Totally married, loves gallivanting, raising a Too Cool For School Trio in
West Sussex, England.
Living very happily outside the box I never quite fitted in.
Everyday I spend 15 minutes chronicling the previous 24 hours in our home educating lives and each post is titled after a great track.
The Daddy One and I have been to the LiTTLe Conference today in Covent Garden which was organised by Julie Daniel, this was the first time we have left all three of our children, who are 6, 4 and just 2, with my parents for the day so it was rather a novelty for us to have a day out without The Smalls in tow. The Daddy One was surprised by the lack of tie~dye in the audience. Perhaps the article in the #welovehomeed daily yesterday that home ed is the poor man's private school is truer than we thought!
The first speaker on the agenda was Imran Shah who is a home educating father and a social worker. He spoke about attachment and the huge contrast in attachment between the children he encounters via his work and those he sees at home. He talked about growing brains and how the growth of the brain is governed by attachment and covered much of what I wrote about in my first ever blog post which, funnily enough, was called "Growing Brains."
He talked also about the role of hormones in the processes governing attachment such as birth and breastfeeding and how birth "Scrambles up a mother's brain." and rewires it to love the baby almost "too much"
The part the was of the most interest to me was about impulse control and how dopamine levels in the brain cover the control of impulses and he mentioned several studies he had read, plus first hand experience and anecdotes surrounding how the lack of attachment can really become a problem in the teenage years. The high levels of cortisol in the growing brain meant that the neurological pathways which could help to control impulsive behaviour may have failed to grow properly and in addition in unattached teenagers there is evidence that sexual maturity occurs at a younger age.
Imran described the attachment phase as from birth to 7 or 8 years old which, from a personal point of view, helped me to see why my life can feel very intense sometimes!
The second speaker was Sandra Dodd and she spoke very articulately about living in the now. Not focusing too much on the past or planning too much for the future. She had a fabulous quote that she heard at a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous
"If you have one foot in the past and one foot in the future then you are pissing all over today."
She encourages parents to learn how to live thoughtfully in the moment and explained her view that if you do not think before you act then you are acting thoughtlessly, she also encouraged the audience to "Look at your life through different eyes" and she gave a great example of how, when she took her son to the zoo to see a star attraction he was more interested in the crow on the fence!
I first read Sandra's work when my first born was a baby, nearly 7 years ago now, and it is fabulous to see how successful her children, who are now young adults are becoming. They have secured careers for themselves in the fields connected to their passions in a very natural and organic way. Sandra talked about how, for about a year, one of her sons would only wear a tiger dressing up suit but has now matured into a pretty conservative dresser. I was interested to hear this as dressing up clothes are popular in our family and free choice of what to wear is important to the smalls.
Sandra's presentation was very inspiring, encouraging the listener to have faith in their child and to trust the process and not belittle or undermine what a great thing is happening by saying "just" as an adjective.
The third talk was by David Waynforth who as well as being an unschooling father is also a senior researcher and lecturer at Norwich Medical School. He talked about food choices. As a background to those unfamiliar unschooling is a broader philosophy than autonomous home educating in that it encourages free choice in all areas. Bedtimes, TV, diet etc.
David spoke about how we develop our food choices and how humans have evolved beyond the hunter gatherer diet and that our digestive systems have evolved to tolerate a "farmed" diet
He talked about experiments with farm animals and showed how with free access to the right foods they do not over eat, and interestingly to me with an economists training, he spoke of how the theory of marginal value illustrates to us that restricting, for example, sweets, sends out all the wrong signals appropriate to their status as a food. He used several research studies as evidence to back this up and you can contact him via Norwich Medical School for the papers and references. He explained how in one experiment those with limited access to sweets spent longer eating them when they were allowed access to them.
It would be interesting to me to hear a follow up talk on the role of advertising in choices and whilst many of the studies focused on obesity there are other dietary considerations like dental health for example.
He also used marginal utility theory to show how offering sweets as a reward affords them a higher status than they deserve nutritionally by contrast in nature the rewards would be found by hunting for more nutritionally dense foods. He used the idea of marginal utility, which basically states that for every additional unit of something you have the pleasure acquired from it diminishes to explain this very well. When I studied economics at University our lecturer used to example of pints of beer to make the same point.
