Monday, July 31, 2006

They have to learn!

I'm reading John Holt's How Children Fail again, and noticing this time the stories about parents and teachers who think that it's necessary to teach children to endure being bored and unhappy. Parents who told Holt that yes, little Jonnie was learning much more than he ever had before, but they were worried that he was having too much fun in school. People who believe that school ought to be disciplined, dull, and not particularly happy, because "it will teach them about real life."

If that's what my school thought they were doing, it didn't bloody work. My real life has never been as pointless, boring, or miserable as school was.

In my own family, I learned about a year ago that Rob played a robot in a primary school play, and was haunted thereafter by the name "Robbie the Robot." The story was being told while his parents were visiting, and I said, aghast, "Oh, god, they didn't keep calling you Robbie the Robot, did they?" and he said "Only for the rest of the time I was in school," or similar. His father chimed in with "Well, you have to learn to give and take that kind of thing, don't you?"

His father, who is very very fond of his children, really quite protective, would never see them suffer financial discomfort, helps with such minor household tasks as loft conversions and supporting wall strengthening, or the occasional fitted kitchen, thinks that it is necessary to learn to give and receive minor bullying.

I walked out of the room, saying "Rob would never give anyone that kind of crap," which is true. He's far too nice to deliberately hurt someone for no reason other than the pleasure of hurting them, even a little. I'm not, of course, and I wasn't as a child - but I've never claimed to be as nice a person as Rob is. For a start, I was angry enough to say "crap" in front of my parents in law, which is a level of obscenity to which I would not normally stoop in front of "grown-ups".

It seems to me a matter of common sense that children will learn to deal with nastiness in their own ways in their own time, and that encouraging them to learn this earlier than absolutely necessary can't help anyone. Teaching them that it's normal and acceptable does nothing whatsoever to make the world a better place, any more than teaching them to solve their problems by hitting the child who has a coveted toy will.

I leave you with something my mother had up on the wall in her house when I was a child.

If a child lives with criticism
He learns to condemn.

If a child lives with hostility
He learns to fight.

If a child lives with ridicule
He learns to be shy.

If a child lives with jealousy
He learns to feel guilty.

But if a child lives with tolerance
He learns to be patient.

If a child lives with encouragement
He learns self-confidence.

If a child lives with praise
He learns to appreciate.

If a child lives with fairness
He learns justice.

If a child lives with approval
He learns to like himself.

If a child lives with security
He learns to have faith.

If a child lives with acceptance and friendship
He learns to find love in the world.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Books to investigate: John Holt

Books by John Holt, according to the most official John Holt website I can find:

How Children Fail. Pitman 1964, revised edition Delacorte 1982, Perseus, 1995.
(My library has the revised edition, Penguin, 1990, which I have read)(Buy on Amazon)

How Children Learn. Pitman 1967, revised edition Delacorte 1983, Perseus, 1995.
(My library has the revised edition, Penguin, 1991, which I thought I'd read before but apparently haven't. When I read it, I'll let you know.)(buy on Amazon)

The Underachieving School. Pitman,1969.
(Amazon UK have a 2005 Sentient Publications edition.)(buy on Amazon)

What Do I Do Monday? Dutton, 1970, Heinemann, 1995.
(Amazon UK can source a 1995 Boynton/Cook (US) edition in 4-6 weeks.)

Freedom and Beyond. Dutton, 1972, Heinemann, 1995.
(Amazon UK can source a 1995 Boynton/Cook (US) edition in 4-6 weeks.)

Escape from Childhood: The Needs and Rights of Children. Dutton, 1974, Holt Associates 1981.
(Amazon UK can't even source one, though some are available second-hand.)

Instead of Education: Ways to Help People Do Things Better. Dutton, 1976, Sentient, 2003.
(Amazon UK have a 2004 Sentient Publications edition.)

Never Too Late: My Musical Life Story.. Delacorte. 1978, Perseus, 1991.
(Amazon UK have a 1992 Lighthouse books edition.)

