Home business, home education and health challenges: what makes us tic?

Posts tagged ‘homeschool’

Why I don’t believe in testing in schools

tests teach us we're wrong and badHere’s the thing: what does a TEST actually measure? You see, when I was at school, I aced tests. I really, totally, was awesome at passing them, as evidenced by the 90% average I maintained for pretty much all of school. Academics came easily to me.

I was one of the lucky few.

But just because I passed tests didn’t mean I could do, or understand, the work. As it happens, I could and did, but that had no bearing on passing the test. Or at least, very little.

In practise, all tests did very well when I was taking them was stress me out – and, as I said, I was one of the lucky ones. Less academically-inclined students were reduced to near panic. In fact, when we were in matric, a student in a nearby school killed himself as he sat down to write his Maths paper, by jamming two pencils up his nose into his brain.

Seriously?! Can it POSSIBLY be that important?? Surely, if you can do the work, you can do the work, and there are more effective, and far less deleterious (because it’s a cool word) ways to measure that?

I’m no expert, so bear with me here. But what if, say, the teacher observed the kids, and saw who could do it and who couldn’t? And what if (and yes, I know it’s “out there”), the people who couldn’t do the work, instead of being ridiculed and penalised, were taught – gently – to actually be able to do the work? It’s just a thought.

Maybe if we had MUCH smaller classes, more teachers, and more focus on imparting valuable, useful lifeskills relevant to each specific, UNIQUE learner, they’d actually learn stuff?

And that, my friends, assumes we’re talkiong about schools AT ALL.

I mean, when last did you use long division, or trigonometry, or advanced calculus? I really do want to know. And yes, I’m even talking to you architects and engineers out there. Because even the ones I know personally don’t use the stuff. (No, Maths teachers. You don’t count in this particular poll. We all know you use Maths. You’re paid to.) Even my accountant uses a calculator – and he has a head for numbers!

So, let’s say you’re not great at spelling. Now, this is not even a thing I relate to because, like, spelling, dudes. It totes rocks! (See what I did there? That’s just how I roll ;)) Okay, I’m back. You’re not good at spelling. Or at least, you’re not good at spelling hard words. Like tourniquet, and epithet and halcyon. You know: every day words. And then you write a test to see whether yoou are good at spelling or not. (You already have an idea on the outcome, mind you.) You fail the test. Or even – you just don’t pass well. The message your brain gets is NOT: oh, wow. Thank heavens I have spell check and the inifinite wisdom of the web should I ever ACTUALLY need to write words like that when I compile those ambulance hand books and grammar usage guides I’ve been dreaming about. No. The message you get is a lot more succinct, insidious, short, and evil.

“You can’t spell.”

In preteen this is sometimes abbreviated to: “You suck.”

The result is NOT a sudden urge to study the dictionary (yes, it happens. no, it’s not a disease). The result is a fundamental alteration in how you see yourself, and what you believe you can achieve. Which is: nothing. Your brain gets the message “I’m an idiot and I’ll never be able to spell”. This cancer grows and destroys everything it touches. Soon, it becomes “I’ll never be able to write a book”. From there, it’s not a big jump to, “I’ll never be able to write a report”. Then, “I’ll never be able to write a letter … an email …”.

I know it sounds extreme. But I work as a writer and let me tell you: every day – every single day – people tell me they can’t write. They apologise for their grammar and spelling and vocabulary and phraseology BEFORE they even contact me at all. Just so that I don’t judge them or something. And because they are so sure they won’t do a good job, they also waste no effort trying to do a good job. They don’t look up spelling and grammar – they don’t even know where to start. Their communication is stunted and immature, and it doesn’t have to be. It’s all because they don’t believe in themselves. And why not? Because they’ve been measured and found wanting.

The truth is a different matter. We all have value to offer the world. Any of us could communicate it in writing and, with today’s amazing (MOSTLY FREE) tools, easily get the writing RIGHT. Or at least good enough. We all use Maths every single day. And we do it well: we buy groceries and balance budgets and plan petrol consumption all the time – and we’re all still here, doing it. We just don’t think we can.

