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.


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

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! 😀


Filed under Aptitude, Co-operating, Innate, Letters

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?)


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.


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

“Doing Egypt.”

It all started with this book

– which attracted Lyddie’s attention in a shop.

This led to:

Gods on our walls..

Pharoah hat (sorry, *headdress*) on our table...

A trip to the (very good) 'Egypt' section of a local museum...

Finding Egypt on the globe..

Small timelines...

Getting out the old, *big* timeline again (we really must make one of our own)...

More books...


More 'Egypt' stuff...

And watching old 'Egypt' films.

Finally I’m told: “We’ve done enough Egypt for now.”

So it’s all gone in a box until it’s needed again:

Next up? China, apparently. I’d better get another box, then.

(Most of the pics above should be clickable. Some lead to other sites which explain our sources.)

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Filed under Aptitude, Curiosity - a delicate flower, Egypt, Equipment, History, Out an' about, Planning - or not, Writing

Since my last post here, we’ve been..

(amongst other things)

Tracing snowflakes

Making puppet shows



Writing fridge poetry

Welcoming new family members

Practising our handwriting

Ogling the fireplaces in a local stately home

Cycling with skeletons

Doing activity books. 'Pre-school workbooks', they call them. 'Pre-home ed fun books', *I* call them.

And gratefully receiving gifts of books. A whole boxful! Bliss.

We’ve also, this week, been creating maps of our local area – first from memory, then from walking around with a clipboard, then from sloooow driving, and stopping, and reversing, and driving again, then from Google Maps and Street View. Next, we’re comparing the current ones to some we have from 60 years ago, before the M62 was built, to see what’s changed and how. We’re also thinking we’ll do some treasure hunts. An easter egg hunt, with treasure maps!

This all came about because I thought Lyddie’s mind would suit cartography, so I suggested she try to draw a map. She’s always been interested in where she was, and where things were in relation to one another – ever since she could sit up and look around and talk. She has a practical mind which likes to organise things into their proper place and structure.

One of the joys of home education: having the time and the freedom to really get to know one’s own children, work out what they’ll like and – after a bit of trial and error – hit on the right thing and watch them run with it.


Filed under Aptitude, Curiosity - a delicate flower, Driving, History, Innate, Natural learning - how it works, Out an' about, Planning - or not, Pre-home ed, 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:

Keeping accounts
Holding conversations
Getting dressed
Playing guitar
Playing piano accordion
Dismantling, fixing and rebuilding piano accordion
Resolving certain laptop malfunctions
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:

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

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.


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

Walking in a winter wonderland

Christmas has come early for the children here: it’s been snowing! Such fun and excitement – it’s wonderful, which is kind of what this post is about.

I’ve been studying a bit of NVC with some friends, and the chapter we’re working on this week is all about “how to request things to make life more wonderful for us”, though I found that this phrase irritated me so much I couldn’t get past it, and had to keep putting the book down.

So I started thinking about the word “wonderful”. Full of wonder.

wonder v. 3 tr. desire or be curious to know

It has other meanings of course, such as: surprise mingled with admiration and curiosity; a strange or remarkable thing; having marvellous or amazing properties; a miracle.

In general, it’s a word that means good things, isn’t it? Wonderful! Great! Terrific.

But it also means ‘curiosity’, and that made me wonder whether these dual meanings are accidental, and to decide that they’re probably not.

When I’m at my best, I’m full of curiosity: wondering about the world, how things work, why things are and so on ad infinitum. When I’m a bit ill or down, my curiosity leaves me and my life, like my head, is really not full of wonder.

When I’m being kept to task on something against my wishes, there is no vestige of curiosity, or any other kind of wonder, left in my being. Just something approaching misery or resentful tolerance, or numbness and a feeling of being switched-off. A non-feeling, more precisely, that might well be stifled anger. As I’ve got older, I’ve learned that that’s a toxic state of mind for a person to be in: one of the many arguments in favour of autonomy – it’s good for your health!

Recent wonderings expressed around here have been about space, the relative size and structure of planets and stars, languages and politics (as ever) and a bit of physics too. The baby has started on Letterland already (though it only seems like too minutes since we were doing that with Lyddie!) But we’ve got these flashcards now, which have ordinary words on one side and Letterland-illustrated words on the other, so Lyddie reads the words while the baby names the characters.

I never, in a million years, imagined I’d use flashcards. Even less, that a child of mine would ever want to. But they do.

One question I’ve started asking is: “Have you got any questions about that?” and amazingly, lots of questions come by way of reply! I never realised to what extent people of all ages internalise their wonderings, perhaps not quite realising they’re there until they’re specifically asked about.

I feel better about the NVC thing now, anyway.

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Filed under Curiosity - a delicate flower, Reading, Seasonal stuff