Tag Archive | unschooling

School is just no good for some kids

Since Lockdown put home schooling back in the spotlight I’ve heard of several parents thinking about making the change from school to home educating permanently. So I thought this would be a good time to re-share this post of old…

The leap to home schooling is always a big decision, but I often hear parents saying how uplifting it was to see their children returning to being the happy contented little people they were before they started school. One specifically reported that the many distressing flare-ups and tantrums which had become part of their everyday behaviour after starting school, but which were never part of their nature beforehand, had all but disappeared again.

Yet another conversation I had with a parent I’m connected to on social media also said that they had their ‘happy little child back’ now they’ve started home educating.

From the archives; our happy children back enjoying ‘A Funny Kind of Education’!

It’s something I hear frequently and they are not the only parents to experience this. It happened to us just the same as I described in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ (Scroll down the My Books page and you’ll find an extract)

So, why is that? I was asked recently.

Well, the most fundamental reason I feel is that school is just not good for some kids!

We are all different. And we all react differently to different situations according to our natures. Some of us like crowds and hubbub. Others of us don’t. Some of us can concentrate with distractions going on all around us all the time, others cannot. Some can sit still easily, others find it impossible. And these are not always easily recognisable needs; they are a spectrum of needs that are different for each individual. The class setting of hubbub, peer pressure, powerlessness, the claustrophobic and unnatural social clustering of kids all your own age, with minimal interaction, support or attachment from adults you’re involved with, is not a setting many children thrive in. Understandably – would you?

Add onto that the pressures of the curriculum, the pressures kids feel of meeting targets and test demands, the pressure of pressurised teachers having to fulfil these demands or risk their jobs, the uninspirational task of having to learn stuff you feel is totally pointless, far too complicated and of no interest to you, and being identified as ignorant if you don’t, are the ingredients of a potential meltdown in my view. I’m amazed how many kids survive this climate at all.

Even more worrying is that these pressures continue to build, and I cannot see how that will change, as long as politics and politicians are in charge of it. Politicians who are more interested in political gain than individual children, they have scant knowledge of education – or kids, some of them – and yet feel qualified to disregard the advice of professionals.

We continue to uphold a system of schooling that is long out of date. It no longer serves the needs of children who now have access to knowledge and learning without schools and teachers, and who are parented in a completely different way, and live in a completely different culture, to when the system was set up. It no longer serves the needs of a society that is completely different to way back then.

And as an educational approach its success rate is questionable, leaving many of our youngsters unfulfilled, disengaged, unmotivated to do anything and at worst; unwell.

Yet, I’ve never found a family who has not had these outcomes reversed once they decided to remove the child from school and home educate. The best thing of all is that they get their happy children back. And educating becomes a happy experience.

And if you want to know why happiness is important there’s a post here

I readily admit that school works for many. But not all, so should you wish to make the switch permanently to home education be bold and go for it. It’s a great decision and one which we and others like us never once regretted!

What’s socially adjusted anyway?

Sometimes for escapism I watch Channel Five’s ‘New Lives In the Wild’. I can’t always do it; Ben Fogle’s ignorant remarks about home education grate on me so much I have to switch over.

This recent programme got me just the same. He’s revisiting some of the families featured on his programmes five years ago to see what they’re up to now. Tonight it was the turn of the Goddards, who were living on the Isle of Rum in Scotland, but now have returned to the mainland as their needs changed and the children, who are home educated, grew up.

You can see the programme here

Of course Ben wants to see how things have panned out for the family (me too) and in particular the youngsters. Because Ben is concerned, as he’s expressed before, about home education; in particular about how well home educators ‘adjust socially’ when they’ve had such an isolated existence.

Now isn’t this just typical of those who have limited experience of home educators, and actually limited understanding of how people actually become socially adjusted?

It’s almost like there’s a national disease of wanting everyone to be the same and fit in and be normal – whatever that is. And it rankles! As did his comments, after interviewing the young people, about them seeming to be ‘socially adjusted’ after all – as if that was some sort of surprise!

Odd, isn’t it, how it’s always the social bit people raise concerns about as if it was socially normal in school – it isn’t.

Now I know I’m biased and in support of all those wonderful parents who want to home educate. And in my experience the social side of doing so is NOT a problem. The kids are fine, socially, intellectually, communicatively.

