Denis Ian is a retired school teacher from New York who has taught more than 4,000 students over his 34 year career. Since retirement he has become an educational advocate who writes about issues concerning educational reform in America, sharing a unique vision that has to be read to be believed.
By Denis Ian
This post was originally featured as a comment on Why School has Stopped Working. We loved it so much we asked Denis if we could publish it as an article. While Denis specifically mentions the American system, we feel it applies to similar systems in Europe and Australasia too.
We’re doing this all wrong.
Some day …. somehow … education will discover a proper obsession.
Until then … children will suffer these testing-despots … and too many adults will make believe it’s all okay. And it’s not.
But let’s be certain about this … there are some things in life that just can’t be measured … because they can’t even be defined. Love. Creativity. Curiosity. Courage. Passion. And those special forces that jolt the spirit and open the mind.
If you want a real thinker to blossom from childhood, don’t measure them at every turn … or condition them to shine on every command. Instead … help them indulge in their own natural curiosities … and they’ll measure themselves and shine for all of ever.
American education has become so disappointing … controlled by didactic gurus and self-imagined geniuses who share one important experience: they have no experience.
Most have never lived in any classroom for longer than a few moments. Short-stay aliens who parachute in … and then dash off … having seen enough, so they think, to deduce this or that … and to pen another bit ridiculousness … mostly for others who share the very same silliness.
Few have ever spent a morning on a kindergarten floor, or in a hot-hot circular discussion with lively seventh graders, or faced off against wing-spreading high schoolers who have suddenly come of age.
They know nothing of real-deal epiphanies … because they’ve never seen one. Or been a part of one. Or watched one unfold before their own eyes.
That’s what classroom teachers see. It’s what they help happen.
They don’t know … or care … about percentiles and modules and averages and statistics. For them, it’s all about kids and how to help ‘em grow.
But these experts make these testing mistakes again and again because … like love or courage or talent … the important things about education can never be measured so neatly … or so efficiently reduced to graphs or charts or tables.
Education … real, real, real education … is all about people. And every learner, how ever old or young, lugs trunkfuls of variables to this pursuit of … of … of becoming.
Yeah ... becoming. That’s what education is all about … becoming.
But still they try to wow us … or alarm us … with their neat and tidy assessments of the state of “becoming” … with a barrage of numbers and endless inferences that they puzzled into something that doesn’t even look like “becoming” at all. Because it’s not. Not even close.
So … right from the start, they’ve misunderstood what they’re measuring … so why should we ever take them seriously?
Instead of pushing bubble-sheets in front of kids and asking them this or that … why don’t we ask them about the passions they don’t even know they have. And their talents they can’t even see Or the cleverness they take for granted. Or the gift they have for this or that.
And why don’t we just get out of their way most of the time? And stop bothering them so much. Maybe just nudge them now and again to … to become what’s inside those tiny bodies … and those gorgeous little minds.
What the hell is so hard to understand? Stop bothering them so much. Let ‘em be.
We should give every child lots of stuff. Like chances to run and sing and dance. And fall down.
Chances to act their age … and we shouldn’t interfere with that. Or insist otherwise. Chances to sample things … and even walk away from certain things that just don’t do it for them.
Give ‘em chance to make choices … as much as possible … because life’s a stream of choices. Practice can’t hurt.
They need chances to work together … and to be left alone. Chances to drift into their own worlds … where they can imagine who they are … or might become.
They should have chances to feel safe … and to take risks. And to tell luscious-lovely lies … and fantabulous tales … that we should all take very seriously … because that works both ways.
We should let them speak marvelous nonsense … and not interrupt … because they’re just exercising their imaginations. So we should listen … and shut up … and give them the floor for a change..
And, of course, we should teach them to speak and to count and to scribble. And all of that will sprout … I promise … but never evenly enough to please those testing-tyrants … or the extra-serious beard-scratchers who just can’t leave childhood alone.
And you know what? This is what happens when the importance of teaching is cheapened … when professionals are shoved aside because some Ivy League fat-head has decided that teaching is a science … when it’s not. It’s more like conducting … or being in a play … or traveling in time. And most of all …. it’s about remembering. And becoming.
This is what happens when some of us grow too old and become too forgetting of those teachers who swerved our lives … and helped us wriggle out of our cocoons.
Those fuzzy memory-people who polished some talent no one else saw. Or who just whispered us a perfect kindness at the perfect moment …when it was so badly needed. Or who just loved watching us … become someone we never ever imagined we might be. Someone like me.
You get the point? We’re obsessed about the wrong stuff.
We’re doing this all wrong.
Do you agree with Denis' poetic vision for a new kind of education? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Denis is a retired public school teacher with 34 years of experience teaching social studies and English. He is now an educational advocate who writes nationally about issues concerning educational reform in the United States and around the world. He lives in Westchester County, New York.
School, in its current form, is destroying children's innate love of learning and ultimately, their true sense of self as learners. Here's why.
By Grace Koelma | Editor of The Mulberry Journal
It's often said that the purpose of education is to 'prepare kids for life'. This statement is thrown around by parents, teachers, principals, curriculum writers and the media. While it's a fairly true statement (though I would dig deeper and say a true education is a life in itself, not something you do before you start 'living') - the irony is it's being used to justify a current approach to Western education that is, in fact, grossly outdated and out of context.
When school is referenced during this article, I'm referring to the institution of the education system, the complex and historical web of rules and policies about what education looks like, and how that filters down through school heirarchies. Teachers are not to blame. They're working within a flawed system, and many of them are good-hearted and care deeply about fostering a love of learning in their students.
But even though I know many teachers, am closely related to teachers, (and was one myself once!) I think this message should not be held back, at the risk of offending them. They do great work! I stayed silent for too long, not wanting to look like a 'school basher'. But the school system needs reform. On a global scale. Urgently.
