Category Archives: ICT

Home ed blogging, and feelings of inadequacy

Twice this week, in two completely unrelated conversations with two completely unrelated groups of people, someone has said to me that they no longer read home ed blogs because of the feelings of inadequacy these generate.

I felt quite uncomfortable about this, because although I haven’t been blogging much at all in the past year or so, when I do blog our home ed, it can sometimes veer towards being that kind of blog.

BUT

There is a but. And I don’t really know what I’m trying to say, let alone how to say it! But feelings of guilt and inadequacy can certainly be overwhelming, and perhaps we all have an inner ‘should’, which looks around at what other people are doing to try and get some kind of measure by which to set itself.

It’s just that.. blogging (or Facebook commenting, or posting etc) isn’t life. And yes, this sounds really obvious, but I wonder if we do forget this and assume the family in question to have spent its whole week doing amazing science experiments or completing piles of enlightening workbooks, or asking oh-so-interested questions and finding the answers. Just because those are the presentable bits.

The truth is, all of those hours of silent consolidation or contemplation, or being immersed in Harry Potter for three days straight without coming up for air, of sibling scraps and screaming rows and just plain, banal domesticity – or indeed, hours spent blogging or reading other blogs and Facebooking and general Internet mooching while the children indulge their own CBeebies/ Moshi Monsters/ Bin Weevils habit… aren’t mentioned.

Instead, the temptation is to sometimes say: “Ooh! We did something *educational*! Quick! Let’s blog it!” – just to convince everyone (but mainly ourselves) that we are doing ok, making progress and so on.

BUT

I think all that other stuff (that doesn’t get blogged) is educational too. I could write lists for how it is. In fact, I will:

  • Silent consolidation or contemplation – *thinking time* – is vital, as anyone who knows anything about the learning function knows. We can’t just take in information bites non-stop, and spew it straight back out again in the standard manner that seems to be required by schools – that’s not real learning. We have to ideally go seeking the information ourselves and then take it in at our own pace and then go away and let the subconscious chew on it for a while, and then come back with more questions later. If we have any. Which we might not. (And that’s valid.) Depending on our personality and how we seek and process knowledge.

    The problem (I could pontificate on this for quite some pages) with trying to industrialise – or commercialise – Education is that it doesn’t really box up like that. Not really. You can deliver or sign up for a course in something and bestow or receive a certificate at the end of it, with or without some kind of test, and all of this still doesn’t guarantee any real learning. For that, you need to begin with either curiosity or some other kind of intrinsic motivation. And that’s hard to profit from, or oversee, or monitor, or sell, or buy, or earn money for teaching. Sadly, in the latter case. It shouldn’t be, but it is.

  • Being immersed in Harry Potter for three days straight without coming up for air – well, that’s just reading, isn’t it? I’m no psychologist, but I’m sure it’s useful for the development of our critical faculties, or creativity, or cognitive something-or-other. And yes, many of us are obsessives. I suspect our natural learning function leans more towards focusing exclusively on a thing until we’ve finished or mastered it to our own satisfaction, than it does towards a ‘broad and balanced’ curriculum patchwork quilt of neat and tidy one-hour chunks.
  • Sibling scraps – learning to manage conflict in a safe and fundamentally (although it often doesn’t feel – or sound – like it!) loving environment.
  • Screaming rows – assertiveness training 😉
  • Just plain, banal domesticity – the building blocks of a well-functioning life. Vastly underrated – if you want to know how vastly, go round to a distracted, obsessed, highly intellectual academic’s house for tea. Especially if he doesn’t hire a cleaner. Teaching children – by example – how to endure the ‘boring stuff’ in order to live well (delayed gratification, I suppose) is vital. And something they don’t learn at school.
  • Hours spent blogging or reading other blogs and Facebooking and general Internet mooching – very important information gathering and social networking to facilitate facilitation 😉 (And the parent’s sanity! If you’re that way inclined..)
  • While the children indulge their own CBeebies/ Moshi Monsters/ Bin Weevils habit – this, actually, is really important. I love the fact that we now have those children’s social platforms so that they can learn about group interaction and so on at their own pace, with an off-switch for when it all gets too much, without the pressure of helicopter parents. CBeebies I have more of a love/hate relationship with, but it’s largely uncommercialised and some of the content is great. Anyway, it’s not for me to choose what my children like to watch. If they’re attracted to something, they’ve probably got something to learn from it.

And when I make these points, I hear people say: “Yes OK, all of those things are educational. But is it the kind of education you want your children to have?”

