Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Trauma vs Mental illness

"Help! My child is being bullied and has an anxiety disorder, should I take them out of school?"

There is a real difference between the complicated and delicate time of childhood and mental and emotional well being, and being terrorised physically, emotionally and mentally.

While it is possible to have both a mental health condition and be being bullied, it's difficult to tell if this case while they are still enduring the violence towards them. Is it paranoia if they really are out to get you?


I read this sort of post a lot. There seems to be this tenancy in schools to treat the victim as a problem, not the bullies, or abusers. If the family follow suit and labels a child "ill" or "broken" by being the subject of abuse it will have its own deep and traumatic emotional scars. We have to come away from the idea that it is normal to hurt people. That being cruel and hurtful is wrong and bad, not some right of passage to endure. It makes victims internalise their abuse and continue to hurt themselves long after the trauma has ended.
War, is normal, after all. It makes it no less traumatic. Just because it is common doesn't make it any less damaging.
My daughter only spent three academic years in school and yet all these years later there are scars. She doesn't like to be the centre of attention, because if she was praised by a teacher at school the violence she received would be worse. She was only four years old. Yet the pattern changed her, maybe forever.
Being different is a punishable offence at school. 99 % of verbal slurs and attacks attacks are about being gay (according to Stonewall). 54% of gay kids never feel there is an adult who will support them about being gay. 6% had death threats of their sexual identity. Over 66% of LBGTQ had suffered bullying at school.

What this means is I have a feminine bi-sexual male friend who was segregated, medicated and further ostracised by the school and told repeatedly and in no uncertain terms, he was the problem. He is 31 now and up until recently any violence or abuse he suffered he truly felt he deserved.
This the problem with treating the victims rather than dealing with the problem.

I couldn't find the UK numbers but in America suicide due to bullying is the third leading cause of death in teens. For every child that dies 100 children attempt suicide.

Treating the child like they are the problem is damaging to the already hurting victim of abuse. There are no other situations like this we would allow. As adults if someone behaves like this at work it is the bully that is reprimanded (and rightly so) not the victim.

Mental illness.

Of course you can have a mental illness, be it an anxiety disorder, depression, or something else, and be bullied.
Mental illness has several triggers, from SAD (light levels) to past trauma, to chemical imbalance and the big one, stress. However mental illness is often the first diagnosis teens get and mental illness can often be misdiagnosed. From ADD, to epilepsy, to ME, to Lyme disease there can be biological and dangerous conditions very quickly labelled and leading to complications especially with dangerous medications come into play.

If the trauma is still on-going it makes are solid diagnosis difficult. Being sad because someone is punching you in the gut every day is not abnormal. It exceptionally normal. So is being anxious that you don't know when that gut punch is coming. That's not an anxiety disorder. That is fear of something very real and tangible.

Home education can't "fix" anyone. However if you take away the terror, the violence and stress a lot of problems resolve. That is not to say there will not always be scars. It will take time, and patience and a lot of support. Therapy and medication might help too. Whether it is learning to understand your triggers, and work through things, eat better and ask for help when you need it, to finding the medication that works for you, or simply being safe, home education gives the opportunity to find out.
 It might change the direction of your child's life forever. Yet if the statistics are to be believed you might just save their life.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

"How do I make my child write?"

"How do I make my child write?"

"I can't get them to write anything down!"

There are a couple of things going on with this post. Writing, pen on paper is something of a dying art. While I am all for handwriting it is hardly going to be the way most people communicate in the 21st century. 
Cursive is something I taught my daughter but here's the thing, if their brain development isn't in a place where this makes sense, or they don't have the motor skills forcing them is going to make them resistant. If they are coming from school the utter fear of the shame and blame of making a mistake might be the reason. 
Writing, is amazing, it is used as the primary way we communicate these days. That is the key. If they don't have the ideas, opinions or good rhetoric writing doesn't have a meaning. Encouraging their ideas and focus on that rather than anything else. Not on spelling or structure. Certain shapes and forms are unless you are actually working with cursive and ink.Why do we make this shape at the end of a letter, well that is how an ink pen moves across a page. Writing used to be hand-made inks on velum and parchment, with first feather quills, and then metal ones and even them they made plenty of mistakes. Context is important. Why does it look like this, why does it have this shape?
A t is smaller when written than an l because they didn't cross the t's until after they had finished writing the line or even page. It was so they could tell it was a t not an l. This makes a weird arbitrary rule make sense. Vowels have curls because they are usually in the middle of words and need to link up with each other. Really writing doesn't make sense until you understand by use, ink on a page.
Because people tend to be worried about the mess (this is just what happens with ink pens) we give children pens later and later, or not at all.
 One of the main reasons a child can struggle with forming the shapes is a lack of drawing and painting.
Painting and how you hold a brush is very similar to how you hold a pen. 
From making your own paper and ink, to trying to make your own quills, this contextualises writing. It also happens to be education and fun!
If it is about "regurgitating facts" you are missing the point. That is a different skill to writing. Writing is and was an art form. Those are struggle with pens and paper can find typing an absolute boon. As long as the ideas are communicated, as long as their voice is recognised and valued they will want to do so. If you de-value what they write or say why will not want to write.
Reading a lot is one of the best ways for children to understand writing. I would just let my daughter write out her story (as weird and wonderful as they were). I wouldn't correct her spell or structure (save for some punctuation). I just let her read and write freely.
"How did she learn anything!"
Well by the time she was about 12, I was having her proof read some of my blogs and written work, because I'm dyslexic and she isn't. I hadn't "taught" her. No she learned by copying the structures of other writers, sub-consciously. From Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Roald Dhal, Michelle Paver, and hundreds of amazing writers. This innate understanding of language from watching it being used is how we all learn a lot of things, from walking and talking to making music. 
If you want your child to "write more" you need to understand what it is you actually want. Is it nice neat letters, is it a clear understanding of what they are talking about, is it a comfortable and confident voice, or something else?
If it is ideas or knowing, typing stuff is just fine. If it is pretty handwriting, encourage them to paint and write with ink. If it is to understand the structure of writing, it is reading really good books. If reading is a struggle I try my blog on reading here.    

