Tag Archive | parents

Educating without testing

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It was among the most commonly asked questions when we were home educating. Two most commonly asked questions actually.

Firstly, do you test them?

Secondly, how do you know they’re learning if you don’t?

I have two questions in response: have parents ever really thought about the value of the tests kids do in school and what they show? And, don’t we know our children anyway?

It’s so sad that parents have been so conditioned by political propaganda to believe that education cannot progress without testing.

It CAN. It DOES!

This is continually being proven by home educated children who become educated people without ever having been tested in the conventional, schooly way at home. Who still go on into higher education. Who still go on to sit exams – often their first taste of formal education. And who still go on to get the grades they want.

Okay, any wise parent would perhaps suggest some kind of practice papers first. But all other forms of testing, especially standardised ones (no child is standard) are usually a complete waste of a learner’s time, are not valuable developmentally, and can even be extremely damaging in that they label, create self-fulfilling (inaccurate) prophecies, often degrade and are in no way a fair representation of a person’s capabilities, knowledge or aptitudes.

But another insulting aspect of the practice of continually testing children as conventional schooling does, is the assumption that a) children don’t know themselves well (how would they in school – they never get an opportunity to really find out) b) the teachers don’t know the children (how could they when so much time is wasted on box ticking rather than truly getting to know the kids in their classes) c) the parents don’t either because they are so excluded from the educational process and treated as if they are ignorant.

The educational and testing system, that has been devised by politicians wanting to make themselves popular, has taken learning away from the learners and created one for an adult agenda. The adult agenda of needing to measure, or needing to satisfy social one-up-man-ship, of needing to prove something to someone else. The kids are used as pawns in adult games and testing has been the means by which this happens.

Many parents home educate just to get away from this harmful practice that furthers a youngsters education not at all.

And, as many home educators find out or already believe, becoming educated is a continuous, ongoing, personal process that doesn’t need measurement, is up to the individual, albeit facilitated by others helping that individual understand how to make their place in the world through their education and how to contribute. It therefore should be owned by the individual and not by the state. And consequently should not be constantly tested – purely for state purposes – which is the way it is.

Many home schooling families facilitate their young people in becoming competent, social, intelligent, productive, educated and qualified (those who want to) without testing ever having been part of their learning experience.

It’s such a pity that schools can’t stop this political game playing and do the same. The only way for that to happen is to keep testing and politics out of it. The youngsters (and teachers) would be a lot happier, have time to learn and discover a lot more, understand themselves better, and possibly the numbers of those with dwindling mental wellness would begin to drop!

There are many parents who believe that children are more than a score, who want to let kids be kids, and end the testing regime. But it needs many many more, especially those not involved in home education, to demand that this ludicrous testing system be stopped.

And be bold enough to believe in and practice education without testing.

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Education with a smile!

There’s a lovely article in Green Parent magazine about laughter. About how it impacts on our relationships with our kids and our overall happiness and general well-being. It’s called ‘Laugh your way to a happier family’ and is well worth a read.

Laughter is something we forget sometimes, burdened as we can become with the seriousness of life and trying to be a good parent.

And it’s definitely something to keep in mind when you’re involved with your children’s learning, whether that’s home educating or helping with school work. For if you can make it into a laughing matter it’s so much better, more enjoyable and makes the learning experience something that the children are far more likely to engage with – and remember.

Now I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t take education seriously. Most of us treat the subject very seriously and angst about it regularly. I’m just suggesting that even though we treat the subject seriously, we don’t always have to approach the doing of it in a serious way and never have a laugh while we’re at it.

Instead, we can be lightweight. We can have fun with it. It CAN be enjoyable, not heavy and dull and no laughing matter.

I remember a moment from our home schooling days (well, far more than one but this is a good example) that illustrates the point perfectly.

Chelsea was looking at words that end in l-e, like table for example, so we were all tossing out words that fitted.

“Able!”

“Pebble.”

“Apple.”

