What if children were trees?

 

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What if children were trees?

 

A young man stood, looking out over his field, clutching a handful of seeds.

All the seeds were slightly different. Some were different shapes; some varied in their colour or size.

The young man held them all carefully in his hands.

As he planted his seeds, he took great care. He prepared the soil lovingly, placed the seeds in tenderly, and bedded them in gently. Then he left his seeds to grow.

In time, tiny green shoots gradually began to emerge from the soil. But not all at the same time.

Some shoots seemed desperate to emerge. They shot upwards within days, reaching ever higher, gaining momentum that seemed to accelerate them skyward.

Others came up slowly but surely, strong and steady.

The rest took their time to germinate. They developed more slowly from their seed, before eventually raising their tiny heads above the soil.

Each seedling grew at its own pace. For each seed contained a slightly different mix of genes, and had experienced slightly different conditions before it had been planted. And as each one grew, these inherited and environmental factors began to play out their effects.

Tiny seedlings began to develop into young plants. When the man came back, to look over his field, he saw a great many plants beginning to grow. Every seed had germinated. Every one had begun to take root in the soil. Each was beginning to grow in height, in strength, in complexity. Each was beginning to function as a young plant does, absorbing water and minerals from the soil and soaking up the sunshine that poured onto its leaves. Each was making its own glorious, sugary food to survive and grow.

The man looked at his plants, and he was pleased.

As he walked through his field of tiny trees, he began to notice a few things…

This one just here was bending over, as if reaching towards its neighbour, instead of reaching towards the sky…

That one over there had only 4 leaves on it, many fewer than all the others seemed to have…

This one over here was covered in tiny white spots, though it seemed not to mind a bit…

That one there was looking a little yellow, where all those around it were green…

One, a few yards away, was almost 2 feet taller than all the rest…

In fact, the more he looked, the more the old man began to realise that every one of them was different – just as the seeds had once been. Each sapling was growing in its own way, at its own pace, developing its own style, its own shape, its own colour. Straight stems, crooked stems; many branches, few branches; green leaves, yellow leaves; stretching tall stems, hovering low stems.

The man looked over his field of young trees and smiled.  His trees were growing perfectly. He was pleased with the beautiful variety he saw among them. They were doing exactly what their genes had programmed them to do: collecting their nutrients from the soil and the sunshine; radiating their life-giving oxygen into the air.

Each tree was growing perfectly.

In the following years, the trees grew more mature. At times the soil in some areas became depleted, and some leaves yellowed and withered. But those trees still grew. They found ways to spread their roots into the spaces left by others. They learned to dig deeper into the soil to reach layers that the other trees did not even know existed.

At times, the taller trees blocked the sunlight for the smaller trees. But the smaller trees still grew. Their branches grew longer and stronger, reaching out in different directions, seeking out the light in whatever spaces they could find. They grew leaves that were broader and flatter, in order to soak up more precious sunlight.

At times, the very tall trees swayed and bent over frighteningly in the strong wind. But they still grew. Their roots and trunks grew stronger and firmer, anchoring them securely to the spot. In fact, these tall, flexible trees fared better in the strongest winds, fewer branches snapping and falling.

The trees with only a few leaves, burst into blossom, blooming instead with beautiful vibrant flowers that brought brightness and colour to the young forest as they grew.

The trees with spots and gnarls and knobbles and strange colours, continued to look unusual. But they still grew. Their textures and their appearance provided perfect shelter for tiny insects, camouflaged and protected from their predators as they settled on the bark.

When the man next returned to visit his field, every one of his trees had grown. Some just a little, some a lot. Some upwards, some outwards. Some were beginning to knit their branches together with their neighbours, like fingers reaching out to hold hands. Others stood alone, proudly solitary. Each one was doing what it had to do, living its own life, in its own way, in its own time. The man was very pleased.

As the seasons passed, the trees continued to grow. Rains filled every root. Sunlight bathed every leaf. Warmth and cold provided every individual with nourishment, strength and resilience.