There is a shameful truth that in our current educational model and world view that it doesn't matter how clever someone is, unless they can express that on paper. This was not the case for most of human history and some of the world's most amazing ancient "writer's" had someone else to put the idea onto paper, clay and stone. Their ideas and voice are no less valid because of this. Writing was a job, a very specific one. Writing for the masses is a relatively new idea, and while I applaud the ability to use personal agency and voice, some human's really struggle with the written word. It can not be the only measuring stick we use to value someone. It is not the true measure of a talent, or knowing, or thought. For them non-dyslexic out there I want you to imagine reading on a bus or train, something very wobbly. This can make you feel dizzy and sick, the words moving about as your eye can not track the word on the page. Dependant on the level of dyslexia that is the amount of turbulence. I never got motion sick while reading on a bus or train and I found out at 26 years old that it was because the words always move around on the page to me. The first time someone put an overlay onto a page and the words stopped moving was a revelation. If you are not dyslexic but you think your child might be I suggest looking at this. 
Once you understand that they are being "difficult" or "lazy" or not "trying hard enough" is because dyslexia effect your memory. It is actually quite difficult to learn in general, and it can be extremely mentally taxing. 10 minutes reading or writing or maths can make you need to take a nap!

Writing can be beautiful, artful and fun!

Home education is too important to take seriously.


Saturday, 1 July 2017

"How do I get my child to..read?"

"How do I get my child to...read? "

"Help! My child is (under 7) and won't spell out/sit and read/write things down!"

Well there's your problem! You are not teaching reading! Not that that is something you need to sit and force a child to do (all your going to do is get a fight). If you want to encourage your child to read you need two things. Books and time. I don't remember teaching my daughter to "read" we just always had books, everywhere. She would copy me and her Dad looking at books. It wasn't something we worried about.
Stories and reading were a huge part of our bedtime routine (I kind of really miss it now she 15!) and I would tend to stop on a cliff-hanger! I found this would make her excited to go to bed (and hear the story) and it would also mean I caught her under the covers with a torch reading, because she wanted to know what would happen.
You do need GOOD books (I can only think of two books that had anything to do with Princess we ever owned) well written and crafted, slightly gross or scary stories, stories with lots of adventures.
Our favourite was The 13 and 1/2 lives of Captain Blue Bear. This actually an adult book, written in the style of a children's book. In terms of reading aloud it's NOT easy and you look silly (which is always a bonus) but if you have fun with it they do.
We also loved Terry Pratchett, Lemony Snicket and Neil Gaiman (his Graveyard books hit the mark with my spooky loving daughter). 

What is reading? 

Reading at it's heart is pattern recognition. It doesn't matter HOW they learn (phonics just never worked for us because English is NOT a phonetic language.) We learn to recognise patterns naturally. What is safe, what isn't, what is edible, what isn't. As such if you add a word to a thing, and they see what it is, they will learn pretty quickly that the cookie jar, has the word cookies on it!
The basic understanding that this set of shapes means X will happen but some folks brains are wired to do it later than others. It's worth bearing in mind that in the most successful academic countries do not even begin to teach children until they hit 7 years old.
This is because of brain development. Before that they are learning a HUGE amount about the world in this primary expression: play. 
Now my daughter was reading very young, but not because we "made" her. It was something she wanted to do. I wasn't happy with how they were teaching her words at school so we would play word games at home (a home-made version of snap with words). We kept it light and fun, while her tea was cooking. 
There is another kind of reading. Reading where you are creating a story, a movie in your mind populated with the people written on a page. It is satisfying and emotional, it is uplifting and allows you to see and in worlds you have never experienced. It fosters empathy, heroism (if you have never been seen some be really brave, or strong, or overcoming how do you know you can?) and kindness.
It is deeply important because it the imagination is a muscle that requires practice to use.
Some never experience this. They simply are not wired to.
Some people never had really good stories (women and girls in particular have a real lack of decent books) or were told it was "boring" or pointless to read like this. I get told I am "strong" a lot by people, and I genuinely believe that is because I read a lot. Most of my protagonists I read growing up were strong men, and I put myself in the stories with them. I wasn't a damsel, I was a battle-gruff knight on a horse, not complaining about the rain.  Reading changed how I viewed the world, and myself.
If you foster a love of this kind of reading, the other kind just sort of follows along. Grammar, spelling and writing structure also come with it. 

Home education is far too important to be taken seriously.


Tuesday, 6 June 2017

My issues with the LA

We are based in Stoke-on-Trent. Our "Home education liaison" is actually a school enforcement officer.
 Previously to [name redacted] we had a brilliant gentleman called [name redacted]. We got on well, had visits and so on. When he retired [name redacted] assumed his job into her remit. That is when for us the trouble began. From the get go [name redacted] was clueless. We gave it time, we explained a lot of stuff, but here is the important thing, she had no desire to learn about home education.
In fact her only response to any queerly any question was "send her to school".

We tried to get our daughter into college to take her G.C.S.E's but the LA (read [name redacted]) blocked funding because? "If you want her to take G.C.S.E's send her to school. There will be funding when she is 14." So we wait, can you guess what happen at 14? Nothing. No funding, no support.Then after some really sloppy and offensive letters followed by some really miffed emails she decides to book a visit. She grills us for 4 hours, brings a social worker with her (unannounced) and refers to the how HE community as "154 troubled families" just as she is leaving. We are told "16". I get a weird email saying that there is now a HE "specialist" at Stoke-on-Trent college (which I don't like). 

This makes me feel all weird and I don't respond (call it good instinct). I called Newcastle-under-Lyme college yesterday whom no longer take HE students because when they have in the last few years the LA refused to cover funding but only after the student had already been enrolled. I have a good long chat with them and discover the the HE specialist stuff is basically NOT college but "school" class with the same age group in a college building. My daughter is bright enough to take classes at university level and she is being held back by this petty and block-headed bureaucrat.