Except that their dad was up to mischief. And every word he said was filled with innuendo.

“Grapple” he offered, grinning at me.

“Fiddle,” said Chelsea.

“Piddle,” returned their dad.

“Puddle,” said Charley laughing.

“Muddle, mumble,” said Chelsea, beginning to see what he was up to and trying to do it ‘properly’.

“Fumble, wobble,” added dad. But by now Chelsea was grinning too.

“Pedal,” offered Charley.

“No that’s a-l,” I added.

“But fondle, follicle and nipple work,” said dad giggling.

By this time he and I were sniggering like a couple of teenagers and the girls were openly laughing, sensing there was something going on that was perhaps a little rude!

But they learnt how to spell a lot of words that day. And it improved their spelling no end just because of the laughter.

Nowhere is it written that in order to be successful education has to be serious and dull and endured without a smile on our faces.

In fact it is more likely to be the case that children will engage with and remember things far better if they are happy and enjoying their education and laughter is part of it.

So this is just to remind you to have fun with learning. And not to let the tedious seriousness that can sometimes be associated with it, be the overriding approach.

A happy approach works much better.

Feeling grateful….

I can’t tell you how grateful I was last week to recieve another warmhearted message about my book ‘A Funny Kind Of Education’:

A Funny Kind Of Education is amazing!!! I’m speeding though it with pure delight, laughing and enjoying every moment. Your book speaks to me, explaining everything I think and feel about learning and education and schooling – the humour and love explode from the pages!!!”

Wow!

You’ve really no idea how rewarding it is to receive that – unless of course you’re also one of the people who’ve sat for hours scribbling in isolation, wondering if it’s worth the bother!

So I am immensely grateful when readers take the time to let me know they’ve been moved by my books and how helpful they’ve been. This review was particularly rewarding because it saw the book as a family book – as much as a home education one – and that’s what I like to think it’s mostly about. And that it was readable; so many books about education – and this is about education – bore you rigid. I know that feeling; I’ve read a few, and even though am passionate about the subject, it’s rare to read one that’s engaging.

Although the other books I’ve done to support home educating families; ‘A Home Education Notebook’ and ‘Learning Without School’ (see the Books page for more details) contain more general information and tips, this seems the most popular and certainly was my favourite to write.

If you’ve read and enjoyed it, (or any of them) and have a moment to leave a review of it on Amazon or around your networks I’d be most grateful. Not just because I’ve got a big head and like to feel reassured I haven’t been wasting my time! But more importantly because it helps spread awareness of this approach to educating and supports others who may be struggling in the system looking for an alternative. And if you’re a new mum, you might find my ‘Mumhood’ one helpful too!

But whether you review or not, this is still a VERY BIG THANK YOU for having supported what I do by reading my books.

If home educating parents did this….

I’m so glad to see that parents of school children are taking some action against some of the abysmal practices forced upon their kids under the guise of educating them in schools.

I may be a home educator but I care deeply about the education of ALL children however they are learning.

Whenever researching news surrounding the system and listening to the parents who have kids in school, it’s dishearteningly negative and I’m sometimes really shocked by what I hear. No wonder home educating is constantly on the increase. No wonder that children’s mental health is suffering (although no one ever brings up the subject of school stress as part of the cause). And no wonder that teachers are leaving the profession disillusioned with what they’re told to do to kids to make them get the scores.

The latest protest is about the testing and I’m delighted to see a campaign against the shocking move to test reception children. See this article in the Guardian.

Testing is a complete waste of a learner’s time (whatever age), does nothing to enhance learning or the learner’s experience, is unreliable and invalid when it comes to both judging someone’s capabilities and predicting how capable they’ll be in the future, the results of which often act like an educational death sentence to those who don’t perform well on the day. See this post here.

I hope they instigate change – but it’s changes in mindset that is required as much as anything. See the More Than a Score campaign here.

