Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Where is my life going in 2014?

I was one of the Transition Town Summer Competition winners back in September (read my entry here) and over the last few months what I wrote for that competition has got me thinking about what direction I am going in with my life.  I have found as my children have become older (as they seem to do scarily quickly) that my needs as their mother and home-education facilitator have changed dramatically.  I still drive them to home-ed gatherings, meetings and organise them seeing their friends and occasionally we even spend a day at home just the three of us, but they are very self-reliant and so I have more free time.

When the decision was taken by my husband and I to start the home-educating journey I was aware that as the primary carer (with my husband working full-time) I wanted to keep my brain active so that when the time came I could find some fulfilling activities to fill my time once my children didn't need me any more.  This started in the form of formal education via the Open University (OU) where I embarked on some Mathematics qualifications when my ds was 6 months.  Since then I have passed the following courses to work towards a Diploma in Higher Education getting a 1st class Certification in Mathematics along the way:

Course code and title Year Grade
MT121 - Using Mathematics 2002 1st
MS221 - Exploring Mathematics 2002 1st
MT262 - Putting computer systems to work 2003 1st
M225 - Object-oriented programming with Java 2006 2.1
ME624 Teaching mathematical thinking at Key Stage 3 2009 2.1
DB123 You and your money: personal finance in context 2010 Pass (ungraded)
U101 Design thinking: creativity for the 21st century 2012 Pass (ungraded)
T307 Innovation: Designing for a sustainable future 2013 2.1
MT264 Designing applications with Visual Basic 2014 expected 1st

I thought doing this sort of qualification would be helpful and it has in some ways.  For example I passed a PTTLS course at my local college (York College) in 2012 so that I am now happy to market myself as a Maths Tutor as I have my Certificate in Maths as well as a teaching qualification.  However over time I have become increasingly annoyed and frustrated with the way that educational establishments and especially the OU treats its students.  I was aiming for a degree with the OU, however after some issues with discrepancies between the marks that you get for continual assessment versus the marks you get for examinable work, I am of the opinion that I would be better served finishing with a 1st class Diploma and continuing my education via the various free websites out there like:
Khan academy
Future Learn
EdX - (got this recommended by a friend who also says that Alison is not good at all!!)
Alison to name just a few.  Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are becoming more and more common as is hacking your own education.  Dale Stephens did a TED talk here about this very subject and obviously it is dear to my heart as a home-ed mother but also as a person who used to love academia and now is rather disillusioned with it.  I will be investigating this type of learning over the coming year and may do some posts about my findings.

So here I am at the start of 2014 having not really managed to get too much of what I set out to do at the beginning of the year (see here) but looking back at that blog post has made me realise that one of the resolutions I didn't really articulate but which I made to myself was that I would try and get more involved in my local community as part of my overall well-being.  I have managed to do that and I am now an active member of:
TIM in York - acknowledging the incredible things already done in York and making sure more incredible things are achieved - come and join in the community hub here if you want to know more.
York in Transition (YiT) - come and join us at the Sustainable York event at the Residents First weekend - read more here
York Environment Forum (YEF) where I do administration work for the group
York Timebank - where I help with admin with the database, website and communications
as well as regularly attending the Carr Connectors coffee morning at my local church which I am hoping to get more involved in with the children.

So you can see why some of my other NYRs went a bit awry although I reckon I did do over 10 crafty things although some of those were from scratch.  For example I made 5 pairs of gloves!!!  I also read over half the books I was supposed to but then got side-tracked by the course I was doing with the OU.

I am going to list the books I want to read this year and add a reminder to my phone every month to get my back on track with the list.  I am also going to do this with the craft activities too although this should be a lot easier as the house gets more zoned, de-cluttered and generally sorted (I am hoping to do a separate post on the zoning of the house as it is going really well).

I am still working towards a healthy BMI via martial arts classes with the family and regular Ceroc and climbing activities all three of which I really enjoy so attending doesn't even seem a chore.

