Category Archives: Education

Doing it all in the wrong order

Daisy was thoroughly overtired by 8pm tonight, mostly because of a late night last night, and big day of playing and trampolining. As a result, her inability to spell Mario adequately to search Google for the faux-Mario games that Daddy had been messing about with, reduced her to great heaving sobs of devastation. It all came out: It’s not fair, I can’t write, all my friends can write better than me, all I seem to do is reading, why can’t I do writing instead, etc, etc, etc.

So we had a calming and reassuring cuddle, and I pointed out several key facts to her:

  1. Most of her friends are older than her, and one of them is nine, which is a clear three years her senior. It stands to reason that they should be more expert in such things, after so much more practice.
  2. She identified her one friend who is actually six months younger, and still writes better than she does, so then we talked about how Home Education Is Different.
    Daisy has not been concentrating on writing. One of the important advantages of HE, is that she gets time to focus on learning other things, and to ask the Big Questions which are bothering her. Lots of those questions are about history. She knows an inordinate amount about the Battle of Hastings, even though it’s about 18 months since she looked into it properly, and her recent interests have resulted in in-depth discussions of 20th Century Political History. A couple of weeks ago, we covered, in an hour and a half, and through the medium of conversation,

    • the causes of World War I,
    • the reality of mechanised warfare and unprecedented casualty numbers,
    • the Treaty of Versaille,
    • the effect on Germany,
    • the creation of the League of Nations,
    • the rise of Hitler,
    • the failure of appeasement (with side note that appeasement doesn’t work on Daisy, any more than it worked on Hitler!),
    • the invasion of Czechoslovakia and Poland,
    • World War II,
    • the fall of France,
    • Pearl Harbour,
    • (great great) Uncle Henry dying in Burma,
    • Hiroshima and Nagasaki (side note into nuclear power stations, and Japanese current affairs regarding earthquake, tsunami and crisis-ridden reactors),
    • the partition of Germany,
    • the partition of Berlin (with diagram of West Berlin isolated from Western Europe),
    • the intransigence of post-war USSR and the fear that engendered in the West,
    • the Berlin Wall,
    • the Cold War and associated climate of fear,
    • and the fall of the Berlin wall within my lifetime, after a 40 year stalemate.

    Most six year olds simply don’t have time to learn that stuff, in that depth, and if they do, they probably lack the intellectual energy to do it. There’s other stuff, too, of course. She knows a lot of stuff about National Trust stately homes, and associated history, she’s learning lots of sciency things about the Mersey, and the weather, and states of matter, and other stuff – some of which will coincide with what they learn in schools. But the fact is, her learning is varied and complex and entirely focussed on what she’s interested in, and that’s how it should be.

  3. Because whilst I said I wasn’t brave enough to pursue autonomous education for Daisy, it transpires that I’m not bloody-minded enough to make her learn specific things in a specific order, just because I say so. And the thing I said explicitly to her, tonight, that I’ve probably only implied before, is that she is in charge. If she wants to learn to write, she can. We can do it together. We own work books (which never, ever get opened, mind you), and she is capable of getting them out and practising, but if she wants me to help, I will. Of course I will – what parent says “No, I’m not helping you learn to write”? So, we decided against the work books, but starting tomorrow, we’re going to choose a sentence out of one of her books, and copy it out, every day. I was amazed that she agreed to it, but she seemed very keen.
  4. Of course, we also talked about the most likely outcome, tomorrow morning: that I will waltz up to her, and say, “Do you want to practice that writing, now?” and she will say, “Not just now. Maybe later.” Because she is JUST LIKE HER DAD. Kevin is shockingly bad for agreeing that something needs to be done, but living in a perpetual state of not wanting to do it just NOW. Later. Tomorrow, maybe. It drives me insane. But I’ve told her – it is her choice. I won’t make her do writing if she doesn’t want to. But if she wants to learn to write, there’s really only one way, and that’s by practising. It’s up to her.

So, there we have it. Daisy’s education is broad, balanced, and in entirely the wrong order, if you’re used to thinking about these things in the way that schools do. And tomorrow, we will either start a concerted attempt to meet her self-identified need to practice writing, or we will decide that we don’t care that much after all, and play the Sims. One of those two things.