The other shocking school news that’s hit the headlines recently has been the concern over the use of ‘isolation units’ in schools. According to a report from the BBC pupils can spend hours in these units, among them those with special needs, causing many of them upset and longer term damage to their wellbeing, let alone their education.

The terrible irony of this is; if home educating parents were found to be subjecting their kids to hours of isolation in the booths pictured the Local Authority would be in uproar, probably deciding we were unfit parents and have the kids taken into care. Yet this is a legal and increasing practice in many schools.

Would you use this approach in your home education?

I understand there are many difficulties for staff in schools with pupils who will not engage and disrupt the learning of the others as a consequence.

But it strikes me that a) if the learning taking place there was inspiring and b) if it answered the needs of the diversity of the kids in our society and c) and if it wasn’t so rigid and inhibited by testing regimes designed for the adults and the politics and the politicians’ popularity, not the learners, we would have no need of isolation rooms and we also probably wouldn’t have a flood of parents opting to home educate. I’ve said before; if there was an inspiring and engaging place for our kids to go and learn with empathetic and understanding adults who were free to teach with the creative approaches many of them could if they were only delivered from the imprisonment of stupid rules and regualtions, then why would people take the enormous and scary step of not sending the kids there, giving up their time and doing it themselves?

But that’s the irony of education politics! The ministers are too blinkered – or uncomfortable – to realise the truth. They’re hopefully going to have a lot more protests on their hands!

 

Thinking about Home Education instead of going back to school?

Whenever there’s a new school term starting there are a flurry of parents trying to decide about home educating instead.

If you’re one of those you’ll no doubt be wavering through nagging worries and doubts. Quite natural – all conscientious parents worry. It’s a condition of responsible parenting!

But look at it this way – you’d worry just as much if your children were in school. I know I did before we home educated. All home schoolers worry about the same old things:

  • Will the kids turn out okay?
  • Will they be able to make friends?
  • Will they achieve anything?
  • Will they be intelligent?
  • Will they still be speaking to me when they’re older?
  • Will we be able to enjoy a happy relationship?
  • Will they be able to fit into ‘mainstream’ life afterwards?
  • Will they be able to become independent?

I’d like to reassure you with the answer to those questions: YES!

Yes to all the above.

All the young people we knew who were home educated have grown into adults who have achieved, (many the same qualifications as their school contemporaries if that worries you), have all learned and developed their intelligence and knowledge (often exceeding that of their school contemporaries!), have good friend networks (and better social skills than many of them), have all integrated successfully into work, higher education, employment, the ‘real world’ for want of a better term. And have all continued a warm loving, respectful relationship with their parents.

So I hope you find that reassuring.

One way to manage inevitable worries is to focus on the NOW rather than the future. All worries are about the future and most of the educational approaches in schools are geared towards ‘the future’. The daft thing is no one can predict that, can predict how kids grow and change, learn and absorb, develop interests and intelligence. They change all the time in unpredictable ways. So trying to educate for some unforeseeable future is a waste of time.

What you can do is make the childrens’ educational experiences good ones at this moment in time. This way they’ll want to take over the learning for themselves, and will go on doing it until they see what they want and go for what they want. That’s what most home educated young people end up doing. Their education, which has been independent from an institution and decided upon through democratic discussions together, naturally leads them towards an independent life – not the opposite as some doubters would suggest.

So trust in yourself, trust the example of thousands of ‘graduated’ home schooled young people now successfully ‘out’ in society (they always were really – that’s how home education works), and be brave about deciding what’s right for your family.

Our two children are now in their twenties and out making their valid contribution to the working world and put me in mind of the things that were said about us which I wrote in ‘A Home Education Notebook’:

Hope that helps!

The longest job…tips for surviving!

Being a mum was the longest job I ever had. (Still is!)

It took me a few years to realise the implications of this, when a degree of restlessness was making me twitchy and at times less than happy.

This was absolutely nothing to do with my devotion to my role as a mum, nothing to do with the unconditional love I had for the children (still have), and absolutely nothing to do with the honour and value I attach to the role of being a parent and home educator.

