Tag Archive | teenagers

Curriculum doesn’t constitute education – it can even choke it!

Parents who are fairly new to home educating often worry about curriculum. It’s a common mistake to think that without it there will be no education.

But a curriculum doesn’t constitute an education. It is equally possible to become an intelligent and educated person without following one at all – as many home schooling families are proving.

For curriculum is nothing more than a set list of subjects or course of study. And whereas it can be a useful tool guiding a learner towards prescribed outcomes (exams for example) which most find valuable, a curriculum can also have a detrimental effect.

This has been highlighted in an enlightened piece of writing by a sixteen year old pupil who recently described curriculum as having a ‘chokehold on the throats of the nation’s children’.

This was Harriet Sweatman, who won the Scottish schools young writer of the year award with her piece about going to school.

Harriet Sweatman pictured in the TES

It is absolutely astounding and reflects what many of us feel about the system, including I suspect many parents who are not home educating! She goes on to say that she’s ‘been flattened by a concrete curriculum, so structured and unforgiving that I have forgotten how to function without it’. She feels that schooling has made her grow backwards, knowing less about herself now than when she started.

Can’t we just imagine that!

If you ever forget just why you ended up home educating this incredibly honest piece will remind you. I’ve copied it below for you to read.

And it also might remind you not to get hung up about which curriculum to use, whether you should be using one or not. Curriculum is a tool which can be extremely valuable, but do remember it doesn’t necessarily guarantee becoming educated – just as school doesn’t!

Here’s Harriet’s piece borrowed from the TES; 

The horde of hunchbacks slouch on, dragging their feet up the school drive. Hearts heavy and school bags even heavier, but what can you do? Lockers are expensive and always wind up graffitied or smeared with Vaseline anyway. The path is lined with overflowing bins, padded with empty coffee cups from the new Costa in the village (the place that, for the bargain price of £2, will sell me the sweet elixir that promises to make up for the fact that I only got four hours’ sleep last night).

Once inside, the scuffed yet shiny linoleum floors are covered in curious stains – blood or food? We may never know. The corridor walls are painted a jarring blue and covered in stickers and posters saying that mistakes are just part of the journey. And oh, the places you’ll go! This children’s hospital aesthetic is fooling nobody. We’re too old for that.

The abrasive B-flat bell sounds and so we traipse from room to room, ankles shackled with our stresses. CCTV watches all, waiting for one wrong move. The hallways are lit only by harsh fluorescent lighting, each door leads to a new prison cell complete with wired windows, to stop us breaking them, or breaking out of them.

In reality, school is not a place where you are imprisoned. In here, you are manufactured. You move along the conveyor belt of exam seasons, hoping for the grades you need, so you can be packaged up with a pretty label saying you got straight As and shipped off somewhere else. Capitalism tells us that if we are not fit to work, then we are worthless. There is no love in learning any more. Every student has given up or is about to. We envy the people that have left already, but we have no plans for what to do if we did.

By now I am the ripe old age of 16. Apparently, by now I am supposed to have a plan. By now I should know what I want to do for the rest of my life. I am supposed to already have experience in the field. We have lost the middle ground between child and adult. I am stuck in what remains. At the age of 12, I was asked what I was going to be when I grew up. I soon learned that “I want to be a wizard” was not an acceptable answer. I still don’t have an answer.

Fear not! There is help out there. If you want to study medicine or law that is.Advice on how to get the top grades, workshops where they cut things open and show you how they work, what oozes and what snaps. Meanwhile, the painter sits taut in front of their still life, ticking off a checklist of techniques they must display. The musician doesn’t dare push the boundaries, exchanging originality for safety in the hope it will be to the examiner’s taste. The historian memorises essay structures down to the word, the linguist knows how to write an essay not hold a conversation, and the writer wades through Shakespeare trying to pick out an essay from a play that was made to be performed not studied. Whatever happened to expanding your horizons? Now we must all ensure our tunnel vision is pinpoint thin.

Well then, perhaps the real adventure is the friends you make along the way. The cast of lively characters who go on adventures: the love interest, the comedy relief, the antagonist and their schemes. Until the seating plan in the classroom changes and you never talk to them again. You may see them on your way to or from school, at breaks and lunch, but at the weekends not a whisper. These are not the friendships that novels are written about. These are barely friendships at all. After we leave, when the battles are over and the war is won, most of us will never see each other again.

When we leave, will we even survive? Yes, I can do differentiation and also integration, but can I do taxes? I don’t know how insurance works or how to buy a house. I barely know basic first aid, so let’s all hope nobody starts choking to death anywhere near me. I can talk for days about condoms, but birth control is another story. We just learn by the book everything we need to get us through exams, competing with peers for the most approval.

