Thursday, 28 December 2017

Reggio Inspired

This term, I have been working with four other home educating Mums and our 9 children aged 5-11 to build a Reggio-inspired learning community. Reggio Emilia is an innovative, researchful and reflective approach to early years education which values the child as strong, capable and resilient with an innate capacity and deep curiosity for learning. The role of educator is one of lifelong learner, continually reflecting on and redefining their understanding of how children learn. In my experience and understanding, as children grow beyond the pre-school years, Reggio ideas grow into Project Based Learning as outlined in Lori Pickert's excellent book, "Project Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners." Of course, as most children in this country go to school, I am curious to explore how these ideas can be applied to education as children grow beyond their early years. I am particularly interested to explore the idea of collaborative learning which is so important in Reggio pedagogy, that is the way ideas spark in the relationships between children. As a home educator, it is great to witness and facilitate self-directed learning, but it is also important to learn in community and to see how learning develops within a group of children, how ideas spark between the individuals in a group of mixed ages, us Mums as well as the children. I do feel our group is quite experimental, and we are venturing together up a new path in our respective home educating journeys. It has felt rather like building an extended family, a learning community. This term has really been about gelling as a group and getting to know each other. We have simply met regularly, one morning each week, and provided a variety of contexts in which the children can play and learn and engage with one another, from meeting at my home and playing with Lego, to visiting our local transport museum, to meeting in our local library and making our own books, to attending an illustration workshop together. Our local art gallery opens a Reggio playspace to early learners once a month, and we have managed to book an early bird slot for our unusual group of older children which we have enjoyed 4 times this term. It has been interesting to observe the children's play in this space full of open-ended activities and creative possibilities. We have seen some lovely collaborative play, interestingly especially amongst the girls. I have observed the boys focusing in short bursts to build or construct things, then running around, using a lot of the space, before settling to a focused task again. I simply document this because it is what I have observed the children doing, undirected. It makes me think about how boys are required to sit for such long periods at school ....

As part of our learning this term, we Mums took the opportunity to attend a Sightlines Initiative network meeting at Madeley Nursery School, a setting I have long wanted to visit. It was lovely to be able to have a look around the learning space, and see how the children's project work is documented and displayed, as well as to hear some of the staff's stories and to catch something of their Reggio-inspired vision: child-led and challenging. Head teacher, Louise Lowings, spoke of valuing being a learner. She quoted Jerome Bruner who said, "We are storytelling creatures, and as children we acquire language to tell those stories we have inside us." Isn't this a powerful image of learning, granting children the means of expressing the stories carried within? I love this .... It is deeply respectful of the fact that ALL children carry stories within them. Central to Reggio philosophy is the belief that children are competent learners with an accessibility to ideas. "The important thing about this pedagogy is finding your voice," said Lou, and this is true for all of us, both the adults and children in the learning community.

One of the key questions for us in our new Reggio learning group has been how do we document our group learning? Even in our small group of 9 children, how do we select which pathways to follow? There are so many ideas buzzing in any group of children. How do we settle on a shared project idea? I know from Project-Based Learning and the ideas of Lori Pickert that, over time, as we engage in facilitating this kind of learning, we will get better at selecting those interests and questions which have the potential to lead on to deeper learning and sustained project work. But her advice is just to pick something and go for it. See what happens. If it flows, great. If not, try again. This is how we learn. We begin by seeing the potential. Learning happens in the relationship between the children - and the ideas. The stories emerge .... How do we catch them? We can select materials and make them available .... Materials which offer empathy to a particular idea, which have the plasticity to tell the stories. Children can explore many different ways of working with an idea expressing themselves through art, music, movement, photography, writing .... 100 languages, 100 ways of responding, of feeling. I loved the idea Madeley have adopted this year of holding their creative studio "in attesta" (in waiting) .... a place prepared in response to children's emerging stories and then opened to them; a place prepared to evolve and respond to evolving ideas. When revealed to children, such a space inspires quiet reverence; it is a space demonstrating respect for their ideas, a magical space, a place that sustains engagement. This is about educators planning and giving to children's learning, and there is an energy generated by being learners together in a community. One of the key quotes I came away with from my visit was, "We stopped instructing and started loving." If only more educational settings were able to embrace such an approach.

