Tag Archive | learning

How do homeschool kids learn?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the book; Learning Without School Home Education

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

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

'School at home'

When we were home educating I often got asked the question, by people unfamiliar with home schooling and the variety of approaches to learning; ‘Do you sit the children down at the table at nine in the morning until three in the afternoon?’

It doesn’t always look like learning but all sorts of approaches work!

That is the only vision some have about the way education and learning works, so it was a common one.

The trouble with this, if you’re asked it regularly, is it makes you think that perhaps you should be!

Doing ‘school at home’ or an impression of it, is something that many home educating parents can become anxious about. The system leads us to think that children have to be coerced to learn, that they’ll only learn if sitting still at a desk, that they have to learn certain things at certain times in order to succeed, that they have to be in a ‘classroom’ environment or similar, that they need teachers to learn, that there is no other way of learning except this schoolised way.

In reality none of this is true. And in most schools that’s not the reality either but some people are stuck with that age-old vision of classroom learning.

Neither is it the reality of home educating, as many experienced parents will tell you.

Children do not need to be coerced – they’re actually fascinated to learn – if they haven’t been put off as schooling sometimes does. They don’t have to be sitting, still, indoors, or be taught, learning can happen naturally without any of these structures, with encouragement and support from an engaged adult, and sometimes even without that.

So don’t fret about doing ‘school at home’. Instead place your focus on your children and how they learn best, what you feel they should achieve both in skills and knowledge, and then think about the multitude of ways there are to accomplish that – the more pro active the better.

For example, take reading. Schools tend to practice a very structured approach to reading, using a graded scheme of books, that children are meant to stick to. But this isn’t the only way to learn to read. Children can learn to read just as effectively through incidental reading, through being read to and enjoying books, through picking up on the reading that others are doing, by deciphering the reading all around them, through all sorts of materials; comics, posters, online, gaming, etc, even by attempting much more difficult texts than we’d probably recommend. This incidental and unstructured approach can be just as effective as a schemed approach which risks taking away the children’s enjoyment of books. The most important aspect of learning to read is to keep the children’s love of books alive along with their desire to interpret them.

Using workbooks is another example. Workbooks can be a useful tool to help you keep to a certain pathway of subject matter and skills practice. They can also be extremely dull in that they are second hand, academic practice rather than a first hand stimulating experience. For example it’s much more exciting for a child to be cutting up the pizza, cake, sharing stuff out, as first-hand fraction practice before they get to the computation of it in a workbook. Far more exciting to be experiencing science than filling in sentences about it. Finding interesting ways to tackle subjects and skills practice keeps the learner engaged – keeps the learning going. And is far more effective in that it’s more likely to be retained.

Using a curriculum is another aspect of ‘school at home’ that some parents worry about. Whether they should be following one or not.

Any curriculum is simple a tool, a tool to support learners in reaching certain subject objectives and it is simply that. It is not a guarantee of an education. It can be useful; it’s a useful way of covering subject matter, particularly if you want to stick to that which is covered in schools and use the National Curriculum. But it is not essential. It’s not an education in itself. You cannot follow a curriculum right through and then proclaim the child is educated. For if you think about it, that’s what schools do and there are far too many children come out of school with an uneducated mind. And lacking personal skills. But then you have to think about what an educated mind is! (An interesting view on that here)

Education is far more than a course, although a course helps you reach certain objectives and can be useful as such. But it’s important to think out for yourself what education is, (some thoughts here) and what schooling does, and most important of all what you want for your child and what approach will mean that they reach those objectives – many of which may be personal as much as academic, like confidence for instance. Keeping them engaged with learning by providing varied, stimulating experiences is probably more likely to do so than doing ‘school at home’.

There’s a detailed chapter on how home educated children learn in my book ‘Learning Without School’ (See the My Books page for more) But one of the best ways to find confidence and develop your own approaches is to be in contact with the home educating community, either online or through meet ups, listen to the experiences around you and do what works for you, ‘school at home’ or not!

Radical Home Education

There’s a splendid new book on home education by home educator Susan Walklate to add to your library! I read it at the end of last year, shortly after it was published, and am hoping to post an interview with the author here soon. Meanwhile, let me tell you a little about it.

Titled ‘Radical Home Education – discover home education through the true accounts of five families’, it’s the personal stories of a group of home educating families, including words from the young people, now grown.

It is compelling reading; I was fascinated by the stories of the home school lives and how they progressed. Most particularly because most blogs and forums tend to feature families who are currently home educating rather than those who have been through it and are ‘coming out the other side’ for want of a better phrase. So it’s always reassuring and uplifting to read about the lives of older children who were home educated and what they move on to. This book illustrates just that and how it happens.