Primary school was better and I still miss show-and-tell. Posters about the ancient Egyptian god of the underworld, a presentation about the Wombles of Wimbledon, projects on anything that captured my imagination. At high school there is little time for such fanciful feats. Assignments where you can research what you want count for almost nothing, and even then there are strict rules. Finding out who I am and what I care about has been deemed unimportant. I have been flattened by a concrete curriculum, so structured and unforgiving that I have forgotten how to function without it. With no bell throbbing at even intervals and no marking scheme to build our lives around, how will we cope?

They say high school is the best years of your life – but not in this world, where qualifications matter more than personal qualities. I feel like I have grown backwards, as if I now know less about myself and who or what I could be than when I started. We can pretend that we are happy all we want, that our lives look just like the teen movies we used to idolise (it is true that we often burst into song, a chorus of “kill me now”, and only half of us are joking). Yes, we may be the next generation of leaders and scientists but we are also the next to be shoved on to the production line known as the world of work.

There is still time to change things. The curriculum can release its chokehold on the throats of this nation’s children and let them breathe. We can still save our siblings or maybe even our children. But for us, it is too late. For now, we just have to wait until the final bell rings and we walk out of the school door forever.

Congratulations and thanks to Harriet (and the TES for publishing it)

And if you want to learn more about using the curriculum – or not – I’ve written about it in my book ‘Learning Without School Home Education’. 

See My Books page for more.

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Who’s not good enough?

How many of you had the feeling growing up that you were not good enough? Especially with relation to your achievements

From an exhibition by Ann Bellamy called ‘Just Be Normal: Memoirs of a Dissenting Child’

educationally?

Answers in the comments below please!

I certainly did.

Being ‘good enough’ as a kid was an impossible task. And the painful feeling associated with it returned when I saw this piece of artwork in an exhibition recently, about being good enough.

Making people feel not good enough is a dangerous mistake we easily fall prey to as we raise and educate our kids.

On the one hand we want to be encouraging and supportive in helping them achieve. On the other hand we don’t want to be complacent about what can be achieved by over praising or staying still. I know there was a point in our home educating years where I was suddenly mindful of the fact that through my constant encouragement towards taking things further, I was inadvertently suggesting that the point which had been reached was never enough!

This is somewhere between a stick and a hard place I fear! I hope I changed.

The important thing is, when we are raising and facilitating our kids learning and growing, to remember that;

the children are already perfect, whole and complete, in the moment.

This does not mean that there is no room for advancement, or that there is not a journey of learning and growing to enjoy. It’s just means that no one is ‘not good enough’ yet without.

And we also have to be careful not to make educating in itself something judgemental and something that suggests the kids are not good enough without.

Of course, you have to define ‘education’! Something I’ve talked about before. (I’ve discussed this in numerous posts, examples here and here and in the last chapter of my ‘Home Education Notebook‘) I know that many make the mistake of equating education with qualification only. So people without qualification can end up feeling ‘not good enough’ if they didn’t go down that route. Hopefully, we are beginning to place that in a different perspective now as we’re recognising that over-qualification has often meant the lack of more important life-skills.

What we want to nurture is a feeling of optimism and potential for change within our learners that comes from an understanding of their many talents, encourage their openness to learning and growing and opportunity, within the context of knowing themselves, what they want, how achieving those things is fulfilling and worthwhile.

And that being ‘good enough’ in other people’s eyes – for that’s what we’re talking about here – bears no relation to their education whatsoever!

 

5 Tips for new home educators

Experimentation, trial & error, play are all valid ways to learn

It’s that time of year when the numbers of home schoolers suddenly shoots up!

And it’s a rise made up of all sorts of parents; those who never intend to start their child at school, through those who’ve done it a while and don’t want to ‘go back’ after the summer, right to those with teenagers who really need something different now.

Making the decision is often the hard part. Then it’s exciting and inspiring to get launched into it. However you sometimes get a rebound where you think; ‘Heck! What now?’

So I thought I’d post five quick tips to bump you over that bit.