So why does this outdated education system need significant, meaningful reform?
Humans are wired to learn, and learning happens everywhere. As humans, we are born naturally curious about our world and how it works, and learning flows on from that. Curiosity and learning occurs without the presence of a degree-qualified teacher and 2-kilogram textbooks. Don't believe me? Just watch a 6-month-old baby look at themselves in the mirror for the first time, or learn to crawl.
School (the institution) loves to make itself the monopoly on education, and it's astonishing how many people still believe that learning can only happen inside the school gates, between the hours of 9 and 3. But it's simply not true.
It does happen in school, but it also happens in the park, on a bushwalk, getting lost driving to your Uncle's rural property, shopping online and swimming in your friend's pool. And I'd argue the learning that happens outside of school is much more memorable and relevant than much of what's in textbooks.
But the reality is that, on some level, school still works. There are still some (albeit infrequent) moments where school does inspire this innate curiosity in their students, where a specific teacher or science incursion or theatre performance lights up a child, and creates that wonderful, spontaneous thing we call natural learning.
The problem is, that the nature of school - the bells, the periods, the lines at the end of recess - means open-ended, student-directed learning time is limited, cut short or so often followed by a test 'to make sure you've retained everything we outlined in the lesson plan'. The quality of learning is handicapped and undermined by this continual assessment agenda.
There's nothing that stamps out the true love of learning more quickly than standardised testing and benchmarking.
And while childhood anxiety is on the rise, this isn't a new phenomenon. A 2002 collaborative study found that students reported significant anxiety and tension in relation to testing. But the anxiety went deeper than a bit of butterflies in the hallway before an exam.
This summary of multiple studies concluded that "students incorporated their teacher’s evaluation of them into the construction of their identity as learners."
I'll say it again, because it's crucial. Student's anxious reaction to testing became part of the way they saw themselves as learners. In that they thought because they didn't suit test environments, 'they were stupid'. And considering that learning is one of the most immediate and natural things a human does, from birth, this is very concerning. Because it's a straight out lie.
*Worth adding here that exam culture can also create high achievers who learn how to 'work the system' and get high grades every time. But this is detrimental too, because they will leave school with a different message: 'I'm really smart'. And while that may be true in many cases, it's really only one kind of smart. The lack of school preparation for how to be agile, creative and innovative in the real world will render them feeling useless and frustrated when they don't get A grades in uni, or promoted quickly in their career.
There have been significant correlations drawn from hundreds of autopsies conducted on America's misguided No Child Left Behind policy. Researcher Geneva Gay has looked at qualitative and quantitative data spanning decades, and surmised the impact of a national plan that has failed to deliver on what it promised. She raises key findings around student victimisation.
"Achievement gaps will continue and even expand; more and more children will be victimized and then punished for being victims… Coercive, subterfuge and ‘one size fits all’ educational reform strategies simply are not reasonable or viable bases on which to build constructive educational futures for a nation in desperate need of new directions that are genuinely egalitarian across ethnic, racial, social, cultural, linguistic and ability differences." (p. 291) Gay 2007
But America isn't the only country whose education system is in dire straights. After England introduced National Curriculum Tests, this study found that low-achieving students had lower self-esteem than high achieving pupils, while before the tests were introduced there was no correlation measured between self-esteem and achievement. None at all.
In one state in Australia, the number of Year 12 students seeking special conditions to complete exams due to anxiety rose by one third in 2016.
Designing a high-stakes exam that only tests a student's ability to sit still and regurgitate information on demand in a limited time frame and under strict conditions is not fair to the majority of students. Why? Because only a small percentage of students thrive and perform well under these specifications. Even if they know the content, the high pressure environment can often make their brains perform sub-optimally.
Because of the unrealistic time restraints and the amount of content students are tested on in one exam, the phenomenon of 'cramming' occurs. Students rote learn in an attempt to force so much information through their brains, that they can't possibly retain it all, or even a large majority of it.
Cramming the night before an exam may work for short-term recall, but the information will be gone soon after leaving the exam hall. You may have got an A+ in your senior Politics exam, but how much of your answers can you remember now? I thought so! 😉
So demonstrates my point, that testing in these environments isn't an accurate picture of what many students know.
It's no wonder students (especially young ones) get confused when we talk about learning being fun. To them, learning is doing what the teacher says, trying to memorise it (the more tricks and gimmicks used to coax a child to memorise something, the more sure you can be that it's completely irrelevant for them) and being tested on it in high-pressure, anxiety-inducing exams. They walk out beating themselves up for not answering everything in time, and get hit with a low grade (and little or no debrief) a month later.
And because exams turn into report cards that are held up as the pinnacle of schooling and a 'good education', it's something that is intrinsic to the social perception of school. And this leads us back to the views students hold of themselves as learners.
Picture this. Jenny receives a C grade for her Maths test and instantly feels disappointed and a little stupid. It doesn't help that her peers joke about test results and tell her that only dumb people get Cs.
I wish I could pull Jenny aside and tell her that the exam was ONE very flawed measure of what she knows. I bet if we sat down and chatted over a coffee, or she recorded a podcast discussing the main issues, or wrote a screenplay or... (anything else!) Jenny could show more of what she knows and more importantly, what she thinks about what she knows.
Bottom line, Jenny. The teachers, parents and students themselves may hype it up, but a test score doesn't define you. Not in the least.
Instructional teaching from the front of the room is still the way most teachers convey lessons most of the time. In doing so they customise their delivery to suit only a small percentage of students. Here's a quote from the same study that analysed low-self esteem correlations after the National Curriculum Tests were introduced in England.
"When passing tests is high stakes, teachers adopt a teaching style which emphasised transmission teaching of knowledge, thereby favouring those students who prefer to learn in this way and disadvantaging and lowering the self-esteem of those who prefer more active and creative learning experiences."
"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by it's
ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing
it is stupid."
