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


Monday, 30 January 2017

Isaac Newton's House


One of the absolute best things about home educating is being able to take trips which fit in with what we are learning. This kind of experiential adventure really brings learning to life and makes all those historical facts and figures so much more memorable. My middle two boys and I are reading through the history of science at the moment, and our most recent chapter was all about Isaac Newton. The house where Isaac was born - Woolsthorpe Manor - is only about an hour and twenty minutes drive from us, so one freezing cold morning last week, we set out to explore.


Oh, I should let you in on another secret ... on weekdays during school termtimes, such places are VERY quiet - Perfect for the introverts among us! ;) We had a guided tour of the house - all to ourselves - with a lovely guide who made the visit engaging for the boys and asked them lots of questions. We will always remember where phrases like "Sleep tight", "Tie the knot" and "Costing an arm and a leg" come from, and we will remember looking from what was Isaac's bedroom window upon the now infamous apple tree in the orchard below.


We enjoyed exploring the science centre and envisaging some of the scientific ideas we had been reading about. There was a lot of opportunity to explore and play - and we had the place to ourselves. Well worth the drive!


Pressure mounting for 5 year olds

There are times when I do wonder whether I have made the right decision home educating my sons, but when I read blog posts like this one, I am so glad I took them out of school.

"In his first year and half in school, my son has gone from being a vibrant confident boy, to now feeling that he’s not good enough, he’s not smart enough, he’s too stupid. He’s anxious that he’s always getting it wrong. He’s terrified of being put back a year and descends into tears when he confuses writing a ‘b’ and a ‘d’. The targets that the government are setting are also making some teachers look out for learning difficulties and disabilities that may not even be there. We are beginning to lose sight of the fact that these children are only five. They are not stupid, lazy, naughty or with an undiagnosed difficulty. They are simply not emotionally or physically ready for this pressure."

Little boys beginning big school

"When boys feel emotionally vulnerable –– as they do when they struggle with the academic requirements of their first year of big school –— they tend to have a default setting that takes them straight through to anger, which is a very acceptable warrior emotion but often not acceptable in everyday settings, especially school. Feeling vulnerable, sad, bored, unhappy, confused, uncertain of what is required of him or a failure often is expressed through anger and often in aggressive acting out behaviour. The stronger a boy feels emotionally connected to his adult allies, the safer his emotional world becomes and the better his behaviour will be.”

An interesting article by Maggie Dent on boys starting school .... Read it by clicking HERE.


Struggles at School

It was inevitable that, like a clash of cultures, struggles at school would emerge. My son, aged 15, ever the independent learner, is not enjoying the classroom. He finds it frustrating how much time is wasted due to poor behaviour, and by having to move at the pace of the whole group. He wants to get on, to dig deeper, to work independently. He wants the teachers just to show him where he is headed and then leave him alone to get on with it. And what is wrong with that? Surely these are the kind of learners we want .... aren't they?

I have emailed the Principal .... I am hopeful we can find some sort of happy compromise. But what if we can't? I feel anxious.

When I was at sixth form, our timetabled lessons were pretty sparse. Between lectures, we were free to go home, to study at college or just to hang out with our friends. We were free. We managed our own time. I loved it. I don't think, even at sixth form, it is this way anymore. Why is there the need to constantly monitor our young people? It betrays such a lack of trust in their own ability to drive their own learning; it is frustrating.

My son wants a space where he can sit and just get on with his work quietly. Should this be too much to ask of a modern school? The teachers express concern that he would rather work alone than in the classroom ... But we are not talking about an unwillingness to collaborate, or an inability to work in a team ... He loves collaborative learning and, this week, has proved by his participation in the F1 in Schools regional competition that he is perfectly able to work in a team. F1 in Schools has been such a highlight for him. He is the Design Engineer, the only Year 10 student on the team, and he loves this kind of project based learning. Loves it.

But he sees so much of the time in the classroom as a waste of his time; time he could be spending so much more productively. He is eager to learn, wants to do well, wants to ask questions and to dig deep into the material. Why is his style of learning not accommodated? Rather he is told not to work so hard to get ahead .... basically to sit down and shut up, just to blend in. Why do we think this is good enough? Why do we set the ceiling so low?