It’s just that before, as an employee, when I got restless in a job I could look to change it, either apply for a new job, a new role, a new venue or some other rethink that refreshed my working life and renewed enthusiasm.

Can’t do that with being a mum! Once a parent always a parent. There’s no changing jobs. And it’s the same with home education – most are in it for the duration.

Of course, we don’t ever not want to be parents or home educators – I’m taking that as a given. But like with any job, it’s inevitable that at times you get bored. But that’s not the fault of parenting or home education, it’s just to do with the human psyche and our own personal needs requiring some attention.

It’s something I do harp on about regularly and I’m not apologising because it’s important; that we should pay attention to our own personal development and fulfilment as much as we are attending to the children’s. Mostly, though, we don’t, we let constraints of time, busyness, budget, practicalities, get in the way. There are so many reasons – or excuses!

So how to change that dissatisfaction that can build up with this long-term job? I found a few ways over the years:

  • Firstly, acknowledge that being happy and satisfied all the time is not achievable. That’s not the reality of life – again thanks to the human psyche. Once we accept that this is the case, we can pause a day or two, accept that this is the case today and nurture ourselves through with gentleness, instead of beating ourselves up about it as we sometimes do!
  • Happy and satisfied are also not finite objectives, but an ongoing changable process of development with ups and downs, moods, and mishaps and mistakes we have to learn how to deal with.
  • We can learn to deal with them by trial and error with things like distractions and contrasts; relaxing activities versus busy activities, creative activities, getting outdoors, using green spaces, sports, watching a good film, meeting others.
  • Then plan some time that is exclusively devoted to your own personal activities/work/pursuits that do not involve the children, where you develop a mutual respect between you of time to be left to your own business and they have to get on without you. (There’s a funny scenario where I start this described in ‘A Funny Kind of Education‘) This is not neglecting the kids, it’s teaching them the valuable skill of getting on independently.
  • Look at ways of changing your home education routines. Look at the bits that work. The bits that don’t work. Kids grow and change all the time and we sometimes don’t notice that everyone’s needs have altered since we started and so we need new approaches to accommodate them. You might need to back off more these days!
  • If you’re fighting with the kids all the time, change how you approach them and their learning. It also may be you’re simply just tired. Check out your reasons – rather than theirs!
  • Remember that circumstances always change with time. Difficulties pass. And if you can find ways to navigate the tricky restless times you will be passing on that valuable skill to your children too.
  • Don’t blame either yourself, your parenting, or home education. Blame is being reactive. Instead investigate pro-active ways to make changes and discuss it with the kids and others.
  • So make exclusive time where you get to go out without youngsters and talk about your dissatisfied bits and share ways of getting through them with other adults. Find out what others do to fulfil their needs and their time management that enables them to do so.

    Make something – even if it’s just an impression!

  • I once read that a day always feels better when you’ve made something. That’s so true – try it – whether a loaf or a cake, a photo or a painting, a difference – by changing a room round perhaps or different habit/routine, a discovery, or even footprints in the mud! Try it!,
  • Remember that the kids are learning all the time, whatever you do – or don’t do.
  • There is a whole chapter devoted to looking after yourself in ‘A home Education Notebook‘. It’s that important.

In our rapidly changing culture we rarely stick at anything for long. Parenting and home education is something that we have to stick at for years and years. However, there will many changes that occur throughout those years, some naturally, some through the course of time, some you can implement yourself. You just have to pay attention to the need for them. Restlessness and dissatisfaction is often a sign you haven’t!

If you’ve developed strategies others might find helpful please share in the comments below.

Parents are the foundation of education

When you become a mum the last thing that’s probably on your mind is education or school! It takes ages to settle into a new life as a parent which is why I wanted to offer help through my MUMHOOD book.