Spot the flaw – teaching children to use social media safely

The biggest problem, of course, with teaching our children and young people how to safely navigate and use social media such as Facebook and Twitter, is that most people don’t KNOW how to safely navigate and use social media. And that’s a problem. The reality, alluded to in Kevin’s earlier post, is that an awful lot of adults are terrified of Facebook, or else utterly oblivious to it. And if you have no skills to keep yourself safe on-line, then you cannot hope to teach those skills to the eleven and twelve year olds in your care.

So, what are the rules? Well, here are some of mine:

Know who your friends are

I have a basic rule for Facebook, which I know not everyone shares – to be my friend, I have to have met you, at least once. It is perfectly possible to safely use Facebook in a different way, but it is clearly designed with the assumption that my Facebook friends are, in fact, my actual friends.

FacebookNow, I probably wouldn’t describe all my Facebook friends as actual friends in any other sense. Lots of them are people from my past, even from primary school, with whom I have no particular relationship, and whom I haven’t seen in person for 20 or more years. I use Facebook to keep a vague link with people I would otherwise have lost touch with, because I’m casually interested in how they turned out. However, that “long-list” of friends doesn’t see most of what I post. My day-to-day statuses, the photos of my children, and other personal information is limited to a short-list of friends, which I call, (imaginatively) “Real Friends”. And what most people don’t realise, or can’t be bothered with (I am, as Kevin regularly says, a closet librarian who likes this sort of thing), is that you can group and sub-group your friends to almost infinite levels of granularity. I have about a dozen lists in my Friends section, including Family, Church, Home-Ed Friends, High School, Primary School, University CU, University Staff, etc, etc, etc. However, the default setting on my account is that only the group Real Friends can see my status and other postings. I can change that to an alternative group, or a collection of groups/individuals on a post-by-post basis, if I like, but for the unthinking day-to-day stuff, that’s my default setting.

It’s not widely understood that Facebook gives you these options. It is true that Facebook doesn’t have a history of taking user privacy very seriously, but it’s also true that there are a great many more hoaxes and fabrications out there, about Facebook security, than real problems. Periodically, they try to change something, if it’s a bad idea the media get a hold, and Facebook back down. It’s not a complete privacy disaster area, but you DO need to take the trouble to learn how to use the tools that are there.

Protect the vulnerable

When you sign up to Facebook, it makes you promise faithfully that you are over the age of 13. I didn’t have a problem with this, because I’ve been over 13 for many years. However, I do know people who have consciously created Facebook accounts for children much younger than this, for various reasons – practical ones, so that the child can play game that they previously only played on a parent’s account; and more ideological ones, to do with the belief that if they introduce them early, they can be part of teaching them how to use it, and keep themselves safe.

As a result, I have one under-13 amongst my friends, and he gets his own set of security settings. He can see nothing at all. I’m not in the habit of posting porn or anything, but since most of my friends are adults, I don’t want to inadvertantly post something, forgetting he would see it too. I also don’t want any of my friends, who could post things onto my wall if they wished, to put something inappropriate where my young friend might come across it – either intentionally, or because of a virus they have contracted. When I accepted the friend request of a child, I took responsibility for protecting him from what he might see from my account.

If you’re friends with your mother, and you don’t want her to see what you might get up to, put her in her own group. You can use lists to grant greater access to a specific group, but you can also use them to limit access to particular people. If I were in the habit of befriending people I’d never met, I would probably add those people to a similar group, barring them from access to various sorts of personal information.

Understand how Twitter is different

Twitter, I treat entirely differently. In precisely opposite terms to Facebook, Twitter has been designed so that anything I post can, potentially, be seen by anyone at all. In the world. Anywhere. Again, there are ways of changing the defaults – you can tie your account down so that you get to vet your followers, and only those people can read your tweets. Most people don’t, though, and that is one of the strengths of Twitter; it can give you conversation and discussion with a wide range of interested people, whom you may not otherwise come across.

TwitterThat means, of course, that you need to be much more careful about personal information. If you decide to tweet where and when you plan to be with your children, today, you need to be aware than any old nutter could see that information – not just the people who follow you, even. The great likelihood is that they won’t, of course, but they could, and you need to take responsibility for how much you give away about yourself to the world. It may FEEL like you’re having a private conversation with an individual, but unless you’re using Direct Messages, you’re probably not.