 I know she works not for the benefit of families and children, but for the benefit of schools, trying to get families to delay leaving until they get as much money as possible (leaving the beginning of one term rather than the end of another) dragging out some of the most painful and damaging environments to very vulnerable children. She has told lies, and half truths repeatedly and does so always to the determent to children and families and to the benefit of schools.This woman is not fit for purpose and needs to be fired and replaced with someone who can actually do her job.

Education and learning are so drastically different for school that it blows my mind that this person is blocking funding and opportunities for 154 children at least in our area. The fact that they feel the need to create a school bubble within the college system to "school" children, rather than educate them makes me so angry. 
Our LA has a long and colourful history of bad judgements, nepotism and lack of action which is what drove us to home educate in the first place!It seems more concerned with keeping funding than protecting children and needs a complete overhaul.  

Sunday, 14 May 2017

The "Right" Way

The "Right Way.

At 15 all of my year was lead into the huge sports hall of our school and we were told, for about an hour, that if we failed* at our exams our lives were effectively over.
This talk was repeated at almost every level of education in one form or another.
"If you don't have G.C.S.E.'s you will fail. If you don't have further qualifications you will fail. If you don't have a degree you will fail. If you don't get a "proper" job you will fail."
Well, the people I knew who failed at school are still people, and some of them went onto amazing things.
In fact the most miserable people I know are the ones who didn't fail. They succeeded every time. Then when they finally hit something they couldn't do, had a breakdown.

*Failing is seen as some poisonous toxic thing to be avoided at all costs. This mentality messes you up. It squashes your desire to explore or try things you are not good at. This fear they put inside is us of failure never quit goes away. Failure is the only way to really learn anything.
It's not just okay to suck at something, it shows us how we can be better.

This awful idea this "if you fail" mantra is one of the most damaging lies you can tell anyone and now we are routinely telling it to 6 year olds. More over it actually stops people from doing the very thing that would make them better, failing.

Three goals.

I am a study nerd. Today I decided to replace my "to do" list with three goals.

Try something new.
Do something you're good at.
Do something you suck at.

I asked my daughter to do the same. This fear of failure, this fear of the imperfect is really hard to shake. It freezes us, it makes us afraid to try.  That is the aim of this mentality. To stop you from trying again.
In this way it shuts out people who don't do well "in the system" policing the kind of success that is "acceptable".
If I fail today I will ask "what did that teach me?" Then I will try again tomorrow.

Home education is far too important to take seriously.

Sunday, 7 May 2017



It breaks my heart when I see all the posts in HE groups from smart, resourceful women breaking their backs to try and get their husbands and even ex-husbands on the same home educational page.
I don't understand. By choice and design my darling and I decided on home education together. We talked extensively before, it was not only my responsibility, but a family team effort. 
It's not all roses and sunshine (we have our moments) but in general we trust and respect each other.
We did come to home education lightly, we came as parents who had been fighting against the school to end or even acknowledge the terrible bullying our wee one was enduring. 
My hubby has always been "hands on"even when he was working split shifts. He could change a nappy pretty much in his sleep. Was the "burp miracle" when all else failed, spit up be damned. 
Yet he always trusted me if I made a decision. From when to bottle feed (she was allergic to my breast milk) to when to let her nap, or wean. If he was unsure, we talked, I'd show him the book or article, he'd read it and once he knew, once he was in the loop he was good.
He wasn't "in the dark" to the hell she was going through. Many a school gate drama happened while he was there.
We set our our rules, together. We had family meetings, and even when things between us struggled we were united in our friendship, respect and educational drives.
It is true that I am often the referee between he and my daughter (peas in a pod) but I tend to be the ideas and organiser while he ends up helping with the "doing" of the activity or project. 
The coolest thing is when he "gets" it. He is a shy man, and going out and doing stuff used to be a struggle but as I have been less able he has really stepped up. He has really gotten into the spirit of "try something new".  He has fallen in love with our local Asian supermarket, especially the Korean noodles.  
He really feels has learned how to talk with his daughter, not just to her. To really hear her as a person. They hangout a lot and enjoy many of the same things.
It is part of the "yes..and.." mentality. It is an improv idea that you always build on and build up together.

I try and give advice to some of those women, struggling. To acknowledge the fear, and shame and blame happening in the brief sound bites. While I know that I could home educate as a lone parent, I know that we are a team. We made a choice to become parents together. We made vows to honour and cherish, in sickness and in health, and honouring and valuing each other is the foundation of it all. I am so grateful and it is something we work on together.

Home education is too important to take seriously.


Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Sample de-registration letter

Sample De-registration Letter

This letter is for those living within the England and is legally correct as of the date published. Things are different in other parts of the UK and will require more than the letter below. That said it is not impossible.
After you have sent them this letter (an in paper hard copy that has to be signed for is best) the school can send you a receipt but they can not legally harness, call for meetings (you don't have to go) or refuse to de-register. If they do, they are breaking the law.

Your address
At home education house
Freedom Rd
City of Rock and Roll.
Headteachers name.
Name of school.
Address of school.

Re Child/children's names  d.o.b date of birth/s

Dear Headteacher's name,

I am writing to inform you that my child/ren are receiving an education at home, otherwise than at school, accordance with Section 7 of the 1996 Education Act.

As of this date, (date) remove their names from your school register; in accordance with the Education (Pupil Registration) Regulation 2016 Section 8 (1) (d) for mainstream schools.

Please confirm in writing you have removed my child/ren from the schools registers as of the date above stated.

Your Sincerely

(your signature)

(your name in print)

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Home Ed kids are different

Home Ed kids are Different

Before you leave "the system" (and sometimes even after) you heard this said as a criticism. They are "weird" and "not normal".

This is of course a great generalisation. School is about conformity. It isn't so much that school "makes kids normal" as it punishes and shames those who are different. This in turn, makes children shame and punish those who are different.
I am of the opinion that HE children are different. I have sat and watched bunches of HE kids play together.
There is no age clumping or gender clumping. They do not organise themselves into the kinds of groups you might expect. They tend to be focused on imaginative play, cooperative even when confrontational (super heroes require a villain after all). They talk more, and scream less often. The risks they take are calculated ones and not generally to "show off".
Their play is immersive, narrative and revolves around identity or character. If this was a bunch of adults we would call this role play, or LARP.
There are on-going studies being done about the therapeutic effects of this kind of role play for adults.
We know it helps educate, motive and foster empathy as well as expand the kids knowledge of the different parts of the self. It is hard to see yourself as a hero or heroic if you have never played as the hero.