You can read Madeley Nursery's Principles, Values and Aims HERE.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

The Right Brain Develops First

"Did you know that the right brain develops first? It does so by the time children are four years of age. The left brain, on the other hand, doesn’t fully come online until children are approximately seven years old; hence the first seven years being recognized as such a critical period in child development."

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” ~ Albert Einstein

"The Right Brain Developer First - Why Play is the Foundation for Academic Learning"

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Roam Education

Sometimes people wonder what life is like for home educated children, how our days and weeks look. Sometimes I like to write a post describing our day or our week - just to give an insight. I heard someone recently refer to HOME education as ROAM education, referring to how little they were actually at home, and this is rather different to the image many people have of children sitting at home, rather isolated from the world outside. This week has certainly been a week of ROAM education for us .... Here's how it went ....
A highlight of our Novembers is always the Into Film Festival, when schools and home educators are able to watch films in the cinema for free! Last week, we saw "Sing" and the amazing "A Beautiful Planet" in 3D, which was filmed on the international space station, and featured truly incredible views of our fabulous, fragile planet from space. We loved that! This week, instead of our usual Monday morning swimming lessons, we kicked off with another visit to the cinema to see "Despicable Me 3" which was just good fun!

We have to make soup for lunch on Mondays. (My third son is a creature of habit, and likes some regularity to his week.) And then Monday afternoon is always our chore time, so we put some music on and all get busy tidying and cleaning up the house. I have a chores rota, which divides the jobs up between the six of us. My husband and older two boys have a slightly reduced load in light of the fact I know they are all so busy, but we all do our bit. Sometime on a Monday, son number 3 (aged 11) will log on and complete a lesson on his Conquer Maths programme, which he chose to sign up to this year. He enjoys that, and is studying common factors at the moment. His younger brother might play on Maths Seeds at that time. He loves this, and doesn't see it as work or as maths. It is just another way to play. Later on a Monday afternoon, my third son has his tennis squad. He is obsessed by tennis and spends any time he has to himself either watching, playing or reading about tennis. Interestingly, when his brother was talking about percentages the other day, he was able to talk about percentages in the real world context of the stats given for tennis players during a match, percentage of first serves in etc. I hadn't really seen the connection there with mathematical concepts.

Tuesdays we head over to my parents, who live about 40 minutes drive from us. My Mum will do some art work with the boys. This week, we had a go at still life, but using only one colour of paint to practise painting tones. My third son did a really lovely painting. Then my Dad will tell them stories from history. He is a great source of historical knowledge and brings it all to life. This week, they were talking about Charles 1st. We have lunch with them, and then drive home.

In the afternoon, we caught up with an episode of Blue Planet 2, a documentary about the oceans, which we are really enjoying on the BBC. Again, on a Tuesday, my third son goes to his squad.

Wednesday morning this week, we had another film to see at the cinema, Cars 3 in 3D. There were quite a few home educators there, including a few friends we know, so that was fun. We came home for lunch and then headed out again for our fortnightly nature group at our friends' house. We meet in the park for a walk, and then go back for hot chocolate, snacks and to discuss our finds, and perhaps draw in our nature journals. This week, we were looking at mosses. This group consists of 6 families, so around 10-15 children, depending on who can come.

Wednesday evening was busy for me as I went down to Oxford with a couple of friends to hear Katharine Hayhoe speak about climate change, and how to have gracious conversations with those who are sceptical. It was a bit of a treat and some time out for me. She is a great inspiration!

