There are new families joining the thousands who already make up the Home Educating community all the time and many have messaged me to convey their thanks for the books I’ve produced to support them. I am so grateful. Thank you. I’m especially moved to know they’ve helped.
In grateful thanks and in support of all those who want to know a little more about home schooling as it’s more commonly known, or choose an alternative to going back to school in September especially in these difficult times, here’s an exclusive reading from my book ‘A Home Education Notebook’.
Read more about the book on the My Books page on this blog and find it at Eyrie Press or on Amazon. And do feel free to share so if there are others anxious about going back to school they too will learn there are choices!
End of July and traditionally the time when you don’t have to worry about education for a while as the schools break for summer!
Of course, this year, there’s been little traditional about education and the routine learning life most are familiar with as Lockdown kicked in and everyone was learning without school. Life has been up-skittled, both for school users and those already home educating whose learning life was also disrupted by being unable to go out and about like normal.
It’s all been very weird. Hard work. And worrying for all families. I know there are thousands worrying about their children’s learning. The original home educators among them, even though they’re used to a slightly less orthodox learning schedule.
So I reckon it’s time to take a break from all that fretting about education and learning, about how much to do, or worrying about what has not got done! Now’s the time, as the lockdown restrictions hopefully lessen during the summer, to enjoy the outdoors even more, enjoy family activities safely spaced, and let go concerns about making it ‘educational’.
You never know; you may see magic happen.
For there’s something important to know about learning – something many home schoolers already know;
Even though you may not be thinking about it, it will still be going on.
Children learn and develop every day, from everything they do, see and experience.
You can’t stop them learning. They’ll be developing in ways that enhance their skills and understanding which will in turn reflect on their progress when they get back to more formal activities.
So just enjoy your summer. Stay safe. and trust in the process.
And I may take a little blogging break too and return later in the summer with more words and pictures! Although I’ve tried that before and it hasn’t always worked for, like with learning; you think you’re not doing it but ideas are generated all the time.
Sometimes all we need is some space to let new ideas flow, children and adults alike!
Alice Griffin is a writer and home educator living a wandering life with her little family. She also home educates and we’ve met her before when I invited her to tell us about her home educating life. (Read her articles here and here where she also writes about the value in play). This time she’s talking about her now teenager, how life has moved on, and reflecting on the life that others told her should be different!
I think you’ll find it reassuring! Over to Alice:
“Can I make you something to eat, darling,” I call out to my 13-year-old daughter, Isabella, as she gets on with a project in her room. “Um, yeah, I guess I’m hungry” she replies and quickly I jump into action. “Don’t worry! I’ll make you a snack! Shall I make those little finger sandwiches you like? Or perhaps a fruit salad?” The truth is, I would make a three-tier cake complete with fancy icing and sparklers if she wanted it… but I hold back. It’s just so rare these days that I am able to do anything for her.
When she was a baby they said I needed to put her down otherwise she would never leave my side. As she grew they said we should send her to nursery or she wouldn’t be able to socialise. By the time my daughter reached five, they said school was where she would learn about the real world and that she wouldn’t have a friendship group if we kept her home, which would be cruel. And when we said we didn’t want to introduce technology until she was at least 10, they said that was cruel, too.
I can hear the voices even now, telling me what was right and proper, but luckily MY voice was louder and so—along with my husband—we stuck to our gut and decided to follow our instincts.
Now, as Isabella asserts her growing independence and runs ahead instead of begging to be carried and I ask if she will please remember to hold my hand just sometimes… Or as she busily natters with her wide-ranging friendship group on-line, making plans for when we move on from Coronavirus… Or when she runs off to do her farm job each morning and then returns to sit down with my husband and I and inform us (!) of what projects she’s planning to work on this week… I remember. I remember what they said.
SO, what I say is this: Hold your baby close for as long as you possibly can. Breathe in their scent and retain that memory tightly in your mind. Never ever complain when they reach for your hand. Play, read, explore… and trust that a love of learning will naturally grow from this rich exposure to the world. And if you have something deep within that tells you to parent in a certain way, be it technology-free or with technology, living on the road or in one place, maybe home education, TRUST yourself. Trust that you know your family best; that you know your child.