When schooled children enter a park mostly filled with HE kids two things usually happen. No matter how big or small the group or what age their play is very different.
Firstly their play is usually competitive and "high risk" if they are boys and "quiet" and seated if a girl. The genders do not mix, with the exception to "show off" or confront each other. Their play is usually brief bursts of physical competition followed loud vocalisation without much meaning except "being loud".
The HE kids acknowledge and may try to engage but the "schooled" kids simply seem to lack the language and ability to play narratively. The HE kids soon lose interest and play their game around or away from them.
School seems to have deprived at least some of these children of the universal language of play or warped it into a narrow band of "acceptable play". It side-lines girls entirely and put the focus of physical prowess and domination.

Learning to play is a hugely important part of childhood. All social animals learn through play. It crosses gender, race, age and even species. Mixing with other children who HE in social groups is so important. Not because of the support and educational value of play in general but because it is the doorway to a deeper and valuable kind of play, and way of being.

Home education is far too important to be taken seriously.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Special Needs

Special Needs

Lets first address that all kids are special. I have yet to meet a "normal" child.They are all very different and grow in their own unique way.
Yet there are kids that struggle particularly within the confines of the regular school system. "Special" in the school system is often short hand for "difficult" and sometimes just "thick".
Those who have extra educational needs and those who are ill often struggle through no fault of their own. Schools seem to care about the numbers of "attendance" ahead of the well being of the child.

Home education has the benefit of being able to be tailored exactly to your child. This also means the often ritual humiliation of those with educational/social/mental health needs from dyslexia to depression, autism and ADD is totally absent from their lives.
If no-one makes you feel ashamed or stupid you are more free to explore what you can do and less afraid to try what you can't.

Folks leaving the school system often worry that their "extra" support with the school system will go with the school (and it might) and feel fear that they couldn't possibly be able to cope with their "special" child. After all it takes three teams and 4 meetings a week to keep them in school! Here is the truth. Your child is not difficult, no more so than anyone else's. They are different in a system that can not make them into the "desired" shape. Sure they are more complicated, like a piano. Lots of moving parts, hard work to move places perhaps and when treated harshly makes a quite awful sound. Yet one person or even a community that know and understand how to keep it in tune, how to make it sing like a hundred voices.

My mother worked with disabled adults for a while and I meet and knew quite a few of them. They were people (some lovely, some not so) but I remember a lady called Sally. Sally had Down's syndrome as well as some other health problems. She was quite limited in what she could do physically and mentally. Yet Sally had a super power. She could make anyone smile. Any room she was in was brightened, and conversation she was at lifted. She made people happy.
Sally taught me that everyone, and I do mean everyone has a gift. No matter the physical or mental constraints you can have a positive effect on the world around you. That you are not your limitations, no matter how severe they might be.

School and it's system focuses on the things you can't do and punishes when you can't as a sort of spiritual failing. Yet a loving supportive environment where compassion and common sense rule can really bring out the best in a "special" child. It can give time and space to explore the gifts and joys of a special child. You only get one childhood. It is the foundation of who we can become as an adult. Rather than it be a "difficult disaster"  leaving the school system can be the best experience a special child can have.

Home education is far too important to take seriously.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Sample Letters (humour)

Sample Letters (humour)

Feel free to use at your own discretion.

Dear Sir/Madam,
Thank you for your threatening letter. It is such a comfort that in these difficult times you found the time to make wild judgments, serious accusations and fear-mongering remarks with a small spattering of legal comments to hide your fathoms of ignorance to my child/ren's education. I especially enjoy these because this is our first contact proving that you would much rather fear, bully and pressure someone back into a class room who shouldn't be there than actually care about the educational welfare of said child.
The education I provide does not require a certain number of hours. There is no curriculum for home education. The law states only that it be full time, and appropriate. I, me, the parent decide that.
In the spirit of kindness let me educate you for a moment.
Home education is a wildly eclectic term for a vast array of different educational techniques and ideologies.
They might be un-schooling, forest schooling, wild schooling, project learning, using the Charlotte Mason method, or Montessori, or any mix of these. None of these are wrong, or illegal. All of them are educational.
Most families coming out of the school system require de-school, a healing process for the trauma of school and it's systems. It can take months or even years. Don't worry the kids are still learning in this time, it just doesn't look like mainstream education.
Guess what? It doesn't have to!
Had you any knowledge of home education, or alternative learning you would know that these exist and valid and healthy alternatives to school.
So let me reassure you my child is receiving full time education in a variety of learning methods. If you wanted more details all you had to do was ask, politely.
You have set the tone with which you would like to communicate. Your schooling is showing. We as a family do not respond well to bullying and you might want to look at your behaviour. No gold stars for you this week! When you decide to be civil we will respond like-wise,
Your sincerely

free-range parent

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Do I have to follow the curriculum?

Do I have to follow the curriculum?

Short answer. No. 

In school circles "the curriculum" is both revered and loathed in equal measure. A curriculum is (like say the national curriculum) where someone outlines what they think your child (or children in general) should know. In certain educational systems like the Charlotte Mason method, or Trivium you can buy different interpretations of what they think would currently make a curriculum. The issue with this is that it might be wildly inappropriate for your child. National curriculum in particular are not written by educators at all but by political people in Government who have vested interests (sometimes financial ones) in what children learn (or don't learn). One of the greatest freedoms of HE is that you don't have to follow someone else's idea of what your child "should" know. They can learn what they find interesting, what you think is important to know and what they might need in their lives. LA's tend to prefer national curriculum because they tend to come from a school background, but they don't have to be "appeased". As long as you are educating, from unschooling to Montessori to your own unique HE master piece the curriculum is not important.

You can of course borrow and use parts of sections of curriculum should you wish too (we recently had a look at the English G.C.S.E texts and my daughter is reading them (some she has read before). Some Charlotte Mason curriculum can be bought as well as other alternatives and again they can be useful, up to a point.

