Tag Archive | learning

Rescue us from norms!

It must have taken a lot of courage for Richard Macer to make the documentary about his son’s Dyslexia. (Hoping it will become available again soon) Especially at a time of his learning life when his future seemed to hang in jeopardy upon his SATs results. (A ridiculous practice I’ve condemned before – and which some schools and teachers are beginning to boycott) The family’s feelings were hinged on it. My heart went out to them.

Richard and son

In the programme they described some of what it’s like for a dyslexic in school, how inhibiting it can be in terms of academic progress, how their son’s brain seemed to work differently to others, as did dad’s, how this could be perceived either as a set back or a potential gift.

And I was screaming at the screen; ‘it doesn’t have to be like this’! No one’s future should be the result of performance in one moment of time at 11 years of age. It’s preposterous. And preposterous that the system has been set up like this and causes so many families so much distress. particularly families of dyslexic children for whom schooling fails so miserably.

Towards the end of the programme, after tears and relief that the son did okay in his SATs, dad made a comment about his son’s ‘faulty’ brain and I was really saddened to hear that. Because dyslexic brains are not ‘faulty’. And no one seems to be saying what’s glaringly obvious to me: That they are only ‘faulty’ within the context of schooling. Take the dyslexic out of school, take away the label Special Educational Needs, and meet the child’s individual needs in alternative ways (which should be open to everyone instead of the single track approach of academic practise that schools use) and the child can learn and achieve. Those dyslexics within the home educating community are proof of that.

The trouble with the system is that it measures to norms. It proposes a pattern of normal and then tries to make each child fit. Those that don’t fit are deemed as ‘behind’ or ‘failing’ or SEN. But what the heck is normal? And heaven preserve us from fitting it, for it is often those who don’t who go on to do great things; invent things, find cures, have ideas, create solutions. In fact a wonderful piece towards the end of the programme looked at a body of research to uphold the idea that our survival as a species is dependent on those abnormalities, dependent on those who can see beyond the norms and continue to diversify. It’s diversification we need for perpetuation – not normal!

So rescue us from norms, I say, celebrate those who are different – dyslexics among them, and see the limited schooling system for what it really is – the cloning of diverse intelligences into sad souless sameness.

And all the best to father and family.

 

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‘Let Them Play’

A little while ago fellow home educator Alice Griffin posted a piece about her home education journey and how their learning can be integrated into everything they do – even sewing. She’s writing on a new topic this time which I’m sure you’ll find inspiring. It’s that difficult feeling we all experience about allowing the kids to learn through play.

Here’s what she says about it in her own words:

“Honestly, let her play, she will learn so much” was the advice offered during my first ever interaction with a home-educating parent “But what about reading and writing?” I questioned, “well, I know my daughter is ready for numbers now as when we take the goats out she says ‘look Mummy, two plus two is four’” said this woman to me about her daughter, who at that point was seven.

Had I been drinking a cup of tea I probably would have spat it out and in my mind all I could think was ‘whaatttt?’ Every traditional thing I had ever known (including being taught to read, write and do sums at age 4) was blown out of the water in that conversation on a Portuguese hillside and I was left wondering, but what does ‘they learn so much through play’ actually mean?

Now, nine years on, it tickles me that I am now that person.

It’s not that I harbour negativity towards my own traditional upbringing, it’s just that I now know there are other ways to learn and my daughter, now not far off 12, is proof of that. Everything she has achieved she has come to with no forcing and with our utmost respect for letting her play and thus, has moved naturally onto next steps.

But it wasn’t always that way… at age 5 when we were new to home-ed and believed we must recreate school, we tried hard to get her to do maths. She would cry and scream and despite buying numerous pretty workbooks, it would always end in nothing but frustration, tears and fallings out. At 6 we decided it was time to ride a bicycle and duly removed the stabilisers, encouraging her to take to her bike and peddle. She stomped her feet, we shouted and agonised before, exasperated we decided that we would put the stabilisers back on and leave it. In fact… during that conversation we pretty much decided to leave off forcing anything, and we have never looked back.

