Thursday, 16 October 2014

The rocket fuel of home education...

Inspiration and passion, that's what we need, what we need to let happen, encourage and step back and watch.

Indulge me whilst I dip in to another dog analogy to explain. When we brought our first dog home, Hal the Border Collie, extreme gorgeousness wrapped in fluff, we had a steep learning curve to know how to handle our working machine disguised as a cuddly toy. We met an amazing dog trainer at the local club and she took us one to one and started to show us the process.

The thing we did most and our trainer asked us to do every day was play with Hal, get his ball and muck about with him, over and over. Also between every command we were teaching him, we had to stop and play with him. We did as instructed and played with him every day.

It wasn't until later that I started to understand the process that we were in,  we were inspiring Hal, giving him a passion, showing excitement and fun, to help focus him on us and inspire a desire to undertake tasks, like searching, retrieving, and even sitting still. He knew if he sat still that would mean he got to play ball and have fun, so he enthusiastically sat still. He learn't to hunt for his ball, then soon other items like lost keys, with amazing enthusiasm and passion. He now hangs off my every word, why? Because he knows any minute I might do something incredibly fun.

All this because we focused on inspiring him, letting him have a passion.

I bring this subject up, because I am starting to see the fruit of my home educating in my eldest son. I decided about six years ago that I didn't want to teach History formally, old school style, getting a history book and reading it, learning dates or studying specific history timelines etc. I decided I wanted to just enjoy it. So I hunted out some cool, fun, brilliantly produced documentaries on the TV, all different sorts, reenactments, exploring history ones, anything with a lot of visual action, battles, fascinating stories of peoples lives in, like Villians and Heros BBC documentary or the History mystery's.

I didn't realise at the time that I was inspiring and sparking a passion, but I see now that I did, as my eldest son decided to take History A level at Sixth Form college. They let him take the course with out any formal history training or exams. He is loving it, he loves the subject with a passion, he is enthusiastically doing extra research at home to support his college learning, he has thrown himself in with both feet and is aiming for high grades.

Never underestimate how just enjoying learning with your kids with out serious formal work, can spark a life long passion and desire in them that can propel them forward in the future, its like rocket fuel to their lives.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Do you want to go to prison?

Prison life, I wonder what it is really like. I have heard that some inmates prefer the life, find the strict institutional nature feels safe and comfortable enough. We might think this is strange, but I guess if you have spent most of your life in prison, it might begin to feel comfortable.

Why would anyone choose prison? I am guessing outside life might be too hard, no job, bad relationships, bad habits that lead to crime. When you look from the outside the loss of freedom and choice seems massive, that lovely freedom to wander in fields or mountains, to have picnics with friends, BBQ's, to spend time with people that you love. You aren't locked in to a confined space with people that may hate you. 

Things about prison I wouldn't choose: being locked in everyday, guarded by prison guards, told what to eat, you can't leave when you want to, you have to wear a prison clothes, there are high fences around you and you don't get to choose who you are locked up with. 

Parents are being criminalised for choosing what they believe is best for their kids, but now both parents have criminal records for doing this. 

How is this right? How is this best for the children concerned? I would have been incredibly stressed as a kid if my Mum & Dad were potentially facing a prison sentence. All this couple did was take their children out of school for 12 days which weren't approved by the Head. That is it! 

So my reason for discussing prison is to say, so school is basically kid prison now? You can't leave when you want to even if your parents sincerely believe you need to have a holiday, because of family stress? 

So as my youngest son says, why do kids go to prison everyday? He looks through the schools high fences and sees kids locked up, wearing all the same clothes, with supervisors watching over them to check on their behaviour. Apparently some school kids feel the same, according to this news article they tried to tunnel out of school, under the 12ft security fence! 

I hear parents tell me how there has been a letter home explaining to parents that they can only have certain foods in their pack lunches, and must wear certain colour socks, this all sounds very strange to my youngest who has never been to school, he can see it from outside eyes for exactly what it is, kid prison. He read the above news article today and came and discussed it with me, he can't believe that parents are being treated like criminals. 