The issue comes down to standardisation. What a child should know, and how deep that knowledge can be is often determined by age. Age is an unreliable marker, as children do not tend to grow in neat little bits constantly but in slow-sluggish bits and sudden bursts. The physical development and mental ability are not the same thing and the emotional capacity are another thing entirely. 
By eight years old and off her own bat, my daughter had read 67 books out of a 100 Classic books in literature. It was on her Nintendo D.S. Yet while some she adored a lot she "didn't get it".  Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice seemed weird and pointless stories concerned with marriage and status. Though able to read these books she didn't yet have the emotional intelligence to connect to the text. I wonder if the reason I loathed Charles Dickens was because I was forced to read it at 11 years old and I had no context or understanding of Victorian Britain. 
Had I had some context, some knowledge around what we were reading, or just read it a year or so later I might have had a different reaction. 

The other thing is curriculum tend to get bogged down in not only what is taught, and when but HOW they are supposed to learn. This means a vast majority of learners never discover how they learn. Or feel "thick" because they simply are not wired to do it a certain way. This is the greatest failing of curriculum. It fails to allow children to discover and learn in their own way. It fails to place value on the natural ability of children to learn. In some circumstances getting a wrong answer, the way they taught you, will give you a better mark/grade than getting the right answer a different way. 

Some curriculum remove the child out of the equation entirely. They are written for ease of testing and marking, not learning or child development. The industry behind this is worth a lot of money and is based more on agriculture than child development. It is also about control. What someone is "allowed" to learn means that their are subjects that they are not "allowed" to learn. From human rights, taxes, the laws of their own country or state, health and well being, histories that they would rather keep hidden, a curriculum is as much what it excludes as what it includes. 

Home education is far too important to take seriously.

Monday, 20 February 2017

6 "Musts when Leaving the School System

6 "Musts when Leaving the School System

Before you de-register you have all these fears (and maybe even after). Yet most of the common myths/criticisms of home education don't really come up at all (except when others say them to you). Most of them will seem silly in 12 months.

1) Keep it in writing. (always get a receipt) 

Email is great and all that but some schools can be downright unpleasant about families leaving their school. An actual letter and handing it in (which is quite exciting actually) and getting a receipt proves that your child is de-registered and they they received the letter on a certain date. Some schools are not above lying, harassing and making outlandish claims. Now to be "objective" some might simply not know the law. Once you de-register you have no legal requirement to answer their calls, and it they doorstep you they are breaking the law. It is their job to remove your child from their register on the date they receive the letter. It is their job to tell the LA (Local Authority). They will lose thousands of pounds in funding when this happens. So if you are wondering why they "suddenly" want a meeting, you hit them where it hurts, in their funding. It is wise to keep things in writing with the LA as well. This is because they also lose funding when a child leaves the school system. Some can be lovely, however that doesn't make them not have targets (to re-school) or have NO UNDERSTANDING of non-school education at all. You can fill in their forms if you wish, but you do not have to. This leads me tidily to the next point.

2) Read up on the laws, rules and regulations about Home Education.

Most Facebook groups and a certainly lots of other groups have a bunch of files and are always updating them. It is not uncommon for school who in turn might try and get social services and people at the LA to lie, bend the truth and assume you don't know your rights. This is not something that happen often but it can happen. Knowing they can't doorstep you, knowing they can't "make" your child go back into school and reading up on your rights means they are more wary of when you politely inform them of the law.

3) Research different education methods.

School is one in a thousand education models. From unschooling to Montessori, Charlotte Mason and Project based personal curriculum's, knowing that you don't have to follow a curriculum set by someone who isn't even an education expert is liberating. Knowing that there isn't one "correct" way to educate any child will give you confidence. Even if you decide to do school at home, you may find you like some of the ideas or techniques that other methods have. This gives you something to do while you are doing the next important step.

4) De-schooling (no really).

De-schooling isn't just about the child decompressing from what was likely a different and traumatic experience (just because it is common doesn't make it any less traumatic). De-schooling primarily about the parents adjusting. It is about reconnecting with your child. It is about educating your self in what learning looks like (how did it look before school?) as well as letting go of that anxiety, pressure and "should". You know, "your child should be____". Should be holding a pen, should be not shy, should be able to do___. De-schooling is like cult de-programming. One morning you sort of wake up and realise that you don't want you kid to be X, in fact you could never be Y either. So you take what you have, your beautiful child and value them. Not when they can be something else, but right now. You can figure out everything else from there.

5) Join your local home education groups

It's not just having other families that can support you, and that you can support, it knowing you are not alone. They will be cliques and internal groups. It won't be perfect. Just knowing you can, even if you don't want to is really useful. They can organise trips and events and organise another avenue for you to kid to play with other kids.

6) Play more.

I don't mean just let your kids play (especially outside) I mean you. Play is powerful, educational and good for your body mind and soul. Don't just sit on the bench, at least not all the time. Get your face painted. Swing on the swings. Get your face out of your phone. Go on adventures, you can start small. Sing more songs, no matter how badly. Play dress up, drink imaginary tea. Turn the sofa into a battle ship. Build pillow forts.

Home education is far too important to take seriously.

“When you grow up and have children of your own, do please remember something important: A stodgy parent is not fun at all! What a child wants - and DESERVES - is a parent who is SPARKY!” -Roald Dahl

Thursday, 26 January 2017

The Importance of de-schooling

What is Deschooling?

Deschooling is the idea and process of taking school, and all it's rules, ideals and structures and letting it go. Even if the you are thinking of doing structured education, this time is vital to adjust, and release the stress and mentality of school.
It can take a few weeks, but equally it can take much longer, because it is not just the kids that need to adjust, but it is primarily the parents.
You would hardly expect someone who has been in a traumatic relationship to just leave it and be fine. More over you would find that if you recreated that sort of relationship soon after that the familiarity would make it something your child accepts, but it damages the parent-child bond and adds to, rather than heal the child from the trauma.

School as trauma.