At 8 she came to us – came to us! – asking to do maths. It seems that once she recognised the benefit of being able to work out what you could afford to buy at the shop when with friends, maths became infinitely more appealing. It was around the same time that, when playing in a friend’s garden, she turned to me and said: “you know, I think I’m ready to ride a bike now” and promptly hopped on her friend’s bike and cycled off, leaving me open-mouthed and laughing. All that pressure and heartache and there she was, cycling around as if she’d always done it.

Earlier this year she announced she was going to write a book. Even in my now fairly relaxed knowledge of her coming to things when it’s the right time, I’d been secretly worrying about when she might start writing and spelling a bit more. “I just feel I want to write now so I’m going to just put the words down and then you can correct them” and together, we have watched her love for the written word blossom. Right now it’s requests for science workbooks and Portuguese courses so that she can work towards her current dream of being a wildlife biologist studying wolves… and that’s after years of letting her run around with a tail on just being a wolf.

So, if I could say something to myself seven years ago it would be, ‘let her play, shower her with love and support, surround her with books and look at everything as a learning opportunity… and please don’t worry’ and if your child works in a different way (which they will!), I would say ‘trust your instinct and know that when you spend time with your children and really know them, you will see the route to take’ and if, on that journey, you meet a home-educating parent who extols the value of learning through play; please listen… and try to not spit out your tea.

Alice Griffin is a home-educating mum and writer living between the UK and open road.

www.alicegriffin.co.uk

www.facebook.com/alicegriffinwrites

 

3 important things you need to home educate

I was thinking what the three most important things you need in order to home educate and I kept coming up with the same answer:

Respect. Respect. Respect.

Respect came up in my last blog. I was talking about successful home schooling being dependent on succesful relationships with your kids and they in turn are based on having respect for one another. It’s essential.

Here’s what I mean:

Respect within relationships.  

This Australian kids’ helpline site has some excellent simple ideas about respect; click on the pic

Your learning life is going to be based upon the respect you share with your children. and I say share because it’s a two way thing. You have to command it as well as demonstrate it. Both are important. Commanding respect doesn’t mean anything authoritarian – as some people interpret it. It just means showing care and consideration and asking that it be shown to you in return. It means being honest and truthful, owning up sometimes, keeping strong and consistent with your values even if it’s hard – your strength will become their strength, your consideration will become theirs. It means having integrity, thinking things through, making decisions. making mistakes. Putting them right. Accepting and working with imperfections and things less than ideal. Finding solutions. Respecting that’s how life is. That’s how love is. Love requires respect for it to be true.

Respect for the learner

Every learner is different – but sometimes we neglect to act as if they are and try and make them all the same. Every child has varied learning preferences, learning strengths and weaknesses, learning needs. We can’t ride roughshod over individualities and try to ignore them or make kids fit. That’s not respecting them. Equally we have to show them how to get through the challenging or tedious bits, why that’s valid, be patient with their imperfections, give them room and time to grow. Some kids learn well in school – we need to respect that too. But some can’t – some need alternatives. Some develop later than othes – allow them time for that. Some can be still while they learn – some can’t. They need to wriggle, run, play, experiment and learn in practical ways without having to read and write. Respect they’ll be able to do what’s necessary and right for them as they grow. Respect means having to back off sometimes and be uncomfortable with the way your learner needs to learn. Trust – and wait. Respect that education is a long term thing and you have to acknowledge it might not happen in the way you want it to.

Respect for yourself

You won’t know everything! But that doesn’t mean you cannot have respect for yourself and what you do as you flounder about, doubting and worrying at times. Give yourself a break! You will be able to learn about the home educating life, you will be able to find a way forward that works for you, and whatever doesn’t you can change it. However, respect that although you are a home educating parent you are not a ‘dog’s body’. Respect that you have needs too which equally deserve to be addressed along with your learner’s needs. Respect that you will get it wrong sometimes – we all do – we can put it right. Have as much consideration and compassion for yourself and your needs as you do for others.

So I guess those are the three most important things. You’ll probably differ – do say in the comments below.

But consider this; every time you demonstrate respect within your home schooling life you are teaching your children how to build respect too, how to respect others, how to have self respect. Through that respect youngsters come to learn about living, working (and what it takes to get work), how to understand themselves, others, society, the planet, how they can make their own contribution to the interchange this is and how worthy that is.

