Tag Archive | teaching

Winter days; great for story telling!

National Story Telling Week

This week is National Story Telling week and it’s ignited in me a memory of my youngest balanced on the arm of her grandma’s easy chair by the fire telling stories (she couldn’t sit on her knee because the cat was on it!).

They did this a lot, just talked stories to one another, taking it in turns to add bits and produce ideas. It was an absolute delight to listen to. When I was allowed, mostly I got commanded, by my youngest, to go out the way, but I’d sneakily carry on listening.

It also reminds me of one of the biggest mistakes I made whilst we were home educating.

Listening to her story telling, her vivid imagination, the intonation and expression, I thought what a good idea it would be to get her writing stories at home. She’d love it.

What an idiot, I was!

When I suggested it her face dropped. She sat there looking totally miserable, blank page in front of her, pen unused, ideas vanished.

I encouraged. I cajoled. I suggested starts. I prompted memories of the brilliant story she’d been making up with grandma.

Nothing. The blankness went from her page to her face. Her imagination vacated her like she’d never had them in the first place. If I hadn’t heard it with my own ears I would have thought that she had a blank imagination too.

But I knew different. And luckily I spotted my stupid mistake; she loved making up stories – not writing them down.

Many children hate writing. Many adults do too. Trying to capture and clarify what’s in your head – often just in picture form – into the letters and symbols we use for language can be enough to switch people’s minds and ideas off completely.

I’ve seen it happen in children. I’ve also seen it happen to adults as old as I am, who’ve been writing all their life, yet who still find this transformation process hard.

I may have wanted her to practice her writing skills. But I didn’t want to ruin her inventiveness whilst doing so. I backed off.

Besides, far too much emphasis is put on being able to write, far too young. Having to continually write can even hamper the development of valuable language skills. And we shouldn’t confuse the two.

Children develop language skills by talking and listening, being read to and sharing books together, by continual use of the spoken word, as in story telling.

Formalising it into writing doesn’t need to happen until much later.

My youngest didn’t do much writing at home during the time we were home educating. Occasionally she did a bit, maybe filling in an eye-catching workbook she’d spotted whilst out. Sometimes, in order to practice, I’d suggest writing up some event or making a diary/scrapbook. (Outings are a good one for this as you can stick anything you’ve collected in the book too). We also made a variety of other books, pop-ups, mini-books, lists, games; just bits and pieces of writing that kept it going. Otherwise, the most writing she ever did was about half a small page at any one time. We did loads of other stuff instead.

However, when she went to college at 16 she managed easily, with a bit of formal tidying and guidance. And this is how it was for several of our home educating friends who went onto Uni without having done much formal writing earlier on.

Thought I’d tell you because I didn’t want you making the mistake I did of ruining something that, as well as being a valuable educational activity in its own right, gave her – and her gran – immense pleasure!

Don’t feel you have to be writing every day with your children whilst they’re learning at home. They don’t need it. Enjoy books and a good story telling instead!

How a parent helped her child through school by knowing how home education works

Messages from readers are such a joy to receive – most of them anyway!

I had another recently from a parent telling me how useful my posts were in helping them keep a balanced view of their child’s education.

The interesting thing was that it came from a parent with a child in school; the posts about home education helped keep schooling in perspective too.

One of my best friends was delighted to hear this – she’s been telling me the same thing for years; how we helped her see education a bit differently and consequently support her child in school. So her words have been endorsed – she had the pleasure of saying ‘I told you so’ when I rang her today!

She had a dyslexic child who had the classic labels; ‘lazy’ ‘thick’ daubed onto him in class. But she had me in her other ear saying that they were wrong. Hers was a bright child who was just not having his learning needs met by a system which disregards individuals (and very often dyslexics), clumps everybody together within a narrow framework of measurement then, when the obvious happens and some don’t achieve, say it’s all the kids’ fault.

It’s not, but she, like most parents, assumed all teachers and schools knew what they were about.

Sadly, not always, they also have agendas other than the needs of an individual child. I’ve worked in them – that’s how I know – and that’s one of the things I told her.

I also know that there’s no magic training that makes a person a good teacher, no magic technique for teaching that makes teachers recognise children’s needs more intuitively than many parents, and most teachers have no training in dealing with children with special needs anyway.

If you’ve got a child who fits happily within the very narrow criteria schools use for measuring success, you’re very lucky.

Most children don’t actually fit, but that doesn’t mean they ‘fail’ either; instead they are failed by this system.

