Tag Archive | lifestyle

Home education: ‘a rich and wonderful endeavour’

I recently asked a fellow home educator about their learning life and had this wonderful account sent to me. It’s quite long but  incredibly uplifting, so when you have a moment grab a cuppa and have a read. I think you’ll come away inspired:

As the children and I settled on the train, a fellow passenger asks, ’Not in school today?’ On explaining that we home educate and we were on our way to the home education drama group, the typical queries began. ‘Are you a teacher? Do you follow the national curriculum? What about socialisation? But WHY do you do it…?

These questions can happen several times a week. I want to sit them down over a cuppa and explain our home education philosophy. But it is hard to explain this full-living (fulfilling) life in the time we have.

At its core, it is about a respectful and consensual education, one that fully supports their human rights. The children know they have a voice. They learn to trust themselves and are able to make decisions accordingly, giving them control over their bodies and thoughts. They decide when they need to eat, drink, rest, sleep, move and exercise, recover from illness and use the toilet. They are given the freedom to decide if they need quiet time in this busy world. We want our children to learn that human rights, respect, consent and empathy are important, and what better way to understand that than by living it, and talking about it?

The ‘socialisation’ issue is the one we are most questioned about.  But who dictated what socialisation looks like, and that it should look like it does in school? Do they need to be with the same kids every day, in a system where playtimes and free time can be short and they’re often told; ‘sit down and shut up, you are not here to socialise!’ At this point I will say, it is not usually the fault of the teachers, but of the system that makes this the reality. And I am glad it is not our reality anymore. My children find plenty of time to socialise. Their social life has never been as rich since they began home educating.

There are plenty of groups they attend regularly; drama, Lego club, swim class, museum groups, board games club at the library, the science museum, the archaeology club at the local university, and archaeological digs. There are casual meet ups in parks, playgrounds, and homes. My children were socialising when they sat under sketches by Leonardo da Vinci, working in their own sketch books and talking to the museum curator. They’re socialising when getting tips for a new project from a cousin who is a wonderful silk artist and during more planned experiences such as getting to help operate the traffic control signals in the city centre, or learning how to paint with light and build shadow puppets in workshops, they answer questions put forth by the archaeology club, which is a mix of home educated and school children.

At times we find there is too much socialising and cut back for a time, spending more time in home and garden. And even then, they are still ‘socialising’ by talking to the postman, the milkman, the neighbours, the shopkeepers, family and friends. There is also the benefit of strong family and sibling relationships, and I am sure our home educated children would not play together as much if they attended school. They don’t accept that boys and girls don’t play with each other, and more specifically, brothers and sisters, as they are sometimes told by others at playgrounds. My children have a brilliant relationship with their siblings and family. And another point to consider, some people need less socialising in their lives, so why should people who don’t know my children get to decide what their ‘socialisation’ should look like?

In the book’ Hold On To Your Kids’ by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate, it says that ‘Peer orientation has become the norm, but is neither natural nor healthy. It is better to learn from those who have already learned than from those who are still learning.’ This book points out that socialising with people of all ages throughout the day is more indicative of the lives our children will experience as adults.

Then there’s the idea that children need to experience bullying in order to learn how to deal with it. But the idea that children need to experience this in school is more to do with making us feel better that it is happening, because often the adults are powerless to deal with it at the root. I do know this as a fact since my husband and I have six older children who are at varying stages of teen and adulthood and we have over 30 years experience parenting, over 25 years with the schooling experience. Sadly, our family has had to deal with this in schools.

However, our home educated children certainly do come across bullying as they are in the community every single day, but they have more freedom to remedy it. They may confront the situation directly or simply walk away, but they can also ask for advice or help, just as adults can access legal means to stop both mental and physical bullying because it is harmful to be subjected to it. If it isn’t good for the adults who have more experience, knowledge and power to confront the situation, it certainly isn’t good for our children, especially as their growing minds and bodies are at their most vulnerable. Scientific evidence shows how unhealthy this sort of stress is, and the real damage it can do physically and mentally. They don’t need to be immersed in an environment where bullying can be a part of every single day in order to know how to deal with it.