Thursday morning is our new collaborative learning group. Based on the Reggio Emilia philosophy, in this group we are exploring what happens with child directed learning in a community context. I am quite excited about it. We are 5 families: 5 adults, 9 children (aged 4-11) at the moment. This week, we were at our local art gallery where there is a Reggio playroom open once a month. We enjoy having the use of it. It is filled with interesting objects and textures which lend themselves to creative, open-ended play. It is fascinating to observe the children in the space. This month, the three girls worked collaboratively to build a fantastic ice hotel, using so many of the different items available to them. One little boy lay down looking into a mirror, and described the sea creatures he could see. He then ran around saying he was a shark. We all became krill he was trying to catch to eat. This game widened to involve other children. How much of this play was inspired by his watching Blue Planet 2? Certainly the oceans are an interest shared by several of the children in the group. As the adult facilitators, our role will be to identify such shared interests and then facilitate learning around that interest. I was interested to observe the other boys in the group as they were running around a lot, and using a lot of space. Then they would sit and do a very focused activity, building a complex pattern with the blocks for example, but then run around again. It made me think about the length of time boys are expected to sit still at school.

After our play session ended, we explored some of the other galleries for a while but it was such a lovely sunny morning, the children wanted to go outside. So we went across to explore the Cathedral ruins before finishing our time together with hot chocolate in the gallery café.

Thursday afternoon was our final home ed tennis session of the season. About 15 children aged 5-15 turn out for this fun session of tennis games. We will miss it until we start again in the spring. My third son returns to the tennis club again later in the afternoon to play with a friend from his squad until dark. And then, after dinner, he goes off to scouts. This week, his oldest brother was talking to the scouts about his recent involvement with F1 in Schools, and his trip to the World Finals in Kuala Lumpur. I was told he was "an inspirational speaker" and even his brother said he was pretty good -high praise indeed! He took in an old engine he removed from a car to show the scouts as part of their mechanics badge.

Friday morning, we were back at the art gallery for a workshop I had organised for home educated children around the current Picasso exhibition. 23 children came along to explore pattern and print in the galleries, to look at Picasso's lino printing techniques and to have a go at their own print-making. My smallest, aged 5, spent ages carefully pressing his design into his polystyrene block. Even after others had finished, he was totally absorbed, taking his time and working so carefully. I love the fact he is not rushed. After the workshop, we went for lunch at a café with some of our home ed friends, and then one of my third son's friends came home with us to play. On the way, we dropped my youngest off at his friend's house to play for the afternoon. I had a friend over for coffee, and before I knew it, it was getting dark and another week was drawing to a close. Friday night was junior club night at the tennis club, and the older boys have their youth group. Busy, busy, busy .... Roam education!

Friday, 24 November 2017

Are the Kids Alright?

Lords Second Reading happening today.

"The first essential step is to put a duty on local education authorities to create a register of all children out of school. My Private Member’s Bill, which gets its Lords Second Reading on Friday, will put a duty on councils to visit the family and child. This duty should not be seen as negative, as the idea is to offer help where it is needed. Nor is it meant as a prescriptive instruction to home educating parents but rather a way of ensuring the child is receiving an education, safe and not being ill-treated or radicalised." (Lord Soley)

Watch now on BBC Parliament:

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Learning with Mother

Visiting The Armitt in Ambleside last month, and rifling through items from the Charlotte Mason archive they hold there, I came across this newspaper article from the 1950s. It struck me how similar the piece is to those in the modern press about home education. Interesting little snippet of social history ....

A Road Trip

Building on my third son's interest of several years now - the land speed record, and supersonic cars - I couldn't very well let the opportunity to see Bloodhound run at Newquay Airport pass us by. Bloodhound is the latest vehicle being designed by the team who currently hold the land speed record, and who broke through the sound barrier with Thrust SSC in 1997. My 11 year old knows all about these vehicles since a visit to our local transport museum a few years ago sparked his interest. Bloodhound is a rocket and jet powered supersonic car designed to go at 1000 miles an hour. Since unschooling begins with observing and noting your child's interests, when we heard Bloodhound was to be making its first runs, and that the event was open to schoolchildren, I applied for tickets. Once we heard our bid had been successful, we decided to plan a little road trip to make the most of the opportunity. I am hoping that, with only the two younger boys at home now, we will be able to get out and about more and make more trips to places of interest. Cornwall is a good 4 or 5 hours drive from us, so we got thinking about other places we might visit on our trip, and I decided to rediscover the joys of hostelling by booking accommodation in youth hostels. Since there was a sale at the time of booking, I only paid £88 for 3 nights accommodation for the 3 of us, including breakfasts for the boys, and the accommodation was clean and comfortable.

