Home Education

Wild but busy!

I had planned to write every week this month about our 30 Days Wild activities, but everything went a bit crazy for a couple of weeks. We were all hit by a horrid virus and I personally had a lot of other deadlines and also ran my first (and possibly my last!) plastic campaign stall for The Marine Conservation Society.

As much as I have enjoyed the other ways to volunteer, I didn’t find running a stall really played to my strengths. Anyway, I did it, and it did give me a chance to spend lots of time talking to the guy running the Wildlife Trust stall next to me. He gave me lots of 30 Days Wild ideas, and I’m sure we will try them over the summer, even if we don’t manage to squeeze them into the June challenge.

Despite being busy we have still managed to get outdoors a lot: walking the dog; making woodland characters from clay; discovering fairy homes; riding; learning about birds of prey; spending time with cousins; being buried in sand by friends!

 

We still have so many plans for 30 Days Wild, which will probably run into the rest of the summer now. They both want to try windsurfing and T wants to try kayaking; we want to do our first ‘wild swim’ by the end of June; L&T would like to find the right location for the bat boxes they made and we have lots of new walks planned. O’h and I made a local contact who does a lot of conservation work with hedgehogs, which T is interested in following up this summer.

I’m writing the list here to encourage me to make it all happen!

conservation · Home Education · Plastic Free Living

30 Days Wild!

Yesterday was Day 1 of our 30 Days Wild challenge organised by The Wildlife Trust. It’s not too late to sign up online and download a pack if you want to get involved. We’ve been doing this for a few years now, although I’m not sure the kids think it’s that different to normal because by this time of year we tend to be outdoors a lot anyway.

This year we thought it would be fun to sprinkle in a few acts of random wildness that would make the challenge a little more memorable. During the course of this month I will be documenting our wild days here on the blog in weekly updates.

So yesterday, the 1st of June, L spent all day at her riding stables from 9-5pm, which is fast becoming a real passion for her, leaving myself and T to mark Day 1 together. We decided on one of our favourite walks with Legend around some nearby lakes; we call it our ‘cake walk’ because we start with a visit to the on-site café to refill my travel cup with tea (provoking the usual conversation about their disposable take-away cups) and for T to find the biggest, most chocolaty piece of cake to fuel our walk.

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We don’t rush so the walk around the lake takes us about 1.5 hours and the views are beautiful all the way around. Mostly we love this walk though because we get to have a good old chat, with lots of little stop-offs to sit and let time pass, whilst eating cake of course!

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Hmmm looks quite inviting!

We always meet lots of interesting people on our walks and yesterday was no exception. We met this lovely lady with her two rescue Lurchers whom we chatted to for a long while. T was asked the usual school question to which he quite happily stated that he’s home educated. At this point we usually face a rather strained conversation, which has most people politely moving on.

This lady was like a breath of fresh air! Her reply, after the tiniest pause, was: ‘Well of course not everything can be learned from a book, in fact I do believe nature is the greatest teacher of all’. I could see T kind of straighten himself up, tall and proud and I inwardly thanked the lady for understanding rather than subjecting my son to an awkward silence or questions about how he would ever get any GCSE’s (he’s 10………but incase you’re wondering yourself, home educators can still take any qualification they want, it’s just they have choice and freedom about what, when, how and even if they need them for what they want to pursue).

And so our conversation continued about nature and conservation. We talked about plastic and it’s use by big supermarket chains; we talked about getting involved in beach cleans. This lady said two things that struck me: she wondered whether my being involved in beach cleans really had any genuine impact; and she said, at age 71, she was too old to change the world. Aren’t these exactly the kind of negative things we all tell ourselves? That we cannot make a difference on our own? That we are too young, too old, too busy, too unknowledgeable, too unfit, too broke to make a difference? I know I have used many of those exact excuses myself.

I told her that her time was right now. That she wasn’t too old to save the world. That her actions alone could make a difference. ‘Do you know what?’ she stated boldly. ‘I am going to talk to Sainsbury’s today about how they wrap single vegetables in plastic, it’s been bugging me for ages!’

One person, whoever you are, can make all the difference.

