IMAGINE LIVING DIFFERENTLY,
LEARNING, CREATING, GROWING ....
WITHOUT SCHOOLING.


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.

feral
[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

FERAL FAMILIES TRAILER


(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?


Friday, 29 September 2017

Early Machines

What is fascinating to me is that I have sketchbooks full of designs my son drew aged 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 .... Books of machines. Inventions. machines to do this, to do that. Very precise descriptions of what the machines would do, how they would work. Those who have known him all his life will remember how he would take every opportunity to talk to adults and show them these bookfuls of designs - charming or boring them (I was never quite sure which) with his stream of chatter about his machines, what they did and how they worked. If you had asked me when he was 3 what kind of work he would do when he grew up, I would have said, "Engineering", without any hesitation.


The other thing that is interesting, as his primary educator for many years, is that this is a subject about which I know practically nothing. Often, we can doubt our own abilities to mentor a child with very different interests and passions from our own, but if we are prepared to walk beside them, encourage them and help them to seek out resources and mentors to feed their own learning, who knows where the journey might take them?
Why not all the way to Kuala Lumpur to win the title for the Fastest Car at the F1 in Schools World Finals??

World's Fastest Car


Last week, we waved our eldest son off to the F1 in Schools World Finals in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He is the Design Engineer and youngest member of a team of 4, Academy Racing, from WMG Academy for Young Engineers. It has been amazing for us - and for him - that on his arrival at the Academy a year ago, he was snapped up by the F1 in Schools team, and has had the privilege of this amazing adventure in real-life project-based learning, which has been perfect for his style of learning, and the mentoring of Mr Hodge, a retired engineer who voluntarily gives his time at The Academy to mentor these young people. Like stars aligning, the team has been a magic combination. They won the National F1 in Schools final at Silverstone in the spring, and have been preparing ever since to go and represent the UK as National Champions at the world finals in Kuala Lumpur this week.


The team have been working so hard in preparation for this. They worked through the summer holidays, late into the evenings and at weekends. Not only did they have to prepare everything for the competition, they also had to raise over £12,000 in sponsorship to get themselves there with all their gear. There has been a LOT of work to do. The competition is not just about the engineering; points are awarded for marketing, portfolios, pit display, team image, verbal presentation ... See the full list that follows:


Specifications change for each competition, so the car which won the National Finals could not be used at the Worlds, but had to be totally re-designed to fit the new criteria, which are very strict. Scrutineering is intense, and teams can lose points - and even be disaqualified at the competition - for breaking regulations. The team have had the opportunity to work with local businesses and engineering firms in their preparations for the competition, drawing on the latest research and developments from our local Universities. Our son has thrived on this project, and become a proficient user of CAD and Solidworks. The level of work these teams are producing is quite exceptional. And the whole competition which has brought together teams from all around the world demonstrates such diversity, and hopeful optimism.



As the Design Engineer for his team, our son's focus has been on the car, the design of the car, the specifications for the car (pages he has had to pore over to ensure he is working to regulations), the SPEED of the car .... He has said all along that he wanted the fastest car, the fastest car. And with his usual, single-minded focus and determination, he has applied himself to the task of designing the fastest car in the world.





What a brilliant achievement!
The team were also nominated for Innovative Thinking and placed 10th in the world overall, which is fantastic. They came 3rd in the knockout racing.
Yesterday, I met with the Principal at the Academy to talk about how we face the challenge of bringing him down from the high he will return on, and back to the mundane of the school day. And about the need to focus his single-minded attention on the GCSE exams he has opted to sit in approximately 8 months time. It could prove interesting .... But what a phenomenal experience to have had!


Organic Ed Coventry Launch

We are seeking to build a small, experimental learning community building on the Reggio Emilia philosophy / project based learning. We will seek to build child initiated / parent framed learning experiences. Whilst many of us do this at home with our own children, we are seeking to explore children's collaborative learning, which is one of the strengths of the Reggio philosophy. We hope that nurturing our children's learning as a group will help us all to play to our strengths.

We are filled with anticipation, and ready to launch .....

