Category Archives: Natural learning – how it works

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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Filed under Business, Co-operating, Natural learning - how it works

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.

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

“Why does ‘walk’ have an ‘l’ in it?”

That question of Lyddie’s yesterday led first to the dictionary, then to Wiktionary and ended up with Shakespeare and Milton!

Here’s how:

The second question was “What’s Old English and why is it different to the new kind?”

So we explained how language evolves and that this was why, for example, some of the words and phrases in our current bedtime story Peter Pan, sound a bit strange to her.

And then we got to talking about the different origins and influences in the English language, and some of the political events that made the changes. We experimented with a few words, trying to guess the roots of them then checking to see if we were right.

Lyddie was interested to know what words had appeared or changed since I was a child. I could think of ‘texting’, ‘DVD’, ‘Internet’, ’email’ and others to do with technological development. I struggled to think of ones that had evolved due to other factors, although I suppose any kind of Leet would be an example of that. Then I realised the term ‘home education’ wasn’t even used when I was a child! At least, not in the way it now is. (Of course the older offspring added a few to the list, like ‘house’, ‘road’ and ‘car’! 🙄 )


Finally, just before she’d heard enough about the subject, we read some Shakespeare and Milton out loud – just a few lines of each, and she was quite shocked to hear how our language has changed almost beyond recognition in the past few hundred years. I’m thinking of getting this to follow on with. Am wondering if anyone’s seen it?

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Filed under Curiosity - a delicate flower, Natural learning - how it works, Reading

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

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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I don’t do strewing, *but..*

Strewing: “leaving material of interest around for our children to discover”.

I wrote a bit about my views on it four years ago here and I don’t think they’ve changed much. In our house we kind of strew by accident (no sniggering at the back there!) rather than on purpose – which works more effectively anyway, because there aren’t the invisible waves of **contrived learning opportunity** emanating from it, to which my children are so, so ultra sensitive. (Is it only my children?)

BUT.

I did stick a huge world map next to Lyddie’s bed a couple of weeks ago 😉

(Here come the excuses..) But I only bought it because it was cheap! (£3 in a sale at the local garden centre. Garden centres aren’t really about gardens any more, are they? I mean, seriously, we spend more than £3 on dinner! Sometimes.. It was too cheap not to buy.) And I only stuck it next to her bed because there wasn’t another spare piece of wall that was big enough for it.

BUT as an accidentally strewed **non-contrived learning opportunity** it’s been great!

Much bouncing takes place on that bed – it’s our trampoline substitute – and bouncing seems to somehow equate to curiosity. So we somehow get: *Bounce bounce bounce* “What’s that huge yellow country up there?” *Bounce bounce bounce* “Oh wow, that flag’s got a picture on it!” *Bounce bounce bounce* “The world’s pretty big really, isn’t it? HUGE in fact, when you think the coast is miles away and yet it’s like – one pixel on there…”

Everything relates to computers, to this generation of children. Real life games are “paused” while someone goes to the loo; statements are “restarted”, not repeated, and millimetres on a map become “pixels”. I find it quite endearing, if a bit startling on occasion.

And it gives rise to a whole other bunch of connections about physical movements stimulating cognitive function.

If I was one of life’s natural strewers (really, no sniggering at the back!) I might make even more use of that wall. There are a whole load of other things I could put there instead of, as they are, scattered randomly around the rest of the house (is that strewing? 😕 )

But I won’t.

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Filed under Curiosity - a delicate flower, Geography, Natural learning - how it works, Strewing