But others don’t know this. Others just listen to ignorant assumptions. And very few people, Ben among them it appears, actually question what social means and how it’s arrived at.

Firstly it perhaps refers to skills; skills of communication, empathy, interpretation, connection, conversation, understanding of others and what’s appropriate, and skills of care as important as any. Anyone who cares is bound to have good social skills by the very nature of what care is. That begins with family and spreads from there. You don’t need to be with a massive bunch of others necessarily, although broad experiences are always good.

Secondly, the expectation is also that youngsters need to be able to cope in socially crowded situations and learning out of them may hamper that development. However, many home educators don’t learn in crowds and their socialisation is rarely under developed. They end up in college, Uni, work, mixing, just like other youngsters.

Not everyone is either a crowd seeker or a crowd pleaser, but that doesn’t automatically mean they are not ‘socially adjusted’ in Ben’s terms.

Some people live in uncrowded places yet still integrate into social situations they’re presented with. Human empathy, intelligence and care, mostly learnt from family, teaches you how to do that, not crowds!

But what grated on me the most about Ben’s presentation of the programme was his arrogant assumption that he was entitled to judge whether the young people, after being fairly isolated, were ‘well adjusted’ socially or not. As so many others think they’re entitled to judge home schoolers – even though many of those judges seem fairly socially unskilled themselves!

It’s also ironic that very few ever consider whether schools make young people ‘well adjusted’ socially in the real world out of school. In my view, many are not!

And never is it ever argued that having less people around, being in less densely populated areas, might be a good thing because it might make us value people more and behave differently.

The incidence of Lockdown has brought home how irreplaceable are those real time, face to face, hug close, interactions with our special few, despite all the digital interactions we can now have with so many. It’s valuing each other that makes us socially adjusted, not being in a crowd.

And it’s fine not to like crowds. Doesn’t mean you’re not ‘socially adjusted’.

What’s socially adjusted anyway? Who is really qualified to judge? We all have social idiosyncrasies.

I so admire the Goddards for sharing their story in the programme and for their inspirational philosophies on life. Good luck to them. And good luck to all who decide on a lifestyle that doesn’t fit Ben’s idea of a norm!

Finally, good luck too, to all you home educators who don’t give a toss whether other pompous arses think you’re socially adjusting or not!

Learning Without School

I always thought that it would be the internet which would make the biggest change to home education. And education per se.

Little did I realise that it would be enforced by the set of such bizarre circumstances we find ourselves in now – forced into it because of the Pandemic and Lockdown rules! Everyone now forced into doing ‘school at home’, and I put that in inverted commas because it is very different to home educating as a thought out decision up front, (see this blog which explains a bit)

However, this enforcement has prompted many parents to take a more in depth look at home educating (or home schooling – see this blog for an explanation of terms) and begin to understand that children can and do learn without schooling, learn without the usual tests and ticks and structured classes, some of them learn without any kind of institutional influence at all. The accessibility to education the internet provides has given new parents the confidence to reconsider this option.

So if you’re one of the parents wanting to know more then you might find my very first book ‘Learning Without School Home Education’ helpful to delve into as it is broken down into chapters that ask all the common questions about home education.

The chapter titles are as follows:

  1. What is Home Education and why do people do it?

2. How do parents start home educating?

3. How do home educated children learn?

4. How do home educated children find friends and become socialised?

5. What about curriculum, subjects and timetables?

6. What about tests, exams and qualifications?

7. What is life like for a home educating family?

8. What about children with learning difficulties or special needs?

9. Where do home educated families end up?

Of course it was written long before the pandemic. It was also written before the Internet became the massive learning facility that it is now. But, you know what? That aside, learning is still innately a human experience and it is partly that which we have to consider; things like family influence, personality, the myriad of ways to approach learning other than the academic and structured, parents’ feelings and ideas about education, children’s responses to school circumstances – very valid but hardly ever acknowledged as such, all of which are important. Education is not just about ticking boxes.

Despite the glories of the internet; the marvellous tool it is for research, facilitating education and eradicating the elitism that came with the exclusive possession of knowledge in the past, it will never be able to replace the humane qualities of support, inspiration and encouragement that another human being can bring to the process – that human not necessarily needing to be a teacher as home school families are proving.

