Tag Archive | lifeskills

Something other than writing!

One of my first on Instagram

One of my first on Instagram last Autumn

I’ve loved doing Instagram so far. I joined last Autumn, partly to try something new, partly to encourage myself to look in new ways at old routes I walk almost daily, and most of all because it gave me the chance to focus on something other than writing!

I know I write to supposedly enjoy it but, like with any work, there’s much of it that’s quite tedious. Same with my daily walks. Although I love to be outside and love the benefits of doing them, they’ve been grueling at times over the last few months in the chill and sometimes I really don’t want to go!

Helping me over that is the sense of wondering what I’ll find for my Instagram picture today.

Looking in a focused way at things takes time and attention. But it’s a great thing to do, especially with the kids. They often do it anyway, but we risk chivying them along towards our next destination.

Instead we should stop and give them the time to examine their world. From this observation and examination comes a host of other skills; questioning, increased attention skills, conversation – so consequently language development, perhaps extended research when you look it up, and  an inquiring mind, which is the foundation of learning.

But whatever you do – don’t suggest they write about it! Not unless the children want to. I made the mistake of doing this thinking that just because I was interested in recording my discoveries in written form, didn’t mean they would be. (You can read more of my tantrums and mistakes in ‘A Funny Kind of Education‘ see the Books page)

Not only that, writing things down for some children is the bane of their life.

Writing is so outdated! The handwriting part – I wonder if it’ll die a death?

With our technology there are so many other ways of recording and learning, why labour over writing when you’ve got that to hand? It’s the same question as to why labour over making bread when you can buy a sliced loaf?

Sometimes we do both the writing and the bread making for pleasure and that’s fine. And we probably want the children to have the basic skill of writing longhand, it’s still part of our educational tradition. But it doesn’t take hours and hours of laborious practice, and it doesn’t mean that everything has to be written down all the time – I made that mistake when we were home educating, putting the kids off doing anything because of their fear of having to write about it afterwards! Too much writing creates the danger of putting kids off learning altogether.

If you think about it, writing doesn’t necessarily have to be the basis of education, even if it plays a part in it. I knew many HE children, ours among them, who did very little formal writing at home when they were young but still polished up their skills when it became necessary.

Education is not simply to do with writing about stuff: it is the experience of learning, not the recording of it, that matters. And we don’t want to be forever spoiling a stimulating experience by writing it up like schools do.

I know, I know; that’s exactly what I’m doing here about Instagram, ironically! But just this once. The rest of the time I use it as a pleasing alternative.

So, have a think how many pleasing and alternative ways you can find to give your children experiences of learning that don’t involve writing about it?

(And if you follow me on Instagram you’ll be able to share in my daily walk)

Times to leave the kids alone

Back in the dark ages of teaching I had a class of 41 at one stage! As you can imagine it was difficult to see that every child got their needs met.

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It may have been a very old fashioned set-up but there was time for one to one teaching – just like home ed!

I switched from there to a small village school with only three classes and about sixty kids in the entire school. I had 14 in my class and it was an absolute delight. I could properly teach instead of manage crowds. Every child read to me just about every day and I got to know each of them individually which gave me a better chance of meeting their particular needs. Sadly, such days are just a distant bliss. The system has changed so much that real teaching on this scale is impossible. We misguidedly think big is better – it isn’t, always.

There was a down side to these tiny classes however; it could be a bit intense – the poor kids couldn’t get away with anything! A little natter. A little mischief. A little bit of relief when Hawk-eye wasn’t watching them.

I realised that this wasn’t always healthy. They needed a bit of time to swap notes, share concerns with their desk mate, just let off steam and skive a bit which is human after all. So I decided sometimes I had to turn a blind eye and just concentrate on the important misdemeanors. Not that there were many of those because we’d built a relationships of respect and trust in each other. You can do that with small numbers; build relationships.

It also taught me a valuable lesson for home educating.

