Tag Archive | teaching

How can you home educate if you’re not a teacher?

This question comes up so often I thought it might be helpful to post this chapter from ‘A Home Education Notebook to encourage and inspire’ in answer.

As you probably know I did start my career in education in the classroom, but the trouble with folks knowing I was once a teacher is that, firstly, it makes them inclined to think that it was easy for me because I’d know what I should be doing. Laughable! And secondly, it makes people think that teaching is required for you to Home Educate and that if you’re not teachers you couldn’t educate anyone.

Absolutely not true!

During my time as a teacher I learnt how to do teacherish things by copying other teachers doing teacherish things, which were not always very nurturing or inspiring things, but what they had to do in order to get through what they had to teach and keep control over some children who were challenging. I’m not proud to admit that I wielded my power over the children too, pushed them towards expected outcomes en masse as I was expected to do. I had no regard for whether it was right or not, or for the individuals within that mass.

I’m ashamed of that now – but like many young green teachers I wasn’t experienced enough to know how else to do it.

Gradually, as I gained in confidence as a person rather than a pawn in an institution, I began to have severe misgivings about what was done to children in schools under the guise of educating them. I realised that much of what children have to do in schools is not worthwhile, not helpful, not healthy even, so it perhaps contributed to my confidence when home schooling, in feeling that our children were better off out of school than in it.

Other than that, much of what I learned when I was teaching I had to unlearn when I started to Home Educate.

Much of my thinking was governed by other teachers at that time. Teachers who believed that children had to be taught in order to learn anything – not true. Teachers who believed that unpleasant forms of coercion (like sarcasm for example) were acceptable ways to get children to learn – they’re not. Teachers who believed that some children were ‘no-hopers’ and un-teachable – very sad. Teachers who had been forced to believe that endless writing, testing, homework, academic exercises and exams were what constituted an education. It isn’t.

There were brilliant teachers too – you will have come across them. But sadly it’s often the less pleasant ones that have the biggest effect. And it was that type of ingrained thinking I had to unlearn, as none of it need apply to Home Education. It is very hard to break bad habits, but I had some serious habits to unlearn.

For to Home Educate successfully I did not need a ‘teacherish’ relationship with my children.

In order to learn children just need a caring, interested, mature mentor. But that person doesn’t have to be a teacher. Teachers aren’t required for parents to successfully Home Educate.

Having been a teacher did not make it any easier for me to know what I should be doing as a Home Educator, except that perhaps I’d already started to think about education generally. But once released from systemised schooling the education you can give your children is open to an enormous range of options. And many of those decisions are as much to do with parenting as teaching and I came from the same starting point as any other parent on that one – I knew zilch!

The things I saw when I was teaching in schools made me start to question. And I continued to question throughout. Should we learn this or shall we learn that? What’s an interesting way to learn it? How best can my children learn? What are their needs now and what suits them best?

These are the questions all Home Educators need to ask whether they are teachers or not. And the answers really have no relevance to what teachers are doing in schools unless you want them to. They have no relevance to whether you are a teacher or not. The answers will not come any easier if you’re a ‘trained’ teacher because all the answers are personal to your child. Just like education should be.

So not being a teacher doesn’t make you less well equipped to Home Educate than being one.

The thing that makes you well equipped to educate your children is to do with caring rather than to do with teaching. It is being a parent who’s prepared to learn a little too.

If we think back to when our children are small, pre-school, we manage to teach them – or rather to develop in them – an enormous number of skills. They learn with our help to walk, talk, use the loo, feed themselves, dress themselves, probably use the computer too…all manner of things. We show them the things around them, we show them how to do things, and we show them the wider world. We are already giving them information and showing them how to apply it.

Home Educating your child is nothing more than an extension of that.

As a parent you have already started encouraging your child to develop skills and acquire knowledge. That’s all education is. Education is the continuing process of encouraging your child to learn about the world, how they fit into it, how to relate to people, as you no doubt already have done.

There is no reason why you cannot go on doing that without any ‘teaching training’ at all. The skills and knowledge children need may become a little more challenging, sophisticated, complicated, but then, parenting is already challenging and you managed it so far. You can manage Home Educating. You can always find help with the bits you can’t. You can learn together – it sets a great example. Nearly everything – including support, is only a bit of research or networking away.