Anyway, thanks to her faith in her child, her intuition (and my words, she says) she enabled him to succeed against awful odds, go onto Uni and he’s now started his first job. So I asked her what were some of the things she did as a result of our conversations and her observation of our home education that supported them through the many challenges they faced within the school system.

These are some of the points she mentioned, which we’d talked about when we were homeschooling:

  • Stay on the side of the child (particularly when the child feels the school is not), listen to them, believe in them, rather than unquestioningly believing what the school wants you to believe.
  • Remain focussed on the needs of your child. Not on the needs of the institution. Basically we should remember that the school is there to serve the education of your child – your child is not there to serve the school! Challenge them!
  • Understand that children take different amounts of time to learn something, gain skills, to develop and mature. This is quite normal and they are not abnormal if they don’t fit into a prescribed and generalised timeframe. Just because a child hasn’t learnt something when the curriculum says they should, does not mean they’ll never learn it, or that they’re failures, so don’t panic or worry or pressurise. Try and keep it lightweight and be patient.
  • Listen to your guts and your intuition and your child. If you sense something is wrong then it probably is.
  • Don’t always assume that the school and the teachers are right, are professional, or are to be unwaveringly respected. We are trained in obedience to these institutions (banks, schools, health care centres spring to mind). That’s how celebs got away with abuse – no one could believe that these icons weren’t right or good. Basically we know and respect when someone’s doing a good job – and when they’re not. All professionals have to earn respect by their continued integrity and respectful behaviour. Question them if it’s not.

Home educators are told that they have to by law provide an education suitable to a child’s age, ability and aptitude and any special educational needs they may have. I often wonder just how many schools really do that!

Another approach to learning

There was a little piece about Home Education on Radio Five Live the other morning and an interview with the Meek family.

They’re taking a year to travel with their children to enrich their education. It’s fascinating reading their blog ‘Do try this at home’.

But the presenter came out with some rather daft questions, seeming not to understand a great deal about home education and how children learn from life.

It illustrated the huge difference in thinking between those who can only define education by what happens in schools, compartmentalised testable outcomes, its effectiveness measured by such, and those who know that education is far, far broader.

Education is to do with learning about life, an approach to living and learning, and about the qualities of an educated person rather than any finite outcome external to that individual.

The Meeks are living a learning life with their children (albeit for a year). As a result their children are having rich, varied and educative opportunities and experiences which develop many of the skills they need to transfer that education to real life.

In contrast a school education consists of unvaried experiences transferable only to test results and irrelevant to real life – certainly to children’s real lives.

For example, instead of sitting at a desk learning about water pollution the family is examining what happens for real. Instead of the ‘socialisation’ of a classroom, where people seem to think skills will develop from being in a confined institution, they are engaging with a range of people and their social skills are developing naturally and organically from those interactions. Instead of their learning being dully delivered by irrelevant others in uninspiring ways through a prescribed curriculum they are instead being excited and motivated by their experiences. Nothing teaches more profoundly than exciting experiences!

None of these are really testable experiences. But that’s the other misconception that many people have about education; that it’s only valuable and accomplished if it’s testable.

The truth is that education is only valuable and accomplished if it’s transferable to living in responsible ways.

Real valuable learning, that means something, will be transferable to tests and exams if and when necessary to the individual. But for now the Meeks are just living. They are educating their daughters through real living experiences from which they are learning.

Thousands and thousands of families now opt to do this, but not just for a year’s trip; for the majority of their children’s childhoods. Some home educating throughout their children’s entire ‘school’ age, until such time that they’re ready to move on.

And making a wonderful success of it too.

Living a learning life is such an inspirational way to raise and educate children quite different from the ‘school’ way. And the more the media – and presenters – understand what it is to be educated, rather than what it is to be schooled, the better it will be!

(Check out the page of home educators blogs on this site for a real illustration of how it works for each family)

Taking the switch to the child

Can you imagine it? Can you ever even conceive of taking a stick to your child as punishment for some errant behaviour?

It makes me feel quite sick to think about it, but this is what happens in some cultures – there’s a controversy about it in America now which Hugh Muir talked about in the Guardian last Sunday (read the article here).

As he says in his closing statement our ‘cultural baggage’ can impact on our own parenting. We are inclined to pass on what was passed down to us if we’re not thoughtful and considered.

There was never ever any kind of violence in our parenting, despite what was doled out to us. I find the concept quite disgusting and no different to assault. And it’s certainly not good parenting; there’s another approach that works in guiding our children’s behaviour without any kind of horrendous ‘corrective’ measures.