We would like to invite interested parents to an informal meeting to drink tea and share our vision for the group and explore the way forward. If you are interested in attending, please do message me and I can tell you more.

(I am sorry that at this stage we need to restrict the group to children aged 5-12 and their parents, and not any younger children. But please remember that young children soon grow, and we hope that this learning journey will be the beginning of something that can grow and develop in the coming years. So do watch this space!)



Friday, 8 September 2017

On Letting Go


It's said there is a time for everything, and there is a time for letting go ...

Having educated my second son at home for the past 8 years, in recent months, I had begun to sense that time for letting go was drawing near. The boy is growing up. He wants to be with his friends more than he wants to be with us, and he needs other mentors around him. He is ready for a bigger world.

When I began home educating, I had a real sense that the Staffordshire classrooms into which my older boys had been transplanted after several years living overseas, were restrictive, that they were limiting their experience, growth and vision of the world. I know that won't be the case for all children. But, for us, home education was about keeping the boys' access to the wider world wide open, bridging the experience they had had overseas with their current reality. I wanted them to be out and about in the wider world and community, to be engaged with the adult world, and with all that was going on. And I believe home education provided that breadth of experience; far from being isolated learners stuck at home, our boys have had the richness of being educated in many places outside of the conventional classroom, from museums to allotments, community groups to workplaces, they have learned from and with many people, and engaged in a diverse range of learning opportunities. They have had the freedom to follow their own interests and develop their own passions. I hope that they have grown to be young men confident in themselves and in their own abilities, diverse as those abilities are. And now, I think, their world needs to expand again ....


At the moment, we are watching caterpillars we ordered from Insect Lore pupate; always a fascinating process to observe. And, in my experience, boys of 14 pupate, too ... into chrysalises of late mornings, late nights, online engagement with friends, peer groups .... It is all part of their growing up, changing and becoming men. Both my older sons spent what would have been Year 9 had they been at school (age 13-14) doing very little academically, but growing up in so many observable ways, from the physical changes to the pulling away from family which is necessary for them to grow into independent young men. And I observed this, as I observe the caterpillars. It is not something to fight, but something to accept. So I avoided conflict over what I expected of them during that year, and tried to just give them the space and support they needed to deal with the changes they were going through. There are mixed emotions, from the rejoicing at the inevitable maturing of our young men, to the sadness that the little boys we have known and nurtured are growing up and pulling away from us.

So, we have had discussions, as we had with my oldest son the previous year, about the best way forward for this growing young man. We talked about GCSEs, about which I have mixed feelings. I do not agree with testing, fundamentally, as followers of this blog will know. And yet, we live in a society which uses these imposed measures in our shared cultural language and landscape. It is hard to resist the dominant norms, is it not? As home educators, we know that only too well. And it is one thing for me to sit upon my pile of qualifications and tell my sons they do not matter, and quite another for me to make the choice for them that they can do without them. That would not be consistent with my belief in the importance of consent in their education, about which I also feel strongly.(Read my post on "Consent and the Fundamental Problem with Testing" HERE)

Whether to take GCSEs is a decision my children need to be involved in, and even these qualifications - hallmarked by the powers that be - are not compulsory, believe it or not. There are other routes a person can take, other routes home educated young people do take. Contrary to popular belief - and contrary to what our young people are too often told in school - these elusive qualifications do not define them, and need not determine their future success. Exams are not for everyone. I get upset around exam results time, knowing that for every child hailed around news and social media for their success, there are many more unique individuals the media and our success culture ignore; wonderful young people whom the system has utterly failed, who will not have reached anywhere near their potential, or who will not have achieved what they had hoped to. This is particularly true this year, when the goalposts suddenly moved, and our 1-9s have turned our A-Gs upside down!


To those young people and their parents I say, do not let these results define you. Shake the dust of the schools off your heels, go on out into the world, embrace your passions, work hard and be the unique individual you are created to be.