The second part of it looks more closely at details like; how to work it out at home or out and about, places to go and use, the diversity of activities it’s possible to get involved in, how academic pursuits are integrated into it all and how the incidental is just as valid as the planned. It moves on through various approaches and includes the subject of exams, finally looking at interesting learning styles and tools.

I know the idea of ‘radical’ home education seems a daunting to prospect to some families, particularly those new to home schooling, but don’t be put off by that. This is an inspiring read which, although short, will be very reassuring to those families who are still on their home educating journey, whatever approach you’re taking.

Where does meat come in your children’s education!

I was already aware that eating meat is having a detrimental impact on the health of the planet.

But I was totally uneducated as to why or the scale of it until I saw this programme: ‘Meat: A Threat To Our Planet?’ on BBC1.

Read the review in inews

This amazing and disturbing programme has put me right and probably should be part of everyone’s education. Well worth a watch.

We know our eating habits have a huge impact on our individual health. But perhaps we’ve all been less aware how those habits impact on our planetary health and our CHILDREN’S FUTURE because of it.

Encouraging the youngsters to learn about and know themselves should be part of any education and understanding where their food comes from and how it affects them is part of this. This is the only way they – and you – can make informed choices about enjoying food and nutrition in ways that are SUSTAINABLE and of least threat to the planet, as all of our lifestyle habits need to be. So help them learn what this really means.

After all, it is the children who will be living on it when we are gone. So it is nothing less than our duty to establish habits and understanding as families now, that protect the planet from growing threats. There cannot surely be any part of education more important than how to sustain life; theirs, all others, and the planet on which they all depend.

We’re all making important changes, like reducing our use of plastic for example, but this is a change that receives less coverage and the programme helps us see other valuable changes we can make to help keep the planet going for our children.

Will I fail the children?

It doesn’t matter who you are, how long you’ve been a parent or home educator, beginner or seasoned, whether you’ve been in teaching or not, this will no doubt be a question that lurks menacingly in the back of your subconscious like an unwelcome zombie!

I asked it too, not only when we started home educating but throughout.

Being a very pragmatic person I eventually evolved an answer, so I thought I’d share it here in case you need some reassurance.

But let’s start with something bizarre; bizarre, isn’t it, that parents generally don’t ask the same question – will I fail the children? – when sending the them to school! Perhaps we should.

Of course, with schooling, there are more guarantees – supposedly! Thousands go to school, it’s got to be okay hasn’t it? And for thousands it works. So that’s become an accepted guarantee.

But other thousands are questioning it now; questioning its outmoded approach, it’s lack of attention to the needs of contemporary young people, it’s damaging testing and regimentation of what is supposed to be a broadening and inspiring life experience (that’s education I’m talking about!) So school definitely isn’t as much a guarantee of a successful education as once supposed.

Anyway, how could it be? Kids grow and change constantly – there are in reality no guarantees with any of it. So don’t think that just because you home educate there’s more likelihood of failure than with school. There isn’t.

But the basic reasons you won’t fail your child if you home educate are because:

  1. If you’re considering home education, or already embarked upon it, you’re probably a thinking, conscientious, engaged parent – you wouldn’t be reading this otherwise. A thinking, engaged and conscientious parent can easily make a success of home education by the very nature of being so and by parenting in the intelligently thoughtful way you no doubt do, so in this way you cannot fail.
  2. The thinking, engaged and conscientious parent you are makes a success of it by remaining open, learning yourself, trial and error, facilitating what’s needed at the time, revising often and embracing new challenges. You don’t need to know it all – no one does!
  3. A thinking, engaged and conscientious parent is able to build respectful and engaged relationships with their children and it is these relationships which facilitate the development of an educated young person, as much as any other resources you may provide.
  4. A thinking, engaged and conscientious parent is one who is intuitive to their child’s needs and yet is also able to see those needs within the context of the wider world, how the children fit into it and contribute and take a responsible place within it.
  5. The thinking, engaged and conscientious parent you are researches, connects with others, discusses and considers, remains flexible and develops an approach that works because when it doesn’t you change it and make new decisions, until it does succeed.
  6. And finally, failure is only a human label, not necessarily a ‘thing’. Failure only exists when something doesn’t work as expected which we fail to learn from or move forward from in new ways. Failure is part of an educational journey from which we grow and develop and which points the way to success. Therefore, failure is only failure when you stay there! You can make every ‘failure’ a step towards success when you don’t give up on it.

So, if you encourage, stimulate, provide a variety of experiences, remain flexible and conscious of young people’s needs and lives, in relation to the needs of the wider world, learn and grow yourself (as parents we do that all the time anyway), and above all LOVE and RESPECT your kids as I’m sure you already do, YOU WILL NOT FAIL!