Monday, 23 January 2017

Too much, too young: Should schooling start at age 7?

England and a few other countries start formal education at age 4 or 5. That's harmful and misguided.

Read the full article by David Whitebread and Sue Bingham from The New Scientist (November 2013) HERE.


Sunday, 22 January 2017

The Cultural Imperialism of Schooling

I have thought & spoken before about the idea of schooling being a kind of cultural imperialism, by which I mean, a culture imposed upon the masses by those who think they know best - usually by virtue of their background, class or their own educational success. This is an idea taken up by Carol Black in her profoundly challenging film: Schooling the World: The White Man's Last Burden. If you haven't watched it, do.


The description of the film says ....
"If you wanted to change a culture in a generation, how would you do it?
You would change the way it educates its children.
The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th century when it forced Native American children into government boarding schools. Today, volunteers build schools in traditional societies around the world, convinced that school is the only way to a ‘better’ life for rural and Indigenous children.
But is this true?  What really happens when we replace another culture’s canon of knowledge with our own?  Does life really get better for its people?
SCHOOLING THE WORLD takes a challenging, sometimes funny, ultimately deeply troubling look at the role played by modern education in the destruction of the world’s last sustainable land-based cultures ....
And it questions our very definitions of wealth and poverty – and of knowledge and ignorance – as it uncovers the role of schools in the destruction of traditional sustainable agricultural and ecological knowledge, in the breakup of extended families and communities, and in the devaluation of ancient spiritual traditions.
... SCHOOLING THE WORLD calls for a “deeper dialogue” between cultures, suggesting that we have at least as much to learn as we have to teach, and that these ancient sustainable societies may harbor knowledge which is vital for our own survival in the coming millenia."

Although it appears wholly disconnected, for Christmas I received a book:


Today, down with a heavy cold, I have started reading it. I want to share the first few pages with you (With credit to James Rebanks) Click on each page to read ....


My husband often works in challenging classrooms in our own city here in the Midlands where there seems to be disconnect between the teacher / culture of school and the young people who frequent these classrooms. That is why I said in my TEDx talk we need to profoundly change the way in which we engage these young people. We need to recognise the value of their own stories and the worlds that they inhabit. We need to help them to write their own journeys, discover the dreams and talents within, enabling and facilitating, rather than always thinking that we know better ....

When I was 15, I went to my GCSE Geography teacher with an idea for my coursework, a geographical enquiry. I went to him, a young Sussex girl with my love for the Downs and the Weald, and fascination for the geographical features I encountered walking the local hills with my friend. I wanted to investigate the strata of the hillsides; I certainly wanted a project rooted in the local countryside I loved. But the teacher didn't encourage my interest .... "You should do urbanisation," he said. Urbanisation? What did I know about urbanisation? But, ever the compliant student, I spent the weeks that followed studying global urbanisation, and drawing seemingly endless pie-charts, all beautifully coloured and nicely presented. I got an A in GCSE Geography, but a line of self-initiated enquiry was closed to me and, a few years later, life and education moved me away from those Downs I so love. I miss them still ....


"Students learn to pass, not to know. They do pass, and they don’t know."(Thomas Huxley)

"The question is not - How much does the youth know when he has finished his education - but how much does he care?" (Charlotte Mason)

Though I no longer dwell in the South Downs, the South Downs will always dwell in me.

Now as fracking companies threaten those hills of mine, who will stand before the destructive machinery and say, "No" if we do not care? Who will stand with the native American communities at Standing Rock and say, "Save our Water" unless we care? The Grade A is not so important, really, is it? Not for a rootless urbanite who really just wants to go home ....

"I sometimes think we are so independently minded because we have seen just enough of the wider world to know we like our own old ways and independence best. My grandfather went as far as Paris for a trip to an agricultural fair once. He knew what cities had to offer, but also had a sense that they would leave you uprooted, anonymous and pushed about by the world you lived in, rather than having some freedom and control. The potential wealth on offer counted for little or nothing set against the sense of belonging and purpose that existed at home." (James Rebanks in "The Shepherd's Life)
 

Innovation Doesn’t Come in a Kit (8 Better Options)

I love this piece from Laura Grace Weldon ... When I talk about Mentoring Self-Directed Learners, I talk about building "the Maker habit" .... Like Laura's children, my eldest son has never been one to follow instructions ... HERE Laura gives 8 cheap, easy, playful ways to raise makers.