Day 1, we left home and drove south, stopping for a picnic lunch at a National Trust site just off the motorway. Since we are members of the National Trust, I always look for nice places to break our journey and give the boys a chance to burn off some energy with a good walk or a run around. We arrived at our first youth hostel, Treyarnon Bay in the mid afternoon, and were delighted by its location - right above a lovely beach. The boys couldn't wait to get down and play on the rocks and sand. We had a good dinner in the lovely café in the youth hostel, with great veggie options for me. After dark, we settled down in our little bunk room for a movie together before the boys went to sleep. They were super excited to have such a lovely view from our room, and to fall asleep listening to the sound of the sea.

Day 2, after a good night's sleep, the boys tucked into a lovely cooked breakfast, and then we set out towards Newquay Airport to see Bloodhound run! The team had organised a whole day of STEM activities aimed at encouraging children's interest in engineering, and primarily targeted at Cornwall's schools. Once we got inside, we went to listen to a science show, complete with explosions, which told the story of the bid for the land speed record. Then the boys had a go at making rocket powered cars out of foam, which they got to cut to shape using a hot wire. The cars were then lined up and fired down a track to see which were the fastest. It was all quite exciting.

Then we gathered to await the opening of the runway, for which the airport was closed for an hour. Crowds of us processed along the tarmac to take up our positions to watch Bloodhound go. My third son was full of anticipation, but had been very worried he wouldn't really have a chance of seeing very much amongst so many people. However, as everyone thinned out along the runway, we were only standing 1-3 people deep, so everybody had a really good view. We saw Bloodhound moving down the far side of the runway and taking up its position for its first run. This was slightly disappointing as Andy Green (the driver, and one of my son's absolute heroes) wasn't able to get the car to run to the speeds he had hoped. But round he came again to give it a second run. Much better - more noise, fire and thrust! Wholly up to my boy's expectations. And that was it! Back to the event ground we all trooped. We were able to watch Andy Green disembark, and then Richard Noble, the crazy mind behind the whole story of land speed records in my lifetime, took to the stage. My son was thrilled to be able to get his autograph, though he has met him before. Richard Noble was followed on to the stage by Andy Green, who spoke about Bloodhound before signing some autographs. Later in the day, my son was able to get a quick photograph with Andy Green, so that and his signature made it one of the best days of his life!

As the event quieted down with the departure of the school groups, he was able to talk at length to one of the project engineers and to have a good look at the car. He was asking so many knowledgeable questions, and the engineer was more than happy to talk to him at length about his involvement with the project. The boys then had a go at the KNex rocket car challenge, designing a KNex racer to be launched down a track, before we headed back to the youth hostel.

It was such a lovely evening, the boys played tennis on the beach and we watched the sun set. Then we had dinner in the youth hostel café again, and had our hot chocolate before retiring. (Youth hostels also have excellent self-catering facilities, so you can very easily take your own food to cook if you need to keep your costs down).

Day 3, after breakfast, we packed up and left the youth hostel, heading to Tintagel Castle, a beautiful location on the north Cornish coast, where legends of King Arthur abound. Having walked down to the beach, we explored Merlin's cave before climbing up to the castle ruins, from where the coastal views are just fantastic. We came to Tintagel before our fourth son was born, but my third son did not remember it, and it was a new experience for littlest. We enjoyed scrambling over the remains of ancient settlements, learning about the history of the site and firing our imaginations with myths and legend.

We had lunch in a local coffee shop, and then drove across Cornwall towards St Austell. It wasn't the best afternoon, as some road closures interfered with my plans to find a beach I wanted to visit. In the end, we made our way to our next youth hostel, at The Eden Project. Here they have converted shipping containers into modern en-suite bedrooms, or snoozeboxes, which are kind of fun to stay in. We were a little surprised that the hostel didn't have the usual YHA menu on offer, basically because the reception area, including the self-catering kitchen, is housed in a tent. So the menu was limited, and the breakfast continental. This meant we had to head off-site after dark in search of dinner, which wasn't a problem until it came to finding our way back to the hostel in the dark. As the main gates to The Eden Project were closed by then, we had to find the service entrance, which involved driving round the narrow country lanes in the pitch dark without a clue where the service entrance was located. It was slightly stressful and we did begin to wonder if we might have to park up and sleep in the car .... But we found our way back in the end! Snuggled into our snoozebox, we had a pretty good night's sleep.