The internet can’t do human! Only parents and teachers can add the flavour of that – and yes – parents can and do adequately facilitate their children’s learning alongside the internet.

As time goes on there are increasing numbers of young people out in the working world who were home educated, some of whom never went to school at all, who are educated and intelligent, leading happy, productive and successful lives, and no one would ever know whether they went to school or not! Thus making parents ask the question, as they are doing now with the advent of on-line learning and enforced school-at-home, what is all this school stuff really about anyway?

A question I suggest you keep on asking!

You’ll find more details on the book ‘Learning Without School Home Education’ if you scroll down the ‘My Books’ page on this blog.

The case for un-learning

An illustration by Charlie Mackesy from his beautiful book; ‘The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and Horse’, details below.

You maybe don’t realise but in order to home educate successfully parents have some serious un-learning to do!

Un-learning? That’s a bit contrary for an education blog isn’t it? How is that going to help with home schooling when there’s so much new stuff to understand?

And that’s the whole point; there’s a lot of new stuff to understand about education. Old stuff to un-learn. Un-learn a lot of inhibiting ideas about approaches to learning and education that can get in the way of a successful home educating journey.

Firstly is the idea that only qualified professionals can facilitate a child’s learning. Not true. Anyone can help a child learn, anyone can give support and encouragement, inspire and motivate them, which are all the things you need to assist learning. You don’t necessarily need it to be teachers. The content stuff you can find out on the internet anyway.

Secondly, there’s the idea that kids need a classroom, to be quiet, to sit formally, to study all the time, to write stuff down, to do formal academic exercises, in order to learn anything. Also not true. There are all sorts of different ways to approach it, informally, incidentally, as a by-product of other activities, whilst moving about, out and about, through conversation, through active experiences, YouTube, visits to historic or scientific sites, as examples. Another example; reading any sort of material is as valuable for developing reading skills as wading through a reading scheme. Learning can successfully take place in informal settings in informal ways.

Thirdly, there’s the idea that in order to progress kids need to be tested. Not true. Tests have very little value to the learner. Why waste time regurgitating what you already know when that time could be more usefully spent on learning something new. (Understand more on testing here)

And fourthly, and a massively damaging idea; that all learning requires paper evidence of it having being learnt otherwise it hasn’t taken place at all. Parents are addicted to having massive amounts of stuff that shows what the kids have been learning. But no amount of paper evidence is proof that learning has been absorbed and understood. Now, I can totally understand that parents feel more confident with a nice wad of workbooks or written exercises or note paper with their children’s ‘work’ inscribed upon them to show off to relatives, doubters and the LA. And do it for that reason if you must. But this isn’t an essential approach to learning things. It demonstrates some skills, admittedly. But not proof of concepts having been deeply understood which is what really leaning is about. I appreciate it’s different at exam time and some youngsters find it helps to record stuff, but let that be if they choose to – not as a default.

And fifthly, the idea that how they do it in school is the right way. It isn’t necessarily. It’s just one way to approach education. In fact, is a wrong approach for many kids.

You have to brave to home school and continue to do so. Brave enough to let go of a lot of what you thought was true about approaches to learning. You have to trust that your intuition is right, that learning is taking place as long as the children are actively engaged, even when there’s no paper evidence. You have to re-learn what you may have been taught about education through your own schooling.

Especially that the school way is the right way to becoming educated.

It’s not.

Thousands of parents and families have un-learnt that idea. Perhaps you should join them.

Find Charlie Mackesy’s delightful book illustrated above, here It’s just what you need for troubling times!

A new kind of educational history

I read a fascinating book recently called ‘The Button Box’ by Lynn Knight. It is a social and fashion history inspired by the buttons of the times and their relevance to how everyone lived, the women in particular. Through the buttons the book illustrates the position of women through the ages, from the rich to the powerless (as most were in past times), and their ever changing roles and rights.

What struck me most was how resourceful women have always been, how ingenious they were at making use of what resources they had and how creative and entrepreneurial they were when, let’s face it, mostly they were up against it!

I think that is a fundamental skill most women have, developed further I think through mothering, home educating, and in times of challenge. A bit like now!

