We’re not odd, it’s everyone else!

A Home Educator, particularly one like me who didn’t use curriculums, phonics schemes or fret about key stage development milestones with my pre-school and early years educational provision is often heard using the phrase ‘Learning Through Play’ to justify why colouring, playdoh, lego, jigsaw puzzles, splashing in puddles and finger painting is more than sufficient.

I’m not sure if we borrowed it from the education system or whether they nicked it off us but I hear it all the time in my current (temporary) incarnation as someone who sits in a school four mornings a week.

I know that children do learn through play but I also think they play through learning. Children who are ‘let be’ and left to explore their world with more autonomy and control over which direction things take are fascinating creatures to observe. I mentioned in yesterdays post how much our wee piglets are reminding me of Dragon and Star in the early years. It’s a behaviour that happens naturally in all mammal infants – kittens, puppies, fox cubs and our litter of piglets. Exploring their world, testing, interacting, building the skills they’ll need to survive and navigate their way through their life. [As an aside I have a whole other rant about how we have this dreadful tendancy to step in with our children in a way that animal mothers never do – ‘share’ (why should you, if it’s yours, it’s yours!), ‘say sorry’ (even when you’re not remotely sorry), ‘don’t shout’ (but you want your voice heard and no one is listening so it’s natural to make it louder) but that’s for another time.]

I can’t be the only parent who has watched and listened to my children ‘play out’ their lives. From the very early copying parenting to their toys, to making their characters have the same experiences they have ‘today we’re going to Legoland! For a picnic! To the beach! Today we’re going to the doctors for an injection, to the supermarket to do the food shopping, to the bank to pay money in.’ Even at 10 and 12 Dragon and Star (when not plugged into tablets or games consoles, or listening to music and watching youtube clips – they are pre-teens just like many others) spend hours each day playing. A current passion is Minecraft – something I happily confess makes me feel old because I don’t really get it and find myself saying things like ‘isn’t that clever, you couldn’t do things like that in my day!’. Lots of their time is spent on Minecraft building houses and then showing us their designs and features. They also keep animals, breed them and scoff at how limited the scope for a pig on Minecraft is when they are so aware of the full possibilities. They used to play games where characters lived in a campervan and traveled around. I also recall how books I’d read them or films they’d watched would have a similar impact on their games. See ‘play through learning’ along with learning through play. They have never yet played ‘schools’….

So back to my title – I’m not really suggesting everyone else is odd, although sometimes I am heard to mutter that when I hear the traffic report on the radio or scary news coverage or think of people working in jobs they hate so they can buy a bigger plasma TV or nicer car. I’m just reassuring myself that despite different stimulus and inspiration the same process is being ‘played out’ with Dragon and Star as with kids everywhere. They take their lives and experiences and rationalise them, get them straight in their heads and manipulate them into ways that make sense to them and enable them to extract the most from them. Last week Dragon and I spent a couple of hours making charts and graphs because he’d not previously understood how to create them or what they meant. We used hours of sunshine per day as our data. He is learning about supply and demand, market research and various other business skills with his postcard sales and both have been party to current discussions about getting another sow to increase our piglet yield now we know we have a market. Star has been busily planting and tending seeds with me and we’ve had long conversations about the ethics of meat eating. Basic skills, learning what they need to get through their lives. They know about gathering firewood, food and water, growing crops, rearing livestock and are learning along with us about building shelter. They are finding ways to use their skills and their time to earn money for the things they cannot provide themselves and they are getting daily examples of working with others, being a neighbour, helping where you can as is the nature of life on Rum.

Those piglets are getting perfectly equipped for their lives, learning all they’ll need to know. They would struggle if suddenly they were expected to dwell in trees or live aboard a sailing boat. I asked Star yesterday who’s life she looks at and thinks she might like to one day have and her answer was back like a shot ‘well our’s of course!’. On that basis I think their current training is pretty much perfect.

7 thoughts on “We’re not odd, it’s everyone else!”

  1. With home ed, how does it work with the kids doing exams? Will you find out from the school in Mallaig the time table for the exam sittings and send them over at the appropriate time (a few years in the future still, obviously)?

  2. If Home Ed children want to do exams currently they have to sit them as private candidates and pay. For many Home Educators finding somewhere that is willing to have children sit their exams at their centres proves tricky. This is one of those debates that can rage on really – schools are often unwilling to have ‘unknown’ candidates sitting exams at the risk of skewing their ‘results’. Whilst I would argue long and hard at the right to every child who wants exams to have the right to sit them for free as every school educated child does I do appreciate this is an issue which has no easy answer.