Anyway basically my life is going well and I feel very positive about 2014 and looking back at the year I have achieved way more than I thought I was going to.  2014 looks set to be just as exciting!!!!

Happy New Year everyone

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

November's Novel Nuances

Watch this optical illusionary video here

I was part of a The Future of Libraries day here in York - watch the video here and see if you can spot me in a few places!!!  Read more about the day here and it looks like York libraries have an exciting future ahead.

Absolutely brilliant video by a veteran about who the real enemy is and it isn't Iraqis.  Watch here

A beautiful video here of how we can affect people - watch Whoopi Goldberg get thanked for her role in Star Trek here

Brilliant satirical write up of the British weather over winter here

Speech by Matt Damon about the state of America.  Impressive stuff here

Brilliant wind-powered creations here

Hear what crickets sound like slowed down here

Friday, 1 November 2013

October's Oscillating Observations

Watch here for fantastic practical examples of how to stay young, fit and mentally agile.  Stephen Jepson is a great example of a guy who likes playing and is enjoying life and "never leaves the playground".

How about a piano playing elephant here

Great rap about money and politics but a fab young man here

Fantastic porject helping Africa get its green land back by simply digging ditches - watch here

Radical teaching discoveries - read about it here and then watch the "Hole in the Wall" guy talk about the future of teaching via this TED talk here

Absolutely brilliant comic about finding the life you want (Bill Watterson) - see here

How about the idea that there is a prejudice against stay-at-home-mums which should be taken seriously.  Read more here

Great poem about perceptions of women getting older versus men - listen here

Great story about how being nice and helpful actually makes a difference - watch here

Watch a fantastic video here showing an amazing ant colony

Powerful video about rape "7 cowardly words on a bus" - watch with caution here

Another example of how the images that we see daily of "beautiful" women are not real - watch here

Fantastic video about teaching children pointless things.  David Allen at his best - watch here

Let's be the best we can.  This guy (Shane Koyczan) is awesome and the violin (Hannah Epperson) just adds more - watch here

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Before home education

There are so many reasons why we decided to home educate our children in the end but the starting point was reading The Continuum Concept by Jean Leidloff.  Jean spent time in the South American jungle living with Stone Age Indians (who were relatively untouched by the outside world.)  There she experienced how this tribe stayed attached to their babies but also let their infants gain the skills to be active members of the tribe as they grew.  Her experience turned her Western preconceptions of how we should treat our children on their head and gave her a radically different view of what human nature really is.

It was a life changing book that echoed how I felt about being a Mum and how I wanted to treat any children I had and so when my ds was born I carried him in a sling, breastfed him, he slept in bed with my dh and I, he started solids when he could pick food up himself and we taught him to use garden tools, kitchen utensils safely from the moment he was interested.  We never had a stair gate and he learnt to climb the stairs before he could walk.  [At this point I would advise that if you decide to let your children learn to climb up and down stairs themselves you don't watch because I reckon that took about 5 years off your life because they always look like they are going to fall!!!!!!]  He never cut himself with sharp knifes and he was a proficient hedge trimmer at age 2.

Watching him learn all these things with little effort made my dh and I wonder whether there is a need for a formal education or whether children, as natural learners, can master education in the same way as all the things ds had learnt and mastered before the age of 3.  There are theories out there that suggest that boys really don't fare well in formal education because they are designed to be moving - preferably climbing trees, chopping things down, building things and generally living  physically - and schooling just cannot accommodate that as is needed.  Maybe that is why there are so many diagnoses of ADHD, ADD and dyslexia?!?!?  Maybe some children's brains are not ready to 'learn' stuff and so baulks against being filled with educational stuff before it is ready.  Watch Ken Robinson's short video here about ADHD - very interesting thoughts.  If you want a longer video that says even more about ADHD and education generally then this is a fab Ken Robinson video.

Anyway my dh and I decided that below the age of 7 was too young to go into formal education for ds and so our home education adventure started.  Children younger than 7 need to be physical and using their imaginations and any activity that stops that from happening has the potential of affecting their brain development.