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But education is different from starting school if that’s what you think I mean and that’s not what I’m talking about here. Real education begins at home with the parents – usually mums. Whatever follows – home education or school – the foundation of it starts the minute the baby is born and the child’s achievement later in life is dependent on what you do as parents at home from birth.

Since so few parents realise how, I’ve copied an extract from my MUMHOOD book for you below because it’s so important and it’s something all parents have the chance to influence:-

…what many parents don’t understand is that, whatever age your children are, however small or big, their education and their achievement are wholly influenced by you. Their education i.e. their learning, starts a long, long time before school and you are the one who affects it. Both now and in the future.

But don’t worry, it’s not complicated. And it’s not academic learning I’m talking about, or is of the only importance.

Children need to learn something more important than academics. They need to learn about their world and how to fit into it. How to relate to it and to others. How to operate it and how to cope with it. As well as all the skills they need just to grow and get to grips with living on a daily basis.

Whatever age children are they’re learning all the time. And you will be teaching them without even noticing.

You’ll be teaching them skills like; using their utensils to eat their dinner. You’ll be encouraging their speech and teaching them the names of things. You’ll be teaching them how to put their clothes on, build with toys, put toys in the cupboard, or use the tablet.

Just take note throughout your day together and you’ll realise how much you are already teaching your children. It happens just by interacting together, showing them things, getting them to mimic sounds, encouraging them to walk, demonstrating things by example, talking about the things you see and answering their ‘why’ questions.

Through all this your children are learning. Through you – teachers aren’t required here – this kind of learning is equally valuable learning. It is the beginning of their understanding, the basis of all development and learning to come.

That’s how you influence your child’s education right from the start.

The things you do together at home, the attention you pay them, the conversations you have, are the groundwork for everything that follows. The way you engage with them, stimulate them, love them, all the things I’ve mentioned in the ‘Mother and Child’ chapter all influence the way in which your child learns and all the learning that will come after. The first three years of a child’s life are now recognised to be the kingpin for all that follows. And the learning they do from birth to four is the essential spring board for everything they do as they grow.

That’s one of the reasons why it’s so important to establish the relationship with your child I discussed in the last section, why it’s important to be there with them much of the time, talking and listening, playing and interacting. Because everything you do with your child from the moment they’re born counts for something. All the experiences they have. The circumstances they’re in. The vibes they pick up. It all matters.

That’s a fundamental truth about children learning that parents sometimes overlook.

Some parents think that all learning takes place in schools between the ages of four and sixteen. It doesn’t. Some parents think teaching is required for learning to take place. It isn’t. It starts at home through your interaction. That’s why whatever you do with them matters.

But don’t think of it in educational or school terms or you’ll spoil it. Just make times to engage with them, to observe the world together, to discuss it, to encourage an interest in it and how everything works, and stimulate their curiosity.

Children are naturally curious about everything. Their curiosity is one of the most valuable starting points for them to learn about things. If we can keep their curiosity in the things around them alive, their desire to learn will stay alive, and it’s that desire to learn that educates them and which affects their education throughout their life.

Children who are curious are bound to want to find out, to know, to explore and discover. To learn. And even though you might think this is wearing sometimes, it’s extremely positive; it means your child is developing his knowledge, intelligence and his skills all the time. And he’s motivated to learn – the lack of which can be an enormous stumbling block to education in later life.

These natural opportunities stimulate learning of valuable skills all of which your child needs to develop educationally and, more important, personally. Skills and knowledge are the basis from which every child goes forward to find and live a fulfilled and productive life.

That’s why your attention to them in small everyday ways matters so much. Your attention educates.

And you need to pay the world attention too. Your interest, your interest in the world at large, in finding things out too, also has another impact. It demonstrates a positive attitude to learning. And that affects how well they learn. Both now and, importantly, later in life too.