It comes down to this.
And it's something millions of people care about and want to see reform in, if the views on this Ken Robinson TED talk and Boyinaband YouTube video are anything to go by. (All kinds of influential people care about this. Sir Ken Robinson is an international author, and Boyinaband is a British rapper and YouTuber.)
As the late educational author and educator John Holt said:
“We destroy the love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty and contemptible rewards, gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A's on report cards, or honor rolls, or dean's lists, or Phi Beta Kappa keys, in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else.”
Are you okay with looking the other way, and letting this slide?
We send our children to school for roughly a fifth of their life, during their most impressionable, foundational years. School gets to shape a huge part of their future adult selves. Are we really happy with the way the institution of school (whether intentionally or unintentionally) is teaching them to think - about the world, about learning and, most critically, about themselves?
At The Mulberry Journal, we are big proponents of home education and alternative forms of schooling. But this is only a small part of the answer. School reform is absolutely vital as well, and it's something we want to get behind and start writing about more often.
If you'd like to contribute on this topic, or have information you think would be of interest, please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
* We want to see significant change, so if you liked this article, please share with your friends and family. And I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
If you liked this, you may like - Retired teacher: 'We're doing this all wrong'
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Grace is the Editor of The Mulberry Journal and when she's not reading submissions, divides her time between hanging out with her simultaneously delightful and headstrong 2-year-old, running multiple ventures, writing and travelling full time with her little family. You can follow her travels at @darelist.family.
The first months and years of homeschooling typically involve a lot of deschooling for your kids and yourself. Here's what it looked like for Caroline.
By Caroline Silver
Our four-year-old was pouring her usual wonder on the world as she inspected some dead leaves. Her questions led to a conversation about compost, the seasons and the sun. I paused for a moment... if everything was so intrinsically connected, why was school separating the universe into boxes and shutting kids indoors?
I did a tonne of research to find the answers and I wasn’t impressed.
Why? We thought she might thrive despite our doubts.
After nearly three years in school, she told me how unhappy and bored she was that school was wasting her time.
So when everyone else went back to join the new academic year, she didn’t. Instead, we rocked up to a Home Education “Not-back-to-school-picnic” in a beautiful Park with about 50 other families. I didn’t know anyone. It was a perfect introduction.
We started our days with me answering Isabel’s questions. It was such a delight. A spark of a particular curiosity would catapult her out of bed and off to make, write, draw or research something. I also kept a world learning picture book by the bed to introduce new topics if need be.
As she was so fired by her own curiosity, I treated Maths and Literacy as the only things in need of focused time.
I would do 20 minutes of Maths and then we took turns to read to each other, followed by some spelling games. The rest of the day she explored through books, DVDs or the Internet on the topics that most interested her – Space, Tsunamis, Hurricanes and inventions!
I based our weekly “schedule” around socialising at a couple of local midweek groups. Other days were a mix of spontaneous Museum or Gallery trips and Home Ed organised events. She refused to go to anything that had a formal learning environment.
These were the same except for a few adjustments. I realised that even 20 mins Maths a day was not necessary. She loved numbers anyway so I waited for her to ask me questions or I used supermarket trips and cooking as my main vehicle. Maths is the art of measuring things, right?
She wrote tonnes of stories because she was inspired by books and movies and I learnt not to correct spelling as it was soul destroying for her to have her creations criticised. I just made a note of what kept cropping up and made spelling games for another time.
I also dropped asking her to read to me as she would read out messages or signs perfectly because she was learning this through everything else she was doing.
I always sat with her when watching the TV or DVDs because of all the questions she would have about the content. I used the Pause button a lot. Great learning time!
We travelled to a variety of countries. Holidays were just an extension of our everyday life of learning by now.
We had a very successful first visit from the Local Authority Education officer. We had covered masses of life knowledge in a year.
I started to become more focused on good parenting skills as a means to a successful Home education and by using Pam Laricchia's weekly podcast and the online conference run by HappilyFamily.com I was and continue to be reassured when I have wobbles about, “Are we doing OK?”
My role now is still to be available to answer questions but has evolved more into being engaged with and interested in her work and to carry on providing new vistas of learning at appropriate intervals.
On a typical day, Isabel still wakes up naturally and busies herself or comes to me for a chat and a cuddle. She is now nearly 10.
She’s almost completely self-reliant, using YouTube to research tutorials. Her favourite activity is coding, making stop-go animation movies and inventing cartoons. She is reading and spelling all the time to enable her own progression. At bedtime I still read to her to keep her love of new books alive and then she writes in her diary App and Spell-check helps her spelling. She drafts new game ideas on paper ready for the next day or reads Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Prompted by whatever questions she has, we also chat about anything and everything. Last night it was Alzheimer’s and Donald Trump.
These typical days are mixed with play-dates with a handful of good friends and peppered with outings like a recent one to see “The Lion King”. After the show, we caught the Thames River boat home so we’d see all the London landmarks. As usual, she had loads of questions…”Why was Simba going to be the next King? Who decided who would be the first King of England?” And on passing the Houses of Parliament… “What does the government do if the Queen is in charge?” And so on….
Which reminds me, a day’s outing to find a Geocache at the British Library started a discussion about “Mad King George III” because we discovered that his entire collection of 82,000 books was there.
Learning is truly everywhere!
Caroline was born in the lush green countryside near Oxford. She became a mum in her forties and lives in London now and homeschools her daughter. She's had many jobs - Tax Specialist (Ugh!), Fitness Trainer (Yay!), Architectural Designer (Finding myself at last) and now Artist (Yes!).
Lauren and her husband Joe have four children, some fostered, some adopted and some biological. Lauren shares about her unique experience working within the government foster system and outside the public schooling system.
Interview with Lauren Jones | mixingplaydough.com
Hi Lauren, thanks for making the time to chat. Can you tell us a little bit about your unique family and where you live?