Choosing Home Education hasn’t always seemed the easiest route. There are times where I have been consumed with worries—about whether we’re doing enough or providing the right opportunities. There have been periods of overwhelm and self-doubt; moments when dropping her at the school gate each morning into the hands of professionals, appeared infinitely easier. But I know now that all these feelings are okay, because I have discovered that it doesn’t matter if you home-educate or send your kids to school—it’s parenting that presents challenges. And I wouldn’t change our decision, not for the world.
All that hugging and holding hands, all that playing together outside—picking flowers and examining trees—all that baking cakes and painting with fingers and feet and all that time we didn’t go near technology… It didn’t have any ill effect. Isabella is no different to any other teenager in her desire to grow in independence, hang out with friends and follow her own dreams. And I am no different to any other parent of a teen, by her side encouraging her to fly free.
So, if you’re at the beginning of the journey and the voices around you are shouting loud, take heart and stay strong. Enjoy these early years; enjoy your babies. Because before you know it, you’re left with empty arms and every time they step back into them, each time they reach for your hand and you’re able to do something for them—finger sandwiches, fruit salad or lavish cakes—it feels like gold.
There was a time I didn’t rate home education! Can you imagine?
And that’s simply because of ignorance!
Like many other parents, some who thought it was downright wrong, this was because; I had no experience of it; had been influenced by too many other people who also had no experience of it; had a rigid view of education indoctrinated by the prescriptive system I was familiar with.
But I changed. I learnt different. I overcame my ignorance, not because I met others successfully doing it and had direct and first hand experience of its success. The nucleus of change started long before that.
It began when working in the system.
I was changed by seeing too many children glazed over, failed and let down by schooling, by seeing the methods used to get those children to fit in, by seeing them ostracised when they couldn’t, and knowing in my heart as a teacher (well before Home educating) that schools just didn’t suit too many kids.
And it wasn’t about youngsters’ ability to learn or study or engage. It was as much about the environment of schools as anything and what that did to some kids.
Something needed to be different.
Think about parties. you’re either someone who enjoys crowds and socialising and parties or you’re not. That’s just the way you are.
Equally, some of us can learn with hubbub and noise and distraction all around. Some can’t – some prefer it quiet and still. I’m one of those. Children are also like that. Some enjoy and thrive in the buzz of a school environment. Some don’t. Some can’t bear it. Some to the point of becoming mentally and emotionally unwell.
That’s just the way they are. But some people are too ignorant to see that – or unwilling because they’d need to provide something different.
They’d need to see that children should not have to be exposed to the crazy crush and stress of school if it’s not the way they learn best. And acknowledge that we are failing them if we expect them to be able to learn in an environment that doesn’t suit – and we haven’t even touched on the sometimes debilitating approaches used to get kids to learn, the bizarre content of much of the curriculum, etc etc.
So is home educating the answer?
It can be the answer for some who are able to manage it.
But – it certainly isn’t the answer for all; many family circumstances would make it impossible anyway.
What we need instead is a different sort of school. And a different approach to learning and education.
What we need is to see education not as the mass grade-getting industry and political strategy it’s become, but as a treasured opportunity for kids to grow and develop. A return to this core value.
We need schools to be smaller intimate places, more of them, nearer homes, so they are less crowded and less threatening – and less generic.
We need fewer children to each teacher so there’s a better intimacy, so teachers can get to really know their pupils, and consequently create better interaction and respect.
We need to stop making education and learning about testing. Teachers who know kids and know how to teach don’t need it, the kids don’t need it, it gets in the way of learning. It’s in complete opposition to everything education should be.
We need to rid schools of an oppressive curriculum and approach to learning, most of which is based on outcomes designed to perpetuate the system rather than perpetuate the good of the youngsters themselves.
We need schools to be places of nurture and personal development, not places of measurement and competition. And before you argue that kids need to be exposed to that in order to stand it in the ‘real’ world, – they don’t. Kids who’ve been home educated and never been to school still manage to make their way in tough competitive working worlds when the time comes, when they choose to do so.
And that’s another point: choice. You choose your working world to some extent and the people you’re with. Children and young people in the system have no choices, or choices manipulated to suit the system. They have no choice about what or who they have to endure and this makes a difference to their success. Young people deserve more choice over their learning and their destiny. If we offered the right opportunities and facilities they would make the right choices – whatever ‘right’ is! To not offer that demonstrates an abhorrent lack of respect for them on our behalf.