Through the attitude you show towards learning things they will develop their own attitude towards learning things. That’s why it matters that you make your attitude to things around you one of interest and curiosity. Your attitude shows them that learning is worth it. Learning matters, that learning is exciting – even if it’s just learning how to stack beakers and watching the tower fall. It can show that learning is fascinating and has an impact – like learning how to manipulate scissors. That learning is such fun – looking at a book about dinosaurs together. That learning helps us grow – like playing a computer game and gaining skills that help us progress through the levels. That learning helps us – like learning how to do up buttons. That learning makes us feel fulfilled – like learning how to make muffins!

All these simple everyday things you show an interest in helps your child learn about his world and plays a vital role in the development of his personal education.

Learn about things together. Promote learning as worthwhile, whatever it is you’re learning about.

Some of the best ways to develop your child’s capacity to learn are the simplest. Here are a few:

Through conversations; talking together, back and forth, about whatever you’re doing is an opportunity to tell them so much. And more importantly it promotes language and communication skills, it makes them articulate, it develops vocabulary and thinking skills to name a few. Chat about what you’re doing or what you’re both going to do together and why. Explain why things are happening. Answer their why questions. Use your conversations for observation and questioning.

Making observations and posing questions; this can be easily included in your chatter. Observe what you see, point things out, bring your child’s attention to things. Like saying; ‘look at that tiny little ant.’ ‘I wonder what sort of flower that is?’ ‘Now what do we need to buy today?’ ‘What a huge lorry.’ This kind of chatter stimulates your child’s mind and that valuable curiosity about the world. Observe what people are doing and discuss why. Encourage them to ask their own questions.

Reading to them; not trying to teach them to read – just enjoying stories or non-fiction together in whatever format. Reading to them is the basis for them reading for themselves. Reading for themselves is founded in a love of stories, books and eBooks. Any time spent together enjoying books and stories in whatever format is valuable. Reading to them encourages interest in language, shows how it works, demonstrates the skills needed. It is one of the most valuable things you could be doing with your children – whatever age.

Play; it’s the foundation of a multitude of skills. Many parents don’t get how educative play is. But practical play is one of the most educative activities a child can be doing. Through play children learn about the things around them. For example they learn about the properties of things – hard, soft, liquid, solid, etc, they learn how to use things and gain hand-eye coordination skills – how scissors cut or paper folds, jugs fill and pour, things stack, etc, they gain practical skills – climbing, running, catching balls, etc. So many basic skills increase through play. Practical play is the best, play where they’re engaged using tools and materials, recycled junk, art and craft materials, pots and pans, constructional or collectable toys, toys that stimulate them to do things rather than just passively watch a screen or play a computer game. They don’t need complicated, expensive equipment – a den under the kitchen table made with an old sheet or a collection of old boxes stimulates their imagination just as much. Imagination promotes intelligent thinking. Thinking skills are essential to learning.

Through engaging them in the things you do; shopping, cooking, mending things, recycling, going places, whatever you’re doing is an opportunity to engage them, talk to them, explain, involve. It may sometimes need to be on their level, i.e. if you’re cooking give them some of their own ‘ingredients’ to play-cook with or wash plastic pots at the sink, or an old item to dismantle. But if they are involved in life they learn about life.

Physical activity is another educative activity that parents sometimes overlook. You both should be engaging in regular physical exercise anyway whether it’s walking to the shops or a play in the park and spending time outdoors. Apart from keeping fit physical activity also stimulates mental activity. Mental activity is what’s required for learning and education. Physical activity is good for your child in so many ways; it promotes self confidence, health – mental as well as physical, relaxation and sleep, makes them feel happier, helps with development – including that of the brain, increases general wellbeing.

So, in conclusion, just remember that everything you do with your child from the moment they are born, not only will build you a strong relationship, it will count towards their education too. And your child’s attitude towards their world as being something worth learning about will rub off on others. So through your attention you bestow enormous benefits not only on your child and your relationships but, via their interaction, on the wider world too.

As a mum, is there anything you could be doing more worthwhile than that!

(For more on the book; MUMHOOD How to handle it Why it matters, see the Books page or Amazon)