My husband Joe and I live in the US (the Colorado Front Range) with our four kids ages 9, 6, 2 and 1. We spend quite a bit of time outdoors exploring, racking up huge library fines and causing a general ruckus just about everywhere we go.
We’ve been fostering for the past three years. In that time we've had seven kids come through our home. Some for as little as a few days, some for 6-7 months and one we've adopted. We are also waiting to finalise the adoption of our littlest one this summer.
I am the primary home educator/money spender and my husband spends quite a bit of time travelling in his job designing and installing AV systems. We started an organisation, Treasured Kids, this year with the mission of getting heirloom quality picture books into the hands of foster children in the US.
What has fostering and adoption looked like for you?
I think we've had just about all the experiences you can imagine. We've had kids live with us and be reunited with their mother. We've had an open relationship with the bio mom of our boys we've adopted. We've also had foster kids live with us for a little bit and move on to another foster home to be with siblings. They all have their stories and adventures attached.
It’s been in many ways a huge period of growth as a family unit. Both impossibly hard and wonderfully good. It’s never been easy to say goodbye to any of the kids and we have been grateful for time to heal in between each one. We can’t imagine life without our adopted boys, and I wouldn’t have ever traded that - even knowing now what it was like to go through.
How long have you been homeschooling for?
While we legally aren't allowed to homeschool foster children, we can still homeschool our biological and adopted kids. We’ve homeschooled our eldest from the beginning. It's been a learning experience of what is realistic and what is too much in both areas - homeschool and foster care.
What considerations and factors came into your family's decision to homeschool?
If I’m totally honest, the real reason we didn’t send our oldest to preschool was that we couldn’t afford it. Turns out, it was a really good fit. When he was old enough for Kindergarten he had a very scattered skill set, and public school didn’t seem to fit the bill.
We had quite a lot of discussions and what it came down to was time. We wanted our kids to have an exorbitant amount of time to just 'be' and grow and learn and felt like homeschool was the way to do that.
There have been seasons when some of your children have been enrolled in school, while you've homeschooled others. What was that like?
It was super crazy hard. Part of the problem was the school. They weren’t supportive of our foster kids, and everything seemed to be a problem - from 'lovies' (security blankets or toys) to schedules. Having them in school though was the best fit for them. It was one of the consistent parts of their life, and we knew that long term they were going to be in public or charter schools.
It also made that particular season a little bit more bearable for us as a family with five kids under eight. We did pretty well with getting them to school on time and picking them up, but it was extremely disruptive. My daughter had a hard time not getting to go to school with her foster sisters, and in retrospect, we should’ve tried a few more options with that.
The adventuring/the world is our classroom during the day and the pack lunches/eat dinner/take a bath/bed by seven during the night.
Do you gravitate towards a particular style of learning or home education approach? Why have you chosen that style and why does it work for your family?
We started off with Montessori as I have a certificate in Montessori Early Education for 2 to 5-year-olds and it was a good fit for the early years.
We have played around with a few ideas for my daughter including unschooling and Waldorf. In the end, Charlotte Mason (specifically the program put out by Ambleside Online) has seemed to be the best approach for us as a whole family, and we’ve used that for the past few years. We love the short lessons and massive amounts of literature along with the emphasis on time outdoors.
It’s given us the freedom to stack subjects if we need or spend more time on subjects as well.
On occasion, we’ll get calls for some last minute care, and we can shelve our studies for a bit for what we call “service days.” Those days are spent loving on kids in our community that need it.
Your situation is unique in that you're working inside the government foster care system, but outside the public schooling system. Can you unpack the complexities of that?
It’s so complex! In a way, when you opt out of government schooling you are making a statement that you feel you can do better. At the same time, when we signed up to foster, we ultimately surrendered quite a bit of our life to be under their watchful eye. We had to parent in ways that they approved of, and have our home regulated to the highest of safety standards.
We also have to log our miles or go to the doctor for every fever or rash. I think a lot of times we end up in little bubbles of homeschool world and fostering bursts that every single time with every single kid that comes through our home.
One of our fears going into homeschooling was that we would be removing ourselves from the community. I think that by opening up our home to fostering we negated that concern. I’m not sure there is a better way to be fully involved with your community than by opening up your home to the kids that don’t have one.
What does your typical home learning day look like? Is there a routine or is it different every day?
Each season has its own routine. Right now, we aren’t taking any more kids for long term placements, so we’ve been able to find a good rhythm. We have about three days of lessons, one day of an enrichment program and one day of nature study a week. We can usually fit in everything we need in that time!
The kids have lessons outside of the home for music and foreign language, so that becomes part of our routine as well. Some days we don’t start school until 4 pm (seriously!) but those days are my favourite. Other days we are done by 10 am and I’ll never complain about that either. We do well with weekly goals and generous margins to get it accomplished, so we have lots of time for adventures.
If you had to pick one, what is a mantra, quote or principle of education that you live and plan your homeschool days by?
Always Make Brownies.
What is the primary belief, attitude or value you hope your children will take into adulthood, based on the unique upbringing you’re giving them?
I think a lot of foster parents worry about what fostering will do to their biological kids and a lot of homeschool parents worry about what homeschooling will do as well. I hope that they grow up to become compassionate leaders with an eye for change and a heart for the hurt.
I think that they’ve loved and lost just as much as we have as adults and while I don’t know what that does, exactly, to them as children, I think they will have an incredibly unique perspective on the world. I cannot wait to watch!
What advice would you give to families considering fostering or adoption?
Do it! I’ve spent most of my life jumping in head first and figuring out how to swim after the fact.
Adoption is its own beautiful adventure, and even though it’s sometimes sticky, we are so over the moon to have the chance to love our boys.
What advice would you give to families considering homeschooling their children?
