Category Archives: Co-operating

I’d do it the same way again – and I am

My older three children are all grown up now, in their early twenties. They grew up with similar values to me, making similar lifestyle choices to my own, which surprised me. I think this is something I can pass on to other parents with confidence, because I wish someone had warned me about the extent to which we subconsciously influence our children.

Having said that, I’m very happy with my life and my choices – and they seem to be very happy with theirs too! So, having given it some deep thought I can say for sure that even if I’d have known how much of an influence I was going to be, I’d have done much the same thing anyway. This plan is still underway for me, and the others are as free to stay or go as they ever were.

There were other things I could have done, like trying to create artificial challenges for them when they were children, to spur them on to this, that or the other artificial goal. If they’d have seemed to need this, I’d have done it. But they didn’t. They seemed to need consistency, stability, access to things that interested them and space to figure out things for themselves.

I answered questions, every time – but as older children and teenagers they increasingly found their own answers, to their own satisfaction. I became increasingly a housekeeper, someone to bounce ideas off and process thinking with, and a taxi driver. It felt good at the time, and it feels good now. The best role model we can give our children is, I think, just to be our own authentic selves – the best version of that we can be! Anything else would seem false, and children do know the difference.

They’re all creative to some degree: the oldest has a business which no longer needs marketing and carries on by recommendations alone – something to be quite proud of, I think. The younger ones help with that and have their own plans underway. The actual, current children have up to four adults on hand most of the time, so it’s really good for them.

As a family, we are happy, productive, mostly amiable – and solvent. On balance, it seems like a successful outcome to me. And most crucially, the adult offspring agree. They want their younger siblings to enjoy the same autonomous education they had, and say they will educate their own children the same way.

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Autonomous learning, what it means for us

Home ed is different for every family. We have friends who follow a set curriculum all morning, every day during the week throughout term time and do nothing else deliberately educational at all. Others insist on an hour or so of set learning, then do other things with the rest of their time. It’s quite common, too, for families to do most of their ‘home education’ out and about with various groups, engaged in planned and themed activities together. Here in West Yorkshire, for example, there’s at least one such event planned for every day of the week by various people and groups of people – some regular, some not. Usually all home educators are welcome.

Royal Armouries

We’ve done some of that, but tend to be more home and family-centred these days. I’ve found, over the years, that my children learn best when I let them take the lead. So we went to The Royal Armouries yesterday, for example. One of the girls had asked to go, so we went. Once there, we split into two groups: an adult for each child. (This is where adult offspring really come in handy!) And we followed the children around the museum, not the other way around. I was with the four year old and amazingly she didn’t just run through the place and out the other side: she actually wanted to know the answers to questions like where things were from, and what was happening here:

He's shooting the tiger.

Going at her pace took some doing – the temptation is for me to see things that I think might interest her and hold her back to point them out, but she stops asking questions if I do that, and I know that questions are vital to her learning. So:

'Wow, swords. What are they for?'

– has me scrabbling to read the plate to her, before she’s off again. She only wants a word or two: she’s only four. We’ll come back again frequently when she’s older, if she wants to. Maybe when she can read the plates for herself.

At home the method/way of life is similar. There’s lots to do here: we’ve amassed quite a collection of stuff over the years and it’s quite well organised and stored in a visible, accessible kind of way. I’ve always liked the Montessori idea of preparing the environment (although ours is not so rigidly structured) and also, I suppose, what unschoolers call strewing (although ours is not so parent-led – I’m just the one who pays for it, transports it home, finds a box and a shelf for it and then usually tidies it away again when it’s finished with! Our children are quite capable of doing their own strewing.)

Last night, for example, the old comic box had an airing:

It surprised me when she wanted to do the thing on this page properly.

And sometimes they want to just bake a cake:

The icing on the cake, groan

Or make pictures:

Houses are the thing ATM

Or look something up on Wikipedia:

..whilst eating a pizza

Or do workbooks:

... whilst kneeling on the dining table.

Or any amount of other things: see friends, phone friends, build things, make things, read things, take things apart and see how they work, ask endless questions, play in the field:

New swing, for the - ahem! - *children*.

The list of possibilities is endless. The point is, I never ask: “What do you want to do now?” because I don’t need to. They work it out themselves, getting ideas from books, friends, family, TV, the Internet, games, or just the environment and the thoughts in their heads. I don’t ban or limit anything: they could play computer games all day if they wanted to, but they never want to. I try not to suggest things, because when I do, they stop being creative and owning their learning.

But I don’t do nothing. I facilitate everything they want to do, never saying ‘no’ to anything if I can help it. I keep the place relatively clean and tidy so that they can be safe and have the clear space they need. I organise my time and money so that they can get what they want, go where they want, do what they want when they want to get, go and do it. I answer every question asked, or help them to find the answer (and the questions never stop, thank goodness!) I read to them a lot. I help them to learn. I will even teach them if they ask me to, though sparingly.

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Filed under Aptitude, Co-operating, Curiosity - a delicate flower, History, ICT, Innate, Letters, Natural learning - how it works, Out an' about, Planning - or not, Reading, Strewing, Writing

Today’s “maths lesson”

Sudoku on the DS: oldest daughter teaches middle daughter, youngest watches and listens. My input: none whatsoever required!

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Filed under Co-operating, Innate, Natural learning - how it works, Numbers

Home ed in bed

Plus work. And now blog.

How many boxes have I ticked there?