Teachers and teaching in the way that we normally understand them are not necessary to Home Educate. In fact may eventually become redundant in the mainstream, who knows!

All you need to be is a caring, interested, questioning, engaged parent, who is also willing to learn, which is probably what you already are, or you wouldn’t be reading this.

And what a great example you will be setting as such!

(Read the full chapter – and more tips and ideas – in the book. It’s on offer at Eyrie Press.)

 

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Raise your voice…

I didn’t realise I liked to chat so much!

I recently spent several days trying to but I had no voice due to a nasty infection. Trying to say anything was a struggle.

It’s amazing how much you want to say when you can’t. And it’s very funny being out and about in the shops. I tried to avoid saying anything, just whispered the occasional thank you which often went unheard and people thought was very rude judging by the looks I got. But when I did manage to whisper a request they leaned in closer and started whispering back!

It reminded me of a day’s teaching I spent without a voice. I sat the children close, looking at me in amazement and somewhat apprehensively – kids hate you to be different in any way. Then, when I got their attention, I proceeded to whisper the predicament I was in and how I needed their help, how they’d have to be extra quiet to hear me and keep their eyes on me so I could wave, rather than raise my voice, in order to say something.

They were wonderful. And it was the quietest day I ever had in the classroom. They were soon all whispering too.

And it taught me a valuable lesson about learners; kids don’t have to be shouted at in order to learn. Shouting isn’t required in the learning relationship.

It’s also an important lesson for parents too – shouting isn’t required for parents to parent effectively, although judging by how some behave you’d think it was.

In fact, shouting isn’t required in any relationship. And if your kids are seeing you shout – at each other for example – then they’ll think it’s okay to shout in the relationships they build. No relationships require shouting. Relationships need communication in respectful ways in order for them to flourish. And shouting at the kids causes stress and can even affect their health.

If you drop something heavy on your foot, or your phone in the toilet, by all means have a good shout. And even though it doesn’t solve the problem it’s supposed to be therapeutic along with a flurry of swear words!

From ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ chapter 19

But if the kids are winding you up and you feel your own personal tantrum coming on, take some time to go elsewhere and have a good shout, where it’s not directed at anybody, certainly not at them. (You can read about my own tantrum in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ chapter 19 – not pretty).

If you don’t shout your household will generally be the quieter for it. And as adults we should be finding other ways to defuse our pent up frustrations and anger.

Otherwise raise your voice only in song! Shouting in family life isn’t required.

Who’s home-educating who?

The table was rarely visible! Cant’ believe this was 15 years ago!

Home educating was such an inspiring experience. Never regretted – sorely missed!

Now those little ones are grown ups they dash home for visits between work schedules and off they go again leaving the house to fall back into the ordered quiet I once wished for but don’t enjoy as much as I thought I would!

Isn’t it always the case that you fail to appreciate this stuff until it’s gone? Who’d have thought the chaos that home educating kids bring to the house would ever end and you’d miss the stuff-strewn style of home-decorating that’s an inevitable part of it. You think it’ll never change.

It does! So does your role as parent.

It’s funny, but it’s the offspring home educating me these days, as much as the other way round. I learn so much from them, as I like to think they learnt from me. We continue to learn from each other actually – that’s how it should be.

On her visit home recently my eldest was talking about the drama teaching she’s doing at the moment, not that ‘teaching’ is really a concept we ever adopted. It was more consensual learning and guidance that was a shared experience not a one-way ticket. We were talking about this and she expressed an approach we could all learn from.

She said that the only thing she really asks of her students is that they are kind. This creates a nicer environment and experience for everyone.

Her words really made me think. How many learning environments have we experienced that could have been so much better if that was the approach which governed it? How many teachers, facilitators and leaders could well do with adopting such an approach! And how much more progress would students make as a result?

And it would have even helped nurture along some of our less productive home educating days when my agenda had been overtaken by ‘teaching’, usually in a grump, instead of kindly facilitating my learners’ experience!

We’re only human. We all fall foul of human failings sometimes. But if there is nothing else that you can progress with during a tricky home educating day, you can always practice being kind and let the day take care of itself. I’m sure there’ll be a better outcome because of it.

Something I thought I’d share in case you want to try it out on a tough day!

Learning is for living – not just for targets

We’re a such quick-fix target-driven nation now. Both in work and education.

