For those who do things differently

Okay I admit it! Sometimes, just sometimes, I wanted to be in a position that wasn’t quite so different.

It got increasingly tedious to have those conversations outside the dance or pottery clubs whilst I waited for the girls as there was always the inevitable question; ‘So where do yours go to school?’

I’d pause a moment, then say; ‘They don’t actually. They’re home educated’

Slight neurotic giggle and other mother moves away from me like I’m diseased.

Of course, it wasn’t always like that; many parents who asked really engaged with the idea and were keen to know more. And I grew more skilled at judging who I wanted to mention it to.

Today though home education is far more popular and widely known as parents find school practices more and more distasteful. There’s a liberal helping of information and support on the net and an ever-increasing community to dip into, groups to attend, others to network with, so it feels less scary.

Community is the theme of this issue of The Green Parent magazine and I was thrilled to be asked to contribute as it’s a special anniversary issue. The editor, Melissa Corkhill, asked me to write about the home education community and the many and diverse groups that support it. (A big thank you to all of you who helped with my research and offered your thoughts). So you’ll find me in there too this time.

But the real reason for this post is to tell you about the lovely opening story in this issue in the welcome from the editor. It’s about a mum who wanted to do things a bit differently from her own peer groups and family tradition and how hard it was at first to find support for her ideas. She felt very sad and alone. I think many of you will identify with this. But a chance encounter with another mum initiated her rescue.

Now we have the Internet to find like minds but that is no comparison to a warm human connection in real physical terms. Nothing like being with people to learn from.

Melissa follows her editor’s column with a little piece about what she has learnt from her ten years at the magazine and it’s so encouraging I thought I’d quote it here:

It’s possible to have a job that makes you desperate-to-get-in-the-office excited, You can run a business from home with a home educated child on your lap, next to you at their own mini desk or playing noisy games outside the door, sometimes you might even get a bit of help from those children but being with them through their childhood is the most important work”

So absolutely true!

There’s plenty else in the magazine to read too. And perhaps there’s some mum nearby that you could help do it differently like the mum in the story. For having that community support is irreplaceable!

Sod genius – it’s kindness that matters most!

I can’t bring myself to watch the child genius programmes on channel 4. Even the trailer is enough to put me off.

I cannot bear the mass acceptance and propaganda that genius is so worthy we have to parade our kids across the telly as tools for our own self gratification.

Makes me cringe! (Read what Charlotte Runcie says in the Telegraph)

As does yet another annoying mathematical puzzle on Facebook asking ‘How smart are you?’

Interesting how ‘smart’ is measured by maths. Couldn’t it equally be measured by our ability to create an artwork?

Well that depends on how you define smart, or genius, doesn’t it. And the way in which we’ve been told to define it. We also have to decide on what matters most.

What matters to me over smart is kind. In fact, kind is smart anyway – one is no good without the other, because it doesn’t matter how smart you are, if you’re not kind with it you don’t have access to what makes our life ultimately happy; relationships with others. You have to be smart enough to work out that ‘kind’ is as useful as ‘smart’.

We never see a challenge on Facebook asking ‘How kind are you?’ But then, how could you measure that? And therein lies the problem.

Everybody wants testable evidence. And we’ve been conned to think that testable evidence must be the truth. It isn’t, as anyone who manipulates data will testify! Data can be construed to make out what you want it to make out. Politicians use this strategy all the time. The telly programme isn’t testing genius, it’s making viewing. And making the producers a lot of money with very little outlay, such a good drama would cost! Basically, they are using our kids for cheap telly.

I don’t mean to be unkind to the youngsters taking part in the programme. But I do want to point out that kindness is as valuable an attribute as genius, more valuable I would say. But how will our children learn that if the only thing we appear to admire is testable genius? When I see those kids squirming with the pressure they’re under to be genius I wonder if somewhere along the line they’ll learn to be kind. They might not if unkindness has been the methods used to put pressure on them.

Shouldn’t we be educating towards good, kind people and allowing genius to naturally follow on through?

And shouldn’t we be applauding many, many other attributes of human nature as well as smart?

We need to be applauding our children for the people they inherently are, not whether they can answer questions or not!

Rural living: it’s not only roses

outdoorsMay2014 005It’s Countryside Awareness week. And the beauty of it is that it’s as much about the people who live and work in rural areas as it is about countryside in itself – beautiful though it is.

We don’t often think about them, other than they’re lucky bods and it’s all roses. Few understand that at times it can be the opposite of roses, it can be downright thorny. Not that you’d get that impression through the media or from the politicians who unwind in second homes without any of the hardships country living brings, making policies from the comfort of their city towers that stick in the throat of those who reside there all the time.

For example, in their campaign to get everyone using public transport, putting road and fuel taxes up, they forget that this absolutely cripples those who have no public transport on their doorstep. Who are dependent on their cars to get to work, get their kids to school/college/activities, fetch shopping, get to surgeries, etc. They don’t face that reality on a daily basis as we do.

