Home ed starts here…?

Adults and children all over Gloucestershire are right now stressing out, looking for socks, books, bags and trying to get ready to go back to school!

We’re not though. Today is the first day of Jamie’s official home education!

I’m sitting here watching the parents and kids go past our bay window, in their various uniforms, some riding bikes, some walking in little groups, some with parents. It’s an amazing sunny day and full of energy.

Jamie would be starting Reception class today, but we’ve decided to not jump into the school system until either he wants to or we feel the advantages would outweigh the disadvantages. We’ve spent the last couple of years considering this and feel it’s the best choice for our family.

So far today, I got up with the boys and checked my email. A message from SKP was there with a bouldering video (my latest life pursuit!). Jamie was telling me about climbing and how using both your feet will help to climb higher and that children need special climbing walls. He was saying you can use special stones and wood on the walls to hold onto. I was telling him about the soft crash mats on the floor and he asked about the slight blister I got the last time I went bouldering. He’s very switched on about connections. He’s already made two different Lego models this morning and wants to build more!

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Responsive parenting…

Decisions, compromises and half measures…

…but if there is some overall direction or guiding principles, this is the most important thing.

Being responsive to our family is one of our guiding principles and is partly why we went for all of the things like breastfeeding, co-sleeping and home education.

We’ve tried to listen to their needs, not just their wants or desires.

We have been adaptable to their changing needs and try to continue this adaptability.

It’s hard having the patience to sit down with them and help them build a lego model, for them just to take it apart 5 minutes later and ask you to build them something else! Then, doing it all again!

Giving them the time and attention is the important thing, even if it doesn’t ‘achieve’ anything. That’s why I take pictures because I know that these type of models or pockets in time won’t last forever. There’s at least some product which relates to my adult mentality.

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Jamie name…

Jamie has taken another step on the way to being ‘educated’ by writing his own name!

Claire was with him when he asked how to write his name. She just basically said you know how to do it, so very little prompting, just support. She said the first couple of letters but then he just wrote out the rest.

Apparently he then got excited and cut it out, taking the dot over the i with it! The last time I saw him write his name I had to get him to draw around the dots, rather than freehand.

So, with almost no practising, prompting or coaching, he’s got to this stage. It’s a pretty good advert for autonomous learning to be fair! It really shows what children can do if left to get on with things at their own pace and with their own motivation.

Right now, I think i’m somewhere between the ‘home education’ area and the ‘autonomous learning’ area. I don’t feel a total autonomous experience is fulfilling for either the child or parent, as it means there is no teaching, which can be an amazing experience. But, there is a significant amount of learning that is autonomous, a certain amount of direction from the parents. This direction often just takes the form of introducing a range of experiences to the boys, rather than formal learning, but they both seem to be really interested in books, reading, numbers, as well as running around like nutters!

Autonomous learning is also very important for students, given that a certain amount of work has to be done at home or away from class, requiring self-motivation. This skill was something I was particularly bad at, so i’m very keen to promote that in my own kids as I know how important it is.

This seems to be where we feel comfortable right now and both of the boys are growing noticeably in their understanding and abilities.

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Home education (Bite Size)…

Home education, natural learning, un-schooling, child-led learning…

There are many ways of describing what we’re taking steps towards doing, but it basically means that Jamie won’t be going to school till he’s at least 7. This doesn’t for 1 second mean both our boys aren’t getting an ‘education’ at home, or not learning a massive amount each day. It’s just a different way of doing it.

So, what i’m going to try and do is write a series of posts about the subject, as I read whatever book I happen to be reading on the subject. Right now i’m reading, ‘You are Your Child’s First Teacher’, by Rahima Baldwin Dancy.

I’m reading the chapter 12 on cognitive development and early childhood education, as all the previous chapters refer to earlier developmental stages. I’ll probably go back to them at some point, but this seems like a good place to start. I might do bullet points, or full sentences but the main points will come across clearly either way.

– Physical development and academic environments: One approach is to not teach formally until the adult teeth have been fully grown (age 6-7). So, general play activities until the body is more developed and the energy needed for its intense early growth is freed for forming mental pictures and memory work.

– Academic stress as an obstacle to early physical and mental development: pushing academic pressures onto a 3, 4, 5 or 6 year old can have far-reaching negative impacts. This can be in the form of reading difficulties, with an example given of studies between 5 and 7 year olds. The 5 year olds were more likely to develop reading problems and didn’t achieve better progress, while the older children learnt faster and more willingly.

This is a key point. If you are able of your own free will to attempt a task, or to learn something, you will achieve this far more effectively. Our approach is to promote a love of learning, not about anything specific, but as a general principle. The rest is up to them (and us to a certain degree). This is sustainable over your whole life. You have to want to do something for it to really sink in and to be able to sustain an interest in it.

Copying sentences & connections to meaning: studies have shown even 2 year olds can learn flash cards or how to copy sentences, but there is no connection or understanding of what this means. ‘The human brain neither needs nor profits from attempts to ‘jumpstart’ it.’ (p.272)

– Children in more academic environments tend to be less creative and more anxious: The last thing I want to do is remove my boys obvious creativity. By that I don’t mean I want them to grow up to be artists, I just don’t want to limit what they can achieve or who they can become. Creativity can mean anything from being an artist to simply working out different ways to do something – vital for day to day life.