  1. Relax! Be confident in the fact home education works for thousands – it can work for you. But it takes a long time and is a long slow process – obvious but oft forgot! And it takes a long adjustment period if you’ve come at it from schooling. We forever read that a relaxed and mindful approach to life creates just as much success as a tense and driven one – now is the time to really practise that. Your child’s education will be better for it. So take some time to find the best way forward; time to research, time to connect with others, time for trial and error until you find a way that works for you. You have the time – because you won’t be wasting it on tedious school processes where the kids are learning nothing!
  2. Enjoy it. Learning IS enjoyable, although that’s difficult to tell in the system sometimes. A learning life is enjoyable. Don’t think that if you’re enjoying it then it’s not ‘proper’ learning! And happiness is important for learning and achieving anyway. Unhappy kids don’t reach their true potential. (There’s a post here about that)
  3. Connect with others. Take some time to find other home educators and visit groups, read or see what others are doing. Learn from them. There’s a huge range of approaches and groups and it may take time to find one that works for you. And for goodness sake don’t worry about the ‘socialisation’ issue – there isn’t one! (As I point out in this post)
  4. Diversify your learning approaches – and your thinking. Consider the difference between schooling and educating – there is one! Learning can happen at any time, any venue, in or out, in a multitude of different ways from the way it’s done in school. (Read this post) It does not have to take place inside, at a desk or table, in silence, sitting still, or through academic exercises. Children learn best when they are inspired through observation, experimentation, trial and error, going out, experiencing things practically as much as possible. So you’re going to have to diversify your thinking if you’re stuck thinking about classroom ways of learning only!
  5. Get out lots. Play lots. Talk lots. Whatever kids are doing they are learning – they just can’t help it. You can formalise it later, just enjoy it for now. Wherever kids are there are opportunities for learning. whether it’s spotting ants on the pavement, discussing the dinner, playing with others in the swimming pool, journeying, holidaying, meeting others. Play is essential for learning too. Use libraries, sports halls, museums, galleries, garden centres, shops, parks, playgrounds, nature reserves, sites of specific interest – natural – historic – scientific. Learning out and about stays with kids far better than sat inside.

This may also be a useful reminder for all of you who’ve been home educating a while now. If you’re anything like me you can get all up-tight about it and forget these simple ideas. So enjoy your home education too.

Whatever stage you’re at, may you have as much fun home educating as we did.

Learn for personal excellence – not for beating others

I’ve been reading the work of Alfie Kohn recently. In particular ‘The Myth of the Spoiled Child’. 

I applaud his ideas, especially those about education where he, like me, finds the obsession with competition, grading, testing and trophies for winning rather distasteful.

He says:

“When we set children against one another in contests—from spelling bees to awards assemblies to science “fairs” (that are really contests), from dodge ball to honor rolls to prizes for the best painting or the most books read—we teach them to confuse excellence with winning, as if the only way to do something well is to outdo others. We encourage them to measure their own value in terms of how many people they’ve beaten, which is not exactly a path to mental health.”

It illustrates something many people misunderstand; the difference between personal excellence for personal excellence’s sake, instead of for the sake of winning.

I’ve always abhorred the idea of competition in an educational climate. Competition is not about personal excellence or individual growth which education should be, it is about beating others. And in today’s school climate very much about league tables and the big commercial and political business education has become.

Some people are fine with that; it’s a competitive world, I hear people cry, and kids have to be taught how to cope. But Kohn has his own strong arguments against that position and why it’s of benefit to no one. Namely that driving our kids to learn and excel because ‘it’s a competitive world’ doesn’t have as much impact on their achievement or do a lot for their mental health as encouraging them to excellence because it is fulfilling. And also avoids making others feel bad – unlike competitive practices.

And isn’t that part of the idea of education? To learn how to live together and contribute with compassion?

He goes on in his book to talk about ways of parenting that revolve around ‘working-with’ the children rather than ‘doing-to’. That can also be applied to the way we educate and is probably the position that most home educators adopt within their approach!

And I love his idea, as the book draws to a close, of encouraging ‘reflective rebelliousness’ where young people are encouraged to question rather than practice mindless obedience, and we should as parents support their autonomy in a way that complements concerns for others.

Certainly sounds a bit like home educators to me! It’s well worth a read!

But – Could I really home educate?

It’s a bank holiday weekend. Who wants to think about education?

Of course, if you’re a home educator there is little distinction between education, learning and life. Which is really as it should be.

If you’re not a home educator and you’re perhaps considering it you might be interested to discover that there are thousands who are not going back to school after the summer but are continuing their learning life out of it – and much of it isn’t at home anyway!

Many parents think they couldn’t do it. A few are right – it takes a certain kind of parent, a certain kind of relationship with your children, and most importantly a mind that’s open to different ways of doing things.

But there are many parents who think they couldn’t homeschool who possibly could, with a little research and altered ways of thinking.

If you’re one of those I thought it might be helpful for me to repost my YouTube talk here to see if it might change your mind!

Click on the picture!

For more information and increased understanding of how home education really works see my books; ‘Learning Without School Home Education’, ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ and ‘A Home Education Notebook’. Details and extracts on the My Books page.

An ‘Easy Peasy’ approach to parenting!

I’ve recently been in touch Jo Carter, Home Educator and author of the book Easy Peasy Parenting. Knowing that parenting certainly isn’t easy I was fascinated to know more, so I invited her here to talk a little about her home education, and her parenting philosophies.

This is what she says:

Could we have imagined how it would feel to be a parent? Even if others tried to explain it to us we couldn’t really understand until we experienced it for ourselves.

I was going to be the best parent ever and my children and I were going to have a beautiful relationship. The reality was much different. Oh, there were good times but far too many unhappy times for my liking.