Everything is about results – measurable results. A quantifiable outcome a god-like goal, out-valuing the process of getting there, whatever it costs you. Tangible results overtaking what education is supposed to be for; building a warm, happy successful life.

Some of the stuff on the English curriculum provides a good example of what I mean, with its dissection of English into obscure parts you can’t even pronounce let alone remember or apply to the context of our daily living. Some of the maths can be the same. Small kids are expected to understand complicated mathematical concepts at a younger and younger age, concepts that are not only irrelevant to their young lives, but which make them feel like failures, as they grapple to comprehend them. So schools can put ticks on sheets and politicians can pretend this system is working.

Education is as long term a process as growing a tree!

It’s tragic. And it doesn’t have to be that way, as many homeschoolers prove, as they leave the more complex and academic stuff for when the children are older yet still achieve mainstream outcomes such as qualifications.

What’s even more tragic is that the target-led approach to learning puts many kids off. Too many rigid targets means learning becomes for targets only not for the experience of enhancing a life – which is really what education is for. And it suggests that learning success is dependent on falling into these measurable compartments, at specific times, which it isn’t.

Becoming educated is instead a long, ongoing, experiential process that continues beyond specific learning outcomes and can be the result of many diverse approaches that do not need to be measured to be successful.

I look at it in a similar way to growing things.

To grow a tree you’d need to provide the right environment for it to grow in; the right soil, the right place, the right climate. The right climate needs to be conducive to its ongoing growth. It needs the right nourishment, compost and care, and the right support to hold it up to start with, not to be overshadowed by too many others.

These are not outcomes, just un-measurable on-going processes that guide the tree towards flowering and healthy growth. But measuring them along the way will not make them grow taller or bloom brighter. Neither will it make them grow faster.

So now apply that to education.

For a child to learn to their potential they need the right environment; a base that provides for their need for love, security, calm, safety, encouragement. A place for them to flourish in their own time.

They need the right climate that will change as their needs change and grow; different things at different times, sometimes quiet and solitude, sometimes buzz, sometimes inspiring others, sometimes comfort, a feeling of belonging, acceptance of their differences as all kids are different. They need a climate where they do not feel afraid of failure or being trampled by others.

Then they need the right nourishment. Not only in the form of healthy food, but other types of nourishment which comes in the form of stimulation and exercise for their minds, bodies and spirits. A wealth of experiences and opportunities to discover who they are and what they can do.

And they need the right support from others they can trust, peers and adults, friends and family. Support that’s able to adapt to their changing requirements. Warm loving encouragement that shows them ways to have a go, to discover their potential, develop new skills and work with any weaknesses.

These conditions will compost into an education that can be applied to living a life – a real life, not just a set of outcomes only useful in one instance of time.

Targets and outcomes are often only valid within a given period of time.

But education is for life, to build an understanding of learning as a life-long attitude and opportunity to enhance and improve that you can never fail at simply because, if what you’re doing is not working for you, you can change it.

This is the beauty of home education. Through home educating you can ditch the obsession with targets and short term outcomes and educate towards an ongoing learning life that can diversify approaches until the right one is found. One that is free from the idea of ‘failure’. One that instead perpetuates the idea that learning is for living – not just for targets!

For more notes on this see my ‘Home Education Notebook’ available from Eyrie Press where it’s on offer and Amazon.

Fascinating approaches to home education

I had a long and thought provoking comment from Nav on my recent post ‘The Hypocrisy of Educational Discrimination’, about her home education – did you see it?

It was so interesting I invited her to expand the ideas she’d touched upon about their approaches in a post here. She describes being inspired by many other thinkers which she’s condensed in to five big ideas that influence their home education. I think you will be inspired too so do read on. Here’s her piece:

A Vernacular Home Education By Nav K

A science session outside with friends

I’m an English psychiatrist of Punjabi-Indian heritage, on an extended career break (possibly permanent one) and my husband is an English writer (with recentish Cypriot heritage mixed in). We live with our two primary school aged children in a rather small house, on a bit of land in rural Ireland (a move we made partly to make home education possible for us). My husband and I have always been drawn to the vernacular (I’m using that to mean designed or developed specific to the place) and to being part of nature, rather than separate from it. These ideas have guided our home education and made it a family and personal journey.