I hope my boys know that GCSEs are what they are, that they are not the measure of them. But both of them, in independent conversations, have expressed their desire to have a go at them. And so, discussions then have centred on how best to tackle that. There are many young people studying for GCSEs from home, using independent exam centres (like this one) and utilising a myriad of online resources, books, tutors and study groups to achieve their goals. But each of my boys decided that they wouldn't be motivated enough at home, that they would go in to school to do their GCSEs. This has been their choice and my philosophy of education leads me to respect that choice, whilst remembering that consent will also respect their right to change their mind. It is possible their choice might have been different had they been only children, or indeed just two brothers. But they have two younger siblings at home, and so my own ability to give the due attention required of their exam courses, and the likelihood of their being distracted at home, is inevitably affected by our family dynamic. The decision made at this stage of our children's education has to be one which will work for everyone, and that will be different for different families.


I had an idea that my second son ought to go to a different establishment from his older brother. My thinking was that son no 2 is so very different; a designer, a creative, artistic boy who loves music and nature. Where his brother has trail-blazed a path at the engineering academy, I thought our second son would do well at a school catering more to the arts. Better not to go into school in his brother's shadow, I reasoned; better to go somewhere new, and be free to be himself.

However sound my thinking might have been, our boy has his own mind and his own definite ideas. He saw it quite differently, and was adamant he would go to the same engineering academy, where it is possible to take quite a different pathway from his brother, more tailored to design. He liked the fact they intake at Year 10, so he would not have to join a school as a lone new boy. And, contrary to my thinking, he sees his older brother's presence as a positive thing, a reassuring thing. He knows some other older boys there, too. And we have, of course, built a relationship with the Principal and other staff this past year. As was evidenced at his guidance interview, they know us and understand the educational background our boys are coming from. For all these reasons - and because I believe in consent and self-directed learning - son no 2 has joined his brother this week at the engineering academy.


I dropped them both down there on the first day, and watched them walk off together away from me, towards their future, smart and grown up in their business attire. And I felt very proud, and yet afraid. How will he fare, boy number 2, so different from his brother? I felt a deep sense of peace that, yes, this is right, it is time. It is time to let him go. And yet desperately sad that our home educating years are gone. How fast they flew by, and how much more we could have done! If you're a home educating parent, worry less, and enjoy the time you have together. I came home and quietly went upstairs where I shed a few tears, without the boys seeing me. The years pass so fast, I muse, waving him goodbye; 'Tis time to step on out, my son, spread your wings and fly ....



Thursday, 7 September 2017

Into Film Festival

Home educators can go to the cinema for FREE during the Into Film Festival, an annual event in November. Bookings are open now. Take a look: https://www.intofilm.org/events/festival

Thursday, 22 June 2017

The Underrated Forge of Humanity

In a recent keynote speech, FREE RANGE: A LIFE WITHOUT SCHOOL, I spoke about how, for us home educating parents, breaking free from the expectations of others can be a long and difficult journey. I think one of the things that often holds us back from striking out in a bold new direction is fear, isn’t it? It is a scary thing as parents to take responsibility for our children’s education. We fear that we will fail them. We fear our own inadequacy.

But the truth is, as parents we are always the ones responsible for our children’s education. The 1996 Education Act is quite clear: "the parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable (a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and (b) to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise." So the choice is not whether to take responsibility for our children’s education or not; the choice is whether we delegate that responsibility to school or not. I think it is helpful to consider whether we really think those designing the curricula in our schools, or delivering the curriculum in school classrooms, are actually any more qualified than we are in the role of mentoring our child through to adulthood, for that is really what education is about. What do you want your child to learn in the short years they are with you as they grow? Do you think school or elsewhere would be the best place for them to learn these things?

For us, it has always been important that our boys become independent lifelong learners, creative problem-solvers who know that whatever they want to learn, they can learn it. I want them to know what their strengths and gifts are, where their passions lie. I want them to find work doing what they love, so work will always feel like play.