Throughout the pandemic we’ve all faced hardships and deprivation of one kind or another; social and spiritual as much as the financial and physical. And educational, even though it’s been education in itself. We’ve had to dig deep into resourcefulness some of us never knew we had.

I always equate that kind of resourcefulness with home educators – it’s almost a natural part of what home educators do; make an education with an entrepreneurial spirit. And maybe those who’ve had home education thrust upon them through ‘school-at-home’ which is very different (see this blog), have discovered that they can be resourceful with education and learning too and branch out from what they thought it was. I hope so.

Most people have always (wrongly) thought that school is the only route to becoming educated. And it also requires having money. Or masses of tech. Or qualified teachers. Or expensive materials.

All these may contribute to a broadening of an educative experience, but are still no guarantee.

What we need most of all to develop educated people is to encourage them to have resourceful, inquiring minds. Minds that can adapt, embrace challenge and diversity, think past problems, who have resilience and staying power, as well as the ability to find out stuff, seek out new experience and learn for themselves by whatever means we have.

Prescriptive schooling rarely achieves this. But this is what home educators generally do most of the time!

Home education and the people doing it are nothing if not resourceful. Unlike school-at-home where many schools prescribed the learning, home educators take a different approach and engineer it themselves. They consider options, navigate resources, choose their objectives and the route to take them there within the boundaries of what they have to hand.

Few have exclusive lab equipment or high brow tech, but they find ways open to them.

But what they do have is the best resource any educator can give; the time, attention, engagement and encouragement of another human being.

We are raising and educating human beings remember – social human beings. Tech will never show us how to be human however much we use it, or use online teachers and online schools. Whilst useful, tech can never show how to be empathetic and responsible, respectful and kind, in the way that humans show. And you need those qualities as well as knowledge and exam passes to be a truly educated human being.

As the book says; whether you have posh buttons or cheap ones on your clothing, wealth or poverty, underneath we are still all human.

It’s also true that whether you are school users or home educators; education is about humanity and developing personally as well as academically. Education should develop a mind that is broad and open, all embracing, and resourceful, and able to go on learning beyond being told what to do through prescriptive schooling.

And it is the resourcefulness of home educators and the approaches they’re using, that succeeds in doing this and in making a new educational history which other families and educators, current and future, should learn from!

Tips for tough homeschool times

Here we go again; another Lockdown and worries about where this is all going to end.

It can make for tough times, especially if you’re home educating and worrying about the children’s learning.

Just remember you survived the last Lockdown and the children will be learning all the time from whatever you’re doing. I’m sure they still will despite more Lockdown restrictions.

And if you’re worrying whether they’d be better off in school you should also remember that there are no guarantees that school will work out either. Just as there are no guarantees any style of parenting will work. Or any lifestyle will be right for you – and home educating is as much a lifestyle as a style of learning, since it becomes so integrated with life. So don’t worry about that as well as everything else!

Just carry on without guarantees. Put in whatever’s needed to give home education your best shot.

The best tips I can offer for that are:

  • Listen to your intuition. If a home educating activity or style of learning feels intuitively right for you and your family it probably is.
  • Do whatever’s needed to help you all cope whether that’s education wise or personal; actually, it’s all education anyway. And remember there’s no rush, take your time. This won’t last forever.
  • Look to the Now. Take each day as it comes. Your child will grow and change. Your home educating will grow and change. Lockdown will change – just do what you can, much will have to be be virtual at this time.
  • Keep in virtual contact, learn from others. Observe what they’re doing. Remain responsive to ideas but be prepared to flex or adapt them for your use. Don’t stay stuck. We’re so used to systemised thinking keeping us stuck we forget we have enormous flexibility with home ed – a chance to do things differently. Kids learn from everything!
  • Nurture your relationship with your children through respect. Respect is a two way thing (unless you’re in school!). Use it to build a workable and happy Lockdown learning experience. Demonstrate respect to them, expect it from them. Do that through the way you behave. Create space from each other within the boundaries of your home so you can keep relationships sweet. Be inventive about room use.
  • Keep talking things through with the kids. Youngsters can be part of the decision making, require explanations, can take charge, have ideas. Lots of conversations are extremely educative.
  • Keep it light though. It’s not law that educating should be burdensome. It should be joyous. It’s there to enhance life remember! And it doesn’t happen overnight – be patient. times are tough.