Tests teach us we are wrong – and that that’s bad. But, folks, life is all aboout making mistakes: grand, glorious, bold, beautiful, colourful mistakes of enormous chaos and value. Mistakes teach us. Tests diminish us.

And that’s why I hate tests. Because they are artificial measurements of a reality that doesn’t exist, and the only thing they achieve is to diminish us to the point of being too afraid to share our glorious value with a needy world, simply because we’re so afraid we’ll do it wrong.


What Dad can do

Papa Bear does dishes

Papa Bear does dishes … sometimes ūüėČ

When a stay-at-home/work-from-home mama (SAH/WFHM) is juggling a lot of balls (and she always is), it can be difficult to see how there’s space for teamwork. Often she’s so busy rushing from one thing to the next that her poor Papa Bear feels powerless to do anything more than watch. And you just know she’s too busy to ask for help.

To be honest, it probably doesn’t even occur to her to do. Her mantra is “This is¬†my choice. I¬†can do this. I¬†MUST do this.” And, chanting that to herself as she gives the treadmill of her life what for, she soldiers on.

But just because she¬†can do it all, that doesn’t mean she¬†should. In fact, deeper inspection will probably reveal that she actually¬†can’t do it all, and this is where the thoughtful Papa Bear comes into his own.

The first thing he can do is notice.

Be aware of all she does. Be cognitive and present. Be appreciative. You have no idea how far those 10 little words, “I really appreciate all that you do for our family” go in the heart of a frazzled Mama.¬†What you don’t want to do here is be sarcastic, or in any way demeaning. Implying that the only reason she can do so much is because there’s something wrong with her (OCD, Control Freak, Maniac – these words come to mind) is¬†counter-productive. She’s probably doing it all because she thinks she has to. Just say thank you.

The second thing he can do is innovate.

Our on-the-go Mama can’t see the wood for the trees. If you’re like the¬†Papa Bears I know, you’re kind-of on the outside, looking in. That means you get to be objective. You might see ways to streamline operations: get the kids to help more. Take on some of the responsibility yourself. Hire a maid if you can. (It’s not a luxury when she’s homeschooling, breadwinning and getting just four hours of sleep a night. It’s a sanity saver). Helping to identify and implement practicable solutions – and see them through when she’s too tired to be consistent – will save your marriage. Seriously.

Finally, be reliable.

It’s no good saying you’ll be responsible for the laundry, then leaving it to pile up and fester around the house. It doesn’t help to identify creative solutions for managing the chores, then doing nothing to see things through. Just be there, do what you say you will, keep calm, and carry on. That’s what she needs most of all, and it’s really not that hard to do.

So go do it.

And let me know how it works out.

I’d like to help stay-at-home/work-from-home Mamas find balance and purpose in their busy lives. Let me know what I can write about to help you be the best version of yourself you can be.

Sunday Ramblings

So it’s Sunday here in our little corner of the Enchanted Wood.

The girls are playing a semi-networked game of Animal Jam. Goldilocks is on the giant sleeper couch, a couch so heavy ¬†that I use is in my work out routine in a fairly fruitful bid to build up some bass. (Yes ladies, I’m bringing booty back!) She’s got her legs sprawled haphazardly over the back, and her head is facing towards the massive screen. Upside down. As you do. Golden curls tumble groundwards as an elegant pale arm defies physics and basic human anatomy to control the mouse which, in her current configuration, is somewhere above and to the right of her head.

Red Riding Hood perches stork-like in front of her computer: one knee is balanced¬†on her chair (who would ever waste a chair on an entire derri√©re?), while the other leg is on the floor at an angle that makes my eyes water. She’s leaning on the desk and I just can’t imagine how any of it is comfortable or at all good for her little I-need-OT spine.

Oh well. I’m looking the other way. Just for today (probably ;)).