How do they learn? It starts by having a culture of learning in our home. As parents, we are facilitators who guide our children on their learning journey. They learn how to learn – how to question, seek, research, and develop critical thinking skills, and how to communicate through reading, writing, conversations, film making, or any other form. It can be formal, but it doesn’t have to be, it can be through deep conversation over making dinner or taking a walk, through parents, children, teens and young adults, sharing knowledge and skills in areas of expertise that we all have.  No one knows everything, not even schools. If we don’t know it, we are certainly capable of learning it, or know how to look further through books, the internet, or through experts in groups, classes, businesses, or museums.  If we want, we can outsource like a school does. There is almost always a club or group for whatever we need.  And if we don’t follow the national curriculum, that is not an issue or a ‘failure’ in our education. Curriculums are specific to schools, for comparing schools, but they certainly don’t give everything kids need. We work at developing the skills our children need and desire, ones that are relevant to them, ones that are important for them as they grow. If children learn through their passions and interests, using skills and knowledge, this learning cannot be forgotten. That is authentic learning. Through following their interests, reading, writing and maths develop, because nothing is learned in isolation.

Our children are learning real skills in the real world, from coding, making animations, doing creative writing, film making, nature observations and recording seasonal changes, local flora and fauna in their journals, creating with textiles and crafting, to making their own homemade yogurts and sourdough breads (and the science behind it), to soups and meals. We have economy, science, reading, maths, art, life skills and nutrition right there! They know how the home runs and can contribute to it. And they have direct experience of what skills their father uses running his business. This is real life learning, it’s active and hands-on, and definitely not as sedentary as a typical school day.

Climbing the hill to see the sun rise

Our school experience was brief play at break and lunch time, and P.E. once or twice a week. And sometimes that was lost as a class punishment which meant less physical activity and fresh air. We probably spend on average around 5 hours a day exploring and playing outdoors (a little less in winter). This is different day to day, it might mean outdoor play in the garden, or walks, bug and bird watching, gardening, or getting up early and walking up the hills to watch the sunrise. We don’t often get snow, so when it happens, whole days are spent playing, sledding, walking, examining snow and ice, only coming in for meals and warming up. We spend hours exploring rock pools, shells, seaweed, pebbles, sea glass, and even the occasional fossil. Science first hand is alive and exciting! To learn through nature and play as biologically designed is amazing, and to do it as a family is even better. The outdoors also gives you space to be on your own when you want. Many creative ideas are born and put into action outside. The children recently built their’ time machine’ which needed the full space of the garden to be played out. You could hear them talking about the preparations needed if they were to land in the Tudor times or in the time of dinosaurs, and the various dangers they had to confront. You know the learning is rich when this happens. In the children’s tree fort/potion kitchen/veggie patch (also known as the mud patch), they find their own quiet space, observe nature’s creatures, climb trees, set up a tent, or even dig for treasure. And they can get as dirty and noisy as they like! It is the happiest and healthiest of lifestyles.

One question I was recently asked was, ‘Is there ever time for negativity to fit into this beautiful space they live in?’

I loved this question, and I took it a step further: Is there a place for all those bumps in the road that challenge us and help us to grow? Yes, there is! But it doesn’t need to crush the joy out of them. Struggles over personal projects and goals, developing a growth mindset, and failure, are all part of the learning process. But it does not mean they are ridiculed, humiliated, or kept in at playtime to redo it. We are open to the idea of failure as a stepping stone to further learning. As Einstein said, ‘Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new’. I remember watching a teacher from Finland say, ‘…education is anything that makes the brain work.’ Simple words, but powerful, we don’t need to overcomplicate it.

One of my children has dyslexia and dyscalculia and works very hard to overcome the challenges. As she is developing skills she needs in the world, she is also developing her own unique engineering and artistic skills that are her personal strengths. She couldn’t nourish these strengths while in the school system because everything was about ‘fixing’ her weaknesses, there was no focus on her strengths. By time she got home, she was tired from the extraordinary amount of energy used to overcome her challenges. Even weekends were too short to truly grow her gifts, and self-confidence was most definitively chipped away. Since beginning home educating we have met an experienced educator who says this same child demonstrates a true entrepreneurial spirit of exploration, risk and creativity, and she is excited to see where the learning takes her.