It’s the power of demonstration.

The most powerful parenting tool we have is our own behaviour. This is similar to passing things on as Hugh Muir suggests, it’s just that we pass on the idea of ‘good’ behaviour to our children instead of passing on the punishments we received!

A child’s natural instinct is to learn by copying. So basically, we can parent and teach by the way we are.

We ‘teach’ our children how to behave by the way we behave.

Show our children how to learn by the way we learn.

Show them how to treat others by the way we treat them.

Show how wonderful the world is by our own interest and reactions of wonder.

Show them how to interact, make responses, be polite and caring and considerate by the way we do.

Show them how the real world works by engaging with real things and encouraging them to do so.

Show them how useful technology or language, or maths or science is to us every day as we use those things in our every day lives.

We teach them how to respect by the respect we show.

We teach them what’s acceptable by acting in acceptable ways.

And above all we show them what it is to love by the way we love.

Our actions are the most influential parenting of any sort, the most influential way of educating. Because ‘actions speak louder than words’ as the saying goes. Our actions will be a far more powerfully guiding influence than anything we might say.

Besides, anything we dole out to our children we are endorsing as something acceptable for them to dole out to others.

So whether we are parenting or teaching our own at home it’s worth examining our actions and deciding what it is we want to pass on!

Schooling our kids out of learning

There was a bright little pre-schooler running through the town the other day. She was on an adventure away from mum. She stopped suddenly, turned round and realised there was an awful lot of people who weren’t mum. Her face dropped.

Mum, ever watchful, called out to her and she went running back happily. Despite that slight panic at mum being momentarily out of sight, she didn’t hesitate to go off and explore again. After all, there’s such an intriguing amount to learn – about everything, why would she not?

Twelve years later and learning doesn’t look so appealing. In fact most of her inclination to learn has been switched off, like for many young people.

What happened?

My theory is that schooling happens.

What happens is that we corral our wonderfully idiosyncratic and diverse children into institutions which enforce comparison and competition in their most destructive forms, judge them by a narrow set of margins only a particular few could hope to excel at, lead them to believe that anything else they might be good at is unimportant, stress them witless by endless irrelevant testing, and expect them to develop emotionally, socially, intellectually and personally within that unfortunate climate.

It has always seemed a bit ludicrous to me.

This schooling of our children is putting them off education and learning. Education of their whole being, of their diverse potential, individual talents, and original personalities, all of which are essential to the longevity of our world.

Instead we are chiselling them down into one set of talents, one way of thinking and performing, measurable by a narrow set of definitions, invented by politicians who are ignorant of education, out to impress those parents only interested only in social stature or getting the kids off their hands.

Harsh words maybe, but how many politicians know about the world outside their elite existence – let alone what’s useful for survival in it? And I’ve come across many parents who only want scores and grades for their own adult gain, or their kids minded; there are relatively few who’ve actually thought it through and reached an understanding about what’s good for their individual developmentally.

Childminding aside, the fallacy that most believe is that kids need teachers, tests and schools to learn, develop and progress towards a fulfilling and productive life.

But in reality they don’t, as many successfully home educating families are proving.

What they need instead is to be happy, confident, interested, curious and motivated like the little girl running through the precinct. With those traits kids move themselves forward into work and life successfully, but there’s only a relative few who come out of schooling with those personal attributes intact.

And you have to define success.

Some would define a successful education from a consumerist point of view as the getting of lots of ‘good’ grades.

I wouldn’t. In fact, it’s hard to define education at all because any definition would suggest it is finite and it isn’t, it is ongoing and doesn’t have an end.

My definition of a successful education would be so interlinked with what I consider a successful life to be which has nothing to do with getting anything, grades or otherwise.

It is more to do with a practice of living that is happy and mindful and content for the most part, full of warm loving relationships, fulfilled through purposeful work, independent and responsible and that continues to build and grow and improve as we learn and educate ourselves. It’s something with encouragement young people could do for themselves – if they haven’t been put off.

Education, like life, should not be something our children have to endure till it ends so they can get on with real life, as many feel it is.

It should be an integrated part of their real lives from day one, ongoing and always accessible. It should inspire. It should be something youngsters are gagging to involve themselves in not playing truant from. And something that serves our needs as humans to develop creatively, personally and emotionally as well as intellectually. And finally, something that we should be brave enough to accept is not actually measurable as such, yet is still wonderfully successful.