There’s been a lot going on round these parts lately. I may have mentioned (and if not, I¬†should have done!) that my totally amazing sister, Aunty Em (aka¬†ShellShell) is getting married. She’s met her very own Mr Perfect, the date is set, the dress is bought AND (my own particular highlight) today I found The. Perfect. Shoes. Seriously: amazeballs. Now they just have to have my size. And the moment that they do has to coincide with the moment that I have cash in my wallet. Since that moment pretty much never happens, this may not be quite the highlight I’m shooting for, but I live in hope :D.

Less happy news is that my folks are splitting up. I know that’s about the opposite of the happy news I’ve just shared but the truth is that it’s about time. They’ve been really unhappy for a really long time, and I hope they find what they’re looking for now.

About ten days ago, my bestie moved to Oz to start the next part of her life adventure. It’s so great for her and her family, and so sad for all of us left behind. She’s gone ahead, to set everything up, while her other half and gorgeous kids wrap things up over here. We’ve been lucky enough to get to babysit the kids for the last two weeks, and will do so next week, too. Along the way we’ve managed to share a little of the ‘flu that resulted from the youngest’s two-day-adventure at “real school”, which has served as a valuable reminder as to why we DON’T send our kids to one of¬†those places.

(I’ll admit, sometimes it’s tempting to imagine having whole hours at a time without interruptions or noise of any kind … so tempting. But when I think about the cost of those few precious hours of sanity, how could I live with myself?

I don’t think I could.)

So, it’s one wedding, one divorce, one emigration, (no funerals, thank heavens), and a few guilty moments imagining a different solution. That about wraps it up, I guess. Happy new week!

Learning about learning

When I was growing up, and I saw some of my peers battle with learning disorders like dyslexia, I really did feel compassion for them. A bit.

But to be honest, I didn’t give it much thought.

As far as I could see, those poor souls had their own strengths, and those strengths simply didn’t rely very much on the ability to read at all. I reasoned that not everyone could be academically brilliant (and I now know that true academic genius potential afflicts less than 10% of the population, so I was right ;)). It seemed logical to me that some of us would be good at book learning, and others would be good at other stuff, and all of these unique giftednesses (see what I did there?) would work together to make a nicely balanced, rounded world (ha ha, there’s another).

And it’s true. Each of us is uniquely skilled and these differences are what make us better as a community.

Having said that, at the very same time as I was having those noble, accepting, inclusive thoughts about my peers, I was also developing a philosophy of learning of my own. And this philosophy was based on how I learn best, and the kind of teaching I would like to give my own children one day.

The very teaching, as it happens, that I am giving my children now.

Here’s how it goes:

My philosophy of education in a nutshell

Only three things matter:

  • A strong, grounded moral compass and the tools for survival in modern society;

  • A firm grasp of mathematical concepts;

  • The ability to read.

Once you’ve got those, you’re unstoppable.


The ability to read is the lynch pin. I saw it as a kind of¬†clockwork key: you instil the ability to read (and the love of reading) in the child in much the same way as you’d wind up a clockwork car. Then you let them loose. All knowledge in their path would be voraciously devoured. They’d be unstoppable. There’d be no avenue of endeavour closed to the avid reader, as long as there were words explaining it all out there somewhere.

Easy, huh?

And that’s how I’ve been focusing my efforts at teaching my girls. As long as I could give them a firm grasp of maths and an abiding love of reading, the rest would come naturally (since naturally we’d model a strong moral compass and the tools for survival in everyday life. *Drips irony onto the napkin conveniently placed next to the large serving of humble pie*).

It never crossed my mind ‚Äď not even once ‚Äď that a child of mine would not read.

I know just how it sounds and how it seems from the outside, because I was there, outside. Vaguely glancing in as I bustled on by but, honestly, barely even noticing the window I was passing, let alone understanding all the it implied.

I was afraid of the pitfalls and preparing myself for the challenges. I was scared of having a sick child, a dying child. I was scared of losing a child. And I was ready. I gritted my teeth and crossed my fingers and turned my face towards the wind. I’d handle it.