I home educate because I want my children to learn what they want, when they want. There is so much potentially to learn and I believe my children are best equipped to know what serves their needs best. I describe myself as a facilitator. I love that we don’t learn in order to pass arbitrary tests. I love that we spend lots of time together having fun and this has made us close as a family. I love that my children get to choose how to spend each day and with whom.

But as home educators we also have the added responsibility of providing the best education for our children. Of course this will mean different things to different people but if things don’t seem to be going to plan for our child then we can’t even blame the school for failing them. The buck stops with us.

The responsibility of being a home educating mum could mean that I might neglect my own needs in order to give my children what I believe to be the best start in life. In fact, this is what I used to do.

Feeling overwhelmed by this responsibility, I came across a philosophy that radically changed my life and the way I approach home education and parenting.

I heard the theory, ‘We are meant to be happy’ and it resonated with me. I learned that our feelings are created by our thoughts about a situation rather than the situation itself. Rather than demanding circumstances to be a certain way in order for me to be happy I learned to find happiness in the current situation by changing my thoughts. The irony was that as I learned to accept and find the joy in the moment, my circumstances began to morph.

My mantra became, ‘The best thing I can do for my children is be happy.’ This simple philosophy has been a game-changer for me.  When I am feeling negative emotion in the midst of a busy family day I recognise that my thoughts are unhelpful. (I categorize thoughts as helpful or unhelpful rather than true or untrue.) My first priority is to find better feeling thoughts before I carry on with the task at hand.

Of course this is often easier said than done. Maybe the beliefs I hold run too deep to deal with in a short amount of time. Maybe I can’t stop what I’m doing in order to do one of the processes I share in my book, ‘Easy Peasy Parenting’. In times like these, I remember that my feelings are a result of my thoughts, rather than being caused directly by a person or circumstance. This keeps the focus of attention away from them and hopefully results in damage limitation until I can process the event, and my thoughts about it, more fully.

The philosophy is ‘Easy Peasy’ as all I have to do is be happy and everything else will fall into place. Putting it into practice though is often hugely challenging as we are forced to explore and challenge our, often deeply held, beliefs in the search of better feeling thoughts. I have found (and still do at times) the process to be simple yet soul searching. I imagine the goal of feeling better as my anchor or beacon as I manage the mammoth task of raising and home educating my children.

I share all the strategies and techniques I use on a regular basis to create the joyful family life I always dreamed of, in my book, ‘Easy Peasy Parenting’. Available on Amazon in paperback or kindle version.

Thanks to Jo for her thought provoking piece. Do explore her book and website for further tips and support with your parenting.

 

Disconnected!

We’ve been another week without an internet connection. I’ve had to decamp to a friend’s house to use hers. For the other problem with rural living is poor mobile signal – not enough for me to go online on my phone at home.

Such are the disadvantages of living in remote places. But we’re used to it!

It has its upside. It means that without the seduction of social media, emails and messaging I focus more intently on new writing rather than allowing my time to be eaten away by responding to notifications. It’s easy for that to be an excuse for not getting the real work done. I admit I can be a bit dilatory at managing that!

The absence of the internet also reminds me to practice skills that are independent of it, to be more resourceful, to re-visit other activities, perhaps less sedentary, that do not depend on that connection. And it’s a good reminder that we need variety in our daily lives to bring a healthy balance and outlook, to help us maintain other skills and interests, practical and physical as well as social, to make us more rounded people.

Exactly the same for our children. They need this variety too; involvement in an assortment of skills as well as internet ones, most particularly the physical, practical and personal, to make them healthy, rounded, skills-rich adults.

I’ve enjoyed watching some of the ‘Back in time…’ programmes that have taken families back to life in earlier times, mostly before internet and telly. And some of the comments the youngsters on the programme have made suggest that they have enjoyed living without their phones, internet and telly at times because it has made them focus on each other. Conversation has become a pastime for example, or communicating over board games. Another remarked they’ve become closer as a family.

Now, I acknowledge that I was as grateful as anyone to distract a restless child with some screen based pursuits.

But I’m now aware that this has become such an overused activity that children are lacking in many of the skills they would have naturally gained from connected family time. Some cannot converse adequately, use language effectively, interact with peers appropriately and are starved of the nurture family closeness brings because of long isolate hours entertained by screens, disconnected from real people. Even communal meal times have been overturned by TV dinners.

I enjoy a TV dinner, but not all the time.

What I need, and what children need even more as their on going development is more important, is a rich diversity of experiences. They need opportunities to try a range of different activities, explore potential interests, chances to develop a variety of skills, physical, practical and personal for their well being, resourcefulness and healthy maturity.

A balance of life’s activities in other words. Not a life that’s dependent on one.

Nothing like a week with disconnection to make me check whether my time usage was balanced.

If this extreme weather continues I suspect I might be in for another one!