Anyway 12 years on I definitely wouldn't go back and change the decisions we made then.  I am one of the lucky few who made the decision to home educate before putting my children in school.  There are loads of home-educating families out there who wish they had done what I did but put their children in school and then feared taking them out.  When eventually taking them out they regret that it took them so long to do so.

Anyway my son still loves climbing trees, being physical but also has his own youtube channel here where he uploads his minecraft videos.  I am here purely as a facilitator for anything he needs which isn't a hard task as he is a pretty self-reliant boy and my dd has followed suit.  I can totally see how idle parenting mean happy children and that is not something that can ever be achieved the way that our schooling system currently works.  As a home-educating Mum there are days when as a threesome my ds, dd and I don't have anything planned and the day just unfolds and it is a wonder to see where the mood takes us either together or separately.  And those days when I leave my children alone, are magical because they have the space to discover who they are and as a bonus they often discover they like making me bacon (ds's speciality) and egg (dd's speciality) for lunch so life's pretty good!!!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

September's Sparkling Cintillations

A great diagrammatical depiction of time here

A brilliantly argued reason as to why no-one should have a mobile phone here

A great article about children needing to play to learn and that school is not the correct place to do that sort of learning - read here

Interesting article about research into children starting school too early - been totally ignored by the Government - no surprise.  Read more here

Now that schools are back and there is talk of the getting rid of long summer holidays here is an interesting take on why that would be a bad idea.  Read here

August's Awesome Augementations

A bit late but that is the way it rolls in Viv's blog land!!!

A great reminder on our mortality and how we can help others with theirs whilst acknowledging our own - read here

Finnish schools are where we should be looking for how to reform our school systems.  Reckon Mr Gove won't pay attention to this either though.  Read about it here.  More interesting stuff about Finland's education system here.

Great article here about finding peace by embracing flaws and releasing judgement

Fab list of edible plants here

Busyness is laziness article here

Breast feeding just is - it's nothing special, every woman can do it and should have the right to do it wherever they want - but for some reason this is still happening which is weird when you read this.

Stephen Fry's plea to not have the Winter Olympics in Russia here and another article here

George Saunder's Advice to Graduates - well worth a read

Some great cheap recipes here

Great read here about loving your body and particularly your butt

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

July's Gigantic Gems

Great quote to start this month.  The Dalai Lama says "Everyone wants a happy life without difficulties or suffering. We create many of the problems we face. No one intentionally creates problems, but we tend to be slaves to powerful emotions like anger, hatred and attachment that are based on misconceived projections about people and things. We need to find ways of reducing these emotions by eliminating the ignorance that underlies them and applying opposing forces."

Brilliant top with dance moves depicting maths graphs here

Blog post about the errosion of children's freedom here

Dustin Hoffman realises that he has been brainwashed about women and beauty here - talking about being a woman in the film Tootsie.

Fab article about accepting our bodies for being our fantastic, fab bodies here

Funny moment in Canadian Parliament where they talk about Zombie invasion here

More serious politics.  Just watch this amazing 12 year old talk politics here

Easy removal of splinters here using epsom salts

Brilliant logo fails here

Why banning pornography is the start of a slippery slope - read here

Sexism is still rife in the world.  Let's make sure we band together to help anyone who needs it.  Watch this TED talk to see how one women fared.

A great advert about connection and how we are losing out.  Watch here

Monday, 29 July 2013

To learn or not to learn....

I have been thinking a lot recently about home educating.  This has mostly been because my 11 year old ds taught himself to read about 4 months ago.  This is one of the fears of many of my fellow home edders who take the autonomous route of education where we don’t actively teach our children but facilitate them learning what they want to learn when they want to learn it..  It is well known that an average self-taught reader will be anything between 3 and 14 years old but most seem to start showing an interest around 9 if they haven’t before that.  11 and a half seems old!!!  I don’t know why we have this obsession with reading and that is what got me to thinking.  Why Maths and English?  As an English nation we all know English: we all speak it.  So why after we have been taught to read and write does it go any further than that?  We abstract the ability to read from all the reasons we need to know how to read.  Most of the other subjects taught at school involve the ability to read, write and sometimes speak English.  So why force children to read books if they don’t want to read books?  Why abstract the ability to read, write and speak as part of natural life and have a separate subject that involves skills that you don’t need to be a valuable member of society?  You wouldn't force a child to dance when they don’t want to dance especially not to GCSE level even though I reckon the ability to know how to move your body and finding enjoyment from it is a way more valuable skill than the sedentary activity of reading fiction.