But what of a bright, capable, incredible child with infinite curiosity and unplumbed potential, but without the simple tool to sate it? How can such a child learn? Especially when her teacher is such a closed-minded, one-track, and above-all distracted imparter of information like me? How will she progress? How will she make her way in the world when that way is barred by briars and tangles and weeds and thorns all shaped like letters of the alphabet and their cruel modifying punctuation marks?

Honestly, I don’t know the answer to that.

However, I am nothing if not determined. And fortunately the same is true of Goldilocks. Now that we have a better idea of what we’re up against, we can begin to hack a way through the thorny hedge and find the enchanted castle, filled with the magical wonder of knowledge lurking deep within.

We just have a dyslexic dragon to slay along the way. Wish us luck!

The Right to Read

I’ve written before about Goldilocks’ reluctance to read. Until very recently, it absolutely baffled me. Honestly, I anticipated that all my children would be voracious readers. They’re my children, after all. And Papa Bear reads even more than I do.

While I anticipated a number of potential obstacles and challenges along this parenting journey, reluctance to read was never one for which I prepared myself.

Which just goes to show.

But Goldilocks is a reluctant reader, and whether I was prepared for it or not makes no difference. It is what it is.

I confess that I’ve even gone so far as to convince my kids that reading LESS than an hour a day is a sure-fire way to get Alzheimer’s in later life, and the only way to ensure good mental health is by reading at every possible opportunity. Now, I don’t doubt that there may well be some study out there vaguely alluding to something along those lines, but I really don’t think the study I read could be stretched that far.

What has been puzzling me, though, is that she likes a lot of literary pursuits. She LOVES stories, and would happily listen to me reading to her for hours on end. She loves audio books even more. She adores literature in as much as she loves to be told the old, classic tales that make English such a rich cultural experience. And it’s not limited to English, either. She loves ancient Greek and Egyptian mythology at least as much as ancient Celtic tales, if not more so. She’s fascinated my Norse mythology, too.

Moreover, Goldilocks loves the rich depth of language. She loves to unravel the meanings and origins of words. She loves to delve into the proper use of grammar, and takes almost as much delight in correcting poor grammar as I did at that age (which, believe me, is saying something).

She can read pages and pages of data on the NASA space school site, and she’s read every single comic book in the house many times over.

So what’s the problem with books? I know it’s not something I’ve done to put her off. First of all, the body of evidence tends to suggest that stories and concentration and even broad vocabularies are not the problem. (She even understands King James Bible verses!).

Very slowly, like peeling week-old goo out of a Barbie Doll’s hair, the obvious answer began to dawn on me.

Goldilocks is dyslexic.

I think the biggest part of why I didn’t put two and two together before now is that we’ve actually had Goldilocks tested for dyslexia in the past. The educational psychologist ruled it out, and referred us to an opthalmic specialist to investigate vision-related reading disorders. Of which there were none.


Mama knows best, as the brilliantly sung Tangled tune asserts. And Mama surely does.

As always, my default reaction to any new thought or suspicion is to turn to Old Faithful: I Googled it. I found a number of symptom lists, detailed explanations, and incredibly useful online assessments. In every single case, Goldilocks scored 100% for dyslexia symptoms. She has them all. Every. Single. One.

So finally I turned to the Goldilocks expert herself, and asked Miss G what it feels like to read, and why she avoids it. She explained to me that the words seem to dance around a little bit while her eyes are trying to nail them down. They swim in and out of focus and even seem to change size. It’s like they don’t want her to know their secrets, and eventually nailing them down is just too much of a challenge. So she gives up. Comic books typically have larger type, and less of it, with supportive pictures to carry the story forward when the reading gets too much.

Frankly, I’m a little ashamed of myself for not picking up on it sooner. For some reason I just thought she was being obstreperous because reading well meant so much to me.

Now I know better, and it’s time to work out a way to help her.

All suggestions are welcome!

School vs Learning

While there are records of educational institutions dating back to at least 2000 AD, the modern school system and the “norm” of sending kids to be taught while we all go off to earn is relatively new. In fact, for centuries, millennia even, most people worked in and around the home (or farm), and everything was done as a family.