I want them to be men of substance and integrity who are not afraid to stand out from the crowd and do what they know to be right. I want them to know their parents, to understand our values. I want to share with them the special places of my past, to hand to them the stories which have made us who we are. I want them to celebrate diversity and not be afraid of those who are different from themselves. I want them to explore, to be outside a lot and to love the hills, the woods, the birds and flowers, to care about the world around them. I want them to see me pray, and when they see me cry about the mess we are making of the environment, or about the refugee crisis, I want them to remember these were the things that mattered to me, their Mum, that I might be to them a fellow human being, a sojourner with them on life’s journey, also someone learning and growing and making mistakes sometimes. I want them to know that I am fiercely behind them and that they are special and loved. Does this sound like the work of the classroom, the peer group? Or could it be that, in fact, the home and the family is the underrated forge of humanity? That actually parents have a far more valuable role than we have been led to believe? That we are actually far more capable to be our child’s primary educators than we think we are? If you take nothing else from my writing, take this one thought: That you can do this. If you are prepared to take your child’s hand and walk with them on this learning journey of life, to share yourself with them, then, believe me, you can do this, and you will find your own life enriched beyond measure, as you learn far more at your child’s side than you ever learned in school.

© Alice Khimasia 2017

Consent and the Fundamental Problem with Testing

In a recent keynote speech FREE RANGE: A LIFE WITHOUT SCHOOL, I talked about a free range education liberating us from the relentless tyranny of assessment and testing. Since I started home educating over seven years ago, the outcry against primary school testing has grown increasingly louder. Most of the voices seem to accept that some kind of testing is necessary, whilst deploring the way it is being carried out. But I disagree with testing fundamentally.

Kevin Stannard wrote recently in the TES, "the prevalence of testing linked to school status, teacher accountability and student progression creates a backwash which disfigures both curriculum and pedagogy. Time allocated to subjects deemed more important in high-stake tests – numeracy and literacy - expands, squeezing out other curriculum subjects, like the arts, which results in an impoverished educational experience. It is not the substance of the tests that matters so much as the shadow they cast. As Thomas Huxley says, “Students learn to pass, not to know. They do pass, and they don’t know.” (Stannard, 2017)


Our culture seems to be obsessed with measuring, testing and assessment, but as home educators, our children are never obliged to sit a SAT, or even a GCSE or an A-Level, as a measure of their achievement or of their worth. Of course, they might choose to, but that is very different. Consenting to something is very different from having something forced upon you. Consent is something I have been thinking about a lot recently in the context of education. Consent involves knowing what you are buying into; knowing what your alternatives are; and reserving the right to say no – even after you have signed up and said yes. It’s incredible to me that, whilst we live in a time and culture where safeguarding, health and safety concerns & protecting ourselves against liability seem to have become sacrosanct, our children are being raised in an educational system which deprives them of consent. They are not asked if they want to go to school, or if they want to complete an assignment. Schools are, by their very nature, authoritarian, obsessed with compulsion and control. Underlying this prevalent idea that education is something that is done to children, rather than something they actively participate in is, I think, the idea that we do not actually trust them. John Holt suggested that trusting children is, in fact, key to free range education, yet he says, “Nothing could be more simple or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children, we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we ourselves could not be trusted.”


The fundamental reason I disagree with testing is that the values that are repeatedly heard from school are not values our family accepts. Values such as, “It’s all about qualifications” … “What you want to be achieving are those A stars across the board” … “Qualifications are what will open the doors of opportunity.” Schools are, by the language they speak, exam factories. They are seen as a means to an end, a means of gaining these precious bits of paper our society deems to be so important and life-determining. But, actually, the values imparted by our school system are not true. Life is not all about qualifications. What you want to be achieving might not be A stars across the board … In fact, for most children, this is not possible or realistic, labelling far too many as failures in ways that can damage them for life. Qualifications are not what will open the doors of opportunity. Not necessarily. Is our schooling system not therefore a house of cards built on a foundation of untruths?

When the light went out in my son’s eyes over seven 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. It 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 education needs to be respectful of that unique 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 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.”