Teach Your Own: A Hopeful Path for Education. Delacorte, 1981, revised and updated by Patrick Farenga as Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling, Perseus 2003
(My library has the Lighthouse Books edition, 1981, which I have read.)(Buy on Amazon)

Learning All the Time: How small children begin to read. write, count, and investigate the world, without begin taught. Addison-Wesley 1989. Perseus, 1990. (Buy on Amazon)

I will get these at some stage, and own them. I already know that the library can't source any more; even my pet assistant librarian who is an elite crack-squad of catalogue searchers all on her own can't find more than she's slready found for me. I must print the list off and take it to the local Waterstones; they're the most reliable bookfinders I know of in the area, and might well find things more cheaply than Amazon would.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Daycare Schooling

I've been wondering - while talking to my mother, which is always inspiring - how true it is that schools are mainly for daycare.

There are breakfast clubs, after school clubs, and I've heard rumours of supper clubs but I have no references for those. It's obvious to me that these would solve a serious daycare problem for families where all the available adults work regular office hours... but it bothers me, too.

I already think that most of the school day is dead time, nothing-time, filler-in-time. It's presumably valuable for children without alternatives, just like the daycare clubs, but I can't see how it's useful to most of the others. I can remember sitting around waiting a lot, in school, while the teacher prepped something or corrected something or while some people were finishing off whatever task we had been set - and it only got worse in secondary school, when moving from class to class and settling in and finishing up ate chunks out of every lesson; it could easily take 5 minutes to change classes, 5 to settle down, and 5 to finish up.

There's no answer springing handily to mind, which is a shame, because I could make a fortune if there was. I do think that the problem is that non-family activities take more time and are given higher priority by The Universe At Large than family activities, which is why Rob has worked unpaid overtime every day this week including a few minutes today, and expects to do so again next week or give up an entire weekend day, and isn't likely to be "allowed" to take his time off in lieu - in spite of being grossly underslept and not having spent much in the way of Quality Time with his two-year-old, let alone with his 8-months-pregnant wife.

Work is such a high priority, in this age of the Leisure Industry, that everyone assumes it's more important than personal lives. So the schools need to provide daycare, at least as much as education.

It smells all wrong.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Not Teaching

I mentioned earlier today that I was talking to my mother about not teaching. Apparently a number of teachers believe that teaching itself doesn't work in small groups - that the class size is important to create the class dynamic. I assume, on the basis of no information whatsoever, that this means that in teaching college they are taught to deal with groups of children of a certain size in a specific way, and the size of group never drops below a norm of some kind.

But it seems trivially obvious to me that in general, more teaching and learning will happen in a situation that allows for a lot of individual variation, individual attention, and individual autonomy on the part of the educatee (assuming that education is something done to or for children by adults, which is a common enough assumption).

Certainly Linnea has learned more about several Core Subjects as written about by nursery staff in the tiny tots' report books ("Today Jemima had three dirty and seventeen wet nappies, learned to hold her own spoon, and enjoyed gluing sequins to her ears" etc) than her peers in nurseries with qualified childcare practitioners. And I haven't taught her a damn thing, as far as I know.

I mean, I know I taught her to speak - that's what talking to children does. So her vocabulary is largely down to me, since I'm the person who speaks to her the most. And I assume I taught her to count; certainly I remember the day she asked me to count the numbers larger than ten, using the men on the back of a Mister Men book to illustrate. Presumably I also taught her her colours. But I never taught her to mix colours, and she has been doing that for ages now, especially making orange and green from the primary colours. I never taught her to string beads, or to recite her reading books, or to whisk an egg, all of which she does very competently.

Today she washed a window, including using the black rubber scrapy thing to scrape the foam off.

Surely there's nothing to be gained by teaching her anything? I can't imagine how one could even accelerate a learning process that appears to be rattling along fast enough to raise steam from the tracks as it is.

I'll leave well enough alone, I think.

Other people's children

I was talking to a friend of mine who happens to be a secondary-school teacher. We met in the library. In the course of normal conversation (she's off to Prague at the weekend), I mentioned that the Tadpole will need a passport form signed, and that the list of people allowed to sign Irish passport forms is very short and doesn't include teachers, and she talked about a student whose British passport form she had been asked to sign. Only the form wanted her to sign a statement that she knew the child's parents, and she didn't, because they never, ever came to parents' evenings.


I made a remark along the lines of "What hope does he have?" and she said that yes, he is constantly in trouble, and his parents are often summoned to meetings with the head or the year-head or whoever.

