Tag Archives: Un-schooling

Ten reasons why we are ditching the school system

6 Sep

IMG_4004“Education is what remains after everything he learnt at school is forgotten.” (Albert Einstein)
It always puzzles me why so many parents put their kids into the system that they themselves admit was unfulfilling and a waste of time. Nevertheless, even us as anti-school parents were tempted by the allure of the ‘free’ term time babysitter when baby number two arrived and life became more full on. On asking if my reception aged child would be interested I received a clear and definite “no”.

Sensible choice seeing as how he enjoys to learn and discover at his own pace, in natural environments and in an autonomous fashion. Below are ten reasons why we all decided together that school, at least for the early formative years, is a bad idea:

1. Conformity is valued over individuality, affectively turning children into a uniformed, flock of sheep. Peer pressure creates insecure children who strive to be ‘normal’ and fit in.

2. The system gears you up for a lifetime of obedient compliance in the robotic, work trade. A successful entrepreneur is our goal which doesn’t fit with values and aims of most school systems.

3. If you want a true critical thinking child then school is possibly the worst idea as it merely teaches children to be critical of those who think. I remember getting the best grades when I simply rote learnt someone else’s opinions and regurgitated them.

4. Children learn best whilst they are moving and physically interacting. Classrooms are the anti-thesis to this with long hours spent at desks, sitting on chairs.

5. Everyone learns best when they are passionate about the topic. School forces you to learn a whole range of uninteresting subjects at a superficial level. Learning is adult-led, rather than child-led. Consequently the child learns to become a Jack of all trades and master of none. Not good for creating an entrepreneur and certainly not good for creating a love of learning.

6. Bullying occurs often due to forced association rather than true socialisation. i.e a bunch of kids, the same age are imposed on each other rather than naturally mixing with people of all ages, voluntarily in groups based on shared interests.

7. Standardised testing and lack of outdoor unstructured play time creates anxiety and psychological health issues as well as destroying self-esteem. Furthermore, schools drive for competition encourages anti-social behaviour such as cheating. Co-operation and natural altruistic helping behaviour are de-valued in a competitive system.

8. Government are implementing free wifi into schools which may have adverse health effects (particularly for females). Furthermore, standard fluorescent lighting can also have negative health effects for many children include headaches and dizziness.

9. Phonics is all wrong: When we first learn to speak we pick it up from the ‘whole’ conversation/context, not from breaking exposure up into small increments of sounds. Reading and writing are best learnt in the same way. Furthermore most children, boys especially, are not ready to pick up these skills until closer to 7/8 years when they will likely pick it up much quicker.

10. Ancient and wise civilisations such as the Spartans kept their young enjoying a free range childhood with the mother or primary caregiver up until 7 years old as they understood that any formal instruction before such an age was futile. If you investigate you will find that many countries in Europe and Asia have also adopted a later school starting age of around 6/7 years.

So there you have it, my child has chosen to select his own friends from all age groups and not be told when he is and isn’t allowed to converse with them. He is taught how to think, not what to think and encouraged to be curious no matter who/what it questions or contradicts. He is learning from everyday living and experiences. This is not a luxurious choice we have made but one of sacrifice and hard work with little spare time or money left over. There is after all no distinction between play, learning and living.

Advertisements

Natural learning; the unschooling way

5 Feb

IMG_1586

Education is something I excelled at both as a young child and into my early adult years. I was one of those students who never had to study very hard to pull the good grades out of the bag. Why then having been through the school system myself would I choose not to do the same for my children? I believe learning is so much more more than just academics and exams. Despite doing well at school, having suffered from bullying and stifled creativity I feel my younger years could have been spent much more wisely had I had the freedom to explore my own potential rather than being pigeon holed into a structured and categorised learning system which is, on the most part, disconnected from nature and life itself.

Now my oldest child is nearing on six years old I am often asked that question, ‘What school does he go to?’ When I reply I am reluctant to use the word ‘unschooling’ as people have a hard enough time getting their heads around home schooling. Nevertheless I attempt to explain the natural learning path I have chosen to walk down with my son and the questions go a little something like this, in no particular order….