I’m the main educator in our home and I can’t tell you then that we follow a specific approach such as Unschooling, or specific school curricula, or Reggio Emilia or Charlotte Mason approaches – I think we are probably drawing on them all to different degrees in pursuit of the best education that we can access. I have some favourite educational thinkers (a bit of Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky is very influential and contemporary thinkers Kieran Egan and Gillian Judson are wonderful guides) but I also try to read widely and influences come from many thinkers outside the discipline of education. As a result, we’ve developed some underlying big ideas / philosophies or principles for our family education, which keep evolving of course, as we learn more together. The overall aim is not just to get clever, but to develop wisdom.

5 Big Principles and their influence on our learning:

  1. Seeing the grand, beautiful whole

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”~ Albert Einstein. Recent research into the brain has shown that the right hemisphere tends to take in a whole, complicated ‘picture’ of the world and the left brain specialises in breaking this down into smaller pieces (I’ve simplified this incredibly here). The writer Iain McGilchrist argues that humans have let the left brain dominate too far. For example, the left part of our brain helps us develop computers and artificial intelligence but would not be able to “see” what could go wrong by hurtling down this path so entirely and so quickly. Did you know that many university biology courses now have little or no outside-the-classroom work, looking at plants in their natural setting? If you love nature and plants and want to study them at that level of education, you’ll probably end up in a lab looking at tiny, tiny details through a computer aided microscope and manipulating genes for 3 years. So at home we use technology such as the laptop and internet but in a careful, thought out way for our learning and much of what we do means going outside, visualising and manipulating with our bodies, using all our senses if possible. We’ll do maths through dance and art rather than a online maths app. When we aim to discuss any topic that involves breaking something into its parts to study them closely, I try very hard to bring the whole back together again with my children.

  1. Everything is connected

All the educational school ‘subjects’ could be described as different but true ways of seeing the world and as individuals we might find ourselves able to understand or enjoy some ways of seeing in preference to others. At home we often discuss how knowing something of all these major ways of seeing the world could complement each other, rather than just being separate entities and I try to help my children find connections, for example the maths in music, dance, and nature (or any of these to learn maths); how science tries to pinpoint things more precisely, but so does language. We spend a lot of time exploring metaphors and analogies for anything we study. Have you noticed how all the greatest thinkers on any aspect or area of expertise have used striking metaphors? (Einstein being an example above!).

  1. Serious practice leads to serious fun!

(I stole that quote from my children’s wonderful music school director and it has become a mantra at home when things are tough.) Persistence and tenacity, focusing on small specific goals in each practice session to gain mastery at something the children have chosen to pursue (like learning to play a piece of music or completing that story or poem) rather than giving up when it gets tricky, allows you not only to feel the pleasure of mastery but then get incredibly and ably creative with it. We talk about this a lot at home using examples of people whose work inspires us. For example, the artist Georgia O’Keeffe who is widely recognised as starting American Modernism mastered painting ‘life-like’ from observation before she went on to develop her own original amazing style, as did many other great painters.

  1. Learn from inspirational masters and experts

We rarely find ourselves using specific teaching materials aimed at primary school these days. We find someone who inspires us or is an expert, somehow. This is usually through reading their books or finding their work on the internet. For example, we love the Royal Institute Lectures for science and maths, available online. We sometimes manage to persuade experts leading classes for adults to let our older daughter attend (like a recent series of archaeology lectures about our part of Ireland). We grab skilled friends to teach us what they know whenever they visit. I support the children to learn anything science or maths related and my husband focuses on creative writing because of our own knowledge and experience in those areas.

  1. Play to learn

Play is necessary for health, learning and for having fun! We make a lot of time for unsupervised free play. From experience we have found huge benefits to adventurous physical play, particularly outside: there is lots of rough and tumble wrestling, tree climbing, exploring rivers, swimming in lakes and the sea (when we can make it happen); but also other quieter (…well sometimes quieter!) forms of play, like fantasy / role-play and constructional play. We try to encourage that it occurs outside, in all weather. If quantum physics entanglement theory is correct, then whatever we spend time looking at (and perhaps listening to, smelling, tasting and touching) could help us become a little bit of what we interact with. So if the children spend much of their time out together with other nature, they might truly be part of it, value and defend it, rather than covet and relate more to screens and machines.

There is a lot more to our personal and vernacular home-education than I can write here and there isn’t the scope to give each big principle or the thinkers behind them, the words or time they are due, but I hope I’ve made a fair attempt at describing some of them.