This strange lock down time will make it blatantly clear that home schooling is not for all, course not. But schools as they are, are not for all either. And this is becoming very evident through parents reporting that during this time out of school their children have grown, are beginning to thrive and bloom and maintain good mental health and well being that they didn’t enjoy when on the schooling treadmill. Surely kids don’t have to suffer that for an education?
It’s about time we asked the questions too long in coming – what do we want of our schools? Is what we have out of date? Acknowledge that this prescriptive system is turning too many children into failures and even destroying the health and well being of some?
Parents should wake up to the fact we need changes – it’s in their hands – they are the consumers of it. We need humanity back in our schools and to make them more about people, not about politics. And vote for changes and practices that honour our children not disrespects them through such shameful and manipulative disregard.
If you’re struggling with your children’s education right now, being mindful in the way you think about it might make you feel a little easier.
Whether you’re doing school-at-home or home educating many of the same issues arise in ‘doing the work’, creating pressures in family life that make everyone feel discombobulated!
I love that word. Discombobulated describes very succinctly what we’re all feeling during this corona crisis. It’s defined as confused and disconcerted. Fits the bill, doesn’t it?
And I imagine many parents are discombobulated about their children’s education right now, both those doing school-set tasks at home and those who were already home educating for whom the lockdown is just as inhibiting.
Some of our feelings are caused by the pressure that we put upon ourselves when we’re not mindful of the way we think about it.
For example; think about the school day. Parents tend to think about kids in school doing useful stuff from 9 am til 3 pm but it doesn’t exactly work like that. During those hours there is a lot of moving about, messing about, distractions, disruptions, wandering attention and general procrastination and time wasting. I averaged it once in a classroom; the children actually only get about 7 minutes an hour of constructive time! So if you’re pressurising your child to do 9 til 3 non stop ‘work’ because that’s what you think they do in school I should stop. Whether you’re home educating or doing school-at-home your child will work more quickly through stuff and will have a lot more time for other valuable pursuits which contribute to their educational advancement in ways you’d never imagine!
Another example, thinking about the basics; the maths, english and science done in schools is designed to be done in schools and in such a way it can be measured. This can make it dull and the children switch off from seeing them as interesting subjects. However maths, english and science come up in everyday life at home all the time in much more relevant ways. For example, budgeting (maths) is a constant consideration (and essential life skill). Messaging, searching online, reading anything, comics, any form of writing like lists for example (not forgetting drawing and colouring are excellent for practising skills involved in writing) all increase the use and understanding of vocabulary and language as do discussions and chats – all useful literacy practice. And we are involved in science all the time in everything we do if you just notice – and use it as a starting point for investigation. We have bodies – biology. We use stuff and live in stuff which all originated at some point from the earth (materials, properties, sources etc). Not only do we have a virus crisis (what’s a virus?) we have a planetary crisis – the planet being one of the most important subjects for scientific research. Do you see what I mean? Scientific questioning and discussion develops a scientific mind as much as anything you might do in a workbook – and it’s real. Making maths english and science relevant to the youngsters’ lives through real stuff is as valuable as the maths, english and science you do on the curriculum. Be innovative about how you tackle it; relating it to life makes it more interesting and doable.
And finally be mindful of the idea that everything you do has the potential to be educative; your family interaction, discussions, contact by tech, cooking, organising, getting your exercise, playing, looking after yourself, managing life together, clapping the NHS. All builds skills, mental, physical, life skills – all has a worth.
This is a time of trauma for everyone. No one needs added pressure brought by needless worry about ‘school work’ or dull academic exercises.
We are all discombobulated! Many of our comfort blankets are gone and we’re all having to work life out in new ways for the time being. Fretting about academics will not help. And is not necessary for I bet that when the kids are in their twenties you’ll never even notice the school days they missed or this time of home schooling – however you’re doing it!
Family harmony, security, nurture and getting through as happily as you can are more important than academics right now. Far better the children remember a happy time of family learning together than the pressure of being forced to do stuff that’s less than relevant in this discombobulated time. Not forgetting that even discombobulated, and how you tackle it, can be educational!