Don’t overthink it! You are more than equipped to education your children simply because you are their Mama (or Dad). Don’t ever think that you aren’t qualified. Give yourself, and your kids grace to figure out the best method and the best timing. Find a community that supports and encourages you - Mulberry Mama’s are the perfect way to start.
A tricky season is not reason enough to not do it. We’ve had seasons where we just didn’t do any lessons at all. But as I look back I can see that those are the seasons I think we learned the most.
Lauren was interviewed by The Mulberry Journal Editor, Grace Koelma.
Have you had experience with fostering or adoption, and mixed that with homeschooling? We'd love you to share in the comments below.
Lauren is a Bio/Adoption/Foster Care Homeschooling Mama of four kids 9 and under. If you can't find her adventuring in the mountains or baking in the kitchen, Lauren is probably scouring vintage shops for beautiful books. As a family, they founded Treasured Kids, an organisation that gets beautiful books into the hands of treasured foster kids in the US. You can follow Lauren at @mixingplaydough on Instagram.
In this article, we go into depth about why we stopped Mulberry Magazine production and how the format of The Mulberry Journal is much better for our readers and us.
By Grace Koelma, Co-Founder of The Mulberry Journal
When you start something new, there's a certain feeling. Maybe you know it? It's that small, hard, knobbly uncertainty about where your little plan will take you. That strange combination of a desire to shoot yourself three years into the future and see where the venture ended up, mixed with an urgency to run as far as you can away from it.
The fear-excitement-curiosity paradox can best be summed up by a wonderful quote I read recently by Steven Pressfield in his book 'The War of Art' (which is a great read, by the way).
"The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it."
I can tell you right now, when I published my first issue of Mulberry Magazine, I was scared. That's why I stuck with it so long.
While we're being honest, here's a few other things you should know right off the bat...
We've always tried to be really transparent in our endeavours with Mulberry Magazine. We've made typos and stuffed up a couple of times, and we've owned it, publicly and behind the scenes.
We've always made it clear we're a family-run venture. This isn't a huge, big-corporation publishing company but rather a boutique gathering of ideas published by a full time mother. If any of it looks fancy, it's because I'm crippled by perfection. I will work until insane hours just to get a font pairing right. (Yep, I'm one of those people!)
The Editor (me, Grace Koelma!) is a young(ish) mother with a dream to show the world how wonderfully freeing and life-changing life without school can be. A desire to give hope to the people who are searching for options outside of the traditional school structure. And to provide encouragement and information that will help them decide whether this journey is worth pursuing.
Photo by Light Heart Photography
We first started Mulberry in August 2015 with a tiny baby, while I was a full-time stay-at-home mum. Looking back, I don't know how I crammed it in, yet I remember how desperate I was to keep my mind sharp as a writer and editor, and create a fresh, beautiful resource that was (then!) sorely lacking in Australia. Thankfully, it seemed others found it a helpful resource too, and our community grew as time went on.
But time, and a relatively huge change in circumstances (in a nutshell: selling most of our stuff, renting out our house and setting off on our global trip as digital nomads with toddler in tow! Phew!) meant that Mulberry Magazine had to change with us. It was too tightly linked not to evolve as we did.
After we left our home and family, we visited Perth. There, I spent time with my good friend and co-Mulberry-conspirator, Jess Pilton, and felt things falling into place (though she and I didn't know it explicitly at the time). Jess and I held our first Mulberry Mama Meet, which was a wonderful time to meet other mums, and that, too, gave me a lot of food for thought about where I wanted to take Mulberry, and how I wanted to broaden it to serve more people.
Our first month of slow travel - staying in Bali for 4 weeks - helped Eric and I to work out our schedule with working and minding Leo.
It quickly became apparent that the way we had been doing Mulberry Magazine wasn't going to work while we were overseas. And since we were planning on travelling for at least 18 months, we had to look at a more sustainable long-term option, and so we made the decision to stop publishing Mulberry Magazine as a quarterly digital download.
Other reasons (the specific details of which I won't bore you with) meant that designing and publishing each issue as a PDF by myself made it hard for me to build a team to help carry the load, and simply put, after editing, designing and releasing seven 100+ page issues, I was one tired mama.
Front and centre in all our decision making has been the desire to bring information, resources, stories and ideas about what a life without school looks like to families all over the world. And I'd been worried that something was missing in our approach to publishing PDF downloads.
We decided to take Mulberry to an online space to help:
Whichever way we sliced it, stopping the PDF publication and finding a new model seemed like an obvious win-win. And so we took a deep breath, and put the wheels of change in motion.
All future content will be published on this website. You'll be able to read it for free, anytime, and download the resources too.
You may see some old articles floating around here too, but most of our early content in Issues 1 through 7 will remain as a paid download (except for what we published in the free mini issue). Our back issue bundles will still be available anytime via the original Mulberry Magazine Shop.
All that remains now is to say, THANK YOU for reading this far. If you have, I'm willing to bet that you're one of our good'uns, our loyal followers that read every edition. We really hope you guys enjoy reading in a slightly different (but still awesome format!) on The Mulberry Journal. Maybe you'll even consider joining the community and becoming a contributor!
Here's to a childhood without school and helping people to see how possible it is...
Grace is the Editor of The Mulberry Journal and when she's not reading submissions, divides her time between hanging out with her simultaneously delightful and headstrong 2-year-old, running multiple ventures, writing and travelling full time with her little family. You can follow her travels at @darelist.family.
A mother shares honestly about what the process of her daughter's autism diagnosis was like, and how her beautiful, kind, smart daughter is still so much more than the label.
By Shae Reynolds |freerangeinsuburbia.com
We are going down the diagnostics route again. Different kid, same predicted outcome. Same feelings of exhaustion and like I’m somehow breaching my child’s trust by bringing in a bunch of people who don’t really know her at all. But they do know a lot about autism, specifically in girls.