Which is, after all, an itegral part of becoming an educated person.

Learning is for living – not just for targets

We’re a such quick-fix target-driven nation now. Both in work and education.

Everything is about results – measurable results. A quantifiable outcome a god-like goal, out-valuing the process of getting there, whatever it costs you. Tangible results overtaking what education is supposed to be for; building a warm, happy successful life.

Some of the stuff on the English curriculum provides a good example of what I mean, with its dissection of English into obscure parts you can’t even pronounce let alone remember or apply to the context of our daily living. Some of the maths can be the same. Small kids are expected to understand complicated mathematical concepts at a younger and younger age, concepts that are not only irrelevant to their young lives, but which make them feel like failures, as they grapple to comprehend them. So schools can put ticks on sheets and politicians can pretend this system is working.

Education is as long term a process as growing a tree!

It’s tragic. And it doesn’t have to be that way, as many homeschoolers prove, as they leave the more complex and academic stuff for when the children are older yet still achieve mainstream outcomes such as qualifications.

What’s even more tragic is that the target-led approach to learning puts many kids off. Too many rigid targets means learning becomes for targets only not for the experience of enhancing a life – which is really what education is for. And it suggests that learning success is dependent on falling into these measurable compartments, at specific times, which it isn’t.

Becoming educated is instead a long, ongoing, experiential process that continues beyond specific learning outcomes and can be the result of many diverse approaches that do not need to be measured to be successful.

I look at it in a similar way to growing things.

To grow a tree you’d need to provide the right environment for it to grow in; the right soil, the right place, the right climate. The right climate needs to be conducive to its ongoing growth. It needs the right nourishment, compost and care, and the right support to hold it up to start with, not to be overshadowed by too many others.

These are not outcomes, just un-measurable on-going processes that guide the tree towards flowering and healthy growth. But measuring them along the way will not make them grow taller or bloom brighter. Neither will it make them grow faster.

So now apply that to education.

For a child to learn to their potential they need the right environment; a base that provides for their need for love, security, calm, safety, encouragement. A place for them to flourish in their own time.

They need the right climate that will change as their needs change and grow; different things at different times, sometimes quiet and solitude, sometimes buzz, sometimes inspiring others, sometimes comfort, a feeling of belonging, acceptance of their differences as all kids are different. They need a climate where they do not feel afraid of failure or being trampled by others.

Then they need the right nourishment. Not only in the form of healthy food, but other types of nourishment which comes in the form of stimulation and exercise for their minds, bodies and spirits. A wealth of experiences and opportunities to discover who they are and what they can do.

And they need the right support from others they can trust, peers and adults, friends and family. Support that’s able to adapt to their changing requirements. Warm loving encouragement that shows them ways to have a go, to discover their potential, develop new skills and work with any weaknesses.

These conditions will compost into an education that can be applied to living a life – a real life, not just a set of outcomes only useful in one instance of time.

Targets and outcomes are often only valid within a given period of time.

But education is for life, to build an understanding of learning as a life-long attitude and opportunity to enhance and improve that you can never fail at simply because, if what you’re doing is not working for you, you can change it.

This is the beauty of home education. Through home educating you can ditch the obsession with targets and short term outcomes and educate towards an ongoing learning life that can diversify approaches until the right one is found. One that is free from the idea of ‘failure’. One that instead perpetuates the idea that learning is for living – not just for targets!

For more notes on this see my ‘Home Education Notebook’ available from Eyrie Press where it’s on offer and Amazon.

5 Tips for new home educators

Experimentation, trial & error, play are all valid ways to learn

It’s that time of year when the numbers of home schoolers suddenly shoots up!

And it’s a rise made up of all sorts of parents; those who never intend to start their child at school, through those who’ve done it a while and don’t want to ‘go back’ after the summer, right to those with teenagers who really need something different now.

Making the decision is often the hard part. Then it’s exciting and inspiring to get launched into it. However you sometimes get a rebound where you think; ‘Heck! What now?’

So I thought I’d post five quick tips to bump you over that bit.