'Whether students take too many tests misses the point: testing has elevated assessment above pedagogy'

"In England, the prevalence of high-stakes testing linked to school status, teacher accountability and student progression, creates considerable backwash, disfiguring both curriculum and pedagogy. The impact on curriculum is well-attested. Time allocated to subjects covered in high-stakes tests expands and squeezes out other curriculum subjects, impoverishing the educational experience."

"Asserting that students do not take too many tests misses the point. It is not the substance of the tests that matters, it is the shadow they cast ... “Students learn to pass, not to know. They do pass, and they don’t know”."

Read the full article from today's TES here.


Saturday, 21 January 2017

Ready, steady ... stay at home? The benefits of a delayed school start

I started my TEDx talk by talking about my eldest son's delayed school start. It is my conviction that plenty of opportunity to play in the primary years is crucial for foundational understanding to which abstract concepts can later be applied. My husband, who teaches secondary maths, is continually shocked at how children struggle to understand mathematical concepts, after all their primary schooling ... He always says, "They haven't had enough opportunity to play."

This week, our youngest son has asked to play with Hama beads, and he has been making lovely little symmetrical designs. I gave him a mirror to play with, and told him about lines of symmetry. He enjoys using the mirror to find the lines of symmetry in the patterns he has created. It is clearly where his interest and attention lie right now. Surely this will help him later in his more abstract mathematical understanding. I believe we need more of this free play and enquiry-based learning.



"In recent years, many schools have introduced more formal modes of instruction into the classrooms of young children. Whether this new emphasis provides the correct balance of instruction and play for most young children is far from clear."

Read the full article from The Guardian (November 2015) HERE.


Iceland knows how to stop teen substance abuse, but the rest of the world isn’t listening ...

"Public wariness and an unwillingness to engage will be challenges wherever the Icelandic methods are proposed ... and go to the heart of the balance of responsibility between states and citizens. “How much control do you want the government to have over what happens with your kids? Is this too much of the government meddling in how people live their lives?

In Iceland, the relationship between people and the state has allowed an effective national programme to cut the rates of teenagers smoking and drinking to excess – and, in the process, brought families closer and helped kids to become healthier in all kinds of ways. Will no other country decide these benefits are worth the costs?"

“We learned through the studies that we need to create circumstances in which kids can lead healthy lives, and they do not need to use substances, because life is fun, and they have plenty to do – and they are supported by parents who will spend time with them.”

Read the full article from Mosaic: The Science of Life HERE.
What do you think?


Schools face cuts of £3bn, says watchdog

"School leaders have warned of deepening financial problems - with head teachers in West Sussex threatening that this could mean cutting school hours.
Almost every state school head in the local authority had written to the Prime Minister Theresa May in the autumn warning of the "dire financial position".
"Schools are struggling to function adequately on a day-to-day basis, and, in addition, we are severely hampered in our ability to recruit and retain staff, work with reasonable teacher-pupil ratios and to buy basic equipment," said the letter from more than 250 heads."

Read the full article from BBC News HERE.


Friday, 20 January 2017

Rediscovering Charlotte Mason

Those of you who have followed this blog from its outset will remember how the philosophy of educationalist Charlotte Mason (1842 - 1923) has helped me over the years to redefine our home education, particularly at times when things have been difficult or frustrating. There is something about Charlotte's ideas that has always resonated with me, although we are very free and generally child-led in our approach. My oldest and youngest sons in particular are very much unschoolers with their own determined ideas about what and how they want to learn. And yet .... Yet it is my job to 'lay the feast', to continually spread before all our boys a tantalising banquet of ideas, stories, concepts, visits ... experiences which engage their senses and imaginations, inspire their play and stimulate their own learning.


You can find some of my earlier thoughts about Charlotte Mason's philosophy here and here. Included in the latter post is this description of my sons' narration (telling back) which is a key component of a Charlotte Mason education and has continued to feature instinctively in my learning with my children at home ...