So I suggest you take the pressure of yourselves – and the kids – and rethink it!
I have been posting recently for a new swathe of parents who suddenly find themselves in the difficult predicament of doing school at home. And I fear I may have neglected my long term proper home educating followers who will be having just as tough a time of it.
No doubt you’ll have been on the receiving end of comments about it being ‘alright for you – you’re used to it’ etc! When I know darn well it won’t be alright for you, it’ll be just as hard stuck in the house when you’re normally not at-home educating much at all.
How are you getting on?
I can imagine it’s brought challenging changes with not being able to frequent your favourite places or meet others like you’d normally do.
For, if you’re anything like us, you’d normally be out and about as much as at home! And more social than isolated, something else others don’t understand, and now you’re denied all that it must be difficult to deal with.
I hope you’re faring okay.
I don’t have small children in the house any more but we do have our youngest (Charley from ‘A Funny Kind of Education’, now in her mid twenties would you believe) living with us at the moment as a stop gap between moving which we now realise will go on for a lot longer than anticipated. And lovely though it is to have her here, we’re all adjusting to not going out and working round each other when adult tensions can be as challenging as childhood ones!
Getting out of the house when we were home educating was very much part of our daily routine with swimming, library, nature reserves, socials, workshops, as it’s probably part of yours, so I totally get how hard it must be being house bound. I’m feeling it too. Never thought I’d ever find a trip to the supermarket appealing!
Some of the tips in the blog ‘Essential tips for being Together’ about creating personal space might help, if you don’t practise that already.
Another tip might be to make use of these weird circumstances for further learning.
For example, currently there’s plenty of material for conversation and debate, remembering that conversations are as educative as any exercise in a workbook so get talking. It can be a comfort to the children (keeping off the doom and gloom and keeping it objective). And a good opportunity for extending language skills and confidence.
It’s also an opportunity for historical research, for looking back and seeing other times throughout our history when restrictions were imposed. I don’t just mean major ones like wars, with rationing and nights in shelters, I mean some of the smaller ones like the attempts to conserve electricity during the miners’ strikes or the water restrictions in 1976 – both good issues for study, speculation and discussion.
Another activity might come from discovering ways to get social (safely and with distance) with people you perhaps haven’t interacted with before on your immediate doorstep like street neighbours. Particularly valuable if they’re on their own. A friendly face over the garden fence, through a window, or across the doorsteps might be just what they need and it’s a good opportunity for the kids to practise social skills in a way they perhaps haven’t before (remembering the essential safety guidelines of course). Be inventive with ways to safely connect. And maybe look at ways to help others less fortunate.
Another memory I have of our home educating days were patches of time when we were out and about so much it was easy not to bother giving time to home based activities. So along with some academic basics we made time for art and craft, making and constructing, reusing and re-purposing, always playing, all which gets those mental processes stimulated and builds skills which can be used for academics later on. This is a time for those home creations!
I hope some of this is of help. I know that most of you who connect with me, many who’ve been following for some time and others just joining too, are incredibly inventive and entrepreneurial about your learning approaches and life in general. And what you do most of you is nothing like the current attempts to do school at home.
But I appreciate how hard it must be – it was hard sometimes when we could get out, never mind what you’re going through now. So more than ever you’ll need to treat yourselves with kindness and patience whilst these difficult times run their course.
Go gently. Don’t panic. Keep relaxed and busy.Feel your way through.
This time will pass. I’m thinking of you and what strange Home Ed times you’re dealing with. You’re making history!
Meanwhile, if you have the time do share any ideas in the comments below about how you’re coping and the impact it’s made on you. I always love to hear from you.
I may be a home educator at heart but I really feel for the children who are missing school and contact with their friends. It’ll be a hard adjustment for them, for all the family.
Of course, it is also the same for the home educated kids who are also now isolated. Because despite what most parents generally think, home educating involves being out as much as in; seeing friends, going places, using resources in the community, etc. In fact they probably do that more than school kids who are stuck in one venue all the time.
Everyone will be adjusting. We’re all stuck at home – well – if you’re taking your responsibility seriously.
So maybe now’s the time to rethink the value of home based things.