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I’ll just pretend I didn’t see that No Swimming sign.
Home Education

A Trip to Portsmouth

Marine conservation has become a real passion of mine, and like any passion, it’s hard not to share it with others. My kids share their passions with me, and I share mine with them. I feel this is how learning really works. It’s just natural.
So whilst I have learnt all kinds of things recently about Fortnite, Dan TDM, Musical:ly, how to do various dance moves, how to increase my ‘dude’ rating and so forth (I’m on the bottom level incase you’re wondering!) It is equally natural for me to engage L & T in the kinds of things I love to do and learn about.
Last September I became involved with the Marine Conservation UK’s ‘Sea Champions’ volunteer program. It basically involves championing our seas in a variety of ways. MCSUK work alongside various other ocean charities and through them I began my volunteer journey training how to survey rocky shore species for ‘Capturing Our Coast’. I love doing it, and although we don’t live near the sea, we visit enough times in the year to feel like I can make a difference.

I have surveyed on my own a few times, but recently I took L&T along, and both of them took an interest. We took a 2 night trip to Portsmouth with the plan to carry out marine surveys and also visit the Historic Docks.

On day 1 we visited Eastney beach near Portsmouth University’s Institute of Marine Sciences. It isn’t a great beach for hanging out on, but is perfect for discovering rocky shore species. T got involved in the entire surveying process which involves many skills: researching tide times; measuring out a section of low tidal beach; using a quadrant; identifying environmental habitats; estimating and calculating seaweed/rock/species in percentages; identifying a variety of marine species.

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I was very impressed with how fast he picked everything up and how much better he was than me at identifying marine animals. He was a genuine asset and has since expressed a wish to carry out further surveys another time.
L was also really interested in the marine animals we found. She would dip in and out of the survey, practising her Irish dancing further up the beach and intermittently coming to find out what we had discovered. Later, when we were reflecting on our day, she showed me all the photos she had taken of the beach. It seems the trip had been fruitful for all of us in different ways.

If you would like to get involved with marine conservation, here are three easy family friendly projects to try.

On day two we focused on the Historic Docks, which L&T have never seen. The tickets for everything were expensive and so we had to pick and choose a bit. We chose the 11 attraction ticket (book online for a big discount) which includes HMS Victory, HMS Warrior, action stations, boat trips and museums. It does not however include the Mary Rose, but we decided to do that another time.

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Both L&T were interested in the history of both the HMS Victory and HMS Warrior. I was surprised by how much L already knew; though I shouldn’t have been since her ability to just absorb knowledge by osmosis has always been impressive!

The ‘Action Stations’ were a great physical release after all the history; they both loved the ‘Ninja Warrior’ course best, and found the revolving climbing wall fun but exhausting.

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After a day at the docks, we went back to our budget hotel room and ordered pizza and chatted solidly from 6:30pm till 11:30pm when I fell asleep!

These trips are so special and they are my favourite part of home ed. We do quite a few day trips, and then one longer trip like this one each year. As L&T are getting older and they are becoming more independent, these trips are a great opportunity for solid quality time together with no other distractions. I love how a trip like this reminds me what fantastic learners they both are. They are so different in their learning styles, but both pretty amazing.

Learning is just human nature.

Home Education

A World Class Education

The government has recently published new draft guidance for local authorities concerning Elective Home Education. Much of it is a total reinterpretation of current guidance and law regarding home education. Before I fill in the consultation at the end of June, I want to take the time to dissect and understand all of the issues properly.

The introductory paragraph of the draft guidance is as follows:

The government’s aim is to ensure all young people receive a world-class education which allows them to realise their full potential, regardless of background, in a safe environment.

Now to be honest I find this entire paragraph very troubling, almost every word bugs me. It starts by asserting the government’s aims for our children’s education. The law actually states that education is the responsibility of the parent, not the government.
Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 states that:
The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable—
(1) to his age, ability and aptitude, and
(2) to any special educational needs he may have,
either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.

It then goes on to say that the government wants to ensure all young people receive a world-class education (bit pushy I think…..provide access to a world-class education would be better wording). How they will do this with home educated children makes up the rest of the guidance, or at least sets the tone, which is why I think a careful scrutiny of the wording and the meaning behind it is important.