Most Home Educating families who have been in the school system leave because of trauma, from bullying to the school trying to force a child into a different shape than they are. The mental, physical and emotional damage from school can be deep. Ask any adult who has been bullied.
Psychologically school is a building where education is given to them. Learning is something done to them, not something they do. Failure to understand or comply leads to punishment and how good you are at test often determines whether a teacher will even bother trying. Children are told time and time again what they can and can't do, what they are and are not good at, when they can pee, when they can eat, when they can speak. It makes for a adult v's child mentality.

Deschooling is the learning to be, without bells, and standing in lines, or sitting in rows. It is about the child finding out who they are under the uniform, under who they have been told they are.
What if they are not "thick" or "lazy"? What if they are not a "freak"? What if they are not "difficult"? What if they just needed the opportunity to learn to do something themselves (the only way something truly sticks)?
Deschooling is about the parent letting go (some of us need waaay more time at this than others). It is about the parent learning that education looks very different than school. That all that six hours a day from 9 until 3 is about schooling, not education. It doesn't just happen while sat at a table writing, or you standing over them telling them to "do it like this". That they are far more likely to copy you than you realise. If you want manners, be polite. If you want them to read, read and have books around. You want them curious and keen? Be curious.

But how long?

Well that depends on many factors. Some say a week for every year in school, some say a month. In reality healing and letting go of school will in the long run fix more problems, and in fact most Home Educating families who have issues about getting their kids to "knuckle down" or has kids "refusing the work" will be asked "did you deschool?"
Taking a week off, or a holiday simply isn't enough time for the parent to really let go or for the child to heal.

I can see I made the mistake myself. I didn't deschool at all. I pushed hard and had 6 hours a day at home sat at a table, when I started. (Yes I am an idiot.)
It was only when I got too sick I had to let go. A process that took about 2 years. It fundamentally healed my relationship with my daughter, and allowed her to learn things about herself and the world I never imagined. When we take a break from the idea that learning and school are the same and are very different, that education happens everywhere, all the time we can feel better that we are doing "enough". That play is powerful, important and necessary for healthy children then you are ready to begin. Children heal quickly it is only when we give them the space and time to do so, we can also heal ourselves.

Home education is far too important to take seriously.

Dealing with Critics

What Critics really mean.

It’s really easy to feel overwhelmed with “helpful” friends’, family, strangers and busy-bodies raining on your Home Education party. In my experience there are two kinds of critics. Those who are afraid for you, and those who afraid of you. Some of it is cognitive dissonance. School for many is not just a way of life but a process that was fundamentally so important to them (how it is important doesn't matter) that they can’t imagine anything else. If you know teachers (as I do) I have seen some people never leave a school environment. It is literally all they know. It skews their world view so strongly they can not, and are terrified of looking outside of it. In an uncertain world there is a comfort to the predictability (even if it is predictably awful). I have seen teachers so physically and emotionally broken they end up in hospital, but “have to be there when the bell rings”.

What about the real world?”
 If the “afraid for you and your kids” critic believes they need to “save” you from being over protecting (being bullied gives you character) or from “being weird”. This normally comes from having seen first hand how people who are different are socially punished, especially in school.They believe that being made to conform to what they think of as “normal” is necessary.
So do the other kind. The “afraid of” critics. Bucking a social norm as a teen is seen as “normal” as a parent it makes you weird, difficult or a bad parent. The idea that you don’t have to follow the rules is just so “out there” for them it can make them foam at the mouth in outrage or stare at you blankly as they get an Error 404 signal in their brain. It is important to understand that most criticism comes from fear. Being different is a virtue not a failing. That examining the world from a different perspective is a gift. The people who changed the world the most are people who were different.  Yes your children will be different and have different experiences. That is one of the benefits of home education not one of it’s failings.

And lo, the cry went out: what about socialization?!
The “afraid for” bunch are either overly romanticising their own childhood or fear that if a child is not forced to sit staring at a teacher unable to talk for hours at a time your kid won’t have friends. This isn't Mallory Towers. Or Hogwarts. Or Grange Hill. Also the idea that being home educated mean you never leave the house or speak to another human soul is frankly ridiculous. Much like prison, in school the friendships you make (and enemies) can be very intense at the time. However once that forced association is ended, the relationships often fade quickly. The “afraid of” bunch just do not believe that anyone could learn about how to deal with people in a non-school context. There is a seditious idea that without school the child will be “broken” somehow. If the child is allowed to express themselves, their gender identity, sexuality, personality and tastes freely we are tearing down society. Or worse trying to turn our children into what we want to make them. “Maybe they’d____ if they were at school”. Forced association is not that same as socialization. Say it with me! Home educated kids meet people of all ages, and backgrounds all the time. From clubs and groups to hanging out at the comic book shop or park. The friendships they make are just as valid and important as those of children at school. They are often based on similar hobbies and outlooks rather than being shut in a room for three hours at a time needing permission to pee.

“How could you spend all that time with your kids, you’ll be overwhelmed?”
Being overwhelmed by your kids can happen. However in you only spend time with your kids after they have been shut up in a stuffy box being talked at all day, they are not going to be the same as they are de-schooled. The “afraid for” tend to feel overwhelmed and frustrated and transfer their relationship or what they imagine it would be like onto your family. They don’t know that ending the school run and the rush to “cram” everything in being gone allows for a peace rarely known. The “afraid of” tend to think that you won’t be able to cope. In fact only trained professional, like teachers can cope with children all day every day. The thing is between groups and the slower pace it is much less overwhelming than having a miserable child at school.