They ask questions and look for red flags. They want me to go over her anxiety, talk about how extremely cautious she was as a toddler and how she screamed and screamed if anyone different picked her up. We discuss her inability to organise herself and follow simple instructions, how she won’t wear certain clothes because of how they feel or because she is genuinely upset by looking “ordinary”.
We speak about how she absolutely adores her friends and wants to fit in, despite it causing her so much stress and confusion, and how someone simply moving houses in Minecraft can trigger weeks of weeping and insomnia. I fill out forms, answer questions, tick boxes, fork out money.
Immense guilt I rationally know I should not burden myself with. How did I think that her behaviour was neurotypical for so long? I feel as ignorant as every other person who has said: “but she has lots of friends!”. I know that realistically my idea of what is neurotypical is very skewed, as two out of my three kids are not. That, and letting kids be who they are by not forcing extroversion or expecting them to be like me, has meant I have just assumed that most kids are like mine, and accepted their differences.
The talking, almost exclusively, about her difficulties and differences is exhausting. Diagnostics puts its finger right on the sore spot. And then presses harder. I come out of each appointment feeling tired and weepy. It is so hard.
One of the reasons this part hurts so much is because she is not only that. My awesome kiddo is more than her difficulties and quirks and sensory profile. She is more than her IQ and any check box rated from almost always to never.
We often go out for a cupcake and chai after these appointments. She will ramble on about Katniss Everdeen, what cat videos are making her laugh on YouTube, and what is happening in her Minecraft realm. I love to be around her, so do her friends and the adults in her life. I know I’m not the only person who would describe her as one of the kindest people I know. She is passionate and creative and… I could go on and on.
She will almost certainly walk away from this month with an ASD label, but she is not only that.
She is so much more.
This post was originally featured on freerangeinsuburbia.com and has been republished here with permission.
Do you have a child with an ASD label? How did you process their diagnosis? Feel free to share in the comments below.
Shae is an awesome Mum to three neurodiverse, always home educated girls. When she’s not brewing kombucha or weeding her veggie patch, she’s driving the kids to dance class or listening to true crime podcasts. You can read more of her blog here.
With homeschooling, and parenting in general, it's easy to fall into the trap of wanting to get it 'right'. The secret is there's no one right way or right season, and that's okay.
By Liadhan Bell | outtherefamily.org
It is about eighteen years now since I first fully embraced the notion of learning at home. There have been many lumps and bumps along the way and I have learned by experience that no two children are alike. What fills one with joy fills another with dread. What one finds simple, the other deems impossible.
My theory of education can be summed up in these wise words: “Once I had no children and seven theories on how to raise them. Now I have seven children, and no theories!”
As with parenting in general, I have come to recognise the pattern - Just When You Think You Have It All Figured Out… Something Changes! There is always some new thing, or circumstance (or person, in the case of growing families!) being thrown into the mix. Nothing is static. The only thing constant and permanent is change.
I once lamented this. How on earth could I ever “get it right” if the definition of “right” kept changing?
Surely there must be some constant in this never-ending state of flux?! It took a long while, and the benefit of experience to realise that perhaps I was basing my expectations on the wrong definition of “right”. Perhaps it's not quite true that I have no theory of education. It can probably best be summed up thus:
“Birds fly, fish swim, man thinks and learns.”- John Holt
But of course, that is only the beginning of the conversation.
In my reading over the years, some things have really stood out. One of those things (I think I am correct in attributing to Dr’s Raymond and Dorothy Moore) is the concept of the Integrated Maturity Level, or IML.
Simply put, the IML is the time in a child’s overall development at which their senses, fine motor skills and cognitive function are optimal for them to be capable of the abstract thought processes and manual coordination needed to master basic academic skills. (sorry… did I say simply put?) 🙂
One way to test if your child has attained this degree of readiness is if they are able to tie their shoelaces with their eyes closed, while counting backwards from 10. With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that the average age this is attained is not 5, 6 or even 7. It is generally not reached until the age of 8 or 10, and in many cases, even older.
Until this time, the Moore’s and other’s research indicates that it is not only counterproductive but actually harmful to put a child under pressure to perform academically. Their highly readable book, Better Late than Early covers this well, and also provides parents with plenty of ideas of what activities children might most benefit from and enjoy in the years before they are ready for formal academics. They have also outlined further research, in School Can Wait. Another voice on this subject in more recent times is research professor of psychology Peter Gray.
Another favourite anecdote which made a lasting impression on me likens the learning process with its differing educational approaches of Starting Early vs. Waiting for Readiness to two farmers who wanted to build a fence at the end of winter.
The first farmer, impatient to see results, was out day after day chipping away at the icy ground, digging post holes. Slowly, over many weeks, with much hard work, he got the holes dug. His neighbour waited until the day the ground thawed, then he went out and dug all his post holes in one day. This powerful little analogy has always come back to me at times when I have felt pressured to ignore the wisdom of waiting.
In our life learning journey, I have swung between living awestruck at the way my children are unfolding and growing before my eyes, and succumbing to the desire to recreate the artificial sense of security that comes from an outward structure with measurable results. For most of us, this is how ‘success’ has been measured since we were big enough to hold a pencil.
But, as system after system I cleverly devised proved imperfect, I began to grow suspicious that perhaps there was no perfect system… As the years rolled by, peppered with ‘Aha!’ moments, I saw that undue pressure on my children produced resistance and discouragement, yet help and encouragement at the right time gave momentum to the inner drive to know and to succeed that children naturally possess.
I began to question my own motives. Would I quiz a kid (even ‘playfully’) on how to drive a car the same way I was secretly fond of quizzing them (‘playfully, of course!) on questions of basic mental arithmetic? The answer was obvious.
Why would I quiz a kid on something that:
a) they were not developmentally ready to do, and
b) they had no immediate practical use for?