    From my personal point of view I see routine exams as fairly superfluous at this stage. They are about demonstrating a certain level of formal education, also used as a stick by which to measure teachers and schools rather than necessarily to prove anything about the individual with the certificate. Often they are required as the stepping stone to the next stage of education. My own GCSEs and A Levels are utterly irrelevant now and I have never been called to actually prove the results I claimed on job applications (I was telling the truth!) anyway. It is my intention to encourage Dragon and Star to consider what qualifications they require to access whatever it is they want to do, so if lack of basic literacy and numeracy qualifications prevent them from doing something then I would facilitate them getting those, along with any other qualifications they want to get.
    Anecdotally Home Ed children have won university places without a single exam to their name on the basis of sound applications, solid portfolios of evidence to support their application and good skills at interview. I know from working in recruitment that qualifications are a minor part of the selection process – a more interesting person, colourful list of life experiences and relevant skills go a lot further than a list of qualifications.
    I think there are other, far more relevant qualifications should the children decide they want them – there is a host of Open University courses, online learning, vocational qualifications, apprenticeship type experiences that are far more suited tto both their lives and their current ambitions and future plans.

  3. I see. I think the core of your response there was:-

    “It is my intention to encourage Dragon and Star to consider what qualifications they require to access whatever it is they want to do, so if lack of basic literacy and numeracy qualifications prevent them from doing something then I would facilitate them getting those, along with any other qualifications they want to get.”

    I assume from that you’ll find out in due course which schools in the west Highlands will accept Home Ed-ers for exams and be ready to send them there even at the expense of a fee (which I agree with you entirely it’s iniquitous you should have to pay. Considering you have actually saved “the system” money by your kids not being in it, it seems a bit rich you have to pay for exams when those whose kids were in the system get them for free!!!).

    But that apart, what do you say to people who might respond that kids in their early teens are too young to decide what qualifications they require access to. So it behoves their parents to steer them into getting an “average” range of O Grades and/or Highers (or whatever they’re called in Scotland nowadays, that’s what they were in my day). If it turns out to be irrelevant, then there’s nothing lost (the subjects one gets Os and Hs in seldom have any vocational relevance) but it would be a shame to leave them exposed to not getting the Uni education or job of choice because they’ve got NO grades at all because that’s what a 14yo decided?

  4. Not quite 😉

    It is my intention to encourage Dragon and Star to follow whatever path they see fit and support them in that. One possible option is exams and if that happens to be the case then yes I’d facilitate that happening, at whatever cost. It is unlikely that Scottish standards or highers would fit that criteria to be honest, more likely would be iGCSEs or even the IB (international baccalaureate) – if we’re paying we may as well choose the most universally recognised qualification rather than the one in the country we happen to be resident in for the last few years. When we live on a remote island and have not used school anyway any exams will be costly and inconvenient to sit, we might as well be picky!

    I think a uni education (and I have fairly strong personal opinions on quite how relevant one of those is unless you are actually requiring it for a specific career path rather than simply another piece of paper to prove your intellectual capacity instead of going and getting some life experience instead) is accessible at any age. At nearly 40 should I decide that I want to get a degree either for the sake of it or because it opens the door to a career I may wish to pursue is still by no means beyond my reach – it is short sighted to think that unless you are attending before you are out of your teens it is too late. Similarly any job of choice or lifestyle is rarely out of reach as a result of not having those qualifications at such a tender age.

    I don’t feel it is our parental responsibility to steer our children towards an average range of qualifications, rather to encourage them towards a full range of opportunities and possibilities of which qualifications is just one.

  5. I don’t really see your point Neil – if someone decides at some point in their life that they want a particular degree or job, but don’t have the right qualifications, then don’t they just get the qualification? I’m hoping to go to university next year to retrain for a career that I wasn’t interested in at 14, or 30. Should I not do it and accept my lot?

    I tutor maths, and have tutored several adults who didn’t get a maths gcse at school and now want or need it. Choosing to take a year at 25 or 55 to pass an exam for which you want to study doesn’t seem obviously worse than being made/encouraged/steered into taking a year at 14 to pass an exam in a subject you’re not interested in.

    (My kids are all likely to do gcse’s in school, btw.)

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