In September, my eldest son chose to go to a local University Technical College to do his GCSEs. He was 14 and he is there by consent. (Remember consent? Consent involves knowing what you are buying into; knowing what your alternatives are; and reserving the right to say no – even after you have signed up and said yes?) He is there by consent. Yet, there is a culture clash. Whilst the school want the good grades, we want our son to continue to be the unique, independent, quirky, inventive, creative individual we have raised him to be, someone who doesn’t just accept what he is told, but who questions, explores, pushes boundaries. And he is not a fit-the-mould kind of a boy. You can imagine the challenges for the teachers who now have him in their classrooms! Honestly, I don’t think they quite know what to do with him. I have spent years encouraging and nurturing such creative, intrinsically-motivated innovation in my boy and if the price to pay for those good grades is all that we have worked for, then that will be too high a price to pay. Because, in my understanding, the qualities I see in him are the qualities that make him stand out. Such qualities are more valuable than a bunch of A-grades, which were never our end goal anyway.


How about you? You might have a different belief system from me … but what are your values? What is your vision for your children’s education? Is it compatible with what is happening in our schools? Such questions are important, for they form the foundations of our educational choices - if we will take the time to stop, and to ask and to consider.

© Alice Khimasia 2017

A Vision for Free-Range Learning


In a recent keynote speech: FREE RANGE: A LIFE WITHOUT SCHOOL, I referred to one of my unschooling heroes, Mr John Taylor Gatto who was in the business of schooling. In fact, he was such a successful schoolteacher, he was named New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991. Yet, in his essay, “The Seven-Lesson Schoolteacher”, far from applauding the system he was a part of for so many years, he talks about the seven insidious lessons common to all school-teaching. In looking at these lessons, I wanted to put forward the antithesis of each in the hope that these very different values might help us begin to frame a vision of what a free-range education, in contrast to an institutionalised education, might offer. It is my hope that these ideas might inform all of us involved in alternative education, but also those who work so hard within our institutions, to re-imagine a more humane education fit to equip our children and young people for life in the 21st century. As we think about these lessons, think about yourself, about your own children or those you work with, and about how you might learn together ….

So Lesson 1, according to Mr Gatto is confusion. "Information is presented out of context. It is compartmentalised, often by subject area, and is therefore disconnected and unrelated to other knowledge." Going free range, we can offer an education which is coherent, which connects knowledge and concepts, and which follows a child’s questioning and curiosity in a way which encourages children to build their own unique – and often truly amazing - web of understanding. A child’s knowledge will go much deeper because they are receptive to the information they are encountering in that moment. And they will therefore retain more as they make connections and their knowledge of the world grows.


Lesson 2 is about Class Position. "At school you learn to stay in the class where you belong. This is a class with mostly same-age peers, and is often streamed by ability. It is not a class you choose, but a class to which you are assigned. Children come to know their place, and learn to stay where they are put." The antithesis, the free-range alternative, will therefore celebrate mobility, both of body and thought. Children have the freedom to be whatever they want to be. Free rangers can move around, associate with different and varied groups of people, go where they want to go. Education is personal, and gives ample opportunity for children to think about who they are and where they belong. Free range education offers true social mobility.


Lesson 3 in school is indifference. "You must turn your interest on and off like a light switch." Nothing important is ever finished in class, so why should we care about anything? Do you remember how the bell would ring signalling the end of a lesson, and everyone would begin to pack away, whether the teacher had finished speaking or not? "Life in schools is determined by the bell." The alternative approach is therefore concerned with engagement, enabling children to dig deep into what interests them for as long as is necessary. True learning is worthy of their time and attention.


Lesson 4 in school is emotional dependency. "You will surrender your will to a predestined chain of command. Rights may be granted or withheld, by authority, without appeal." By contrast, a free-range approach will show respect for autonomy & self-determination, encouraging children to make decisions for themselves as they grow. (Ground-breakingly, at home they can go to the toilet when they want to without seeking permission.)


Lesson 5 in school is intellectual dependency. "You will follow an imposed curriculum. Others will determine what you are to learn. Curiosity has no important place in your work, only conformity. Good people wait for a teacher to tell them what to do. We must wait for other people, better trained than ourselves, to make meaning of our lives." So, the antithesis will celebrate self-directed learning, the freedom for children to learn the things that they are interested in, to be curious, to figure things out for themselves, to ask questions, to be themselves, to be confident in determining their own path, to find out what is important to them.