– Every child is different / remember to be flexible: ‘There is no need to seek out preschool if you and your child are doing well at home; there is also no need to avoid it or feel guilty if your child is eager to play with other children and welcomes the activities a guided program can provide.’

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Education 2…

Ok, i’ve got 10 mins (ok, maybe 30) while Claire’s on Jac duty to post about what we see as the positives and negatives of home education and ‘normal’ school. This is not an exhaustive list but it sums up certainly how I see it. We put this list together some time ago when we first started considering the ideas and there are probably loads more details I could add.

I have to also say that there are counter-arguments to pretty much every point on the list (Mrs KP i’m watching you!!) but it still helps to write it down and go through everything. I feel neither system is ideal and both have particular failings.

Also, JJ refers to both our kids and HE = home education.

Negatives of Home Education / Positives of school

– JJ may feel more ‘normal’ at school and there is a chance they could feel isolated or left out at home. From my own experiences of school, not being normal in some ways can be hard.

– There wouldn’t be any awkward questions about the whole issue from work colleagues or family. This is a continuation of the normal issue which extends way into adult life, particularly with some adults entrenched views on certain issues!

– More personal time / energy / organisation is required in some ways to HE and with school, you just drop the kids off and walk away for a good part of the day.

– There will be less time to ourselves as there would be more time being devoted to the kids (is this a bad thing though??)

– We would not be able to both go back to work and would be reliant on a single salary, if one of us is at home with the kids. This would mean less income.

– There would be more limited contact with children within their own age group if at home and less chance to meet local kids and therefore local families.

– We have no teaching experience and may not know the best ways to teach JJ.

– School offers at least a basic exposure to a wide range of subjects, some of which I might not be that keen to cover at home. I remember finding Shakespeare and Physics a pain in the arse at school, but now really appreciate covering those things.

– There would be a more limited ‘systems’ exposure at home. Like it or not, we live within some fairly strict cultural structures and the work environment can be one of these – knowing how to operate in them is essential.

Positives of Home Education / Negatives of school

– There are no name tags or uniforms at home.

– Less illness. So far, my experience, as well as those of other people on this issue goes something like; the more contact a child has with other children, the more illnesses they will pickup, due to their undeveloped immune systems and the numbers of potential carriers. Nurseries are a classic example, where loads of kids are shoved together and illness spreads around like wildfire. The parents then get ill more often etc etc.

– The school system does not allow a focus on a particular subject as there are so many subjects which are required. The same amount of time is given to each subject (in general) and you can’t tailor learning to the individual’s strengths or needs.

– Due to the strict timetables used at school, set subjects must be taken at particular times, regardless of the childs interest or feelings at any given time. Some days you just don’t feel like doing certain jobs or tasks. One day (given sleep patterns, energy levels etc) you might feel more creative and a double maths or physics lesson will not be productive – was it just me who generally felt like this at school?? : )

– At home, there is a 1 to 1 (or in our case, a 2 to 1) teaching environment, where JJs questions on anything can be answered straight away (or quickly with a Google search). The quality of the answer and the length of the answer will also be better than at school, given the focus of attention and not having to man-manage the other 29 pupils in the class!!

– JJ will be able to ask more questions than at school and the answers will be more complete and not just ‘directional’ i.e. John sit down, Will stop talking to Ben, Sam turn your phone off, Liz where is your reading book etc etc etc! I have been experiencing this ‘teaching’ environment as part of my Reading Buddies 2-year stint.

– Holidays outside of term time (if you have school kids, I won’t have to say much more about this!). This is more flexible, much cheaper and overall much less restrictive.

– JJ will have a much greater chance of establishing friendships with people outside of his age group as he will come into contact with more of them. This will help greatly in later life and while growing up, with the greater knowledge older people have etc.

– Peer-related pressures are less relevant at home, such as having the expensive trainers or latest computer games.

– Flexible teaching and learning at home. This is relating to all the subjects and information which aren’t or can’t be taught at school (as a requirement) and which I feel should be. The list of subjects would include;

  • photography
  • mixing records (i.e. example of wider range of music)
  • drawing (more than just an hour a week)
  • horticulture (getting back to the Good Life’) ; ) – some kids/adults have no idea where their food comes from
  • film
  • cookery (again, more than an hour a week, more like every day) – this has massive health impacts
  • sports (skiing, going to football games etc)
  • modern history (post-WWll, including British politics, so we don’t keep repeating our mistakes over and over again)
  • banking and finances (hugely important in today’s climate)
  • DIY and practical skills where they help with the house, not just ignore it while Dad gets on with it!

– Flexible exam timetable. JJ can sit GCSE or A-Level exams at any point and do not have to be at school to do this.

– There are no SATs at home – a subject which i’ve witnessed really get parents going about. This idea of continual testing is absurd and highly counter-productive and sets up a life-long fear/annoyance/dread of testing in general. The fear of failure and not being normal, the endless time spent revising a particular set of information which a committee has decided should be on a particular syllabus etc etc. It’s also the distinct lack of exams while in the work environment – is this school life of exams a good grounding?

