Tag Archive | life learning

Using opportunities for meaningful learning

We’re house hunting at the moment. This is an enormous learning curve – not curve actually, a mountain that we are climbing! A new experience for us, having inherited the house we’re in so didn’t search for it.

It puts me in mind of when we did the transition to this house, following a bereavement of course, and what a huge, if shocking, life learning opportunity it all was at the time for the kids. And indeed a good illustration of what home education can fundamentally be; an education steeped in the rich opportunities life throws at us that are such valuable learning experiences, far more educative than sitting in a school doing meaningless academics like frontal adverbials or improper fractions.

Using opportunities for real life learning

Our story; ‘A Funny Kind of Education’, is an illustration of how this life learning happens and how we used even this experience of loss of a loved one, also uppermost in the news recently with the death of Prince Phillip, as a basis for developing understanding and meaning, giving learning a purpose. (If you scroll down the ‘My Books’ page you’ll find more on the book)

Life learning, that is using life experiences to develop various skills, gave the children a real reason for learning about the things they did; the historical, scientific, environmental, creative and mathematical concepts associated with everything; even death is scientific. And concepts like these run through everything we do if you just notice and explore them. Endless academic practise is not necessary for all learning, isn’t the only approach, and certainly doesn’t motivate children to learn as it has no visible purpose for them.

Even skills which have been made seemingly complex by the school style, objective led, test burdened approach, like reading for example, can be woven organically through the things kids naturally come into contact with.

For, if you think about it, why would kids not want to learn to read when they see us doing it, see us texting, messaging, using written communication through various keyboards. (Recent post on reading here)

In fact a home schooling friend said to me once that she believed her son, who hated any kind of formal English exercises, had learnt to read and spell through Gaming, by communicating with other gamers via messaging them, and the desire to be able to read the things he encountered on the computer. He’s successfully doing a degree in higher maths now so it obviously worked and I know for a fact that the family did very little formal academics at the time. Their learning was based around life experiences and building the skills they needed from what they encountered along the way.

Years ago, in Teacher-Training colleges, it used to be called ‘project based’ learning. You choose a topic to study with the kids and incorporated the basic skills they were required to accomplish at the time within those fun projects.

This approach has mostly disappeared now within the intense drilling for testing that occurs throughout the basic subjects, other projects like the arts or environment, just treated as add-ons. And the real purpose of basic life skills buried under the silly useless analysis and naming of various academic structures, like the parts of a sentence, just so they can be ticked off.

Who cares what the parts of sentence are called? Knowing that doesn’t make you a good communicator. And it’s communication which makes you human – life skills make you human, whether that’s understanding  what’s appropriate to say, how to be, or even bereavement. The current Royal loss presents a huge opportunity for understanding the life cycle, the politics, beliefs and traditions, the history associated with it, etc. etc.

Whatever happens to you at the time is an opportunity to learn, whether that’s knowing how to care, grieve, and empathise with others, read and decipher your messages, or use your technology well enough to move house!

All life presents opportunities for real learning, learning for the purpose of living a life, not learning just for ticks.

Don’t panic about your child’s education

I’m sure now that many parents whose children went to school will be panicking about their education.

Guess what? Home educators panic too! Of course they do!

But there are several simple things to know about children’s learning that have helped them get a grip on that anxiety which might help everyone else too.

See this post; https://rossmountney.wordpress.com/2019/09/09/your-questions-about-home-education-answered/

I always tell home educating families and those new to it a simple fact about learning: children learn as much out of school as they do in it!

They don’t necessarily need schools in order to learn. And an education is not built solely on learning facts and taking tests, measuring progress and ticking off stages on a tick sheet, or those other things associated with schooling; it doesn’t have to be formal to be effective! Everything kids do is educationally useful, builds skills, mental as well as physical. A lot of what schools do is just for schools, not for education!

An education is built upon a developing brain (and body), which takes a lot of time. It’s built on a rounded development of a number of skills learnt through living a life that are transferable to education. Life educates as much as school does (more so probably). And a small interruption in schooling as we have now is not going to be noticed in ten years time!

So get on with every day life and enjoy the experience of sharing it with your child through discussions and debates and hypothesising and explorations online, through these incredible times that offer much to cogitate on (not scaremongering though).

Another fact to understand is that a developing and educationally growing brain is a busy brain, so keep busy, remembering that it’s not that important what that busyness is.