I know this blog might be offensive to some parents who are happy with their kids school experience,  but I want people to see there may be a different dimension to living, learning and growing that their kids are not experiencing, a freedom that when you are living in it, makes the institution of school seem strange and prison like.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

How to master Home Education...

I love sailing and the sea.  The power and drama of the ocean, the tales of adventure at sea, the stories of explorers and pirates. I have sailed against spring tides, which makes you move backwards, I have landed on islands.
Spot me.

 I have raced in Tall Ships Races, been hit by line squalls. I have capsized, climbed rigging and been becalmed in the North Sea.

 I have done kayaking, rowing, motor boats; you get the picture, I LOVE water activities and the whole romance of the sea.

The sea is so majestic, I also collect picture of lighthouses with waves crashing against them, I am drawn to the sense of power. The sea changes with the tides, seasons, it is unpredictable and uncontrollable.

I was chatting with a friend today about how kids learn and I can't help going back to sea analogies. We discussed the fact that learning is not linear, you can't draw a nice straight line graph to plot your kids progress, its more like the waves of the sea, you have peaks of obvious progress and time when your child seems to resist all input, like the sea with drawing from a beach. This all seems to change with the seasons. Its not something you can predict or control.

What if you have a course set, you have a particular heading in mind, like reaching the coast of Finland from England and you have to contend with the sea and its moods. 

Sailors have to understand how to harness the wind, and consider the tides. When sailing in to the wind you can't sail in the direction you want to go, you have to tack, zig zag slowly towards the heading. This is what we need to do as Home Ed. parents, we have to understand that changing direction, doesn't mean we are not progressing, if for a time our child was enjoying and learning well  from a particular maths course, but suddenly loses all interests, its ok. Just change tack, turn your boat, find a different ways to love maths, go outside and count cars, or cut up apples to understand division. Its ok to change tack, you are still heading on the same course, just adapting to the wind and sea. 

There are times when you can be sailing hard on a 'reach' here is a video of someone doing this, the wind is behind you and pushes you forward, its a great feeling, but if the tide should change and its a spring tide you can be sailing hard forwards at the same time as being pushed backwards by the water, you make little or no progress, or even move backwards. A spring tide is very powerful. The only way to deal with this is get a tow or change direction and land somewhere else.

I think this is like when you feel that sense of progress with the kids and suddenly you get that phone call informing you that your landlord wants to sell the house you are living in, or that someone you love is suffering and needs you. Get a tow, or pull in. When we had to move house, actually 3 times in 5 years, we had to change tack every time, so we decided the best learning for the kids was experiencing the whole house move process, so we took them to solicitors we showed the how we searched for houses, looked around houses and dealt with estate agents.

I will always love the sea and its defiance of man's designs to master it. I think we need to relax and go with the wind and tide with learning and just know, you can't master it, but you can ride the wave.

My today...

Today is the only day you get...

I went out early this morning to walk my dogs. I absolutely love Sunday early morning walks. The road was empty, it felt like I had the village to myself, bliss. 

I walked in to the fields down the footpath, I spent some time kicking hawthorn hedge clippings off the path. Then headed down the path. 

I passed a beautiful fluorescent blue flower in wheat field, sitting there all alone. 

The birds were lively today, rooks squawking, sea gulls wailing, sparrows competing with black birds and skylarks flying up from the path in to the air in protest as we walked by. It's was cooler today, and it was as if the birds were gathering and commenting on the weather. I looked up as I heard a flock of geese pass overhead. Little rabbits ran off the path in terror as my dogs approached fast! 

I repeated this walk with my guest dog, as I now have a job looking after dogs. She took great delight in plunging into the stream by the path and sent up a large heron that had been hiding there.  

As I was walking back I thought to myself, this is my life, I have always had that feeling that my life was a future thing, but today is the day, the only day I have right now, it's not grand or particularly glamorous, as I started the day cleaning toilets and picking up dog poo.

 So I have made up my mind to enjoy each today. Try and notice the beauty, laugh at the small things and not be so stressed about things. 

Friday, 6 June 2014

Pros & Cons of Home Ed...