Know your audience

Related to that, is a general need on ALL social media, including blogs and forums and anywhere else that you might post, to know what you’re saying, and to whom. We’ve be scalded by this one a few times, ourselves – usually in the context of passing comment on a person or group, either in the public domain, or whom we never imagined would read it, and then having to grovel humbly for offending them. It’s not good. It leaves a nasty taste in my mouth, and makes me hate myself a bit. So, be aware of how global your audience is, but also be aware of whom you have put in your groups, and whether you really want them to read what you’ve written.


We’ve blogged for much longer than we’ve been parents, and we’re not particularly careful about disguising our identities when we do it. If I had to point to a weakness in our online presence, that would probably be it. When Daisy was born, she was a tiny baby (obviously), and there didn’t seem to be any great risks associated with posting photos of a child who was never out of my sight anyway. By the time she turned two, I was starting to feel more jumpy about her web exposure, and at that point, we started password protecting photos of her, and later of her brother. In keeping with that philosophy, I post photos of them on Facebook, within my carefully-tied-down security system there, and I don’t post them on Twitter, because it’s so much more open.

I know other people whose blogs I follow, who DO post photos of their children, but who never use their real names. It’s an alternate approach, I suppose – if some undesirable decided to stalk the child, they would have to stumble across them, they couldn’t search for them by name. It’s probably not ideal to pour all your personal details out to everyone, and particularly those of your children, for whom you are responsible.

Think very carefully about how much information you are prepared to give to strangers, either formally, or (perhaps more riskily) in conversation. If you decide real names are out, then be consistent – there’s no point using pseudonyms on your blog, if you refer to yourself by name on Twitter, or link to a Facebook account that’s not tied down.

Take it slow

Internet relationships are very odd things. They can become very personal and in-depth, very quickly, and you can find yourself feeling that you know a person inside out, even though you’ve never met them, and only tweeted with them over a few weeks.

Time is the most effective safeguard against being duped by an online friend who isn’t what they claim. The longer you converse with them, the more you find out about them, and the clearer it becomes if the information doesn’t add up. I have an online friend whom I plan to meet for the first time in a few weeks. I don’t know her, but over a period of 7 or 8 months, I have learned a lot about her personality, I know the names of her children, I think I even know her address, if I concentrate. It’s been a gradual process, and at every stage, the new information has tallied with the information which came before, the Twitter persona fitted in with the blog posts, and I am confident that the person in question is authentically who she says she is. However, neither am I meeting her for the first time alone.


The final golden rule of the internet, for me, is don’t accept being treated badly. Block and move on. Even with an open Twitter account, you can block other users from viewing your stream, and from contacting you. You can defriend people on Facebook, and you can moderate blog comments, so that they don’t automatically appear on your site. There is no reason to let people mistreat you online, and the sooner you cut off their access to you, the easier it will be to do.

So, those are my rules. What are yours?

Schools, ignoring facebook isn’t really an option

It’s not something I am completely up to speed on, but I have spoken to a number of teachers, parents and people who work with schools recently, and it does seem to me that there are a significant number of schools who rather than tackling social networking are hiding behind their firewall and just hoping the problem goes away.

It’s not just a question of telling kids under the age of 13 that they probably shouldn’t be on facebook or that they can’t access the site from school. (Some) Schools appear to be following a policy of fear, uncertainty and doubt when it comes to social media, in an effort to make children believe they are better off running away from it all.

run away! it's facebook

That tactic is fine if all you are aiming to do is not make this your problem now, sooner or later these children are going to encounter social media, and are either going to want to use it, or increasingly be expected to do business by it. If all schools (and parents) have done to prepare them is tell them to hide in the corner, there’s going to be many more problems then the one they are trying to solve.

Instead of scaring children we should be equipping them with the skills they need to survive in a connected world, because it’s not going away. Already businesses are turning to social tools to run businesses and in ten years it’s certainly going to be a vital skill in the workplace.

More importantly than the world of work however is the simple fact that social networks do attract the more undesirable elements of our society, after all they attract all elements of society. If we don’t give children the skills to cope with this they will be in danger, but that skill can’t just be ignorance, because that’s unrealistic.

Still thinking about this, not least how teachers also run from the site, how can they hope to give anyone else the skills to cope with them.

Not Back To School

There is an increasing movement, amongst home educators, to celebrate beginning the school year outside of school, by means of a Not Back To School picnic. It started last September, when we were fighting for our survival in the face of blank and unyielding government intrusion, and this year it’s gained some momentum, as a way of celebrating, and advertising, the fact that There Is Another Way. Because there is. And not everyone realises it. Continue reading Not Back To School