Every tree grew. Every tree changed.

Many of the slower growing trees now began to accelerate, as the others slowed down their growth. Discoloured leaves changed to vibrant greens as the rains brought precious minerals closer to their roots. Willowy, thin stems that seemed to bend and bough, grew thicker and firmer, steadying the branches, and providing space for the shorter trees to finally flourish. Many trunks retained their gnarls and their knobbly bits, and some trees grew in the most weird and wonderful shapes. But all were strong and healthy.

As the trees aged, so too did the man. When he finally returned, he stood in wonder.

What lay before him, was a forest. A lush, green, mature forest, filled with healthy, strong, beautiful trees. As he entered the forest, he looked around at the beauty.

Each tree had fully grown. Each tree looked different, unique and individual. Most were tall, but some were much taller still. Some spread their canopy wide, while others were very narrow. Some were clumped together in groups, some stood alone. Some had trunks that were smooth, others were covered with bumps and bruises. Some were dropping leaves, some dropping branches. Some had crows nesting high up in their tops, some had rabbits burrowing deep among their roots.

The old man knew that these trees were no longer his. These trees were very much their own. Strong, adult and independent.

As the old man walked through the forest he breathed in their air: sweet, life-giving oxygen, that every one of them produced.

He touched the wooded trunks as he passed, an endless array of textures: smooth, scratchy, silvery.

He looked at the ground before him, where every one of them was dropping seeds, all ready to be carried off to a new location, to begin the cycle again.

He stopped, and listened. Every tree was whispering, their leaves and branches filling the forest with the softest, sweetest symphony.

Each one of these trees was – quite simply – perfect.

They always had been, from the moment he had collected them as tiny seeds, through their young sapling lives, and into adulthood.

Each one had grown as it had meant to, at its own pace, behaving in its own way, learning how to thrive, and how to live alongside the others.

Smiling, the old man sat down under the trees, and closed his eyes.

© All rights reserved, monkeymum29.wordpress.com, 2015

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Time is Precious

How much time in school, is actually spent learning?

I’ve been in the education system, one way or another, for 30 of my 35 years: first as a school pupil, then as a University student, and then as a teacher. Since we made the decision to home educate our children, I started thinking about the typical school day. And how many of the hours that a child spends in school, are actually spent “learning”.

So here is my take on it.

Firstly, I’d like to point out that I am basing my calculations on my own experience of the UK primary schools I have taught in. The day length, the timetable, the efficiency (or lack of it) in and between lessons is based purely on my own teaching experience. However, the schools I have taught in have been pretty average, middle of the road, state mainstream, Ofsted-rated Good schools, so it’s likely that other schools wouldn’t be wildly different.

Secondly, I want to point out that I am not anti-school, and I think many teachers do an amazing job, under very difficult circumstances. It is not so much that time is wasted in schools, more that a lot of time in the school day is spent on routines and procedures that may be necessary when you have 400 learners in one building and you are charged with providing every one of them with an efficient, differentiated curriculum, but they are simply not necessary in the home ed environment. A lot of my “deductions” below, come from the extra time needed to mass-educate in this way. It’s not the fault of the teachers, or the schools, it is the nature of the education system.

So….. How much time is spent actually learning?

Each school day lasts from 9:00 to 3:15.
That’s 6 hours and 15 minutes.

But not all of that is learning time:

Deduct the 15 minute morning break and the 1 hour lunch break.

Deduct the 10 minute “register and notices” time for morning and again for the afternoon, and the 10 minute end of day “packing up, coat-fetching, giving out letters” time.

Deduct the daily 20 minute assembly, which usually exists to either practise a religion, or encourage conformity with stories based around following school rules (or “values” or something similar), or celebrate the fact that they have complied and conformed and earned their merits or certificates for behaving well and following rules. None of which are necessary if you are educated at home.

Deduct the first 5 minutes of each of the 4 main lessons, because coming in after an energetic, exhilarating bout of relative freedom on the playground takes time, and because children are not robots who can instantly switch from loud, physical exertion and play, to a focused, concentrating, learning mindset at the flick of a switch, or the ring of a bell, or the blow of a whistle.