Day 4, The Eden Project. This has long been on my hit list of places to visit, and it proved to be an environmental educator's dream, especially the Rainforest Biome, which I thought was magical. It is something special to wander through plants from the rainforest of the world, and to learn about the amazing plants, peoples and species our rainforests are home to. Highlights were the Weather maker at the top of the biome, including a canopy walkway and a climb up a wobbly staircase right into the roof where we were able to look down at the whole biome. The boys loved running across the cloud bridge, and being enveloped in steam as we learned about how the rainforests reflect sunlight and cool the planet. You can learn more about the Rainforest and Climate HERE.

There was a lot of information about various products of the rainforest, and interactive exhibits helped us understand how resources are farmed, and how we can make smart consumer choices which will help the rainforests, protect their resources and support the people that depend upon them. We were glad to see a whole display about palm oil, which is found in so many household products from cosmetics to cleaners. Get savvy about your palm oil, and look for sustainable alternatives wherever possible.

By the time we made our way to the bottom of the Biome, we were ready for a cooling baobab smoothie, which was surprisingly nice and very refreshing, on sale from a small kiosk. The stories of the peoples of the rainforest, depicted in wonderful photographs around the Biome were particularly moving. Some of these tribes have had no contact with the outside world, and are endangered by the destruction of their native forests. I was particularly touched by this one extraordinary photograph of a young girl, taken the year I was born. She was described as being as at home in the forest as any child in a modern playground, and already knowledgeable about the flora and fauna around her. I look at this picture, and wonder if the girl is still alive; she would be older than me. And I think about the arrogance with which we condescend to native peoples, thinking we have so much to teach them, about civilisation. And as I gaze around me at this immersive rainforest experience, and think about all the riches of our planets' forests, all the resources they hold, many of which we have yet to discover, I wonder who really has more to teach. Do we not have so much to learn from native peoples in these majestic places?

We are by now pretty warm, and ready for our lunch. We enjoy a good meal in the café, where the food is made from local and sustainably sourced produce. Then we explore the Mediterranean Biome before making our way back up through the zigzag to the hub and car park. Time to drive sadly inland, away from Cornwall .... home.

NB. Tintagel is an English Heritage site. Home educators can enter English Heritage sites for free during school termtimes as long as you book your visit ahead. We contacted The Eden Project ahead of our visit, and were granted educational entry rates as Home Educators. One of my sons has a Blue Peter badge, which grants him free entry to many places of interest, including The Eden Project.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Children taught at home learn more

This article from 2000 popped up on my newsfeed today; not sure why. But the study it cites is interesting in response to the idea that home ed is a middle class phenomenon.
Have a read here ....

Children taught at home learn more

"Youngsters of all social classes do better if they avoid school, study discovers"

Saturday, 28 October 2017

What would you change about school?

"I am not willing to compromise on advocating for children's right to joy and wonder."

Lottie Child, TEDx Dorking

"What would you change about school?"

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Feral Families

"This documentary meets three families who are raising their children under the off-grid parenting philosophy. Does a lack of rules make the children healthier and happier, or lead to behaviour issues?"

There's been a lot of media discussion of unschooling this week because of the Channel 4 documentary broadcasting this evening at 9.00pm.
I will be watching it with interest. The title, Feral Families, is clearly intended to be controversial, and is loaded with negative connotations.
Watch it and see what you think of the portrayal.

[ˈfɛr(ə)l, ˈfɪərəl]

ADJECTIVE (especially of an animal) in a wild state, especially after escape from captivity or domestication:
"a feral cat"
synonyms: wild · untamed · undomesticated · untrained · unused to humans · unbroken · not broken in · not house-trained · not housebroken
resembling or characteristic of a wild animal:
"his teeth were bared in a feral snarl"
synonyms: fierce · ferocious · vicious · savage · aggressive · tigerish · wolfish · predatory · menacing · threatening · bloodthirsty
(of a young person) behaving in a wildly undisciplined and antisocial way:
"gangs of feral youths"

feral child (n)
(Peoples) a neglected child who engages in lawless or anti-social behaviour


(Image via Channel 4)

Saturday, 21 October 2017

You are special! Now stop being different!