  1. Relax! Be confident in the fact home education works for thousands – it can work for you. But it takes a long time and is a long slow process – obvious but oft forgot! And it takes a long adjustment period if you’ve come at it from schooling. We forever read that a relaxed and mindful approach to life creates just as much success as a tense and driven one – now is the time to really practise that. Your child’s education will be better for it. So take some time to find the best way forward; time to research, time to connect with others, time for trial and error until you find a way that works for you. You have the time – because you won’t be wasting it on tedious school processes where the kids are learning nothing!
  2. Enjoy it. Learning IS enjoyable, although that’s difficult to tell in the system sometimes. A learning life is enjoyable. Don’t think that if you’re enjoying it then it’s not ‘proper’ learning! And happiness is important for learning and achieving anyway. Unhappy kids don’t reach their true potential. (There’s a post here about that)
  3. Connect with others. Take some time to find other home educators and visit groups, read or see what others are doing. Learn from them. There’s a huge range of approaches and groups and it may take time to find one that works for you. And for goodness sake don’t worry about the ‘socialisation’ issue – there isn’t one! (As I point out in this post)
  4. Diversify your learning approaches – and your thinking. Consider the difference between schooling and educating – there is one! Learning can happen at any time, any venue, in or out, in a multitude of different ways from the way it’s done in school. (Read this post) It does not have to take place inside, at a desk or table, in silence, sitting still, or through academic exercises. Children learn best when they are inspired through observation, experimentation, trial and error, going out, experiencing things practically as much as possible. So you’re going to have to diversify your thinking if you’re stuck thinking about classroom ways of learning only!
  5. Get out lots. Play lots. Talk lots. Whatever kids are doing they are learning – they just can’t help it. You can formalise it later, just enjoy it for now. Wherever kids are there are opportunities for learning. whether it’s spotting ants on the pavement, discussing the dinner, playing with others in the swimming pool, journeying, holidaying, meeting others. Play is essential for learning too. Use libraries, sports halls, museums, galleries, garden centres, shops, parks, playgrounds, nature reserves, sites of specific interest – natural – historic – scientific. Learning out and about stays with kids far better than sat inside.

This may also be a useful reminder for all of you who’ve been home educating a while now. If you’re anything like me you can get all up-tight about it and forget these simple ideas. So enjoy your home education too.

Whatever stage you’re at, may you have as much fun home educating as we did.

Learn for personal excellence – not for beating others

I’ve been reading the work of Alfie Kohn recently. In particular ‘The Myth of the Spoiled Child’. 

I applaud his ideas, especially those about education where he, like me, finds the obsession with competition, grading, testing and trophies for winning rather distasteful.

He says:

“When we set children against one another in contests—from spelling bees to awards assemblies to science “fairs” (that are really contests), from dodge ball to honor rolls to prizes for the best painting or the most books read—we teach them to confuse excellence with winning, as if the only way to do something well is to outdo others. We encourage them to measure their own value in terms of how many people they’ve beaten, which is not exactly a path to mental health.”

It illustrates something many people misunderstand; the difference between personal excellence for personal excellence’s sake, instead of for the sake of winning.

I’ve always abhorred the idea of competition in an educational climate. Competition is not about personal excellence or individual growth which education should be, it is about beating others. And in today’s school climate very much about league tables and the big commercial and political business education has become.

Some people are fine with that; it’s a competitive world, I hear people cry, and kids have to be taught how to cope. But Kohn has his own strong arguments against that position and why it’s of benefit to no one. Namely that driving our kids to learn and excel because ‘it’s a competitive world’ doesn’t have as much impact on their achievement or do a lot for their mental health as encouraging them to excellence because it is fulfilling. And also avoids making others feel bad – unlike competitive practices.

And isn’t that part of the idea of education? To learn how to live together and contribute with compassion?

He goes on in his book to talk about ways of parenting that revolve around ‘working-with’ the children rather than ‘doing-to’. That can also be applied to the way we educate and is probably the position that most home educators adopt within their approach!

And I love his idea, as the book draws to a close, of encouraging ‘reflective rebelliousness’ where young people are encouraged to question rather than practice mindless obedience, and we should as parents support their autonomy in a way that complements concerns for others.