  • How will he learn social skills and socialise with other kids?
  • How will he learn the three R’s?
  • What will you do if he wants to go to school/college/university or take exams?
  • How will you keep him busy?
  • How will he get a rounded knowledge of all areas and what if there is something you don’t know how to teach him?
  • Isn’t the full time, stay at home educating role only for those parents who can afford it?

Perhaps the best way to describe unschooling is to to define how it is different from home schooling. Unschoooling is very much a child-led approach, and this does not necessarily mean never directing or guiding your child into a structured activity or group, far from it, unschooling parents tend to make a great effort to facilitate their kids getting out and about regularly.

Children are natural explorers and have an innate desire to learn whatever captures their interest. Home schooling is much like transferring a set curriculum taught in a school from classroom to the home. Unschooling on the other hand (also a sub category of home education) involves taking a child’s lead in their current interests and providing them with the resources and opportunities to discover more about that theme/topic for themselves. This capitalises on the fact that children, and in fact all ages learn best and most efficiently when they are engaged fully with interest in what they are discovering. Like the public school system, home schooling can often employ rigid, scheduled and ‘age appropriate learning targets,’ whereas unschooling treats a child as having unlimited potential and possibilities and gives them a flexible and unstructured way to learn within their capabilities and without pressure.

 

P1030114

Unschooling acknowledges that life is a school with learning opportunities everywhere you go and in everything you do. In a limitless learning environment a child may learn…

  • Maths as they go shopping.
  • Geography as they travel.
  • Literacy as they read books from a library and language as they communicate with friends or loved ones in a letter or electronically.
  • Science as they explore nature and animals. Rock pooling, farm visits, cooking, wild food foraging and camping are all great opportunities.
  • History as they visit museums and explore sites of interest such as castles and roman ruins.
  • Music from going to festivals or observing a talented relative or friend play their instrument.
  • Religious education as they mix with people from different faiths in groups.
  • Design and technology through free play with different materials and access to computers.
  • Physical education through regular activities such as swimming, tennis, yoga and football in the community.

Furthermore with the advent of the world wide web as a self-directed, educational resource, no question will remain unanswered.

So now back to those common concerns and questions often asked of the unschooling family.

Socialising: A child is far more likely to connect to people and learn social skills in a setting where they feel at ease and where they enjoy spending their time. Whether it be at the park, in a group with a shared interest or simply visiting other young family members or friends, there is a big world outside your front door that is difficult not to interact with. It interesting to note that children of the same age rarely socialise well together (as found in the usual classroom setup), they actually learn far more social skills and indeed other skills from older children in mixed age settings who are able to demonstrate their next stage of development. Also having the opportunity for older kids to interact with younger children helps them develop their nurturing qualities and important virtues such as patience.

Reading, writing and arithmetic: Words and numbers are found everywhere you go, not just in a classroom. Many children, especially boys are not mentally ready for formal or structured learning and trying to teach them this way can, and often does, set their comprehension back rather than if they were allowed to pick these skills up naturally at their own pace. Some examples of how a child is exposed to numeracy and language in daily life include: road signs, posters in a shop, watching films, reading menus in a cafe and working out transport timetables.

Gaining qualifications: Exams and structured schooling are not one and the same thing. At any time your child can, having never attended a school, choose to enrol for any number of exams they feel they wish to gain in order to further their future career path.

Keeping busy: The problem with keeping balance for our children in the modern world is not so much under-stimulation as it is over-stimulation. Too often parents and children do not spend any quality time and get to really know each other due to hectic, over scheduled timetables and time pressures. When you dedicate time to the unschooling lifestyle, life takes a natural rhythm and balance. Too often in trying to make kids achieve everything to survive in the corporate and consumerist world, we forget to teach them the basic skills of self-sufficiency. Such skills can be gained through simply helping with household chores, learning to cook, looking after pets, growing your own food and taking part in everyday life. Another valuable life skill not taught in schools, meditation, also develops a spiritual awareness so they can learn to balance themselves during times of stress. All too often schools neglect these vital areas of education.