"Research shows that learning and attention differences correlate with enhanced problem solving, creativity and entrepreneurship. What disabled me were limitations not in myself but in the environment: the passive learning experience where students sit at a desk most of the day; a narrow definition of intelligence conflated with reading and other right-brain skills; and a medicalization of differences that reduced my brain to a set of deficits and ignored the strengths that go hand in hand with many brain differences.
I’ve come to believe that I did not have a disability, as it is common to say, but experienced disability in environments that could not accommodate and embrace my differences. Ability/disability is not a fact in the world but a social construct, what Michel Foucault called a “transactional reality” created by public policy, professional power and everything in between. All of us, even the so-called normal, move in and out of states of ability and disability every day. It’s our strengths, weaknesses, eccentricities and differences that define our humanity."

You are special! Now stop being different!

"A fundamental battleground for every civil rights movement has been the rejection of the idea that you’re the problem and a demand for cultural and systemic change. Whether one believes that people like me are disabled or persons with a disability, or simply different, we all require the same things: schools, workplaces and communities that are inclusive of the diversity of human minds and bodies. We have to fight for every person’s right to be different."

Children can learn when they want with Unschooling

I am quoted in today's Times: “It is really important that we are exploring alternatives to the traditional model of school because it simply doesn’t work for so many children, and with the crisis in children’s mental health, we really need to be rethinking institutionalised learning.” A small piece, but positive.
Children can learn when they want with unschooling

“In our family unschooling has been a journey into autonomous learning. It is about recognising our children as persons who have the will, desire and capability to direct their own learning.” Also a fabulous thought from Peter Gray: "Self-directed education is becoming easier - previously knowledge was sequestered but now every child is carrying in their pocket all the knowledge in the world."

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Children Are Born Persons

A talk given this weekend at a retreat in Ambleside, Cumbria for home educating Mums following the Charlotte Mason philosophy ...

"When the light went out in my son's eyes eight years ago, and we made the radical decision to remove our boys from the school system, it was because the values of the system did not sit right with us. In our home educating, I wanted to promote different values and to build on a different foundation. First of all, these values come from my Christian faith which says that we are each created in the image of God. Therein lies our worth and value. It is not something to be earned or worked for. We are loved and accepted – just as we are. This is a grace-given truth, not dependent upon our achievements, grades or any qualifications. So my vision for education is founded upon the unique personhood and innate value of each child, and in the belief that education needs to be respectful of each individual. My vision at home would be to nurture my children to be the unique individuals God has created them to be. This is worlds apart from the values our mainstream school system currently purports. Daniel Greenberg, the co-founder of Sudbury Valley Alternative School likewise said, “The starting point for all our thinking was the apparently revolutionary idea that a child is a person, worthy of full respect as a human being.” If that idea sounds familiar to those of you gathered here, you will remember that Charlotte Mason herself, speaking one hundred years previously said that children are born persons.

My eldest son was a quirky little boy, always full of his own ideas and inventions. He used to bore or charm (I wasn’t always sure which) visitors to our home with drawing books full of his own machines and inventions. He did not stop talking and asking questions. If you had asked me when he was 3 what he would be when he grew up, I would have said an engineer.

Now, I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a person whose strengths lie in science or mathematics, which seemed to be my son’s natural languages. But when I saw the light in his eyes go out, accompanied by other anxious behaviours, I set out to try and build an education around his natural interests and all that we encountered in our life together. He was always the ultimate autonomous learner, and if I was to educate him alternatively, I somehow knew I needed to start by observing him, by listening to him, by paying attention to his questions and helping him to find answers, by respecting his personhood rather than shutting it down.