Again with maths.  Mental arithmetic I totally get.  A useful skill to have although I don’t believe you need that skill at the age of 6 or even any time before you are going to need to use it say in a shopping scenario.  Financial acuity on the other hand a wholeheartedly worthwhile skill that needs to be learnt before taking out your first credit card, loan, mortgage, etc.  The area of a circle however is a fact that anyone can look up on the internet.  It isn't a necessary fact to teach 9 year olds: the ability to regurgitate that area = pi * radius ^2 does not 'maketh the man.'  I know that Martin Lewis has managed to get financial skills into the curriculum but I have a feeling that many children will have been put off actually listening to this vital information by the way that numeracy and maths is taught in the earlier years.   Again most children learn to count before going to school – how is it that we turn the beautiful simplicity of maths into something so sterile and to many so confusing and/or boring?

The sad contradiction here is that kids love to learn.  Try and get a child to stop doing something they are absorbed in and you know what I mean.  My children will forget to eat, forget to go to the toilet and forget to go to bed when they are absorbed in what they are doing.  This is when the deep level learning occurs: the learning that stays with you years later.  And that learning can occur through random play, social interactions, or as Archimedes discovered whilst taking a bath or as Newton discovered sitting under an apple tree.  The shallow learning of facts for the sake of it however tend to fade because they are not backed by the ability or passion of wanting to learn those facts at that time.  And that is my main reason for home educating my children.  Passion:  the human right that every person has to learn something/anything when they are either ready and able and/or have a desire to do so.  And by ready and able, I mean when mental/physically/emotionally capable. 

My ds learnt to read because he was ready and able.  Once he realised that his brain could cope with deciphering the squiggles into words and that he had the vocabulary from all the bedtime stories my husband had read to him and all the conversations he had had, he started reading.  Just like that.  He was mentally capable.  If you meet him now a few months later you wouldn't know that he hasn't been reading since he was 5.  His passion for wanting to read and his capacity to do it led to him reading and he did it all himself which has given him a sense of worth that he would never have if he had been in school.  
My dd on the other hand has been reading since she was 5, again self-taught. Her brain could decipher squiggles but telling the time (which ds could do at age 4) was a different matter for her.  Numbers didn't make as much sense as letters to her when she was younger.  Her mental arithmetic and number skills have been learnt as part of life, through playing card games and going to the shop with her brother.  She recently learnt to tell the time because it helped her know when her school friends were getting home from school.  She found it difficult but persevered because she wanted to be able to do it and her passion saw her through. 
I am hoping that dd’s passion for reading and ds’s passion for computing and maths will help them when it comes time to get their English and Maths GCSEs (if that is still what they are by then.)  You may have realised that I don’t feel that those 2 subjects are any more important than others and in fact I feel that they are stunningly less important especially in the way they are taught at school.  My children will probably jump through those hoops and a lesson in pointless fact regurgitating will be learnt and I feel that is a shame.
This isn't what I thought I would write about when discussing home ed.  I thought I would be citing Ken Robinson videos and hack-schooling (I’ll add those at the bottom just in case you are interested LOL).  

Instead I would love for everyone to empower their children because they are amazing beings.  Those little babies that learnt to walk, talk, build towers, learn to use the toilet, etc. did so because they wanted to be like us.  They don’t need to be taught facts for the sake of learning them so that they can be tested and judged.  If we have to teach them anything then at least let’s teach them real stuff that will be useful all through their lives.  We have loads of creative, passionate, resourceful teachers out there and instead of using their talents we squash them into teaching abstracted subjects and learning is fast becoming synonymous with test passing.  Let’s set our children and teachers free to explore real subjects in a creative and stimulating way and let’s give teachers the freedom to know when a child is ready, willing and able to absorb those facts and adjust their role accordingly. 