An inspiring take on learning

Most of us have been deeply schooled! And that’s not just through being at school. We are schooled by our parents, by communities, culture, social media. Schooled to think, feel, act in certain ways and it’s very hard not to stick to these default biases (see this post), even when they don’t work terribly well. Consequently we obediently accept the school model of learning.

And for some, even those who are familiar with home education, it can be hard to get our heads round the idea that children can learn and become educated adults without this schoolish approach, or fully understand the concept of unschooling. This is an approach to parenting and raising youngsters in a way that allows them to engage with purposeful educational activities without being ‘schooled’ at all.

Unschooled’, is a book about that very concept.

The author, Kerry McDonald presents fresh and inspiring ideas about the way we see education and learning, how if we look beyond our traditional schooled biases and trust the learner, we can let go of the idea that they have to be schooled in order to learn and embrace the concept that learning is something that children naturally do. Like many of us, she questions how the one-size-fits-all style of schooling could possibly accommodate the diversity of the human experience, or work for all. And how, through looking at the way childhood and ‘schoolhood’ has changed, she has been led towards embracing an unschooling approach to learning and how this succeeds.

It is an inspiring and thought provoking book which will make you look at how the freedoms of past childhoods have been eroded and how this has impacted on children’s health, development, imagination and creativity – and learning abilities. And how schooling and adult-controlled learning environments have destroyed children’s natural and effective capacity for learning, creating learning and health issues in our teens – the group she believes is most let down by conventional schooling.

There are many first-hand examples of learning in the book, across subjects like literacy and numeracy, which are fascinating; eye-opening accounts of why and how unschooling works and why school-at-home doesn’t! And plenty of research and samples of other ‘non-school’ models and learning centres to be inspired by.

It also talks about how children are treated in coercive ways in our attempt ‘to educate’ them, which has always sat uneasily with me. Coercive practices destroy independence. The author shows how we build independent adults through self-directed education, in fact, we don’t need to educate young people at all – in the schooled sense of the word, they are completely able with our support to do that for themselves. If you’ve ever doubted that this is possible, this book may change your mind!

Although based in America, we can take much from it to apply to home education in the UK. It’s easy to read and each chapter is followed by a helpful summary of tips. If ever you’ve wanted to fully engage in child-directed learning, but never had the courage to go for it, this book will help you do it.

It’s an inspiring take on learning and education with thought provoking ideas on how we can rebuild a learning world for the future which abandons the out-of-date schooling system we have now.

Well worth a read!

When in school…

Not everyone can home educate! Of course not; not everyone is the same or lives the same circumstances. Obvious!

And some families who do home educate, have children in school as well, running both approaches alongside each other.

Having an awareness of home education though, does bring a different perspective to learning in school, as many of my school using friends commented. They said that some of the ideas I talked about, and the way we saw education, helped them embrace a different attitude which in turn supported their child’s education through school.

So I thought I’d post some of those perspectives here for those who have school in their lives, although they equally apply to homeschooling parents:

1) Take on the idea that schooling and education are different things. And decide what you’re schooling for so you can keep a healthy balance between personal skills, grades and scores. (This post might help)

2) Focus on their learning experience, not results, decide on the important bits. Keep engaged. But don’t take over. Create space (emotional as well as physical) to do the tasks they need to.

3) One of the best ways to support learning development is by reading to them!

4) As well as by listening. Let them air their concerns, news and ideas, without judgement or dismissal. Then they’re more likely to talk to you. Sometimes listening will ease concerns, other times you may need to discuss them and get involved.

5) If you’ve chosen school, then you’re probably bound by school rules like homework, uniform, tests, etc. But if you feel these are too intrusive you need to say. Many parents are against homework and SATs etc., so get together and get these things changed – it’s the parents that have the power in the end as a collective.

6) Understand the importance of playtime, outdoor time, exercise. These activities support learning, not detract from it, and are a vital part of a child’s day/life.

7) Create family times that are sacrosanct. Engaged family times and shared conversations are a way of supporting your child that is irreplaceable.

8) Social interaction and friendships in schools are tricky! Negotiate a sensitive pathway through the ups and downs by listening, discussing why people do what they do, by trying to remain non-judgemental, but at the same time setting out what you value in relationships and whether you want friends who don’t uphold these values. That goes for adult behaviour too! Make respect for all absolutely paramount regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, learning differences, whatever.

9) A friend said a simple idea she found most helpful was remembering: the children are not finished yet! Give them time. Stay on their side. Keep faith. Allow them to develop at their own rate and don’t compare them with others all the time. Magic happens at all different stages of young people’s development. Believe in your youngsters.

10) Finally, always be encouraging.

Whichever way you approach your children’s learning do please share your thoughts below – all perspectives are useful to hear!