Having conversations today with a few friends who like the idea of home education but don't know if it's right for them. So I thought I would write a list of pros and cons. This list is personal to me, so not an exclusive list, just things I have noticed:


Total self sacrifice of time and energy.

You can easily forget that you exist as a person.

Sometimes you have to be the one to say get on with it, as no one else will.

You will probably wake in the night sometimes, and lay awake worrying about your kids education.

You can't just pack your kids off to school in those life crisis moments, they live them right along side you.

You have to be self disciplined to get motivated everyday and keep going when you don't always want to.

Most activities you do, will cost money, so you have to get creative about free activities.

What you put in to it, you get out of it. By this I don't mean traditional academics, I mean heart and soul, giving to your kids daily, finding new ideas, finding your own enthusiasm for life.

You can't wait for others to plan your day or activities, you need to organise activities for family or groups, for example, if you want to attend a drama class you may need to create a drama class.

You need to be prepared to adapt constantly to your children's changing interests or needs.

You need to be patient and like being with your family.

For formal study, you will need to either learn just ahead of them or get online or tutor help for subjects you don't understand.

You will have opposition to home educating, people will question you constantly and some may think you are either crazy or just plain wrong.

You won't be able to have a 40 hour a week job, you may need to cut back or even move house to afford to home educate.

Your main limits are your imagination, energy and money.


Precious unrepeatable time with your kids.

Rejoicing watching every beautiful moment of change and growth in your children.

Ability to tailor their education to their strengthens and passions.

Time to adapt to life's flows and ebbs, when sickness or big life changes happen.

My kids have been taught by someone who completely understands them and hundred percent wants the best for them.

You can holiday in school term time.

You can have all the outdoor learning you want and snow days when you like.

You get to meet and learn from a whole range of different people and make friends with a wonderful mix of personalities and background.

Subjects and interests are only limited by imagination and not limited to a set curriculum.

Your kids can choose what path their study takes them, it could be very practical, like Outdoor sports learning or it might be more formal and lead to exams, but its up to them.

You can travel around Europe/rest of world and learn about different cultures and languages whilst others have to learn it from a book.

Your kids can give lots of energy and time to extra curricula activities, like scouts or orchestras and if they have to be out late or camping all weekend in the rain, they don't have to rush to complete homework or be up early the next day for school.
Teenagers can get the sleep and low pressure they need when their bodies are changing and their hormones are raging.

There are many online learning programs and access to information is immense with the internet, add libraries and tapping into friends or family who have special skills can add to your kids learning.

Your kids will have time in daily family life to learn household task and animal care, that they may not have time for if out all day.

Every new government idea about education, won't change you or your kids goals.

Your kids will see how you manage paid work and housework, and learn from that.

You can all have time to think and freedom to just be.

You will have a close family. Rushing and stress will not be a big part of your household, but laughter will be.

Monday, 12 May 2014

To push or not to push, that is the question.

Do you push your kids, should we push our kids? This is something that we all think about and consider. Should I be nagging more, adding pressure, propelling my boys in a certain direction?

It's hard, especially as Mum's to find that balance that special happy place for seeing our kids moving forward towards their future and goals, and who we hope they will be and letting them be and find their way at their own pace.

I don't know about you all but I can naturally get really naggy, if I give in to it. Mainly because I am worried about some thing, for example, will this child ever be able to look after a home responsibly if they can't even tidy their room? That feeling that I must nag them in to it, drive them in to some sort of tidying routine. The other one I am often tempted with is, healthy eating, nag, nag nag!

Sigh! It's so tempting to try and control everything, but I am starting to see the fruit of doing less controlling and more guiding when asked or when there is an obvious gap in knowledge. 

I often find myself, especially in these teen years with my boys, consciously backing off, deliberately reducing pressure on them. Especially with my eldest who is currently do IGCSE exams. 

I see so often, society, schools and even parents putting so much pressure on young people to perform and achieve. They are often required to show evidence of learning and good behaviour to gain approval from all around them, constantly.