Obviously we have wonderful digital connections to fall back on. But life shouldn’t be all about staring at your phone. Instead it’s a good time to connect with those in the house, find things you can enjoy together, use your resourcefulness to make your home come alive by the things you do in it. Become ingenuous with whatever’s to hand. It’ll bring a homely flavour to your house which may have become jaded. It’ll restrengthen connections (although it may take a while).
As for ‘education’; as I said before everything is educational as it stimulates and increases skills, mental and physical. You may not be aware of the educational value of cooking for example but it involves maths (weighing, measuring, calculation, understanding temperatures, computation and understanding scales, calibration, estimation, time etc.) language (reading, interpreting recipes, following instructions, language, abbreviations, vocabulary etc) science (changing states of substances like cake becoming solid, heat conduction, food stuffs and materials which can withstand it, etc) As well as all the conversations. All these skills can be transferred to academic learning later on, will be better remembered as they’ve been experienced, and more importantly they’re useful for life!
So don’t think domestic things are separate from educational things. It’s all valuable. So get doing, using ideas online if you’re stuck.
Here are some things you might do or encourage the kids to:
Cook or bake something.
Discuss something – especially topics you wouldn’t normally.
Explore something. (Probably online at this point!)
Get moving (physically in the house if not out)
Do something you haven’t done before.
Doing a variety of these things will be purposeful and developmental in ways you’ll not even be aware of. So get busy, enjoy your home time, and forget trying to ‘educate’ for the time being. The kids will be learning all the time!
This is such a strange and challenging time. We’re going to have to dig deeper than ever into our personal resources to respond and cope with these unprecedented circumstances.
Hopefully we will learn something about ourselves by the end of it. It’s bound to change us. Has changed us already – I know my appreciation of many simple things has increased as we do without many of the things we took for granted, like popping to the shop for chocolate!
Ours have grown up now, but I can still remember how difficult it can be at times cloistered in with small children not able to get out. I know many families would occupy their time with a trip to the shops just to buy some non-essential that they don’t need. Out of the question now obviously.
But actually, what children crave – even as much as those chocolate eggs – is the engaged time and attention of their loving adult.
Many parents bemoan the fact they never have time in their lives for that. Many children feel the pinch of life without it.
So maybe that’s a good aspect of being home bound right now. You can do something about it. Children learn as much from the time and attention of an engaged adult as anything else on any curriculum!
And it’s the perfect time to give some effort to making Easter rather than buying it.
It doesn’t have to cost, if you get resourceful with whatever you have in the house. Exercise their minds and problem solving skills by giving up thinking; ‘we need to buy this, this and this’ and start thinking ‘how can we make this with the resources we already have?’
For example, paint or felt tip eggs, or crumpled up paper can make eggs to hang up, a coat hanger would suffice to hang them on although I bet you’ll come up with something better than that. Bunting can be made with old magazines, books you’ll never use again, even old clothes – you don’t have to sew it, think of another way to put it together. Get resourceful with creating rather than buying, get creating this Easter rather than consuming.
And when you get out for the groceries, get the ingredients for a simple cake.
Making a cake together is not about the cake.
Making a cake with kids can be tricky, unless you change your agenda. Your agenda is not to make a perfect cake. Your agenda is to make some happy memories with them about the resourceful way you dealt with this crisis and the things you came up with. Stir your cake with fun and affection and lick your sticky fingers with relish over the sweet times you made together.
You are teaching the kids about resilience and resourcefulness. Both are skills that will be useful to them time and time again throughout their life long after this crisis is over.
We can spend the Easter bemoaning the things we’d usually do that we now cannot. Or we can spend the Easter creating something that’s more important than baking a cake; making good memories that will stay with the youngsters forever.
Hope you stay well and manage a Happy Easter. And if you come up with some good ideas – please share them in the comments below!
‘It’s not going to be easy’. That’s one of my partner’s favourite sayings. Doesn’t matter what we want to achieve, he trots it out; unhelpfully!
At this present time, I have to admit, that very saying has slipped into my mind. We are all facing challenges we never could have predicted. The least of which is being cloistered together most of the time, without the work, school, outings which are more the norm for family life and which affords necessary space from each other.
Irritations can escalate, tolerance lower.
We’ll have to learn to live round one another in harmony and respect if the family unit’s going to survive. Something it was very necessary to do whilst we were home educating, even though getting out and about was very much part of our routine.