The main focus in unschooling is unstructured learning although, structured learning can also play a part should a child wish to master a certain skill. For example, a music class or gymnastics club. To keep learning opportunities ever present sometimes it requires thinking outside the box such as engaging in volunteering opportunities. You can also set up a kid-share scheme with other fellow home educators to help parents gain some extra ‘me’ time. As long as you you look hard enough you will always find a way.

Mentors and general knowledge: It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to teach magnetism and how plants grow. Most parents can read, write and count and therefore have the ability to be a learning facilitator for their own child. When the time comes that your child expresses an interest in a topic you have little knowledge of then it may be time to draw upon other people as mentors for your child; friends, relatives and professionals in that area can all engage with your child to help them learn more. For older children the internet provides such a vast array of learning resources much like a virtual classroom. It has been said that ‘it is better to be a jack of all trades than a master of none’ if however, you look at earning potential in society is it not the ‘master of one trade’ who achieves the most success? Perhaps we should concentrate less on children obtaining a good general knowledge but rather help them find what they excel and are passionate in and follow this to it’s greatest potential.

Money matters: Choosing to be a full time parent and learning facilitator for your children is a choice, not a luxury. In a society that requires both parents to work full time to keep up with the Jones’s, sacrifices have to be made and it’s not easy. To bypass relying on paid activities, we get creative. A typical week for us involves dog walking, a home educators (informal forest group) meet-up in the woods, watching YouTube documentaries, trips to the park, visiting friends, gardening, growing and cooking food, trips to the beach, library, free museums and local festivals. A garden is an absolute necessity for us and we sacrifice the size of our property and number of bedrooms to ensure we have access to outdoor space at all times. With money to spare unschooling can be made a little easier for example, taking advantage of off-peak tickets to nearby tourist attractions whilst other children are attending school. At the end of the day though children need nothing more than human interaction and exploration in nature to learn, which doesn’t cost a penny.

Some may argue that I’m taking away the privilege of education from my son at an age when he does not have the choice. I know my son better than anyone else and I observe that he does not thrive in large groups and overly controlled environments, two main aspects of the schooling environment. For these reasons I have decided to let him make the decision as he grows older whether he wishes to try school or not. Like the Spartans and other ancient cultures, I believe that a young child below the age of seven needs to be close to their primary care givers and allowed the freedom to just play, discover and explore, letting their imaginations run wild and free.

Natural language learning: simple ways to help your child become bilingual

17 Mar

Image

Not many parents out there would be against their child Growing up bilingual. Did you know that the best time to learn another language is alongside the first language and that the brain at the age of <18 months is perfectly capable of processing more than one language without confusion?

What a great talent to add to your child’s repertoire with many bonuses such as  making them more culturally sociable both at home and abroad and making them more attractive in the work place later on in life. Furthermore, studies have now shown that bilingual children have increased attention and cognition abilities.

(http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/radical-teaching/201211/bilingual-brains-smarter-faster)

Children and adults alike ideally need immersion in the language for more than just a few hours every week in order to become fluent and competent in their speaking abilities.

Here are some simple tips which you can integrate into everyday life to help your child pick up another language without having to move away to a whole different country:

  • If you intend on sending your child to an educational establishment or childcare facility, look for the ones which provide more than just one or two language sessions per week and last less than a few hours in total. In many places more and more opportunities are popping up to gain greater immersion. Where I live in East Sussex there is now a bilingual spanish and english playgroup for toddlers, a bilingual nursery and even a bilingual government-run school. In these establishments at least half the curriculum/activities of the day are conducted in the foreign language. bilingual school
  • If you choose to home educate your child you can always hire some home help in the form of a native speaking cleaner or nanny to increase your child’s exposure to the language and ask that they only speak with the child in their language. If living on a tight budget remember that once your child turns 3 years old you can use child care vouchers to pay ofsted registered child care and some childminders will come and work from your home.
  • If your child likes screen time, pick the foreign language option on dvds, type in your child’s favourite programmes in to youtube alongside the name of the language in it’s mother tongue e.g. ‘Mickey Mouse francais’. This is how many European kids end up becoming so proficient in English.youtubeicon
  • Make friends with people who live near you and are native speaking so you can provide play date opportunities for the kids to hear both languages simultaneously.