So although I believe that all learning should be self-directed I thought I would put together a national curriculum just to show how things could be different if we had a government who actually wanted to adhere to their law about education being about an “education suitable to age, aptitude and ability”.

Anatomy and movement – I reckon everybody should know how their bodies work, how to move them correctly and look after them - breathing skills, meditation, swimming, climbing, cycling, etc.  Let's also give our children a healthy appreciation for how real bodies look, not photo-shopped bodies like here

Nutrition, cooking and sustainability – what we put in our bodies affects how they work, learning to make healthy meals from natural ingredients is vital to our survival.  Looking at where food comes from, learning to grow it, learning wild food foraging, learning about permaculture and other sustainable activities, etc.

Philosophy – the ability to form an argument and not take everything on face value is a vital skill.  So much of what is in the newspapers or that we are bombarded with via the TV needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.  Let’s give our children the skills to want to check the facts and not believe everything they are shown, told.  (Watch this video about one guys attack on the daily mail to see what our newspapers are really doing to us)

Mental arithmetic and financial skills – so you don’t get short-changed at a shop or fleeced by a loans company, knowing about how statistics really work and how they are skewed to serve many purposes would also be really useful. 

Empathy and non-violent communication (NVC) type skills – let’s teach our children to disassociate a person from their behaviour so that no-one is shamed and judged as bad because of the things they have done, forgiveness, acceptance of others, self-worth, etc.  Watch this video to see how prejudice really works, watch this one for how teachers have the power to affect how children perceive prejudice and watch this one to see how forgiveness can really change lives for the better.  

I am sure there are other important areas but these were just off the top of my head.  However subjects like history, geography, pure maths, applied maths, English literature, etc. can be left for those who are passionate about them.  

Here is one of the many brilliant Ken Robinson talks about education.  This one is extra brilliant because of the added animation.  Every one in the world should watch this video!!!

Schools kill CreativityHow to escape education's death valley and Bring on the Learning Revolution are his TED talks about learning and schooling.  Ken Robinson talks about diversity in education and notes (like I have above) that children, even born to the same parents, are different and so should be treated as such.  I cannot do justice to Ken's amazing ability to tell it like it is, in a funny but stunningly perceptive way.  If you cannot afford the time to watch all the talks above then at least watch his latest one How to escape education's death valley - "Children are natural learners and it is a real achievement to be able to stifle it."

Here are some interesting videos/pages and books about education:
How Children Fail by John Holt
How Children Learn  by John Holt
Teach Your Own by John Holt
Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich
Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto
Pedagogy of the Opressed by Paulo Freire

There are loads of other great books out there and other brilliant blogs.  Just google 'unlearning', 'home education', 'deschooling' or get in touch if you would like more info.

Here is a poem I wrote about my issues with school and our testing culture in this country:

Human Experience is not a test
Can you assess my state of happiness?
Can you score it out of five?
Can you really pass or fail a test
That tells if you are truly alive?
Is joy a quantifiable trait?
Can you plot it on a graph?
Do you score a special funny point
Every time you laugh?
Is empathy a transferable skill?
Can others give feedback?
Telling you if there are any traits
In which they think you lack?
I don't think you can pass an exam
In love or contemplation
I don't think you can get an NVQ
In passion or in meditation
Hope cannot be learnt from a book
Grace cannot be easily taught
Peace cannot be summed up in lesson
Just because you think it ought
You cannot have a kindness target
That everyone must reach
The attainment of gentleness
Is not something you can teach
The fruits of spirit andsoul
Need space and time to grow
They cannot be cultivated in league tables
Or seen in "tell and show"
Spirit cannot be marked and scored
Even if you wanted to
Because human experience is not an exam
ONLY YOU can A* you