See this is where is gets complicated, some pressure is good, but it's not linear, in other words it's like the changing seasons, the waves on a shore, like the migration of birds in the winter or even hibernation. I have found with my boys that some times a gentle nugging to encourage them, times to challenge them with goals, even tough ones, like my eldests exams or times in the past when they have had to deal with people that were angry with them or hard to handle, where they have had to stay in the situation and resolve it. 

These harder seasons never last long and I always try and help by giving balance for the boys, like fun distractions or laugher and friends. But sometimes a gentle push is good. 

What does a gentle push look like? Well I find it's much better when it's a push by giving an idea, sparking an interest, inspiring a goal, for example, if your son wants to fly a high speed jets, say let's look at how you can achieve that, then help them with it. That is a push, but it's driven by them, inspired by their dreams or hopes. 

Pushes always need love, and understanding, and tons of patience. 

Do we let them quit? Yes I think it's so healthy to know there is an option to quit at any point. I think that it helps to talk through the times when they want to quit an activity or line of study. Sensitively try and understand who they are, why do they feel like this, what season in their life are they in? We have found with both our boys that around 11 years old, it's tough, their bodies and minds were changing they needed us to back off, give them space, sleep and time to just be. Which in a few cases mean't quiting activities that outwardly seemed so wholesome! I have found that by letting them just be, such amazing fruit has appeared, they both started to discover who they really were in the world, where they thought they might want to fit in. With out us telling them what they should be doing, they had time to discover their passions. As their passions started to show, I then offered them opportunities to grow these, so there was a gentle push again, in season.

So Shakepeare had it right, almost, to push or not to push? That really is the question.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Why I hate labels... or Undiscovered awesomeness...

Labels, labels, labels, we love to label things, I guess it is part of our human nature, the way we try to understand the world and communicate with our limited language. They help us explain people or groups of people, but when they are used to put a negative limiting label on to a person, especially when its a child, I just feel frustrated and annoyed.

I have been trying to work out why they frustrate me, what is it about labels that make me want to scream and run.

I think this frustration has grown in me since my oldest son was little.  I started to hear people talk about each others kids, labelling them, naughty or lazy or stupid or violent (I know, tell me about it!!).  The frustration grew more as I became a cub leader and heard other leaders refer to particular kids, saying "Oh he is the naughty one!"

So in the last few weeks after hearing again a label directed at a child I began to do some soul searching to why this makes me so mad.

Here are my conclusions:

 Labels are so limited. They pick one attribute of a person and amplify it. They describe a person and  they become like the bits and bods drawer that everyone has at home. That drawer everyone knows that is labelled the junk drawer.  'Junk' is so limited in its description, when you open the draw and spend the time to sort through it, its amazing the little treasures you find inside.  Suddenly the 'junk' drawer is more than just 'junk'.  Isn't this like kids, spend some quality time with the naughty child, talk to them, find something interesting to do with them and suddenly you find they are an amazing kid... We used to have a little lad in the creche at our church, who's capacity for trouble was immense, one week he made a Houdini style escape out of his high chair, out of the door and down the stairs before we could blink, but I discovered if you sat and read book after book with him and he was captivated and sat very still.

Labels dehumanise, a label turns a normal complicated interesting person, who has passions and dreams, into someone that can be dismissed and ignored because they are a lesser person.

Labels make us lazy, they give us an excuse not to find out more about a child or person. "Oh that kid is just lazy!", immediately no more time is needed to assess the child or understand him.  May be that child is not lazy, may be what appears to be laziness is actually a child that has never had anyone take an interest in him, spent any time learning what would inspire him? I have friends with artist children, who love to day dream and live in an imaginary world, which if given time is transformed from their minds into beautiful drawings, but day dreaming and lazy look similar if you have no time for that child.

Labels mean we can catalog children to process them. Bright kids in one class, stupid kids in another, this makes it so much easier for us to work with big groups of kids, but what does this do to the children involved? I know how it made me feel as a kid...sad :(

I understand labels are needed, because we are human, but can I just beg you that next time you hear a child labelled you will crouch down next to that child and smile. Take time, stop and consider that this little bundle of human weakness could have undiscovered awesomeness.