Structure and Tests.
Although not many parents would say it there is an idea that if there isn't a school (or a school like structure) then there would be no structure and life for a home educating family is day-time television and lazily lounging around. No I won’t lie there are plenty of home educating parents and kids who don’t get out of the jammies if they don’t have to (why would you) but that doesn't mean we are lazy. It speaks to what they imagine or fear they would do if they could rather than anything to do with your life. Some home education is very structured and even if the education isn't they might still have set days out or groups as well as a set house routine. It may look unstructured from the outside but things like the times libraries close or events happening don’t wait for home educators. We too have weekly calendars and we have to be able to juggle quite well too.
A written test only really shows what a person knows on that day, at that time, under that stress. That is all a test shows. It doesn't take into account the person or the individual. It doesn't show the sum of their knowledge. It is a snap shot, not a film. Test culture and the corporatization of education went hand in hand. Tests and marking of them is big business. In fact the test business has more in common with Big Agro than nurturing the next generation. It is part of a business model that takes the human out of the equation. Yet that fear. The fear of failing a test will ruin your life is so pervasive in our society some people and even home educators can't see past it.
While certain fields require you do an examine or meet a certain standard a lot of university will allow to apply without any GCSE's or A-levels. In fact they care more about if you can pay your tuition fees than if you have any formal qualifications.
That fear that without that piece of paper (and all that by default comes with it) your future will be nothing, is a hard one to shake.

By coming away from that fear and looking at your child excels in, what sets their passions aflame and encouraging them you give them something far more than if they passed a test at school. It makes your child stand out and gives your child space and time to explore and think. When faced with 40 or 100 people applying for a job someone who is talented, driven, adaptable and self motivated stands out. You can always pick them up as an adult later should you find you need them for something.

Home education is far too important to take seriously!


I keep seeing this theme on various home education groups from parents yet to de-register their kids.
“What if they get bored.”
“What if I’m boring.”
My knee-jerk reaction tends to be
“So let them.”

As though being bored was the worst thing that could happen to a child. It isn't, it is the base, the bed-rock of almost all creative efforts. It is the place that we children and adults alike find their own motivation. Now in general I tend to hold the idea that if my Mum did something I should do the opposite (this stands with most of my life) yet her attitude about boredom is one I adopted. If me or my sister ever complained about being bored she would give us extra chores to do, and this is something I do also.
With no television my daughter is almost never bored. She reads, makes things, draws, cooks, gardens, plays music, and when she was younger she would just play.* You see I believe the whole “bored” thing comes from this idea that we have to “entertain” our children. As though we have to tell them what to do, what to be, every single second of the day or they won’t be “enough”. We won’t be “enough”. This social anxiety of being comfortable with our own thoughts and feelings is pretty huge. There is a wonderful performance poem by Tanya Davis called How to be Alone. It is both beautiful and moving. It’s interesting because it starts out small, about how to be alone and comfortable in your “aloneness” in small quiet place, then to take yourself out to dinner or the movies, then out dancing or a trip alone. Somewhere in all that we find where our comfort line is. We find where our “alones” anxiety kicks in. The thing is this is why home education is subversive. Even on your worst day (and we all have them) you discover, you are enough. In a world that makes money from your anxiety and self-loathing and has a vested interest in “keeping you busy”, on a rainy Tuesday morning, you discover you are enough.

Boredom is a super power.

“ How we envy you, envy you! Lucky humans, who can close your minds to the endless deeps of space! You have this thing you call... boredom? That is the rarest talent in the universe! We heard a song — it went 'Twinkle twinkle little star....' What power! What wondrous power! You can take a billion trillion tons of flaming matter, a furnace of unimaginable strength, and turn it into a little song for children! You build little worlds, little stories, little shells around your minds, and that keeps infinity at bay and allows you to wake up in the morning without screaming!” Terry Pratchett- Hatful of Sky

Boredom is the starting place for “I wonder…” and “Why does…” and “How could I…” These thoughts are natural human curiosity. They underpin play and true learning (as opposed to learning it quickly to pass a test). It is full of failure (maybe that is why we are told to be anxious about it.) Again failure is how we really learn. It’s how we teach adults, from driving to cooking and even adult maths, and no-one bats an eye-lid.

Playing and doing
Play* is a hugely important part of the social development of children. We are social mammals and all social mammals learn through play. Children mimic what they see (not what you tell them to do) just as all mammals do.
Dr Stuart Brown would tell you better about play than I but it is important. Not only for children. The opposite of play is depression, according to Dr Stuarts Brown’s extensive research. Our depression epidemic in children can in part be traced back to this deprivation of play. Depression physically changes the brain, the body chemistry and physical functions of the whole body. This is not “feeling sad” this is an illness, like rickets being brought about by a lack of something fundamental to human beings.
Constructive “doing play” must always be balanced with free play. I read a book when my children were tiny about it and used it to get my hubby on board with unsupervised free play. (I wish I could remember what it was but it was 12 years ago). I organised my daughter’s life around structured learning (she was copying letters before the age of two) and being left in her kid safe room with her toys. After the “tidy up game” she would have a drink and a nap. If she missed her free play, she wouldn't want her nap. It was as though her brain needed to digest her play. We also had “noisy” play and “quiet” play, from about that age too.

This has had some odd effects. She has never been a screamer. She has never had to yell and whoop to get my attention, should just knew I would listen to her. I also never begrudged her, her noisy play. (I grew up around musicians).

So here is my spurious advice. Play. Not just allow or encourage your child, but you, grown-up, worried, sensible you. Play. Turn the sofa into pirate ships and throw paper cannon balls at each other. Make up washing up opera (what will happen to the tea-spoons?) Home education is far too important to take too seriously.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

"Helpful" People

"Helpful" People

I'd like to take a moment and ponder some things that people have said to me. Now my dearest darling hubby thinks this is probably a bad idea and he is probably right. It will be not great for the old blood pressure.
I am not alone in getting advice when it come to parenting my child of course. Parenting advice is everywhere, and the shaming is REAL.
As a home educator I have sort of been, polite about my friends choices in how they raise their kids.
Because I am sort of that person, and I kind of figured that the "comments" and advice are at least well meaning, if coming from a place of very limited experience.

"Aren't you worried that..."

You know what, regardless of the end of that sentence the answer is probably yes. I have woken up from some terrible nightmare in a cold sweat that all the decisions I have ever made are terrible and I have utterly failed as a parent. I mean thanks for bringing it up because if you hadn't and it was something that I'd never thought of, well I will now!

"What if..."