Certainly sounds a bit like home educators to me! It’s well worth a read!

Could I really afford to homeschool?

One of the reasons people think they could not home educate is to do with money; they think they couldn’t afford to. There is obviously the consideration of parents working and earning and how to manage this around homeschooling. But home education doesn’t have to be expensive in itself; money doesn’t guarantee a good education!

I wrote about this in my ‘Home Education Notebook‘ (see the My Books page) so here’s the extract in case this is the way you’re thinking:

Some people think that the more money you have the better education you will be able to provide or access. Some people think the more money you throw at a child the cleverer they will be. Some people think the more costly the institution the better the education inside it will be.

But none of that is guaranteed.

You can of course buy a private institutional or taught education. You can buy into an area where the schools are considered top. You can buy courses and resources and tutors if that’s your thing. But none of these are guarantees of a quality education either.

This is because education is not really a commodity that can be bought like other items outside of a person like clothing for example. It’s not an App or an add-on or a piece of food.

Education is more a state of being. And that is very personal – not commercial. And open to anyone.

Developing an educated state of being is entirely personal, individual, and requires something that’s not stuck on the outside of a person. It requires something within to happen instead. It requires a human shift. Therefore, it is about people; all of whom are different, all of whom will respond to their educational opportunities differently, and all of whom will grow into a different person in reaction to learning opportunities.

For a person to become educated they have to engage with it themselves. They are the ones who have to make the shift. What happens on the periphery may make a little difference but it is the learner who has to make it happen within and that’s why it really cannot be bought.

There’s a saying that sums up what I’m getting at quite precisely, it goes; ‘you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink’.

I reminded myself of this several times during our home educating years. In fact it’s still relevant now when I want to try and control what the young people do and they’re having none of it – quite rightly. I can have all the ideas I want about what I think is best for them but unless they engage with those ideas they’ll have no effect at all. And they also have their own valid ideas!

Same with home education. I could lead the children towards all kinds of fascinating activities (in my view) but I couldn’t force them to engage.

I used to get intensely frustrated. Especially when I had all my planned activities dismissed as readily as I dismissed their choice in crap telly programmes. I used to spend enormous amounts of time and energy thinking up these engaging activities, then enormous amounts of time and energy in the frustration of them being disregarded, but it was my fault.

As they grew, they began to take over their education for themselves and it would have been a lot better if I’d butted out. But being a parent – okay a bit of an interfering parent – I still reckoned I had to have a lot of input. Some of the time it was welcome – most of the time it was more about me wanting control and doing my bit as an educator and as such was not welcome.

This, like trying to buy education, didn’t work. Because both with the buying and the control, neither guarantee that learning is going to take place. Whatever we try to buy or do – the learning still has to come from the learner.

It doesn’t matter how much you do, it doesn’t matter how much you buy or spend, or the energy you put into it, real education can only take place through the responses of your learner. You can’t buy that!

In a way, that’s quite a comforting thought; it does at least take some of the burden off your shoulders as a parent. Of course your burden maybe instead to facilitate those activities but even that isn’t always going to work. Sometimes the children are just not having any of it. Those days you just have to go with it knowing that things always change and others will be better. But in the end, you can lead a child towards being educated, but you cannot force them to partake of it. Canny provision of stimulating things around them often works as a strategy to engage or inspire them. But in the end it is up to them. And that’s no different whether it costs a little or a lot.

An educated person can come from a poor background or a rich background. Becoming educated starts with an attitude not an income. Being educated is a state of mind not a state of finance.

Poverty has been cited as being one of the causes of poor education. But the kind of poverty that really impacts is a poverty of thinking, more than a poverty of purse.

Obviously good nutrition and warm comfortable homes, opportunities to get out and about and see the world all contribute and money does play a part in those things. But you can still have an engaging education despite the challenge of not having those things – they are all influential in degrees anyway. And not guaranteed to have an impact. Money is not the only influential factor.

The poorest family can have the richest love and support of their children and the wealthiest attitude to learning and personal advancement. It’s that attitude that money has nothing to do with.

Money can’t make an education. A state of mind does. And an educative state of mind can evolve despite the state of the cash flow!