IMG_1194

  • Play music in your chosen language, dance and sing. Songs are often the most affective way to learn and store new information in the brain.

feliz navidad

  • Buy or loan from your local library some dual language reading books to get them use to seeing the language as well as speaking and hearing it at the same time. Popular titles such as “Walking in the jungle” come in many dual language options.

P1020957

  • Finally, learn the language alongside your child so you are able to recognise and reinforce just as you do with teaching them English. You do not have to be fluent to do this with a young child. Connect to the internet to start learning the basics for free today http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/

Karma kids: introducing yoga to your children

2 Mar

P1020692

Yoga has become synonymous with the goal of achieving peace and calm, something many parents believe is lacking in their children’s lives. Unless you have studied and practiced Yoga yourself you may not be aware that the practice of Yoga, as we know it in the west, one of physical stretches, postures and relaxation is only one out of the 8 limbs of Yoga as a holistic system devised to help bring health and peace to both body and mind.

 8-limbs-small

The Yoga postures (asana) with which we are most familiar with in the west today were developed over 5,000 years ago in the east when the ancients observed nature and the movements of animals. The close link with postures, animals and nature is exactly what lends Yoga to being an ideal practice for little ones to get involved with. Much like children, animals are deeply connected to the present moment and live in harmony with their environment.

Nowadays, more and more children have become caught up in the over-stressed and disconnected way of life that has been created since life became industrialised. Now the disconnection with an ongoing, loving parental presence alongside the use of electrical and artificial over-stimulation have become the new pillars of society. There is little time left over for children to explore and play in nature, connecting with the wonders of the great outdoors amongst a trusted tribe from whom they can learn. All of this has created much dis-ease and dis-harmony in our little ones.

Despite all of this, the majority of babies and toddlers have retained their natural flexibility and a care-free curiosity to explore the world, two perfect ingredients for introducing them into Yoga. For the first 2-3 years of a child’s life learning is achieved predominantly through observing those closest to them. This is why you are likely to find that your child develops a keen interest in whatever you as the parents engage in most often, even television unfortunately for some!

When is the best time to start yoga with children? The answer is as soon as possible, through practicing that which you wish to teach, your own Yoga practice. As a new mum you can begin practicing post-natal yoga as early as 6 weeks after birth if there have been no complications. If however you have had a c-section then it is best to wait 12 weeks. Following that you can then participate in one of the many classes designed for babies who are not yet walking (usually during the first year of the child’s life). Or if you prefer there are some lovely DVD sets which provide post-natal and ‘baby and me’ yoga such as Tara Lee’s collection.

If you choose to maintain a self-practice at home this will encourage your child to observe and explore Yoga even if the sessions you manage are only 10-15 minutes. You are not only giving your own body and mind some much needed TLC but also inspiring your little one with entertainment that does not require a battery or a plug!

Once the child reaches the age of 2 and a half to 3 years there is a wonderful opportunity to use Yoga as a tool to enhance play and make story time more interactive, providing a fun and loving way to connect with your child on their level.

P1010371

Many popular children’s books can be turned into a basic and fun yoga routine. This is how yoga was taught to children traditionally in the east, through story telling. As long as the story has animals or nature incorporated then yoga postures can be included. Familiar postures to Yoga practitioners include downward dog, dancer, snake, mountain, sun salutation, camel, bridge and many more. To create a balanced and flowing routine for kids you do not have to be a yoga teacher, you should however get acquainted with yoga routines by practicing yourself to become familiar with the components of a yoga class.

Below is an example of a routine based on Eric Carle’s ‘The hungry caterpillar’. Notes for each posture are numbered below the photos and correspond to the order of the pictures from top to bottom.