How often, I wonder, is it our undue emphasis on things children cannot yet understand that creates anxiety in them, blocking their ability to learn, leading to discouragement, and worse still, to avoidance and apathy?
The opportunity to succeed at anything and the confidence this builds is so much more important than any artificially imposed timetable of skills and abilities. We hear it over and over “Every child is different”- but often we are not prepared to let them be too different if it challenges the generally accepted definition of ‘normal’ - or our own ambitions for our children to be exceptional.
Three of my daughters learned to ride bicycles just shy of their fifth birthdays. When I told one of them that I wasn’t able to ride until I was six, she quoted my own favourite encouragement for when they are learning a new skill. “Don’t worry Mum. People learn things at different times.”
On the other hand, I have no memory of learning to read. All I know is that I could read before I started school. One of my children has begun to decode words with apparently little effort. Her interest in being able to read is inconsistent and self-initiated, but noticeably gaining momentum as she sees that she can.
Another of them is not yet ready to read anything beyond individual letters, and her own and her siblings' names (which she learned in a burst of enthusiasm a couple of years back!).
But when she wanted to learn how to tie her shoes recently it only took a few attempts before she had it. She was ready! (and had the added motivation of a very fancy pair of lace up sneakers!)
I, however, was one of those poor, hapless kids who was still struggling to tie my own laces at her age, after a couple of years of trying. Every child is different.
So… our future may not be mapped out in convenient compartments of What to Do When, and our present days may not fit into a box. But one thing is certain - we are all constantly learning and changing and growing. It’s what people do.
These children are amazing! They are brimful of creative ideas, little pearls of wisdom, and the joie de vivre. They put their minds to things and work hard to make those things happen. When they reach their goals, they take pride in their achievements. And so do we. They're gaining the confidence that comes when you succeed in an endeavour of your own making. They ride bicycles too. And tie shoelaces. And they will read. All in good time.
This article originally appeared on outtherefamily.org and has been republished with permission.
How do you manage the pressure to 'get it right' or have a perfect homeschool routine with the knowledge that the joy is in the ever-changing journey? Comment below.
Liadhan Bell learns with and from her seven children and sometimes finds time to write about it. She is fascinated by the creative synergy that occurs when a family live and learn together. She writes about life learning, travel and adventure, nature play and their wobbly attempts at self sufficiency at @outtherefamily.org and on Instagram @out_there_family.
As we homeschool our children we are learning constantly alongside them. Jessica Pilton reflects on what homeschooling has taught her so far.
By Jessica Pilton | jessicapilton.com
If there is one thing homeschooling has taught me, it's that we do it for relationship.
Relationships with our children, relationships within our family unit and relationship with this big wide world.
The other day I went through a plethora of my old learning portfolios from when I attended primary school here in Australia. I found an art journal from when I was in kindergarten (cue the nostalgia).
After flicking though the pages, smiling fondly from the memories and paint splattered pages I turned my gaze to portfolio’s from other grades underneath. I found grade 1 worksheets full of concepts that my six year old self probably wouldn’t have understood. I remember colouring in the pictures. I remember the little sight word test at the beginning of the year. I remember feeling sad when I received my paperwork back with red texter marks of ticks and crosses. Notes from the teacher on how I was doing. Assessment.
So much assessment and really not a whole lot of learning. Memories of my schooling years flooded back.
Feeling like I didn’t fit in. Feeling like school was this massive, living, breathing thing that I survived and struggled though. I remember getting up at “='show and tell' when I was 7 and lying about how I went to Italy on the school holidays. I didn’t go to Italy, but I just so badly wanted to be liked. (I distinctly remember the ‘popular girl’ going overseas and how amazing everyone thought that was).
I so badly wanted to fit in.
I didn’t grow up in the area I went to school, my parents worked full time and my Nonna raised us when we were little. I missed seeing my mum at the school gates as much as I loved Nonna being there.
There was a feeling of not really being able to learn at my own pace but having to keep up with my peers because that was what was required.
I wasn’t the most academic child. I struggled with attention. I didn’t understand concepts straight away. I was told time and time again, but not shown, which is how I learn. And this was all 20 years ago.
I don’t remember much of high school. I was either not paying attention, wagging with friends or drinking and smoking in the toilets. Yep, I was a total ‘rebel’ and I cared far more about ‘being cool’ (Oh God, I cringe at all that I did now!) than my education.
I left high school half way through year 9 or 10, I can’t remember the exact year and started working full time. Yep, at 15 I held down a full time retail job in the city to earn up enough money to study at beauty college – something that I was actually passionate about!
I’ve healed from my childhood issues. I’ve got an amazing testimony of God’s redeeming love and grace but I still wonder what would have happened if my parents were more connected and concerned about my education and my relationships.
Relationships with God, our family and friends, relationships with what we’re learning, what we love to do and how we do it is the most important thing.
To deepen relationship within our family unit?
To deepen relationship with what our children are learning and living and loving?
We homeschool so our children can build relationships with things that they love, things that are beautiful, things that are purposeful.
Homeschooling is not for fame, glory or a thank you.
Often our efforts will mostly be unseen. It’s a behind closed doors type of thing. The time we spend educating, providing resources, planning, attending social stuff etc etc ... It all takes up a lot of time but gosh, it’s so worth it. We mothers who homeschool know how relationships can effect a life for good or bad.
We want the good.
We want that for our kids – is this saying that schooling mamas (is that even a word?!) don’t value relationships? Absolutely not.
That being said, I think more and more families are choosing to home educate to connect further and live life how it was intended to be. Free from constant assessment and tests. Free to learn how we choose too. Slow, purposeful and out of the rat race.
Relationship is key in learning.
When we are connected, when we feel heard, when we feel like we aren’t being force fed an education... that’s when real, passionate, fiery learning takes place.
That’s one thing homeschooling has taught me.
This article originally featured on jessicapilton.com and has been republished with permission.