Home educating one-to-one can be very intense. It would be easy for it to become overbearing. You have to learn to not watch the kids all the time. And certainly not ‘EDUCATE’ all the time.

This is beneficial for all sorts of reasons, as well as to save you from insanity and education overkill. If your kids are constantly directed and monitored and dare-I-say controlled they never learn to be independent. To think for themselves. To decide for themselves. To imagine and invent and create their own activities and consequently their own education. To be in charge. This is a set of skills lacking in young people when they get to Uni; they don’t know how to take charge, of themselves even, let alone their workload.

I know some home educating parents worry that if they’re not directing, instructing or ‘educating’ their kids all the time they will be considered neglectful.

This is rubbish. It may be the mentality of those who don’t understand the true nature of home education or self-directed learning, which is on the increase (think online courses), but it doesn’t have to be your mentality.

Leaving the kids alone is an essential part of their self development. Learning things together doesn’t take much time really. There will be plenty of time for their own activities – which they have to think up, even if they need some starters as to where to look or some stuff strewing around to tempt them. Each of you in the home ed household needs to learn to respect others’ space and time and to leave each other alone to achieve it, to develop in their own individual ways. They’re bound to be learning all the time through doing so.

So, for education’s sake, for self-development’s sake, make sure there are times you leave the kids alone!

A Christmas tip – relaxed engaged!

I’ve been making some cards for Christmas.

I used to always do it with the children. Now they’re not here I do it for myself as a change from wording!

I think the children’s were better!

My subject matter is always influenced by the natural world – my constant comfort and inspiration. And I decided to do a lino cut this time; was going to try woodcuts but that’s a bit beyond my skills.

I wasn’t exactly looking forward to the cutting out bit, but found it was quite therapeutic carving the lino in the same way it is doing all these colouring books that are about now. It gets you involved with the craft – but not stressing, unlike other forms of work. It was more a state of relaxed engaged.

That’s the best way with everything, actually.

Absolutely the best way with children.

So that’s my Christmas tip to you; remain relaxed engaged, whether that’s The Big Day, the run up to it, or doing activities with the children. Aim for relaxed engaged.

And do plenty of Christmas crafts, for all forms of creative activity are important for the children’s educational development. (Read why here).

It’s therapeutic for you too.

And here’s my efforts just for you – have a lovely crafty time!

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Don’t weed your children’s learning!

I find the need to be outside quite hard to accommodate this time of the year. I have to sometimes push myself out in dreary or battering weather to get some daily doses of the tonic everyone needs for indoor spirits. Without it I know I go stir crazy! So I tog up most days and get a daily walk.

Summer memories

Summer memories

It’s easy in the summer. All coffee breaks can be out there. And there’s plenty of light for walking after work hours. And weekends inviting me to garden, even if the format of that is just chopping back the weeds.

I’m not a great gardener. I find it a bit confusing. I’m puzzled by the desire to nurture some plants whilst killing others. Buttercups, daisies and dandelions spring to mind – what a delightful burst of yellow they are. I have great trouble classing them as weeds and pulling them up or worse still spraying them. There’s a hierarchy of plants I just don’t buy in to.

I have the same dilemma with education. There’s a hierarchy that’s evolved around academia which puts some important subjects and skills, like creative ones for example, in the ‘weeds’ category. And I think this is more to do with snobbery than value.

I admit, there are some skills that are invaluable for kids to learn – reading springs to mind. And it is essential for living in our society to have a practical comprehension of language, numbers, scientific concepts and technology. We want to communicate, budget and cook for example and need to skills and knowledge to do so.

But outside those practical applications why should our children’s learning be controlled by what others deem as essential subject matter? Why should the Romans be more important than Evolution. Or non-essential Grammar be more important than creating a story? Or the skill of long division be more important than the skill of inventing for example?

When we home educate we can really examine the curriculum. And this leads to examining the questions; what’s really important to know? And why is it important to know it?