Mr Gatto’s Lesson 6 is Provisional Self-Esteem. "At school your self-respect should depend upon an observer’s measure of your worth … children should not trust themselves or their parents, but must rely on the evaluation of certified officials. People need to be told what they are worth." By contrast, we can instil in our free rangers a real self-worth. Children will learn to trust themselves, their inner voice, to know that their own worth and that of others comes from their being, from who they are, not from their achievements or from what others think of them.


Finally, lesson 7 in school is that you cannot hide. "Children learn that they are being watched, and are encouraged to tattle on one another, even to tattle on their parents. The lesson of constant surveillance is that no-one can be trusted, that privacy is not legitimate. Children must be closely watched." So, outside the school walls, we can celebrate trust. Free rangers can be left alone sometimes, to value solitude, to be free to dream and to imagine. At home, in relationship, they learn to respect their own boundaries and other people’s and to know that they – and others – can be trusted.


In his analysis of his school-teaching, Mr Gatto concludes: “It only takes about 50 contact hours to transmit basic literacy and maths skills well enough that kids can be self-teachers from then on. The cry for “basic skills” practice is a smokescreen behind which schools pre-empt the time of children for 12 years and teach them the seven lessons I have just taught you …. Nobody survives the Seven-Lesson Curriculum unscathed, not even the instructors. The method is deeply and profoundly anti-educational … I teach school, he says, and win awards doing it. I should know.” (Taylor Gatto, 1991)

Now some of these issues with institutional schooling might ring true. We might listen to the benefits of a free range education and think it all sounds well and good. But people often say to me when they hear we home educate, “How do you get your kids to do anything? I can’t even get mine to do their homework.” And that is an interesting question, isn’t it? It implies children will not get done what they need to get done, whatever it is we determine that to be. So let’s consider for a brief moment here the question of motivation.

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, right? Grades, detentions, merit marks, house points, exclusions are necessary 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 will somehow be depriving out children of essential knowledge they simply must learn. 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.


This liberty frees us from the hidden curriculum of schools, and it is this wholly different way of learning, this embracing of autonomy, competence and relatedness - that is perhaps the greatest curriculum of all. John Holt said, and we would be wise to remember, “What is most important and valuable about the home as a base for children’s growth into the world is not that it is a better school than the schools but that it isn’t a school at all.”


© Alice Khimasia 2017

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Calling Project Based Learners

If you are a home educator who believes in self-directed learning, has children aged 5-10 and lives in the vicinity of Coventry, please message me. I am exploring a new project-based learning initiative for September to enable our children to engage in more collaborative learning. If you have attended one of my workshops, the group would be rooted in the Reggio Emilia approach to early years education, which in my experience becomes Project Based Learning as our children grow. Read Lori Pickert's Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners for more ideas of what I am envisaging. This would require a high level of parent engagement and enthusiasm, as well as a weekly commitment. I am looking for a small group of perhaps 10 children initially. Please get in touch if you are interested in hearing more about the idea, and possibly being involved.


Monday, 22 May 2017

Two Loops: How Systems Change

"When the forms of an old culture are dying, the new culture is created by a few people who are not afraid to be insecure." (Rudolf Bahro)

Whether we are thinking about systems of education, energy production or even politics, I found this perspective profoundly hopeful: TWO LOOPS: HOW SYSTEMS CHANGE

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Learn Free Conference 2017

The Learn Free conference is only a couple of weeks away. Organised by Christian Home Educators Warwickshire, and now in its sixth year, Learn Free is an encouraging day for anyone home educating or considering it, whether you would call yourself Christian or not. Last year, I was privileged to lead a workshop on Mentoring Self-Directed Learners, and this year I will be giving the keynote speech: FREE RANGE – A LIFE WITHOUT SCHOOL. At the bargain price of £8 a ticket, it would be great to see you there. For more information or to register, click HERE.