Tag Archive | parents

What’s a good start to education?

A similar event in a Suffolk library

There was the sound of giggling and tiny tots voices coming from the children’s section. I was in the library returning books and couldn’t help having a peep to see what was going on.

The toddlers and parents were sat in a circle on the floor having such a happy time together doing rhymes and actions and songs etc. Lovely to see. Fab to see parents engaging and interacting with their kids (no phones anywhere). And full marks to the library for initiating it to help them achieve it.

It’s not something that comes naturally to everyone; engaging with tiny beings, pre-conversation, especially when you’ve only been used to adult chat. I remember wondering what to do with the littlies sometimes – not being a great chitterer myself it didn’t come naturally. So groups like this are great to help those of us who are less inspired in that department to get going.

Because it’s really important that we do. For the simple reason that all the chat, chant, song and engagement with the youngsters we have, at whatever age, is the foundation of education. 

This contact, connection, interaction in whatever form is the pre-cursor for essential skills on which education is built – communication being one, as well as listening, observing, responding, thinking, vocabulary development, the basic skills needed for learning to progress. All founded in those simple little sing-songs, chats with your child, constantly reading to them, engaging in whatever way. They are the building blocks from which the mastery of language, communication, mental agility and other skills for wider learning can grow. Just from the stimulation of these types of activities when they are young. Well – it should continue throughout childhood really.

Parents think that getting kids reading early or writing their name, recognising numbers etc will give them a good start to their education. It does.

But the reality is that it starts much, much earlier than that. A good start to education is you!

(For more, check out the last section; ‘How you influence your child’s education’, in my book ‘Mumhood. How to Handle it. Why it Matters’)

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Forget testing; educate for Love and Independence

We are a nation obsessed with stats. We seem to need tests results for everything. And our kids are at the mercy of this adult obsession, for test results mean nothing to the kids, even though they’re the ones suffering for them.

The crazy thing is that the most important things in life, the things that are vital to our wellbeing, success and survival cannot really be tested. Things like love, happiness, warm relationships, responsibility, family, health. And neither can educational maturity be tested. You can test how much is learned. But you cannot test competence in using it – which is the whole point, surely. So why are we putting our kids through it and damaging their mental health with the pressure in some cases?

It’s a shocking deception. For we’re telling our kids, through the hidden curriculum incessant testing promotes, that results are the only valid thing about them, about education and about life.

Read George Monbiot on the subject here

Worse than that; it makes ‘failures’ of far too many kids who could achieve in so many un-measurable ways, like through practical subjects, creative subjects, game design, environmental skills and experiences. Achievements that could be immensely valuable to society – some more valid than an A* in English, for example.

So I think we should stop all this testing and start educating for the untestable!

Educate for experience. Educate them to experience happiness and contentment. Happy and content people make up a better society than those who are frustrated and dissatisfied as many youngsters end up.

Educate young people through experiences that will help get to know themselves, what their strengths and weaknesses are, to understand what they love and why, who they love and why, thus developing all aspects of their character and allowing them to see how they can contribute and what great contributions they can make with those strengths. Un-measurable strengths.

Educate for love. That is; educate to create strong bonds in a climate of mutual respect (rather than hierarchical one-upmanship), let them learn how relationships can be nurtured by nurturing an understanding of each other, of empathy and inclusion, not failure, comparison and shame.

Educate for independence by offering independence, rather than keeping them so controlled and inhibited by dismissing what they would (and can) bring to their own learning. Instead, abandon learning for tested objectives and leave experiences open ended so that they can take away the idea that independence (and education) is open ended and their own responsibility. There is no chance to practice responsibility in a place where youngsters have no say.

Most adults are not brave enough to allow any of this. They are stuck in their desperate need to have everything qualified. That’s ‘how to get on in life’ they threaten. Funny how so many people have got on in life without (Jamie Oliver springs to mind)!

Home education is creating independent, articulate, intelligent young people who are getting on in life having bypassed the incessant testing routines of school. Some have opted – as independent decision makers – to become qualified to further their chosen route. Others choose other pathways.

But home schooling is an un-measured pathway. Yet despite that, it seems to be producing un-measurable success in these youngsters! And proving that testing is not necessarily a prerequisite of becoming educated.

So what’s this obsession with testing really for, other than satisfying adult comfort and political manipulation?

A question many do not want to face!

How long can you put your technological comforter down for?

A city centre poster causing a stir

Now I’m going to say something some might not like; put down your technology and listen.

I know; you’re going to need your technology to read this! And anyway – I don’t actually mean listen to me – I mean listen.

Really listen. To others. To your own thoughts. To the world around. Most especially to your children.

I think it’s rather ironic that society looks down on babies and toddlers with dummies stuck in their mouths as slightly distasteful or inferior. Yet many of the adults I see use their phones and tablets as little more than something to emotively suck on and bring them similar comfort. Most especially to overcome discomfort, particularly of the social kind!

