Tag Archive | lifeskills

Don’t let curriculum suffocate creativity

There’s an exhibition about the work of Quentin Blake touring the country at the moment and I was lucky enough to see it.

If you’re not sure who he is just think about your Roald Dahl books, as most of us are familiar with his work through his illustration of them – the BFG or Matilda being among them. Quentin Blake also produces his own books in collaboration with John Yeoman.

I suspect most parents who’ve read a Roald Dahl book to their kids will be familiar with Blake’s beautiful scribbly drawings, the characters and their expressive faces clearly displaying the emotion and telling parts of the story the writer cannot with simple words! He is extremely clever.

The beauty of his drawings when you consider them as art works, particularly as an example to our children, is that they’re not exact representations of what people actually look like. They’re better than that – and showing so much more as such.

And why that’s important is this: people get so hung up about drawing and trying to make something actually look like the object being drawn – rather than making their own personal representation of it, their own art work. And this inhibits so many creatives, puts a stop to many people being creative when they’re feel their work is no good. When they’re judged.

Our daughter was seven when she was told that by a teacher in school; that she’d drawn something badly, (?!! at 7 for goodness sake!!!) and it took her a long time to recover from that and begin once more to practise her creativity in its many forms, as part of her home education. (The tale is told in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’)

No art work is wrong or bad! Any art work or creative endeavour in whatever form is incredibly personal, and incredibly individual. That’s the whole point of it and why it’s so special – no one else could do it the same as you. ‘Wrong’ doesn’t come into it!

Although skills can be learnt through studying technique or understanding materials and marks, the raw creativity and imagination needed to produce drawings and artwork of any kind is unique to an individual and should never be made to ‘fit’ or ‘look like’ anything else necessarily. Original expression is inherent in each of us and needs to be nurtured as such not inhibited by comments such as my daughter received. And that’s a great flaw in curriculum in relation to creativity; if we’re not careful curriculum can be the death of it. Curriculum diktat ruins originality. It can stop you being creative and thinking outside the norm with your education too!

Children and young people need encouragement to create. Especially when these days they’re more practised at holding a console than a pencil. But essentially creativity is the foundation of many valuable skills that can be transferred across education, and enhances brain development far more broadly than learning times tables for example.

Anyone can learn times tables – they already exist. But creative endeavours are unique to each individual, who knows what will be created, and they play an essential part in the perpetuation of our species and our planet. Read this to see why. We need creative skills like we need air! It’s an irreplaceable part of the educational process.

So drawing, painting, modelling, telling stories, drawing stories like Quentin Blake, scribbling, doodling, all develop part of our children’s intelligence in a way nothing else can. Along with being creative in how you curate education!

I suggested our daughter spent some time ‘drawing badly’ to get over those remarks!

And I suggest you encourage your kids to draw in whatever style suits them, like Quentin Blake draws in his own distinctive style.

You never know, you might have another Blake in the making!

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Did you see Planet Child?

I watched the first in a new series about children’s development last week called Planet Child. Did you see it?

In it the twin doctors, Chris and Xand van Tulleken, were observing how children in other parts of the world are given greater independence at a very young age, having very different lifestyles from those in the UK, and how this impacts on their development.

As a result of these observations the doctors set up an experiment for three groups of seven year olds to simulate that experience of  independence, where the children had to navigate their way across London on their own without their parents. (Safely under observation – although the kids didn’t know that).

It was dead scary watching!

Scary for me as a parent – not the kids – they seemed happy enough, and it was fascinating to watch.

Now, I know ‘it is telly’, as in it’s all very contrived, well edited to get us to believe what they want us to believe, and has many flaws as an experiment as such. And there were many unanswered questions.

However a fascinating premise that came out of it was that it seems the more time children spend on unstructured activities, the better it is for their overall development.

And this immediately made me think of all the home educating families who use less structure and more autonomy in their approach to their children’s learning and are often criticised for it, many educationists believing that kids learn nothing without a structured regime of learning. Yet it appears it is exactly this autonomy which gives the opportunity for the children to develop many essential personal skills, needed in order to be able to apply themselves and what they’ve learned to real life. Life-skills in other words. Skills which are often inhibited by an approach that spoon feeds them a curriculum in a structured environment where they’re told what to do, when and how to do it. Like school.

Ironic! Since it is so often this autonomous approach, often interpreted as the parents being uninvolved (so wrong!), which many professionals find so hard to get their so-called educated heads around, even though there is increasing proof as these home educators graduate that an autonomous approach works well.

Autonomous approaches to education don’t drill kids to follow an extrinsic curriculum, pass tests and get grades, as schools do, (even though most of the home schooled youngsters go on to choose to gain qualifications in their own autonomous way). What it does, is develop a broad-thinking, educated person with a wide range of skills that enable them to make appropriate independent choices.

Unstructured activities are good for kids, the programme concluded (although clearly within certain boundaries – ‘it is telly’ after all!) Unstructured education has the same advantages.

Just thought I’d say in case you’re having doubts about your autonomous home educating approach!

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.