But who’s to say the parent’s (or teacher’s, or local authority’s, or government’s) desire for a child’s education is the best, most appropriate education for that child? I don’t think anyone can say what that is, in fact. Not even the parent. Yes, he or she can be responsive and attentive (although sometimes these hinder the learning process rather than helping it) and present learning opportunities for the child, and create a stimulating ‘learning environment’. I have done all of those things and still do sometimes.

But if the chief motivator really is the child itself – and this can be really difficult, as an adult, to allow precisely because of those feelings of guilt and fear of other people’s judgment, lack of trust in the natural process and fear of letting go – then the person grows up ‘complete’, learning (and able to learn) everything he or she really needs to know. A truly independent learner.

Sure, set good examples. This is the only way I know of teaching (apart from supplying the information or tutoring that’s requested by the child and no more than the amount requested! Another very difficult thing to achieve for most parents and teachers) that’s in any way properly effective. As a species we can’t seem to help mimicking each other. So if I read, my children read. If I grow food, they want to grow food. (This is actually not the case here yet. I live in hope, but suspect there’s some kind of instinctive division of labour system going on.) If I earn lots of money, they probably want to earn lots of money and work out how to do that, and so on.

This learning by example is a very powerful thing, but it doesn’t always manifest in ways that are immediately obvious. For example, my parents and friends’ parents were mostly churchgoers and yet I and my friends are mostly not. And yet we do congregate and eulogise at home ed meetings, which could be seen as similar kinds of gathering places.

When people wonder why it is that some autonomously home educated children grow up to become barristers and others organic farmers, shopkeepers, or unemployed etc – I look at the parents’ occupations and there is usually some pattern of emulation that’s quite easy to spot. So if you want your child to become Prime Minister, first become Prime Minister yourself! (Discuss.. 😉 )

I do see exceptions to this rule: adult children who have broken the mould and gone on to have adult lives that were very different to those modeled to them in childhood, but there are still usually less obvious and yet strong similarities. A factory labourer with a strong work ethic who nevertheless doesn’t find his work particularly fulfilling, produces an office worker son with an equally strong work ethic who nevertheless doesn’t find his work particularly fulfilling, and so on.

And I was the child who was taken to all of the extra-curricular clubs, sessions, groups and lessons, whose every hour was kept busy, for fear of boredom or inadequate parenting.

And yet, I (not necessarily my sister or brother, but I) just wanted to stay at home and be left alone to read, play and dream on my own terms, in my own time, with no externally-imposed schedule. (I live like this now for myself though, whenever possible. And yet.. none of my parents do! Hmm..) (I’ve had a variety of parent-and stepparent-type people in my life, in case you were wondering about my choice of quantitative pronoun there!)

And at least one of my children often requests a schedule from me, though most of the others don’t. So we’re all different, and the best thing, surely, is to work out what each person needs by way of input, and supply that.

4 Comments

Filed under Curiosity - a delicate flower, ICT, Innate, Natural learning - how it works, Planning - or not, Reading, Strewing

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.

13 Comments

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

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.

2 Comments

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

This week, we’ve been mostly…

Learning how to drive:

07-apr-2009-023

This is going really well, mainly because Zara so passionately wants to learn. She isn’t quite 17 yet, so we’re still learning off-road but luckily there are plenty such areas around here in which to practice. I’m just glad to be able to give her the chance to get familiar with driving a car before she goes for her first on-road lesson ( – planned for her 17th birthday! She’s had her provisional licence ready for weeks!) It’s bound to make a big difference.

The baby spent a happy hour sorting nuts on top of the washing machine (as you do..!)

07-apr-2009-004

– which obviously addressed whatever stage of brain-development she’s currently at, because she was completely absorbed in the task, which was all self set-up and organised. I had no idea what she was doing, until she started doing it!

Ali has been learning more Russian, courtesy of a home-educating friend who supplied him with a great stack of resources last week, and Tom’s learning resource, unsurprisingly, seems to be mainly coming from his new business at the moment. I’m loving watching this take shape. He’s succeeding, and he can hardly believe his own success. He’s amazed that other people can’t do what he can with computers, when learning it seemed so natural at the time, but that’s the beauty of autonomous learning. It doesn’t feel difficult, and it invariably turns out to be eminently applicable.

Lyddie’s taking a natural break from the workbooks and folders that she loves so much and wants to be read to a lot of the time, which suits me down to the ground, because I love reading to her. We spend at least an hour, morning and evening, doing this and her understanding of quite complex narrative is growing every day, as is her enjoyment of the process of being swept up in a great story. Otherwise, she’s outside experimenting and exploring, or inside experimenting and exploring, or on her computer.

2 Comments

Filed under Business, Driving, ICT, Innate, Russian