Another example, in supporting everyone getting online to do business, banking, pay bills etc. they forget that for some their download speeds are so low it’s well nigh impossible to conduct any kind of business without lengthy waits, never mind bothering with Youtube! Mobile signals are just as bad – what use an App when you’ve no signal?

And when people moan about services being disrupted because of leaves on the line or the buses are late they should remember that they at least have services. Getting about in snow, ice, gales, fog, floods and living on a daily basis with exposure to the same is no joke. The only service we have here is our bins emptied and that doesn’t always happen.

It’s all relative of course. And our rurality also brings us a deeply tranquil connection to nature instead of city stresses – unless we’re stressing because the car won’t start!

But we should remember that there are 12 million people living and working in the countryside and it isn’t all tranquillity. In fact the suicide rate among farmers is one of the highest. Employment is sparse to non-existent and working on the land can be an extremely hard way of life with the minimum of wages in return. Yet as Robin Page says in a comment in the Telegraph last weekend the coverage rural living gets is stacked in favour of urban living dismissing issues of country dwellers as less important.

But without those who do work the land, there would be NO FOOD! The land would not be managed as it needs to be to sustain our life. And there would be no land to give us all the resources we need to support our city lives.

Life does all come back to the land and the people who look after it.

So maybe you could pay that some respect as you organise a walk with your kids in support of people working hard  in rural areas. And teach them to understand that the land beyond the cities and the people who work it are equally important.

The dog on the advert and your view of education!

There’s a clever advert on the TV at the moment (yea – I know – I need to get out more!). It fools us into thinking we’re seeing something from another viewpoint. (Watch it here)

It does happen sometimes that we’re not sure what we’re looking at – until we get our ‘eye in’ as the saying goes. This is a good example of it. It makes you think.

Our brain is taught by past experiences to think we’re seeing something different to what’s actually in front of us sometimes and it struck me that home education is a bit like that. It’s difficult for some to see how it could possibly work because we’ve been taught to see education in certain way – a school way.

To see things in new ways we have to abandon our old views. And that’s the same with learning. To learn, you have to change; often change what you thought was true. And it’s something we have to do in order to be able to take advantage of the huge flexibility we can have with education – home education in particular.

Our school view tells us that children have to be in schools to become educated. Not so – they can become educated just as well in other places out of school. Where better to learn about the world – which is what education is for – than out in the world?

Our school view holds that education requires things like uniforms, masses of other kids, qualified teachers, curriculum, tests and inspections for it to be successful. Not so – many families home educate successfully without these things.

Our school view tells us that education is about teaching children to pass exams. Not so. Education is much more than that; passing exams only one small part of it. It also leads us to believe that children need daily repetitive practise in order to learn anything or pass those exams. Not so – if it’s inspiring they’ll learn and retain it anyway.

Our conditioned view has led us to believe that children have to be disciplined in order to learn, disciplined by adults who know better. This is not the case. Not all adults know better and their role is to guide more than anything. Guide children to understand that the only discipline that is of any use to us is self-discipline and to help them understand why that is the case.

And the systemised view makes us believe that children have to be coerced into learning. But the truth is that children are born wanting to learn and it is the system that switches them off. Learning is something that happens naturally for them from the moment they are born and we can extend this learning desire quite naturally into the educative process.

Finally, the most bizarre thing of all when you begin to think about it differently, is that in order to learn about the world we shut children away from it. That’s like shutting them in a room and telling them about swimming – then throwing them in deep water. The best place to learn about our world is out experiencing it.

Challenge your view of education and see if you can transcend what you think you know. Maybe you’ll be able to see things a little differently too!

The success of failure!

Who’d equate success with failure?

Not many perhaps – except all the successful entrepreneurs; they’ll have failed many times in order to finally achieve but we don’t often get to hear about that background to their success.

One of the most important ways to help our children to succeed is to encourage them to understand that failure isn’t a negative thing. It is a natural part of the learning and achieving process from which we learn. And those people who succeed are not necessarily the cleverest, the luckiest or the richest. They are the people who didn’t stop when it didn’t go right, but went on trying and trying until they finally got there. And that if you can maintain enough resilience to do that, you are bound to succeed.

Think about it; we can only fail when we stop at a failed attempt.

Our children will have failed many, many times in their tiny lives even before they get to the age of five when everyone suddenly starts talking about succeeding or failing in school. Although no one measured it and no one made their early attempts into failure.

For example they will have failed to walk, fallen over many times, but just kept on getting up again. They will have failed trying to balance their food on a fork or get it in their mouths. They will have failed to catch a ball, do up laces, build a tower, climb up something, ride a bike, master the things they want to say. But none of those failures mattered so they just kept on going, learned from trial and error, until they achieved what they wanted.

And that’s the important part of it – they hadn’t been taught by the others around them that those failings mattered. So why teach them later on – particularly in relation to education? Why teach them that failing makes them into failures, as we tend to in schooling?

If we told our toddlers that they were failures and made them feel shame when they were trying to walk and talk then maybe they wouldn’t keep going.