Rewards to come

Chelsea and I were having a giggle on the phone the other morning. We speak most days – treasured times!

Chelsea performing on International Women’s Day

We talk about all sorts of things usually starting with current irritations, concerns and recently the bloody weather. And we talk about creative pursuits, finding solutions and sometimes even more philosophical ideas that inspire us; that really make us think.

Sometimes of course we just rant!

This time we were talking about delayed gratification. The skill more usually associated with the development of children but which, we noted, some of the adults around us don’t seem to have matured enough to acquire!

Being able to delay gratification is important. It means, when necessary, we are able to put off immediate rewards for longer term benefits. We need it for saving perhaps – by not spending now we will benefit by being able to afford something later on. Or for health as another example – by resisting too many pieces of cake I’ll benefit health wise in the longer term. Tricky one that!

The need for instant gratification in little people is sometimes desperate. They want it and they want it NOW. And no amount of reasoning will enable them to see otherwise if they are not at a level of maturity to have experienced the gains. And that’s what gradually enables them to practice the skill for themselves; by actually experiencing it. For example, by seeing how resisting frittering away those pounds whenever they’re in the sweet shop, made it possible for them to buy that Game later on which was much more expensive. They need to have benefitted from it to really understand gains.

Each child is different and each child matures at a different rate – so don’t sweat over it!

But it struck me how this applies to us too. That we, as parents, most particularly home educating parents, have to practice letting go of the need for instant gratification where education’s concerned.

To really grit our teeth sometimes, in order to keep faith in our conviction that by risking moving away from the instant reassurance of educating our kids in a proven mainstream way with proven outcomes, we will instead earn later gratification by seeing them enjoy a happier route to education outside of mainstream by a different approach.

Because they all do!

Many home schooled kids who’ve graduated before yours are proof. And if you can delay your need for that familiar mainstream reassurance now, and stick with the approach your gut tells you is right for you and your family, you will be rewarded.

Just like the children, in order to do this you need support, you need to exercise patience and faith, courage and confidence. When you wobble you need distraction or reassurance from those who’ve done it already. As you’d encourage your children to keep their eye on that Game or whatever they’re after, you should keep your focus on your longer term goals. And remind yourselves regularly of the principles behind your choices. Write them down. Post notes round the house if you need. Read what others say about their journeys. And my books may help.

And remember what it feels like when your child wavers from their course of a longer term goal and have a little wobbly, be kind to yourself when you waver too. It’s a natural part of the process!

I watched my little girls, of ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ fame, grow from the need for having it and having it now to the skill of seeing a wider view and manage to practice restraint in order to manifest later rewards. And I have watched them develop away from the need to always do what they want when they want, into intelligent, social, caring and hard working members of society who can make wider contribution beyond themselves.

As no doubt yours will.

And one day you’ll also be getting phone calls that really make you think!

Disconnected!

We’ve been another week without an internet connection. I’ve had to decamp to a friend’s house to use hers. For the other problem with rural living is poor mobile signal – not enough for me to go online on my phone at home.

Such are the disadvantages of living in remote places. But we’re used to it!

It has its upside. It means that without the seduction of social media, emails and messaging I focus more intently on new writing rather than allowing my time to be eaten away by responding to notifications. It’s easy for that to be an excuse for not getting the real work done. I admit I can be a bit dilatory at managing that!

The absence of the internet also reminds me to practice skills that are independent of it, to be more resourceful, to re-visit other activities, perhaps less sedentary, that do not depend on that connection. And it’s a good reminder that we need variety in our daily lives to bring a healthy balance and outlook, to help us maintain other skills and interests, practical and physical as well as social, to make us more rounded people.

Exactly the same for our children. They need this variety too; involvement in an assortment of skills as well as internet ones, most particularly the physical, practical and personal, to make them healthy, rounded, skills-rich adults.

I’ve enjoyed watching some of the ‘Back in time…’ programmes that have taken families back to life in earlier times, mostly before internet and telly. And some of the comments the youngsters on the programme have made suggest that they have enjoyed living without their phones, internet and telly at times because it has made them focus on each other. Conversation has become a pastime for example, or communicating over board games. Another remarked they’ve become closer as a family.

Now, I acknowledge that I was as grateful as anyone to distract a restless child with some screen based pursuits.

But I’m now aware that this has become such an overused activity that children are lacking in many of the skills they would have naturally gained from connected family time. Some cannot converse adequately, use language effectively, interact with peers appropriately and are starved of the nurture family closeness brings because of long isolate hours entertained by screens, disconnected from real people. Even communal meal times have been overturned by TV dinners.

I enjoy a TV dinner, but not all the time.

What I need, and what children need even more as their on going development is more important, is a rich diversity of experiences. They need opportunities to try a range of different activities, explore potential interests, chances to develop a variety of skills, physical, practical and personal for their well being, resourcefulness and healthy maturity.

A balance of life’s activities in other words. Not a life that’s dependent on one.

Nothing like a week with disconnection to make me check whether my time usage was balanced.

If this extreme weather continues I suspect I might be in for another one!