"I have one son who is very reluctant to narrate. Having redefined the objective of reading great literature, I read "The Story of Dick Whittington and his Cat" to him and his younger brother, then asked him to narrate. I admit I was frustrated by his reluctance, then I had a bright idea. rather than getting annoyed, which is easy to do, believe me, I suggested they re-enact the story with some Lego men or soft toys. "Ooh, yes, can we get the puppet theatre out?" he asked. Well, an hour later, I was treated to a performance of Dick Whittington utilising a selection of puppets, soft toys and props found around the home. Two birds with one stone - free play and great story. Two things to remember."

I have a friend, Leah, who is a wonderful propagator of the Charlotte Mason philosophy, and the liberty of this approach to home education. She and I, along with a wonderful group of ladies from an online community, decided this year to visit Ambleside, where Charlotte Mason established her House of Education in 1892 (originally a training institution for governesses, later the Charlotte Mason teacher training college, which was taken over by what is now Cumbria University in the 1990s). It was rather humbling to walk in the footsteps of such an influential educational pioneer ... We had the privilege of rifling through the archives in the adjacent Armitt Museum and Library where we found random boxfuls of black and white photographs which had been recovered from a skip after the college buildings were cleared. We were able to leaf through Charlotte's journals and books of poems, look at original nature journals her trainees had compiled and to drink in the beauty of the Lakes that inspired her ideas. It was a lovely break, and an affirming journey for all of us home educating mothers.


If you are interested in the Charlotte Mason philosophy, Leah hosts a Facebook group, Charlotte Mason Conversations UK, where you can learn more. If Charlotte's ideas resonate with you, but you find your household is more autonomous in educational approach, then I am helping to host a new Facebook group, Charlotte Mason Unschoolers. Desiring the very best for our children, we desire to lay that rich feast before them whilst remembering the beauty of home education is to be free to follow the best approach for you, your children and your family and situation ...


Leah has also recently launched Modern Miss Mason - A place where your face fits (also on Facebook) where you can find her first "Masonette" - Transformation Through Narration and register for her new course - Back To Basics: Atmosphere, Discipline, Life ... "We'll be exploring the building blocks and simplicity of the philosophy and methods and aim to help you implement them in your home everyday." I recommend it.


Wednesday, 18 January 2017

The Benefits of Boredom


"Often it isn’t just the child who needs to readjust. Parents all too often try to replicate school in some fashion at home. That’s the kiss of death for successful unschooling. Parents must deschool themselves too. Instead of behaving like teachers and bringing school into the home, they have to recognise learning is not separate from life. Learning is asking questions and searching for answers."
Deschooling your child, deschooling yourself

"Most parents would agree that they want to raise self-reliant individuals who can take initiatives and think for themselves. But filling a child’s time for them teaches nothing but dependence on external stimulus, whether material possessions or entertainment. Providing nurturing conditions and trusting children’s natural inclination to engage their minds is far more likely to produce independent, competent children, full of ideas."
Being bored is good for children and adults - This is why

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Juicing Continued ....

I am on Day 16 of the juicing plan. Day 9 was really hard - and I felt like giving up! But I managed 14 days exclusively on juices, including a weekend away, which was pretty daunting. However, the benefits to the way I feel in terms of energy and clarity of thought mean I have been able to resist eating food. It has been an excellent exercise in self-discipline, which cannot be a bad thing. However, I do have some concerns ... in particular, I do not think it can be good for the gut to eat no fibre. So, over the weekend, I did munch on some plain salad and fruit. And this week, for the third week of the plan, I have decided to juice through the day but to eat a small evening meal. We have changed our meal plan to include whole grain choices, and lots more fruit and vegetables. I was interested when buying bread in Aldi this week, and checking the lists of ingredients on the packets, only to be able to find one loaf that did not contain sugar. I am trying to avoid sugar in food as much as possible, so that rules out most processed food. I am also planning to continue to eat as much vegetarian food as I possibly can - especially when I am at home.


This is an almond milk smoothie, a weekend treat on the plan, but not very delicious! :(

Experiments

Littlest son continues to be interested in doing his own experiments. Last week, we went for a walk in the drizzle whilst his brothers played tennis. Our destination was the local post office, and it was not the most scenic of walks through a rather urban landscape. However, as we walked, he chatted away about "his science" and insisted on collecting an assortment of leaves and berries. His keen eyes spotted berries I did not notice, and we duly picked them and filled his pockets.