Based on that, we might be tempted to think no learning occurred until we built schools and sardined all our kids into them while all the grown ups sold their souls for school fees.

History shows us, however, that this is patently untrue. The fact is that people have learnt stuff since the dawn of time. We’ve learnt to speak and to dress ourselves. We’ve learned to eat and to feed ourselves. We’ve learnt to walk and talk and socialise and cook and clean and work and even read and write. And for centuries, we’ve learnt all of this without the intervention of a single qualified teacher.

In other words, school is not necessarily the same thing as learning.

As schools evolve, many of them* seem to actively discourage learning altogether. When we took the girls out of main stream schooling, we found them so overwrought at the thought of “school” that the very word left them a quivering mess of tears. It took us months to begin to open them up to the possibility that learning could be fun.

I don’t know if this is large number of children in a class, the massive admin burden facing so many teachers, the lack of fascinating subjects for learning-challenged learners to sink their teeth into, or some diabolical combination of the above. ¬†Whatever it may be, school certainly wasn’t conducive to learning in my children. We pretty much had to start from scratch.

Since taking them out of main stream school, so many people have challenged us about how much they learn Рhow much they could possibly learn Рunder these circumstances. They wonder how we could possibly know enough to teach our children (we did pass high school, after all. And plus: Google). They wonder how we could make our children learn.

But in truth, they’re learning every day. They learn when we make breakfast together. They learn when we discuss current affairs. They learn when they hear us run our business, and they learn as we disciple others in Church. They learn from us as we live our lives, and they learn from us as we actively invest time in their education. They learn when they help me design logos or capture cash slips. They learn when we go to the zoo or the beach or the museum or Granny’s House. Sometimes, we hardly touch an academic subject for days, but that doesn’t mean they’re not learning all the time.

They certainly haven’t stopped learning. If anything, they’ve only just begun.

What they no longer do is fear it.

*(Certainly not all – many are amazing institutions of learning where great strides are made in thought and human development)

Read Alouds Rock

I love to read. Everyone in my family, and everyone in Papa Bear’s family, loves to read. In fact, at the heart of my philosophy of education for eat least the last three decades has been the firmly held belief – nay, conviction – that when you’ve once learnt to read, no sphere of knowledge will ever be closed to you. There’s nothing you cannot know. And in this age of Google and online EVERYTHING, once you’ve mastered the ability to read and research, you really never have an excuse for ignorance.

For this reason, we have emphasised reading above every other educational discipline, since before the girls ever attended school of any kind. We were warned not to teach them to read too soon, as this would annoy the teachers and result in the girls being targets of their educators’ ire. This was terrible advice and I strongly advise you never to follow it if your children are still young enough to be imprinted with a love of reading. Start early, and never stop.

Even though our early efforts were focused more on a love of words and books than a love of reading, we nonetheless have read stories to Goldilocks and Red Riding Hood since they first came into existence – many months before they were even born. We’ve never stopped reading to them, and now reading stories makes up a significant part of our home school day.

Charlotte Mason’s method relies heavily on the use of what she calls “Living Books” for its success. These books are well-written works of art, written by individuals who took part in the even being described, or who have studied it so thoroughly that they can describe it as if they were there. We have been using books like this to study history, geography, literature and even some aspects of science. We read books about ancient mythology because they interest us, and morally uplifting tales like “What Katy Did” to build character (without the otherwise-necessary intervention of a faulty barn swing and four years of paralysis!).

We are very pleased with the results. While the girls are less avid readers than I’d like, they’re both fluent and capable readers. They love to hear and tell stories, they have rich imaginations, and they have remarkable powers of concentration and retention – especially taking into account the genetic challenges they’re supposed to face.

Jim Trelease is a dad who has discovered the joys of read alouds in his own family, and has created a whole site dedicated to getting it right. You can find out how to get the most out of reading aloud with your family, which books to choose, and the answers to most of the questions people usually have on this approach to education. Read more about what he has to say on the matter here.

Does reading aloud work for your family? What methods work best for you?

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