The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall
cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable
(a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and
(b) to any special educational needs he may have, either
by regular attendance at school or otherwise.

I quoted that to her, and she didn't get it. I clarified: "It's the parents' responsibility to ensure the child gets an education, even if they get someone else to do it." She didn't seem to see how that tied in to the child's behaviour, though.

I was and remain baffled. It's obvious to me that this child's parents have seriously damaged his/her chances of ending up either educated or in a position to educate him/herself. Is this really so obscure?

I'm not a teacher

I was talking to my mother a few hours ago, about home education and home schooling and school-based education, and I realised I'd never asked her before how she feels about me not teaching Linnea. Turns out she's perfectly happy with it, but I wasn't sure.

Because Linnea doesn't need any teaching. She does all her own stuff. She can empty the dishwasher, wash windows, count, paint, set the table for dinner, and check that I'm ok when I say Ow. She asks when she wants to know something (frequently, "Mammy, what you doing?") and will sit and figure things out herself for hours.

She likes to read her books back to herself. I have no idea how or when I will know that she's really reading. I'm sort of interested to see when I start to care.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Lovely morning

I went to bed about 11 last night, got to sleep about 12:30. Tadpole is lively. Then Linnea woke shortly after six. So we were all up earlier than we'd like. However, it was cooler than last week at breaskfast time, which was a relief.

About 9:30 it became obvious that Linnea was exhausted, and we went to bed in my room. In the end we got about an hour's sleep from 10-11. I feel fabulous and Linnea is transformed.

She enjoyed her weekend away. Didn't miss me a bit, which means we must be doing something right, and was pleased to see me when she got back, but not as pleased as she was to see the trike. Her sentences are clearer than they were on Friday - she's grown some more grammar. And on Friday we were having salad, and she said "I can't eat the rice."

"It's not rice, it's couscous."

"I can't eat the couscous eeether."

I thought that was impressive, but I'm not sure why. I think it was the use of "either" but I have no idea what that development represents. Anyway, she has also started answering "How are you?" with "My's fine," which is cute and useful, because a huge number of adults randomly ask toddlers the social non-question "How are you?" and I've seen Linnea and other toddlers hopelessly confused by it. I'm sure I've asked it myself, inflicting needless bewilderment on toddlers talking to me on the phone or whatever.

On Friday we did gluing and sellotaping with boxes and lollipop sticks. She's not keen on sellotape; it's more difficult to use than glue, though it does produce more instant results. She has expressed some interest in making things for the baby, or for Dave, but never follows through :)

Today I think we mainly need to assemble all the library books she took out the other week and get the bus to the library. I can't wait until I can walk again. By the end of the day, seperating my knees enough to climb the stairs hurts like bejeepers (what useful swearwords I know when I try!) and lying down doesn't help much. "Mammy take a baby out a you tummy now!" as Nea says.

Friday, July 21, 2006

A day off, apparently

Linnea seems to be having a day off. She woke in a good mood, but refused to eat even the breakfast foods she asked for, having milk instead (incidentally, I like sitting beside the jasmine in the morning cloud-filtered sunshine feeding a toddler who is getting visible comfort from it and who can say "thank you" afterwards. We must trim the jasmine more often so it flowers more). She was then a bit whiny and subdued, but refused bread and butter, bread and jam, porridge, bananas - all her usual foods, nu-uh. I suggested television, and she was pleased by that; she's sitting quietly watching telly now.

Soon I'll try to feed her some solid food again, and take her to the co-op and the library on the bus. We need to swap books over, and I want her to have another go at buying something; she's done handing-over-money-and-giving-me-the-change only once before, as far as we know. She seemed to enjoy it. She also likes giving the librarian the books to get checked out, though actually letting go of the books can pose problems.

I'm hoping that the time vegetating in front of the telly will rejuvenate her enough to go out. It's very unusual behaviour for her unless she's ill. Normally if she wants quiet she'll take cuddles or drawing or reading or being read to. Still, it's about a week since she last watched TV so perhaps she just wanted to. Who knows?