When we got home, he took out a chopping board and knife and dissected his berries to see the seeds inside. He then wrapped them - and some leaves - in sellotape and wanted to soak them in water to see what happens over a 10 day period. He added some earth from the garden, filtered the water several times with a strainer and carefully labelled his cup, which continues to sit on our windowsill for observation.

Numberball

This week we decided sons 2 and 3 require a little more focused attention on their times tables. My second son particularly dislikes maths and finds it difficult, so we were thinking of ways to make this 10 minutes a day more fun. The boys remembered this great little game we have: Numberball. You simply throw the pair of dice and multiply the two numbers facing upwards. It's a quick, fun and easy way to practise multiplication.

Whilst my second son was playing, his youngest brother became interested and wanted to join in. So they devised a game where they each threw one dice. Son number 2 multiplied the two numbers, and littlest son calculated the number bond to 10 for his die ... So if he threw a 4, he had to shout 6; if he threw a 3, 7 etc .... Number bonds to 10: Tick. No problem there.

Emergent Writing 2

It is just a month ago that I wrote about my youngest son (aged 4) beginning to write - and I documented his zigzag patterns and maps in this post. In just a month, these zigzags have turned into numbers, letters, words ... even stories.

Back in the summer, he would trace his zigzags and tell me a story he had made up, as if reading his own writing. Later, he dictated stories for me to write down for him in his own words. These pages were carefully laminated, and kept (treasured) under his pillow.

My Mum has encouraged him to make the letters of his name with playdough.


But at home there had been no great interest in writing his name. He would sign cards for people with a Z (sometimes back to front).

Recently, he made 'invitations' for each of the family - writing his own initial, Z, and the first letter of each person's name on their own card. Then, over Christmas, pictures began to appear with clear letters written on them. In this picture, we were informed the man is named Ben ....

Then, suddenly, in my Mum's birthday card, he wrote his whole name ... rather higgledy piggledy ... but all the letters there - and with little help given. That was early January. Then it was time for Christmas thank you letters. I suggested he might draw a nice picture and put his name on? No, he was going to write his own letters. Fair enough. He asked for the words he wanted help with, and I wrote them down for him to copy. It was amazing to watch .... He was so motivated to write and with this real task at hand, writing has a real communicative purpose. It was wonderful to see the pleasure on his face.


This week, he has moved on to writing his own story - Ninjas of the Outside! He asks me to write down the words for him to copy, and print is emerging .... large, wobbly letters which form words which run into each other ... but writing none the less. And again, his satisfaction is such that these treasured pages must be laminated and kept. It is amazing how the zigzags have evolved in just a month.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

The 'Emotional Problems' of Half of Young People

“This report paints a deeply concerning picture of a generation who feel their ability to shape their own future is slipping away from them." (Dame Martina Milburn, chief executive at the Prince’s Trust)

Half of Young People Have So Many 'Emotional Problems' They Cannot Focus at School, Study Finds

Self-Directed Education

"We trust children, and we help them develop and manage their own educational paths."

How We See Self-Directed Education

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Market Day

Day 6 of the juicing plan, and we decided to check out our local market. We spent £35, not only on all the ingredients for my juicing this week, but on all the fruit and veg for our whole family for the week. Much better value, and a great place to shop for fresh produce. Well worth a weekly visit, we decided.



My husband, who is the head chef in our house, has come up with a new meal plan to include a lot more fresh vegetables, less meat and more wholegrain food. His cooking always looks and smells amazing, so sticking to my juices is proving a challenge. Today, I was really looking forward to a Tahini Cocoa Smoothie, which felt like a bit of a weekend treat. It contained my homemade almond milk, as well as raw cocoa powder, tahini, honey and banana. In truth, it was disappointing. I am trying to mark on the juicing chart the juices I really like, so that I can enjoy them as part of my ongoing eating plan, but so far I have only marked one as being really delicious. We'll have to see how week 2 goes.