(Four. Five if you include: feet on hot water bottle 😀 )

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On GCSEs

My sons (aged 20 and 21) have no GCSEs: they decided several years ago not to take them, because they wanted to carry on with their self-directed learning and the GCSE curriculum didn’t encompass the skills they has chosen to develop. I supported them in this, because I had a theory that I’d been developing since I was a teenager myself:

That there are saleable skills in all of us, which – left to our own devices and without coercion – we want to work on developing.

My sons always knew that they’d have to pay their way as adults. I trusted them to develop the skills to enable themselves to do so, and they didn’t let me down. They’re both still working from home, doing the same kind of activities they’ve always done according to their own schedule – and making enough money to pay for their share of the bills, the mortgage and the food. And they’re debt free.

Their absence of official qualifications has never been a problem, because they don’t need full-time jobs, and they don’t need full-time jobs because I’m not asking them to move out. Why would I? They pay their way now, so I’m not out of pocket, and it’s nice to have them around. I give them lifts in the car: they do bits of babysitting their younger sisters for me. They cook their own food, and even fill and empty the dishwasher (I must admit, life was a bit less easy going here before we got the dishwasher.)

The thing about autonomous learning is that unless the child is self-motivated at some point to do GCSEs, then if they’re going to be done there has to be some coercion on the part of the parents. So at some point the parent has to say: “That’s enough of doing exclusively your own thing now. It’s time to do some GCSE work, because I’ve decided you should,” or if not explicitly that, there is some element of persuasion on the part of the parents.

So in making the decision to home educate a child – and in how to home educate the child – I think these things need to be taken into account: Autonomous home education doesn’t always naturally, automatically lead to the procuring of official qualifications. In fact, from what I can gather if carried on indefinitely in its purest form, it rarely does.

If a parent has assumptions about people needing at least five GCSEs, grades A* – C to earn money, they’re probably in for a few years of stress and conflict when their child is a teenager. Young people probably do need either five GCSEs, grades A* – C or the equivalent to get most jobs and to get on most post-GCSE college courses and I think it’s folly to try to pretend otherwise – I’m just pointing out that being employed by somebody else on a full-time contracted basis isn’t necessarily the only, or even the best way to live and earn money.

Yes, it provides a sure and relatively safe regular income, but sometimes the cost of that is happiness, contentment and/or freedom.

Yes, if the young person wants or needs [or their parent wants or needs them] to move out of the family home and start paying rent or a mortgage in their own right, then obtaining a safe and regular income is probably necessary despite the cost in human terms. But if staying in the family home as adults is also an option, then self-employment becomes more feasible, and autonomous home education is great training for that.

I like the idea – and now the experience – of extended family living. It has a lot of benefits in terms of work sharing and co-operation, and not many disadvantages for all concerned. People yearn for communities, for more company and shared support and there’s no reason why the natural bond between parents, children and siblings shouldn’t supply some of that. At least, in most cases, it’s a bond that can be trusted.

I certainly like the idea of people being free of the tyranny of public examinations and jobs that they don’t want to do. Obviously a life on benefits isn’t feasible – my sons have never claimed a penny from the state and intend to never do so – but using one’s teenage years to develop a skill of choice, then marketing it on a self-employed basis as and when you want to work or need the income, is.

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Just living/learning

I know there are child labour laws an’ all, but I can’t hang wet clothes to dry these days, without my 4 year-old wanting (yep, that’s wanting. Insisting!) to help.

She goes straight from that to the alphabet though, so that’s all right – isn’t it? 😯

At least she’ll be a literate laundry woman! 😀

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Filed under Aptitude, Co-operating, Innate, Letters

Learning last year

In and amongst the new year celebrations here, I’ve been thinking and chatting with the children about what we all learned last year. It’s probably quite easy for me to list some of the skills that some of us mastered:

Swimming
Driving
Reading
Russian
Keeping accounts
Holding conversations
Getting dressed
Playing guitar
Playing piano accordion
Dismantling, fixing and rebuilding piano accordion
Resolving certain laptop malfunctions
Multiplication
Division
Map reading
Drawing faces, with BIG smiles (but no noses)
Building Lego ships
Driving a computer mouse

I’ll let those of you who know us work out (or remember) who learned which of those skills in 2009!

And I think most of us have garnered quite a lot of information, in response to our own curiosity. Some of the areas that some of us have been learning about last year have included:

Wildlife
Space
Where other countries are on the globe in relation to the UK
Other cultures, beliefs and customs
Trees
Letter sounds
Politics, economics and the history of these
The development of technology
Balance

But it’s a lot less easy to list what we learned in terms of thinking, ideas or principles. I’m struggling to do that for myself, let alone for the children.

I think I learned that it’s ok to apply a certain amount of teaching to completely unschooled children, as long as they’re happy about it and interested in what’s being taught. This was difficult for me to grasp at first because the older three, having been in school for a few years as younger children, had so much resistance to the idea of actively being taught something that they just learned more, better and easier under their own steam.

I assumed all children would be like that in non-coercive situations, but I now know from the younger two that they’re not, if they haven’t been damaged by the violent coercion of schooling.

I don’t think I worked that out in its entirety just in 2009 though. It’s been an evolving train of thought and experiment for the past three years or so. But last year probably provided enough clarification for me to accept it as being ‘true’.

I also learned that it’s ok if I don’t say ‘yes’ to every request that’s made of me, although after a childhood of violent training to the contrary, this is a hard realisation for me to put into practice all the time, even 30-40 years later. Those childhood lessons really do run so deeply, which is why our relationship with our children is so fundamentally important. But that’s nothing new, is it? Just yet more verification of something very old.

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Filed under Business, Co-operating, Driving, ICT, Innate, Numbers, Reading, Russian