Deduct the final 5 minutes of each of those lessons, as this is tidying up time, collecting book time, deciding who’s on whose team at playground football time, sitting up straight time, arms folded, legs straight, looking at the teacher, waiting to be dismissed time.

Deduct 10 minutes from each of those 4 lessons for the time simply spent taking a brain break (or more likely a boredom break), because even as adults we can rarely stay fully focused on a task for an hour, unless it is a real passion, so we take little breaks: fetch a drink, have a little stretch or walk about, go to the toilet, ask a friend how they are getting on, or just let our minds wander for a few minutes before getting back on-task. Kids do this too, and it’s natural, until it’s metaphorically beaten out of them in the classroom environment.

Deduct 5 minutes from each session, for the time that is wasted when the teacher has to deal with behaviour issues before continuing the instructions, or the time you spend waiting for an answer from somebody else that you already know, even though your hand was first up, but the teacher always has to count to ten before asking anyone and then always picks someone else because they have to target their questions fairly to all pupils.

Deduct 5 minutes (at least) from the day, for the time spent walking in single file, as the teacher herds the class from one room to another, or to the hall, or the playground.

So far we have deducted 3 hours and 50 minutes from the school day.

Our 6 hours and 15 minutes is now down to 2 hours and 25 minutes. And that’s on a good day.

This equates to 12 hours and 5 minutes per week.

However, in an average school week there are whole time-tabled sessions that are pointless, which serve no purpose in relation to learning, or can be discounted because they simply do not apply in the home ed setting.

For example, the hour spent singing in “hymn practise” – see my thoughts on assemblies above.

And during each of the two PE lessons, 20 minutes (10 mins at start, 10 mins at end) is spent collecting kit, getting changed, and waiting for the slow coaches to tie the laces on their trainers. Also deduct another 5 minutes from each of these lessons for the walk to and from the changing rooms and to whichever sports pitches are being used that lesson.

Deduct the half hour PSHE lesson, because in home education you live this stuff. You don’t sit and learn it in a 30 minute lesson; it is part of your everyday life, running continuously through everything you do.

Deduct the 20 minute “golden time” – the reward for complying all week, and the necessary motivation, fed to children in order to keep classroom-based learning going.

These add up to another 2 hours and 40 minutes, that I’m deducting from my weekly total.

So, in a week that started with 31 hours and 15 minutes, we are now down to 9 hours and 25 minutes.

Averaged over the 5 days in the week, that makes 1 hour and 53 minutes, per day.

In a school year there are 190 days (I’ve already taken out the holidays and the teacher training days).

Deduct 1 bank holiday and 4 (as a rough average) sick days (or occasional sneaky holiday days because going one day before the end of term meant saving £300 in flight and hotel costs – who can blame you?).

So 185 days.

That makes 348 hours and 25 minutes of useful learning time per year. So far.

Just a few more “dead” hours to take off, from across the year…

Deduct 2 hours for sitting as an audience, watching other class’s Christmas plays (also known as final dress rehearsals) and 2 hours watching other class’s End of Year plays (it may be fun to watch, and I’m not saying they shouldn’t, but I’m deducting it for its lack of learning value).

Deduct half an hour for waiting in line to have your school photos taken.

Deduct an hour for the Christmas service, and another for the Easter service. Ok, so maybe your family is religious, but if that’s the case, you’d be doing these things at home anyway, wouldn’t you?

Deduct 2 hours for the assessment tests in maths and reading at the end of term 1, which serve no purpose for learning, other than to obtain a number by which the school can “track the progress” of a child, though it is not really progress it tracks, but rather their ability to answer questions in the way the answer booklet requires to get a mark.

Repeat this for the tests at the end of terms 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 (except for a year 6 child, in which case these figures should be doubled).

Deduct 2 hours for the afternoon of the class Christmas parties. And another 2 hours for the afternoon of the Christmas film.