Roll on the day….

Education and the sock drawer mentality!

I contributed to a discussion about home education on the Radio this week.

I always find it so hard – there is so much to say. And the questions fired at you about children’s learning are so embedded in a school perspective of education it’s impossible to know where to start.

Now I’ve grown away from that schoolised conditioning I know that learning and education are not exclusive to school, nor dependent on it, and have no need to be confined in that familiar structure. But trying to explain that to people who think that home schoolers are just lazy wasters trying to avoid hard work is not easy.

Schooled education reminds me of a sock drawer. You know; those tidy divided ones you see advertised where there’s a little compartment for each pair. I look at them and think life’s too short for that sort of control!

But school learning has become as comparable and controlled as that, dividing education up into little structured cells, controlled by time, age and subject and doled out to children one section at a time.

Climb out of that concept and you see the educational world more expansively and certainly more enjoyably.

For what is education anyway? Is it a set of unrelated targets that kids must regurgitate parrot fashion, irrespective of their individual needs, for the sake of measurement, grades or politics? Or is it an enriching process pertinent to living that overlaps all subjects, concepts, skills and personal development, which enables children to become competent in the ways of the world and interact with it?

The sock drawer view relates to the former!

So when asked about children’s learning and ‘doing the work’ it’s difficult to overcome the sock drawer mentality and explain in a second or two that ‘doing the work’ is not a problem because there doesn’t have to be such a great division between learning ‘work’ and living. Learning is a natural, interrelated process that is ongoing; a natural part of a child’s everyday life, not separate from it and compartmentalised.

When children are involved with life they want the skills to engage with it for themselves. For example; skills that might range from simply being able to speak, to the more complex written use of language, reading and enjoying books or the Net, to being able to use it to text and communication, or getting a GCSE in English because they grow up wanting to go to Uni to do computer programming.

This desire to learn and progress develops with the child, with encouragement and facilitation from others, with experience and contact with the real world and understanding of the real skills they’ll need to access it. When learning is a natural and enjoyable part of their life youngsters know they will benefit from, why would they not want to become educated?

If learning is as dull, controlled and structured as a sock drawer no wonder they want to climb out!

This is hard to explain in a moment or two on the radio under pressure.

It is thinking, developed over time, which requires us to accept that traditional schooled approaches are not the only ways which work. And there are now thousands of home educating families taking a less controlled approach who are proving it!

The success of failure!

Who’d equate success with failure?

Not many perhaps – except all the successful entrepreneurs; they’ll have failed many times in order to finally achieve but we don’t often get to hear about that background to their success.

One of the most important ways to help our children to succeed is to encourage them to understand that failure isn’t a negative thing. It is a natural part of the learning and achieving process from which we learn. And those people who succeed are not necessarily the cleverest, the luckiest or the richest. They are the people who didn’t stop when it didn’t go right, but went on trying and trying until they finally got there. And that if you can maintain enough resilience to do that, you are bound to succeed.

Think about it; we can only fail when we stop at a failed attempt.

Our children will have failed many, many times in their tiny lives even before they get to the age of five when everyone suddenly starts talking about succeeding or failing in school. Although no one measured it and no one made their early attempts into failure.

For example they will have failed to walk, fallen over many times, but just kept on getting up again. They will have failed trying to balance their food on a fork or get it in their mouths. They will have failed to catch a ball, do up laces, build a tower, climb up something, ride a bike, master the things they want to say. But none of those failures mattered so they just kept on going, learned from trial and error, until they achieved what they wanted.

And that’s the important part of it – they hadn’t been taught by the others around them that those failings mattered. So why teach them later on – particularly in relation to education? Why teach them that failing makes them into failures, as we tend to in schooling?

If we told our toddlers that they were failures and made them feel shame when they were trying to walk and talk then maybe they wouldn’t keep going.

Our negative attitude to failing is something that children learn – usually from adults. Wouldn’t it be great if that was something they never learned?

Maybe we should be careful not to teach it!

Perhaps instead of hidden signals of negativity towards failure we should be boosting their resilience. Supporting their confidence in their intention to achieve. Showing them how to learn from the things that don’t go right first time. Helping them understand that failing is positive in that it makes us extend ourselves and grow.

And that failing is only a failure if you stop there – and you don’t have to! If you keep going you can eventually turn your failure into a success, even if by deciding you need to take another route.

That’s how failure creates success. And that’s what our children need to know about it!