Few can look another in the eye. So they stare at their technological comforter instead.

I know these gadgets are useful – we couldn’t function without them now. But has our attachment to them crept beyond being useful, to being an addiction?

I suspect it is for many people. And I also suspect it’s impacting on relationships.

Whilst we connect to our technology so obsessively we’re neglecting something far more important: human connection. Humane connection.

We’re losing communication skills. We’re losing observation skills which help us understand each other. We’re losing time engaging with each other – really engaging, which helps us learn about human relationships and practice the skills required to make them successful, whoever they’re with.

We’re neglecting time that we could be engaged with our kids.

It is human engagement that nurtures relationships, builds care and empathy, grows love. I fear some folks are becoming desensitised to what it is to be together socially, lovingly, meaningfully, especially with regard to parenting.

Some of the human connections we encounter make us uncomfortable. So what – we have to learn to deal with that, to get over it. And to stop turning to our dummies when it gets a bit awkward. Be more courageous. And consequently build the skills for strong relationships within our families, with the wider world of people – even those we don’t know that well.

People matter. Connecting meaningfully with people matters.

Strong relationships make us happy. With each other. With our world. With the earth.

Strong relationships save the day.

Technology just keeps us busy and keeps us dummified.

How long is it acceptable for a child to suck a dummy for? How long is it acceptable for grown-ups to suck on theirs?

It’s worth talking about in your family! It’s worth building healthy habits in the family right from the start!

Don’t forget to adjust and enjoy!

I always loved this picture of my eldest walking through the trees with the dog when she was little.

Twenty years later I snapped another one; same girl, same place, different dog! Which just goes to show how everything grows – kids and trees!

We know that obviously. But when you’re with little ones, and when you’re home educating especially, it’s not something you can ever possibly imagine. You don’t even need to really. You just need to make the most of the time you’re in.

That’s important, I think, to be in the now.

However, there will be times when the ‘now’ is driving you nuts. Wearing you down. Frustrating you into pieces! Be comforted by the fact that it’s not you, it’s not them, it’s not because you’re home schooling. It’s just the normal way of human relationships. It’s normal.

So don’t worry.

Instead, I found it helps to be proactive. Ask yourself if there’s something you need to do to help you past this little bit. Like; have some space from each other? Get outside? Get some physical activity? (essential for the wellbeing of both you and the children). Make changes?

Review your approaches to your parenting or your home education?

We know kids grow and change. We know we grow and change. But what we fail to notice sometimes is that we might need to adjust our behaviour to each other, adjust the way we speak, act, re-act, as a consequence of those changes. Not just carry on in the same old way – now possibly outdated. You wouldn’t react to a fifteen year old the same way you’d act to your five year old. But sometimes we forget that simple adjustment.

So if you’re having ‘one of those days’ take a step back, view it as an objective observer for a moment – as if you were someone else looking at you. There may be a sign of a simple solution. There may be change required to accommodate the way things grow. Relationships grow like the girl in the picture.

She and I have a lovely relationship now. We did then. It is obviously quite different. But there were times when it was less obvious to me that I had to halt a minute, review what I was doing, and adjust. Hard to see sometimes when you’re going through it. Just thought I’d give you a gently reminder to help your days grow better.

Adjust and enjoy whatever stage you’re at!

Uniform oppression and gender choices

I was at school in the late sixties and seventies where the rules about the uniform were like the head; totally dated and oppressive!

Our skirts had to be no more than an inch off the floor when we knelt; none of this mini-skirt nonsense. and you had to have five buttons on your cardigans. Not six or four. Did the staff have time to count in those days I wonder?

I adhered to the rules, even though I abhored uniform. I was the classic Miss Mouse. Miss Average Mouse. I hated attention – was scared stiff of everyone – and being an average mouse was the best way to avoid being noticed.

But it came to the day in the sixth form when I just felt too oppressed to wear it any more and I had a lightbulb moment – why was I doing this? So I just stuck my jeans on.

I got into a lot of trouble. Obvs! I had heated discussions with the head when I got sent to her office. We had rousing discussions in class when all the others wanted to do the same. And I created such a furore because they didn’t know what to do with this good little mouse they hadn’t even noticed before. I think the word expulsion was threatened but didn’t come.

Eventually, when I turned up for school day after day still with my jeans on (and still the only one despite what friends had promised – but I guess their parents were horrified), and after many school debates about uniform, the rules were changed. Sixth formers were allowed to wear their own clothes from that day forward and I never wore a uniform again. Even one female member of staff thanked me as women staff had formerly not been allowed to wear trousers either. Can you imagine that now?

Boys who weren’t allowed to wear shorts!

However, I find it very alarming that gender inequality still goes on in schools (did you see these programmes?) and affects our kids achievement.

And I find it equally distressing that it is still women who mostly have to fight it. Despite this recent article about boys (girls are rarely as newsworthy – have you noticed?)