Within the educational system, most of the why has evolved, not from value to the child or developing adulthood, but for the convenience of measuring them and perpetuation of the system – and the politics surrounding it. A truer reason for what we ask our children to learn is that it’s relevant to the child now as well as their lifelong development – what curriculum would cater for that?

What is more important when we’re guiding our children’s learning is not so much what they know, but cultivating a desire to know, to find out, to continue to learn. In fact, that desire is already there when they’re born – our job is to continue to nurture it rather than chop it off like some do dandelions.

We can look up knowledge and facts at any time, these days. Yet we’re constrained by the idea of curriculum that started way back when compulsory education did, when knowledge wasn’t available to all. Far better to consider a curriculum of skills, experiences and a cultivated mind that can be inventive, creative, and which nurtures the desire to develop continually, rather than weeding out the child’s true interests whilst enslaved to subjects for some extrinsic curriculum and killing their desire in the process.

Or maybe not use a curriculum at all and see where your learning life takes you!

Are you neglecting part of your child’s education?

We love our kids. We lavish care and attention on them, buy them treats, take them places, see to their education and welfare. That’s our responsibility as parents.

So if we’re taking that responsibility seriously, why then is obesity becoming an epidemic?

I know that’s a sensitive and contentious question. No one wants to point the blame at anyone. Parents have enough of that.

But I look at it this way; we would consider it total neglect if we did not educate our kids in the skills of reading and maths for example. Yet we don’t see it as neglect when we fail to educate them in the skills of maintaining a healthy weight, and teach them through our own demonstration.

I’m raising this issue after watching this shocking report on Inside Out East about Type 2 Diabetes and how, in many cases, it leads to surgery which could have been preventable. It’s here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b07zcmx3/inside-out-east-24102016

It’s a subject that has had much coverage around the news to raise awareness of this growing problem. (Read more here)

I also live in one of the poorer areas like those in the programme where there are almost more people who are obese than otherwise, and I can see the size of the problem, if you’ll forgive the pun.

When you are surrounded by people who are all similar to you, you begin to see this as the norm; it becomes a cultural norm, you begin to think it doesn’t matter as everyone seems to be overweight – it must be okay. And it’s all too easy to over indulge when fast food, buns, cakes, chips and chocolate leap out and tempt you at every turn. I should know; I have a dangerously sweet tooth that’s very difficult to manage!

But it does matter and when it comes to causing harm to our kids no one can take the responsibility other than ourselves as parents and mentors. I agree that companies cash in on our weaknesses. But they can only do that if we comply; the ultimate responsibility lies with us.

According to the report people are having amputations that could have been prevented by taking some of that responsibility. Is that what we’re leading our kids towards too?

What’s it worth to develop a lifestyle that avoids such dire consequences?

Kids do what we do. Whilst they’re kids we have an opportunity to lay down some fundamental habits that set them up for life. You cannot control them forever. But you can give them a good start – you have, in this case, to practice what you preach. Be what you want them to become – that’s the most influential way. Words don’t work as well as actions.

The habits you cultivate in your family now are the ones that will impact on your children the most, whilst they are children. After that it’s up to them.

But habits of lifestyle and habits of learning are equally important subjects of an education. And are surely all part of the duty we share to facilitate a future for our kids that is happy, healthy and wise.

Why is the concept of home education so alien? We all do it all the time!

I do wonder why the idea of home education seems so weird and alien to many parents.

For don’t we all ‘home educate’ from the minute we leave school? Isn’t that what we do all the time in life? Isn’t that why you’re scrolling the Net or reading this?

As soon as we’re free from institutionalised learning we start to educate ourselves in all the other things that really matter. We practice skills to help us lead independent lives, look after ourselves independently, increase our job skills and professional skills, learn how to connect and communicate out in the real world instead of the false cloisters of an institution.