She has started choosing wordier books from the library, and she tends to learn them off by heart after only one or two readings, where it used to take a lot of repetition. She still mainly reads to herself, except for bedtime and occasional cuddly reading sessions. If I want to read to her I need to produce a book she hasn't seen before :)

Saturday, July 15, 2006


Today we went to the Home Ed group by bus, which was fine; interesting, but fine. We rode upstairs and Linnea hugely enjoyed looking out the windows. She was also extremely good about coming carefully down the stairs to disembark.

When we got there, Linnea seemed mainly to want to play on her own, for most of three hours. She did intermittently try playing with other people but she spent a lot of time sitting with a group if children reading to herself, or playing alone in the sandpit outside. That was fine; I spent a lot of time sitting listening to other peoples' conversations and drinking tea.

It was interesting though, because many people assume that the reason I go to this group is to provide Linnea with a social group, much the way nurseries and preschools do for other children. And that's broadly true, but it's access to a social group I'm providing. I want her to choose whether or not, and when, to socialise. And with whom, from a hopefully broad range of people. She doesn't get on well with the large group activities such as Storytime, or Singing, or whatever; we've even stopped going to the library's Rhyme Time sessions entirely because Linnea actively dislikes them half the time. She almost never sits through the story and song at Tigglers Togglers. Group behaviour appears not to be her thing.

But oh, does she like people or what! She loves them all. She hates leaving them. She remembers them and talks about them after they're gone, or we're gone, or whatever. She just... likes to be able to choose whether or not to interact with them. On her own terms.

My goodness me, I appear to have produced my daughter.

(More elsewhere, perhaps, on tomorrow's Social Dilemma).

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Today Linnea further developed her understanding of cooperative play, sharing, putting your toys away, storytelling, showing other children how to do something, arguing for a compromise, putting on and taking off shoes, socks, and sandals, and giving an adult precise instructions to get her needs met. She also demonstrated her ability to undress and give a nappy change to a doll, and to negotiate chair-ownership with a cat.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Home Education in the papers

I received an article in this morning's post from A Well-Wisher about Home Education. It's the one that was in the Sunday Times this weekend, which many of you who are already reading all the Home Ed mailing lists and communities will know all about :)

What it boils down to, as usual, is that people who think formal schooling is the best way for everyone think that many home-educated children are at a serious disadvantage, and that people who think that formal schooling is always unhealthy think that all home-educated children who are not in abusive situations are better off than schooled children, and some fuzzy thinkers in the middle think maybe there's no One True Way, but they think it much more quietly than the other two groups.

And what I boil down to is that different ways of doing things will suit different families and, importantly, different individual children. I think home education as I believe my family is able to offer it (since we live where and how we do) can offer my children everything they're able to take with both hands. We have a lot of personal and social resources available to us. But I also believe that if my children - individually - express a desire to go to school, we'll send them. I find it hard to believe that they'd choose it long-term, but they might, and as long as they're ok at school, we'll work around it.

It probably helps that this is my heart's desire. I may have to start my own Plumfield once I run out of kids of my own to raise.

Monday, July 03, 2006

School is not compulsory

We joined Education Otherwise, the UK's home education charity organisation support network thing, on Friday night, filling in an online form. The members' pack arrived today. It's a very good pack; I was impressed. We have a membership card, a list of local contacts, a list of national venues that give discounts to home educators similar to the discounts they give to schools, the newest edition of School Is Not Compulsory, a little handbook about the law and useful information for dealing with Local Education Authorities (where "dealing with" doesn't mean "being unnecessarily confrontational towards" but covers everything from "being benignly ignored by" through "working with" and on up to "fighting in the courts") and other stuff, and a newsletter - with a whole section by and for children.

That was a very very fast turnaround, I think. Mind you, the person in question processed our application at 00:42 on Saturday, so perhaps she got it posted Saturday morning.

So! Now we have a support network in place, which is nice, and I can get familiar with it before I actually need it much, and also we got a free book.

(On the other hand, we're not going anywhere today, because I overdid it at the weekend and caused my knees to swell up, my shoulders and chest to get sunburnt, and I think I strained my eyes in the sunshine. Linnea seems quite content to practice her Independent Play in the cool, dark indoors, though; all the windows and curtains are closed against the heat, due to get up to 32C today, and we're usually hotter here than the local forecast predicts).

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