social, busy, engaged and had an actively developing intelligence.

This little family are clearly going to be okay as they find their way along the home educating road, making it up as they go along, as most of us do. Just like we do with parenting. And I’m confident it will all turn out okay as it does for most, despite the fact that it feels like a bit of a patchwork, DIY affair when you start out. It all works.

Of course, the big exams of the future question came up, even though these children were only at the primary stage. And I know it’s what a lot of parents worry about – politics has taught us to!

I told them that parents find their way with that at the time and not to look too far ahead. I always say that if you take care of the little learning moments, conversations, activities of your learners, and their well being each day, the future will take care of itself.

It was such a delight to be in the company of this little home educating family. And it made me feel again how I miss all those Home Ed times and the activities of my little learners!

After the Jubilee

Back to a ‘normal’ Monday then after all the jubilation!

Except it never has to be normal with home education. It’s what you make it. And there’s certainly been a lot of extraordinary fuss made over the weekend.

I’m not necessarily pro-royal, probably more of an agnostic when it comes to royalty and often cringe at the amount of money spent on events like these when there are so many people in such dire need.

But even I was seduced by the joy of so many smiling faces on the news after a pretty austere couple of years fraught with the anxieties and deprivations covid brought, not to mention war. It’s certainly been a spectacle, some of it a tad freaky like the projection of the queen’s smiling face on the carriage window! But all this expenditure – is it justified?

Who knows? That’s a good topic for discussion in your household and a golden opportunity – or should that be platinum opportunity – to do plenty of history and, pro-royal or not, examine the background leading up to the event and the unique concept of seventy years rule in relation to all the monarchs who have gone before.

Learning about history, or indeed learning about anything, is so much more effective, meaningful, likely to be retained, if it is relevant to a child’s life in the here and now. The jubilee is relevant now; the children have lived through a remarkable event unlikely to be repeated. And it presents an opportunity to look back and forward and examine the implications of it. How an understanding of history explains current events and shows us how to proceed without making the same mistakes, hopefully. As we’re trying to do with planetary concerns.

History in my childhood was as dull as ditch water. It was just a question of learning dusty unrelated dates and events and regurgitating them for exams, presented in such a way as to make me question what the heck was it all for. Just so I could be tested?

But today’s educational culture is so different. And even more wonderful with home educating in that you can move away from learning unrelated bites of knowledge learnt for testing and learn purposefully instead, for interest, for fascination, for relevance, for the enhancement of personal development and future life. The children have lived through a unique historical event. And all the discussions, questions, hypotheses, considerations, ideas, opinions, and conversations about what’s happening in the children’s lives now, jubilee or otherwise, promote skills that develop an educated mind. And an educated mind is far more important than test results, both personally, societally and culturally.

Whatever you thought about the jubilee I hope you enjoyed the general goodwill, smiles and celebratory atmosphere that seemed to flow over the long weekend. And you carry some of that jubilation forward into the forthcoming weeks, whatever you learn about and however you do it. For purposeful learning can be just as jubilant!

Home School Wobbles?

Home educating is a glorious experience.

But it’s also no picnic – well – not all the time anyway. Although most if it for us did feel like a joyful romp away from the restriction of mainstream, with an expanding horizon of liberated learning all the way.

Even so, that doesn’t mean to say we didn’t lose the plot on occasion; have wobbles and tantrums (mine mostly) and doubts and bad days.

We did.

They passed!

Someone messaged me recently to tell me that whenever that happened to them they just picked up my book ‘A Home Education Notebook’ and could find comfort and reassurance. That’s good to know. For that’s exactly why it came to be written.

Because I knew exactly what those moments, or days, felt like and I wanted to offer something to help. In fact a reader of another of my books (Learning Without School), which came before the Notebook, said that she kept it on her bedside table for just those occasions. And that nearly became its title; the home education bedside book!

Having been right through home education, and those little children in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ living and working independently now, it’s as if it never happened. It certainly isn’t really relevant to their days any more. You ‘couldn’t tell’ if they went to school or not – as someone once offered as a response to being told they were home educated. We did laugh over that! But it might reassure you to know that although it feels like an enormously unorthodox and controversial step to you now, come the future it will all even out into mainstream life.

So don’t panic.