We learn new stuff to do with our latest technology. We might take on a new course of study – just for ourselves not for school. Learn another language as we travel. Learn a new recipe. Learn new skills as we take on a new career. When we get to parenting our learning curve rises very sharply.

In other words we ‘home’ educate, or more accurately ‘SELF EDUCATE’ (which is really what home education is) all the time.

So why should the concept of home education appear so bizarre to so many, creating bigotry and derision in extreme cases, when it’s what we naturally do all the time throughout all of our life?

The ability to self educate, both mentally and practically is THE MOST IMPORTANT skill we could ever develop, setting us up for personal growth and development to continue throughout life and enhance our life for ever after. So surely home education does all the youngsters a great favour in teaching them that?

Learning new stuff as I finally sign up for Instagram!

Learning new stuff as I finally sign up for Instagram!

And the idea that education can only happen in a school is surely the most inhibiting one a person could ever have? That’s the mindset that seems the most alien to me!

Mindsets need changing.

Self education, or DIY learning, whatever you want to call it, is the best skill to have in order to create a productive and fulfilling life. A skill that we surely need as schooling becomes increasingly out of date and out of touch. But it’s sadly one that’s often totally ruined by schooling, institutionalising it beyond people’s understanding of how to do it.

The further you move away from school, and experience the potential to learn in a myriad of other effective ways, the more you think that it’s the school approach that’s the alien one.

Our human capacity to learn is born when we are – it’s a shame so many put schooling in the way of it.

How many GCSEs does it take to breed neglect?

I’m not only a home educating parent! I am other things as well.

And our kids are not just home school kids, they are other things too.

It’s just it can feel all consuming sometimes and become a single identity it’s hard to break. People love to keep others in labelled boxes!

Equally, school kids are not only their grades. Although you’d think that with the way some people are obsessed over them, as if it was the only thing their life was about.

Speaking to a young teen doing ten GCSEs at school at the moment it certainly felt like it for him. It’s become his whole life without room for anything else, each teacher expecting an undivided dedication to their subject when there are nine others also expecting the same.

Nightmare! Or mental illness in the making.

The people and the politics which push the system seem to believe that the harder they push the kids along this line the cleverer they’ll be. This is the propaganda parents are sold.

But the reality doesn’t work that way at all.

The approach which makes the kids ‘cleverer’ if that’s the term – generally intelligent is a better way to describe it –  is diversity. Diversity of skills, of thoughts, of experiences most particularly. The more varied those experiences, pursuits, activities, hobbies, pastimes, interests and learning, the broader and deeper their intelligence will be. And the greater their personable skills which are essential for life and work after school.

The more home educated young adults I see the more it’s obvious how broad minded, open to learning and intelligent they are, some without doing GCSEs at all. They are articulate, inclusive, empathetic, very social and willing. Forging an independent future with an entrepreneurial approach to getting where they want to go.

This is usually because of the range of experiences they’ve been exposed to during their time learning out of school. And this diversity of experience is sadly what the school GCSE treadmill neglects, thus neglecting the broadness of education that will stand kids in good stead for the future and, I feel, letting so many of them down, chaining them to a track that leaves little time for anything else.

GCSEs are useful. But only if you’ve got the other set of skills needed to know what to do with them and how to do it.

Ten GCSEs are not necessary. Many home schooled kids stick to the standard five and engage in a range of other activities that develop other necessary skills for life ahead. Like conversing with people for a start. Knowing what they want and what they want to go for.

So if you’ve got youngsters out of the system don’t buy into the propaganda that they need heads down at academic study all the time. Exclusive academia makes them dull – Unis and employers don’t want that.

Heads up and engaged with other things is what extends their intelligence and is just as educative.

By using the opportunity home educating gives you to broaden their experiences and activities you’ll also be broadening their brains and personalities, developing the other lifeskills they need to propel themselves towards a fulfilling and productive future that takes them beyond being a homeschool kid!

Their education is not just their GCSEs!