Look at it like keeping a body fit. Physical activity is needed to keep a body fit but it doesn’t really matter what that physical activity is, in fact, the more variety the better, from walking to dancing, from leaping about in front of an exercise video to climbing trees, kicking a ball round an empty playground to skipping in the back yard. Same with the brain. Whatever the children are engaged in their brain will be exercising and developing their mental skills whether that’s gaming, exploring YouTube, reading, artworks of any kind (be diverse), learning how to cook pancakes, playing monopoly, constructing something, solving a problem, writing a story, drawing a story (comics are big business!) All these activities develop the brain, in other words educate, as much as times tables or workbooks or whatever academic exercise you associate with being at school. They all add to the pool of skills which can be transferred to more formal education practices at a later date.

Schools do not have the monopoly on learning and education. As thousands of home educating young people are proving. Kids learn anyway. All experiences educate, most of which you can facilitate, although I acknowledge that you are going to have to be more resourceful in finding them home based as we all are at present. Even these weird circumstances present a good opportunity for learning – looking back through history at other times when people had lives completely disrupted, like through times of war for example.

So I would suggest you stop panicking about academic things, which your children will have foisted back on them soon enough (even though it may seem ages to you) and just enjoy your children because these times are educative in themselves. Get busy with the kids whilst you have the opportunity too; make, bake, play, talk, find new films and documentaries to watch and chat about those, create new recipes from whatever you have in the cupboard, change rooms round, make dens, do all sorts of home based stuff because it will all contribute to your child’s education, developing skills and furthering their knowledge.

Be close, be loving and reassuring and trust that your child’s education will not be harmed, because it won’t be when you look at the bigger picture – something I encourage home educating families to do. In fact the opposite might happen, it might be enhanced from having this different out-of-school experience requiring independent thinking and problem solving; two great skills for life.

So don’t panic. Enjoy it instead. Keep busy. Be resourceful, during these odd times, which is a brilliant thing to teach your kids after all!

There’s another blog about coping with worries over here

And a whole chapter devoted to how children learn without school in my book of the same name, available through Amazon or JKP publishers.

How kids learn from living – more than from schooling!

Another exclusive from ‘A Home Education Notebook’ that illustrates so well how home education works:

…Sometimes when we were home educating I got the feeling that education was taking over my life.

I remember one incident when I felt rather near the end of my tether. (There was more than one; but this sticks in my mind because of the poo).

Not only was the meal late and everyone starved to the point of tantrums, but also I was eating it with a fork covered in wax, I’d had to drain the pasta in a sink which was purple with dye and eat off a table with bird poo on it.

It wasn’t fresh bird poo I hasten to add. Actually it wasn’t poo at all; it just put me in mind of it.

It was an owl pellet lovingly carried home like treasure, to be dissected and examined and crooned over after the boring exercise of having dinner was out the way. But bird poo or not it was the last straw and I wasn’t enjoying looking at it while I sat chewing in moody silence, trying not to give in to the feeling of mounting irritation.

My youngest gobbled hers down as fast as possible so she could get her hands on it. She was just itching to take it apart, she wriggled about, shoving pasta down her throat like there was no tomorrow.

“Finished!” she exclaimed. “Can I do it now?”

“No!” the rest of us shouted in unison with our mouths full and our plates only half empty.

“Dohhh!” She sat and sulked, her impatient eye flicking between our dwindling meal and the pellet. “She’s deliberately taking a long time,” she said of her sister. We ignored it and kept on eating.

The minute we’d all finished she whipped our plates away in a whirlwind of rare helpfulness and pounced on the pellet with a pair of tweezers.

We gave up. We’d gone off the pudding anyway and everything seemed to taste of melted candle wax. (We were doing batik earlier). The rest of the family drifted away from what they considered to be the most disgusting member of the household and she and I started the dissecting.

The pellet was indeed a treasure. My irritation was forgotten and I became as absorbed in the examination as she was. It was fascinating.

There were stones, shells, bones, fish scales, bits of shellfish, a beetle – in pieces, putting it together was fun, fur and hair. We were so enthusiastic that the others came back and took part and we were soon fighting over who was going to excavate the next gem. We wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Who needed pudding when we’d got the excitement of learning and discovery going on?

How often did learning get this exciting in school?

The trouble with organised education, conducted by people who are bound by so many constructs, is that so many wonderful but incidental opportunities to engage and educate during every day life and interactions are completely missed.