Home educating is such a wonderful endeavour and rich part of our lives. We are experts when it comes to our children’s learning; we know what they need, and how they learn best.

So, why do we home educate?

It’s for the personalised education, and wherever the adventure might take us!

 

(If anyone else would like to talk about their home educating days here, do let me know in the comments below and I’ll get back to you. If we can spread our positive stories around it might help counterbalance some of the negative we receive!)

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Don’t be afraid to make your parenting your own

We all know there are all sorts of ways to parent.

But so may of us get sucked into a crowd-pleasing way without being aware of it. Seduced by the latest fad, the latest trend, the latest style. With keeping up – whatever that is – scared we’re missing out or even worse; denying our kids something important.

So parents can end up flowing along like sheep with the rest of the flock without deciding independently what’s best for their own family and their own family circumstances.

And then we get scared of independently choosing alternatives. This is how many people are put off home education, for example.

‘Alternative’!?

Some folks are scared of even the word! It suggests something a bit drop-out-ish (although I’d argue – what’s wrong with that?) And scared of a path that takes them away from all the other sheep.

But what these people who are choosing alternative approaches to raising their family are really doing is choosing to think for themselves and I admire that. Because people choosing alternatives are thinking. And what’s wrong with the deep thought or philosophising about how to raise the kids, in contrast to not thinking about it or just following others regardless of what’s working well or not? What’s ethical or not. What’s humane or not?

We need to give those who choose ‘alternatives’ deeply considered respect.

I love to read about families who are choosing alternatives, whether that’s parenting, educating, living together, lifestyles. They’re totally inspiring. I read about families who are choosing an alternative way of educating. I read about families who travel having sold the house. I read about families on a personal mission. And I’m in awe of people making these independent choices. They have truly chosen to make their parenting their own.

I often read statements about how much it takes to raise a child and they are scary – and manipulative. But underneath these are just other people’s ideas. They are not always exact.

In contrast, there’s also the idea that happy, healthy, educated, intelligent children can be raised on very little cash. All it takes is an investment of time, energy and love. We need money to put a roof over our heads, buy the food and facilities, but we don’t need the latest game, the latest must have, or Jack Wills gear! Some families are breaking away from that consumerist (and unethical) culture (perpetuated in schools) and choosing to educate their kids with other values. On very little.

For we do not have to ‘buy’ education. We may need an income and a different kind of daily expenditure, but it is relationships, stimulating experience, conversation and interactions that educate as much as curriculum and classrooms do.

However, we have to be brave. We have to swim against the tide of convention in order to make our parenting our own. We have to choose to be ‘alternative’ if that’s what you want to call it.

But did you ever consider what alternative really means? Alternative means diversification – and that is good. It’s diversification that Darwin says is needed to ensure the perpetuation of our species.

Diversification IS what alternative is, is what makes our humanity progress and has done so since its evolution.

So let’s show some respect for ‘alternative’. For people who choose diverse paths.

By making your parenting your own, by choosing diverse approaches to raising your kids, you are helping that process. By making your own decisions about what your children really need, both in their education and their life which are inextricably linked, you are teaching them also how to think beyond convention, think independently, and consequently make their own decisions when their turn comes.

And you are showing them how to brave.

Good on you all!

Cringing for Christmas

Nature’s decorations!

Why do I cringe at Christmas?

Is it the expense? No – although it is a consideration.

Is it because I have to find pressies for relatives I hardly know. Not really – I like choosing and giving gifts.

Is it the thought of the potential for overeating a mass of stuff that’s totally unhealthy but that I enjoy so much? Partly – but I get over it!

Is it because I am a Humbug?

No. It’s none of those things. The real reason I cringe at Christmas is because of the burden the earth has to bear.

So this is a plea that your family – you and the children – consider ways to make your Christmas less of a burden for the earth.

Part of their education is about the planet. To understand it better. To build knowledge of its species. To appreciate how they are part of it and how to relate to it in sustainable ways. We cannot abandon our responsibility to that just because it’s Christmas.