You cannot guarantee outcomes. But you can guarantee that you’ll do the best you can to facilitate your child’s learning experience, however you’re managing it at the moment. Obviously it won’t be enjoyable all the time – life’s tough for everyone. Let go the bad days – they’d have them at school where absolutely nothing would have been learnt. Some homeschool days will be like that too! Quit worrying!

There’s lots more tips and reassurance in my Home Education Notebook which covers all the concerns people have when they home educate – whether in Lockdown or not. For a lighter read try ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ which is the story of our own home schooling life with tips and suggestions thrown in, along with a little laughter which is what we all need right now. It’s had some fab reviews! And if you’re still stuck making the decision try my ‘Learning Without School Home Education‘ which answers the FAQs. See the My Books page for more details.

You cannot force a child to learn…

I’m working on sharing ideas with pictures right now – I know it gets boring wading through print all the time!

Here’s my latest thought:

It’s something that most people never think about, as they threaten dire consequences to force kids to learn with sayings like; you’ll never have a life if you don’t do exams, or; you’ll fail in life if you don’t do your school work, or; if you don’t learn this now you’ll never have another chance. All complete balderdash – I’ve seen the opposite happen!

And anyway threats like this don’t work because, although children may be giving the impression of taking it in, it’s absolutely true that:

All you can do is provide the right environment, nourishment and encouragement; physical, mental and spiritual, give their roots and limbs room and time to expand and grow and connect, and let go….

Break from education?

End of July and traditionally the time when you don’t have to worry about education for a while as the schools break for summer!

Of course, this year, there’s been little traditional about education and the routine learning life most are familiar with as Lockdown kicked in and everyone was learning without school. Life has been up-skittled, both for school users and those already home educating whose learning life was also disrupted by being unable to go out and about like normal.

It’s all been very weird. Hard work. And worrying for all families. I know there are thousands worrying about their children’s learning. The original home educators among them, even though they’re used to a slightly less orthodox learning schedule.

So I reckon it’s time to take a break from all that fretting about education and learning, about how much to do, or worrying about what has not got done! Now’s the time, as the lockdown restrictions hopefully lessen during the summer, to enjoy the outdoors even more, enjoy family activities safely spaced, and let go concerns about making it ‘educational’.

You never know; you may see magic happen.

For there’s something important to know about learning – something many home schoolers already know;

Even though you may not be thinking about it, it will still be going on.

Children learn and develop every day, from everything they do, see and experience.

They’re always learning, whatever they’re doing.

You can’t stop them learning. They’ll be developing in ways that enhance their skills and understanding which will in turn reflect on their progress when they get back to more formal activities.

So just enjoy your summer. Stay safe. and trust in the process.

And I may take a little blogging break too and return later in the summer with more words and pictures! Although I’ve tried that before and it hasn’t always worked for, like with learning; you think you’re not doing it but ideas are generated all the time.

Sometimes all we need is some space to let new ideas flow, children and adults alike!

Reflections on the early years by Alice Griffin

Alice Griffin is a writer and home educator living a wandering life with her little family. She also home educates and we’ve met her before when I invited her to tell us about her home educating life. (Read her articles here and here where she also writes about the value in play). This time she’s talking about her now teenager, how life has moved on, and reflecting on the life that others told her should be different!

Alice and family

I think you’ll find it reassuring! Over to Alice:

“Can I make you something to eat, darling,” I call out to my 13-year-old daughter, Isabella, as she gets on with a project in her room. “Um, yeah, I guess I’m hungry” she replies and quickly I jump into action. “Don’t worry! I’ll make you a snack! Shall I make those little finger sandwiches you like? Or perhaps a fruit salad?” The truth is, I would make a three-tier cake complete with fancy icing and sparklers if she wanted it… but I hold back. It’s just so rare these days that I am able to do anything for her.

When she was a baby they said I needed to put her down otherwise she would never leave my side. As she grew they said we should send her to nursery or she wouldn’t be able to socialise. By the time my daughter reached five, they said school was where she would learn about the real world and that she wouldn’t have a friendship group if we kept her home, which would be cruel. And when we said we didn’t want to introduce technology until she was at least 10, they said that was cruel, too.