For children don’t always need teaching or schooling  – they learn anyway.

Education and real life do not need to be separate from one another. Most learning does not come from teaching.

Much valuable learning cannot be timetabled

Learning really does go on all the time. All of life is important to a child’s learning and education. And much is lost when people try to compartmentalise learning into neat little outcomes, as schools have to do, and force children to be taught rather than trust that they can learn anyway.

Also, many children are put off learning completely by schools and institutions like them trying to fragment education away from real life and force it into different strait-jackets in order to teach and measure.

They fragment by subject and content, by levels and ability, by age, by standards and testing, by time and period, and by clustering people together. They segregate it from life by the very action of removing children from real experience and experimentation and confining them in a situation that has no equivalent in the real world outside at all. And we are made to believe that learning cannot happen without teaching, which is not the case at all. Home learning can and does happen successfully without all these restrictions.

Out in that real world learning and education takes place by the simple act of living a life and being exposed to all manner of things, bird poo and owl pellets included.

What a loss it would have been if we hadn’t collected the owl pellet when we were out on our walk simply because it wasn’t our objective; we were supposed to be having our exercise. Or if I’d said we couldn’t dissect it because it wasn’t on our timetable and we had to do reading right now.

All right, I admit I did want my dinner first and so did the other members of the family. There may have been a more appropriate time and place for this activity. But my point is that restricting learning to what we’re ‘supposed’ to be doing at the time, in other words compartmentalising it with rigid rules, misses out on so much. It also devalues the learning the children are interested in and suggests that it is only taught learning that is of value.

What an excellent and valuable learning opportunity would have been lost if I’d dismissed this activity just then because it wasn’t what I wanted to teach them. Not only the opportunity to learn about science and the life of a species, but the opportunity to develop in the children something very special; a love of learning and finding out just for the pleasure of it.

This is what learning without teaching and schooling becomes; learning simply for the pleasure and fascination of discovery and knowledge.

What a loss it would be if I didn’t answer at the time those inquisitive questions that come at me constantly; in the car; in the supermarket; at bedtime; even when she’s sitting on the toilet, just because that subject wasn’t on our timetable just then. Or if I stopped the natural curiosity by saying the child was too young, or too old, or too slow a learner. Or even more bizarre; wasn’t wearing the right uniform; or in the right room; or sitting in the right position. Or if I withheld information because another bit hadn’t been learned yet and I was in charge of the teaching.

How much education would not go on if I restricted it to so many constructs, regulations, teaching, schedules, subject divisions and age segregation? How ridiculous that all seems in comparison to just living an educational life. As all life surely is.

I am not saying there is no place for any kind of structure. Of course there is. Most people have some kind of self-imposed structure in their day, in their Home Education, and for successful interaction with society.

But to separate children from real life experiences and opportunities for incidental learning, and to impose so many restrictions on what they should do, how and when, is to miss out on a wealth of opportunity and at its worst to kill their curiosity and enthusiasm for learning stone dead.

It’s their curiosity and enthusiasm for learning that produces educated young peoplenot teaching or schooling. So on days when you’re having a wobble about you not teaching them anything, or them not learning anything, it helps to keep this in mind.

By living a busy life, learning happens all the time. This is education with real meaning. For all of us; children and adults alike.

Education wasn’t taking over my life – it was my life, still is and always will be and that’s also true of my grown up young people who enjoy learning about stuff just as much as ever, even though they’re both over twenty now and never had learning rules imposed. They’re always looking up stuff on the wonder that is Google just out of curiosity and know far more than me.

Although, I do admit to feeling at the time that there may have been one rule I would have liked to apply: no bird poo or owl pellets on the table while I ate my dinner!

(For the rest – and more support for your home education see the My Books page. Or you can buy this book from Eyrie Press or Amazon)

Wish I could pay bills with buttercups!

DSC06049What utter delight it is to walk out on a May morning. When the sun is up and the buttercups are awakening to it with me, opening their faces with an early smile of petals, the sun warming the may blossom and wafting its scent through my senses.

Is this my bank holiday? No! My normal working life. My breaks from early work at laptop, and keyboard to return to after this stretch of back and brain.

Such is my writer’s life. Does it sound idyllic? This bit of it is, but when I wither under worry about not enough pennies coming in to provide for necessities let alone luxuries, it feels different.

Thankfully, this luxury is free. But living here also comes at the price of winter hardships, travel challenges and an internet speed so slow messenger pigeons would be quicker.