Early in our home educating journey, I was inspired by the ideas of Charlotte Mason. So much of what she said about children and learning resonated with me, and her ideas continue to undergirth my own thinking. In perceiving, understanding and respecting children as persons, I found the encouragement to embrace the wonderful freedom of home education, a freedom which allows us to take the best ideas in education that we can find and apply them to our own family and situation. The revolutionary concept of personhood respects the fact that you are you, and the children you have are the individuals that they are; not vessels to be filled, but partners in a learning journey, with ideas to be sparked and passions to be ignited. This, above any curricula, is your starting point. I want to impart the freedom of that to you this evening.

I am a great believer in child directed learning, but I am also a believer in the importance of a parent’s engagement and facilitation. It is our job to spread a rich feast before our child, and then to see where the learning journey takes us. Unschooling is far from a hands-off approach. Parents are powerful mentors, and for a growing child, to have a supporter at their side who loves them fiercely, who shows an interest in their work and ideas, who instils the belief that they can do, is a wonderful gift, a living picture if you like of a God who loves them, too. This is our job, our role, our privilege – to be at our child’s side as they discover and make sense of the world around them, with all of its joys and challenges.

The feast we lay can be filled with good things, things that interest us, things we know will interest our child, new ideas which may open up new interests, each can be a doorway to places of discovery. And as our child explores and learns, discusses and grows, they will build their own web of understanding, making connections we have not anticipated, experiencing the joy and delight of making discoveries for themselves. Our children will contribute to the feast, too – perhaps in surprising ways, that open our eyes to new ways of seeing and doing things. Their learning will often far exceed our expectations.

I have four boys, and certainly for the older two, writing was a real sticking point. They have always been reluctant writers. And readers too, to be honest. And that was hard for me. Because I love to read and write, and it grieved me to think that they were not enjoying all the other worlds into which books would take them. But, you know, it was something of a revelation for me to discover that there are people who don’t read. My husband is one of them. And there are those who come to books later in life. My brother was one of them. It is actually alright. We need to accept that other people are different from us. There are mathematical worlds to which I am not privy; concepts in physics upon which I miss out. So, I started by looking at the boys before me, and decided we would not have a battlefield; I would prioritise relationship and choose peace. We would focus on audio books and oral work, which they embraced. And those things became a part of their childhood. So they do love story, and their vocabularies are rich and wide. To my astonishment, when they need to write, they do. And their writing is better than I expect. They always had opportunities to explore ideas and respond in a variety of ways - through art, through movement, with other expressions and different technologies. This, of course, even though I was largely unaware of it at the time, is another of Charlotte Mason’s great suggestions: narration.

Whatever is important to you, include it in the feast, nature study, for example. But if it is not their great passion, do not worry. You will have imparted something of what is important to you, along with the gift of quiet observation and paying attention, and it will be tucked away inside their being. My eldest son vlogs, mostly about stuff I don’t understand. But occasionally he will pause in his vlogging to note the colour of the sky, or to follow a bird’s flight or to note the trees in blossom. And I note that he notices, where many 15 year old boys would not, and I am glad.

One year, my son spent so much time vlogging that I despaired. I failed to see the technical prowess he was acquiring, the story telling skills of the cameraman, the way he was journaling his own learning and inventions, narrating in fact, in his own way. He would often be tinkering away in his chaotic shed, busy with some project or another of his own design, and I would worry he wasn’t doing enough book work. And now I can only marvel at how it is possible to be a self-taught engineer, for that is what he has become. The engineer was always in there just waiting to be fanned into flame. I know the concerns, the worry we feel that if we follow our child’s interests, if we allow a child to direct their own learning, how is it possible they will do anything we think they are supposed to? How will they acquire the skills they need to be successful?

There is a widely accepted theory of human motivation called self-determination theory, which proposes that people have three innate needs: autonomy (having control over one’s actions), competence (building mastery) and relatedness (connecting positively with other people). When these needs are fulfilled, people are able to act with intrinsic motivation, which means they will start to do things – even very challenging things – for their own sake.