Deduct the entire last day of the school year, which is spent colouring, playing games or watching DVDs.

Deduct 2 hours for time spent traveling on a coach or train or walking, on a school trip day, unless you want to count the game of noughts and crosses, top trumps and I spy that fill these journeys.

Deduct half an hour for each term, for over-running class assemblies or “Achievement” assemblies – please no more assemblies.

Deduct half an hour for the ritual end of year whole school assembly, in which many goodbyes and teacher send offs occur, and which may only be half an hour, but in the late July afternoon heat in a school hall packed with sweaty children and sweatier teachers, feels like a lot longer.

Deduct half an hour for all the times over the year that the head-teacher has to come to your class to have a serious discussion (telling-off) about certain things that have been going on, of such a serious nature that all learning has to stop while he reminds the whole class of those school rules, even though everybody knows full well which one or two people were involved, and why do the whole class always get the blame anyway?

Which takes the total number of useful learning hours throughout the year down to 315 hours and 55 minutes.

Averaging that out over the school year, we are now down to just 100 minutes per school day.

This is what schools class as full-time and efficient education, as set out by law.

Considering that if you home educate, you are in your learning environment every one of the 365 days in the year, this equates to 51 minutes per day.

Just 51 minutes of learning per day, would achieve the same length of time spent learning, as a schooled child.

As I said earlier, I’m not anti-school. 51 minutes per day, actively learning, sounds brilliant to me. But what about all the other hours spent in school?

Our family time is too precious for that.

 

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Beautiful to Watch

Last night, Amy asked to sleep in Jessica’s room with her.
Amy is a fidget, and likes to sing or talk herself to sleep, so I agreed, giving them one condition: that they must stay quiet, and stay in the bed.

Happily, they climbed into bed together. Jess grabbed her favourite bedtime book and they looked through it together, whispering and asking each other questions. When they reached the end, they chose another book. Then another. Then another. All the time they whispered, careful to keep their voices low, and the only getting out of bed, was to fetch another story.

All the while, I was listening and watching, and thinking to myself: if I had to get them up in the morning to get to school on time, I would miss out in all this. I’d be sat there stewing about the fact that they weren’t asleep yet; or barking at them to stop talking and close their eyes, getting all cross. Truth is, I probably wouldn’t have even let Amy sleep in there at all. And then I’d have missed out on that beautiful moment, in which my two children – who fight like cat and dog over anything and everything during the day – sat together and shared their time, their thoughts and their feelings, over their favourite books.

Many people who do not understand home education, are under the (misguided) impression that home educated children somehow miss out on social interaction, or lack social skills. But in reality, the opposite is true. They develop the most amazing social skills, very different to the superficial and forced interactions that are observed in the classroom.

Home educated children’s social interactions are real, true and meaningful.

And beautiful to watch.

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Not starting school

An open, honest letter to my child who won’t be starting school this September

Today we’ll take it easy,
No rush, we’ve lots of time.
The whole day lies before us
And the weather’s looking fine.

Perhaps we’ll picnic in the park
Or on the front room floor,
For you are still so little;
You’ve only just turned four.

You choose the clothes you’d like to wear
And bring your teddy too,
Tell me where you’d like to go
And what you’d like to do.

We’ll take our favourite things for lunch,
Lay down and watch the skies
And if you fall and hurt yourself,
I’m here to dry your eyes.

Then we’ll go and see our friends
And share the afternoon.
We’ll talk and listen, play and paint,
The time will go too soon.

Because you’re still so little,
You don’t have to be alone
‘Till you decide the time is right
To branch out on your own.

‘Till then, I’m right beside you
When you need to hold my hand.
We’ll explore and learn together;
The best way to understand.

You’ve been alive for just 4 years,
Your place is here at home,
It’s our job to nurture you
And keep you safe from harm.

You fill my world with happiness,
I love to watch you play.
You’re learning all you need to know,
We’re doing it our way.

So before we go exploring soon,
I’ll kiss you one more time,
Happy that you’ll always be
Forever truly mine.

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