It doesn’t mean a kill-joy Christmas. It just means finding a better balance to what you do. And asking a few questions:

  • How can we moderate the waste we make?
  • How can we give without the earth bearing the brunt of it?
  • What can we reuse, recycle, make, rather than buy? (Wrapping paper as well as presents perhaps)
  • What throw- away articles can we do without? (Wipes, serviettes, paper tableware, for example)
  • How can you make a Christmas that doesn’t cost the earth? Make more of it instead of buying it!
  • Ask before you buy: do I really need this?
  • And consider how much more stuff the kids really need? Love isn’t bought or given through presents.

Giles Brandreth has a lovely idea that he expressed in the media recently. He’s going to tell his grandchildren that he doesn’t want any more stuff. What he’d like from them instead is for them to learn a poem off by heart for Christmas.

Learning poetry has a beneficial effect on the brain, helping with language development and flexible thinking – so he’s perhaps giving them a gift in releasing the kids from present buying whilst boosting their development at the same time!

But whatever you do for Christmas, creating or learning poetry or whatever, please do it with consideration of the earth.

The kids can suffer from SAD too

It’s around this time of year that I begin to feel the effect of the diminishing light hours.

My spirits and motivation drop like wilted geraniums left in the frost, my energy and enthusiasm along with them. I imagine I’m like the trees whose sap is seeping back to their roots, discarding their summer leaves so they’ve not got much to do till next Spring. I want to be the same!

It becomes very difficult to feel any kind of joy in stuff when I don’t get enough daylight. I soon succumb to being a SAD person. Achievement can be difficult. I have to work hard to combat it. Hence the daily walk recorded on my Instagram feed. 

I also realised it could be the same for the kids. Confined inside on dull dark days irritations and conflicts could soon cloud the atmosphere of generally happy home educating days. So, grey and cold or not, if we didn’t have another other activity planned out of the house that day, they got dragged out for a walk of some sort. And despite resistance, it lifted the mood every time – even if sometimes it was just gratitude at being back in the warm! (You can read more about our day to day Home Ed life in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’).

With the continual reports of rising mental health issues among children at younger and younger ages I do wonder if this is a major factor. Kids are outdoors less and less, indoor virtual entertainment being both easily accessible, attractively seductive and convenient for parents too perhaps, especially for those less keen on braving the weather. Kids are outside in natural light and spaces for smaller amounts of time than ever before. It’s got to have a detrimental impact – as it does on many adults.

Increasingly it is thought that natural daylight and time outside, especially in green spaces, is vital for our mental wellbeing, for kids too, as well as giving them time to run off excess energy we might not have! This is what Mind, the mental health charity, have to say about it.

And more reasons why our kids need to be outside are outlined in this piece in the Huff Post uk.

So, just as we would never consciously do anything to harm our children’s physical health, perhaps we need to apply that principle to their mental wellbeing too, making sure the lifestyle choices we make aren’t damaging. Getting the family out for their regular dose of natural light and space needs to be part of those choices, wherever you live.

(See The Wild Network for some ideas)

 

A present for a home school family

I hate to mention Christmas but it is getting that time of year and if you need a gift for a home educating parent one of my books might be an idea.

Home educating is an inspiring and uplifting choice of lifestyle and learning. But not without its challenges especially if you’re doing it longer term. ‘A Home Education Notebook to encourage and inspire‘ is to support parents through the wobbles that all families face at times, with tips on how to manage them. A book that has driven even those who never write reviews to do so on Amazon – I’m most grateful for the wonderful words there. There’s many a homeschool family would appreciate having one by their side. See the My Books page for a fuller description.

And for those who are curious about the homeschool life or who just want a warm funny family read ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ is the one.

One reviewer describes it as “…a home education reassuring hug”. It’s easy to read and full of ideas about learning and new ways of seeing it, told in humorous ways. It may even change your mind about education for ever! Again, there’s more on the My Books page.

And if you’ve read one and enjoyed it do leave me a comment here, or review. Always so warmly appreciated. 🙂

‘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.