But when these needs are not fulfilled, people no longer want to do things for their own sake and extrinsic motivation becomes necessary to motivate them to take action. Much of modern day parenting advice is based around the idea of extrinsic motivation, rewards and punishments, carrots and sticks. Such extrinsic motivation is clearly also fundamental to modern schooling. It has to be, because school does so little to fulfil students’ basic needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness. By giving our children choices, helping them develop real skills and enabling genuine connection with others, we are building an alternative education which will result in intrinsic motivation, and the empowerment to live a life free from manipulation.

It is easy to worry a great deal as a home educating parent about whether we are covering the right materials, whether we are reading the right books, whether we are somehow depriving our children of essential knowledge they simply must learn. Social media, as useful as it can be, can load us with images of how other people are home educating, feed our insecurities that we are not doing well enough. We can grasp at resources – and spend a lot of time, money and energy – looking round for that magic curriculum that will be the answer to all our worries, but in those moments, we would do well to remember the liberty of our free range educational path, to enjoy the learning journey that we and our children are on together, just the way we are.

It is this wholly different way of learning, this embracing of autonomy, competence and relatedness - that is perhaps the greatest curriculum of all. Charlotte Mason said, ‘Self-education is the only possible education.’ It is this deep, focused learning that has taken my eldest son from being the anxious boy I removed from school to going to Kuala Lumpur to represent the UK and winning the award for the fastest car at the F1 in Schools world finals last week. Yes, the fastest car in the world, a title he has pursued doggedly and with single-minded determination for the past six months. Our children, the unique persons that they are, have so much potential within them, each and every one. And, as mothers, we are full of potential, too - each and every one of us.

As I was thinking about what to share this evening, a picture came to my mind. It was a picture of the Free From aisle in the supermarket – You know the one? With boxes of food for special diets – Free from dairy, free from gluten, free from ....? There are many pressures and expectations we can put on ourselves as Mums, as home educators. And I want you to walk away this evening feeling encouraged and empowered and released. Free from what? From guilt? From comparison? From your own high expectations? From what do you need to be free?

Children are born persons. When Charlotte Mason said it, it was a revolutionary idea. Looking at the education system today, it is still a revolutionary idea. Charlotte Mason was a pioneer of education in her time, a progressive, a visionary. And so are we - each and every one of us. For we can see a better way; we know there has to be a better way ....

Be inspired this evening. Trust children. Listen to them. Respect the persons that they are. Trust yourself. Respect the person you are. Relax and enjoy your own unique home educating journey. Strive to be free."
© Alice Khimasia 2017

Monday, 2 October 2017

11 is too young for secondary school

"Is it too much to ask for another couple of years where a child can grow and develop at their own pace, in a smaller community of warmth and safety? Stop asking what they want to be when they grow up, stop obsessing about maturity. Let them learn simply for the pleasure of learning just a little bit longer, let them discover, let them flourish, let them play, let them be happy. Just let them be."

11 is too young for secondary school, argues Nick Campion, a parent governor at Hilton Primary School in Derbyshire.

What do you think?

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Can a Truly Student-Centred Education be Available to All?

"Students who had been kicked out of multiple schools were suddenly begging to go to school. Staff members were saying positive things about students’ intelligence and unique ways of looking at the world .... All of these things helped parents see beyond the traditional model .... Still, very few people are ever exposed to this model, and those who are often find it threatening."

When I speak about alternative education, one of the most frequent objections raised is that, whilst it sounds idyllic in a home ed context, it simply isn't possible to roll out student-centred learning for the masses of children in our schooling system. End of conversation.

This article is a powerful challenge to that objection, suggesting it is not that implementing self-directed learning for all students is not possible, but that society lacks the will to change the current system. "“The reason there are so few truly unconventional publicly funded schools is that society doesn’t want them .... School districts and school boards and school people don’t want them.” But is that the same thing as families not wanting them? If some kids find success in a more open, choice-based, free environment, isn’t it worth having that option for families that want it? Perhaps the real answer is not to turn all public schools into free schools, but to allow for a bit more variety within the public system so there is something for every kind of learner."

When we look at the crises and failings of modern schooling, it is clear that alternative approaches to our established system must be given consideration. And the more of us that can envisage, talk about and model a different path, the more exposure society is given to alternatives and the less threatening those different ways will come to be seen.

Can a Truly Student-Centred Education be Available to All?