I can hear the voices even now, telling me what was right and proper, but luckily MY voice was louder and so—along with my husband—we stuck to our gut and decided to follow our instincts.

Now, as Isabella asserts her growing independence and runs ahead instead of begging to be carried and I ask if she will please remember to hold my hand just sometimes… Or as she busily natters with her wide-ranging friendship group on-line, making plans for when we move on from Coronavirus… Or when she runs off to do her farm job each morning and then returns to sit down with my husband and I and inform us (!) of what projects she’s planning to work on this week… I remember. I remember what they said.

SO, what I say is this: Hold your baby close for as long as you possibly can. Breathe in their scent and retain that memory tightly in your mind. Never ever complain when they reach for your hand. Play, read, explore… and trust that a love of learning will naturally grow from this rich exposure to the world. And if you have something deep within that tells you to parent in a certain way, be it technology-free or with technology, living on the road or in one place, maybe home education, TRUST yourself. Trust that you know your family best; that you know your child.

Choosing Home Education hasn’t always seemed the easiest route. There are times where I have been consumed with worries—about whether we’re doing enough or providing the right opportunities. There have been periods of overwhelm and self-doubt; moments when dropping her at the school gate each morning into the hands of professionals, appeared infinitely easier. But I know now that all these feelings are okay, because I have discovered that it doesn’t matter if you home-educate or send your kids to school—it’s parenting that presents challenges. And I wouldn’t change our decision, not for the world.

All that hugging and holding hands, all that playing together outside—picking flowers and examining trees—all that baking cakes and painting with fingers and feet and all that time we didn’t go near technology… It didn’t have any ill effect. Isabella is no different to any other teenager in her desire to grow in independence, hang out with friends and follow her own dreams. And I am no different to any other parent of a teen, by her side encouraging her to fly free.

So, if you’re at the beginning of the journey and the voices around you are shouting loud, take heart and stay strong. Enjoy these early years; enjoy your babies. Because before you know it, you’re left with empty arms and every time they step back into them, each time they reach for your hand and you’re able to do something for them—finger sandwiches, fruit salad or lavish cakes—it feels like gold.

Instagram: alice_is_in_wanderland

www.instagram.com/alice_is_in_wanderland/

http://www.alicegriffin.co.uk

Play, learn, research – it’s all the same to education!

A friend and I were talking about playing. This is not about the children you understand, they’re all adult now, we were talking about us and what we’d been playing at!

Play gets a bad press. Our target and objective obsessed culture – and education – leaves little room for play. It’s increasingly squeezed out of our lives, squeezed out of childhood, definitely squeezed out of learning.

The crime of that is that play is a very profound and valid way of learning.

But at the risk of being accused of ‘wasting time’ most of us don’t do it any more.

My friend and I are both branching out into new realms. And both of us need to put in a huge amount of hours to develop the skills needed. Much of this is experimentation and trial and error. Basically we need to play around our subjects to learn and become practised at them.

Me playing with ways of presenting words! Encourage your children to play with materials, tools, ideas.

But the label of play – to describe our associated activities in that way – gives us the shivers. For we’re supposed to be ‘working’ aren’t we?

And that’s where the confusion lies. Play is valuable work too.

You rarely come away from playing with various materials (think cooking, becoming proficient with your latest gadget, or all kinds of creative activities) without having learnt something.

Playing is an extremely useful form of research. Many important discoveries have been made by accident, and some of our most renowned genius’ like Leonardo Da Vinci for example, have come to greatness through playing around with ideas.

By making less and less time and opportunity in children’s lives – and education – for them to play, we are denying them valuable chances to develop their minds and skills. Whether that’s tiny tots playing with what’s around them as a form of discovery, children playing with bricks, books, junk, tools, utensils, household stuff, art and crafts materials, or teenagers with their gadgets, games and technology; understand that this is how they are learning and developing.

It’s all valuable research into the stuff of life. The stuff of work. Development of the mental as much as the physical. Development that will enhance their capacity to learn.

Play, learn, research; they are all inseparably interlinked. (Interesting article on the benefits of play here)

So we should encourage our youngsters to play as much as possible. It is never a waste of time.

And as my friend and I discussed; that applies to us adults too. We’ll just call it research from now on!