That it is women and even young school age girls who are criticised for their looks, style, weight, sex, when it is irrelevant to their education and profession, and those kinds of references are rarely used about men. Even more saddening that this starts right back in schools, as the remarks about girls in this article about gender neutral uniforms recently showed.

I thought we’d moved on from the day when, doing some supply teaching, I was taken aside by the male head to be asked if I’d wear skirts to work instead of trousers, without any professional reason.

“Think of it as humoring my male preference,” he said.

Doesn’t that make your skin crawl?

As a young vulnerable teacher needing a job what could I say? Children are even more vulnerable when people and attitudes like his persist.

So we need to raise and educate our youngsters to understand the true meaning of equality, of gender equality particularly, to be bold and make sure they know their right to choose, to open conversations about it regularly, and make sure we parents are not perpetuating the wrong attitude to each other, whatever gender

And a final ironic note; home educated kids still manage to become educated even with uniform! Funny that!

Open eyes to the school establishment

Looking forward to reading this

I try my hardest not to resort to school bashing. But I still get accused of it. Just because I won’t stay silent about all the things wrong with the school system.

And if that’s school bashing then I’m sorry for it. It’s just that parents need to have their eyes and minds opened beyond the conditioning the establishment perpetuates, especially the idea that school is right for all.

It isn’t.

Take testing for a start. Kids don’t really gain anything from being tested. They’re just being used as pawns in the game of one-upmanship played by politicians, institutions of education, between professionals and commercial enterprise. Test results are not what education is about. Few home schooled kids are tested throughout their learning lives yet still go onto to achieve qualifications when the time comes.

Take the idea that all kids have to achieve the same thing, at the same time, in the same way, or they’ll be failures. This is a form of emotional blackmail that is totally untrue. Kids doing things in this way is for adult convenience and has nothing to do with personal success or failure. Thousands of home educated kids learn in different time frames, their needs and competence at the time dictate when, what and how. And generally end up in the same place as school contemporaries.

Take a look at the curriculum. A school curriculum is not designed to be educatively enlightening. It’s designed to be measured. Thus increasingly neglecting essential subjects like the arts, the practical and sports. At the same time negating skills in these areas and a huge percentage of children who would be good at them.

Take the idea of going to school for the socialization. What a joke! Nowhere post school is the social model inside one replicated. The model where you’re clustered together in groups of same age, with people who are as social inept as you are, where friendships are enforced and where there is a hierarchy of respect rather than a mutually earned one. Thousands of home educated kids go onto Uni, interviews, work with a such high standard of social ability, conversation and initiative, it’s often what wins them the place.

Take the idea that school dynamics, bullying, crowds, unhealthy competition, and the shame of failure makes you stronger. Complete balderdash! Most kids are weakened by those experiences and often made desperate. Home educated kids who don’t have to endure such indignities – for that’s what they are – become strong, confident, competent and motivated people.

And finally, take the idea that the children need to be told what to learn, when to learn it, and how good at it they are, in order to become an educated person, which is an idea the school establishment imposes. Another load of tosh. Thousands of home schooled children take charge of their own education and are motivated to go on learning throughout their life which sets them up effectively for the diversity of the working culture this generation will be facing.

School is one way of doing things. A way sold to thousands by the establishment. But it’s also political. And politicians wants us to be obedient to the establishment for it makes their life easier.

But the establishment doesn’t have the monopoly on education.

Schools and teachers do the best they can with the job they’ve got. Schools and teachers work well for thousands of families. Many children achieve and are happy there. But that doesn’t mean all will or can. This isn’t about school bashing. It’s just about opening parents’ eyes to an alternative ideas.

Do what works for you. But don’t do it with your eyes shut!

Is this all that matters to parents?

So schools are doing their best to get punters before the term starts again.

I’ve just seen this banner hanging outside a school on my travels.

I found it incredibly sickening.

Are exam results the only thing kids go to school for? Are they the only thing that is the measure of an education or an educational establishment? Are results the only things that parents care about so the only thing that will ‘sell’ the school to them?

Is this all there is to sell?

Where does it say what EXPERIENCE the young people are going to have there? Does that not matter at all? Would you not as a parent want to know about your child’s LIFE in school while they are learning?

Okay I’ll stop ranting now and instead put my brain to answering the question; what would I like to know about a school that would induce me to consider it?

Here’s the five things that I came up with to put on a banner:

  • the widest range of inspiring activities your child will ever experience with a high proportion of adults to help them
  • encouragement of individualism, independence in learning, and choice making, irrespective of age
  • development of respectful relationships between ALL, regardless of age, stage or hierarchy
  • equal importance placed on ALL subjects including the practical, physical and creative and the freedom to choose between them
  • NO testing or publication of any results, emphasis instead on personal development

If schools don’t want to be considered as factories, as some are accusing them of being, then they should stop measuring themselves on a factory style output. Education is about developing young PEOPLE. Not producing commodities. Or percentages!

Tell me; what would your five most important things be?