I wanted to find out exactly what they mean by ‘world-class‘ and in reading through the DfE’s Strategy 2015-2020 the picture became predictably clear.

Here are the headlines:

‘Supporting all children to reach their potential brings economic prosperity for individuals and the whole country. Those with five or more good GCSEs (including English and maths) or a Level 3 apprenticeship earn more than their counterparts with lower level qualifications. And, the better-educated a society, the more productive, dynamic and innovative it can be.’

‘As well as mastering the fundamentals – literacy and numeracy – and studying an academic core, all young people also need the skills and character to succeed academically, have a fulfilling career, and make a positive contribution to British society.’

‘There will always be core knowledge and skills our young people need to have mastered to get on in life. But the workplaces they are entering continue to change rapidly. Whilst globalisation offers vast opportunity for those positioned to grasp it, it’s threatening for those without the education to compete effectively in an ever-hungrier global market. Automation and consequent shifts in the labour market mean the number of routine, middle-skilled jobs is likely to decline. Every young Briton unable to compete with their international peers represents a huge waste of potential, on both a personal and national level.’

‘Education should prepare children for adult life, giving them the skills and character traits they need to succeed academically, have a fulfilling career, and make a positive contribution to British society. There is a strong correlation between character traits like self-control and social skills, and a wide range of positive life outcomes, including higher wages.’

Very clearly what the government means by ‘world-class education which allows (children) to reach their full potential’, is primarily education which is academic in nature and which considers the potential usefulness of the future adult in supporting British economic growth.

Of course I understand that money is what makes the world go round, and we all need a portion of it to live happy and free lives. I also passionately believe in making contributions to the communities in which we live. No man is an island after all and supporting our fellow humans to make all of our lives better is a positive way to live.

However I don’t subscribe to equating a child’s full potential with their academic success. If of course they want to strive for academic excellence then that should be possible, and their social-economic background should never preclude them from reaching their personal ambitions. But to me, full potential has to do with so much more than academia and a bunch of GCSE’s or even a degree. Reaching one’s full potential is about humanity itself. Reaching the heights of creativity. Striving for healthy emotional and mental health. And what about spiritual full potential? Very few of us ever reach a spiritual nirvana……….but of course, sitting around meditating isn’t going to support Britain’s economic growth; it’s not going to make you or your country rich.

I know exactly which children get left out of the governments ambitions for world-class education though. The neuro-diverse children. The one’s who most likely make up the percentage of every classroom who suffer with mental illness due to a system which does not accommodate their needs, nor play to their strengths.

Ironically it’s likely that these children will have the kind of creative problem solving skills that Britain will need in the future, so let’s not allow the government to tarnish home education with these narrow views of what a child’s full potential is.

Unschooling, which would be particularly threatened by this new government guidance, is the kind of education most suited to neuro-diverse children, who through delving deep into their interests can find their niche in the world and thus make the positive contribution that the DfE keeps talking about in its strategy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home Education

Why you don’t need to worry if your home educated child isn’t reading yet

It’s a familiar concern of a parent of a child 5 years plus, that their child isn’t reading yet. In the unschooled community, reading at 5 would be mostly unheard of. Those parents have made a commitment to go at their child’s pace, but it is hard. Their friends children are all learning to read at school and family and friends are often starting to make negative comments.

Firstly it’s important to understand that mainstream UK schools did not pick age 5 for any reasons relating to a child’s actual development.

Professor Lilian Katz, Professor of Education, University of Illinois who was addressing an international conference on foundation-stage learning at the University of Oxford, said there was a danger that the British model could put children off reading for life if pupils were forced to learn before they were ready.

She said: “The evidence we have so far is that if you start formal teaching of reading very early the children do well in tests but when you follow them up to the age of 11 or 12 they don’t do better than those who have had a more informal approach.”

The evidence also suggests starting formal instruction early is more damaging for boys than girls.”

During my teaching days I saw many more boys than girls damaged by early formal reading instruction. These boys suffer huge dents to their self-esteem, and often behaviour difficulties follow. They decide early on that reading, then writing is just not for them and it impacts on all future learning.