P1020904P1020916

P1020906P1020907P1020908P1020909P1020910P1020912

1 Begin in child’s pose (egg)

2. Raise up on to all fours ( breaking out of egg) and begin to move in cat, cow pose like a caterpillar, after several repetitions jump up to standing and say hello to the warm sun by reaching up to the sun one arm at a time, repeat a few times.

3. Begin to look for food using the eyes around the clock exercise in both directions.

4. Come up into tree pose and pick 1 apple from above your head, climb the tree using opposite elbow to opposite knee movement and pick 2 pears, repeat climb, pick 3 plums and so on until you reach 5 oranges.

5. Transition down to floor using a basic sun salutation or any other way you find fun then jump through to sitting ready for forward head to knee or ‘sandwich’ posture. Go through different foods and spread, chop and throw them down your ‘leg sandwich’ before closing the sandwich top ( bend forward and reach towards your toes).

6.  Now lean forward to grab foot in ‘bow and arrow’ pose and bring foot towards mouth as if reaching to pick a leaf off the branch and then eating it, repeat on other side

7. As caterpillar gets fat, spread legs wide to make room for his bigger tummy and curl down in to ‘turtle’ pose to build and go inside the cocoon.

8. Bring feet touching together in butterfly pose and make flying movements with your wings (legs) either rocking from side to side on bottom or pushing knees gently up and down in unison. You can also add hand movements as extra wings or antennas. You might even raise one leg in the sky and balance followed by the same on the other side. Also if you’re brave enough, both legs raised together can be added in. A song can also be sung at this point such as ‘fly like a butterfly’ by Shakta kaur Khalsa.

A few general points for practicing yoga with 2-6 year olds: Don’t hold postures for too long (no longer than 10 seconds), keep it flowing. Children learn best when as many of their senses are engaged as possible so engage their visual sense by demonstrating the posture, use verbal description of the posture to engage their audio sense and make silly sounds to go with the posture (especially for animals). If necessary, gently help guide their body into the correct position. You may also like to include soft music alongside the Yoga story and end the session with a 5 minute lying down relaxation accompanied with a guided visualization CD (Relax kids do a great selection). Furthermore, placing a scented eye pillow to cover the eyes will help the child to draw their senses inwards and enter into a deeper state of relaxation. If you wish to explore practicing breathing with the child to develop a deeper breath, a soft toy or bath duck placed on the abdomen will aid in providing a visual cue to the rhythm of the breath.

Once kids reach 7 years plus, yoga can be used as a great tool to help with homework. For example, triangle pose to help visually illustrate angles in the equilateral, isosceles and scalene triangles. Also on the subject of Maths, the warrior series can be used to illustrate the different angles: right-angle, obtuse angle and acute angle.

Partner work with either kids together or an adult with the kid will aid in learning interpersonal skills such as co-operation, communication, relating and sharing.

P1020918

At this age instead of integrating story books in to the routine which can be quite lengthy, you may wish to pick a theme of interest such as olympics, around he world or outer space and base the postures around this topic. Using their creative  imagination they can weave their own story. Be sure to keep criticism out of Yoga for this age group as they are particularly sensitive to judgements. 

Sharing Yoga with children helps them to connect with themselves and their body, learning to trust their own instincts. Unlike most physical activities nowadays, Yoga is non-competitive and all-inclusive no matter what the child’s ability level. Children will have an opportunity to acknowledge and nurture their own special talents in a fun and physical, non-pressured way. Affirmations can be added alongside Yoga postures to boost self-esteem and confidence.

posaff3

Yoga can teach us to open up to change, asking questions and finding our own answers along the way. Aside from the obvious benefits of maintaining flexibility and muscle tone, on a physical level, Yoga can help children connect deeper with the breath which brings in more vital energy, decreases stress hormones and aids in detoxing and re-vitalizing the whole body.

Ultimately though, Yoga allows children to find a safe space deep within which is quiet and calm and provides a welcome retreat when the changes, challenges and confusion of the fast paced world of growing up becomes overwhelming.