What has homeschooling taught you? Share by commenting below.
Labels are a great way to find a like-minded community and search for resources, but they don’t define the way we educate our children.
In this article
By Jessica Pilton | jessicapilton.com
There are so many words for how we identify as home educators…
Project based homeschooling
Charlotte Mason education
School at home
We’ve used a lot of these as we have steadied our feet and found our groove our the last couple of years. I know I will also label myself as we continue to homeschool our children.
They give us something to grasp when we need to find a way. They provide a place for us to find our people. These labels help centre our thoughts in regards to philosophies on how children learn and most importantly, we choose a style of homeschooling that we adhere to and believe in deeply as we do life with our children.
And were hungry. We’re hungry to see our children have the beautiful riches of a wonderful education. We want them to be self-motivated, curious, attentive, to delve deeply into their passions and have persistence.
These labels give us a hope to cling to.
Yet, labels, as great as they can be for all the above reasons, don’t define the way we educate our children.
At times I’ve felt a great distress feeling like I don’t fit in with any style of homeschooling. I’d read about something and totally agree with the philosophy but for one reason or another I wasn’t seeing it happen in real life – even when all the elements were right to see the desired process or outcome. Or I’d educate myself on another philosophy and agree with some aspects but not others.
Early on our journey I’d be so conflicted – and due to my personality type – I felt if I couldn’t do something wholeheartedly, I wasn’t doing it ‘right’, which lead to a whole lot of disappointment and I felt like I was doing my kids a disservice.
This year – three years after making the decision to homeschool our children – I have finally found my peace with my issue of ‘labels'
I’m simply doing life with my children and really there is no education apart from self-education.
I’m giving them rich experiences with nature, art and the written word. Together we problem solve and learn skills together. We garden, we do handicraft, we sew together, we read together, we watch documentaries together, we attend co-op with our friends and shop together.
We do life.
Yet, we are also somewhat structured. I choose books from Ambleside Online for us to read. Miss 6 narrates from Aesop’s fables and reads our Bible each morning – we are very new to narration.
Alannah (6) has started copy work a few times a week, and recently without much help from me, Alannah has become very interested in reading. We have slowly added more into her day and she is so enjoying it.
Tiffany (4), on the other hand, has no desire for any formal learning in the way of writing or reading, and that’s okay. She is only four. Her work is play. I have no desire for her to catch up – actually, I have no desire for any of my children to be where ‘mainstream’ children in the schooling system would be in regards to skills in academics. It's not something we're aiming for.
Allow your heart to be prompted to change if something isn’t working for you or your children.
If the label isn’t fitting – take it off, maybe adjust it, restyle it and try it on again, or ditch it and start afresh.
Don’t be held within the label.
Allow labels to work for you – don’t work for the label.
How do you give yourself scope to breathe and just 'be' outside the defining nature of labels? Share your comments below.
This article originally featured on jessicapilton.com and has been republished with permission.
Mum of 4 boys Sarah Cole reflects on her wonderful abilities and honest shortcomings in this open letter to her 4 sons: "I can promise you adventure."
By Sarah Cole | Multifaceted Mama
Over the past 10 years, I have had many failings as a mother. There are a lot of things I am just not good at. There are promises I just can't keep.
I can’t promise to be a neat or organised mum. There are craft supplies piled up in the corner and books on most surfaces most of the time. There isn’t really a picture perfect corner of our house, despite my attempts when company comes. It’s not unusual to have to shuffle construction paper or pens and pencils over to make a place at the dinner table and the search for a pencil can sometimes take a while. Despite occasional efforts I am not, and I never will be, a “neat mum.”
I can’t promise to be things will be worthy of a page on Pinterest. I don't think to cut your sandwiches into special shapes or make creative bento boxes. I never volunteered at preschool, or remember to schedule play-dates. I don’t have clever “life hacks” or make cute crafts.
I can’t promise storybook holidays. I don't decorate much; I can’t keep up with the shelf elf; I don’t have special fun “tricks” to make little holidays special and I’m sure I let it slip that there is no Santa Claus. It’s a poorly kept secret that I don’t even actually like holidays. And the Happy Birthday banner has been hanging in our kitchen for nearly 2 years now as a monument to my spectacular failure at these kinds of things.
I can’t even promise to be a “have-it-in-any-way-together mum”. I’m not as consistent, or as on top of things, as I should be. These things have never been my strength.
If you want to see something, we’ll pack our car with snacks and books and go see it. I promise to let you explore. If you want to do something, we'll figure out a way that you can do it. If you want to learn something, we'll go learn it together.
I promise not to rush you. If you want to stop in the middle of our walk and watch a caterpillar, I’ll rest my bones on the rock next to you.
Yes, you can run.
Yes, you can climb.
Yes, you can get your clothes dirty.
Yes, you can walk in the creek with your new shoes on.
Yes, you can touch that frog or cricket and catch that fish (as long as you're gentle).
While I won’t be waking you up to rush you off to school, I may take you to the river to watch the sunrise. Our home might not be perfectly decorated but, I’ll promise you we'll see some art-worthy views. You may never have a football trophy, but I’ll proudly display the treasures from your pockets on the windowsill.
Perhaps we may not have cookie cutter sandwiches, but I’ll pack a little peanut butter and some bread and we can stay outside until the sun sets.
I can't promise you it will all be picture perfect, but I can promise we'll take pictures. And I know we'll find beauty wherever we go.
This article originally appeared on amultifacetedmama.com and has been republished here with permission.
After working full time and part time for the past 10 years Sarah abruptly quit her jobs to stay at home and homeschool her 4 boys ages 10, 8, 3 and 1. Sarah writes about her parenting and homeschooling journey when she can catch a few minutes on her blog Multifaceted Mama and shares her adventures on Instagram @multifacetedmama. She lives in Virginia, USA.