With my renewed energy levels, I managed to do all the washing and food shopping today, so feel on top to start the week. I am still feeling energised and sharp, but I am really missing food now, and am getting a bit fed up of the juice combinations. I just keep trying to weigh the positive gains against the desire for food. Not that I'm hungry. The juices are filling. I just like to munch out of habit!

Now, a footnote to all those who think home educated kids won't have a chance to engage in competition, one of the points raised by a member of the audience after my recent TEDx talk ... my third son plays tennis on Saturday mornings, and his perseverance and practice has really paid off. He came home thrilled to have beaten a few of his competitors this morning. The boys enjoyed playing with our neighbours this afternoon, as they often do at the weekend, boys around the same age. They play a lot of competitive games outside together. And in addition to sports, you should have seen and heard the epic game of RISK that they all had around our dining table this evening! Highly competitive and very noisy!


Friday, 6 January 2017

Just another unschool day ....

Today we went to a workshop at our local art gallery where there is an exhibition of Lego Brick Wonders. The boys and I had visited the exhibition before, but today my third son (10) was able to get involved and have a go at building a brick wonder of his own. A new model had been added to the exhibition, a Lego version of our local cathedral, which was amazingly intricate in its detailing. There was a timelapse film of the designer building the model and information about his career, which was great for my son who is a really keen Lego creator. He came home inspired to get out his Lego boxes and build something new. He is very creative with his Lego, and builds brilliant models from scratch. His younger brother is now also catching an enthusiasm for Lego, and enjoyed the first part of the workshop which was all about the Egyptians and the Great Pyramid of Giza. The Lego exhibition depicted the wonders of the ancient and modern worlds, as well Earth's natural wonders.


Whilst the workshop was in session, I wandered around the art gallery and museum with my other two sons. There is a lovely interactive display about our city's history, with lots of interesting items my smallest son (4) enjoyed looking at.


There was an exhibition of local crafts, and my second son (13) drew my attention to one exhibit which caught his eye. Perhaps he will be inspired to have a go at some textile work with his Grandma, who is very talented in that area. I love the quote from William Blake, and the way this shows how poetry can inspire art.


My youngest son's favourite thing in the museum is a large jacquard loom in the museum's entrance hall which was used to make ribbon. There is a video of the huge loom in action, and he never seems to tire of watching it. So on our way home, we stopped at Hobbycraft where I had heard a wooden loom was for sale on special offer. He has spent a considerable amount of time this afternoon weaving with patience and perseverance, and is now making a lovely rainbow scarf.


This morning, I watched him writing out maths sums. He has been working on Maths Seeds independently on a tablet, and has clearly understood his number bonds to ten. It was interesting to see the way his brain is processing what he is learning, and he managed to scribe the sums he wanted to. His writing is rather wobbly, and some of the numbers are backwards, but see how his skills are developing, untaught, from the emergent writing I wrote about last month? Then the marks were just zigzags and patterns. He wrote his name in full for the first time in my Mum's birthday card this week - because he wanted to. The letters were mostly capitals, large and wobbly - but forming. He has not been taught, but is experimenting with shaping his writing. And he is so delighted with all he achieves.


In other news, my juicing continues. This is Day 5, and I have been feeling much more clear-headed and sharp, as well as continuing to have a lot more energy. All good, so I am pressing on. Some of the juices are much nicer than others. Today's were quite bitter, and meant dinner did look tempting. This evening I am making almond milk for the weekend, something I have never done before, so another learning experience for us all. My youngest son loves to help me juice all the fruit and vegetables. He is my official juicer! My husband couldn't stick to the plan, as he says he needs to actually eat food! Fair enough. And he is back at work, which makes it more difficult. He has been having a smoothie in the morning, and sometimes one juice in the day. Otherwise, just trying to incorporate a lot of the same vegetables I am having into the food he is preparing, so that's good all round. Yesterday he made a lovely pesto from scratch and served it with pasta and salad. All 4 boys and a visiting friend tucked in with gusto and cleared their plates, which is not at all the norm. Usually, at least one in a family of six doesn't like it! I can see our diet changing as a result of this juicing experiment; we hope to continue to eat a lot more fruit and veg, more wholegrain alternatives and less meat. Let's see ... I still have 23 days to go!