Some home educators also follow curriculums and encourage early reading, though they have the luxury of teaching one child at a time. This is often a more gentle child-centred approach, but can still result in abnormal development of brain pathways. If your child is not actively consenting to your help, it is very likely they are not ready either developmentally or motivationally. Either way, your encouragement and support will most probably backfire.

According to Jane Healy, a well-respected educational psychologist:

Early childhood programs that implement a directed academic curriculum often replace essential, hands-on learning activities with skill-based performance and rote-learning tasks. In doing so, they risk the developmental growth necessary for children’s future academic success. Experts believe that when rote-learning tasks are used extensively in an early childhood classroom or other setting, normal growth and development of the brain can become distorted.”

(Healy, J.M. 2004. Your child’s growing mind. New York: Broadway Books)

If you are trying to formally teach your young child (under age 7) to read, you need to consider what they could be doing instead! Playing! Playing is vital to brain growth and future learning. By investing time teaching them to do things they are not ready to do, you are actually depriving them of time spent doing exactly what they need to be doing.

Anecdotally I can tell you that when my daughter learned to read at 8, she swapped play for books overnight. I am glad she did not learn earlier and thus stop hours of imaginative play earlier. She could also suddenly read everything everywhere, every headline, every billboard, every protest banner, things I am glad she could not read at 5 quite frankly! Literature is everywhere, but our society can be pretty inappropriate for 5 year olds and trying to explain our world to an 8 year old was tricky enough.

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Lego makes a great case for play-based learning up to age 8. Of course, they have Lego to sell, but the actual research they base their theories on comes from the most esteemed universities in the world. You can read Lego’s research and theories here.

You can also read my own personal thoughts and experience with play here.

Many more home educators do in fact take a much more unstructured and relaxed approach to reading. However, many of those parents, who have been schooled themselves, do find they worry about their child’s apparent lateness to reading.

Let’s define late. Most people are reasonably comfortable with their child not being able to read up to 7 years old. Pretty much everyone understands that in many European countries children are not taught to read until 7.

Beyond 7 however, the fear factor really starts to ramp up, but in actual fact, most home educated children learn to read somewhere between 4 and 14. Many I know personally learned between the ages of 8 and 12. I don’t adhere to the concept of ‘lateness’ to reading. A child will learn the skill when they are ready and motivated to do so.

Many parents I have spoken to want to know how best to support their home educated child’s ability to learn to read when the time is right for them.

Dr Katz suggests the following:

For children’s brains to become highly developed for learning, repeated experiences are essential. Connections become stronger and more efficient through repeated use. Reading to children every day, for example, helps strengthen essential connections. Connections are also made stronger when children have daily opportunities to develop both large- and small-muscle skills, have the chance to practice developing social skills, and interact directly with their environment. It is vital to incorporate rich language into all of these activities, since exposure to rich language creates the foundation for a child’s use and understanding of words, and increases the likelihood of reading success at a later age.

In short, your child simply needs access to books and people to model the skill, plus a variety of people to talk to and extend their language with.

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I would also be wary of young children appearing to want to learn to read. Often they have simply soaked up society’s expectations, or maybe even your expectations. Development is never really linear either; a child might make some progress with reading and then want to leave it for a while, or progress might happen very suddenly and all in one go. Always be respectful of your own child’s learning journey; there are no rules!

This is a good link with more ideas and information from the unschooling advocate, Dr Peter Gray: ‘Children Teach Themselves to Read’.

You can read about my own children’s unschooled reading journey here. For us, you will notice that technology did not play much of a part in my children learning to read because for many of their formative years we lived in Ireland and it just wasn’t a big part of everyone’s daily lives. There was certainly no broadband on their grandparents farm and access to technology was not something I deliberately went out of my way to provide for them. I didn’t believe it was needed and they certainly weren’t asking. It was more cows than computers in that period of our lives!

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Although technology wasn’t a resource we used in our children’s early reading journey, it has become an important element in their learning more recently. Most unschoolers I know where we now live in England use technology and find it can be an excellent tool for supporting literacy skills (I intend to write a lot more about this soon!)

Whatever path your child takes on their learning journey, I hope it’s enjoyable and that they love books regardless of the age they learn the skill. At the end of the day you can quash your fears with unschooling articles and blog posts, but the real guide should always be your own child.

Children know exactly what support they need and when they need it.