When you’re panicking and wobbling and losing the plot – which is downright natural anyway, we’re only human – consider some of the following:

  • you would be worrying just as much about your child in school
  • bad days are natural – whatever you’re doing
  • remember all the wonderful opportunities it gives you and why you did it in the first place
  • you might just be tired – back off and trust
  • not every single moment of every day needs to be filled with work and learning. It wouldn’t be in school. You achieve things quicker at home with individual attention, so your kids have more free time which is equally valuable to their development
  • being a thinking and intelligent person as you must be to do this in the first place, you will not spoil your child. None of my contemporaries who’ve also come out the ‘other side’ have spoiled theirs – I don’t know a home educator who has
  • love and happiness are as important to educational development as academics
  • being social doesn’t come from being in school
  • test results don’t equate to being an educated person
  • learning ‘difficulties’ often disappear outside of school
  • everything is always easier when you get outdoors – use that opportunity you have
  • consider what you think an educated person is and aim for that, as much as ‘results’!
Just one of the chapters from A Home Education Notebook

All of these topics and more are covered in my ‘Home Education Notebook’ so it might help you to have one handy to dip into on such occasions as these when, like us, you lose the plot.

But always remember that whenever the plot is lost – you can always find it, or renew it, or recharge it, and get going again!

Meanwhile, enjoy your home education. It won’t be there forever!

Oh – and a little head’s up; keep your eye on this space – there’s a new edition of ‘A Home Education Notebook’ coming soon with a completely new chapter which revisits many of the young people we home educated with to see what they are doing now! Always a subject everyone wants to know about!

Learning to read – whatever age!

How will the kids learn to read if they don’t go to school? This is a question often asked by potential home educators.

Bearing in mind the fact that there are kids who have gone to school and not learned to read, and adults out in the working world who also can’t read like Jay Blades, the presenter of the programme ‘The Repair Shop’, I’d like tell you that school is not the only route to learning to read. And sometimes even hampers it by the approaches and strategies they attach to it, particularly if you’re dyslexic, a condition which affects the way you process information like the written word.

I watched the programme by Jay Blades; ‘Learning to Read at 51’. It was brave and insightful. Yet he’s not the only one who has been blighted by school approaches to learning to read and the lack of empathy for an individual who needs a something a bit different. It was great that he brought that to the public eye.

The education system has over complicated the process of learning to read with their use of strategies and schemes and over intense focus on acquiring certain levels at certain ages and not allowing time for those who need longer. Even worse is the fact that children who learn differently and not at the expected generic rate are made out to be failures.

Added into this recipe for disaster is the way in which the literacy curriculum inhibits the associated use of language by the complicated dissection of it into named parts like ‘frontal adverbials’ and ‘split infinitives’, and invent academic exercises to practise use of them, as if this helps kids to use it more competently. It doesn’t really.

I’d like to tell you a little known fact: none of these approaches are in fact strictly necessary. Or will guarantee a child learns to read or communicate effectively through the written word, which is after all the point of it. But parents have been frightened into thinking that their children won’t learn to read, or be able to successfully use language throughout their adult life, without such approaches.

Totally untrue.

Children can – and do – learn to read without any of these formal approaches. There are enough home educated adults now who are living proof.

Although most home schooling parents do guide and facilitate their children towards reading, there are children who have learnt by themselves without any formal intervention at all apart from encouragement and exposure to reading and text. And there is plenty of opportunity to do this surrounded as we are by signs, packets, media, texting, gaming, all of which are valuable opportunities to experience reading. It’s not confined to books!

Another very important influence on them acquiring the skill is the sight of you reading. Children want to do what you do, want to access and enjoy books like you do, want to read your tablet, texts and messages, and love being read to – which has a direct effect upon their reading skills. It’s all part of their desire to read, important for motivation. If they’re motivated – and not put off by dull strategies that kill the joy of using language – they’ll read.

It doesn’t have to be attached to age either, despite what schools would say. Each child is different and will come to it at a different time and maybe in a different way. Even those with specific challenges like Dyslexia, like Jay, have been able to read in different time frames.

A marvellous book which illustrates how this happens, and how we should perhaps change our minds about the teaching of reading is ‘Rethinking Learning to Read’ by Harriet Pattison, an educationalist and home educator herself. (Blog here about it). If anything is going to give you the courage to believe you could teach your child to read it’s this book – worth a read.

What’s most important is that parents should believe in their ability to facilitate their child’s progress with reading, and trust the fact that with encouragement and faith, they can make it happen.

After all, I have known adults who’ve been through the school system and come out unable to read. But I haven’t known a home educated child who hasn’t managed it in the end.

And maybe if Jay had been afforded more patient and sympathetic approaches during his education, he would have been able to read before the age of 51, as he clearly has the ability to overcome the challenges he faces.

However long it takes, and unless your reader has very severe or specific difficulties, home schooling gives you the time you need to develop a reader – you just need to provide the encouragement and patience!

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.