Which world is real?

I’ve been enjoying reading about the family, farm and parenting life of Amanda Owen of ‘The Yorkshire Shepherdess’ fame.

She tells the story of how she worked hard to become a sheep farmer, despite her city routes, and how she lives and works on the farm with her nine children.

Amanda Owen and growing family

She sounds like an amazing woman. And I love her descriptions of how her family works, her no-fuss approach to everything, to her parenting, to her children and the way they all live in a remote farmhouse miles from anywhere.

Although her children go to school, she has that down-to-earth approach to her children’s lives that many home educating families have. One that sees the true educative value in everyday, real life experiences, how the children are involved in their very tough life on the farm, and how much they learn from it.

This question of ‘real’ life is something that’s often thrown at home educators. Like we should send them to school because it’s a taste of ‘real’ life – which of course it isn’t! ‘Real’ life is nothing like school. But most people don’t see that.

Amanda has the the same accusation thrown at her with her children being so isolated on the farm.

“You can’t keep the children cooped up here, this isn’t the real world” she was once told!

Sound familiar – I think someone once said the same thing to us about home schooling.

I loved her response. She was understandably indignant because that was their real world, and that statement devalued it. Home educating was our real world and it was often devalued too. But some people can’t acknowledge a life that is different from theirs. Many people want everyone to be all the same, do the same, follow the same path. And get really twitchy at those who choose a different one.

Amanada says her children have a good work ethic – many home educators do too, because they’ve been working in an independent way for so long. She goes on to say that living where they do they understand that if they want something they have to put the work in. They become more self sufficient, consequently learn that nothing must faze you. It’s about building mental strength as well as physical strength and the willingness to have a go at anything.

A great philosophy she’s built through her farming life and one that will serve her kids well when they move on. A great philosophy I also witnessed many home educating families adopt.

She goes on to say that she gets a lot of people telling her what she should be doing with her children (sounds familiar)! But she believes they’re having a good childhood involved in the farm, it’s just different. And her only hope is that they’ll look back on their childhood as a happy one.

I think most home educators feel the same!

But as for which world’s real – that’s an ongoing philosophical debate that will never be answered.

The more important question is – which world works?

Home educating works for some. Life in alternative places work for others. City life works for many.

But whether people live in cities, or farm in remote places, or home educate, the children can see all sorts of other worlds now via the internet. They have opportunities to explore and learn about other worlds different from their own. And Amanda says, like most home educating parents say, that the children may well move away and choose their own different worlds one day and that’s fine. However, no single world is more ‘real’ (or valuable – which is the hidden meaning of the expression) than another.

And no one should be criticised for choosing a way of life that is different from mainstream.

I leave you with Amanda’s words from the end of her book; “We get such pleasure out of the children and take a pride in bringing them up in a free and natural way”. I think many of you will identify with that!

Home Educating – surviving the frosty bits!

We face many challenges in life. Winter is clearly one of them that’s foremost in our minds right now! But, also like winter, most of them are seasonal and pass over.

And home educating can be just the same.

The frost will eventually melt off the snowdrops. Frosty times at home can be melted too!

It presented us with challenges – of course it did. They passed over. We reviewed, made changes, adapted to suit the nature of the challenge and pressed on.

If you think about your own home educating life, it’s never going to remain the same although we are sometimes caught out by expecting it to.

It doesn’t remain the same for the glaringly obvious reason that the kids never remain the same either. Like plants growing through a season, they have their seasons too. So will your home education. So does all family life.

I think, as adults and parents, we’re a bit sticky! We like to stick with what we know. We get into a habit, a way of thinking, a way of responding, a way of expecting, and forget that we need to make adjustments to these changes too.

And that’s to do with family life, life in general, not just to do with home schooling.

You’ll have times when family life flows smoothly and everyone is happy. You’ll have times when family life is as frosty as winter and everyone hates one another!

Quite normal!

This is no one’s fault. This is just how it is. And in order to weather it you have to do the same as you do for winter; examine what you might have to do in order to rectify it.

For example – you feel cold, you look at why, you put another jumper on!

If family connections turn cold, you have to look at why. Has someone grown and changed? Is someone hurting? Have your children outgrown your habits? Do you need to change your responses to accommodate that? Do they need something different?

Whether it’s toddlers or ten year olds, tweenagers or older teens, their seasons and our responses to them have to continually adapt. That’s life – so make sure you don’t blame home education, as some peple tend to do.

If it’s a bit frosty right now don’t seek to blame, seek to understand what might be the cause. Be honest. Don’t give up on it, or think you’re doing it wrong, or that you’re no good for the kids. You will be fine – but you might need to change something in order to keep up with them.

It might simply be that one of the things you need to do is relax and allow your kids to grow – I missed that solution a number of times!

But be reassured that, like with seasons, nothing lasts forever. Moods don’t last forever. Phases don’t last forever. You’ve weathered them before you can do it again!

This is a skill that will support you throughout your life and well worth the practice.

Meanwhile, let’s wish for spring to come soon, in whatever sense!