What if she wants to be a vegan/Catholic/doctor/nomad and your choice to do______ means she can't? I have tried to encourage my daughter that she can do anything she wants to do. It might take a lot of hard work but I will love, support and do my best to help her (even if I don't agree with her choices). I only know that I had to raise her, as authentically myself, as real as possible. I am sure I have fucked up, a lot, but I have spent her whole life trying to be the best Mum I could ever be, because I had such a bad family experience.

"Shouldn't she learn to deal with terrible things?"

I mean I know school can be soul destroying and awful but don't you need that as a child to be able to tolerate it as an adult?
Firstly why would ever allow yourself to continue in a situation like this as an adult? It isn't healthy or good for you. This is where the tight smile and the internal screaming kick in. Bullying, trauma, misery and awfulness are not character building. In fact having a happy healthy childhood builds a stronger foundation to deal with life than the reverse. Psychologically we know this to be true. Children with childhood trauma are more likely to become addicts, more likely to suffer with mental and physical health issue, but whatever. It's character.
*rolls eyes so hard*

"What about socialization?"

I have written about this a lot and from our own role play groups to local meet ups and events as well as, you know, living in a city and doing stuff we come into contact with people all the time. My daughter is a quiet bookish sort, not because we home educate but because of school. While she certainly is confident and comfortable speaking to many groups of people from all ages and backgrounds, she isn't trusting of people. School did that to her. It hurt and harmed her, and she no longer sings like she used to. No other question is as likely to make a home educator gain a physical twitch as this one. My dearest darlings response is better than mine, he just tells you to ask her about it. This usually does a couple of things, it shocks them that they would speak to a "child" and if they do, she usually as a pithy and dry enough answer in a way I had not even thought of.

So nightmares not withstanding, I am confident that my shame hangover from having hung out with someone who feels the need to question every parenting choice I have ever made, who doesn't have kids has far more to with them; than me. I am also sure that the "bad Mum" stick is not one they will likely let go off easily.

Home education is far too important to be taken seriously

Love Bad Mummy!

Friday, 13 January 2017

Sample letter's to Local Authorities (humour)

Sample letter's to Local Authorities

There have been a sudden spate of letters being sent out all over the country, some with the standard pointless form, something the usual amount of fear mongering and coercion and some with just a bunch of lies in them that triggered some random sarcasm centre in my brain.
These ramblings and so on are a humorous response to these woeful and frankly mind-numbingly blinkered world view and should probably never be sent to any one. If you do (let me know how it goes) but I am letting you know right not, on your own head be it!

Dear Sir/Madam,

my family and I thank you for the letter's and questionnaires you sent out. They were really quite humourous and made for a good laugh before they were turned into some delightful decoupage, some lining for the hamster cage and some vital paper mache in one of our many projects.

You seem awfully found of tick boxes and questionnaires so in the spirit of generosity we came up with our own questions for you.

What research into education other than mainstream schooling have you completed this (academic) year?

Please list the books you have read and their value.

Please explain in as much detail as possible how a government curriculum based learning invites curiosity, individuality, creativity and happiness in children. Special interest (though not compulsory) in emotional well-being, emotional intelligence and play; providing as much specific information to how this "happiness" informs the curriculum.

Please describe how sitting in a room all day requiring permission to speak, drink, eat and pee enhances the ability of of an educator and the children to become a bright, adventurous and worldly adult.

Show me how does having a strict structure to all aspects of the day, regardless of health, light levels, mood or weather aid the learning of children? Please cite your sources appropriately.    

High school students are now encouraged only to read the sections of books they will be tested on how do feel this will educate them fully in English language and literature? 

In fact the "allowed" or required reading gets less and less and the trips to see plays are replaced with seeing a video in a class room an hour at a time. How does this foster the knowledge, appreciation and understanding of these texts?

As adults we are taught in any way that works, but schools insist on all children doing things the exact same way, even if they find their way faster or better, why is that?

There is a great divide in how adults and children are treated within the school system making "control" more important than connection. How do you re-adjust this divide to make socialising with all ages normal? 

When you wish to encourage literacy and expression, can you explain why children need a "pen license"? 

How does what you wear affect your ability to learn?

Do you think you have a right to wear make-up, colour your hair, or wear nail polish and bright colours? Does this affect your ability to learn?

Are gender norms deeply re-enforced and are you segregated often from your co-workers because of their gender or yours?

Is sexual harassment, bullying and physical violence acceptable from your co-workers and bosses? If it occurs are you targeted by those higher up and told to "toughen up" just "fit in more" or told to "give it time"? 

Would you or your family feel it would be appropriate to threaten you if you didn't return to where this harassment took place, tell you that you were "over reacting"?

How often do you mix people of your own age group of different ethnic backgrounds?

Would you say you have many friends and are they enough?

Do you think your world view is restricted by your lack of peers?

I hope you find some value in answering these questions. It does get awfully mind-numbing to be educating in a world without restrictions on what is learned to try and put it "back in the box". Home education doesn't like to fit cosily into boxes which is why we like it. It is about taking children out of the narrow confines of "literacy and maths" and teaching them to read, write, listen and express them selves. To count, add, tell time delve into the language of the universe and weight flour for cake.

When you send out these sort of forms to families it is a red flag. It say's "I don't know what your doing but it looks wrong!" It get our backs up, makes us suck our teeth, and want to avoid you because these kind of questions show us "free-range chicken farmers" that you work for the chicken factory, and you have no idea how to deal with a chicken that is outside a cage but to try and put them back in it! When you ask us (metaphorically) "does it lay once a day?" and we sort of shrug and say "I don't know, maybe once a week, but the eggs are bigger, and it's a happy chicken!" you look at it like there is something wrong with our non-factory system, Sure you have to "pack them in tight" and it would be lovely to let them have more space and such but when they do they just fight each other.

I sort of got lost in that metaphor. Home educators are amazing and very quickly sussing out who want to throw their "chickens" back into cages and it has nothing to do with how "nice" you sound, or how woolly the cardigan is you wear. If you are not educated in anything beyond the school system, have read no books or blogs your ignorance about the world outside the "chicken factory" is not only upsetting, it's down right dangerous.

For now, enjoy your questionnaire, I know I did.

Your sincerely

Free-range family.

Home education is too important to take seriously.