I’m not whinging, just telling how it is; penny pinching is more normal for writers than the giddy heights of people like J K Rowling and Steven King more usually getting coverage. Each have had their hardships too, but it is their millionaire status that hits the headlines most of all, creating a picture of wealth and glamour the rest of us rarely achieve.

Like with all jobs we all have to take the rough with the smooth and measure out whether the compromises are worth it. And that comes down to what you value.

Values are part of the curriculum now, as if you could teach something so inherently learnt from living and experiencing life. Heaven forbid that values will be compartmentalised into subjects and targets and tests like everything else curriculum. That would be one sure way of losing the point. For the test of having values and understanding what it is we value, is evident only in living your life and knowing yourself. There’s no test for that. Only time and experience qualifies it for you. Allows you to know what you value.

Like me walking out on a May morning. I may not have enough money to buy a posh coffee or move somewhere with a faster internet speed but the buttercups are my reward and the peace and the birdsong. Things I truly value as well as having enough to pay the bills.

So don’t take for granted what you read about authors. Most writers labour with love not with money. And all sales are most gratefully appreciated and help to keep us going. So look out for some new books to buy coming within the next month or so.

But also remember to enjoy those things around you that cost nothing but are worth so much.

Life’s not easy – but easy isn’t always best!

You can walk anywhere

You can walk anywhere – nothing fancy needed!

When my nose was buried in the grass I swear something went up it. I was doing a long sumptuous in-breath with a bit of yoga stretching.

Don’t think I’m some fanatical fitness freak or extreme yogic. I’m not – I’m not extreme anything really. I aim for balance. I just try to keep up with the little things that I know have helped me over the years, gentle stretching and moments to check in with the self being some of them.

It’s helped me deal with challenges and angst. It’s helped me deal with grief. It helps me bring myself down to earth (especially the nose in grass bit), and it’s helped me deal with the frustrations and anxieties of being a parent, a home educator and now a writer.

So I’ve learned that it’s worth pressing on with it, even if not the pressing face on floor bit which is not supposed to happen anyway. But at least I do it – occasionally. And keep on doing it – occasionally – but consistently occasionally, if you get my drift.

‘It’s all right for you, you’ve always done it’, people have said, always thinking things are harder for themselves than for anyone else. I also hear ‘it’s all right for you, you’re not overweight,’ as I indulge in a slice of cake. Or, ‘it’s all right for you, you’re fit,’ as we walk and talk and I’m not gasping for breath as much as they are. And most annoying; ‘it’s all right for you, you’re a calm person’.

Believe me, I’m not. Ask the family!

And it’s comments like these that really get up my nose. For it’s not all right for me. It’s bloody hard work to keep going with things that feel like too much bother sometimes. It’s as hard for me as for other people.

The only difference, maybe, is in attitude. Is in my belief that we build our own lives. And can take charge of some parts of it if not all. It’s up to us. No point in waiting for others to do something about things we want to be different.

And I practice that mentality. I act upon it.

We can all have some charge. We can all do some things to build lives towards keeping fit, keeping well (and weight’s included in that), and keeping sane.

And the only way to do that is to act. To start now. And keep at it – slog though it is sometimes. That’s what reaps the benefits, longer term. And life is long term remember!

To others I suppose, being fit enough to do some stretching and in my own garden must seem lucky. And luck does play a part. But the biggest part is building what you want for yourself.

If you want to be fit enough to walk without gasping; build your fitness – walk. That’s all I do; you don’t need anything fancy. If you want less weight; consume less food, fat and sugar – that’s what I have to do, very hard for someone with a sweet tooth. If you want to be calm and content to help you deal with these challenging times; build things into your life which create calm and content. And be persistent with them.

It’s SO worth it!

You only get one life. Does it not make sense to value and take charge of aspects of it that keep you feeling good? Especially as we have so much other stuff we cannot control doing the opposite!

It won’t always be easy – but easy is not always the best answer is it?

No reason not to start right now really! And what an inspiration you will be to those around you, most especially the children.

5 elements of parenting (and education) that are important

The two little girls from ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ in a rare academic moment!

I often think back to our Home educating days when the children were younger and things seemed a little simpler.

Yea – I know it’s hard to believe it’s simple right now if you’ve got a complex life with younger ones. And maybe those former days weren’t simpler as I imagine – they were just different!