Our negative attitude to failing is something that children learn – usually from adults. Wouldn’t it be great if that was something they never learned?

Maybe we should be careful not to teach it!

Perhaps instead of hidden signals of negativity towards failure we should be boosting their resilience. Supporting their confidence in their intention to achieve. Showing them how to learn from the things that don’t go right first time. Helping them understand that failing is positive in that it makes us extend ourselves and grow.

And that failing is only a failure if you stop there – and you don’t have to! If you keep going you can eventually turn your failure into a success, even if by deciding you need to take another route.

That’s how failure creates success. And that’s what our children need to know about it!

A better remedy than drugs

charley4mum She just used to lie there. Utterly content. Or spend hours dribbling soft wet sand into Hogwart-like towers. Absorbed. Needing nothing. Demanding nothing.

This used to be what happened when we took our youngest to the beach. It was like a magic injection of calm. This energetic whirlwind would just melt into a relaxed serenity that never happened in the house.

It didn’t have to be the beach. Any outdoors would do. And it had to be for a decent length of time. Then the journeys home would seem as if with another person than the one we took out.

I used to wonder how others managed.

Where we lived at the time we could open the cottage door onto an area of grass in front, safely enclosed by hedge and gate, and she would shoot out across it like an arrow from a bow. You could see it was just something she inherently needed. And I used to wonder how families, all cooped up in concrete places managed with an energetic child, managed to satisfy that need in their children to be out, active and uncontrolled for a while.

Because it is a need; a requirement for the healthy development of mind and body. But quite often this is disregarded. It is masked by keeping kids passive and dormant in front of technological entertainment. Then correcting their frustrated combustible behaviour with drugs or leaving it for the teachers.

Wet playtimes can be a teachers’ curse. When the kids haven’t been outside it’s a recipe for a tricky afternoon. But after summer playtimes, especially when they have the opportunity to be on grass, you’d see kids lolling about and they’d come in happy and relaxed, with a shine in their eyes, and cooperation and goodwill in their spirits.

We must find ways in our shuttered, concrete, technological lives to give children long, free, times in the opposite. They don’t necessarily need an organised activity, they just need to be out there. Take warm things if need be or a big umbrella and rugs to make a camp, let them take personal items or toys. Or nothing at all and just rely on imagination. Ours could make whole soap operas with bits of stone and twigs in a city park.

One thing that is important to take is the time.

And make forays into open spaces an important part of your family’s timetable – yep – parents have to do it too, and willingly! Until you begin to unwind. And demonstrate how you can discharge the stress from closed in lives by spending hours in the open.

It’s a far better remedy than drugs!

Holding babies – could it be the beginning of their education?

prickles and flowers 001I always held the baby in my left arm. I thought this was to automatically free up my right, being right handed, to carry on doing the essential jobs – like put the kettle on!

Apparently though, it isn’t to do with that at all.

I’m reading a little more about how the brain works at the moment. I’ve always been fascinated about how the brain affects the way we feel and what we believe, as well as how we grow and learn. I’m forever intrigued by the question; are we just the result of our brain activity then?

Ruby Wax’s book ‘Sane New world’ is the result of her own voyage of discovery in managing her depression through mindfulness. So she’s studied the brain and writes about it in ways lay-folk like me can understand. She shows how its growth and development influences who we become and what we feel.

Simply put, brain development is about electrical impulses and connections which develop from the moment we are born. And if there was ever any doubt in your mind about the important reason why parents should be engaged with their babies, she dispels it in a lovely little paragraph about holding them:

“The memory of how Mommy is with Baby influences the baby’s physiology, biology, neurology and psychology. How the brain grows is affected by how she put you down, held, smiled, ignored or forgot you; she is the uber-regulator, the big boss of brain development. The neural clusters for social and emotional learning are sculpted by Mommy’s attunement with Baby. She grows these neurons in the baby by making direct eye contact with her left eye to Baby’s right eye. This is why Mommies usually hold babies in their left arm so this eye contact is made easier. When they gaze into each other’s eyes, their hearts, brains and minds are linking up. These face to face interactions increase oxygen consumption and energy. Also holding the baby in this position means it can hear Mommy’s heartbeat. Seeing her loving face looking down on Baby triggers high levels of endogenous opiates so he experiences pleasure in later social interactions by the positive and exciting stimulation form Mommy.”

 She also says that the linking up of the right and left hemispheres of the brain are accomplished through mum and baby ‘eye contact, facial expressions and speaking goo goo’. In fact, all of a child’s early brain development is based on interactions with mum. And new research shows that even genetic development can be influenced by parental behaviour and changes continuously.

So if ever you needed a good reason to forget the jobs and hold your baby remember that in doing so you are enhancing their mental, emotional, and even genetic development and tendencies.

I never needed another reason – I just loved it anyway. And wouldn’t have missed it for anything. But to all those who doubt the importance of mums (or dads) being at home they need to remember that they are doing a vital job of developing a new member of the human race.

And there’s no substitute for holding!