There is much to be learnt from home educators’ way of living and learning. Not so much about education because this short period of parents doing school at home is not like home educating where you grow into learning together gradually and have time to work a completely different approach to it. Rather, we can learn a lot about how to develop a relationship that’s respectful and harmonious enough to work together.
Managing the continued close contact that we’re dealing with at the moment, and which might go on for a while yet, takes some working out and working at. It’s not going to be easy, says she!
Of course, home educating families don’t manage it all the time. There is just as much conflict and discord as in any home. There certainly was in ours, some of which I describe in my book ‘A Funny Kind of Education’. I think I had a complete meltdown at times. But we got over it – I was supposed to be the adult I reckoned; I had to find ways to mend, rebuild, and help us all learn.
Learning about relationships and living together is an essential skill to be passing on to the kids, one that’ll be useful for the whole of their lives.
Some of the ways we nurtured this were:
By finding ways to be apart, discussing the fact we all needed it regularly and that is okay; everyone needs it for their sanity, it’s not to do with love
By discussinghow this might be achieved especially in small living spaces
By being ingenious with spaces tobe apart, using the rooms/spaces we had, corners, hallway, outside, wherever
By making it okay to say; ‘I need some head space right now, so am going to switch off for a bit’ and everyone understanding that this means not to intrude, even verbally, if they’re in the same room
By building reciprocal respect and empathy for everyone’s need for these times, whoever it might be, child or adult
By getting creative with den making. A den is a perfect private space for kids, even if it’s just a blanket over a clothes horse or corner of the bathroom. They’ll occupy it for hours, especially if you keep creating new ones, giving you some space too
By having a regular time scheduled into your day which becomes a habit, when you ask for your lone time to be respected as you respect others’ needs for time to themselves too
By not being afraid to use the word ‘sorry’ when it goes wrong, thus showing the youngsters how to do the same, and that no one is perfect.
Building respectful relationships is an essential part of learning to live together, and education. But it does take consistent practise, ongoing respect, reviewing regularly especially what’s not working, and maybe a bit of teeth gritting!
I don’t know how long we’ll be shut up together. But I do know that it’ll be far better if we find ways to be so with harmony and respect.
I’ve been told before that parents other than home educators visit here and some of the posts they read are still useful to help them understand and keep a healthy mind towards their children’s learning whilst they go through school.
I’m really chuffed to hear that! Because education is education wherever it’s happening and whatever you’re doing, home educating or not.
Of course, in these strange times, most families are forced to do ‘school at home’, which is not the same as home education where parents have a very different approach as some of my books and blogs explain. But with those parents in mind particularly I thought I’d re-post this little piece that was written for ‘school holidays’ to help reassure those who are worrying, especially about the children regressing. And it applies to home educating too!
Firstly, the children won’t regress during this not-at-school time – as much as schools like to threaten that – what is regress anyway? The children might not be keeping up with the school test scores but is that really educationally useful? (Article on testing here) You might like to think on that whilst they’re busy with other things that are equally educationally developmental!
Secondly; it’s a great opportunity to spend time engaged with the children that you haven’t had before – term-time or not. We should equally be spending time not engaged with the children. This is all part of parenting – and as some fail to understand – education is very much dependent on parenting!
Thirdly, there’s no point in stressing over it – instead we have to accept the circumstances and ask how we can make best use of them. Most of what we do with our children will further their skills and knowledge in some way or another, from story telling to playing with money, from gaming to doing star jumps, watching stuff together, chatting – it doesn’t have to be academic. Small things can make huge differences.
Taking that further, there are four very simple things to do right now that can have a huge impact on your children’s development, but which might be overlooked whilst you’re worrying about school stuff.
Read to them as much as possible, be a reading family; encourage reading by reading yourself – doesn’t matter what
Talk with them and respond to their thoughts, questions, ideas
Encourage their curiosity (which is their inbuilt desire to learn) by facilitating activities that involve; exploration, variety, investigation, experimentation and creativity in all its many forms
Be active as much as possible, essential not just for body, but heart and brain health too. You can do this in the house as well as out!
These can cost nothing but your time, but by doing the above at some point every day you’ll be furthering their education in ways you may not understand but which make an important difference.