After lots of encouragement to do so, I am currently busy putting together a simple website to document and share these ideas in greater depth. I hope they will be useful to parents thinking about, embarking on or already on a home education journey. If you would like to know when it goes up on-line please send an email to home.edgeucated@gmail.com

The teacher who couldn’t read

A little while ago I read the most amazing story on the BBC news by John Corcoran. He was a teacher for 17 years who had hidden the fact that he couldn’t read.

The teacher John Corcoran who kept it secret that he couldn’t read or write. Read his moving story

A teacher who couldn’t read? How shocking is that?

Or is it? Is it more shocking that someone who was so devoted to trying to better himself, despite his inability to pick up this skill, should be so ashamed of it that he had to keep it secret.

But perhaps the real shocker is the fact that our so-called inclusive society so looks down on people who cannot read that they feel compelled to do so?

Read his amazing story here.

The subject of his story is something that often bugs me; that we make judgements about people’s intelligence and about them as people just because they are different from us and cannot develop the skills required for reading in the same way we might.

Reading is a skill – a multitude of skills combined together – just like driving, for example. The ability to drive is also a set of skills that some people never manage to acquire, despite persistently trying. Reading is the same; a set of skills that because of the differences in people, some are unable to develop the same way as others.

We are all different. What works for some doesn’t work for others. Do we acknowledge that? For some things we do. For reading we seem to forget it.

Some learners need very different approaches, need very different time frames, in order to get to grips with reading.

But this is not an indication of low intelligence or ignorance or a defect. It’s just how some people are.

The readers among us are not superior to the non-readers. Just as the drivers are not superior to the non-drivers.

We’re just different.

Let’s take away the snobbery, the pressure, and the judgement people like John and others like him have felt over the years and let’s support everyone in their differences, whatever they are.

Let’s live up to our claim of being an all-inclusive society and stop the shocking judgements that exist about those who do not read in the same way as others so that there’s no shame or secret surrounding it. And so that more can tell their story and get the proper support they need without feeling as bad as he did.

An imperative lesson

Some are starting work out there, even before it’s light

It is beautifully quiet where we live now. So quiet you notice the slightest noise; a fox’s bark, an alarmed pheasant, or the tiny scamperings of the mouse who has found its way into the roof space above the ceiling.

So we’re really sensitive to the rumblings of heavy machinery past the cottage at 5am.

The vegetable cutters start early. Some work through the night. I’m woken by the clanking of the rigs and trailers. I also have a sudden sense of gratitude that it’s not me turning out in the freezing cold and rain that I hear hammering down.

The gangs of workers are dropped off for their working day in dark, cold, muddy conditions, no shelter, no heat, cutting the cauliflower and broccoli that’ll be ready for you in the supermarket later today.

Surrounded by growing food, it was easy for our home educating children to learn where food comes from and what’s required for it to grow, that this doesn’t happen in super markets, but out on the earth.

And that it needs certain conditions; dependent on the elements of the earth. And it’s important that we all know how those elements are sustainable – if we want food to be sustained that is!

Stuck in a city centre, as far removed from the earth as I am from the Houses of Parliament, I worry that this essential part of education will be neglected. And families these days might not want contact with the earth and the elements, cosied as city dwellers are by the convenience of pavements, transport, concrete, shopping under cover and easily accessible eats!

So how to get across the importance of understanding the precious resource that the planet is – the only resource actually, for everything comes back to what it gives us – and how not to pollute it so much?

We need to learn to exist without creating the waste our lifestyles produce; by not subscribing to the hypocritical politics that ignores the real issue of consumerism, not be seduced by the commercial hype that continues to suggest that it’s okay to keep buying plastic bottles, disposables in any form, pollutive cleaners like wipes and chemicals. And remember that all our consumerism wounds the planet, contaminates the place we’re dependent on for our food.

Part of any child’s education should be to understand this stuff. Part of our duties as educators is to prioritise this understanding – to get kids back to the earth and caring for it as part of their everyday existence. Along with the simple idea that everything manmade that we buy will eventually pollute in some way, or has already done so in the manufacturing of it and that might come back to haunt us through the food chain (one example here)

A sombre lesson – worth the learning.

What small change can you and the kids make to your family lifestyle to stop your contribution to it? (Here’s an inspiring contribution from one family)

Learn to love the earth, buy less plastic for a start!