– More real-life experiences while at home. Stuck in a classroom is not the best place for this.

– Growing up with a stronger influence from parents and their values, including a better diet!

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Education…

I’ve been wanting to work out a few education issues for a while but the house and exhibition have been taking up most of my time.

Jamie has his first half day at Play Group tomorrow, and this is bringing up a few decisions which we need to be thinking about more. I want to get around to looking at the home education issues, such as the Badman Review and the positives and negatives of the system, to get it clear in my own mind. We can then be more confident about what it is we’re doing and why.

Anyway, first half day in the afternoon tomorrow then a morning session on Thursday – nervous time for the parents but I think jamie is looking forward to it! We’ll see how he gets on this week and once the exhibition is up I can look at the issues a bit more.

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Child protection…

I’ve been trying to get a chance to blog about the whole issue of child protection, partly because of some training which we’ve just done at the Council and partly because of the home education issue (with the publication of the Badman Review).

First, the training we have all had to go through at the Council recently, involved the safeguarding of vunerable groups, in this case it was about children. The social worker running the group works as a free-lance just involved with training but he’s worked in local government for most of his career. Given that it was roughly 3 hours, I came out of it with a different view of things.

It was very interesting, even if it wasn’t directly job-related, but a real eye-opener. There were two bits which i’ll probably remember for a while. We had to do some group stuff, which can be a bit awkward, but the first bit involved standing in a circle (group of about 30 people) and throwing soft toys around and seeing who dropped them and how many we could keep going etc.

Once we’d done that for a bit, he then told us about some stats for his profession. He said that any social worker is recommended to only hold 12 cases at any one time, given the complexity and seriousness of each case. He said the average in this country is 40-50 cases. This is more than 3 times the level they recommend.

The interesting bit was then to do the exercise again, but this time, he said, each toy represented a child life! This made huge difference to the way people took part! Much slower, very deliberate, but the problem was, as he started throwing more toys in, mistakes started to happen, but the toys had to be left on the ground.

Scary stuff really. He was also talking about who is ‘responsible’ for that childs death/injury etc, and who is ‘accountable’. The actual person harming the child would be responsible, but the hard bit for the social worker is that they would be held accountable for it, especially by the media/general public.

This whole idea can also be linked to the rules and regs governing the protection of children in schools, public places and at home. Given we had to have this training, it seems that there has been some kind of increased focus on the issue from on high.

Right after this, Claire started telling me about the Badman Review (see p.25 – summary of recommendations), which is the report by Graham Badman on the home education system.

http://www.freedomforchildrentogrow.org/8318-DCSF-HomeEdReviewBMK.PDF

Part of the issue seems to be setting up a system of regulation for home schooling and exactly how this will operate. This would involve more ‘interfereance’ in our lives and apparently reduce our civil liberties. As you might expect, there are many and varied viewpoints on the subject. The civil liberties debate will run and run and as with most issues humans tend to discuss/ debate/argue over, there is no right or wrong answer, only a very wide grey spectrum of colours. What will work for one group/person may not for another etc. I am naturally suspicious of people who claim to have the ‘right’ answer, unles of course they are a maths teacher!

Overall, I generally try to set out the ideas in terms of principles, just as in my urban design job. Rather than looking at details to start with, looking at the bigger picture is essential.

The very first cover letter page of the report uses the term ‘safeguarding’, which links directly with our training. It seems the main issue is about making sure children are adequately protected, when they are taken away from the more public (but not always safer) school environment.

Page 1 of the main report shows a quote, which I would agree sums up the whole issue:

“The need to choose, to sacrifice some ultimate values to others, turns out to be a permanent characteristic of the human predicament.” Isiah Berlin

The report states that there may be as many as 80,000 children in home education and from all the info i’ve absorbed, this is meant to be rising fast. Badman’s point about legislation essentially being adopted to cover a minority of children is a well-known idea and to be perfectly honest, I would agree with it.

Another issue is that of access to children, to see if they are indeed getting educated and not getting harmed. As a principle, this is completely logical. This is not to say the same overseeing arrangements are applicable to home educated kids as for school educated kids – they aren’t, but some kind of monitoring will help to protect a section of these kids, it’s just how far do you go along this route?

The case law stated in the report is also highly vague and unspecific and gives a lot of scope to the parents. There are however a fair few policies that those in power must consider:  United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) articles 12 & 28, general case law, The Education Act 1996, local authority requirements, European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) Article 2.

I would argue that if you have made a reasoned decision to home educate, you will know more about the laws and systems than most of the other parents who send their kids to school (most of whom would not even have considered there are other options).

In my limited experience to date of parents who choose to home educate their kids, they are generally an intelligent and educated bunch, who are quite capable of working with the system and defending thier chosen lifestyle.

Ok, this is getting to be a bit of a rambling essay but it’s very relevant to our own, and others situations.

The Badman report concludes each section with a recommendation. I’m in the process of looking at these and will post again once i’ve read them – this post is already too long!!

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