Several people asked questions at then end about why it was then that there pets were so fat. I felt a bit embarrassed on behalf of David and thought that was a bit like asking David Cameron why no one has been to collect your rubbish but he was very confident and knowledgeable and used the protein theory that he had outlined earlier to show that when the wrong foods are offered too many of them are eaten in order to find the right foods and pet food is a text book example of wrong food lacking nutritionally in many ways plus of course most pets do not have free access to other foods.
The forth speaker was Mike Fortune Wood and during his talk about the rights of children I realised that were we inside the school system we would, almost certainly, be more familiar than we are with some of the acronyms in common usage amongst educational psychologists, teachers and education welfare officers. Mike is incredibly knowledgeable about legislation, politics and politicians and how laws relate to home educate. In a way I felt that if Sandra Dodd's talk had lifted you up and given you the confidence to think unschooling was something you could do then Mike's talk was a slight downer in the sense that he spoke about other countries in Europe where the freedom to home educate is being undermined very rapidly. Those of us that were home educating in 2009 during the Badman review know that we can not be complacent about the status quo.
He talked about the Stalinist view of education as a weapon and recommend the John Taylor Gatto book on the History of Underground education.
Mike also explained how he believes that in England the compulsory school age is, in fact, younger than five because to guarantee a place at a popular school a child needs to have attended the preschool, he believes that the compulsory school age is creeping younger and younger and in certain European countries, like Sweden, nursery care from age one is standard.
In the talk Mike also mentioned how laws not targeted at home educated children can have unintended consequences and he gave the example of a truancy curfew which basically meant home educated children could not be out and about in school hours. Mike mentioned also the creeping power of the state via the school and how it is now possible for a school girl to have a termination of pregnancy arranged via the school nurse with absolutely no requirement that the parents be told. The procedure is performed in school hours and the only way the parents would know would be if the child chose to tell them.
He quoted figures to show that 4% of school children are classified with ADHD and 5% have school phobia but that school phobia itself has been reclassified as a symptom of social anxiety disorder which, in his opinion, boiled down to convenient and inconvenient behaviours rather than problem behaviours and how there is a huge industry behind the issue of behavioural problems. In America this is called "No child left behind" and in the UK "Every Child Matters" and Mike believes this represents a huge influence of the state and interference into the rights and responsibilities of parents.
He finished up talking about how it is illegal to home educate in Germany.
The final talk that we stayed for was Harriet Pattison and Alan Thomas. They spoke about literacy and how children learn to read at home. Dr Alan Thomas started the presentation with a really funny tale about how, as a young teacher, he took a group of children into the woods without any worksheets to fill in and when the headmaster came running after the coach with said worksheets held aloft Alan instructed the passengers to "Smile and wave back!" He talked about his belief in the haloed ground between pupil and teacher and how individualised learning is the key he also caused a roar of laughter in the audience when he said that his first studies of autonomously learning families there appeared to be nothing going on! but slowly over time he realised that actually a lot was going on! The conversations at the breakfast table alone where rich in vocabulary and opinions. He studied 100 families in Australia where the term "natural learning" is used in place of unschool or autonomous. In school the debate is do children learn better with desks in pairs or in groups he would argue they learn better with no desks at all.
He explained that those home educated children who learn to read "late" catch up very fast. Harriet went on to explain that when her own home educated children were young that learning to read was "the elephant in the room." She had heard anecdotes of spontaneous reading but never thought that would be the kind of thing to happen in her family until one day it did when her, then 6 year old daughter, read "Hop on a Pop" the Dr Seuss classic. Since then Harriet has gone on to study exactly what was going on believing that the debate should not be should we teach phonics or whole word but should we teach at all.
They ended their session with a brainstorm asking everyone in the audience with an autonomously educated child who had taught themselves to read to raise their hand, and many people did, and they wrote down the factors they thought had contributed to reading without formal teaching. It challenges much of what the teaching profession believe but is something I write about frequently on my blog!
I am sure others left the event with very different take aways from today but I have focused on what is most relevant to us as a family at the moment. We left the conference feeling very validated, refreshed and reinvigorated that not only is what we are doing worthwhile it is making an important difference