Anyway, instead of the parent/child relationships we had then we now have parent/adult relationships, with best friend thrown in too.

These adult relationships, with those little girls featured in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’, are something I truly treasure. We love spending time together, we have a giggle together, they still share, and trust my support and – dare I say – wisdom! And I theirs; they teach me a lot too!

Recently someone sent me a lovely comment and expressed the hope that their own relationship with their little ones would turn into the adult ones we have now.

It made me wonder what it was that got us to this point, whether there were particular elements of parenting that aid the process.

I would say the answer lies in the elements of any relationships and is not necessarily to do with children; there’s not one rule for kids and another for grown-ups, as some seem to think. It’s just about being together and caring for one another in respectful ways.

So I came up with what I considered to be the five most important elements of our parenting, and home educating, in fact, of any relationship:

Respect – Children learn this by demonstration, by your respectful behaviour. They need to be shown the same respect as you expect from them, as you’d wish them to show to others, as you show to others. It’s derived from listening, responding, care, compromise, tolerance, talking, give and take and understanding on a mutual basis. Also from self-respect. And it has to be consistent.

Honesty – Children know when we are not honest. They learn their honesty from us. They need to be able to trust us. You have to be brave to be honest, find ways to explain even if it’s difficult. We are all human; make mistakes, get it wrong. We can admit it. Apologies work wonders. But you always have to be fair even when it’s hard. This will earn their respect too.

Communication – Always communicate, share, explain, inquire, request, listen. All relationships are based on communication whoever they’re between. Even the tiniest moments of communication can have enormous impacts. They also show you care for and respect them.

Space – It’s okay to have space from the children, as we would want space from any family members! It is not a reflection of how much we love our kids if we want to have some time away from them, just as it’s not a reflection of love for a partner if we want time apart! Space from each other helps each identify who they are.

Balance – I don’t think extremes in any aspect of life are healthy. Rules are sometimes helpful, sometimes not. Everything we do with our children – or with any relationship – should always be up for scrutiny, review and refreshment within the perspective of what we learn as we all grow together. We need to balance things like saying no with saying yes, being firm when it’s important with being able to compromise, being a playmate, being a protector. You balance many hats as a parent, the way you behave as you do so can make or break your relationship with your children and the adults they’ll become.

And of course everything here is based in LOVE. I took it for granted that element would be there anyway!

The educational finishing line

We’re never finished!

That might seem to be an odd thing to say but the way some people talk you’d think failing GCSEs or other qualifications, or having none at all, is going to finish you off for life.

Yet here’s me later on in life launching down avenues new, exactly the same as my twenty-somethings are doing. Which is what prompts me to remind folks that we’re never finished. Learning and opportunities go on as long as life goes on and it’s not a race to achieve everything by eighteen.

Most people’s perception of learning and education is rather warped. They’ve been conned and pressured into believing that it can only happen between the ages of four and eighteen and you’re doomed if you don’t achieve what you’re expected to achieve in that time.

Yet, in reality, some of the most fundamentally valuable learning you do in life takes place before you are four when essential learning connections are made. And post eighteen when you get beyond the schooling institution which in many ways inhibits learning because it’s so busy priming youngsters for exam passing it neglects to build the skills needed to lead a real life.

When you get beyond the institution of school – and Uni if it’s even worth going these days – you begin to educate yourself in the ways of the real world and how to function in it. That’s the real valuable stuff.

The trouble with institutionalised education is that it institutionalises minds – both children and parents. And it does a great job of preventing folks understanding that learning is not dependent on an institution. And qualification is not a measure of education – or intelligence either.

The young manager of the cafe was chatting to me about it as he made my coffee. He felt that he’d been let down by college, had been disenchanted by school and was certainly not going to get another stomach full of ‘education’ at Uni. He’d got the measure of it. He also knew that he was not finished by a long way and despite that raw educational deal he wasn’t going to believe that it was the measure of him. He thought quite like a home schooler, even though I hadn’t mentioned it. It was great to hear.

None of us are ever finished – not until we’re finished off that is! You’re no more finished at eighteen or twenty one or thirty odd or over fifty. And school age is not the only chance you have at learning.

Learning and education are about a constantly developing state of mind, not a state of institution.

Although with the state of the politics you wouldn’t know that! So try to look beyond institutionalised propaganda and maybe even have the courage to believe in your kids, allow them to learn when and as they need to and don’t worry about them getting to an educational finishing line:

There isn’t one!